3. Writings of St. Clare of Assisi (3)
Testament, Rule, Blessing
3.32 As in the case of St. Francis, Clare is the author of an autobiographical
text, called the Testament, which she wrote towards the end of her life, that
is, between 1247 and 1253. The Testament is Clare's last attempt to defend the
evangelical way of life which Francis gave to her and the Poor Ladies in the
Form of Life he wrote in 1212. The document is also a proof of the intimate
union between the Poor Ladies at San Damiano and the Friars Minor.
|The Monastery of San Damino - interior
3.33. The authenticity of the Testament was put into doubt on various
occasions. The main reason lay in the fact that the only edition of the
Testament was found in Luke Wadding's "Annales Minorum" (ad. ann. 1523, n. 5).
Wadding stated that he found the text in an old document, without giving
further specifications. The same text was published by the Bollandists, "Acta
Sanctorum", Augusti II, Antwerp 1735, pp. 747-748, and by the Editors of
Quaracchi, "Seraphicae Legislationis Textus Originales", Quaracchi 1897, pp.
3.34. The first scholar to defend the authenticity of the Testament of St.
Clare (= TestCl) was P. Robinson, The Writings of St. Clare of Assisi, in
Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 3 (1910) pp. 442-447. In recent times the
authenticity of the TestCl has been defended by Chiara Augusta Lainati OSC,
Testamento, in Dizionario Francescano, Edizioni Messaggero Padova, 1984, col.
1827-1846. The authenticity of the TestCl has been proved because a group of
latin manuscripts has been found, of which the most important are, (1)
manuscript in the Clares monastery of Messina, belonging to St. Eustochio
Calafato, found by Z. Lazzeri OFM, in 1954; (2) Codex 1258 of the Archivo
Historico Nacional de Madrid, studied in 1974; (3) Codex C63 of the Library of
the University of Uppsala, coming from a monastery of the Sisters of St.
Bridget, a Franciscan tertiary (1303-1373) at Vadstena; (4) manuscript at the
Poor Clares monastery of Urbino, which was founded in 1455 by the monastery of
Monteluce in Perugia, where there was a famous "scriptorium". There is a
direct link between the manuscript of Messina, which originated in Perugia, and
3.35. The TestCl shows Clare's state of mind after 1247, that is, the year when
Innocent IV gave her a new Rule, which was Benedictine and not Franciscan in
style, even though it placed the Poor Ladies of San Damiano under direct
jurisdiction of the Friars Minor. Clare was thinking of writing a Rule, and
she was also requesting the Sisters to observe faithfully the Privilege of
Poverty, which was their guarantee of survival as a Franciscan institution.
The TestCl is thus a precious document and a witness of Clare's courage in
defending Lady Poverty.
ii. The Rule (1253)
3.36. Throughout her life, Clare had to accept the Church's official
interpretation of her charism. Two Popes had approved her Privilege of Poverty
in 1216 (Innocent III) and 1228 (Gregory IX). But the latter Pope, when he was
still Cardinal Protector, asked Clare to observe a Rule which he gave to her
and the Poor Ladies in 1218. Later on, Innocent IV would produce another Rule
for Clare and the Poor Ladies. Both Rules were aimed at guaranteeing a stable
way of life to the community of San Damiano, based upon the Benedictine ideal.
Clare was determined to have her own way of life approved by the Church. Her
stratagem showed her courage and determination. The Fourth Lateran Council
(1215) prohibited the formation of new Rules for religious Orders. But Clare
insisted that Francis had given her a Form of Life in 1212. This was to
provide the basis for her Rule, modelled upon that of the Friars Minor,
approved by the highest authority of the Church on 29 November 1223. Thus her
Rule would not be a new Rule, but the female expression of the same Gospel
ideals which Francis and his brothers professed. She got her way on 9 August
1253, just two days before she died. Clare is the first woman to have written
a Rule for female religious in the history of the Church.
3.37. The original of the Rule of St. Clare (= RegCl) is preserved in the
protomonastery of St. Clare in Assisi. It was found in 1893. The parchment
has some interesting notes. On the upper part Innocent IV wrote: "Ad instar
fiat. S" (So be it. S). The initial "S" stands for Sinibaldo Fieschi da
Genova, the Pope's name in baptism. Further down the Pope added: "Ex causis
manifestis michi et protectorii mon(asterii) fiat ad instar" (For reasons known
to me and the protector of the monastery, so be it). The reason for these
notes is that the normal procedure of the papal chancery was not followed. The
Pope was in a hurry to approve the RegCl. Clare was dying. He was at the
Sacro Convento at the time. On 9 August he issued the papal Bull "Solet
annuere" together with the RegCl. The following day the text was taken to San
Damiano and given to Clare. Another note on the parchment states: "Hanc beata
Clara tetigit et obsculata (sic) est pro devotione pluribus et pluribus
vicinis" (Blessed Clare touched and kissed this many times out of devotion).
3.38. The contents of the RegCl include the papal Bull and the approval given
by Cardinal Rainaldus some months before, in September 1252. The Rule itself
is divided into twelve chapters, on the model of the Later Rule of the Friars
Minor. Chapter six is the central and most fundamental part of the RegCl,
because in it Clare inserts the exact words which Francis wrote in the Form of
Life and Last Will which he gave to her and the Poor Ladies. The RegCl follows
the same pattern as the Rule of the Friars Minor, and adds some notes regarding
fasting, silence, the parlour, the grille, the custody of the enclosure, the
sisters who serve outside the monastery, the visitator and the chaplain. These
are all characteristic notes pertaining to a feminine religious Order, but
still have the same note of evangelical freedom and apostolic fervour which we
find in the Rule of the Friars Minor.
3.39. One final note regarding the later historical development of the RegCl.
The RegCl was approved for the Poor Ladies at San Damiano. In 1259 Alexander
IV approved the Rule of the monastery of Longchamp, founded by Blessed Isabelle
of France, the sister of St. Louis IX, King of France. Urban VI in 1263
approved this Rule for all monasteries of the Order of St. Clare, as he called
the sisters after the death of Clare. The only exception to the rule remained
the monastery of San Damiano. The same pope asked Cardinal Gaetano Orsini (the
future Nicholas III) to write a new Rule for all the monasteries of the Poor
Clares. This Rule was written in 1263 and gave the monasteries the right to
acquire property in common. This was a direct blow upon Clare's original
inspiration. In the course of time many monasteries abandoned this Rule in
favour of the RegCl of 1253. Some monasteries still profess the Rule of Urban
IV. They are called "Urbanists".
|The Church of St. Clare in Assisi
3.40. The Legend of St. Clare (= LegCl) 45, states that Clare blessed her
Sisters, present and future, before she died. Later documents give three
blessings by St. Clare, all of which are substantially identical: one to Agnes
of Prague, one to Ermentrude of Bruges and one to all the Sisters. These
blessings have been copied in mediaeval German, Dutch, French, Italian and
Latin. The texts are so similar that they have been presented as authentic and
faithful to the original blessing which Clare imparted upon her Sisters.
© copyright FIOR-Malta
Text by Fr. Noel Muscat ofm