FIOR (Franciscan Institute Outreach - Malta)

5. Sources: life of St. Clare (2)

Part II

Form of Life given by St. Francis (1212)

5.3 Clare dedicates chapter 6 of the Rule to two important writings which Francis gave to her and the Poor Ladies. They form the nucleus of the RegCl. The first among these writings is the Form of Life which Francis wrote to Clare and the Poor Ladies in 1212, as soon as they settled in San Damiano. In the RegCl, 6, Clare states: "When the Blessed Father [Francis] saw that we had no fear of poverty, hard work, suffering, shame or the contempt of the world, but that, instead, we regarded such things as great delights, moved by compassion he wrote a form of life for us". The FormViv forms the basis of the evangelical commitment of Clare and the Poor Ladies and, as such, it can be considered as the basis of the RegCl. It is built upon a Trinitarian relationship of Clare and the Poor Ladies with God, and guarantees Francis' solicitude and love for them, which was to be extended as a legacy and a duty to the Brothers.

St. Francis and St. Clare

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Testimony of Jacques de Vitry (1216)

5.4 We have already considered the testimony of Jacques de Vitry (c. 1170-1240), who was nominated bishop of Acre in the Holy Land in 1216. While in Perugia, during the period when Innocent III died, he mentions the new evangelical movement of the "Fratres et Sorores Minores" in the Umbrian valley, in a Letter which he wrote from Genova in the same year. Regarding the Poor Ladies of San Damiano the Letter refers to their dwelling places as "hospices", which normally referred to simple, poor community dwellings in the countryside, but not far away from towns. This is a primitive reference to the cloistered dwellings of the Poor Ladies, which were quite different from the large and fortified monasteries of the Benedictines. The same Letter is an important testimony to the radical poverty of the Poor Ladies, who possessed nothing and lived from the proceeds of their manual work.

Privilege of Poverty given by Innocent III (1216)

5.5 Clare had to accept the Benedictine Rule following the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. However, since the FormViv given by Francis had been approved by the Church, she insisted upon receiving an unheard of privilege, namely, the Privilege of Poverty, by which the Poor Ladies were bound not to receive property under any form whatever, in direct imitation of the Friars Minor. The Pope acceded to this request some time between the conclusion of the Council in November 1215 and his death in Perugia on 16 July 1216. The Pope's words were enough for Clare: "We confirm with our apostolic authority, as you requested, your proposal of most high poverty, granting you by the authority of this letter that no one can compel you to receive possessions".

The dying Clare surrounded by her followers

Letter of Honorius III to Cardinal Hugolino (1218)

5.6 Honorius III, a year after being elected Pope, wrote this letter on 27 August 1218, and addressed it to Cardinal Hugolino dei Conti Segni, who was Papal Legate for Lombardy and Tuscany, in order to approve the establishment of new female monasteries in the region of central Italy, including the Umbrian valley, where the Poor Ladies of San Damiano lived. The Pope gives jurisdiction to Cardinal Huglino to accept these places as property of the Holy See and make them exempt from the jurisdiction of the Bishops. This shows that Hugolino became directly responsible for the Poor Ladies.

Rule of Cardinal Hugolino (1219)

5.7 The new communities of religious women in the central region of Italy under the jurisdiction of Cardinal Hugolino demanded the spiritual care of the Church, especially when the male monastic and mendicant Orders were not able to provide it. In the case of the Friars Preachers (Dominicans) and Friars Minor (Franciscans), it was becoming increasingly difficult to carry out this task because of the itinerant nature of these new evangelical movements. Hugolino saw to it that the Poor Ladies received an adequate form of life or Rule. This form of life was to be based on the Rule of Saint Benedict, and it was probably written sometime after the Letter of Honorius III to Huglino (27 August 1218). Clare, already had to accept the title of abbess in 1215, and was now given a form of life which did not fully correspond to her ideals of evangelical poverty. The Rule, however, is an expert form of legislation aimed at female religious. It lays down norms regarding the reception of novices, the prayer of the Divine Office, fasting and abstinence, the safeguarding of the cloistered life of the Sisters, silence and the roles of the Visitator and chaplain. Clare accepted this Rule out of a sense of obedience to the Church, but she continued to insist upon the original FormViv given by Francis in 1212 and approved by the Church through the Privilege of Poverty. In the end she was to get her own way, but only after long years of patient struggle to have her ideals approved officially by the Church.


© copyright FIOR-Malta
Text by Fr. Noel Muscat ofm


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