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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

Solitude. —We may infer from the phrase used in  Luke 5:18 (ἧν ὑποχωρῶν, see Bengel’s note, ad loc. ) that our Lord frequently sought solitude during the period of His ministry. Sometimes He retired from the multitude, but did not seclude Himself from His disciples ( e.g.  Matthew 14:13;  Matthew 17:1). At other times His solitude was absolute, and He only returned to His disciples or was rejoined by them after an interval ( e.g.  Matthew 14:23,  Mark 1:35,  Luke 5:16;  Luke 6:12). It is this latter complete solitude that is of importance to the student of our Lord’s Person and work.

1. We observe that He sought solitude, or, if the phrase is permissible, was forced into solitude, at certain critical times of special trial. The battle of the Temptation ( Matthew 4:1 ff.,  Mark 1:12 ff.,  Luke 4:1 ff.) was fought out in solitude. No human being was within call, and only after the victory was won did angels come to minister to Him. The final struggle against the weakness inherent in the flesh took place in solitude ( Matthew 26:41,  Luke 22:39). Although He yearned for human sympathy, He deliberately withdrew Himself from the companionship of His disciples. The account of the supreme crisis of His work of redemption witnesses to a solitude too complete and awful for our understanding ( Matthew 27:46). We ought perhaps to class the solitude which He sought after the feeding of the five thousand ( Matthew 14:23,  Mark 6:46,  John 6:15) with the three instances just mentioned. The people wished to make Him a king, and may well have suggested a temptation similar to that recorded in  Matthew 4:8.

2. Our Lord sought solitude in order to obtain spiritual help for specially important work ( Luke 6:12), and spiritual refreshment after periods of exhausting labour ( Mark 1:35;  Mark 1:45, cf.  Luke 5:16). We may suppose that on these occasions, as on another, ‘virtue had gone out of him,’ and that in a literal sense ‘Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses’ ( Matthew 8:17), thereby coming to feel the need for fresh intercourse with the Father unvexed with human companionship.

A very curious and suggestive commentary on this twofold use of solitude in our Lord’s life is afforded by the experience of the earliest monks, those Egyptian recluses whom we shall not be wrong in regarding as specialists in the spiritual life. They believed that in solitude a man is exposed to the full fury of the powers of evil, that temptation is not completely conquered because not met in its utmost strength except by him who ventures to meet it alone (Cass. Coll. vii. 23; Athanas. Vita Anton . xiii.). Their thought would explain our Lord’s ‘being led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil’ ( Matthew 4:1). It was, no doubt, necessary (cf. the general conception of Milton’s Paradise Regained ) that He should be exposed to the utmost strength of the Tempter. Therefore He faced the Evil One in solitude.

The hermits also believed that spiritual communion with God and the graces which flow from it are attainable best in solitude. The abbot Allois sums up their teaching in his deeply suggestive word, ‘Except a man say in his heart, “I and God are alone in the world,” he cannot have peace’ ( Verba Seniorum, ap. Rosweyd. Interpr. Pelagio , x. 5; see also Cass. Coll. xix. 5, xxiv. 4). In this respect their experience fits in with our Lord’s retirements in search of refreshment and strength.

The literature of early Western monasticism and much of the teaching of the later Mystics on the subject of solitude fall into line with the recorded experience of the Egyptians, and form a further commentary on the recorded facts of our Lord’s solitude. On the one hand, there is an evident dread of the extreme temptations of solitude, and a feeling that they ought not to be faced except by those far advanced in the spiritual life. On the other hand, there is a recognition of the possibilities of spiritual advancement which solitude affords (see, besides books cited below, Cass. Inst. v. 4; Basil, Reg. Fus. Tract.; Reg. Brev. Tract.  ; Bened. Reg. i.; Joann. Clim. Grad. iv. etc.; Basil, Epp. ii., xxiii., xlii.; Bened. Reg. iv., xlviii. etc.).

Literature.—Works quoted; Martin Crugott, Der Christ in der Einsamkcit (1761); I. G. Zimmermann, Die Einsamkeit (1784); R. W. Emerson, Society and Solitude (1862); P. Zingerle, Reden des hl. Ephraem über Selbstverleugnung und einsame Lebensweise, aus dem. Syr. [Note: Syriac.] übersetzt . (1871); H. D. Thoreau, Walden (repr. 1886); T. T. Lynch, Letters to the Scattered , 522; F. W. Robertson, Serm. i. 220; Martineau, Endeavours , 159; Rendel Harris, Memor. Sacra , 135.

J. O. Hannay.

Webster's Dictionary [2]

(1): ( a.) solitary or lonely place; a desert or wilderness.

(2): ( a.) state of being alone, or withdrawn from society; a lonely life; loneliness.

(3): ( a.) Remoteness from society; destitution of company; seclusion; - said of places; as, the solitude of a wood.