Introduction to Clare of Assisi: Early Documents - 29 

Nevertheless there are reasons to conclude that she employed others to help her. The Form of Life, for example, shows such a refined knowledge of religious law that the presence of expert canonists, possibly sent by Cardinal Rainaldo, must be taken for granted. The Testament, the most difficult of Clare's writings to translate, contains a constantly changing flow of styles, some of which are smooth and easy to read, while others are not only awkward but also ambiguous. Thus we are left the impression that different sisters were involved at various times in its composition. A totally different conclusion may be reached in considering Clare's letters to Agnes of Prague. They are filled with an elegance and dignity that can be found in no other of her writings. When we consider that they were written over a period of nineteen years, the consistency of their style immediately strikes us and forces us to ask: if Clare did not write these masterpieces, who did? Finally, there is her Blessing that is far more extensive than that of Francis and uses Scriptural references not found elsewhere in Clare's writings, prompting some to wonder about its authenticity.

Far more important, however, is the question of the sources of her writings. The obvious ones are the Scriptures and the liturgical documents written to honor those great heroines of women religious in the Middle Ages: the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Agnes, the Roman martyr. When we consider the principal sources of Clare's inspiration, however, we should not lose sight of the role of the memory in medieval spirituality. We can look in vain for a library in the monastery of San Damiano; there simply was none. Instead the Poor Ladies depended on the Word of God that was liturgically proclaimed to them and celebrated several times throughout each day and night in the Liturgy of the Hours. Since this was her daily nourishment, Clare must have cherished it, memorized it, and kept it in her heart as did the model of her spiritual life, Mary, thus allowing it to form her thought and way of daily life.

Among those texts, though, we notice immediately certain verses that never seem to leave her consciousness. Repeatedly, for example, quotations from the Song of Songs appear. This is not unusual at this period of history that was extraordinarily rich in commentaries and reflections on this mystical love song. What is unusual, however, is Clare's choice of certain verses that appear only in her support of Agnes of Prague's choice of Christ as her Spouse and her embrace of poverty. We might speculate on how frequently Clare reflected on a verse found in Gregory IX's Privilege of Poverty: "His left hand is under my head; his right hand will embrace me (Sg 2:6)."Ct2:6 Bernard of Clairvaux had offered this passage to his monks as a stimulus to develop confidence in God's ever-present, tender care and expectation of the wonders of God's love that were to come. Clare may well have encouraged her sisters along the same lines, as she does in her fourth letter

 Previous

Next 

 

Clare of Assisi: Early Documents, p. 29