07 July 2019

Diocesan Hermits are Hermits of and for the Universal Church

[[Dear Sister O'Neal, I watched a video where Joyful Hermit said those professed "under canon 603 belong to dioceses and those who are privately professed belong per se to the universal Church". Is that right? If I got her right she also says that privately professed hermits have always been the way the Church consecrated hermits. I think she meant that canon 603 is a new way of doing this with some extra requirements that she seems to think represents a kind of legalism. Is this correct?]]

Well, I suppose it depends on what else Joyful has said in this specific regard, but generally speaking, with the quote you have provided it sounds as though Joyful Hermit is saying non-canonical hermits are recognized as hermits by and for the universal Church, but canon 603 hermits are recognized only within a diocese. If so, she is incorrect. Canon 603 hermits are diocesan in the sense that they are bound in authority at the diocesan level. They are hermits of a specific diocese (a local Church) which, in the hands of the local ordinary, professes and consecrates them on behalf of the Universal Church. Their vocations are ecclesial in a Catholic or universal sense, but they must be responsible at the diocesan level or their vocations could not be effectively governed nor could the hermits be genuinely responsible or accountable to the whole Church. The Roman Catholic Church relies on the principle of subsidiarity. Governance in this case proceeds from the lowest or most local level upward precisely to facilitate genuine governance and accountability.

Thus, as a "hermit of the Diocese of Oakland" (Bishop's Decree of Approval. . .) I would need to have another bishop accept responsibility for my vocation if I were to decide to move to another diocese (and I would need my current bishop to verify I am a hermit is good standing in order to begin such a move and remain a diocesan hermit), but the fact that I can move from one diocese to another, marks my vocation as valid in and for the universal Church. Similarly, since canon 603 is the universal norm/canon for solitary eremitical life in the entire Church, and since diocesan hermits are governed by and responsible for the vocation defined in this universal norm, we can affirm their vocations are universal vocations -- callings in and for the universal Church. Again, this vocation is supervised and "created" (discerned, professed, consecrated, and governed) at the diocesan level (at the level of the local Church) but this is the way governance generally takes place in and on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church.

Privately vowed hermits (we don't use the term professed here because that implies a public rite involving a change in state of life!) have been the usual way of living eremitical life in the Roman Catholic Church throughout the centuries but this was not recognized as "consecrated life" or defined as part of the "consecrated state of life". In fact, the Church never understood eremitical life as part of the consecrated life unless hermits were members of religious congregations (Camaldolese, Carthusian, Carmelite, etc). Some anchorites came under the auspices of local Bishops, especially during medieval times. Even so, I don't believe these anchorites were considered to be consecrated though, rightly, they were highly regarded by their communities (villages). In @ 1963 in an intervention at Vatican II, Bishop Remi de Roo sought to get eremitical life included in Canon Law as a "state of perfection" -- what today we call "a consecrated state" of life. Only a long 20 years later when the Revised Code of Canon Law was published in October 1983 and included c 603, was eremitical life included in universal Law at all. If, as Joyful Hermit claims, hermits were always consecrated using private vows and always considered to exist in the "consecrated state" of life,  Bishop Remi De Roo would not have needed, much less ventured, such an intervention in the language ("state of perfection") he did. Neither would the dozen or so hermits he came to oversee as "Bishop Protector" have been understood to have relinquished their consecrated state of life in order to become hermits after leaving their monasteries.

As I have noted in the past, Canon 603 is now the universal norm in the Roman Catholic Church for establishing a solitary hermit in the consecrated state of life. There are no other norms, laws, "institutes," rules, statutes, etc for establishing a solitary hermit in law, and thus, as a consecrated hermit unless one is a member of a canonical congregation dedicated to eremitical life or at least allowing for it in their proper law. The Roman Catholic Church simply had not honored the solitary eremitical life in this way for almost 1600 years. (Eastern Catholic Churches have always honored it.) The Desert fathers and Mothers were lay hermits, not consecrated hermits; their prophetic lives were significant and they remain a model for all hermits, both non-canonical (lay, non-consecrated) or canonical (consecrated). About one thousand years later, when Bishops took anchorites under their auspices it was done to make sure these individuals were acting in an edifying manner and living genuinely eremitical lives. (Too often individuals tried to validate all kinds of insanity and wackiness with the name "hermit". The Church needed to attempt some governance over such cases. Additionally, it is possible the Church regarded such vocations with some trepidation insofar as they represented truly prophetic vocations -- as had the Desert Fathers and Mothers.)

In my experience, canon 603 was formulated and promulgated for the significantly positive reasons Bishop de Roo put forth at Vatican II (cf The Heart of the Matter: Reasons for including Eremitical Life as a "State of Perfection"); moreover, it is carefully implemented by most dioceses for these reasons as well as to limit the kinds of wackiness and nutcases often associated with eremitical "vocations". Law in c 603 serves to allow sound vocations which are well-supervised and edifying to the universal Church. In particular, it does not allow the kind of individualism represented by autocephalic (or acephalous!!) vocations like that of the person you cite.

The ability to move from place to place without supervision or genuine accountability is not a sign of serving the whole Church; instead it does not tend to serve either the eremitical vocation or the Church well. St Benedict saw this clearly when he referred critically to monks who moved from monastery to monastery without accountability as "gyrovagues" (cf the introduction to his Rule).  The Church, in requiring that one entering the consecrated life be professed in a recognized and "stable state of life", is clear that all ecclesial vocations must be adequately discerned, mediated, and supervised. They are simply too precious, too valuable, and too responsible to allow them to languish in a headless, unstable and individualistic context, or to let them become skewed due to an individual's unguided and eccentric readings of Church documents and theology.

We don't tolerate folks identifying themselves as Catholic Religious (or as consecrated) who (on a relative whim) may don a religious habit (or not), and make some sort of private commitment without vetting or real preparation -- even if they do so in the presence of the Tabernacle or a parish priest. We call these folks "lay persons" because of the dignity of their baptism and "lay hermits" to honor any genuine dedication to eremitical life lived in the lay (baptismal) state without benefit of canonical profession or consecration. (It should be underscored that some lay hermits live genuine, even exemplary, vocations with preparation and serious discernment of course --- but many, because of ignorance, eccentricity, or simple inability do not.) If, however, lay hermits insist on calling themselves "Catholic religious" or "consecrated hermits",  the Church will note they are  ignorant of the Catholic theology of consecrated life, possibly deluded, or even outright frauds --- and rightly so.

The Church has been entrusted with vocations to the consecrated state. She does not (and cannot) hand authority for these over to the individual. These vocations "belong" to the Church herself; they are ecclesial vocations. Such vocations are vetted (discerned and evaluated in an ongoing way), mediated, and governed by the Church herself in the hands of legitimate authorities precisely because they are gifts of the Holy Spirit which are the responsibility of and fruitful for the entire Church. Unfortunately, as you can tell from the questions I get re: these, videos and blogs like those you and others have sometimes cited are a good example of the negative reasons the Church requires ecclesiastical discernment, profession, and supervision for something as potentially individualistic and disedifying as an eremitical vocation.