21 October 2015

Private Vows, the Normative Way to Become a Consecrated Hermit?

[[ Dear Sister, you said, [[As I have written many times here the unique thing about canon 603 is that for the very first time in universal law the solitary eremitical vocation is recognized in law as a "state of perfection"  and those consecrated in this way are recognized as religious in the RCC.  In other words, there were no solitary consecrated hermits prior to canon 603. Nor are there solitary consecrated hermits in the Western Church apart from canon 603. Canon 603 was created for the very purpose of admitting solitary hermits to consecration. Today the term lay hermit is used to distinguish those non-clerical solitary hermits who have not been admitted to the consecrated state under canon 603.]] (cf., Notes From Stillsong: Replying to Objections) Does this mean I cannot use private vows to become a consecrated hermit? I am asking because I read on A Catholic Hermit that I can just make private vows and this is the normative way to become a consecrated hermit.]]

Yes, that is precisely what it means. The author of the blog you mentioned is mistaken in her positions in this matter. In modern times and before canon 603 there were no solitary consecrated hermits. Apart from canon 603 there are currently no solitary consecrated hermits. There both were and are hermits who are consecrated as part of canonical communities (institutes or societies) according to the usual canons governing religious life, but canon 603 represents an entirely new possibility for solitary hermits who wish to discern and be admitted to the consecrated state of life in the Church. If you yourself wish to pursue consecration as a solitary hermit it will HAVE to be under canon 603; as I have noted here a number of times, there is no other option.

The creation of this option is the very reason canon 603 was promulgated. It is the reason Bishop Remi De Roo urged the Fathers of Vatican II Council to recognize solitary eremitical life as a state of perfection when seasoned monks desiring to live the silence of solitude were required to have solemn vows dispensed and be secularized themselves in order to embrace God's will that they be hermits. It is the reason dioceses struggle to discern such vocations and celebrate the occasion of these professions and consecrations. It is consistent with the fact that consecrated life (a public state in the Church) is never entered into with private vows or private commitments. Finally, the creation of Canon 603 is consistent with the Church's treatment of consecrated life generally and with all "stable (or permanent) states of life" which are marked by legal (canonical and public) rights and obligations. Thus it says specifically: "Hermits are recognised by law as dedicated to God in consecrated life if, in the hands of the diocesan Bishop, they publicly profess the evangelical counsels and live their Plan of Life under his direction" (Can 603.2) This is what is normative for solitary consecrated hermits in the Western (Latin) Church.

N.B., Private vows are never normative  in this way (meaning they are never held as a norm by/for the life of the Church per se any more than private revelations can be held as normative for that life); Nor can they be made normative precisely because they are entirely private. This is so because no one but the individual him or herself decides when private vows are to be used nor does nor can anyone oversee the meaning of their content or govern faithfulness to such commitments besides the individual him/herself; again, this is true precisely because such commitments are entirely private in every sense --- canonically or legally, ecclesially, and personally.

Were the Church (or perhaps a diocesan bishop) to say, for instance, "To be a hermit one MUST make "private" vows of the evangelical counsels (meaning, as the Church understands these Counsels)" this would be engaging in an incoherent act and/or changing the meaning of the term "private." In the latter instance such vows would cease to be entirely private (in fact they would need to become public) because they would involve mutual expectations, and obligations which would need to be supervised and appropriately governed. Were private vows truly private in every way and were it also held as possible to enter consecrated life in this way, it would be impossible for the Universal Church to write as she does in Lumen Gentium,  [[It is the duty of the ecclesiastical hierarchy to regulate the practice of the evangelical counsels by law, since it is the duty of the same hierarchy to care for the People of God and to lead them to most fruitful pastures.]] LG 44.4  Private commitments as private are ungovernable; neither can they ever represent a public or ecclesial witness within the People of God. It is critically important to see the fundamental incoherence of the position that one enters a public (canonical) state of life via a private act.


If you have any questions about what you have read here or on the other blog mentioned, I would urge you to contact your chancery (Vicar for Religious or of Consecrated Life) or a canonist elsewhere. (There are canonists accessible here online like Therese Ivers who specializes in the law of consecrated life and is doing a doctoral thesis focusing on canon 603. You can find her at Do I Have a Vocation?) I have no doubt  whomever you contact will explain c.603 is the normative way to enter the consecrated state as a solitary hermit, that they will affirm that private vows (which do not constitute one in a stable or permanent state of life, are not received by the Church nor celebrated within the Eucharist) never initiate one into the consecrated state of life, and that they will affirm the new and unique place of canon 603 in creating the option of solitary consecrated eremitical life in the contemporary Church.

Besides, should you decide you wish to pursue a process of discernment leading to consecration as a Catholic hermit living his life in the name of the Church, canonists or Vicars for Religious in your chancery especially will be able to assist you in looking into this as well.