What is Hermitism, the Way of Life of Hermits?

We designate by “eremitism” the lifestyle of hermits, of those who choose to live secluded from society.

Necessarily linked to religion, this path is characterized by chosen solitude and a sometimes austere simplicity.

As eremitism is ultimately relatively little known to the general public, this article will aim to break down some preconceived ideas about it.

To do this, we will together describe what the life of a hermit is (in broad terms at least), put it into perspective in light of history and draw some conclusions from all this.

Contents :

Definition of eremitism

The benefits of this lifestyle

The hermit during Antiquity

A typical religious choice of the Middle Ages

Modern eremitism

Hermits from all over the world

Conclusion: a life not made for everyone!

For further

Christian hermit in monk's outfit, walking on a path.

Definition of eremitism

The term “eremitism” therefore designates the life of solitude that hermits choose.

Derived from the Greek " eremos ", which translates as "desert, uninhabited region", we already see here one of the characteristics of this movement: the choice of a reclusive existence, spent in a hermitage far from human society.

With its synonym “anchorite”, the word “hermit” will simply designate someone who has chosen eremitism.

If isolation for a limited period (sometimes several years, but still limited) is common in most religions, our phenomenon is somewhat different in that it constitutes a definitive choice.

Eremitism will also often be defined by asceticism, or even deprivation of comfort and materials. This simply aims to bring the practitioner closer to a spirituality that is intended to be purer, and to free up as much prayer time as possible during their day. Some even like to say that a hermit is in a state of constant prayer.

Due to this distance from the material, the life of a hermit is conducive to reflection, introspection and an encounter with the sacred.

Another characteristic is the few rules that dictate the existence of hermits. Even if some religions regulate eremitism, the absence of framework or structure (by definition) makes the organization of eremitism quite free.

This may seem obvious but, due to his pious character and especially the rejection of most social relationships, the hermit will most often follow monastic celibacy, as well as many other more or less implicit rules of religious life.

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The benefits of this lifestyle

Eremitism has many virtues and, in the eyes of those who practice it, allows man to live happily.

The pros and cons of the hermit life are numerous, and we could spend hours listing them all. Here, we will simply focus on 4 of the most notable benefits.

1st benefit: a life close to God

Most hermits made their choice with the idea of ​​getting closer to God.

Moving away from a society that rejects the Lord and the message of the Bible, spending several hours in prayer each day and having other religious people as our main social relationships can obviously only bring us closer to the sacred.

2nd benefit: the time needed to search for the truth

This ties in with the previous point but, yes, eremitism ultimately allows you to have a lot of free time to devote to the spiritual aspects of life.

A certain frugality allowing us to limit stewardship tasks and reducing social and relational matters to a minimum frees up most of the time of a day.

Whether it is study, prayer or simply contemplation, hermits will have plenty of time to indulge in this type of more or less mystical practice.

3rd benefit: the absence of economic barriers

Once again, this ties in with the points previously mentioned. (It makes sense, eremitism forms a whole and none of its facets are inseparable from the others.)

In short, frugality and asceticism allow us to have no economic ties, no chains to anyone or anything.

If the hermit wishes to travel, he can do so freely.

If he wants to change activities or develop a new talent, nothing is stopping him.

4th benefit: almost total freedom

As surprising as it may seem, this point is also linked to all the previous ones.

In addition to economic freedom, eremitism offers a religious life independent of most structures (Churches, parishes or bishoprics) and therefore allows the recluse to have no framework to strictly follow.

In reality, most hermits lead very strict lives, with many rules... but rules that choose and judge right!

Mosaic of Jesus Christ in the style of the Eastern Church of Antiquity.

The hermit during Antiquity

The history of eremitism during Antiquity is inseparable from that of Greece, Egypt and the famous fathers of the desert, from whose model the Cenobites, these famous monks with an ascetic life, lived.

A true cradle of religious movements that would change the face of Christianity, the hermit life of Antiquity was the heart of numerous spiritual upheavals.

Development context

It was around the 4th century that a more radical vision of the message of the Gospels developed, with individuals preaching the simplest possible way of life, sometimes even going so far as to seek a kind of voluntary suffering.

In the Bible, Jesus notably carries his message to his disciples to everyone, as far as possible and whatever the cost. They took it literally (rightly so) and many of them were persecuted.

Thus, some believers decided to live a sort of martyrdom through deprivation, based on the model of Jesus and his apostles.

Some examples of known hermits

In reality, the Desert Fathers movement and eremitism in general had become so popular in the end that it would take hours to cite all its representatives (good or bad).

Here we will confine ourselves to naming a few famous hermits who left their mark on the Christian religion during Antiquity:

  • Saint Paul the Hermit and Saint Anthony were among the first Christians to go into the desert, seeking to answer God's call. Both gathered so many faithful around them as various kinds of congregations were created: this marked the birth of monasticism. (In this sense, many congregations and dioceses claim to follow him.)
  • In the 6th century, Saint Benedict of Nursia also responded to the same call, choosing the solitude of eremitism offered to him by the desert. From his life and his teachings and his famous “Rule of Saint Benedict” was later created the famous order of the Benedictines.
  • Other doctors of the Church (faithful people recognized by Rome as learned in the theological field) such as Saint Jerome, Saint Athanasius of Alexandria or Saint Basil spent at least part of their lives in the desert.
  • A figure in the Old Testament, Elias is considered by many to be the first of the hermits.
  • Christ himself can be seen as a hermit. In any case, the passages of the desert or its retreat on the mountain can present to us certain aspects, and temptations, specific to the way of life of the hermits.

Hermit in the colors of a medieval church.

A typical religious choice of the Middle Ages

It is impossible to dissociate the eremitism of medieval monks and abbots.

Indeed, even if the monastic way of life is much more regulated, the thinking behind these choices is quite similar.

You should know that throughout the Middle Ages, sharp differences took place between hermits and monks.

Behind the superficial theological debates was in fact a much more gloomy reality: the desire to control individuals and society.

Eremitism creates free individuals, freed by definition from human society and its rules. This did not please certain men of the Church who were less pious than politicians.

It is true that with its very free side, eremitism is also conducive to the appearance of heresies and, ultimately, messages that would distance humans from the Gospels and the truth.

The main anti-hermit argument lay in the notion of charity.

Indeed, how can we practice this virtue yet teach it through Jesus Christ without contact with others?

While monks, even those secluded in a monastery or abbey, can be charitable towards their brothers, how can a solitary person exercise charity, giving or forgiveness?

When we think carefully, this argument holds up and, whether we are for or against, the debate on eremitism and its confrontation with monastic life proves to be most interesting.

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Modern eremitism

History teaches us that in the last instance, the monastic point of view prevailed and that, gradually, the Christian hermits rallied to the monastic orders placed under the authority of Rome.

Sometimes, certain orders were even created especially for them, in order to correspond to their very particular way of life.

It was in fact towards the end of the 13th century that the Church decided to “regularize” eremitism, seeing through it a failure to obey and a factor of instability.

Whatever the case, the fact is that "hard-line" eremitism became more and more marginal, to the point where its members ended up being seen as crazy and antisocial.

It must be said that there has been no shortage of thieves and swindlers who claimed to be hermits to benefit from a certain mystical aura conducive to deceiving poor people over the centuries.

In short, from exalted believer to somewhat unstable enlightened, the image of the hermit is now clearly tarnished.

Please note, this does not mean that this way of life has lost its substance and its virtues, or that no great hermit could have existed in recent years, but simply that the general vision towards them has changed.

Eremitism is still a vocation recognized by Rome, even today, and many men and women of the Church decide to make its principles their own.

Buddhist monk in meditation position in the forest.

Hermits from all over the world

In this article we have only talked about Christian hermits.

It is undeniable that their image will have been much more influential on our civilization but, without too much surprise, there are comparable phenomena in almost all forms of spirituality that you can find on earth.

Each tradition deserves an article such as this, which would then become long, heavy and full of repetitions.

We will now simply cite some spiritual movements and the link they may have with eremitism:

  • Hinduism is a complex religion with many branches. Even if we cannot make generalizations, the concept of hermit is nevertheless almost a constant. Yogi, sadhu, ascetic: the terms vary but the eremitism remains the same.
  • Most schools of Islam do not encourage eremitism. There is one, however, undoubtedly among the most esoteric, which promotes introspection, contemplation and solitude: Sufism.
  • Buddhism is based on the teachings and life of Siddhārtha Gautama, later known as Buddha, the Enlightened One. You should know that for several years of his life, the Buddha lived alone, as a true hermit meditating and contemplating the world. Eremitism is therefore necessarily an integral part of the Buddhist religion.
  • Jainism is this religion from North India whose practitioners promote non-violence, enlightenment through meditation and respect for all life. Well it turns out that the two greatest heroes of Jainism (real or legendary, that's another debate) are presented to us as former hermits.

Let us also have a word for the numerous monastic orders of the Christian tradition, of which here is a list which, far from being exhaustive, will teach you at least a little:

  • The Carthusians : Very austere, this order advocates reclusive life in a cloister, silence, penance and asceticism.
  • The Benedictines : They respect the rule of Saint Benedict and live in congregations under the governance of an abbot.
  • The Cistercians : With a vow of complete poverty, a taste for manual work and prayer, they live in reclusive monastic communities which also respect the Benedictine rule.
  • The Dominicans : With their white and black habit, they are religious but monks. In fact, they only take one vow, the vow of obedience.
  • The Franciscans : Founded by Saint Francis of Assisi, this is a missionary and preaching order that wants to set an example through humility and poverty.
  • The Trappists : A special category of Cistercians, the Trappists respect a particular rule which invites them to strict silence and manual work.

Religious sculpture which represents several Christian saints.

Conclusion: a life not made for everyone!

In common parlance, the term "hermit" tends to apply to anyone who chooses to live apart from society, regardless of their motivations.

We now know that eremitism is intrinsically linked to religion, and therefore to certain principles. Clearly, the religious character of this way of life cannot be ignored.

While we mentioned earlier some positive aspects of the hermit's life, it is now time to focus on other more complicated ones:

  • Eremitism is centered on prayer and the search for God. There are many ways to pray and they can be very personal. If, however, you are not used to it, it can be complicated to become a hermit overnight.
  • Despite great simplicity (some speak of simplicity), hermits must provide for their primary needs. Concretely, they will have to find a job or an activity from which they can be paid. This too must be taken into account.
  • Like any monk, a hermit must take vows of poverty, obedience, silence and/or chastity. No worries: as with all religious people, the hermit will have a so-called period of discernment allowing him to try this way of life before taking permanent vows.

It’s clear: eremitism is a choice not to be taken lightly.

If you are seriously considering a vocation as a hermit, it would be wise to think about it calmly and, why, to seek the advice of religious people who are undoubtedly more aware than you of the constraints specific to this choice of life. Abandoning the lay life in favor of a consecrated life is not something to be taken lightly.

Abbot, priest, parish priest, canon: there is no doubt that they will be able to advise you with a smile!

For further

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Discover the author: Cyril Gendarme

Cyril Gendarme is a writer whose website "The Lucky Door" ("La Porte Du Bonheur" in French, his native language) has become a reference in the field of esotericism. Born in Belgium, Cyril has been attracted to the mysteries of the world since he was a child. When his interest in occultism was awakened, a particular subject caught his attention: lucky charms.

After years of study and in-depth research on esoteric traditions from around the world, Cyril decided to share his knowledge with the public through the internet. In 2019, he launched "The Lucky Door," a website dedicated to exploring lucky charms, magical symbols, and esoteric arts.

The Lucky Door is much more than just a showcase for those curious about magic, divination, or tradition. It is the result of Cyril's passion for researching and understanding the mysteries of the universe. Every piece of information available on the site testifies to his dedication to sharing his knowledge of the most hidden symbols and their unique powers.

In addition to his online work, Cyril regularly organizes workshops and conferences in different countries. His presence on social media is also highly appreciated, where he offers personalized advice and happily answers questions from his community.