The Letters of St Clare

Introduction

Clare’s four letters to St Agnes of Prague are like an underground stream that flows through our life together with God as her sisters. We can afford to know them by heart and there are many ways of looking at them and experiencing them.

One radiant image in Clare's letters is the mirror. One can gaze at these words as one might gaze at an icon of Christ and discover one’s own reflection in Christ’s love, being transformed into the icon of Christ.

One can discover here the threefold way of prayer that Francis has implied and St Bonaventure will extend. But it is Clare who defines it, she says gaze, consider, contemplate or - in our words: behold, hold and enfold the Lord whose likeness you are called to bear in love.

The great present-day Clare scholar Father Herbert Schneider OFM, a great friend of Ty Mam Duw says that the letters - even by the time scale of their composition - represent the stages of formation in the gospel way of life.

In the first letter Clare writes to encourage and inspire Agnes who has made her choice for Christ, but has not yet entered her monastery. She is making the great exchange of time for eternity

The second letter comes a year later, as to a newly clothed novice who is learning to live in a deep and spousal friendship with Christ running with swift feet on the path of perfect happiness.

The final and solemn commitment of profession is the theme of the third letter inviting to surrender and no turning back. It shows the path of life and love that will be lived in struggle and joy, carrying Christ in the soul as Mary carried him in her body.

Twenty years later, Clare writes to Agnes as woman who has put the Lord’s love to the test and is discovering that it is always new and never tires as she in drawn through the images of the Song of Songs to the joys of the Spirit .

The Agnes in question is a Bohemian princess of the house of Premysl who has had to fight her father not to be married to the Emperor and then fight the Pope for the privilege of poverty.

The recipient of the fifth letter is Ermentrude of Bruges who founded monasteries in Flanders and two whom early Franciscan chronicles say Clare wrote two letters. Scholars are reluctant to give any date to this text, but it is known that Ermentrude set out to visit Clare in 1253 - but she arrived in Assisi too late to meet her in the flesh. Perhaps this letter dates from immediately before that journey for it looks up to heaven that leads us on.

The earliest letter given in this section is from Agnes (born Caterina Offreduccio) Clare's blood Sister. St Francis had sent her as Abbess to a Benedictine community that wanted to adopt the Poor Clare way. She is writing to Clare after Francis' death.