A Dossier for the Order of Saint Damian - 333 

A Dossier for the Order of Saint Damian

In reading the documents by, to, or about Clare of Assisi, it quickly becomes obvious that the popes of her lifetime—with the exception of Pope Celestine IV who died within a month of his election—issued a number of decrees concerning her and those inspired by her. These papal documents offer a provocative perspective on the development of Clare's feminine expression of the Gospel inspiration of Francis and on medieval religious women in general. Some historians have interpreted the canonical documents of this period negatively as the papacy's way of manipulating or confining these women; others tend to see them as positive efforts to foster, clarify, and protect their ideals.

Regardless of one's position, however, the effort to understand these papal decrees, as, indeed, the effort to understand the reasoning behind ecclesial law in general, enables the reader to appreciate more fully Clare's commitment to the Gospel intuition of Francis and the Church's role in refining and safeguarding it. From a canonical perspective, moreover, the title "Order of Saint Damian" that begins to appear in the decrees of Pope Gregory IX is significant. San Damiano, the dwelling of Clare and her sisters in Assisi, immediately comes to mind. Nonetheless, the variety of ways in which women were struggling to adapt Clare's vision suggests that, by incorporating other monasteries into an Order under the patronage of Saint Damian, Gregory IX—and, later, Innocent IV—possessed a broader vision in which he saw the Assisi monastery of San Damiano as the inspiration and possibly the ideal, but not the definitive pattern. Such an understanding offers insights into the diversity of expressions of Clare's Gospel intuitions that exist even today.

Each section of this dossier contains translations of only a representative selection of the decrees of Popes Honorius III, Gregory IX, and Innocent IV; each section also offers a simple listing of the other papal decrees sent to these women. By no means, do the




Clare of Assisi: Early Documents, p. 333