Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hermits.


Idiorrhythmic monks.
.
That is a term used in the East to describe Orthodox monks and hermits who essentially do their own thing. Well kind of - it is a bit more complicated than that however. Suffice it to say it generally implies laxity and some level of corruption of the monastic ideal - I'm not talking corruption as in vice, but deviation from traditional cenobitism... which in my book amounts to doing your own thing. Private, personal piety sets the tone - although in the generally unstable modern aspirant - one may prefer to say it evolves. Very smart, long term idiorrhythmic monks or nuns may therefore consider themselves to be highly evolved. And indeed they may be - only God knows.
.
In the East monks can be distinguished by four categories; eremetic, semi-eremetic, cenobitic, and idiorrhythmic. I suppose one might say that idiorrhythmic observance came about by degrees and accommodation to modern life, though it dates back to the 14th century in Greece, a period of decline. However, there is no time like the present for decadence in religious observance. We live in unsettled and unstable times, when theology and liturgy is corrupted, therefore religious life itself will show signs of strain and corruption.
.
I'm not offering a critique of modern monasticism or religious life, but I've been thinking about it since my post regarding Br. Roger of Taize, wherein I mention monastic life and got a couple of replies which led me to once again review what I know about contemporary gyrovagues - as Benedict might describe them - or the idiorrythmic monks, nuns, hermits, what have you, that seem to abound today. I'm no expert of course, just a guy with an opinion - who happens to have known many characters who aspired to their own special form of monastic/heremetic life. Some persevere, others do not - and not a few are characterized by a noticeable lack of stability.
.
Today anyone can call themselves a monk, a nun, a hermit, an anchoress, what have you, and remain living in their house or apartment, keeping their job or living off of donations or, as seems to be the case lately, supporting themselves through some online business. Nothing is wrong with that either. Others go off to a little piece of property and build a hermitage and a chapel and if they have the bishop's approval, they some times provide space for retreats. Getting the local bishop's approval isn't always that hard and does indeed provide a level of legitimacy to the hermit's life. After all, there are provisions in Canon Law for private hermits, consecrated virgins, and so on. It must be said that many modern hermits have responded to a call or spiritual direction indicating to them that they devote their lives to seeking God in solitary prayer. The bishop's blessing confirms the vocation and the Church recognizes it.
.
Nevertheless, many times the religious observance can only be defined as idiorhythmic as opposed to authentic eremitism in the traditional sense - in fact it is usually semi-eremetic at best - but nearly always idiorrhythmic. Again - a personalized cell rule is necessary - although amendments frequently find their way in. "I need a juicer now!" Or, "I need a new blackberry." Life goes on, I know.
.
I've known one nun in particular who has moved from diocese to diocese - perhaps unhappy with the former bishop, or to be closer to friends? I don't know. But she always has to set up new housekeeping and facilities. I've known monks like this as well - not you Father. To be fair, I also know generous lay people who have consecrated their lives and live an edifying life as semi-hermits, or full-fledged hermits - away from cities and towns - quite like genuine hermits. Nevertheless, most if not all, live quite comfortably - and even go on vacation from time to time.
.
I might mention I also know communities who live an eremetic life in cities - much like the Little Brothers or Sisters of Jesus, whose life is inspired by the monastic example of Bl. Charles de Foucauld. One group I'm familiar with follows the Rule for Hermitages as written by Francis of Assisi - albeit added to with their own constitutions. I'd call their life semi-eremetic, although they consider themselves hermits and contemplatives - another term that may often be used in vain - I think.
.
Please - don't get me wrong, all of that is fine, and the more recognition and approval by the Church one receives the better - one's life is regularized and legitimized through canonical status or diocesan approval. And for some, status is an issue. Some may think of themselves as finally having a job, a meaningful position, a status because they can identify themselves as a hermit or an anchoress. It all can sound and appear rather romantic, like a tiny, precious illuminated manuscript, the hermitage within looms in one's imagination like a tiny little cottage nestled in a clearing of a thick woods, self-sustained and contained... From which the hermit can come and go at will, watch TV, listen to music, surf the Internet, email friends, entertain guests - just like me in my little house. Wow! I could be a hermit too.
.
I could be a hermit too?! I rarely go out except to the store and church for Mass and confession and adoration. I pray and study and paint icons and religiously themed works, I garden... I must be a hermit - right in the middle of a city. Of course - there are hermits everywhere and anywhere now days - in fact the man in the cubicle next to you may be a hermit - with a condominium of course - or a room in his parent's basement, and he may even have initials after his name... sosf, ocds, osbs.
.
I realize third orders and pious associations are charisms provided for the sanctification of the faithful, as well as the edification of the Church. As most of my readers know, I am a third order Franciscan. Nevertheless, I don't know why it is so hard for some people just to be Roman Catholic - whether part of a group or not. I don't know how or why they miss the greatness of ordinary life. That is why I admire Opus Dei - they never sport an external sign of their spiritual affiliation or status - they simply blend into ordinary society.
.
Pray for vocations though - we desperately need real vocations to the religious life and the priesthood.
.
.
Please note: This post is based upon personal experience, observation and opinion. It is a generalization and not addressed to specific persons.
.
Art: St. Onufrius.
.
Link:

5 comments:

  1. All of these sorts of people... all of one faith and trying to live their lives the best way that they know how to for God. Imperfect though they may be.
    ***********************
    Isn't it wonderful to be Catholic. I love being Catholic it's the best. THE BEST that this life has to offer !
    ***********************
    Is there a group for hermits that go door to door and beg people to go to Mass with them?

    Is there a group for people who don't like to talk to other people? (Hum, what would those group meetings be like?) That's the group for me !

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh yes Belinda - it is wonderful. Oh it is! It is! All of us trying to live our lives as best we can! It is wonderful!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm teasing Belinda. It really is wonderful - thanks for pointing that out.

    ReplyDelete
  4. There are days when I could be a hermit. I am glad though that it has evolved a bit from days of yore when the odor of sanctity meant that you didn't allow yourself luxuries such as baths.
    I like your comment about "...the greatness of ordinary life".

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous3:55 PM

    I once more come upon the challenge that some place upon hermits--that one is not to call oneself a Catholic hermit, that one is not "really" a hermit unless "approved" and "canonical."

    Your comments are refreshing. Yes, I have requested canonical status of my Bishop, but I did so as a means to discern what is real, in a sense, of the hermit vocation!

    I have read theologian priests and expert religious order hermits write that there are graces necessary that come from canonical approval, and that the hermit becomes a true gift to the Church through vows accepted by one's Bishop.

    Yes, of course, I want all the graces possible. Yes, I want to succeed in the vocation, and if it is true that the graces are necessary for success--then, well, yes, I need this! If it is that I will be a true gift to the Church through canonical approval, then yes, I want that for the Church!

    I have placed it in the Bishop's heart and mind, and God through him will decide. It seems a simple thing. It seems a silly thing, too.

    If the answer is "no", then it seems the canonical approval thing is rather unnecessary, after all.

    What is of concern, or could be for all the temporal Catholic issues going on out there, is that there are people, usually women, who are writing as if God-assigned to the task, who influence the regulations by developing the regulations of what makes a legitimate hermit or not, in the name of the Church--in the eyes of God, perhaps, also?

    Sort of sad, I think. A huge part of me wants nothing to do with it. Does canonical "status" as a hermit somehow handcuff an otherwise sincere and loving soul, to a temporally created Catholic mechanism, created by hermits and canonists who seem to not have better things to do?

    But by all means, if one does not receive the necessary graces if not necessarily approved canonically by one's Bishop to live the hermit life, then is one living a farce?

    This begins to get rather serious, does it not? And then, who will listen to a nothing hermit?

    Well, maybe God will...even if humanity does not. Or better, maybe the nothing hermit listens to God...and not humanity, not even well-intentioned temporal Catholic humanity.

    Am thankful I stumbled across your blog entry on the topic.

    ReplyDelete


Please comment with charity and avoid ad hominem attacks. I exercise the right to delete comments I find inappropriate. Be sure and double check if your comment posted after you do the verification deal - sometimes it doesn't print if you made an error.