A hermit (from the Greek "anachōreō", signifying "to withdraw", "to depart into the country outside the circumvallated city"),
recluseand "solitary". However, it is important to retain a clear distinction between the vocation of hermits and that of anchorites.
The Christian eremitic life
Because the life of the
Christianhermit, both in ancient and in modern times, is rooted in the Desert Theology of the Old Testament, it is a life entirely given to the praise of God and the love and – through the hermit's penance and prayers – also the service of all humanity. The latter is crucial to the correct understanding of the eremitic vocation, since the Judeo-Christiantradition holds that God created man (i.e. the individual human being) relational, [cf. e.g. Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), "In the Beginning", Edinburgh 1995, pp. 47, 72, ISBN0 567 29296 7.] which means that solitude can never be the purpose of any Christian vocation but only a conducive environment for striving after a particular spiritual purpose that forms part of our common human vocation.
The eremitic tradition
In the common Christian tradition the first known Christian hermit in Egypt was
Paul of Thebes(fl. 3rd century), hence also called "St Paul the first hermit". His disciple Antony of Egypt(fl. 4th century), often referred to as "Antony the Great", is perhaps the most renowned of all the very early Christian hermits owing to the biography by his friend Athanasius of Alexandria. An antecedent for Egyptian eremitism may have been the Syrian solitary or "son of the covenant" ( Aramaic"bar qəyāmā") who undertook special disciplines as a Christian. [ [http://www.monachos.net/monasticism/monastic_beginnings.shtml Re: the Syrian "son of the covenant"] ] In the Middle Ages some Carmelitehermits claimed to trace their origin to Jewish hermits organized by Elijah. Christianhermits in the past have often lived in isolated cells or hermitages, whether a natural caveor a constructed dwelling, situated in the desertor the forest. They tended to be sought out for spiritual advice and counsel; and some eventually acquired so many disciples that they had no physical solitude at all.
The early Christian
Desert Fathers wove baskets to exchange for bread. In medieval times hermits were also found within or near cities where they might earn a living as a gate keeper or ferryman. From the Middle Ages and down to modern times eremitical monasticism has also been practiced within the context of religious ordersin the ChristianWest. For example in the Roman Catholic Churchthe Carthusiansand Camaldolesearrange their monasteries as clusters of hermitages where the monks live most of their day and most of their lives in solitary prayer and work, gathering only relatively briefly for communal prayer and only occasionally for community meals and recreation. The Cistercian, Trappistand Carmeliteorders, which are essentially communal in nature, allow members who feel a calling to the eremitic life, after years living in the cenobiumor community of the monastery, to move to a cell suitable as a hermitage on monastery grounds. This applies to both their monks and their nuns.
Anchorites and anchoresses
Anchorite"The term "anchorite" is often used as a synonymfor hermit, not only in the earliest written sources but throughout the centuries down to our times. Yet the anchoritic life, while similar to the eremitic life, can also be distinct from it. In the Middle Ages it was a common vocation. Anchorites and anchoresses lived the religious life in the solitude of an "anchorhold" (or "anchorage"), usually a small hut or "cell" built against a church. The door of anchorages tended to be bricked up in a special ceremony conducted by the local bishopafter the anchorite had moved in. Medieval churches survive that have a tiny window ("squint") built into the shared wall near the sanctuary to allow the anchorite to participate in the liturgyby listening to the service and to receive Holy communion. Another window led out into the street, enabling charitable neighbours to deliver food and other necessities. In our times the anchoritic life as a distinct form of vocation is almost unheard of.
Contemporary eremitic life
In the Roman Catholic Church
Today's Catholics feeling called to eremitic monasticism may live that
*as a hermit (a) belonging to a cenobitic religious order (for example
Benedictines, Cistercians), or (b) in an eremitically-oriented religious order (for example Carthusian, Camaldolese), but in both cases under obedience to their religious superior (see below), or
*as a consecrated hermit under the canonical direction of their local
bishop(canon 603, see below).
As a member of a religious order
Roman Catholic Churchtoday the institutes of consecrated life have their own regulations concerning those of their members who feel called by God to move from the life in community to the eremitic life, and have the permission of their religious superior to do so. The Code of Canon Law (1983) contains no special provisions for them. They technically remain a member of their religious order and thus under obedience to their religious superior.
As mentioned above, the
Carthusianand Camaldoleseorders of monks and nuns preserve their original way of life as essentially eremitical within a cenobitical context: that is, the monasteries of these orders are in fact clusters of individual hermitages where monks and nuns spend their days alone with relatively short periods of prayer in common daily and weekly.
Also as mentioned above, other orders which are essentially cenobitical, most notably the
Trappists, maintain a tradition that allows individual monks or nuns, when they have reached a certain level of maturity within the community, to pursue the life of the hermit on monastery grounds under the supervision of the abbot or abbess. Thomas Mertonwas among those Trappists who undertook this way of life.
Under the direction of the diocesan bishop (canon 603)
The earliest form of Christian eremitic or anchoritic living preceded that as a member of a religious order, since monastic communities and religious orders are later developments of the monastic life. Today an increasing number of Christian faithful feel again a
vocationto live the eremitic life, whether in the remote country side or in a city in stricter separation from the world, without having passed through life in a monastic community first. Bearing in mind that the meaning of the eremitic vocation is the Desert Theology of the Old Testament(i.e. the 40 years wandering in the desert that was meant to bring about a change of heart), it may be said that the desert of the urban hermit is that of their heart, purged through kenosisto be the dwelling place of God alone.
So as to provide for men and women who feel a calling to the eremitic or anchoritic life without being or becoming a member of an institute of consecrated life, but desire its recognition by the Church as a form of consecrated life nonetheless, the
Code of Canon Law1983 legislates in the Section on Consecrated Life (canon 603) as follows:
§1 Besides institutes of consecrated life the Church recognizes the eremitic or anchoritic life by which the Christian faithful devote their life to the praise of God and salvation of the world through a stricter separation from the world, the
silenceof solitudeand assiduous prayerand penance.
§2 A hermit is recognized in the law as one dedicated to God in aCanon 603 §2 therefore lays down certain requirements for those who feel a
consecrated lifeif he or she publicly professes the three evangelical counsels" (i.e. chastity, religious povertyand obedience), "confirmed by a vow or other sacred bond, in the hands of the diocesan bishopand observes his or her own plan of life under his direction. vocationto the kind of eremitic life that is recognized by the Church as one of the "other forms of consecrated life". They usually are referred to as "consecrated hermits". The norms of canon 603 do not apply to the many other Christian faithful who live alone and devote themselves to fervent prayer for the love of God without however feeling called by God to seek recognition of their prayerful solitary life from the Church by entering the consecrated life.
Catechism of the Catholic Churchof 11 October 1992 (§§918-921) comments on the eremitic life as follows:
From the very beginning of the Church there were men and women who set out to follow Christ with greater liberty, and to imitate him more closely, by practicing the
evangelical counsels. They led lives dedicated to God, each in his own way. Many of them, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, became hermits or founded religious families. These the Church, by virtue of her authority, gladly accepted and approved.
Bishops will always strive to discern new gifts of consecrated life granted to the Church by the Holy Spirit; the approval of new forms of consecrated life is reserved to the
Apostolic See. (Footnote: Cf. CIC, can. 605).
The Eremitic Life
Without always professing the three evangelical counsels publicly, hermits "devote their life to the praise of God and salvation of the world through a stricter separation from the world, the silence of solitude and assiduous prayer and penance". (Footnote: CIC, can. 603 §1)
They manifest to everyone the interior aspect of the mystery of the Church, that is, personal intimacy with Christ. Hidden from the eyes of men, the life of the hermit is a silent preaching of the Lord, to whom he has surrendered his life simply because he is everything to him. Here is a particular call to find in the desert, in the thick of spiritual battle, the glory of the Crucified One.
The norms of the
Roman Catholic Churchfor the consecrated eremitic and anchoritic life (cf. canon 603) do not include corporal works of mercy. Nevertheless, every consecrated hermit – like every Christian – is bound by the law of charity and therefore ought to respond generously, as his or her own circumstances permit, when faced with a specific need for corporal works of mercy. However, since consecrated hermits – again, like every Christian – are also bound by the law of work, and therefore have to earn their living, they have to do so by any means locally available that is compatible with Christian teaching. Therefore (self-)employment in the care sector may be a work option for consecrated hermits so qualified, providing they can convince their bishop that this will not keep them from observing their obligations of the eremitic vocation in accordance with canon 603, under which they have made their vow.
Whilst canon 603 makes no provison for associations of hermits, these do exist (for example the "Hermits of Bethlehem" in Chester NJ and the "Hermits of Saint Bruno" in the U.S.A.; see also
Eremitic-style Catholic living that is not a form of consecrated life
Not all the Catholic faithful that feel that it is their
vocationto dedicate themselves to God in a prayerful solitary life perceive it as a vocation to some form of consecrated life. An example of this is life in a Poustinia, an Eastern Catholic expression of eremitic religious living that is finding adherents also in the West.
Eastern Christian Eremiticism
In the Orthodox Church and
Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, however, hermits live a life not only of prayer but also of service to their community in the traditional Eastern Christianmanner of the poustinik. The poustinik is a hermit available to all in need and at all times.
In the Eastern Christian churches one traditional variation of the Christian eremitic life is the semi-eremitic life in a
lavraor skete, exemplified historically in Scetes, a place in the Egyptian desert, and continued in various sketes today, such as in the St Isaac of Syria Skete [ [http://skete.com/ St Isaac of Syria Skete] ] and several regions on Mount Athos.
ome noted Christian hermits
Early and Medieval Church
Anthony of Egypt, 4th cent., Egypt, a Desert Father, regarded as the founder of Monasticism
*St Benedict of Nursia, 6th cent., Italy, author of the so-called
Rule of St Benedict, regarded as the founder of western monasticism
St. Bruno of Cologne, 11th cent., France, the founder of the Carthusianorder
Gregory the Illuminator, brought the Christian faith to Armenia
Macarius of Egypt, 4th cent., founder of the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great, presumed author of "Spiritual Homilies"
Mary of Egypt, 4/5th cent., Egypt and Transjordan, penitent
Richard Rolle de Hampole, 13th cent., England, religious writer
St. Romuald, 10/11th cent., Italy, founder of the Camaldoleseorder
Simeon Stylites, 4/5th cent., Syria, "pillar hermit"/"pillar saint"
Modern times – Roman Catholic Church
*"Hermit members of religious orders:"
**Maria Boulding, Benedictine nun, spiritual writer
Thomas Merton, 20th cent., Cistercian monk, spiritual writer
*"Consecrated hermits (canon 603):"
**Sr Scholastica Egan, writer on the eremitic vocation
sketes, lavras of Consecrated Hermits (canon 603):"
**Hermits of Bethlehem, Chester, NJ (modern lavra)
*"Christian faithful living an eremitic form of life without belonging to a religious order or being a Consecrated Hermit (canon 603):"
**Sister Wendy Beckett, formerly of the
Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, since 1970 Consecrated virgin, lives in "monastic solitude"; art historian
**Catherine de Hueck Doherty, poustinik, foundress of the
Madonna House Apostolate
Charles de Foucauld, 19/20th cent., formerly Trappist monk, inspired the founding of the Little Brothers of Jesus
Jan Tyranowski, spiritual mentor to the young Karol Wojtyla, who would eventually become Pope John Paul II
Modern times – Orthodox Church
Herman of Alaska, 18th cent.
*Seraphim of Sarov, 18/19th cent.
Sergius of Radonezh, 14th cent.
Modern Times - Protestant Churches
Order of Watchers, a contemporary French Protestanteremitic fraternity.
Hermits in other religions
From a religious point of view, the solitary life is a form of
asceticism, wherein the hermit renounces worldly concerns and pleasures in order to come closer to the deity or deities they worship or revere. This practice appears also in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sufism. Taoismalso has a long history of ascetic and eremetical figures. In the ascetic eremitic life, the hermit seeks solitude for meditation, contemplation, and prayerwithout the distractions of contact with human society, sex, or the need to maintain socially acceptable standards of cleanlinessor dress. The ascetic disciplinecan also include a simplified diet and/or manual labor as a means of support.
ome noted hermits in other religions
Gautama Buddha, who, having abandoned his family for a solitary quest for spiritual enlightenment, became the founder of Buddhism.
Laozi, in some traditions he spent his final days as a hermit.
U Khandi, Religious figure in Burma.
Yoshida Kenkō, Japanese author.
Zhang Daoling, Founder of Tianshi Dao.
In philosophy and fiction
In medieval romances, the
knight errantfrequently encountered hermits on his quest; such a figure, generally a wise old man, would advise him. Knights searching for the Holy Grail, in particular, would learn the errors they had to repent of, and have the significance of their encounters explained to them. [Penelope Reed Doob, "The Idea of the Labyrinth: from Classical Antiquity through the Middle Ages", p 179-81, ISBN 0-8014-8000-0] Evil wizards would sometimes pose as hermits, to explain their presence in the wilds, and to lure heroes into a false sense of security. In Edmund Spenser's " The Faerie Queene", both occurred: the knight on a quest met a good hermit, and the sorcerer Archimagotook on such a pose. [ C. S. Lewis, "Spenser's Images of Life", p 87, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1967]
Hermits can appear in
fairy tales in the character of the donor, as in " Făt-Frumos with the Golden Hair". Friedrich Nietzsche, in his influential work " Thus Spoke Zarathustra", created the character of the hermit Zarathustra (named after the Zoroastrian prophetZarathushtra), who emerges from seclusion to extol his philosophy to the rest of humanity.
Star Wars, Ben Kenobi, was first introduced to the audience as an old hermit, often seen by most of the in-universe characters at their surroundings as a very dangerous, crazy wizard. Later in the story it was to be revealed that he went into exile for political reasons, although it also served him for spiritual training since he was a warrior monk in his youth, and that his first name was actually Obi-Wan.
Friday the 13thseries, the character Jason Voorheeswas believed to have died after he drowned as a child. However, this later changed when it was revealed that he survived and lived life as a hermit- only to enter a murderous rage when he witness the death of his mother seemingly years later (which was during the events of the original film).
In the popular Anime Dragon Ball a martial-arts master named
Muten Roshiis often referred to as a Turtle Hermit, despite the fact that over the course of the series characters are often visiting or even living in his island home.
In modern parlance the term "hermit" tends to be applied to anyone living a life apart from the rest of society, regardless of their motivation.
During the Romantic period of the 19th century some wealthy estate owners would pay imitation "hermits" to inhabit their properties, as living garden decorations.
Skete(a group of hermits living singly in hermitages but with a common rule and church/chapel)
Lavra(cluster of cells for hermits, with a common refectory and church)
Into Great Silence" a documentary on eremitic life as expressed within the Carthusian motherhouse of ' La Grande Chartreuse'.
*Hermit brother Hugo's "Hermitage of Our Lady the Garden Enclosed"
Hermits in the East as well as the West and related subjects
* [http://www.hermitary.com/ Hermitary: the hermit, hermits, recluses, eremiticism, solitude]
The Roman Catholic eremitic life
* [http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/rul-benedict.html Chapter 1 of "The Rule of Saint Benedict" re: the hermit as one of the kinds of monks]
* [http://www.intratext.com/IXT/LAT0010/_P1X.HTM Text of canon 603 of "The Code of Canon Law" (1983, Latin edition) re: Hermits as members of the Consecrated Life in the Catholic Church]
* [http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P1Y.HTM Text of canon 603 of "The Code of Canon Law" (1983, English translation) re: Hermits as members of the Consecrated Life in the Catholic Church]
* [http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p123a9p4.htm#III Catechism of the Catholic Church on Consectrated and Eremitic Life]
* [http://email@example.com/churchchart.html Chart showing the place of the Consecrated Hermit (canon 603) among the People of God]
* [http://doc0mr.tripod.com/ Immaculate Heart of Mary's Hermitage] Catholic, hermit, solitude, silence, contemplation
* [http://www.op.org/ravensbread/ Raven's Bread is a quarterly newsletter for hermits and those interested in the eremitical life]
* [http://www.patersondiocese.org/page.cfm?Web_ID=1424 The Hermits of Bethlehem, Chester, NJ.] (a modern laura)
* [http://www.anchorite.org/blog/anchorite/ anchorite?]
* [http://carmelites.info/hermits Hermits of the Carmelite Order]
* [http://www.karmel.at/ics/edith/stein_9.html Contemplative spirituality in the tradition of the medieval hermits who settled on Mount Carmel.]
* [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07280a.htm Catholic Encyclopedia Entry on hermits]
Buddhist "Lersi" hermits
* [http://magiedubouddha.com/p_thai-lersi1-intl.php The tradition of the Lersi Hermits]
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