Hermits Prematurely Declared Defunct

“Since [Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644)] the eremitic life has been gradually abandoned, and the attempts made to revive it in the last century have had no success.” “The Catholic Encyclopedia”, 1907
Catholic Enc
“The Catholic Encyclopedia: An International Work of Reference on the Constitution, Doctrine, Discipline, and History of the Catholic Church”, also referred to as the “Old Catholic Encyclopedia” and the “Original Catholic Encyclopedia”, is an English-language encyclopedia published in the United States by Robert Appleton Company, a publishing company incorporated at New York in February 1905 for the express purpose of publishing the encyclopedia. The first volume appeared in March 1907 and the last three volumes appeared in 1912, followed by a master index volume in 1914 and later supplementary volumes. In 1993 Kevin Knight founded the website New Advent to publish the original Encyclopedia on-line: http://www.newadvent.org/ See also http://www.catholic.org/encyclopedia/
See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia

An abbreviated version of the entry, “Hermits” follows:


J. M. Besse

Eremites, “inhabitants of a desert” (from the Greek eremos), also called anchorites, were men who fled the society of their fellow- men to dwell alone in retirement. Not all of them, however, sought so complete a solitude as to avoid absolutely any intercourse with their fellow-men. Some took a companion with them, generally a disciple; others remained close to inhabited places, from which they procured their food. This kind of religious life preceded the community life of the cenobites. Elias is considered the precursor of the hermits in the Old Testament. St. John the Baptist lived like them in the desert. Christ, too, led this kind of life when he retired into the mountains. But the eremitic life proper really begins only in the time of the persecutions. The first known example is that of St. Paul, whose biography was written by St. Jerome. He began about the year 250. There were others in Egypt; St. Athanasius, who speaks of them in his life of St. Anthony, does not mention their names. Nor were they the only ones. These first solitaries, few in number, selected this mode of living on their own initiative. It was St. Anthony who brought this kind of life into vogue at the beginning of the fourth century. After the persecutions the number of hermits increased greatly in Egypt, then in Palestine, then in the Sinaitic peninsula, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Asia Minor. Cenobitic communities sprang up among them, but did not become so important as to extinguish the eremitic life. They continued to flourish in the Egyptian deserts, not to speak of other localities. Discussions arose in Egypt as to the respective merits of the cenobitic and the eremitic style of life. Which was the better? Cassian, who voices the common opinion, believed that the cenobitic life offered more advantages and less inconveniences than the eremitic life. The Syrian hermits, in addition to their solitude, were accustomed to subject themselves to great bodily austerities. Some passed years on the top of a pillar (stylites); others condemned themselves to remain standing, in open air (stationaries); others shut themselves up in a cell so that they could not come out (recluses).
Not all these hermits were models of piety. History points out many abuses among them; but, considering everything, they remain one of the noblest examples of heroic asceticism the world has ever seen….

The eremitic life spread to the West in the fourth century, and flourished especially in the next two centuries, that is to say, till experience had shown by its results the advantages of the cenobitic organization….

The widespread relaxation of monastic discipline drove St. Odo, the great apostle of reform in the sixth century, into the solitude of the forest. The religious fervour of the succeeding age produced many hermits. But to guard against the serious dangers of this kind of life, monastic institutes were founded that combined the advantages of solitude with the guidance of a superior and the protection of a rule….

At the present time there exists a body of hermits on a mountain near Cordova….

We see, therefore, that the Church has always been anxious to form the hermits into communities. Nevertheless, many preferred their independence and their solitude. They were numerous in Italy, Spain, France, and Flanders in the seventeenth century. Benedict XIII and Urban VIII took measures to prevent the abuses likely to arise from too great independence. Since then the eremitic life has been gradually abandoned, and the attempts made to revive it in the last century have had no success.”

Transcribed by Janet Grayson
From the Catholic Encyclopedia
Copyright © 1913 Encyclopedia Press, Inc.
Electronic Copyright © 1996 New Advent, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
cordoba 2
Cordoue hermits, de la Sierra, Cordoba,Spain 1860s

The current version, “The New Catholic Encyclopedia” (1967, 2nd edition 2003), has a more realistic account of Hermits.
Cath Enc new


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