What Are Hermits?

John the Baptist

What are hermits? And do they have anything to do with Catholicism?

A hermit is someone who has withdrawn to a solitary place for a life of religious seclusion. The word comes from the Greek “eremos,” meaning desert – hence a hermit is a person who lives in the desert. The idea of pursuing a reclusive lifestyle for religious reasons exists in many spiritual traditions.

In Catholicism, the hermit’s life recalls the biblical examples of the prophet Elijah, John the Baptist, and of course Jesus, during his 40 days in the desert. As early Christian monastic life developed in the third century, many people were drawn to this lifestyle, inspired by the example of St. Anthony and the other desert fathers and mothers. The tradition continues today in cloistered, contemplative religious communities such as the Carmelites and Camaldolese.

The Church recognizes the vocation to the hermit’s life as a form of consecrated 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.” A hermit can attain this recognition 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” (Code of Canon Law, canon 603).

Neela Kale

Neela Kale is a writer and catechetical minister based in the Archdiocese of Portland. She served with the Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico and earned a Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology. Some of her best theological reflection happens on two wheels as she rides her bike around the hills of western Oregon.