Canon 603

Diocesan hermits

As I have lived in various traditional Catholic monastic settings, it seemed natural – when looking for ways of living a “hermitage” existence – to explore Canon 603.  This would place me under the authority of the local Ordinary (i.e. the Bishop of Orihuela-Alicante in this area) and offer the mutual advantage of a direct relationship with the local Catholic parish, including spiritual direction from the parish priest.

This year, during the Spanish national lockdown to combat the Covid-19 virus, from March to June 2020, I re-established a connection with St Hugh’s Charterhouse (I had experienced life in a hermitage in that Carthusian monastery on a discernment retreat a decade ago), and I had various conversations about Canon 603 with my parish priest.  Dom Anonymous of St JHugh’s Carthusian monastery was pleased to guide me with my rule but unable to conduct spiritual direction at a distance, understandably.  Without any practical local SD, a properly functioning Catholic hermitage rule is unwise.

As my routine developed in El Parral during the time of the lockdown and afterwards, as a conscious hermitage life, I did not find there was much support or follow-up to my enquiries regarding Canon 603.  The necessary spiritual direction was not forthcoming either and I did not feel there was much understanding of the spiritual endeavour of a ‘solitary’ like myself or any real willingness to support it.  Quite often the local parish these days becomes more of a social club or support system for elderly villagers.  That’s good, and one function of a local parish church (as I would say if I were still in a team of friars doing parish audits and conducting parish missions!)  It is a sad if the social support just becomes the only function as that does not bode well for the living tradition of the Church

I also sought help and advice regarding Canon 603 from a well-established solitary who writes and blogs on these matters, but did not get any answers to various enquiries, so I gave up on the matter.   Now in late 2020, I am resigned to a less formal approach and have moved on from the complications of trying to get Canon 603 working here. My contribution of prayer support for the diocese can be done in an even more hidden way than I had imagined: i.e. without the bishop even knowing about me!

So be it.  Thoreau didn’t need any hermit bureacracy on Walden Pond!  Unfortunately, he didn’t need the Church either.  It seems from my own explorations that Canon 603 only exists for implementation by some bishops/priests following their own enthusiasms. (e.g. the Bishop of Spoleto who I talked with a few years ago and has a whole mountain filled with his diocesan hermits under rule 603!)

There are many ways to live a solitary life and many hermits who successfully work things out for themselves.  Here is Canon 603, in case you are interested, and good luck with that… !

Canon 603 (English)

§ 1. In addition to 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 the salvation of the world through a stricter withdrawal 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.

Source: Code of Canon Law

Canon 603 (Español)

§ 1.    Además de los institutos de vida consagrada, la Iglesia reconoce la vida eremítica o anacorética, en la cual los fieles, con un apartamiento más estricto del mundo, el silencio de la soledad, la oración asidua y la penitencia, dedican su vida a la alabanza de Dios y salvación del mundo.

§ 2.    Un ermitaño es reconocido por el derecho como entregado a Dios dentro de la vida consagrada, si profesa públicamente los tres consejos evangélicos, corroborados mediante voto u otro vínculo sagrado, en manos del Obispo diocesano, y sigue su forma propia de vida bajo la dirección de éste.

Fuente: Codigo de Derecho Canonico