12 May 2017

Becoming a Catholic Hermit: Canon 603 and the question of "other institutes"

[[Dear Sister, I have read the Catechism's paragraphs on eremitical life and canon 603. Where do I find the Church's other institutes on the eremitical life? I am asking because of the following statement in the Catholic Hermit blog: [[There are older posts that I've written in detail as to the Roman Catholic Church's institutes on the eremitic life--briefly stated in 920-921 of The Cathechism (sic) of the Catholic Church and further addition in the briefly stated CL 603.]] This was part of an article on becoming a Catholic Hermit, a kind of how-to article --- though I honestly don't think she really answers the question. Can I ask you the same question someone asked the other hermit, how does one become a Catholic hermit? Where do I find these other institutes on the eremitic life? No one I have asked seems to know. Do they refer to using private vows?. . .]]

Thank you for the question. And thanks too for your patience. I know it has been several weeks since you first wrote me. One term which seems to have been misunderstood by the writer you are referencing when she read canon 603 is "institutes". Unfortunately that misunderstanding has, in part, caused her to misinterpret the nature of canon 603 per se and some other things essential to understanding the Church's approach to contemporary eremitical life. It was a fatal misunderstanding so let me start with the term "institutes." Please understand this is important if one is to really answer the question, "How does one become a Catholic Hermit"?

A fatal Misunderstanding:

In the above cited sentence and in other similar blog pieces, "institutes" seems to mean a body of ordinances, laws, and norms other than the content of paragraphs 920-921 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) or c 603 of the revised Code of canon Law (CJC). This usage is sometimes found sprinkled variously throughout non-Catholic ecclesial groups (thus The Institutes of Calvin, for instance) but the Roman Catholic Church does not use the term in this sense. Instead, in canon law and elsewhere it refers to any and all societies of consecrated life as institutes. Thus when canon 603 says, "Besides institutes of consecrated life, the Church recognizes the eremitic or anchoritic life. . ." she means "Besides societies of consecrated life, the Church recognizes the (solitary) eremitic or anchoritic life. . ."  Canon 603 is universal in scope, that is, it applies to the entire Church; it is the only law or set of norms which specifically apply to eremitical life in the Roman Catholic Church except for the proper law of Institutes of Consecrated Life which are canonically established societies under the canons appropriate for all canonical religious congregations.

Excursus: Proper law is law which does not apply to the entire Church; it is not universal. All communities, congregations, Orders, Confederations, etc have their own proper Law, namely, Constitutions and Statutes which are approved by the Church (by Bishops or the Holy See) and pertains or is PROPER to them alone. For that matter, the c 603 hermit composes a Rule which is approved by the Church and constitutes the hermit's own "proper law". (Meanwhile, in order not to have to type or otherwise explain the important canonical and other distinctions between these Orders, congregations, communities, societies, etc., --- these various groups of religious, et al, --- the Church simply refers to all and each of these as "institutes" of consecrated life.) End Excursus.

To reiterate, canon 603 reads, "Besides institutes of consecrated life the Church recognizes the eremitical or anchorite [form of] life. . ." and means simply that besides Institutes of Consecrated Life (including Orders like the Camaldolese Benedictines, the Carthusians, and the Carmelites which are either composed of hermits or allow explicitly for hermits in their Proper Law the Church recognizes and provides for in Universal (canon) Law the [solitary] eremitical or anchoritic life. The meaning of the term "institutes" in this context does not refer to other sets of laws, ordinances, statutes, or norms besides the canon recognizing and providing for eremitical life under canon 603! It means societies of consecrated life not sets of norms in addition to canon 603, especially which predate canon 603.

So why is this important? Why does it matter that canon 603 is not one canon on the eremitical life among many other ordinances or statutes, for instance? It matters because unlike the paragraphs of the Catechism which describe in summary fashion something that is true in the Catholic Church, Canon 603 "recognizes" and establishes in law for the first time in universal or Canon law the eremitical life lived under the authority and in the name of the Church. This canon is somewhat analogous to what are referred to as speech acts, acts of performative language which make real what they say. Canon 603 recognizes, establishes, defines (meaning it sets the content and limits of this reality right here and right now) and makes real in universal law and Catholic life something which has never before existed in the Church, namely the possibility of a solitary person living eremitical life in the consecrated state (or in a "state of perfection" to use Bp Remi De Roo's original and older language) apart from membership in an institute of consecrated life --- AND to do so in the name of the Church. In other words, with Canon 603 the Church has broadened the category of "religious" to include THESE professed and consecrated hermits. It does so with and in THIS Canon and NOWHERE ELSE. (cf Handbook on Canons 573-746 for observation on the term "religious")

Most of the time we read the canon and attend to the central elements it includes. This is critical, of course; we need to know how the canon defines eremitical life in this paradigmatic norm. But we must also attend to what it makes real for the first time in universal law and to the fact that it acts by making something real in the entire Roman (or Western) Church, as I said above, the possibility of living solitary eremitical life in the consecrated state as well as in the name of the Church. In this it is absolutely new and unique.

Canon 603 does not "briefly state" the contents of "other institutes" on the eremitical life. It is not a summary or an added "proviso," as the author of the blog you cited has sometimes asserted. There are no other institutes except in the sense c 603 uses the term. Canon 603 especially then does not simply add a few additional conditions or options for more structure or provisions for those who like these kinds of things (public vows with public rights and obligations, legitimate superiors, "temporal involvement") instead of the purely "spiritual" concerns of most hermits whom, "the Lord prefers to keep. . .more to himself" --- as the author cited has also written. Canon 603 is the norm which makes real in ecclesiastical law the vocation of solitary Catholic Hermit. Moreover, it is universal; it is the way solitary hermits become Catholic Hermits in every diocese in the Roman Catholic Church. Again, there is no other way nor has there ever been. 

Becoming a Catholic Hermit:

As you will find I have said before, the term Catholic Hermit does not merely mean one who is Catholic and a hermit. It has a more technical or specific meaning than that. It means one who has publicly been entrusted by the Church with and embraced through vows (or other sacred bonds) the rights and obligations associated with living the eremitical life in the name of the Roman Catholic Church. This occurs through public profession and consecration whether this occurs as a member of an institute of consecrated life (Camaldolese, Carthusian, etc) making profession in the hands of a legitimate superior of this congregation or as a solitary hermit making profession in the hands of the local bishop under canon 603. There are no other ways to become a Catholic Hermit.

So how does one become a Catholic Hermit? One has two possibilities and only two. One either goes through the steps to enter and become formed and definitively professed in a canonical community of hermits or one works with one's diocese to discern and be admitted to profession (public vows) as a diocesan (canon 603) hermit. If one chooses the first option the community will supervise the candidate's admission process, formation, discernment throughout, eventual admission to temporary profession and, after a number of years, to perpetual or solemn profession. In either/any case one does NOT become a Catholic hermit via private vows and self-"consecration"  (dedication!). In contrast to private vows, both options described above are canonical forms of life and require mutual discernment (representatives of the church and the candidate discern together) as well as public profession and consecration. You can find other posts here which address times frames, preparation at various stages, discernment, and so forth, in other posts; please check the labels in the right hand column.

 Regarding private vows, let me reiterate here that these represent significant acts of self-dedication. As you will note in other posts here, I have said that we do not refer to private vows as an act of profession because they do not initiate one into the consecrated state of life nor, therefore, do they involve extending or embracing the public rights and obligations associated with initiation into the consecrated state of life. This includes identifying oneself as a Catholic hermit, which means one publicly professed and commissioned to live this life in the name of the Church. As a way of underscoring this those writing on this topic note that even when one has been finally professed and consecrated and then seeks to have their vows dispensed, while they remain consecrated (consecration per se cannot be undone) they are no longer in the consecrated state of life. Neither can they call themselves "religious" or a "consecrated hermit", for instance. This is because dispensation from public vows means release from the public bonds, rights, and obligations which constitute the heart of what the Church refers to as a stable state of life.

Private vows, significant as they are in their own way, are entirely private acts which do not change one's state of life or involve ecclesial rights and obligations beyond those conferred with baptism. I stress this first because the author of the Catholic Hermit blog consistently ignores, or misconstrues and misrepresents this fact. Secondly, that is important because you are (or were) reading her blog while you are discerning whether you have en eremitical vocation; as you continue this discernment, and if you believe you are called to eremitical life, you will also need to determine whether that will be as a Catholic Hermit living this life in the name of the Church (a discernment you must undertake with Chancery staff) or with private vows (or no vows at all beyond your baptismal commitment --- something which is also possible).

Whichever direction you choose (should you discern you are called to eremitical life) know that it has its own value and witness. If you choose private commitment to God in this vocation know that the history of the eremitical vocation in the Church has mainly been typified by such expressions. The Desert Fathers and Mothers were not only privately committed (there was no other option then), they chose the desert vocation because they were critical of the Church being co-opted by the State. Throughout the centuries the vocation has had a storied number of prophets, saints, holy men and women who revealed the compassion of the Gospel and the truth of a God who meets us in our weakness to allow that weakness to be transfigured to glorify and reveal the power of God. If you feel called to public profession either in an institute or as a solitary hermit under c 603 know that you are seeking to stand in this same tradition but now, are proposing to do so in the name of the Church --- a significant responsibility and calling which underscores the gift of God this vocation is to the Church and through the mediation of the Church, to the whole world.