Collection of Letters: Detail
- Clare of Assisi
(1) To Agnes, most venerable lady and sister in Christ, deserving of love before all other mortals, blood-sister of the illustrious king of Bohemia, but now sister and spouse of the most high King of the heavens, (2) Clare, most humble and unworthy handmaid of Christ and servant of the Poor Ladies, sends her prayer for the joys of salvation in him who is the Author of Salvation and for everything better that can be desired.
(3) I am filled with such great joy about your well-being, your happiness, and your favorable successes through which, I understand, you are thriving on the journey you have begun to obtain the reward of heaven; (4) and I breathe again in the Lord with elation equal to my knowledge and belief that you are supplying in wonderful ways what is lacking both in me and in the other sisters who are following in the footsteps of the poor and humble Jesus Christ.
(5) I am indeed able to rejoice, and there is no one who could separate me from such great joy, (6) since I already possess what under heaven I have yearned for, and I see that you, supported by some kind of wonderful claim on the wisdom that comes from God's own mouth, are formidably and extraordinarily undermining the stratagems of the cunning enemy, the pride that destroys human nature, and the vanity that beguiles human hearts. (7) I see, too, that you are embracing with humility, the virtue of faith, and the arms of poverty the incomparable treasure that lies hidden in the field of the world and the hearts of human beings, where it is purchased by the One by whom all things were made from nothing. (8) And, to use as my own the words of the apostle himself, I consider you someone who is God's own helper and who supports the drooping limbs of his ineffable body.
(9) Who, then, would tell me not to rejoice about such great and marvelous joys? (10) That is why you, too, dearest, must always rejoice in the Lord, (11) and not let bitterness and confusion envelop you, O Lady most beloved in Christ, joy of the angels, and crown of your sisters. (12) Place your mind in the mirror of eternity; place your soul in the splendor of glory; (13) place your heart in the figure of the divine substance; and, through contemplation, transform your entire being into the image of the Divine One himself, (14) so that you, yourself, may also experience what his friends experience when they taste the hidden sweetness that God alone has kept from the begninning for those who love him.
(15) And completely ignoring all those who in this deceitful and turbulent world ensnare their blind lovers, you might totally love him who gave himself totally out of love for you, (16) whose beauty the sun and moon admire, and whose rewards, in both their preciousness and magnitude, are without end. (17) I am speaking about the Son of the Most High, to whom the Virgin gave birth and, after whose birth, she remained a virgin. (18) May you cling to his most sweet Mother, who gave birth to the kind of Son whom the heavens could not contain, (19) and yet, she carried him in the tiny enclosure of her sacred womb, and held him on her young girl's lap.
(20) Who would not abhor the treachery of the enemy of humanity who, by means of the pride that results from fleeting and false glories, compels that which is greater than heaven to return to nothingness? (21) See, it is already clear that the soul of a faithful person, the most worthy of God's creations through the grace of God, is greater than heaven, (22) since the heavens and the rest of creation together cannot contain their Creator and only the soul of a faithful person is his dwelling place and throne and this is possible only through the charity that the wicked lack. (23) For the Truth says: The one who loves me, will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and we shall come to him and make our dwelling place with him.
(24) So, just as the glorious Virgin of virgins carried him physically, (25) so, you too, following in her footsteps especially those of humility and poverty, can without any doubt, always carry him spiritually in your chaste and virginal body, (26) containing him by whom both you and all things are contained, and possessing that which, even when compared with the other transitory possessions of this world, you will possess more securely. (27) Regarding this, some kings and queens of this world are deceived; (28) even though in their pride they have climbed all the way up to the sky, and their heads have touched the clouds, in the end they are destroyed like a pile of dung.
(29) Now, I thought that I should respond to your charity about the things that you have asked me to clarify for you; (30) namely, what were the feasts-and I imagine, that you have perhaps figured this out to some extent-that our most glorious father, Saint Francis, urged us to celebrate in a special way with different kinds of foods. (31) Indeed, your prudence knows that, with the exception of the weak and the sick, for whom he advised and authorized to use every possible discretion with respect to any foods whatsoever, (32) none of us who are healthy and strong ought to eat anything other than Lenten fare, on both ordinary days and feastdays, fasting every day (33) except on Sundays and on the Lord's Nativity, when we ought to eat twice a day. (34) And, on Thursdays in Ordinary Time, fasting should reflect the personal decision of each sister, so that whoever might not wish to fast would not be obligated to do so. (35) All the same, those of us who are healthy fast every day except Sundays and Christmas. (36) Certainly, during the entire Easter week, as Blessed Francis states in what he has written, and on the feasts of holy Mary and the holy apostles, we are also not obliged to fast, unless these feasts should fall on a Friday; (37) and, as has already been said, we who are healthy and strong always eat Lenten fare.
(38) But because neither is our flesh the flesh of bronze, nor our strength the strength of stone, (39) but instead, we are frail and prone to every bodily weakness, (40) I am asking and begging in the Lord that you be restrained wisely, dearest one, and discreetly from the indiscreet and impossibly severe fasting that I know you have imposed upon yourself, (41) so that living, you might profess the Lord, and might return to the Lord your reasonable worship and your sacrifice always seasoned with salt.
(42) Stay well, always in the Lord, just as I very much desire to stay well, and be sure to remember both me and my sisters in your holy prayers.
(1) In Christo sibi reverendissimae dominae ac prae cunctis mortalibus diligendae sorori Agneti, illustris regis Bohemiae germanae, sed iam summo caelorum Regi sorori et sponsae, (2) Clara, humillima et indigna Christi ancilla et dominarum pauperum serva, salutis gaudia in auctore salutis et quidquid melius desiderari potest.
(3) De sospitate tua, felici statu et successibus prosperis quibus te in incepto cursu ad obtinendum caeleste bravium vigere intelligo tanto repleor gaudio (4) tantaque in Domino exultatione respiro, quanto te novi et arbitror vestigiorum pauperis et humilis Iesu Christi tam in me quam in aliis ceteris sororibus imitationibus mirifice supplere defectum.
(5) Vere gaudere possum nec me aliquis posset a tanto gaudio facere alienam, (6) cum, quod sub caelo cuncupivi iam tenens, callidi hostis astutias et perditricem humanae naturae superbiam et vanitatem humana corda infatuantem te quadam mirabili ipsius Dei oris sapientiae praerogativa suffultam terribiliter ac inopinabiliter videam supplantare (7) absconumque in agro mundi et cordium humanorum thesaurum incomparabilem, quo illud emitur a quo cuncta de nihilo facta sunt, humilitate, virtute fidei, ac paupertatis brachiis amplexari; (8) et, ut proprie ipsius apostoli verbis utar, ipsius Dei te iudico adiutricem et ineffabilis corporis eius cadentium membrorum sublevatricem.
(9) Quis ergo de tantis mirandis gaudiis dicat me non gaudere? (10) Gaudeas igitur et tu in Domino semper, carissima, (11) nec te involvat amaritudo et nebula, o in Christo dilectissima domina, angelorum gaudium et corona sororum; (12) pone mentem tuam in speculo aeternitatis, pone animam tuam in splendore gloriae, (13) pone cor tuum in figura divinae substantiae et transforma te ipsam totam per contemplationem in imagine divinitatis ipsius, (14) ut et ipsa sentias quod sentiunt amici gustando absconditam dulcedinem, quam ipse Deus ab initio suis amatoribus reservavit.
(15) Et omnibus qui in fallaci mundo perturbabili suos caecos amatores illaqueant penitus praetermissis, illum totaliter diligas, qui se totum pro tua dilectione donavit, (16) cuius pulchritudinem sol et luna mirantur, cuius praemiroum et eorum pretiositatis et magnitudinis non est finis; (17) illum dico Altissimi Filium, quem Virgo peperit et post cuius partum virgo permansit. (18) Ipsius dulcissimae matri adhaereas, quae talem genuit Filium quem caeli capere non poterant, (19) et tamen ipsa parvulo claustro sacri uteri contulit et gremio puellari gestavit.
(20) Quis non abhorreat humani hostis insidias, qui per fastum momentaneorum et fallacium gloriarum ad nihilum redigere cogit quod maius est caelo? (21) Ecce iam liquet per Dei gratiam dignissimam creaturarum fidelis hominis animam maiorem esse quam caelum, (22) cum caeli cum creaturis ceteris capere nequeant Creatorem, et sola fidelis anima ipsius mansio sit et sedes, et hoc solum per caritatem qua carent impii, (23) Veritate dicente: Qui diligit me diligetur a Patre meo, et ego diligam eum, et ad eum veniemus, et mansionem apud eum faciemus.
(24) Sicut ergo Virgo virginum gloriosa materialiter, (25) sic et tu, sequens eius vestigia, humilitatis praesertim et paupertatis, casto et virgineo corpore spiritualiter semper sine dubietate omni portare potes, (26) illum continens a quo tu et omnia continentur, illud possidens quod et comparate cum ceteris huius mundi possessionibus transeuntibus fortius possidebis. (27) In quo quidam mundani reges et reginae falluntur, (28) quorum superbiae usque ad caelum licet ascenderint, et caput earum nubes tetigerit, quasi sterquillinium in fine perducuntur.
(29) Super his autem quae me iam tibi reserare mandasti, (30) quae scilicet essent festa quae forte, ut te opinor aliquatenus aestimasse, in varietate ciborum gloriosissimus pater noster sanctus Franciscus nos celebrare specialiter monuisset, caritati tuae duxi respondendum. (31) Noverit quidem tua prudentia, quod praeter debiles et infirmas, quibus de quibuscumque cibariis omnem discretionem quam possemus facere nos monuit et mandavit, (32) nulla nostrum sana et valida nisi cibaria quadragesimalia tantum, tam in diebus ferialibus quam festivis, manducare deberet, die quolibet ieiunando, (33) exceptis diebus dominicis et Natalis Domini, in quibus bis in die comedere deberemus. (34) Et in diebus quoque Iovis solitis temporibus pro voluntate cuiuslibet, ut quae scilicet nollet, ieiunare non teneretur. (35) Nos tamen sanae ieiunamus cottidie praeter dies dominicos et Natalis. (36) In omni vero Pascha, ut scriptum beati Francisci dicit, et festivitatibus sanctae Mariae ac sanctorum apostolorum ieiunare etiam non tenemur, nisi haec festa in sexta feria evenirent; (37) et sicut praedictum est, semper quae sanae sumus et validae, cibaria quadragesimalia manducamus.
(38) Verum quia nec caro nostra caro aenea est nec fortitudo lapidis fortitudo nostra, (39) immo fragiles et omni corporali sumus debilitati proclivae, (40) a quadam indiscreta et impossibili abstinentiae austeritate quam te aggressam esse cognovi, sapienter, carissima, et discrete et retrahi rogo et in Domino peto, (41) ut vivens confiteris Domino, rationabile tuum Domino reddas obsequium et tuum sacrificium semper sale conditum.
(42) Vale semper in Domino, sicut me valere peropto, et tam me quam meas sorores tuis sacris orationibus recommenda.
Clare's third letter to Agnes of Prague. Clare probably wrote this letter in the summer of 1238. Rejoicing in Gregory IX's gift of the Privilege of Poverty to Agnes, Clare commends Agnes for her progress and refers to her as "God's own helper." Successfully negotiating the Privilege of Poverty did not fully allay all of Agnes's rightful concerns. Wanting to unify the women's monasteries in central and northern Italy under a Rule that he himself had composed, Gregory IX attempted other strategies to temper Agnes's commitment to poverty. Along with "Pia credulitate tenentes," the papal office issued a fasting mitigation that had the potential to overwhelm the abilities of the Franciscan brothers to beg for the needs of the sisters. Agnes, concerned that the new directives for fasting were not in conformity with those that Saint Francis himself had given to the Monastery of San Damiano, wrote to Clare for clarification.
Clare's third letter is a masterpiece of early Franciscan literature. In it, Clare exhorts Agnes to contemplate the glory of God; a glory that she already possesses because of her uncompromising and faithful embrace of the Poor Christ. Because fasting is not poverty, "the one thing necessary," Clare encourages Agnes to rejoice that she now possesses the Privilege of Poverty and to practice eschatological living.
Towards the end of her letter, Clare responds to Agnes's questions, passing on the instructions concerning fasting given to her and her sisters by Saint Francis himself. Clare also begs Agnes to undertake her fasting disciplines with discretion. The cold and damp conditions of the Bohemian climate and the unavailability of Italian "fasting foods" will require prudent adjustments.
(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), 73-87.