31 July 2019

Why Canon 603?

[[ Dear Sister, is it true that Canon 603 was formulated or published in order to prevent abuses of eremitical life by hermits? Is Canon 603 important for other reasons than this? Also, has there been a history of problems with hermits and if so, why would the Church institutionalize such a vocation?]]

Thanks for your questions. I have answered these in the past so let me refer you to past answers. One article you might find helpful in this regard is Fraudulent Hermits Throughout History from November 2015. This article notes there is a history in the Church of dealing with fraudulent hermits (though more fundamentally these were attempts to create norms for authentic eremitical life) and also outlines how canon 603 differs from these attempts, not only in scope but in nature and origin. There are earlier articles on the origin and history of canon 603 (cf label Canon 603 - history), most particularly which outline the positive reasons Bp Remi De Roo intervened at Vatican II in order to get the Church Fathers to recognize eremitical life as a "state of perfection" (a vocation to the consecrated state of life). (See especially, Followup on Visibility and Betrayal of Canon 603 for the first article I wrote here in which I remember listing the positive reasons given by Bishop De Roo.)

To answer your questions very briefly here, canon 603 was created because Bp Remi de Roo had experienced eremitical life as Bishop Protector of about a dozen hermits who had come together after leaving their solemn vows as monks. Their monasteries did not allow for eremitical life in their proper law so these monks had to leave their monasteries, their vows, and be secularized in order to pursue life as hermits. It was a big sacrifice but eventually they founded a laura and did so under Bp De Roo. He saw the significant contributions to the Church these vocations represented and wrote an intervention as Vatican II to support making this vocation part of those allowing for public profession and consecration. Almost 20 years later canon 603 was the result. Thirty-six years later c 603 is still a relatively unknown and less understood vocation.

I would argue the vocation is important for all the reasons Bp De Roo enumerated, but above all I would argue the vocation is important because it establishes solitude as antithetical to isolation or a selfish individualism; it also, therefore, gives an important example to isolated elderly and the chronically ill and disabled regarding the completion that is possible in God alone and so too, to the meaningfulness of any life rooted in God. Bp De Roo listed at least a half dozen positive reasons for the recognition of this vocation by the Church. Abuses, though sometimes problematical throughout the history of the vocation, were not listed as part of the origin of canon 603. The Church is not unaware of the problems with hermits in her history, but what is more compelling are the prophetic and witness values of this vocation. Hermits proclaim the Gospel of Christ with a peculiar vividness. As noted recently, in the lives of hermits we hear of (and see) a God whose power is perfected in weakness, who alone completes us in our authentic humanity, who loves us with an everlasting love, and who calls us to a radically countercultural life as Christians.

While we can't avoid speaking of the stereotypes, fraudulent versions, and distortions of eremitical life, the positive reasons for institutionalizing the vocation are much more important. At bottom the Church recognizes this life as a gift of God given/entrusted to the Church for her own life and edification.