A hermit, or eremite (adjectival form: eremitic or hermitic), is a person who lives in seclusion from society, usually for religious reasons.Hermits are a part of several sections of Christianity, and the concept is found in other religions as well.
In Christianity, the term was originally applied to a Christian who lives the eremitic life out of a religious conviction, namely 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).
In the Christian tradition the eremitic lifeis an early form of monastic living that preceded the monastic life in the cenobium. In chapter 1, the Rule of St Benedict lists hermits among four kinds of monks. In the Roman Catholic Church, in addition to hermits who are members of religious institutes, the Canon law (canon 603) recognizes also diocesan hermits under the direction of their bishop as members of the consecrated life. The same is true in many parts of the Anglican Communion, including the Episcopal Church in the United States, although in the canon law of the Episcopal Church they are referred to as "solitaries" rather than "hermits".
Often, both in religious and secular literature, the term "hermit" is used loosely for any Christian living a secluded prayer-focused life, and sometimes interchangeably with anchorite/anchoress, recluse and "solitary". Other religions, for example, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam (Sufism), and Taoism, also have hermits in the sense of individuals living an ascetic form of life.
In modern colloquial usage, "hermit" denotes anyone living apart from the rest of society, or simply participating in fewer social events, for any reason.
The word hermit comes from the Latin ĕrēmīta,the latinisation of the Greek ἐρημίτης (erēmitēs), "of the desert", which in turn comes from ἔρημος (erēmos), signifying "desert", "uninhabited", hence "desert-dweller"; adjective: "eremitic".
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". 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 Athanasius of Alexandria. An antecedent for Egyptian eremiticism may have been the Syrian solitary or "son of the covenant" (Aramaic bar qəyāmā) who undertook special disciplines as a Christian.
Christian hermits in the past have often lived in isolated cells or hermitages, whether a natural cave or a constructed dwelling, situated in the desert or the forest. People sometimes sought them out for spiritual advice and counsel. Some eventually acquired so many disciples that they no longer had physical solitude. Some 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. In the 10th century, a rule for hermits living in a monastic community was written by Grimlaicus. In the 11th century, the life of the hermit gained recognition as a legitimate independent pathway to salvation. Many hermits in that century and the next came to be regarded as saints.From the Middle Ages and down to modern times, eremitical monasticism has also been practiced within the context of religious institutes in the Christian West.
In the Catholic Church the Carthusians and Camaldolese arrange 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 briefly for communal prayer and only occasionally for community meals and recreation. The Cistercian, Trappist and Carmelite orders, which are essentially communal in nature, allow members who feel a calling to the eremitic life, after years living in the cenobium or community of the monastery, to move to a cell suitable as a hermitage on monastery grounds. There have also been many hermits who chose that vocation as an alternative to other forms of monastic life.
The term "anchorite" (from the Greek ἀναχωρέωanachōreō, signifying "to withdraw", "to depart into the country outside the circumvallate city") is often used as a synonym for hermit, not only in the earliest written sources but throughout the centuries. Yet the anchoritic life, while similar to the eremitic life, can also be distinct from it. Anchorites lived the religious life in the solitude of an "anchorhold" (or "anchorage"), usually a small hut or "cell", typically built against a church. The door of an anchorage tended to be bricked up in a special ceremony conducted by the local bishop after 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 liturgy by listening to the service and to receive Holy Communion. Another window looked out into the street or cemetery, enabling charitable neighbors to deliver food and other necessities. Clients seeking the anchorite's advice might also use this window to consult them.
Catholics who wish to live in eremitic monasticism may live that vocation as a hermit:
There are also lay people who informally follow an eremitic lifestyle and live mostly as solitaries.Not all the Catholic lay members that feel that it is their vocation to 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 as a Poustinik, an Eastern Catholic expression of eremitic living that is finding adherents also in the West.
In the Catholic Church, 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 institute of consecrated life and thus under obedience to their religious superior.
The Carthusian and Camaldolese orders 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.
Other orders that are essentially cenobitical, notably the Trappists, maintain a tradition under which individual monks or nuns who have reached a certain level of maturity within the community may pursue a hermit lifestyle on monastery grounds under the supervision of the abbot or abbess. Thomas Merton was among the Trappists who undertook this way of life.
The earliest form of Christian eremitic or anchoritic living preceded that as a member of a religious institute, since monastic communities and religious institutes are later developments of the monastic life. Bearing in mind that the meaning of the eremitic vocation is the Desert Theology of the Old Testament, it may be said that the desert of the urban hermit is that of their heart, purged through kenosis to 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 Roman Catholic Church as a form of consecrated life nonetheless, the Code of Canon Law 1983 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 silence of solitude and assiduous prayer and penance. §2 A hermit is recognized by law as one dedicated to God in consecrated life if he or she publicly professes in the hands of the diocesan bishop the three evangelical counsels, confirmed by vow or other sacred bond, and observes a proper program of living under his direction.
Canon 603 §2 therefore lays down certain requirements for those who feel a vocation to the kind of eremitic life that is recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as one of the "other forms of consecrated life". They usually are referred to as "diocesan hermits". The norms of canon 603 do not apply to the many other Catholic 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 Roman Catholic Church by entering the consecrated life.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church of 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). ... 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.
Catholic Church norms for the consecrated eremitic and anchoritic life do not include corporal works of mercy. Nevertheless, every 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. Hermits, like every Christian, are also bound by the law of work. If they are not financially independent, they may engage in cottage industries or be employed part-time in jobs that respect the call for them to live in solitude and silence with extremely limited or no contact with other persons. Such outside jobs may not keep them from observing their obligations of the eremitic vocation of stricter separation from the world and the silence of solitude in accordance with canon 603, under which they have made their vow. Although canon 603 makes no provision for associations of hermits, these do exist (for example the "Hermits of Bethlehem" in Chester NJ and the "Hermits of Saint Bruno" in the United States; see also lavra, skete).
Many of the recognised religious communities and orders in the Anglican Communion make provision for certain members to live as hermits, more commonly referred to as solitaries. One Church of England community, the Society of St. John the Evangelist, now has only solitaries in its British congregation.Anglicanism also makes provision for men and women who seek to live a single consecrated life, after taking vows before their local bishop; many who do so live as solitaries. The Handbook of Religious Life, published by the Advisory Council of Relations between Bishops and Religious Communities, contains an appendix governing the selection, consecration, and management of solitaries living outside recognised religious communities.
In the Canon Law of the Episcopal Church (United States), those who make application to their diocesan bishop and who persevere in whatever preparatory program the bishop requires, take vows that include lifelong celibacy. They are referred to as solitaries rather than hermits. Each selects a bishop other than their diocesan as an additional spiritual resource and, if necessary, an intermediary. At the start of the twenty-first century the Church of England reported a notable increase in the number of applications from people seeking to live the single consecrated life as Anglican hermits or solitaries.
In the Orthodox Church and Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, hermits live a life of prayer as well as service to their community in the traditional Eastern Christian manner 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 lavra or skete, exemplified historically in Scetes, a place in the Egyptian desert, and continued in various sketes today including several regions on Mount Athos.
Members of religious orders:
Diocesan hermits according to canon 603:
From a religious point of view, the solitary life is a form of asceticism, wherein the hermit renounces worldly concerns and pleasures. This can be done for many reasons, including: to come closer to the deity or deities they worship or revere, to devote one's energies to self-liberation from saṃsāra, etc. This practice appears also in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sufism. Taoism also has a long history of ascetic and eremitical figures. In the ascetic eremitic life, the hermit seeks solitude for meditation, contemplation, prayer, self-awareness and personal development on physical and mental levels; without the distractions of contact with human society, sex, or the need to maintain socially acceptable standards of cleanliness, dress or communication. The ascetic discipline can also include a simplified diet and/or manual labor as a means of support.
Pachomius, also known as Pachome and Pakhomios, is generally recognized as the founder of Christian cenobitic monasticism. Coptic churches celebrate his feast day on 9 May, and Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches mark his feast on 15 May or 28 May. In the Lutheran Church, he is remembered as a renewer of the church, along with his contemporary, Anthony of Egypt on January 17.
A monastery is a building or complex of buildings comprising the domestic quarters and workplaces of monastics, monks or nuns, whether living in communities or alone (hermits). A monastery generally includes a place reserved for prayer which may be a chapel, church, or temple, and may also serve as an oratory, or in the case of communities anything from a single building housing only one senior and two or three junior monks or nuns, to vast complexes and estates housing tens or hundreds. A monastery complex typically comprises a number of buildings which include a church, dormitory, cloister, refectory, library, balneary and infirmary. Depending on the location, the monastic order and the occupation of its inhabitants, the complex may also include a wide range of buildings that facilitate self-sufficiency and service to the community. These may include a hospice, a school, and a range of agricultural and manufacturing buildings such as a barn, a forge, or a brewery.
The Carthusians, also known as the Order of Carthusians or the Order of Saint Bruno, are an enclosed religious order of the Roman Catholic Church. The order was founded by Bruno of Cologne in 1084 and includes both monks and nuns. The order has its own rule, called the Statutes, and their life combines both eremitical and cenobitic monasticism. The motto of the Carthusians is Stat crux dum volvitur orbis, Latin for "The Cross is steady while the world is turning."
An anchorite or anchoret is someone who, for religious reasons, withdraws from secular society so as to be able to lead an intensely prayer-oriented, ascetic, or Eucharist-focused life. Whilst anchorites are frequently considered to be a type of religious hermit, unlike hermits they were required to take a vow of stability of place, opting for permanent enclosure in cells often attached to churches. Also unlike hermits, anchorites were subject to a religious rite of consecration that closely resembled the funeral rite, following which they would be considered dead to the world, a type of living saint. Anchorites had a certain autonomy, as they did not answer to any ecclesiastical authority other than the bishop.
The Camaldolese monks and nuns are two different, but related, monastic communities that trace their lineage to the monastic movement begun by Saint Romuald.
Christian monasticism is the devotional practice of individuals who live ascetic and typically cloistered lives that are dedicated to Christian worship. It began to develop early in the history of the Christian Church, modeled upon scriptural examples and ideals, including those in the Old Testament, but not mandated as an institution in the scriptures. It has come to be regulated by religious rules and, in modern times, the Canon law of the respective Christian denominations that have forms of monastic living. Those living the monastic life are known by the generic terms monks (men) and nuns (women). The word monk originated from the Greek μοναχός, itself from μόνος meaning 'alone'.
Cenobiticmonasticism is a monastic tradition that stresses community life. Often in the West the community belongs to a religious order, and the life of the cenobitic monk is regulated by a religious rule, a collection of precepts. The older style of monasticism, to live as a hermit, is called eremitic. A third form of monasticism, found primarily in Eastern Christianity, is the skete.
In the Catholic Church, a religious profession is the solemn admission of men or women into consecrated life by means of the pronouncement of religious vows, typically the evangelical counsels.
The Rule of Saint Augustine, written about the year 400, is a brief document divided into eight chapters and serves as an outline for religious life lived in community. It is the oldest monastic rule in the Western Church.
Religious vows are the public vows made by the members of religious communities pertaining to their conduct, practices, and views.
The Order of Saint Jerome or Hieronymites is a Catholic cloistered religious order and a common name for several congregations of hermit monks living according to the Rule of Saint Augustine, though the inspiration and model of their lives is the 5th-century hermit and biblical scholar Saint Jerome.
In the Catholic Church, a consecrated virgin is a woman who has been consecrated by the church to a life of perpetual virginity as a spouse of Christ. Consecrated virgins are consecrated by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite. The consecrated virgins are to spend their time in works of penance and mercy, in apostolic activity and in prayer, according to their state of life and spiritual gifts.
Consecrated life is a state of life in the Catholic Church lived by believers who wish to follow Jesus Christ in a more exacting way. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it "is characterized by the public profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, in a stable state of life recognized by the Church". The Code of Canon Law defines it as "a stable form of living by which the faithful, following Christ more closely under the action of the Holy Spirit, are totally dedicated to God who is loved most of all, so that, having been dedicated by a new and special title to his honour, to the building up of the Church, and to the salvation of the world, they strive for the perfection of charity in the service of the kingdom of God and, having been made an outstanding sign in the Church, foretell the heavenly glory."
Catholic spirituality includes the various ways in which Catholics live out their Baptismal promise through prayer and action. The primary prayer of all Catholics is the Eucharistic liturgy in which they celebrate and share their faith together, in accord with Jesus' instruction: "Do this in memory of me." The Catholic bishops at the Second Vatican Council decreed that "devotions should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some fashion derived from it, and lead the people to it, since, in fact, the liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them." In accord with this, many additional forms of prayer have developed over the centuries as means of animating one's personal Christian life, at times in gatherings with others. Each of the religious orders and congregations of the Catholic church, as well as lay groupings, has specifics to its own spirituality – its way of approaching God in prayer to foster its way of living out the Gospel.
Vocational discernment is the process in which men or women in the Catholic Church discern, or recognize, their vocation in the church. The vocations are the life as layman in the world, either married or single, the ordained life and the consecrated life.
The Carmelite Monks or Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel is a cloistered contemplative religious community of diocesan right dedicated to a humble life of prayer. They are known for their loyalty to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and to the ancient traditions of Carmel. Their life includes strict separation from the world and the living of the cloistered Carmelite spirituality and way of life established by St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Jesus. In accord with the Carmelite Rule, they engage in manual labor and the study of Carmelite spirituality in the solitude of the mountains, with the firm hope of attaining to Union with God.
A hermitage can either be a place where a hermit lives in seclusion from the world, or a building or settlement where a person or a group of people lived religiously, in seclusion. When included in the name of continental European properties or churches, any meaning is often imprecise, and may refer to some distant period of the history of what is today a property that is either a normal parish church, or ceased to have any religious function some time ago. Secondary churches or establishments run from a monastery were often called "hermitages".
Eastern Christian monasticism developed for around a century and a half as a spontaneous religious movement, up to the time of the Council of Chalcedon, which took place in 451. At that Council, monasticism had become an acknowledged part of the life of the Christian Church, and it was specially legislated for.
A religious brother is a member of a Christian religious institute or religious order who commits himself to following Christ in consecrated life of the Church, usually by the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. He is a layman, in the sense of not being ordained as a deacon or priest, and usually lives in a religious community and works in a ministry appropriate to his capabilities. A brother might practice any secular occupation. The term "brother" is used as he is expected to be as a brother to others. Brothers are members of a variety of religious communities, which may be contemplative, monastic, or apostolic in character. Some religious institutes are composed only of brothers; others are so-called "mixed" communities that are made up of brothers and clerics.
A religious institute is a type of institute of consecrated life in the Catholic Church where its members take religious vows and lead a life in community with fellow members. Religious institutes are one of the two types of institutes of consecrated life; the other is that of the secular institute, where its members are "living in the world".
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