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THE TESTAMENT, GUIDE TO GRASP


THE RULE’S SPIRIT

• With What Purpose Clare Wrote her


Testament?

• Divine Election and Mission of Great


Determination in the Church

• Initial Adventure of the Poor Sisters

• The Commitment to the Most High


Poverty

• Fraternally United in the Charity of


Christ

• Till the End by the Path Begun

• The Blessing of the Mother and Servant

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With What Purpose Clare wrote
her Testament?

Francis, somewhat before his death, had his Testament


written as the last declaration of his Gospel “intentions”, a
“remembrance, admonition and exhortation in order to
more universally observe the Rule promised to the Lord”.
Clare followed St. Francis on this too, but with a
difference: her Testament is not a commentary to the Rule,
but the Rule is rather the juridical crystallization of the
Testament. In fact, this is most probably previous to the
Rule’s composition.1
It was perhaps as a result of Innocent IV’s Rule in
1247 which saddened her deeply on account of the clause
allowing possessions and fixed income, when Clare drew
up her last will for the sisters at San Damiano, like a
supreme inducement of the “Mother and Servant” to
faithfulness to the fundamental ideals of life according to
the Gospel: poverty and mutual fraternal understanding in
accordance with the legacy received from St. Francis.
It is her most personal document, the one that best
reveals St. Clare’s great and refined soul, not less than her
conscience as a foundress. And it is precisely the texts of
the Testament included in the Rule which give it the mark
of originality and warmth, a witness to an experience gladly
lived out with her sisters.
In spite of its spontaneity, the wording of the
Testament presents a well defined succession of ideas. It
opens up with a warm exhortation to consider the benefit of
the divine election and to respond generously to it (nn, 1-
23).2 It proceeds then to recount the birth of her personal
vocation and that of the Poor Sisters with autobiographical
touches imitating those in the Testament of St. Francis (nn.
24-36). There comes now the firm and repeated
affirmation of their commitment to most high poverty,

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“promised to God and St. Francis”. (nn. 37-55)The “way of
holy simplicity, humility and poverty” leads to the union of
hearts that builds up the will of serving in those who
command and obey (nn. 56-70). Lastly, turning back to the
vocational theme at the beginning, there is an exhortation
and a prayer about perseverance (nn. 71-78). Clare ends up
with a blessing, as an encouragement to “better observe this
writing” (79).
There is in this ending, as well as in the view of the
whole document, a clear will that the Testament the
foundress bequeaths the sisters “present and future” –up to
six times she calls the attention of the “sisters to come”–
may serve them as a guideline to test the authenticity of
their Gospel life.

Divine Election and Mission of


Great Determination in the Church

Clare sees the blessing of vocation as one of the


greatest ever received from God’s liberality, and names it
“election” Each calling of Christ, in effect, is the end of a
loving design drawn by the Father over each one of us and
consists on a calling on God’s part and a free response on
the part of one who is called. According to the Saint, the
awareness of divine election creates a debt towards God, all
the more the vocation is more excellent. And quotes freely
a text of the Apostle that refers to 1 Cor1, 26.
The aim of a calling as demanding and as excellent as
it is, is nothing else but “to follow God’s Son” who “ has
become our way”, a way shown to Clare and her sisters by
St. Francis, “Christ’s true lover and imitator”.
The Saint goes on affirming with force the identical
nature of her vocation with St. Francis, who all throughout

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her Testament she keeps appealing to as Father and
Founder. And recalls the prophetic harangue that the Saint
addressed in French and by the style of a troubadour, while
repairing the little church of San Damiano. The event is
attested to by the Three Companions and The Second Life
of Thomas of Celano.3
She ponders again on God’s benignity shown in that
form of “vocation and election” through St. Francis. She
feels one in the common mission of “giving glory to the
heavenly Father through his holy universal Church, with so
many generations of sisters that will embrace the same kind
of life at the course of centuries. “And our most blessed
father prophesied not only for us, but also for those who
would come to this same holy vocation to which the Lord
has called us.”
She ends up this first part with an ardent appeal of
generosity in the response to that divine call. It is a debt
that ought to be settled “with eagerness and fervor of mind
and body by keeping the commandments of our God and
Father returning to him an increase of his talent”. Where
the theologians of that time got lost and entangled in
distinguishing between precepts and counsels, Francis and
Clare saw with evangelical intuition the “commandments
of the heavenly Father”. If the fulfillment of the design of
such Father is what really matters, then the pressing
invitations of Jesus to build up with him a kingdom of love
for which he has given up his life, cannot be just reduced to
“counsels”. This is how St. Francis expressed himself at
the 5th chapter of the Rule: “persevering in the Lord’s
command that the brothers have promised by the holy
Gospel and their form of life”.
To that debt towards divine benignity they have to add
the responsibility before God’s people and the sisters of so
many monasteries looking up to that of San Damiano:
“The Lord has set us as an example and mirror to other
sisters”, and insists on the duty of being also a “mirror and
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example to those living in the world”. And indeed it is so:
no matter how much virtue tries to hide itself behind the
enclosure of the most rigorous cloister – or perhaps because
of it – the world will not be deprived from perceiving the
fragrance of life immolated nor the splendor of so great a
light. “A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. No one
lights a lamp to put it under a tub, they put it on the lamp-
stand where it shines for everyone in the house”. (Mt 5, 14-
15)

The Initial Adventure of the Poor Sisters

Francis had sketched, at the beginning of his


Testament, the path of his conversion, what he called
“beginning to do penance”. Clare employs the same
terminology by recalling, through vivid autobiographical
outline, the first steps of the San Damiano community:
“After the most high heavenly Father saw fit in his mercy
and grace to enlighten my heart that I should do
“penance”….” The paragraph will pass almost literally to
the Rule, but transcribing exactly the “form of life” given
by Francis, and precisely to give rise to the commitment of
absolute poverty.
As a matter of fact, Clare believes that the strength of
this commitment derives from the acceptance of Francis’
Gospel ideal on the day she promised him “obedience”
“together with a few sisters whom the Lord had given her”.
This is truly a beautiful and precise expression, used by St.
Francis in his Testament. To her mind, all was God’s grace
at her life’s itinerary: the divine election, to have
discovered it through a guide like Francis, and to have seen
herself as a foundress surrounded by followers without

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even thinking of it. Each sister [was considered] God’s gift
and his loving design.
Heroic indeed, was that adventure at the beginning
without any other guarantee but the burning faith of the
Poverello on the truth of the Gospel. The female
community of poor ladies had to experience everything:
penury, work, tribulations, insults, contempt. Yes, even the
“contempt of the world”. What kind of comments would
they not have to listen to coming from their relatives,
clergymen and the wise and prudent people of Assisi? It
was sheer madness insisting on such a hazardous existence
by a group of women, without fixed income, without steady
means of livelihood, living from day to day, at an
uncomfortable dwelling, when there are so many
monasteries , spacious and well equipped where they could
give themselves up to God without cares and worries. But
it was precisely that installed security that they wanted to
sacrifice.
Francis, Clare goes on, was highly pleased on seeing
them so full of joy in the midst of so many privations and
incomprehension. The female Gospel community under
the banner of Lady Poverty was set off. And it was then,
Clare recalls eager to strengthen union with the First Order,
when he committed himself “to always have the same
loving care and special solicitude for us as for his own
brothers”.
Besides, to consolidate what was just a searching at the
beginning, as it had been too at the fraternity of Brothers
Minor, he gave them a “form of Life”, of which strong
point was “holy poverty”. Francis, Clare says, continued
encouraging them ever to be faithful to poverty, and quotes
his last will, a part of which she transcribed into her Rule.
It is the very same faithfulness that the Saint kept up to his
death in imitation of God’s Son.
There is no doubt at all that, the obedience promised to
Francis, the guarantee of his assistance, his form of life and
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his last will constitute in the mind of Clare the authentic
basis of the kind of life of the Poor Sisters.

The Commitment to the Most High Poverty

The final recommendation, or rather, the instruction of


Francis had been: never depart from poverty for
anything in the world. Clare feels herself one with her
sisters in the fidelity to this instruction. That persuasion of
co-responsibility leads her to employ “we, us”, as she had
done in the Rule (as well). By instilling in them what is to
her the vital content of that ideal, she feels more than ever
before ”the unworthy handmaid of Christ and of the Poor
ladies”.
Francis’ “little plant” is conscious of having been
faithful to him, but is afraid that, after her death, her
daughters might abate that fidelity and so she wants to
make sure that will not be so.
What cost so much keeping inviolable after fighting not
only against human frailty but even against outside pressure
to have them deflect from the embraced path, should not be
wasted for lack of zeal of the abbesses, her successors. She
brings now to memory, the “privilege of Poverty”, obtained
first from Innocent III and later on confirmed by other
Popes. Finally, she will succeed in giving stable juridical
form to that well defended privilege in the sixth chapter of
the Rule.
What follows now is the most moving paragraph of the
Testament… Clare “on bended knees and bowing low with
both body and soul”, commending all her sisters, both those
present and those to come, to the Roman Church, to the
Supreme Pontiff, the Cardinal Protector so that they may
“observe the holy poverty we have promised to God and

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our most blessed father Francis”. All her great soul is
revealed in those few lines full of fervor, humility and
uneasiness for the future of that “little flock which the Lord
and Father has begotten in his holy Church”.
She addresses the same recommendation, with no less
humility and warmth, to the successor of St. Francis and to
the entire Order: “let them always help us to progress in
serving God more perfectly”.
Clare, truly poor in spirit, keeps her heart fully
detached even from that dear enclosure of San Damiano,
crib of the Order and shrine of so sacred remembrances,
from that chapel where Francis heard the voice of the
Crucified and from which top he prophesied in song that
reality. She foresees that the day will come when her
daughters will have to leave the place and go somewhere
else. That is no problem to her since they are “pilgrims and
strangers”. The place, the building, the fondness to that
well known corner do not count to her. What really does
matter is the treasure of poverty. It will have to continue
alive at the new quarters of the fraternity, without
possession or fixed income, happy with a little land
necessary for the isolation and cultivation of vegetables.
And so as to avoid that this necessity be an occasion to
create stable means of livelihood, she forbids that the land
that might perhaps be necessary to acquire around the
monastery be cultivated. This last clause did not pass on to
the Rule; she realized perhaps, the inconsistency of the
luxury of having an uncultivated land under the pretext of
highest poverty.

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“Fraternally United in the Charity of Christ”

Poverty is not an end by itself. It is a sine-qua-non


disposition to closely follow Christ and be one with him in
the realization of the Father’s salvific design. It is for that
reason that poverty is the excellent liberating force for
fraternal love. How well she knows it indeed! Without this
union in charity, renunciation to the world would be
meaningless. The group of sisters united in virtue of the
same desire to follow Christ in poverty will succeed in
reaching the finish line of love they have chosen if they
happen to “follow always the path of holy simplicity,
humility, and poverty” thus edifying “both those who are
far away as those who are near”.
This “loving one another with the charity of Christ”,
should not be just an inner sentiment, without commitment,
but should be shown outwardly in deeds, thus transforming
in mutual esteem “to grow continually in the love of God
and in charity for one another”.
It is the fundamental mission of the sister ”who will be
in charge of the sisters” – she avoids on purpose to call her
“abbess” in the Testament – to obtain and maintain that
union in love. Because of this, she ought to be a model of
simplicity and humility so that they obey her out of love
rather than the cold feeling of “duty”. She should act as a
diligent mother, providing each one according to her needs,
being at the disposal of all in an open and sincere family
atmosphere.
At this disposition of the Mother the sisters should
respond with the attitude of prompt obedience, a
spontaneous obedience, as spontaneous was the self-
offering of the Lord, an obedience that is the fruit of the
“charity, humility and unity among them”. Evangelical
obedience is truly authentic when springing from the
insistence of mutual service, an effect of the union in love.

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At such an atmosphere, the leading function of the mother
would be more bearable and beneficial.
What should be cultivated first of all, according to St.
Clare, is the spirit of unity in the group of the poor sisters.
Otherwise mutual distrust will appear between those who
lead and those who obey.

Till the End by the Path Begun

The vocational content of the Testament reappears


alive at its last part. It is an exhortation to “perseverance”.
The path begun is difficult and the door narrow, but by no
means should one back out. Abandoning the path is
tantamount to wasting God’s design and despising the
Virgin, his Mother, and St. Francis; it is offending the
triumphant and even the militant Church. This is a very
exact theological concept of vocation: unfaithfulness to it
is not only a personal failure but shatters as well God’s plan
over us and its damage affects the whole body of the
Church.
And Clare ends up with a prayer asking for the final
perseverance of all her sisters.

The Blessing Of the Mother and Servant

Clare expresses her will that the Testament be


“observed”. With this aim in mind she bequeaths it to her
“very dear sisters, both present and future”. And she wants
them to keep it as a sign of the blessing of the Lord, the

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Seraphic Father Francis and of the blessing that she herself,
“mother and servant”, wishes would reach to each one.
Close to her death, she would still invoke upon all her
sisters, present and to come, an ample blessing of which
text is well known.
Faithfulness to poverty and fraternal union: that is the
double preoccupation expressed in the Testament. As an
echo of that fundamental content, Cardinal Rainaldus will
summarize the essence of the rule through his decree of
approval with this formula: “holy unity and most high
poverty”; Pope Innocent IV, at his bull of confirmation,
writes: “living community life in unity in spirit and in
commitment of most high poverty”. All the rest –
observances, organization, discipline of enclosure, etc. –
remain at the background, as it may be common to any
other religious Order. The uniqueness of St. Francis’ and
Clare’s ideal consist of having made of the binomial
“poverty – fraternity” the very heart of Gospel life.
The Testament of the holy Mother continues being for
Clare’s daughters the key to reading the Rule, as the actual
Constitutions thus proclaim:
“Our Mother St. Clare, before her death, expressed
her last will in her Testament. In it is contained
the authentic spirit, in the purity with which Clare
received it from our Seraphic Father Francis. Let
it be accepted, therefore, as the primary spiritual
explanation of the Rule.” (Cap CC, 4).

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Footnotes to Chapter 19:

1. This is the conclusion reached after a comparative analysis of


parallel passages of both documents, plus the fact that the Rule
is not even once mentioned in the Testament.
2. Some doubt the authenticity of this first part, as it is missing in
some old editions done from manuscripts lost nowadays and
seemingly written by a different hand. The existing ones,
nevertheless, though rather tardy, contain the introduction.
3. L3C, 24; 2Cel., 13. The narrative of the Three Companions
was written at Greccio in 1245. Thomas of Celano took
therein, summing it up, the news of Francis’ prophecy that we
read about at the Vita II written in 1246-47. But the report at
the Testament seems to be independent from that source, since
the collaborators of Francis were just other “poor ones”, a
circumstance put on record at the Process, XVII, 7.

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Notes

ABBREVIATIONS

Adm The Admonitions


Art article
BC Bull of Canonization
CC Constitutions
Cap CC Capuchin Constitutions
1Cel Celano’s First Life of St. Francis
2CEl Celano’s Second Life of St. Francis
Can Canon Law
Cor Corinthians
Ch chapter
ES Ecclesiae
ET Evangelica Testificatio
GS Gaudium et Spes
Gen CC General Constitutions
HS Holy See
Leg Cl Legend of Clare
LAg A Letter of St. Agnes of Assisi
1LAg 1st Letter to St. Agnes of Prague
2LAg 2nd Letter to St. Agnes of Prague
3LAg 3rd Letter to St. Agnes of Prague
4LAg 4th Letter to St. Agnes of Prague
L Er Letter to Ermentrude of Bruges
LG Lumen Gentium
Lt F Letter to the Faithful
Lt Min Letter to a Minister
Lt Ord Letter to the entire Order
N.B. Nota Bene
Not. Notification of Clare’s Death

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PC Perfectae Caritatis
Proc. Process of Canonization
R Inn Rule of Innocent IV
R Hug Rule of Hugolinus
Rnb Rule bullata
Rb Rule bullata
RHerm Rule for Hermitages
R Prof Religious Profession(?)
SC Sacrosanctum concillium
St. Saint
Salut V Salutation of Virtues
T Testament
v verse
VS Venite Seorsum

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