Saint Clare of Assisi’s Writings and the Use of Medieval Women’s Power

It is known that Saint Clare became a so called living copy of poverty and humility of Saint Francis. In order to show her love for Jesus Christ Clare learned by heart Saint Francis’the Office of the Passion. She spent all the time in her devotional exercises and prayers. She was a good Abbess because under her rule the community of San Damiano where there were a lot of women became a sanctuary of all the virtues. The monasteries of Clares were founded in many places all over Europe. Clare, her sisters and other nuns who lived in poverty in the Order of Poor Clares did not ware shoes, did not eat meat and did not talk to each other almost all the time they lived in the community. Moreover, they lived without money. Their hearts and their souls belonged to God. God was always close to them, He heard their prayers, He helped them to survive. (Lehfeldt)

It is known that once God saved Clare and other nuns from danger. He heard Clare’s prayer and saved their lives. An army of soldiers came to Assisi. They wanted to attack Assisi. The convent was the first object they wanted to ruin. Saint Clare was very sick at that time but she could climb the wall and had the Blessed Sacrament placed. Then she begged God to save the lives of her sisters: “O Lord! Protect my sisters as I cannot protect them now”. She was standing on her knees and the enemies saw her praying. God heard her words and the soldiers were struck by a sudden fright. They ran as far as they could. God saved the lives of Clare and her sisters. (Knox 72)

It is known that Francis very often came to the Order of Poor Clares in order to ask Clare for advice and inspiration. When Francis did not know what to choose- the life of the prayer or the life of preaching he came to Clare and she advised him to speak and say: “God did not call you for yourself alone”. Francis composed his famous the Canticle of Brother Sun which is considered to be a masterpiece of his poetry when he left the convent of San Damiano.
When Francis’ body was afflicted with stigmata Clare made him special slippers which protected his bleeding feet. (Kareski)

Saint Clare of Assisi’s writings represent her relation to Francis of Assisi, to her Sisters, to Jesus Christ. She is the author of the following works:
Ӣ four letters which were written to St. Agnes of Prague;
Ӣ a letter which was written to Ermentrude of Bruges;
Ӣ the Testament;
Ӣ the Rule of Life;
Ӣ a Blessing.

All these works were connected with Francis of Assisi and his religious ideas and principles. She has made “a unique contribution to the ideas of Francis”.
It is known from Clare’s writings that she often called herself “the little plant of the most blessed Francis” (Clare 67)

Clare’s Letter to Ermetrude of Bruges
This letter was written by Clare in order to give her Sister Ermetrude some instructions concerning her way of living. She writes that “with the help of God’s grace” Ermetrude will be able to flee the filth of the world. She asks her Sister to be faithful to him to whom she is “promised until death”. If she fulfills her promise she will be crowned by God “with the laurel of life”. She tries to explain Ermetrude that her new way of life is not easy because it requires great self-sacrifices. First of all she has to abandon all the worldly pleasures. Clare asks her Sister “to shut her ears to the whispers of hell”. She writes that the heaven invites them and that the Christ is the only thing they should follow. Clare writes that love should always live in her heart, love to God and Jesus, his son who was crucified for the sins of all the people. The most important thing for her is prayer. She should pray all the time and she should be vigilant. Clare of Assisi wants her Sister to finish the work that she began well and the ministry she assumed should be fulfilled “in holy poverty and sincere humility”. Clare says her Sister not to fear because “God is faithful in all his words and holy in all his works”. She is sure that God will pour out his blessing on all the Sisters who will follow the Bible. (Clare 98)

Clare’s Letters to Blessed Agnes of Prague
The first letter was written to Lady Agnes who was a daughter of King of Bohemia in 1234. Clare of Assisi has written four letters to Agnes. All the letters touch upon the religious life and principles. Agnes is a young girl who “enjoyed the magnificence, honor and dignity of the world” and who had a chance to marry one of the richest and powerful men ”“ illustrious Caesar. However, she rejected all these things and she decided to choose the life of holy poverty and destitution. The Lord Jesus Christ will him her virginity “unspotted and unsullied”. (Clare 80)
Clare writes in the first letter that Lord Jesus Christ will always be in her heart. She chants the praise of God and his son, Jesus Christ:

When you have loved Him, You shall be chaste; when You have touched Him, You shall become pure, when You have accepted Him, You shall be a virgin. (Clare 82)

Clare of Assisi tell Agnes a lot about the order of Poor Clares where she was invited. First of all she tells her about poverty, holy poverty. She writes that those who possess holy poverty and desire holy poverty will be sent to the kingdom of heaven. They will be offered blessed life and eternal glory.

The kingdom of heaven will be promised and given only to those who are poor, only to those who have no money and who do not want to have money. Those people who love fruit of life, who love money and pleasure time cannot serve God and cannot be given blessed life. Those people who live in the glory will not be able to rule with Jesus Christ on heaven.
She writes in her letter to Agnes the following:
What a great laudable exchange:
to leave the things of time for those of eternity,
to choose the things of heaven for the good of earth,
to receive the hundred-fold in place of one,
and to possess a blessed and eternal life.(Clare 90)

Of course, all these things are not given without difficulties. A great deal of different challenges will be given to Agnes and other Sisters but their main goal is to cope with all the difficulties and to live a holy life in poverty. The prayers in the mercy of Christ are the main things in the life of Sisters. They should be changed completely, they should “progress from good to better”.
In the second letter Clares of Assisi helps Agnes to follow the way she has chosen. She helps her to be tolerant and devout, to love God and his son, Jesus Christ and not to violate the rules of the order. In the second letter she refers to Francis of Assisi who has given them special instruction concerting celebrating of special days with different kinds of food. Francis of Assisi wrote that those who are weak and sick should eat any food but those who are healthy and strong should eat only Lenten fare on both ordinary days of the week and feast days. He wrote that they should fast every day except Sunday and the Lord’s Nativity. On these days they should eat twice a day. On Thursdays, on Ordinary days of the week, the Sisters may choose if they are fasting or not. There are some religious holidays such as Christmas, Easter, the feasts of Holy Mary and Holy Apostles and Sundays when it is allowed not to fast. (Clare 85)

Clare of Assisi asks Agnes “to be restrained wisely” and to take care of herself and to avoid severe fasting when she feels ill and weak.

Clare wrote these instructions to Agnes because she knew that Agnes was fasting but sometimes she was too weak. Clare was anxious about her Sister who decided to follow her way and to serve God.

Clare was a kind and wise woman that is why she felt that she was responsible for her Sisters and tried to help them.
In the forth letter Clare of Assisi writes about her love to God and his son, Jesus Christ and to all the Sisters who live in the Monastery of San Domiano. She asks her to pray for her and for her daughters in Christ. She wants her physical tongue to be silent and the tongue of the Spirit to speak.

It is known Clare of Assisi and her Sisters spent most of the time in the Monastery in silence. They did not speak. They prayed all the time. The forth and the last letter to Agnes was written in 1253. (Clare 94)

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