Academic journal article Magistra

Clare of Assisi and the Power of the Cross

Academic journal article Magistra

Clare of Assisi and the Power of the Cross

Article excerpt

Documents written by and about Clare of Assisi describe the meaning of the cross in the spirituality attributed to her. Keeping before herself the witness of the crucified was integral to Clare's spirituality.1 Accounting for differing emphases on the function of the cross in Clare's spirituality raises questions regarding hermeneutics and methodology. Similar questions regarding Franciscan sources have occupied contemporary scholars, especially Giovanni Miccoli who reacted against the uncritical reading of sources that occurs often in the study of religious figures and movements.2

He called attention not only to the differences in literary genres but also to the different intentions of authors that ultimately recast the telling of the story more in line with the author's perspective than that of the charismatic figure. For Miccoli, it has become a matter of knowing how to read hagiography properly so that the piety and purposes of a given author are not confused with or attributed to the saintly subject.3 Miccoli focused on writings by and about Francis of Assisi. Here, corresponding attention to texts written by and about Clare of Assisi addresses the differing views of the power of the cross in Clare's spirituality as they appear in her Letters to Agnes of Prague and in The Life and Legend of Saint Clare the Virgin. To rediscover the significance of the spirituality of the cross in the Ciarían tradition by comparing Clare's self-representation in the Letters with her representation by the author of the Legend establishes the impact on her function as a saint. 4

By incorporating insights from social historian Gabrielle Spiegel, analysis of the spirituality of the cross in the Ciarían documents can elucidate the social logic of these texts. The social logic, Spiegel contends, emerges from the power given to any set of representatives, in this case the power of the cross, derived largely from texts' social context and their relation to social and political networks. Because the texts' language subtly mirrors the social location of the speakers and their relative power, they are treated as artifacts, with attention to literary form and to social context the discursive mutuality of which reveals the historical world internalized in the texts.5 Showing how the author of the hagiographie Legend gave significant attention to miracles Clare was reported to have performed "with the sign of the cross" clarifies the extraordinary function of the cross in her spirituality.

Examining Clare's Letters for her self-representation and God-language fosters an understanding of how she expressed her spirituality and the role of the crucified hi that. By addressing theological and institutional implications related to the historical world internalized hi the texts of these two documents, it is possible to make the case that, by constructing a portrait of a miracle-working Clare, the Legend's biographer supported the Church's thirteenth century evangelizing agenda that included conversion of Jews. Two models for interpreting the differing portraits of Clare as saint support a rationale for a contemporary cult of St. Clare based on her spirituality of the cross.

At the 2003 international meeting in Assisi marking the 750th anniversary of Clare's death, Ciarían scholars gathered to discuss and debate the Christian experience and the memory of this holy woman. At that convocation, Italian scholar Ernesto Menesto explained in detail the current state of the study of Clare of Assisi.6 He included the scholarship of Italians Giovanni Boccali and Marino Bigaroni, whose work on the canonization and hagiographie literature has brought that source tradition up to date and shed light on long-standing questions of authorship and compilation.

Among English-speaking scholars, critical attention given to early documents related to Clare over the last twenty-five years has culminated in the newly published third edition of Clare of Assisi, the Lady: Early Documents. …

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