Recluse, or an anchorite, or hermit, designates a religious–minded person who embraces the eremitical life in one of its most extreme forms, to retire as far as possible from human society. The earliest–known Christian recluses were the Fathers of the Egyptian desert who inhabited natural cells or abandoned tombs, or sometimes even open deserted areas, to achieve seclusion. Recluses of the Middle Ages often had themselves walled in cells; these were sometimes attached to churches and shrines. Their motive was to do penance and make reparation for sin but, above all, to achieve the greatest possible union with God through uninterrupted prayer.
Inclusion was perpetual, as in the case of St. Paul of thebaÏd, or for certain long periods of time, as in the case of St. anthony of egypt. Since the life involved severe penances and grave spiritual difficulties, the Church began to regulate this type of asceticism by legislation in the seventh century and required at least previous training in a monastery. Recluses were to be found throughout the Christian world in early Christian and medieval times, but rarely since then. gregory of tours describes recluses in Merovingian Gaul; and aelred of rievaulx wrote a rule for an anchoress in 12th–century England, as did also the anonymous author of the ancrene riwle (probably of the 13th century).
Bibliography: h. rosweyde, ed., Vitae Patrum (Antwerp 1628) 157:626. j. cassian, Conlationes, ed. m. petschenig in Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum (Vienna 1866–) 13;1886. athanasius, The Life of Saint Anthony, ed. and tr. r. t. meyer in Ancient Christian Writers, ed. j. quasten et al. (Westminster, Md.–London 1946–) 10; 1950. gregory of tours, De gloria confessorum; Patrologia Latina, ed. j. p. migne, 217 v., indexes 4 v. (Paris 1878–90) 71:828–912. aelred, De Vita eremitica; Patrologia Latina, ed. j. p. migne, 217 v., indexes 4 v. (Paris 1878–90) 32:1451–74. j. morton, ed. and tr., The Ancren Riwle (London 1853); The Nun's Rule: Being the Ancren Riwle Modernized (London 1905). j. besse, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–) 1.1:1134–41. c. lialine, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascéiqtque et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932– ) 4:936–953.
[m. c. mccarthy]
rec·luse / ˈrekˌloōs; riˈkloōs; ˈrekˌloōz/ • n. a person who lives a solitary life and tends to avoid other people. • adj. archaic favoring a solitary life. DERIVATIVES: re·clu·sion / riˈkloōzhən/ n.