Iglesia Descalza: The love between Clare and Francis of Assisi
takes a look at St Clare of Assisi, the 13th century friend of St Francis who left Guests include art historians Hugh Hudson and Claire Renkin as well as in the full market place, to take off his clothes and gives them to the poor. .. pursuing a range of research projects in relation to the interreligious and. The love for Christ and the poor did not diminish at all the deep love that united serving others, there can be true love and relationships of great tenderness. Between Francis and Clare, there is something mysterious that. No doubt she first met St. Francis at such events before he left all worldly goods Some in turn returned home and founded convents of Poor Clares in their own.
The Dominican order were committed very much to the task of intellectual reform, they were really committed to engaging in Aristotle and the abstract questions of the philosophers were of great interest to them and to Thomas Aquinas.
Bonaventure is a contemporary of Aquinas. But whereas Aquinas perhaps privileges the role of intellect in a wonderful humane way, Bonaventure is interested in the psyche and the love. Perhaps it is for this reason that Bonaventure has an appeal to people outside the academy. And I think that the particular gift of Franciscan thought, that practical aspect, is generated by the fact that you don't need to have a university degree to understand the depth of Franciscan theology.
It has got a full intellectual system behind it, but I think that was the direction in which Bonaventure was pushing. Coming up later, we'll plumb the mystery of a Franciscan work of art in the National Gallery of Victoria, which is also celebrating an anniversary of years since its founding.
Well, how did the Franciscans answer the question that was certainly afoot during the time of the Renaissance and there was such a burgeoning of interest in nature, which also led to the beginnings of science and so forth, how did Franciscans answer the question of what God's role was in nature?
Clare and Francis of Assisi
The Franciscans and Bonaventure play an important role in this, they have a very strong sense of the divine as imminent in the natural world. This idea was that God has revealed himself through the book of nature. This is a line of thought which had been developed before the time of Francis, but I think it's given a particular significance by the Franciscan writings because they believe that there is a divine order in this universe which manifests itself in creation, the beauty of creation.
And so there is a strong sense of the aesthetic, not just in what is a beautiful work of art, but that the world itself embodies beauty. Constant, you've mentioned Duns Scotus and I want to advert to his work now.
He was one of the key Franciscan thinkers and called the great scholastic doctor, which is quite opposite to Francis's initial almost anti-scholastic push. But he was particularly concerned about the will over the intellect. We've heard of Bonaventure prioritising love over the intellect, now we have the will over the intellect with Duns Scotus. What did he mean by that? I think that he is looking at psychology in a profound way. The author who really had reflected a lot on the will in Christian thought was Augustine.
Augustine had probably become known for what he said about the will, which was the corruption of the will, which was a tendency to sin, and this was something which Augustine developed in later life. There is actually a lot of psychological insight in Augustine, but it tends to be covered by an awareness of sin, which means that you can't quite separate the two when you read Augustine because I think that what we see with Scotus is that there is a kind of optimism about human potential, but it is actually recognising something, that we all have the will, and we must exercise the will freely.
The Aristotelian system is a very rational system, it is emphasising that you choose intellectually what is better and you avoid what is wrong. But one could argue is that really valid for most people? Do they actually choose rationally, or would you say, well, maybe I just make a choice for the good.
And it is in a very deep part of the Christian message, and Augustine would have absolutely agreed that we need to choose the good, for whatever reason, whether we are intellectuals or not. But I think that Scotus is somebody who will say, look, the intellect is part of who we are, it's only part, we actually have to make choices.
And I think this combines with a sense that let's make a choice for the kingdom of God, and therefore perhaps is a little bit more dismissive of the people who follow Aristotle, but he has a complete mastery of everything that Aristotle had said.
Perhaps he has a greater freedom in the way that he speaks about these intellectual systems. It seems like what you've been describing there is one of the perennial divides in the world of religion, which is the heart over the mind or the mind over the heart, and the will being in the force, the ability to choose one or the other. I think it's not an issue of just the will, just to love, just the intellect.
Francis & Clare
These are all parts of the vision. And I think the other important point to remember in this period, they loved disagreeing with each other. Within the Franciscan order you had huge differences of opinion, and it wasn't just that the Dominicans all had one opinion either. I think this is one of the great things about scholastic thought which is often seriously misunderstood when people make stereotyped assumptions about scholasticism, which derives from certain comments made at the time of the Renaissance, but they weren't actually attacking what scholastic thought could be, which was really one of an incredible set of discussions going on in different communities.
Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, Aquinas, they were all offering something, and in fact one of the things that we've been working on is that the Franciscans were picking up from the best things of what St Thomas had to say. This is something which is perhaps a new line of thinking, there is an old stereotype about the Franciscans as not intellectual, the Dominicans were, and that's quite false.
We've got a much more interesting period. And your book certainly reveals all of the ways in which the Franciscans developed their theology, as well as they are practical expressions.
And if I can just take you back to that practical theology, how does Christ fit into it? The Franciscan vision is particularly Christocentric, it is the notion that God is revealed in the life as well as the death of Christ.
There has been sometimes in Christian thought a tendency to emphasise so much the sacrificial death, the death of Christ on the cross, that, 'well, yes, he lived, he preached, but then the Church carried that on, so that wasn't so important'.
What I think the Franciscan contribution is is to emphasise the example of Christ in his life as well and his death. This is something which we could also see if we look at art because we see a shift from the triumphant Byzantine magisterial imperial Christ in victory to an awareness of the weakness and the humanity of Christ on the cross, as well as a figure who lived and breathed and walked among us.
Can I ask you finally if the Franciscan vision, which so emphasises the importance of the human act of loving God, possibly gave birth to a kind of humanism, a Christian humanism, in which there is this assumption that it is within the human capacity to experience God without necessarily being a great intellect.
The movement inspired by Francis and Clare, which has huge repercussions in art but also in feeling, does shift the agenda of discussion to thinking not just about the intellect and sin but who we are as human people. And I think it's interesting that there were many men and women who decided not to become members of the order but wanted to model their lives around Francis and Clare and the example of holy poverty.
Poverty was a shameful condition in contemporary perspective. By insisting on embracing a voluntary poverty, it was something scandalous and it depended how you practised it, for some people it was like tokenistic poverty, for others it was a very, very real poverty which was embraced and forced on people.
But whatever your background, I think that the emphasis was on living out an alternative lifestyle. The Franciscan missionaries, I've just been learning about how they went to China in the first years The first Archbishop of Beijing in the 13th century was a Franciscan. There is an extraordinary sense of embracing the world. Claire, can I ask you about St Clare. Everyone knows about Francis of course, but probably a lot fewer people know about Clare.
Less of a mythology perhaps spun around her. But you've said she came from a noble family. I would have imagined that for her to embrace a life of poverty would have been quite a shameful thing. I think that's exactly right, Rachael. In fact we know from the sources of Clare's life that the sense of embracing poverty and not only embracing poverty but actually, as it were, following a figure like St Francis who we remember at the time in the early 13th century when Clare literally left her household, and obviously she had come from a background where she was known, even at the age of 18, for her own extraordinary spiritual life, that Francis had known of this and whether he approached her directly or through intermediaries, he wished to become known to her, he wished to join her, he wished her to join him.
So she left, we are told in the sources, on the evening of Palm Sunday and she went with him. She left her house, which was In fact they lived in a quite different part of Assisi. She lived near the cathedral where the wealthy people lived, where the wealthy aristocrats lived, Francis's family lived where the merchants lived.
So by leaving in the middle of the night So not only was it shameful, the manner in which she left, under cloak of darkness you might say, but she was also leaving to throw in her lot with a figure who was utterly unknown, who was embarking on this religious adventure which to us now in the early 21st century seems prophetic, but it would not and it was not thought of by many of Francis's and Clare's compatriots. There was some who believed in and understood And in the images, especially the image It is, it is the most powerful story, and it says something not only about the clash of values The latest confection, though purporting to be more historically accurate, is Clare and Francis, produced by Lux Vide, and filmed in Italy.
From the Middle Ages to the Present. Well, in recent years, here in Melbourne people would have been able to see marvellous illuminated manuscripts, but you focused your attention on a 15th century illuminated miniature, in German, the Klarenbuch, a translation of the life of St Clare, attributed to Thomas of Celano, I imagine.
But I'm confused because Clare is considered both the subject and the author of the piece. So who actually wrote it? The life is considered to have been written now However, in the 15th century and probably even into the 19th century Constant no doubt would have a better idea about this it was attributed to St Bonaventure. So in that sense of course the life is not by Clare. However, the manuscript has a number of other texts included, the substantial section is the life, but there are also five letters that are letters that it is believed Clare wrote to Agnes of Prague.
So in that sense Clare of course is an author. And Clare of course more famously is the author of her rule, which is an astounding achievement and is the first time in the Western tradition a religious woman wrote a rule for her own order. So in that sense perhaps the manuscript is not explicitly Illumination was pretty costly, so who was the Klarenbuch made for, who would have commissioned it? The Klarenbuch in this case was made as a gift for another Franciscan or I should say another order of Poor Clares.
This was actually not uncommon, and what is wonderful about the manuscript that I was fortunate enough to see and that I have been studying, and the illuminator was a Poor Clare, Sibilla von Bondorf, and there are over illuminations that are attributed to her. And in fact she produced or she managed a workshop in two convents or two monasteries where she spent her life as a Poor Clare nun.
She not only produced manuscripts for other Poor Clares, she produced manuscripts for Franciscans, for the male branch of the order, and also for other female religious, including an order of women, the [word unclear], which were women who we would perhaps say were repentant women.
Repentant prostitutes, I think. Well, at least there was life after prostitution. Oh more than that, in some senses it was considered that they had reclaimed their virginity, and that in fact virginity was something that could be reclaimed, which strikes us I think as a very alien, almost bizarre concept, but I think it points to a greater flexibility and a greater imaginative understanding of such concepts as virginity.
I think we tend to think of virginity purely in terms of a physical state. I think this understanding of virginity and understanding it as being something perhaps even more powerfully a symbol of a spiritual state, that was foremost.
I'm actually fascinated by the theme that you've discerned in the Klarenbuch which is the paralleling of Clare with Mary Magdalene, the woman known for her tresses and her expensive balm which she used to wipe the feet of Jesus. How is this related then to the popular mediaeval image of the bride of Christ? I suspect that probably you've touched on a very important thing.
I think it was a very important theme in the late Middle Ages in the image of the Magdalene, and I think it's a theme that we need to perhaps revive or rediscover. I think because of a whole lot of reasons, largely the fact that in contemporary scholarship, especially Catholic scholarship, we have inherited an image of the biblical Mary Magdalene which until the Reformation was in fact a conflation of three women.
In the 19th, 20th century and of course after Vatican II with so much innovation and returning to sources in the great biblical scholarship, of course Catholic scholars recognised what Protestant scholars of course had known since at least the Reformation, that the Magdalene was one woman, and that the conflation was a 6th century conflation, we owe the conflation to Gregory the Great.
And you are talking of the conflation of Mary of Bethany and Exactly, that's right; Mary of Bethany, the unnamed woman who anoints Christ's feet in Luke's gospel, and the woman Mary of Magdalene from whom Christ expels seven demons. So Gregory the Great preaches in a very famous sermon in in Rome and he conflates those figures. So they become the image that we inherited up until perhaps the early 20th century. So I think many biblical scholars, and I think many Catholic biblical scholars and many Catholic women have seized on the realisation that Mary Magdalene probably wasn't a sinner, she wasn't the woman who was seen as the woman who was a sinner of the city, and that she's inherited what we would seem to see as the degrading title of prostitute.
But why was it important then to parallel Clare with Mary Magdalene and this whole notion of being the bride of Christ? I think the image of the bride of Christ I think we need to perhaps go back to the image and see what is evoked by that image.
I think it's an image that has its roots in the imagery of the Song of Songs, the beautiful book of the Old Testament, where that imagery in the earliest years of Christianity, perhaps from the 2nd century and certainly in the 3rd and 4th century, we find the great patristic writers evoke the model of the bride to suggest the image of the Church.
And so to understand the deep love that Christ possesses for his community, the Church, the image that most succinctly and deeply and imaginatively captures that emotion is the love of the bride and the bridegroom.
When we then move perhaps to the 12th century to understanding the individual's desire for Christ, we see the image again that is evoked is the image of the bride and the bridegroom who pursue each other in a desire to unite in a love that is inexpressible and can only really reach fulfilment in religious terms.
That becomes the image that is used to explain, to understand, and to characterise the desire for the religious to live their vow. And isn't Clare actually invoking the Song of Songs when she refers to Christ as spouse and lover. Yes, throughout her letters, in all of her letters she uses the imagery of Christ as her spouse, as her beloved bridegroom.
She imagines herself seated with him where he places his arm around her shoulder, which of course is based on the image in the Song of Songs of the bridegroom bringing his bride towards him by placing his arm around her. It's the physical, it's the caressing, it is the relational, and it's a relationship But in fact I think when you read Clare's letters, when you read the sense of the bodily, of experience taking place in their bodies, then you realise how deeply the experience, how deeply their imagery is based on incarnation.
I think today it's inescapable to read those letters and not think of this as being quite erotic, a kind of sublimated eroticism which is transformed into a holy love. I think it's absolutely erotic. I don't know whether I would go so far as to talk of it being sublimated, only because I think that's a term that we inherit from the late 19th century, from the great work of Freud and the understanding of the unconscious.
So how would you explain it? I think it was something that was based on an understanding of sexuality and a sense of the body containing memories, the body being something that was truly a gift from God, and it was understood in a much deeper and in a fuller way than perhaps we are able to understand in our post-Freudian age. Do you think this is a Franciscan view of the body and love of Christ? I wouldn't say it was limited to the Franciscans, but I think Francis especially when we think of the fact that his ultimate experience of identification with Christ was through the stigmata, and of course that's an experience that is above all literally a body encapsulating the experience, then perhaps the Franciscans and Clare most powerfully capture that sense of the body as a vehicle to express the search for the sublime.
Can I ask you finally how far did Clare's influence radiate? Literally throughout the world. Within her own lifetime her influence, her way of life, her pursuit of poverty and her imitation of Christ had attracted women not only in Italy but from as far away as Prague where her message was not only seized on by middle-class women but of course by Agnes of Prague who was a member of the royal family.
Women joined her movement in Germany, in England of course, in Spain, so it was perhaps not And was it a lay order? And there also were women who were attracted to Clare and her way of life in what we call the third order, and that was the most important part of the Franciscan and Poor Clare movement, yes.
The lay third order of Tertiary. Of Tertiaries, exactly, that's right, and in some ways I think that Tertiaries in some ways were more important in actually disseminating the ideals of the Poor Clares than perhaps the Poor Clares were themselves in some ways. Claire Renkin, Constant Mews, I think this book is going to have a great deal of popularity. Thank you so much for illuminating the Franciscan legacy. The book is Interpreting Francis and Clare of Assisi: From the Middle Ages to the Present, edited by Constant Mews and Claire Renkin, with contributions from an array of international specialists, and with great illustrations of the art which we've been talking about.
One of the artworks produced by Franciscans, a diptych by Pietro Teutonico, hangs in the National Gallery of Victoria. Unfortunately the day I was in Melbourne to speak to Hugh Hudson who's made a special study of it, the gallery was closed. Passing his time in solitude and meditation on the Passion of Christ, he asked two favors of the Lord: This prayer was dramatically answered when Francis received the Stigmata: His body already frail from poverty and self-denial, his eyes burning from trachoma, the Stigmata added to Francis' suffering.
Yet he returned to Assisi and paid a visit to St. Clare at San Damiano where, in anguish and virtually blind, he dictated his magnificent hymn of praise, the Canticle of the Creatures. Less than a year later, Francis lay dying at the bishop's palace in Assisi. When the end was close, he asked to be taken back to the Portiuncula, the little chapel and settlement that was the cradle of his Order. There, faithful to Lady Poverty to the end, he lay naked on the ground surrounded by his brothers, and gave them his final exhortation: Their inte-rgenerational residence in the upper part of the town was adjacent to the Cathedral of San Rufino.
When Clare was a small child, the political situation in Assisi became so dangerous for the women and children of the noble class that they fled to nearby Perugia. The merchant class of Assisi was forcing its way into power, thus crippling the feudal system. New city-states began forming throughout Italy. During the first decade of the thirteenth century, the social order in Assisi stabilized enough for the young Clare to return to the city with her mother and her two sisters.
Clare had made a private vow of virginity. A local nobleman, Lord Ranieri, testified that many knights had wished to marry the beautiful Clare, but she was determined to dedicate herself to the service of God by remaining in her home, living a life of prayer, and helping those most in need. She also decided to divest herself of her entire inheritance and to give the money to the poor. Francis had heard of Clare's holiness and she had heard Francis preach in the cathedral. Francis came to meet Clare and subsequently Clare, accompanied by a companion, met frequently with Francis.
Whatever happened between Francis and Clare, on Palm Sunday,Clare took a dramatic, irrevocable step on her spiritual journey. The noblewomen of Assisi, dressed in their finest clothing, paraded through the town to receive the blessed palms at the altar of the cathedral.
Clare stood aside from this group. Nevertheless, Bishop Guido came to her and placed a palm in her hand. That night she slipped through the door of her family home and down the winding streets of Assisi to leave the town and to meet Francis at the Portiuncula. There he gave her the tonsure and a drab tunic as her religious garb.
When the knights sought Clare the next day to carry her back home, she was found safe in the sanctuary of the Benedictine nuns at Bastia.
After a week there, Francis and a few friars walked her to a residence of penitential women living at Panzo. For forty years, Clare and the women lived a life of prayer and simplicity outside the city walls, close to leper colonies.
Francis and Clare: In Love, But With Whom? - ZENIT - English
These "Poor Ladies" strove to live the Gospels in a way that they had not been lived before. They did not "shirk deprivation, poverty, hard work, trial, or shame and the contempt of the world. During her lifetime, her reputation became well known as a woman of prayer and one who possessed the gift of healing.
A few of her writings remain that provide a glimpse of her rich spirituality. Clare modeled her life on the humanity of Jesus. By gazing upon the image of the crucified Christ, Clare came to identify with his poverty, and this became the foundation for her own practice of poverty.