Monastic Values

Below are some of the most important values which shape the life of the hermit. All Christian hermit give their Rule and manner of leading their daily lives into the hands of their bishops to ensure order and Christian ethical way of living. This document contains some of the values, objectives and way of living for this particular Christian Hermit.  

The practice of monasticism varies among the world’s religions, therefore a precise definition would be somewhat difficult. Broadly speaking, monasticism refers to individuals who strive to exercise religious works that are somewhat more austere and surpass those required by the doctrines of their particular religious denominations. These labours are those which the everyday layperson are unable to do, due to lack time or preference to live in the world due to lack of vocation.

Asceticism has been part of Christian teaching and tradition from the very beginning. It serves the pursuit of perfection in the sense of the Christian doctrine of virtues. The most radical form of ascetic life in antiquity was first eremitic and then cenobitic monasticism, which was one of the most important factors in cultural history in the Middle Ages. In the age of the Reformation, however, there was a fundamental criticism of the concept of monasticism and thus also of the traditional ideal of asceticism.

Depiction of an Early Irish monastic community

Celtic monasticism imitates Eastern monasticism. The early monks in Ireland began to construct authentic monastic Theopolis “City of God”, consisting of the huts for the solitaries which were be grouped around that of the abbot and church imitating the early Lavra in the Egyptian desert, the most famous example of which can be found on the island of Iona. Irish monasticism was characterised by its re-animated asceticism of Eastern origin, and its contempt for secular ecclesiastical life. During the VI and VII centuries, the European West was seen by Irish monks, among other things in search of religious writings. Columbanus (died in 615) will compose a rule of enormous harshness, under which the new monastic foundations made by the saint would be governed.

“Let the monks’ food be poor and taken in the evening, such as to avoid repletion, and their drink such as to avoid intoxication, so that it may both maintain Life and not harm (their souls): vegetables, beans, flour mixed with water, together with small bread of a loaf, lest the stomach be burdened and the mind confused.  For indeed those who desire eternal rewards must only consider usefulness and use.  Use of life must be moderated just as toil must be moderated, since this is true discretion, that the possibility of Spiritual progress may be kept with a temperance that punishes the flesh.  For if abstinence exceeds measure, it will be a vice and not a virtue; for virtue maintains and contains many goods. Therefore, we must fast daily, just as we must feed daily.”

The Rule of Columbanus ca. VII century.

The Hermit also strives to lead an ascetical lifestyle in order to free himself from some of the influences of consumerism, wasteful habits and the constant clamour in peoples lives which are now accepted as the norm in this day and age. Within Celtic Christianity, the ascetics looked upon this world as a source of enticements, ungodliness and materialism. By excluding themselves from the hustle and bustle of the every day Life in the world, the hermit aspires to escape the harmful contacts and to concentrate their energies upon God alone.

Seeking God:  A hermit unceasingly seeks God.  He does this through prayer and lectio divina, through work and labour, and in every event of our life.

Conformity to Christ: Christ is the hermits exemplar: the hermit strive to be conformed to Christ through obedience, humility, conversion of life and poverty.  Christ is our King, whom we attempt to serve as best as we can.  Christ is our Beloved: we seek intimate union with him in prayer.  The more our love for him grows, the more our hearts will begin to be transformed into his likeness.

Solitude and separation from the world:  Hermits generally tend live in places that are somewhat remote – desert places, quiet places, rural places, where there are fewer things to distract them from their search for God, where it is easier to be still, to listen for the voice of God, to see the hand of God within nature, allowing the hermit to focus on the Holy Spirit to the exclusion of everything else.

Unceasing prayer:  St. Paul exhorted the first Christians to “pray unceasingly”.  Through the observance of eremitic life, the hermit gradually learns to occupy his heart more and more constantly within interior prayer.

Work:  Hermits must earn a living by the work of their hands.  This means using our talents and expertise.  Every hermit has to undertake manual work, in the kitchen, house maintenance, care of sick or elderly neighbours, looking after the gardens, and so forth.  This hermitage do not have an active apostolate outside the hermitage; our task is to be hermits, people of prayer.

the simplicity of a Carthusian’s cell at Miraflores

Simplicity: Both tradition and the Gospel calls upon us to renounce all personal possessions, to live in strict poverty and simplicity, not to scramble for the new Argos catalogue with the preoccupation of acquiring the latest consumer goods, but to reduce the amount of unnecessary clutter in our lives. Hermits tend to own things in common (if the live in a community) or to do without them – in the words of the Apostle Paul  to the Christian community at Corinth, to “become poor, so that through poverty we might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

Solitude: Hermits yearn to be alone with God, in prayer, to contemplate upon His Word, and to simply rejoice in His presence. Hermits use solitude as a way to distance themselves from the clamour and distractions of the world; acknowledge the interior of their hearts, and listen attentively to hear God speak. Hermits aim to be, like the Early Christians, “of one heart and one mind”.  The vow of stability binds us to this particular community for the rest of our lives.

Hospitality:  Apart from family visits 3 times a year, hermits, unlike other religious, do not offer hospitality, and anyone wishing to visit the Hermitage must have a valid reason for doing so and needs to apply well in advance for special permission. Nevertheless this may differ depending on the Vows and the Rule that the hermit has placed into the hands of his bishop.

Devotion to Mary:  Many hermitages and all Hermits dedicate themselves to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Symbol of the Church in the order of faith, love and perfect union with Christ.   Under her protection and through her guidance we draw closer to Jesus on our pilgrimage.  Every Hour of the Divine Office includes an anthem sung in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, ending with the Salve Regina at the end of Compline.

Salve Regina from the Sarum Missal