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A letter from Clare of Assisi (1253)


Translated letter: 

(1) To the other half of her soul and repository of the special love of her deepest heart, illustrious queen, spouse of the Lamb of the eternal King, the Lady Agnes, her own dearest mother and, among all the others, her special daughter, (2) Clare, unworthy servant of Christ and useless handmaid of his handmaids who live in the Monastery of San Damiano in Assisi, (3) sends greetings and her prayer that Agnes, together with the other most holy virgins, will sing a new song before the throne of God and of the Lamb, and will follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
(4) O mother and daughter, spouse of the King and all ages, even if I have not written to you as frequently as both your soul and mine would have desired and longed for, do not for a moment wonder (5) or believe in any way that the fire of my love for you burns any less sweetly in the deepest heart of your mother. (6) The truth is that a shortage of messengers and the obvious perils of travel have hindered me. (7) But now, as I write to your love, I rejoice and exult for you in the joy of the Spirit, spouse of Christ, (8) because like that other most holy virgin, Saint Agnes, you have been in an astonishing way espoused to the immaculate Lamb, who, having assumed responsibility for all the vanities of this world, takes away the sins of the world.
(9) Happy, indeed, is the one permitted to share
in this sacred banquet so as to be joined
with all the feelings of her heart to him
(10) whose beauty all the blessed hosts of the
heavens unceasingly admire,
(11) whose affection moves,
whose contemplation invigorates,
whose generosity fills,
(12) whose sweetness replenishes,
whose remembrance pleasantly brings light,
(13) whose fragrance will revive the dead,
and whose glorious vision will bless
all the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem,
(14) because the vision of him is the splendor of
everlasting glory,
the radiance of everlasting light,
and a mirror without tarnish.
(15) Look into this mirror every day, O queen, spouse of Jesus Christ, and continually examine your face in it, (16) so that in this way you may adorn yourself completely, inwardly and outwardly, clothed and covered in multicolored apparel, (17) adorned in the same manner with flowers and garments made of all the virtues as is proper, dearest daughter and spouse of the most high King. (18) Moreover, in this mirror shine blessed poverty, holy humility, and charity beyond words, as you will be able, with God's grace, to contemplate throughout the entire mirror.
(19) Look closely, I say, to the beginning of the life of this admired one, indeed at the poverty of him who was wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. (20) O marvelous humility! O astonishing poverty! (21) The King of the angels, the Lord of heaven and earth is laid to rest in a manger! (22) Consider also the midst of his life, his humility, or at least his blessed poverty, the countless hardships, and the punishments that he endured for the redemption of the human race. (23) Indeed, ponder the final days of this mirrored one, contemplate the ineffable love with which he was willing to suffer on the tree of the cross and to die there a kind of death that is more shameful than any other.
(24) That mirror suspended upon the wood of the cross from there kept urging those passing by of what must be considered, saying: (25) O all you who pass by this way, look and see if there is any suffering like my suffering. (26) In response let us with one voice and in one spirit answer him who is crying out and lamenting: I will remember this over and over and my soul will sink within me. (27) Therefore, seeing this, O queen of the heavenly King, you must burn ever more strongly with the fervor of charity!
(28) Furthermore, as you contemplate his indescribable delights, riches, and everlasting honors, (29) and heaving a sigh because of your heart's immeasurable desire and love may you exclaim:
(30) Draw me after you, Heavenly Spouse, we
shall run in the fragrance of your perfumes!
(31) I shall run and not grow weary until you
bring me into the wine cellar,
(32) until your left hand is under my head and
your right arm blissfully embraces me;
and you kiss me with the most blissful kiss
of your mouth.
(33) As you are placed in this contemplation, may you remember your poor little mother, (34) knowing that I have inseparably inscribed the happy memory of you on the tablets of my heart, for I regard you as dearer than all others.
(35) Why say more? Let my physical tongue be silent, as it is said, and let the tongue of the Spirit speak. (36) O blessed daughter, since in no way at all could my bodily tongue express more fully the love that I have for you, (37) that which I have written is certainly inadequate. I beg you to receive these words with kindness and devotion, seeing in them at least the motherly affection, by which every day I am stirred by the fire of love for you and your daughters; please ask them to pray for me and my daughters in Christ. (38) Indeed, inasmuch as they are able, my own daughters, and especially the most prudent virgin, Agnes, our sister, beg you and your daughters to pray for them in the Lord.
(39) Farewell, dearest daughter, together with your own daughters, until we meet at the throne of glory of the great God, and pray for us.
(40) I must now commend to your charity, as fully as possible, our dearest bearers of this letter, Brother Amato, beloved by God and human beings, and Brother Bonaugura. Amen.

Original letter: 

(1) Animae suae dimidiae et praecordialis amoris armariae singularis, illustri reginae, Agni Regis aeterni sponsae, dominae Agneti, matri suae carissimae ac filiae inter omnes alias speciali, (2) Clara, indigna Christi famula et ancilla inutilis ancillarum eius commorantium in monasterio Sancti Damiani de Assisio, (3) salutem et cum reliquis sanctissimis virginibus ante thronum Dei et Agni novum cantare canticum et quocumque ierit Agnum sequi.
(4) O mater et filia, sponsa Regis omnium saeculorum, et si tibi non scripsi frequenter, prout anima tua et mea pariter desiderat et peroptat aliquatenus, non mireris (5) nec credas ullatenus incendium caritatis erga te minus ardere suaviter in visceribus matris tuae. (6) Hoc est impedimentum defectus nuntiorum et viarum pericula manifesta. (7) Nunc vero scribens caritati tuae, congaudeo et exsulto tibi in gaudio spiritus, sponsa Christi, (8) quia velut altera virgo sanctissima, sancta Agnes, Agno immaculato, qui tollit peccata mundi, es mirifice desponsata, sumptis omnibus vanitatibus huius mundi.
(9) Felix certe
cui hoc sacro datur potiri convivio,
ut ei adhaereatur totis cordis praecordiis,
(10) cuius pulchritudinem
omnia beata caelorum agmina
incessabiliter admirantur,
(11) cuius affectus afficit,
cuius contemplatio reficit,
cuius implet benignitas,
(12) cuius replet suavitas,
cuius memoria lucescit suaviter,
(13) cuius odore mortui reviviscent,
cuiusque visio gloriosa beatificabit
omnes cives supernae Ierusalem:
(14) quae cum sit splendor aeternae gloriae,
candor lucis aeternae
et speculum sine macula.
(15) Hoc speculum cottidie intuere, o regina, sponsa Iesu Christi, et in eo faciem tuam iugiter speculare, (16) ut sic totam interius et exterius te adornes amictam circumdatamque varietatibus, (17) omnium virtutum floribus et vestimentis pariter adornata sicut decet, filia et sponsa carissima summi Regis. (18) In hoc autem speculo refulget beata paupertas, sancta humilitas et ineffabilis caritas, sicut per totum speculum poteris cum Dei gratia contemplari.
(19) Attende, inquam, principium huius speculi paupertatem positi siquidem in praesepio in in panniculis involuti. (20) O miranda humilitas, o stupenda paupertas! (21) Rex angelorum, Dominus caeli et terrae in praesepio reclinatur. (22) In medio autem speculi considera humiliatatem, saltem beatam paupertatem, labores innumeros ac poenalitates quas sustinuit pro redemptione humani generis. (23) In fine vero eiusdem
speculi contemplare ineffabilem caritatem, qua pati voluit in crucis stipite et in eodem mori omni mortis genere turpiori.
(24) Unde ipsum speculum, in ligno crucis positum, hic consideranda transeuntes monebat dicens: (25) O vos omnes qui transitis per viam, attendite et videte si est dolor sicut dolor meus; (26) respondeamus, inquit, ei clamanti et eiulanti una voce, uno spiritu: Memoria memor ero et tabescet in me anima mea. (27) Huius igitur caritatis ardore accendaris iugiter fortius, o regina caelestis Regis!
(28) Contemplans insuper indicibiles eius delicias, divitias, et honores perpetuos (29) et suspirando prae nimio cordis desiderio et amore proclames:
(30) Trahe me post te,
curremus in ordorem unguentorum tuorum,
sponse caelestis!
(31) Curram nec deficiam,
donec introducas me in cellam vinariam,
(32) donec laeva tua sit sub capite meo
et dextera feliciter amplexabitur me,
osculeris me felicissimo tui oris osculo.
(33) In hac contemplatione posita, habeas memoriam pauperculae matris tuae, (34) sciens quod ego tuam felicem memoriam descripsi inseparabiliter in tabulis cordis mei, habens te prae omnibus cariorem.
(35) Quid plura? Sileat iin dilectione tua lingua carnis; hoc inquit, et loquatur lingua spiritus. (36) O filia benedicta, quoniam dilectionem, quam ad te habeo, nullatenus posset exprimere plenius lingua carnis, hoc inquit quae semiplene scripsi. (37) Oro benigne ac devote suscipias attendens in eis saltem affectum maternum, quo circa te ac filias tuas caritatis ardore afficior omni die, quibus me ac filias meas in Christo plurimum recommenda. (38) Ipsae vero filiae meae, sed praecipue virgo prudentissima Agnes, soror nostra, se tibi et filiabus tuis, quantum possunt, in Domino recommendant.
(39) Vale, carissima filia, cum filiabus tuis usque ad thronum gloriae magni Dei et optate pro nobis.
(40) Latores praesentium carissimos nostros fratrem Amatum, dilectum Deo et hominibus, et fratrem Bonaguram caritati tuae quantum possum, praesentibus recommendo. Amen.

Historical context: 

Clare's fourth letter to Agnes of Prague. Clare wrote her fourth letter to Agnes on her deathbed in 1253, nearly fifteen years after her third letter. Clare's blood-sister, Agnes of Assisi, is at her side. Assuring Agnes of Prague of her deep care, Clare excuses her lapse in correspondence on the shortage of messengers and the perils of travel. Both Clare and Agnes have struggled over the years to remain faithful to the form of life given to them by Saint Francis. There has been papal pressure to dilute their commitment to living without property; the Friars Minor themselves have wavered in their commitment to poverty and in their responsibility of caring for the sisters; political upheavals have brought grave hardships to both monasteries. Through all of this, Agnes has proven herself to be a true support and joy to Clare by persevering in her commitment to follow the Poor Christ. In her fourth letter Clare expresses her love for Agnes of Prague as a daughter dear to her heart. She again freely improvises upon The Legend of Saint Agnes of Rome, demonstrating her familiarity with this text. The eschatological note of the letter is worthy of one who is preparing for death, but it is much more than this. Clare has taken the beatitude, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:3)," literally. She is confident of heaven, because of Christ's promise. Clare exhorts Agnes to ponder the birth, public life, death, and glory of Jesus Christ, her spouse. In embracing and contemplating the mystery of the Poor Christ, Agnes will share in eschatological glory, and will be united with Clare again before the throne of God.  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).

Scholarly notes: 

This translation, taken 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.

Printed source: 

Joan Mueller, Clare's Letters to Agnes, Texts and Sources (St. Bonaventure, NY: St. Bonaventure University, 2001)