Hoc Est Quod Cupio: Approaching the Religious Goals of Clare of Assisi, Agnes of Bohemia, and Isabelle of France1

Article excerpt

In the climax of her conversion, Saint Agnes of Bohemia (1211-1282),2 the daughter of king Ottokar I ([dagger]230), shouts out with conviction: hoc est quod ctipio. Like no other passage in her 14th century legend, this expression handed on in direct speech seeks to accumulate the religious intentions of the princess, foundress of a monastery and a hospital, and Clare of Assisi's fellow combatant for what was to be called a female Franciscan life. To comprehend the full meaning and to delve into the problems to be discussed, it is worthwhile to have a look at the complete phrase and to know what the Premyslid princess, according to the anonymous Franciscan author of her vita, intended:

Instructed by the Brothers [the local Franciscans] that the aforementioned rule [namely the rule of the Order of Saint Clare; taken from the precedent phrase] is convincing those who are willing to enter [the order], that they, according to the tone of the Gospel sell everything and give it to the poor and thus serve the poor Christ in poverty and humility, she [Agnes], overwhelmed by the celestial loveplay, said: "This is what I want, this is what I wish from the bottom of my heart."4

These words evoke the whole range of problems linked with the investigation of the religious goals of 13th century mulieres religiosae. One gets to know about Agnes' ambitions through the words of an anonymous friar, writing the vita presumably around 1316 and surely before 1338, which is some hundred years after the decision in question was made, between 1231 and 1233.5 Understandably, he views this and other events in Agnes' lifetime from an ex /wsf-perspective, causing imprecise statements. To give an example: at that stage, neither did the Order of Saint Clare exist, since it was officially named in that way from 1263 onwards,6 nor was a rule granted to such an order with a corresponding emphasis on selling all goods as part of the imitatio Christi.1 Indeed, the author's stress on the highest poverty, the altissima paupertas, as a crucial impulse of Agnes' spiritual emergence goes fairly well with her overall absorption as a strict follower of the religious impulses which Francis of Assisi and his female companion pursued.8

Such tendencies in interpretation are not confined to medieval hagiographers since they left their traces in historiography. Whereas medieval hagiographers have their particular and, so to say, legitimate interest in presenting their protagonists as imitators of already canonized saints, in this case Agnes as a planlula Clarae,9 the dynamics of such assignments in modern literature are somewhat more subtle.10

What links medieval interpretations and newer views, however, is that they tend to cut out individual settings and autonomous developments for the sake of an attribution to a glorified model. The question of how Clare of Assisi ([dagger]253), Agnes of Bohemia, and the princess Isabelle of France ([dagger]270), as representative figures of the early "female Franciscanism," wanted to conduct their vita religiosa and to what extent they succeeded in doing so, is admittedly not new, although hitherto mostly adressed to the Umbrian foundress or to the female religious movement" in general." In order to avoid adding a further contribution to the already immense literature on Clare's religiosity or running into generic conclusions,12 the approach here will be a different one. With a juxtaposition of important steps in the life of the three sponsae Christi, the information related to their communities and their behavior within them, emphasis will rather be placed on the variations which constituted their religious orientation and development.

Between Forerunner and Model: Clare of Assist

With regard to the most investigated case, Clare of Assisi, remarks will be short, since research has made great efforts to investigate her religiosity. One important branch of the more recent discussion was triggered by Werner Maleczek, who contested the authenticity of both the privilegitim paupertatis, at least in the version attributed to Innocent III, and Clare's testament, by attributing them to the Umbrian Observant reform movement in the 15lh century, which had close links with the female monasteries of Monteluce and Perugia. …