Hermit Martha, hermit Mary

In a section of his Three Studies in Medieval Religious and Social Thought, Giles Constable considers the persistence of the Martha and Mary dichotomy as it related to daily life and religious vocation. The contrast of the active and the contemplative represented by the Gospel story was used to create conflict between religious orders. But Constable notes that several medieval hermits (Herveus, Helias, Amantius, Wulfric) all refuted the charge of being neither Martha nor Mary. To the hermits, the eremitical life embodied both activity and contemplation.
For the medieval hermit, activity consisted of labor, self-sufficiency, independence of means — which often meant evangelical poverty as a deliberate path that automatically curbed the excesses of Martha. This was the hermits’ retort to the monks living without laboring, without self-sufficiency, and without poverty. The hermits’ lack of formal ritual was a controvery to the orders. But the hermits might contrast it to the monks’ “contemplative” life, which they suggest is actually a life of the luxury of sloth and material comfort, incapable of embodying true contemplation. However, the hermits never went so far as to say this. They wrote nothing, said little. They were more concerned to show action and contemplation with the example of their lives, just as both Martha and Mary simply went about their lives after Jesus had visited them.