11 October 2015

On Stricter Separation From the World

[[Dear Sister Laurel, does the phrase "stricter separation from the world" mean something stricter than the Gospel counsel to be in the world but not of it? You write that it means separation from those things which are resistant to Christ but aren't all Christians called to this? Is the key word in this phrase, "stricter"?  To me the phrase sounds negative and kind of "world hating"; is the purpose a negative one --- like to keep one away from things that might contaminate one?]]

Thanks for the questions. I have written about some of this before under the label "Stricter Separation from the Word" but especially in the pieces on "spiritualizing stricter separation from the world" (cf On Spiritualizing Stricter Separation and More on Stricter Separation and The Purpose of Stricter Separation.  In each of those I think I make clear that the withdrawal or separation that hermits are called to differs from that of other Christians and also other Religious. The term stricter is therefore a key word, yes but perhaps not the key word. Still it does indicate a true withdrawal, not a merely spiritualized one like that incumbent on all Christians called to secular vocations (vocations in the ordinary world of economics, politics, power or influence, and relationships). It involves not just withdrawal from the things which are resistant to Christ, but also withdrawal even from many of the very good things of creation (both Divine and human)  most Christians find inspiring or sacramental.

There are negative reasons for stricter separation, yes, but in general it allows for a focused commitment to the search or quest for God and all that comes from such a quest. A second positive reason is that it allows us to see the larger world of creation with new eyes, eyes that can recognize the truly sacred and hearts that can honor that. A third is that it allows us to see ourselves apart from all the hype, all the definitions and props supplied by the world around us. The separation that seems so negative serves more positive goals. So, while it is important to draw away from the perspectives which distort a truly Christian view of reality, and while it is especially important to draw away from those things which eventually affect our commitment to Christ and may lead to outright sin --- which I guess might be spoken of in terms of keeping away from things that contaminate --- the more important reason is entirely positive: namely, to seek God and to find our truest selves at the same time. Again, please check the articles linked above.

[[Are diocesan hermits considered cloistered? ]]

Great question. I don't think I have been asked this before. I have referred to the diocesan hermit living a kind of functional enclosure; by this I meant that even the hermit who allows clients or occasional visitors in the hermitage tend to have a private prayer space which is not really open to others. I also meant, however, that there is a wider sense of being separated from others, from certain activities, kinds of media, and so forth which create an enclosed space that functions like the material enclosure of a monastery with its wall, grills or signs marking cloister or saying, "private" along with the restrictions written into the community's statutes. Some speak of cloister in terms of papal cloister or formal cloister marked and governed by canon and proper law, etc. In these senses diocesan hermit have not ordinarily been considered to be cloistered.

However, at this point I think we have to say that diocesan hermits are called, by the very terms of canon 603, to a form of cloister. I say this because both stricter separation from the world and the physical silence of the life mark off very real dimensions of enclosure. Silence, for instance, has always been seen as the more personal level of enclosure within the physical (material) cloister marked by walls and grills. Similarly, I am reminded of a comment by Dom Jean LeClercq ** which noted that enclosure could be ensured not only by wall and grill, but by a simple row of stones used by someone like Charles de Foucauld or "even by a simple agreement". There is no doubt that canon 603 calls for stricter separation from the world, assiduous prayer and penance, and the silence of solitude all lived according to an approved Rule under the supervision of the diocesan Bishop. This certainly sounds like a form of enclosure or cloister to me, especially given the fact that it is governed by approved proper law (the hermit's Rule) and overseen by legitimate superiors.

Of course this is not strict or papal cloister. As in institutes of religious life who, according to c 667.1, are required to adopt cloister to the character and mission of the institute, a canonical hermit is both obliged to cloister and free to discern the degree of time and activity outside the hermitage which is required by daily needs (doctor's appointments, shopping, Mass, etc.), though one does so within the limits and values codified in one's Rule and sometimes in collaboration with one's director or delegate. One does not usually need specific permission to leave the hermitage nor to have occasional visitors as guests. Still, the pattern of these mitigations or exceptions will be examined and discussed with one's delegate, and perhaps one's bishop, to see how well they contribute to or detract from the hermit's need for and commitment to silence, solitude, privacy, etc., as well as providing for necessary community and hospitality. I think we have to think of the diocesan hermit as bound by a form of cloister or enclosure whether we call it "functional", "eremitical," and so forth. Whatever we choose to call it we need to see it is both recognizable and real; it is also, to the degree specified in the hermit's proper law and c. 667, a juridical matter.

** LeClercq, Jean, Contemplative Life, "Separation From the World" Cistercian Studies 19, p 35