Collection of Letters: Detail
- Clare of Assisi
(1) To the daughter of the King of kings, handmaid of the Lord of lords, most worthy spouse of Jesus Christ and therefore, very distinguished queen, the Lady Agnes, (2) Clare, useless and unworthy handmaid of the Poor Ladies, sends her greetings and the prayer that Agnes may always live in the utmost poverty.
(3) I thank the one who liberally bestows grace, from whom every best and perfect gift is believed to come, because he has adorned you with such a good reputation founded upon your virtues and has made you shine with the honors of so much perfection. (4) He did this so that once you have been made a diligent imitator of the Father who is perfect, you may deserve to be made perfect, so that his eyes may not see anything imperfect in you.
(5) This is that perfection with which the King will unite you to himself in marriage in heaven's bridal chamber where he sits in glory upon his starry throne, (6) because despising the heights of an earthly kingdom and the less than worthy offers of an imperial marriage, (7) you have been made an imitator of the holiest poverty, and in a spirit of great humility and the most ardent charity, you have clung to the footsteps of him with whom you have been worthy to be united in marriage.
(8) Moreover, since I know that you are laden with virtues, I shall refrain from saying too much as I do not wish to laden you with superfluous words, (9) even though to you no word seems superfluous of those that could be the source of some consolation for you. (10) But because one thing is necessary, I invoke this one thing and advise you, by the love of him to whom you have offered yourself as a holy and pleasing sacrifice, (11) to be mindful, like a second Rachel, of your founding purpose always seeing your beginning.
What you hold, may you continue to hold,
what you do, may you keep doing and not
(12) but with swift pace, nible step, and feet that
do not stumble so that even your walking
does not raise any dust,
(13) may you go forward tranquilly, joyfully, briskly, and cautiously along the path of happiness,
(14) trusting in no one and agreeing with no one insofar as he might want to dissuade you from pursuing your founding purpose or might place a stumbling block in your way, preventing you, in that perfection with which the Spirit of the Lord has called you, from fulfilling your vows to the Most High.
(15) No concerning this, so that you may walk more tranquilly along the way of the Lord's commands, follow the advice of our venerable father, our Brother Elias, minister general. (16) Prefer his advice to the advice of others and consider it more precious to you than any gift.
(17) Indeed, if someone tells you something else or suggests anything to you that may hinder your perfection and that seems contrary to your divine vocation, even though you must respect him, still, do not follow his advice;
(18) instead, poor virgin,
embrace the Poor Christ.
(19) Now that you have made yourself contemptible in this world for his sake, look upon and follow the one who made himself contemptible for your sake. (20) Gaze upon, examine, contemplate, most noble queen, desiring to follow your spouse, who is more beautiful than the sons of humankind, and who for your salvation became the vilest of men, despised, struck, and flogged repeatedly over his entire body, dying while suffering the excruciating torments of the cross.
(21) If you suffer with him, with him you will reign, grieving with him, with him you will rejoice, dying with him on the cross of tribulation, with him you will possess mansions in heaven among the splendors of the saints,
(22) and your name will be recorded in the Book of Life and will bring you glory among men and women.
(23) This is why you may forever in eternity share the glory of the heavenly kingdom rather than what is earthly and transitory, eternal goods instead of those that perish, and why you will live forever and ever.
(24) Farewell, dearest sister and lady, for the sake of the Lord, your spouse; (25) and constantly remember me, as well as my sisters-for we rejoice in the good things of the Lord that he is accomplishing in you through his grace-in your devout prayers to the Lord. (26) Also, as often as possible, please remind your sisters to pray for us.
(1) Filiae Regis regum, ancillae Domini dominatium, sponsae dignissimae Iesu Christi et ideo reginae praenobili dominae Agneti, (2) Clara, pauperum dominarum ancilla inutilis et indigna, salutem et semper in summa vivere paupertate.
(3) Gratias ago gratiae largitori, a quo omne datum optimum et omne donum perfectum creditur emanare, quod te tantis virtutum titulis decoravit et tantae perfectionis insigniis illustravit, (4) ut, perfecti Patris effecta diligens imitatrix, perfecta fieri merearis, ne oculi sui aliquid in te videant imperfectum.
(5) Haec est illa perfectio, qua te sibi Rex ipse in aethereo thalamo sociabit, ubi sedet stellato solio gloriosus, (6) quod terreni regni fastigia vilipendens et oblationes imperialis coniugii parum dignask (7) aemuloa sanctissimae paupertatis effecta in spiritu magnae humilitatis et ardentissimae caritatis eius adhaesisti vestigiis, cuius meruisti connubio copulari.
(8) Cum vero noverim te virtutibus oneratam, parcens prolixitati verborum nolo verbis superfluis onerare, (9) licet tibi nihil superflui videatur ex illis de quibus posset tibi aliqua consolatio provenire. (10) Sed quia unum est necessarium, hoc unum obtestor et moneo per amoren illius, cui te sanctam et beneplacentem hostiam obtulisti, (11) ut tui memor propositi velut altera Rachel tuum semper videns principium,
quod tenes teneas,
quod facis facias nec dimittas,
(12) sed cursu concito, gradu levi,
ut etiam gressus tui pulverem non admittant,
(13) secura gaudens et alacris
per tramitem caute beatitudinis gradiaris,
(14) nulli credens, nulli consentiens,
quod te vellet ab hoc proposito revocare,
quod tibi poneret in via scandalum,
ne in illa perfectione,
qua Spiritus Domini te vocavit,
redderes Altissimo vota tua.
(15) In hoc autem, ut mandatorum Domini securis viami perambules, venerabilis patris nostri fratris nostri Heliae, generalis ministri, consilium imitare; (16) quod praepone consiliis ceterorum et reputa tibi carius omni dono.
(17) Si quis vero aliud tibi dixerit,
aliud tibi suggesserit,
quod perfectionem tuam impediat,
quod vocationi divinae contrarium videatur,
etsi debeas venerari,
noli tamen eius consilium imitari,
(18) sed pauperem Christum,
virgo pauper, amplectere.
(19) Vide contemptibilem pro te factum et sequere, facta pro ipso contemptibilis in hoc mundo. (20) Sponsum tuum prae filiis hominum speciosum, pro salute tua factum virorum vilissimum, despectum, percussum et toto corpore multipliciter flagellatum, inter ipsas crucis angustias morientem, regina praenobilis, intuere, considera, contemplare, desiderans imitari.
(21) Cui si compateris conregnabis,
in cruce tribulationis commoriens
cum ipso in sanctorum splendoribus
mansiones aethereas possidebis,
(22) et nomen tuum in libro vitae notabitur
futurum inter homines gloriosum.
(23) Propter quod in aeternum et in saeculum saeculi regni caelestis gloriam pro terrenis et transitoriis, aeterna bona pro perituris participes et vives in saecula saeculorum.
(24) Vale, carissima soror et domina, propter Dominum tuum sponsum; (25) et me cum sororibus meis, quae gaudemus de bonis Domini, quae in te per suam gratiam operatur, stude tuis devotis orationibus Domino commendare. (26) Sororibus etiam tuis nos plurimum recommenda.
Clare's second letter to Agnes of Prague. Clare's second letter was probably written between spring of 1235 and winter of 1238. Agnes had established her monastery in Prague as an institution financially separate from the Hospital of Saint Francis. Insuring the stability of its mission of caring for the poor and the sick, the royal Premyslid family richly endowed the hospital. Agnes's monastery, on the other hand, was founded on the Franciscan ideal of living without property and its accompanying privileges.
On May 18, 1235, in the bull "Cum relicta seculi," Gregory IX, nervous about the Roman church accepting responsibility for a monastery of women without guaranteed revenue, overturned Agnes's careful planning by conceding the hospital with all its revenues to the monastery. Agnes wrote to Clare begging for advice and comfort. In her second letter, Clare appeals to the words and the authority of Francis himself and encourages Agnes to remain steadfast even under papal pressure in her vocational decision to follow the Poor Christ. Confident that Brother Elias could help negotiate the matter, Clare recommends that Agnes seek his advice.
Agnes also appealed to her brother, King Wenceslas I, for help and on February 5, 1237, Wenceslas wrote the letter, "Primum quidem excellentissime," to Gregory IX begging him to reconsider his position. Needing the political support of the Bohemian king, Gregory IX reluctantly issued "Pia credulitate tenentes" on April 15, 1238, granting Agnes's monastery the Privilege of Poverty.
(For possible references to the bible and the Regula breviary in Clare's letters and textual commentary, see Joan Mueller, Clare's Letters to Agnes, Texts and Sources (St. Bonaventure, NY: St. Bonaventure University, 2001))
This translation, from Joan Mueller, Clare's Letters to Agnes, Texts and Sources (St. Bonaventure, NY: St. Bonaventure University, 2001), is included with the generous permission of the author and the press.
Joan Mueller, Clare's Letters to Agnes, Texts and Sources (St. Bonaventure, NY: St. Bonaventure University, 2001), 53-71.