Carmelite Hermits

The hermits gathered around the Well of Elijah on Mount Carmel, painted by Pietro Lorenzetti (c. 1280 – 1348) between 1328-29 as part of an altarpiece for the Carmelite Church in Siena, Italy, now at the Pinacoteca in Siena.

“From the earliest days of the Carmelite Order, our Lady, as the Queen of Hermits, has communicated to certain souls a particular charism and grace to live a solitary and hidden life in the austere wildernesses of Carmel. In the solitude of the wilderness, these men arise as fire, men consumed with the love of God like their Father St. Elias. These hermits live, not as men of this world, but as souls set apart to begin to taste the fruits of heaven even in this life. As the Lord’s intimate friend who has been drawn into the wine cellar of his love, where he inebriates him in his charity, the life of the hermit is consumed in love for God and for the entire world. The hermit can repeat with the prophet Jeremias, “Thou hast captivated me, O Lord, and I have let myself be captivated.”
The majority of the choir monks will find their sanctification in the common way of life, since this is truly the safest path to authentic holiness. Nonetheless, since the Holy Spirit may call some of the fathers to the solitude of the wilderness, the Prior upholds the eremitical vocation as the crown jewel of the Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. Even if in our own time there are few who are able to persevere continuously as hermits, the eremitical life remains revered as a unique charism within this community that has the ability to perpetuate the life of the first fathers on Mount Carmel.
carmellite hermits 2
The Church, in which there is a diversity of charisms, esteems the life led by these hermit-monks as a mysterious source of apostolic fecundity. Although the hermits spend their lives in hidden contemplation, we are reminded in the Catechism that these hermits “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 . . .” St. John of the Cross reminds us of the mystical effectiveness of the hermits when he writes, “An instant of pure love is more precious in the eyes of God . . . and more profitable to the Church, than all other good works together, though it may seem as if nothing were done.”
carmelite hermit
Revival of eremitic life within the Church
Since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, there has been a renewed interest in the ‘eremitic life’ of hermits and solitaries. The 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church 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.” (§§918-921)

Recent development of Carmelite hermits
It is arguably not possible for a Carmelite to be completely cut off from community life in one form or another. The Rule of Saint Albert stresses the value and challenge of community life, and as one of the Fathers of the Church, Saint Basil, asked “If I live alone, whose feet do I wash?”
carmellite hermits
However, whilst complete solitude is never possible for a Carmelite, there are certainly spiritual benefits to periods of prolonged solitude, and since the 1980s the hermit vocation has experienced something of a revival within the Carmelite Family.

For example, in the United States of America, a community of female Hermits of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was established in New Jersey. At Christoval in Texas, hermitages for men and for women were established, modelled on the Rule of Saint Albert. Other hermitages exist in other countries but there are no Carmelite communities of hermits in Britain.
carmellite hermits 3
Some form of community life is an essential aspect of the Carmelite charism, but some people within the Carmelite Family have a particular call to place greater emphasis on the solitary vocation which is also emphasised in Albert’s Rule.

Such people have always existed throughout the history of the Church, but the 1983 Code of Canon Law made particular provision for men and women who feel a calling to consecrate themselves to God through the eremitic or anchoritic life without necessarily being a member of a religious congregation or institute.

Canon 603 states: §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 in the law as one dedicated to God in a consecrated life if he or she publicly professes the three evangelical counsels [i.e. chastity, poverty and obedience], confirmed by a vow or other sacred bond, in the hands of the diocesan bishop and observes his or her own plan of life under his direction.

There are therefore a number of “consecrated hermits” or “solitaries” within the Carmelite Family who make promises to the local bishop and who live in the spirit of the Carmelite Rule of Saint Albert.

In Britain one such Solitary lives alongside the friar community at Aylesford Priory, and contributes to the Order’s pastoral outreach.


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