FIOR (Franciscan Institute Outreach - Malta)

3. Writings of St. Clare of Assisi (3)

Testament, Rule, Blessing

i. Testament

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. 273-280.

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 this manuscript.

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.

A view of San Damiano

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

iii. Blessing

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


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