16 February 2016

More on the Roman Catholic Canon 603 versus the Anglican canon 14.3

[[Dear Sister, I understand you feel the Anglican Canon is inadequate to guide those living an eremitical life. Do you think maybe the Episcopal Church doesn't mean it to guide eremitical lives? Maybe they only wanted to allow for individual religious without the interference of others. Maybe their solitaries don't think of themselves as hermits or at least maybe this doesn't happen a lot.]] (Second set of questions included below.)

I don't really know what most Episcopalian solitaries think of themselves. However, besides the criticism by an Anglican solitary regarding 95 % of solitaries who misleadingly call themselves hermits that I referred to here before, I have read blogs by those who think of the terms solitary and hermit as synonyms. (See also the references to one Anglican solitary and an Orthodox solitary who disagree with the notion that the two terms are synonymous at the end of this question's response.)

Hermits and Solitaries as Synonymous:

One Episcopal solitary, for instance, in responding to the question, [[What is a Solitary?]]  writes, [[ A Solitary is the modern name for a Hermit. . . . They are monks and nuns who are under vows held by a bishop instead of the superior of a community, and they are professed to be single [religious] and not a part of a community. Since the married state is a form of community, Solitaries are, by definition, celibate.]]  In this passage I think it is clear that the author sees hermits simply as "single religious", that is religious who do not belong to a community.

Later, when asked how one received training as a solitary he responds that it is the novitiate (that is, in religious community) which is indispensable. When he notes that one may then decide that one is called to go in a solitary direction, there is absolutely nothing implied in the use of the term "solitary" besides being a religious who then goes apart from a community, nor that (once one has sufficient human formation in community of whatever kind) one can only be prepared for eremitical life in solitude itself. Even later he does write that a hermit needs to ALSO spend some significant time in solitude during formation but the sense given is that this is additional to the more critical novitiate and optional, not integral to the life of a hermit. Unfortunately, a hermit is defined by this solitary as a religious who is single, that is, not part of a community. (In fact, this blogger writes that hermits are professed to NOT belong to a community --- as though this negative criterion is the real point and content of their profession! He opines this means ANY community including a parish community and thus, in this way too he underscores the individualistic character of the Anglican vocation.)

Maggie Ross (Sister Martha Reeves), a well-known Anglican solitary and fine writer, writes somewhat similarly when she observes that we are all solitaries or that there is nothing particularly unusual about hermits. [[We have made everything about the church much too exotic and the solitary life is an extreme example of this. The solitary is saying, "everyone is a solitary; in that inner solitude is the kingdom of heaven; don't be afraid, behold." ]] While I agree completely that solitude is the most universal vocation in the sense that we are each and all of us irreducibly solitary in our historical existence and while I think we are pretty close together with regard to her comments on inner solitude, where we differ is in her application of the terms "a solitary" and hermit.

While we may all be solitary, not everyone is "a solitary" in the vocational sense. Neither are all of us called to be hermits nor can we all be called hermits despite the ontological solitude that marks us or the inner solitude of our hearts.**  Nor is it the case then that hermits are common-place, or that eremitical life and solitariness itself are identical realities. A piece of the desert vocation of the hermit is certainly its witness to the ontological solitariness of human being and even more fundamentally it witnesses to the communion between (union of) God and human beings that constitutes the human person. Beyond this, however, it witnesses to the redemption that occurs when human aloneness or solitariness is completed by that communion and is thus transfigured into eremitical solitude; further, it does so in a life wholly dedicated to God in the silence of solitude --- something few are called to do with their lives. In this way especially, the hermit represents a special and relatively rare commission to participate in the ministry of reconciliation to which every Christian is called.

In these two cases it appears that Anglican usage treats the terms  solitary and hermit as synonyms. Sister Reeves also seems to agree with you that solitary life is one which is so autonomous that there should be no interference from hierarchy or the Church at large. Apparently she argues this to support the freedom of the "hermit" and the prophetic character of the vocation (which seems to mean the person is in a position to criticize the Church in various ways.) It does seem to be fairly individualistic in her conception --- and even adverting to the role of the Holy Spirit in such a life, critical as that is, does not really compel one to believe the Episcopalian model of solitary religious or eremitical life is other than individualistic. The way the two terms are collapsed into one another, whether one starts with ontological solitude as Sister Martha does, or with "single religious life" as Br Randy does, simply underscores that fact.

Ignorance of the Nature and Charism of Eremitical Life:

Even more startling to me are Br Randy's following comments. Despite identifying himself as a canonical hermit with more than ten years in perpetual vows and a number more in temporary vows he writes, [[I know absolutely nothing about what a hermit is and don't claim to. I have experience of what it is for me to live the life of a hermit, but no imperical (sic) knowledge. What I claim to believe may change from time to time.]] How can this be the case? How can, even in what may really be a confusing nod to Apophatic theology, a publicly professed, or canonical hermit claim to know absolutely nothing about what a hermit is? From my perspective such a confession is genuinely stupefying. How, after all, can a person claim to be living as a hermit, be professed to live into this vocation more and more fully and yet have absolutely no idea what it means to BE a hermit? More troubling yet, how can a Church perpetually  profess someone in this situation --- or not dispense their vows if, over such a significant period of time, this is the confession the person is forced to make??

It is one thing to say, "I know in general what a hermit is; I know what this vocation expects of me and what I am professed to live and I both grow in and fall short of this vision every day of my life." It is another to say, "I have absolutely no idea what a hermit is!" Even the confession of having fallen short of one's profession depends on one knowing what it means to BE what one is professed to be! Imagine that a priest (or a candidate for ordination!) said this about his vocation. Would we ordain him? For that matter, what if I came to my Bishop, asked him to perpetually profess me as a solitary hermit under c 603 and then, as he asked me to discuss the gift this vocation would be to the church and world, I confessed I actually had no clue what a hermit actually was? Likewise, what if someone asked to be professed under canon 603 and, when asked about the canon she proposed to live her life by, showed no sense of ever having read it, much less having allowed it to define and shape her entire life! In this confession the author not only underscores the completely individualistic nature of his vocation but, in something I find even more troubling, he seems especially unaware of the charismatic nature of the eremitical vocation. What I mean is there is simply no indication in his comments that he possesses an understanding or appreciation of the very specific gift of the Holy Spirit this calling is to the Church whose mission is to proclaim the Gospel to our contemporary world.

At the very least I think we have to conclude the Anglican canon #14 is not generally used to profess individuals who have experienced and can actually witness to the gift (charisma) or specific gift quality (charism) of eremitical life. That is especially true if, as I argue often here, the charism of eremitical life is "the silence of solitude". There is evidence that generally the Anglican (Episcopal) Church treats the term hermit as a synonym for solitary and even for "single (non communal) religious". As such they build a basic misunderstanding into their use of Canon 14 to profess lone individuals as "hermits." In a world where exaggerated individualism is a critical problem that betrays the very nature of humanity, this basic misunderstanding is a correlative betrayal of eremitical life's witness to a solitude defined in terms of personal completion and rest achieved in union with God alone. Such a solitude differs radically from individualism or individual isolation. If this skewed portrait is NOT the vision of eremitical life they wish canon 14.3 to govern it does seem to me they are failing to provide a normative vision which would serve them better. As I understand the situation there is no other canon (norm) which does provide such a vision.

(I find the posts of one Anglican religious solitary under c14 refreshing here. Amma Sue, the author of the blog www.singleconsecratedlife-anglican.org is such a solitary and is very clear that she is not a hermit while she writes some about the "qualitative distinction" between herself and hermits. (She claims to quote me in this article but to be honest, except for the term "silence of solitude," and a reference to solitude as communion, I don't find my own words in what she writes.) She is cited in the exceptional blog City Desert (cf CityDesert on Solitary religious Life ). CityDesert (named after the classic by Derwas Chitty) focuses on solitary life in its variety of forms, especially as these are translated into contemporary situations and terms, and is always a wealth of information. Its author is a priest in the Oriental Orthodox Tradition who lives as an urban solitary in a city in Australia)

[[Should the Roman Catholic Church add a canon like the Anglican Church? Do you think it's a good idea to have [single] religious? I am thinking that if the RCC did this we could increase vocations and also those who don't feel called to eremitical solitude could still be professed.]]

One thing I think should be clear. When the Roman Catholic Church establishes a vocation to the consecrated life she does so because she has recognized a way of living which is a specific and significant gift of the Holy Spirit. A charism is the result of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit meeting the needs of the contemporary world. When these two dimensions intersect, individuals may recognize that their own lives replicate the same needs and the same inspiration. Alternately, a person may perceive that their own gifts and talents are such that they may help the Church mediate the Spirit's Presence in ways which heal and transform the world into one shot through with the presence of God. In other words, these individuals recognize they are called to embody this specific charism (or gift) in ways the world urgently needs it. At times the Church re-establishes vocations or specifies them as states of perfection because of their value in proclaiming the Gospel in the contemporary world. She does not do so otherwise.

Remember that when the Church reprised the eremitical vocation and decided to admit solitary hermits to public vows and the consecrated state she did so in part because at Vatican Council II Bishop Remi de Roo published an intervention listing about a half dozen positive reasons for doing so, a half dozen ways in which the vocation represented the work of the Holy Spirit and was a gift to the Church and world. When the Church and her hermits look at the individualism rampant in the world or the growing isolation of so many elderly, bereaved, chronically ill, etc, they are also able to see that hermits (those who live the charism of the silence of solitude and the rest of the vision of c 603) speak to these persons with a particular vividness. They proclaim the redemption of isolation and its transformation into solitude in Christ.

Similarly, when the Church reprised the vocation of Consecrated Virgins living in the world she did so in part as a reflection of a newer (and more Biblical)  eschatology where heaven and earth interpenetrated more and more, where secular vocations were being re-valued, and where there was a serious need for a vocation of eschatological or consecrated secularity which reflected all this in ways religious life per se could not. Thus, the Church did not ask CV's to make religious vows which distanced them from or qualified their relationship with the secular world in significant ways. Instead she consecrated them as Brides of Christ and icons of the whole Church; she consecrated them to embody the relationship with Christ every person is ultimately called to, but commissioned them to do so here and now in every possible way and arena, i.e., "in the things of the world and the things of the spirit." Likewise, in a world whose nearly entire approach to sexuality involves its trivialization and profanation, CVs living in the world are called to be a witness to a counter-cultural reality in which sex is held to be sacred (and even sacramental) and the whole person is to be given to Christ for the sake of others. 

While both eremitism and consecrated virginity are ancient vocations the Church did not restore them for this reason alone, nor because, relatively speaking, a few people felt called to them. She did so because they represented gifts of the Holy Spirit which spoke powerfully to the needs of our contemporary Church and world. This is the way the Church always determines authentic vocations. Numbers per se are not the issue nor are the private vocational senses of individuals. Discernment of ecclesial vocations is always a mutual matter with both the Church and the candidate discerning such a vocation and this mutual discernment always includes an assessment of the charismatic significance and impact of the vocation.

Therefore, to answer your questions, unless the Church determines "single religious" (who are non-eremitical) represent a similar vocation representing a significant charism, there is no reason to think the Church should or will establish it canonically. Since canon 14.3, seems, in a clearly individualistic impulse, to be merely meant to create "single religious" with no necessary commitments to others in community, no intrinsic, much less defining sense of ecclesial responsibility or relatedness ("a solitary is professed to NOT be part of any community including a parish community"), and no sense of living a very specific and specifically valuable gift of the Holy Spirit either, I would argue that this is not an example the Roman Catholic Church would want or feel much drawn to follow.

** Sister Martha has apparently been questioned about this position that we are each "a solitary". She also wrote at another point in her blog, [[I have, for a long time, been saying that 'we are all solitaries'. And this is true: communities of all kinds are only as healthy as the solitudes that make them up; and those solitudes have the responsibility to the community to do the work that will help them to be spiritually mature. But that does not mean that everyone who likes their solitude should take vows. You can be ihidaye, have singleness of heart, within a marriage, community, and even alone in the woods. It does not mean you are 'a solitary' or should or, more importantly, could, from an eremitical point of view, make vows.]] I believe Sister Martha is right here and should retain the vocabulary of solitudes v solitaries. We are all existential "solitudes" --- a philosophical term reflecting our ontic state, but only some of us are solitaries --- a religious term which can include hermits, anchorites, and recluses.