Tracing the Antonian Hermit Traditions

“It is said that hermit monks and nuns were always present in the Oriental and Eastern communions from the fourth century on, but in the West they nearly disappeared. As the Benedictine scholar Jeremy Hall observes, ‘In the Catholic Church the hermit has been in a kind of limbo since about the sixteenth century …. Monastic communities … held the hermit life in suspicion.’ Rotha Mary Clay collated centuries of documentary evidence in “The Hermits and Anchorites of England”. She describes ‘men and women of strong and saintly character whose life commanded respect and won gratitude .… At its best, the contemplative life was a career and a noble one.’ Clay presents a way of life that was clearly Antonian in heritage and lived around Britain from Celtic times. The women’s movement of the twelfth to fifteenth centuries in the Low Countries, the Beguines, also bears marks of Antonian intent and organization in both communities and solitary lives……
As in past centuries, there remain people around the world who live solitary lives of prayer, prayerful work and its fruits of peace. They watch and pray, learning to persevere in God and ‘to live at the point of intersection where the Love of God and the tensions and suffering we inflict on one another meet, and are held to God’s transforming Love’. Do these hermits contribute to the peace of the world, given that, as Thomas Merton asserted, the Christian life demands there be hermits? In the body of Christ and the body of humanity it is important that there are doctors and health workers, teachers in schools, longdistance lorry drivers, farmers on tractors, mothers walking fractious babies in the night, activists who welcome refugees and asylum seekers. But those living the revived Antonian traditions, in their pointing to the Kingdom, their love of all of creation and their seeking of peace with enemies within and without, local and global, believe they are laying down their lives (de Foucauld’s ‘doing good through silence’), for the grave concerns of today’s world.”

From: Carol McDonough “Christian Hermits and Solitaries. Tracing the Antonian Hermit Traditions”
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