Solitude, in Christian usage, a condition, or state, of deliberate separation from others in order to devote oneself, without the distractions of company, to prayer. Following the example of Christ, who often went alone to pray, Christians desirous of being close to God have, from earliest times, sought solitude as a condition for continued prayer. In mid-3d century, the first monks found solitude in the desert. In the 4th century, hermitages were scattered through the Christian world (see mo nasticism, 1). Hermits' cells grouped around a common place of worship developed into monasteries, in which solitude of soul was achieved by silence.
Authors of religious rules have considered solitude necessary for recollection and aimed at it by the practice of silence. In modern times the carthusians and camaldolese achieve relative solitude in their monasteries; the Discalced carmelites are permitted occasional periods of complete solitude; all religious communities insist on some solitude, through retreats and times of silence each day.
Bibliography: h. hemmer, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951) 1.1:1134-42. h. j. waddell, tr., The Desert Fathers (New York 1936). m. wolter, The Principles of Monasticism, tr. b. a. sause (St. Louis 1962).