Grimlaicus' Rule for Solitaries

The Regula solitariorum or Rule for Solitaries by the Carolingian prelate Grimlaicus is an important documention of the concept of the hermit and eremitism in continental Latin and Germanic Europe during the early Middle Ages. The Rule was composed in the early 900's in Metz at the behest of an abbot or bishop. 

Grimlaicus' Rule expresses the spirit and strictures of the Rule of St. Benedict and its contemporary application in the Benedictine monastic order. As Grimalicus himself states, the Rule does not address

anchorites, that is, hermits who dwell all by themselves, but cenobitic solitaries, that is, those who dwell in the midst of a cenobium but who live in quarters sealed off from most physical contact with others.

By placing the solitary under the supervision of an abbot in proximity of a community, the rules of both Benedict and Grimlaicus intended to curb the excesses of hermits described by Gregory of Tours and proscribed by the early Council of Vannes. Grimlaicus draws upon patristic sources and John Cassian to filter the excesses of the desert solitaries and promote what translator Andrew Thornton calls the  "Benedictine fondness for moderation."

The first 28 chapters of Grimlaicus' Rule are the most original of the total 69 chapters (St. Benedict's Rule consists of 73 chapters). These are summarized here, with a list of the table of the entire contents reprinted below.

Prologue and Chapters 1-28

Of all Christians, begins Grmlaicus, monks and solitaries must transcend general precepts. They must be perfect, following the gospel admonition to renounce the world and follow Jesus, that is, imitate him. It is not enough to renounce the world like the Cynic philosophers, Grimlaicus insists, but to go the next step in actively following Jesus. He quotes St. Jerome: "It is easier to dispose of a moneybag than to dispose of self-will and pleasure."

For Grimlaicus,

Once solitaries have completely renounced the world, they should be dead to the world that they delight in living for God alone. The more they withdraw from the desire to possess the world, the more they will contemplate with inner attention the presence of God and his saints.

In chapter 8, Grimlaicus contrasts the active and contemplative life. The former revolves around corporal works: feeding, teaching, sick-caring, for example. The contemplative life involves working not on others but on the self. The model is the gospel figures of Martha and Mary, but, Grimlaicus adds, "Martha needs Mary."

The solitary chooses not just holiness but perfection, the pursuit of perfection over human affairs. The solitary is not content with merely making moral progress but only in reaching the summit of perfection, which requires constant vigilance and spiritual work.

In chapter 12, Grimlaicus offers this counsel to the solitary:

Do not fear or desire anything temporal, and do not let either fear of losing some temporal thing or desire for acquiring it weaken the concentration of your mind. Attractive things should not corrupt you, and hostile things should not unsettle you. Having a good reputation should not make you puffed up, and having a bad one should not discourage you. Being falsely accused should not lessen your joy, nor being praised increase it. Take no joy in things, and do not mourn over them. In the midst of joys and sorrows, conduct yourself with resolute will. Nothing the world promises or threatens should shake the steady firmness of your heart. Instead, persevere in being always the same, always yourself, and feel neither the injury the world can inflict nor the benefits it can bestow.

In chapter 15, Grimlaicus discusses the criteria for solitaries to enter monasteries. The solitary must be "temperate in his conduct, chaste in his life, sober, wise, humble, obedient, amiable," able to accept instruction and offer it, and be resolute and persistent. Grimlaicus explicitly states that any who resolve to pursue this form of life do so only within "communities of cenobites" and are not be allowed to live in villages, country churches, or anywhere else, except those presumably permitted "to go apart into the wilderness, as did our forebearers of old." The implications of this latter exception are not followed up.

The initiate solitary should spend one year in probation tested by a skilled monk or older solitary, and should read the Rule and understand it. When the period of testing is over, a simple vow before the bishop and monks takes place, and the solitary enters a cell. The cell is small, closed to the outside, with inner rooms, one of which is adjacent to the church oratory for speaking with or hearing others, curtains entirely closing the windowed space on both sides. The solitary is to have access to his own garden to grow vegetables and take fresh air daily. Other solitaries may dwell in adjacent cells but in an "immense silence." 

Chapter 19 and several subsequent chapters resume a description of required characteristics:

Solitaries ought to be without offense, not imprudent, not bad-tempered, not wine-drinkers, not big eaters, not physically violent, not double-tongued, not neophytes, and not avaricious for filthy gain. ... They should not be irritable and anxious, should not go to extremes or be obstinate, should not be jealous or overly suspicious. ...  They should be just, holy, and chaste. They should practice abstinence and hospitality and love good works. They should be modest, serious, patient, kindly, humble, charitable, and obedient. ... Solitaries should live in such a way that those who disparage religion do not dare to disparage their life.

Grimlaicus identies severnty-two strictures (chapter 25) he classes as "tools of the spiritual craft," based on the Rule of St. Benedict.

In chapters 27 and 28, Grimlaicus reveals his own experience and sentiments about his era. He laments the softness and corruption of the monks of his day. He owns that in youth, considering solitude, he worried about where he would get clothing, wood, vegetables, and the like.

Later chapters

Noteworthy highlights from subsequient chapters include the stricture (chapter 39) that

Solitaries need to labor with their hands and to work for what they eat because people who enjoy leisurely quiet, unless they alternate it with manual work and unless they live spiritually, are living the lives of cattle.  

Grimlaicus confirms the Benedictine schema of daily hours. Generally, the first three and last three hours of the day are spent in prayer and reading; the middle six hours of the day in work. Grimlaicus recommends two daily meals consisting of bread, vegetables, fruit, cheese, and eggs. While fasting was prescribed, Grimlaicus agrees with desert and patristic sources that it is better to eat little and feel hunger daily than to fast occasionally. Of course, this practice would be additional to formal fasts.

For clothing, the solitary is to have two tunics, two cowls (or capes if novices), plus a winter cloak, two undergarments, two pairs of leggings, and footwear. The solitary's bedding is a mat with covering, a blanket, and a pillow. Being all males, the solitary is to avoid "being hairy" and will be cut and shaved every 40 days to avoid vanity. Additionlly, the cell is to have a tub, which is to be used regularly.

Table of Contents

The Rule begins with a Prologue. The 69 following sections are called chapters.

  1. The Kinds of Solitaries
  2. The Loftier Precepts Concerning Monks or Solitaries
  3. The Four Orders of People That Will Be on the Day of Judgment
  4. What True Riches Are
  5. The Perfection of Justice
  6. Those Who Renounce the World Should Have Neither Inheritances Nor Possessions
  7. After Renouncing the World, a Person Should Not Save up Riches
  8. What Is Proper to the Active Life, and What Is Proper to the Contemplative Life
  9. What the Qualities of That Person Should Be in the Active Life Who Is Endeavoring to Rise up to the Contemplative Life
  10. The Difference between the Active Life and the Contemplative Life
  11. The Contemplative Life Delights, Even Now, Those Who Despise Present Things
  12. The Nature and Extent of the Perfection of the Contemplative Life in This Flesh
  13. The Saints Cannot See God Perfectly Unless They Have Reached the Blessedness of the Life to Come
  14. Our Holy Forebears First Began to Live the Solitary Life in Order That They Might Reach the Perfection of the Contemplative Life
  15. Concerning the Procedure for Receiving Brothers into Reclusion
  16. What the Cell of Reclusion Should Be Like
  17. There Must Never Be Fewer Than Two or Three Solitaries at a Time
  18. Whether Priests from the Surrounding Countryside or Young People Ought to Be Received into the Solitary Life
  19. What Kind of People and How Holy Solitaries Ought to Be
  20. How Solitaries Should Be Taught, and in What Manner They Should Teach Others, and How They Should Discretely Look After One Another
  21. Solitaries Should Give All People Examples of Light, and They Should Live Praiseworthy Lives but Should Not Seek to Be Praised
  22. Those Who Can Be Put in Charge of Governing but Who Flee from Being in Charge Because They Wish to Live a Life of Peace
  23. About the Life and Behavior of Solitaries and How They Ought to Conduct Themselves in the Solitary Life
  24. On the Same Topic as the Previous Chapter
  25. The Tools of Good Works
  26. Observing God’s Commandments
  27. A Deplorable Description of Those Who Do Not Observe Christ’s Precepts
  28. Continuing the Same Lamentation as Above
  29. Compunction of Heart
  30. The Two Kinds of Compunction
  31. Concerning Reverence and Persistence in Prayer
  32. How Someone Can Pray Without Ceasing
  33. All Empty Thoughts Are Illusions Worked by Demons
  34. God and the Angels Are Always Present to Those Who Are Singing and Chanting Psalms
  35. The Praise of the Psalms and the Arrangement of the Hours at Which We Ought to Sing Psalms
  36. Whether Anyone Should Dare to Receive the Body of the Lord or to Chant Mass Every Day
  37. Whether Someone May Celebrate Mass or Not, After the Illusion That Sometimes Happens in Dreams
  38. Constancy in Reading and Prayer
  39. The Daily Manual Work of Solitaries
  40. At Certain Hours Solitaries Should Be Occupied in Manual Labor
  41. Solitaries Should Have Nothing of Their Own and Should Accept the Offerings of the Faithful
  42. The Hours at Which Solitaries Ought to Take Their Meals
  43. The Table of Solitaries
  44. Avoiding Overindulgence
  45. The Amount of Drink of Solitaries
  46. Avoiding Drunkenness, and the Praise of Sobriety
  47. Whether Everyone Should Receive in Equal Measure the Necessities of Life
  48. Solitaries Who Are Sick and Old
  49. The Clothing and Footwear of Solitaries
  50. The Bedding of Solitaries
  51. They Should Shave at Certain Times, so as Not to Be Hairy
  52. The Disciples of Solitaries and Their Obedience
  53. Concerning the Good Zeal That Solitaries Ought to Have toward Their Disciples
  54. How Solitaries Ought to Fast
  55. Solitaries Should Break Their Fast for the Sake of Guests
  56. Charity
  57. Humility
  58. Obedience
  59. The Virtue of Patience
  60. Discretion
  61. Silence
  62. Avoiding Malicious Talk: Two Ways in Which Someone Can Speak about the Sins of Someone Else Without Sinning
  63. Consolation of Solitaries in the Face of Malicious Talk
  64. Thoughts and Diabolical Illusions
  65. The Various Temptations of Solitaries
  66. The Temptations of Dreams
  67. Solitaries Should Not Seek to Perform Signs and Miracles
  68. The Threefold Grace of Charisms
  69. Solitaries, after They Have Been Enclosed, Must Never Return to Secular Life, and Concerning Perseverance in Good Works


The only English translation of Grimlaicus is Grimlaicus: Rule for Solitaries; translated with introduction and notes by Andrew Thornton. Collegeville, MN: Cistercian Publications, 2011.