by Therese Ivers, JCL
There are two types of hermits. The first is the privately dedicated individual who makes private vows. The other is the canonical (diocesan) hermit who makes public vows. Since both of them live in solitude, it may seem on the surface that there is little difference between living in public or private vows. This, however, is not the case, and we will go through some of the differences between the private hermit and the canonical hermit.
The private hermit makes vows. These vows can be made alone or before a priest (the priest merely witnesses the vows; he does not accept them in the name of the Church). The hermit who wishes to profess a vow of obedience should find an individual who would be suitable as a superior or moderator and who agrees to function as such. Normally, it is best if the superior is not his spiritual director unless exceptional circumstances call for it and if the extent of the obedience owed is clearly spelled out in the hermit’s rule of life. Otherwise, the private hermit should not make a vow of obedience but should content himself with the vows of poverty and chastity. The vow of obedience more properly belongs to the applicable canonical forms of consecrated life, not to private individuals who are not living in community or under hierarchical authority.
Who, then, is a private hermit? A hermit under private vow(s) is lay (unless he is a cleric). As a privately dedicated individual, he should not style himself “brother” or wear a habit of a particular order. Since he is not a member of the consecrated state, he should refrain from speaking of himself as a Catholic hermit as that implies canonical status as such. Rather, he should explain to those he may encounter that he is a lay person drawn to solitude with its implication of prayer and penance.
The diocesan, or canonical hermit, on the other hand, is an individual whose superior is his local bishop. He receives formation suitable for his calling and if his call is genuine, he may make his profession in the hands of his bishop. Frequently, the canonical hermit wears identifiable garb. The cowl is traditional for hermits. He has a superior in the form of his bishop, and he lives out his vow of obedience as spelled out in the rule of life which he wrote and was accepted by the bishop. He may call himself “Brother” and may refer to himself as a canonical hermit or a hermit by right of his profession.
Discernment on the part of both the hermit-candidate and the bishop can be helpful in pointing out the will of God for the discerner. The period of testing and formation can help bring the candidate into a fuller understanding and appreciation for his vocation as a public witness to Christ through a life of solitude, prayer, and penance. Further, the acceptance of the person as a canonical hermit gives the blessing and recognition of the Church upon him and acts as a sacramental.
As a publicly consecrated eremetic person, the canonical hermit usually enjoys the privilege of reserving the Blessed Sacrament in his hermitage. This privilege is not normally given to private hermits because they are not recognized as hermits under the law. The reservation of the Eucharist is permitted to the diocesan hermit by some bishops because of his unique vocation of assiduous prayer and penance. It is similar to that privilege given to consecrated virgins by virtue of their being the brides of Christ who keep Him as their center of life, and of religious for their chapels to assist them in their vocation.
Some people are called to be private hermits. Others are called to be canonical hermits. Either way, the differences are not slight.
(c) 2008 by Therese Ivers All Rights Reserved