Introduction to Clare of Assisi: Early Documents - 17 

a realization that the boldness of Clare's vision of a Gospel life in poverty would be tested over and again.

There are no other extant documents of either Francis or Clare that provide more details concerning their daily life in those first years. In his Historia orientalis et occidentalis, Jacques de Vitry, an astute observer of new forms of religious life at that time, described the life of the Lesser Brothers and Sisters in 1216. The French ecclesiastic writes initially in general terms: "They live according to the form of the primitive Church . . . go into the cities and villages during the day . . . but return to their hermitages or solitary places at night, employing themselves in contemplation." Then, undoubtedly prompted by his interest in the feminine religious movements, he proceeds to focus his attention. "The women," he writes, "live near the cities in various hospices. They accept nothing, but live from the work of their hands. In fact, they are very much offended and disturbed because they are honored by the clergy and laity more than they deserve." Was de Vitry describing Clare and her sisters? It is difficult to determine.

Beyond this brief, ambiguous description, however, it is difficult to ascertain how Clare and her companions lived between the establishment of San Damiano and the intervention of Hugolino dei Conti di Segni in 1219. Did they pursue an active, apostolic life? Did they go into Assisi during the day and return to San Damiano in the evening? Unfortunately, the Franciscan literature of the thirteenth century, except the Acts of the Process, provides little information. This prompts many authors to look to the fourteenth-century stories of the Little Flowers of St. Francis, e.g., the meal of Francis and Clare at the Portiuncula, and use them to argue in favor of a different way of life than that described by Clare's Form of Life. Are those stories without foundation? There are far more questions than answers.

This growth of the Poor Ladies, however, must be seen in the context of the legacy of Innocent III and his vision of creating a universale coenobium embracing all religious women in Rome, and the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 and its legislation forbidding the establishment of any new religious orders. While Pope Innocent III had continually encouraged new expressions of religious life, the Council restricted his initiatives by demanding that only the approved and well-tested religious Rules be followed. By the time of the Council, however, Francis and his contemporary, Dominic Guzman, both gave birth to penitential communities of religious women. But there is no evidence of the Council acknowledging or approving their ways of life. Moreover, it is difficult to determine how much direct influence either Francis or Dominic had upon their female followers during these years.

As the number of these religious women began to grow and new foundations were established, Innocent's successor, Pope Honorius III, appointed




Clare of Assisi: Early Documents, p. 17