Desert Dwellers

In Christian terminology, menwho have sought to triumph over the two unavoidable enemies of humansalvation, the flesh and the devil, by depriving them of the assistance of their ally, the world. The naturalimpulse of all earnest souls to withdraw temporarily or forever from the tumult of sociallife was sanctionedby the examples and teachings of Scripture. St. John Baptist in the desert and Our Lord, withdrawing ever and anon into solitude, were examples which incited a hostof holymento imitate them. Since these mendespisedand shunned the world, it cannot surprise us that the world answered with corresponding contempt. The world is an imperious tyrant, and thoroughly selfish; niggardly in its gratitude to those lofty souls whose lives are entirely devoted to its betterment without regard to its praise or censure. It pursues as rebels, and derides as fools, those who shake off its yoke and scatter to the winds its riches, honours, and pleasures. In its extremest isolation, the lifeof the Christian anchorite is no Nirvana. The soul occupied with divine thoughts freed from all distractingcares leads an existencemost consonant to man'srationalnature, and consequently productive of the highest typeof happiness obtainable on this earth. Moreover, no matter how deeply the hermit burieshimself in the thicket or wilderness, he is always within easy reach of the call of charity. First of all, kindredspiritswillseek him out. Hundreds of cells willcluster about his; his experience will be invokedfor the drawing up of rules of order and for spiritualguidance; in short, his hermitage is gradually transformed into a monastery, his solitary lifeinto the cenobitic. If he again longs for solitude, and plunges deeper into the desert, the same process willbegin, as we see in the case of St. Anthonyof Egypt. Furthermore, though these saintlymenhave thrown off the yoke of the world, they remain subject to the authority of the Church, at whose command, in critical times, they have issued forth from their retirement, like fresh reserve forces, to strengthen the dispirited ranks of her spiritualarmy. Thus did Anthony(286-356) come to Alexandriaon the appealof Athanasius; thus did the sons of Benedict, and Romuald, and Bruno, and Bernard, do yeoman's work in the medieval struggle with barbarism. Indeed, it would be difficult to point out a single great champion of Christian civilization who was not trained to the spiritualcombat in the wilderness.

The chief resorts of the earliest of these fugitives from humansociety were the vast deserts of Egypt and Syria, whose caves and tombs soon housed an incredible number of Christian ascetics. The first attempts at self-discipline by this untutored hostwere sometimes crude, and tinctured with Orientalfanaticism; but before long the authority of the Church and the wise maxims of great spiritualmasters, notably Pachomius, Hilarion, and Basil, fashioned them into a well disciplinedarmy, with distinct aims and methods. Soon the rule obtained, that those only should be authorized to live solitary lives who had previously spent a timeof probation in a monastery, and had been permitted by their abbot to withdraw. Between the monks, who lived and worked in common (the so-called cenobites) and the hermits, who passed their lives in absolutesolitude, there were many gradations. Some lived in separate cells and met only for prayer, some for meals, some only on Sundays. The strangest formof asceticismwas that adoptedby the Stylites, menwho lived for years on the tops of high columns, from which they exhorted and instructed the awe-strickenpopulace. Comingto more modern times, canonistsdistinguish four different speciesof Hermits: (1) Those who have taken the three monastic vows in some religious order approved by the Church. Such are the Hermits of St. Augustine, the Hermits of St. Jerome, etc. (2) Those who live in common with a formof lifeapproved by the bishop. (3) Those who without vows or community life adopta peculiar habitwith the approval of the bishop, and by him are deputed to the service of a churchor oratory. (4) Those who, without any ecclesiastical authority, adoptthe "habitus eremiticus" and live under no rule. To obviate possible abuses on the part of this last class of hermits, the Holy See has at different times issued stringent legislation, which may be read in Benedict XIV "De Syn. Dioec." VI, iii, 6, or in Ferraris, "Bibliotheca", s.v. "Eremita".



deleted deleted
1 Response Mar 6, 2010

The concept of God is something too vast for the human to comprehend. So, we clothe him/her in language and constructs that we can relate to. The physicality is of the least importance. It is the essence and the meaning he/she tries to convey that we need to embrace.