VISITA INTERIORA TERRAE – HERMITS IN ITALY
november 2013 / september 2014
The word “hermit” comes from the Greek ἐρημίτης (erēmitēs) – which in turn comes from ἔρημος (erēmos, “uninhabited, desolate”) – and literally means “desert dweller”. Putting themselves at the service of human community, hermits “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”. In the eleventh century, hermitic life was recognized as a legitimate independent path to redemption. In Italy it was especially fostered by Pope Celestine V. Today Catholics who wish to follow the hermitic vocation can do so by entering either a cenobitic religious order (for example Benedictines, Cistercians, Trappists), or a hermitic order (for example the Carthusian or the Camaldolese). In both cases, they owe obedience to their religious superior. In fact, the institutes of consecrated life have their own regulations concerning those who feel called to move from the life in community to the hermitic life, and the Code of Canon Law states that they technically remain members of their institute of consecrated life and thus under obedience to their religious superior. Consecrated hermits are bound by the law of charity and by the law of work, meaning they have to earn their living by any available activity, provided it is not contrary to Christian teaching.
“[…] In the common imagination hermitic life evokes wilderness, solitude, caves, ultimately choosing isolation from human society in quest of the absolute. These three elements […] are pure metaphors representing inner spaces. Solitude symbolizes the path man has to walk on in order to go beyond those sources of noise and disquiet that he carries within himself […] our mind is constantly immersed in a hectic flow of ideas, all intertwined in a dense tangle. Ideas follow one another, split, intersect, multiply and vanish, like a storm raging. A hermit silently stands in the eye of the storm […], he realizes that this tangle of ideas does not constitute his true self and so he delves deeper into himself, exploring his emotional dimension. And when he does this, he winces because he finds himself submerged by a rising tide of affections, grievances, hopes, despair, hate, enthusiasm, joy and dejection. And, while standing in the eye of the storm, the hermit keeps asking himself : “Where is my true self?” […] Alchemy gave us a motto that encapsulates the hermit’s unavoidable mission: “Visita interiora terrae, rectificando invenies occultam lapidem” (Consciously descend into the bosom of the earth, by finding your inner order, you will find the hidden stone) […]”
“Gold is not up in the clouds, but down in the earth we tread”.
(Father Giovanni Maria Vannucci)