01 April 2017

More Questions on the North Woods Hermit and his Biographer

 [[Hi Sister, so do you believe Christopher Knight was a "true hermit"? Does one have to be a religious hermit to be a true hermit? As I understand your posts you do not think this is the case. Finkel's error was not in calling Knight a hermit is that correct?]]

Thanks for your questions. I believe Christopher Knight was a hermit but not a healthy or authentic hermit. I would prefer to say he was an isolate rather than a genuine solitary. One does not have to be motivated by religious motives to be a hermit. One can be a "desert dweller" for many different reasons. The search for God and completion in God is one such reason. Michael Finkel provides three main categories of hermits, the protesters, the pilgrims, and the pursuers. Protesters are often  misanthropes or those who otherwise seek to turn their backs on anything outside themselves. Pilgrims, at least as I understand this form of eremitical life, tend to be religious hermits who journey through life while living "on the margins" in order to assert and affirm a deeper unity with humanity and creation in God. Pursuers are identified by Finkel as those who seek to live solitude so they may pursue their own art, literature, music, etc. I agree that these categories each represent forms of eremitical life --- though the Church only accepts the second form as authentic in admitting individuals to profession and consecration. I believe both pilgrims and pursuers are authentic forms of eremitical life because both are meant to foster authentically human life and to contribute to human society and culture,

Finkel's error, as far as I am concerned was in calling Knight "the last true hermit" and defining the "true" hermit in terms of a strict physical solitude rising to the level of misanthropy alone. Those of us who live canon 603 life, for instance, know that solitude and the "silence of solitude" depends on significant physical solitude but at the same time have more to do with the individuation or personhood achieved with and in God within such physical solitude. It has to do with growth in one's capacity for love which is achieved in communion with God and (paradoxically) with others. This is why I speak of "the silence of solitude" as environment, goal, and also as charism. We diocesan hermits are (to use Finkel's term) "true hermits" despite the fact that our physical solitude is not so absolute as Knight's and despite the fact that we do not embrace this life because of misanthropy. Moreover, Finkel seems to ignore the fact that Knight's escapism, thievery, and constant and self-centered attempts to insulate himself from others marked him as profoundly related to others but in unhealthy and antisocial ways. As I noted, Finkel defines solitude in terms of an absolute physical isolation or seclusion, and he does this despite the major works on eremitism and eremitical solitude he perused over the space of a year. He embraces a stereotypical and misanthropic view of eremitical solitude despite naming three diverse categories of eremitical life.

Again, Christopher Knight was a hermit, In his heart of hearts he probably still is. From my perspective, however, he represents a sad, narrow, and pathological version of eremitical life, a version most people associate with "hiding" or "escaping" instead of relating to others (not to mention living with God FOR the sake of others!) in a unique, paradoxical, and valuable way. I would call this form of eremitical life unhealthy or inauthentic and so does the Church which has codified and protects authentic eremitical life in the mold of Jesus, John the Baptist, et al. This is why I found the observation that Knight's closest companion may have been a mushroom to be so profoundly sad, even pathetic and why I thanked God that the eremitical life I am publicly called to, consecrated in, and commissioned for is so much richer and more profoundly healthy and "healthily social" --- even in its physical solitude. So again, I would say Knight was truly a hermit but, from the perspective of ecclesial eremitical life, an inauthentic or unhealthy one.