Introduction to Clare of Assisi: Early Documents - 19 

In 1227, Hugolino was elected to the papacy, and chose the name Pope Gregory IX. He became one of the most influential supporters of female religious movements during the middle ages. In a short period of time, Gregory issued a series of documents in response to the request of the "poor enclosed nuns" to establish new houses, and another series specifying privileges and exemptions. The documents the pope issued during the next four or five years, however, suggest his attentiveness to these women and his desire to maintain uniform papal legislation governing them. The Acts of the Process of Canonization, however, make it clear that Gregory was not happy with the intense poverty embraced by Clare and her sisters at San Damiano and attempted to dispense her from following her ideal. Within a short period of time, however, the pope once more acceded to Clare's wishes and, on September 17, 1228, granted the Poor Ladies of San Damiano a privilege of living the poverty they desired. Gregory addressed the document, Sicut manifestum est, specifically to "Clare and the other servants of Christ gathered in the church of San Damiano in the diocese of Assisi." The following year he addressed a similar privilege to the monastery in Monticelli, where Agnes, Clare's blood sister, was living. The other monasteries, now beginning to be subsumed under the title the "Order of Saint Damian," were not so blessed.

While many of the communities that sought directly to model their lives on that of Clare and her sisters in San Damiano were in Tuscany and Lombardy, news of their commitment reached Prague. Agnes, the daughter of the king of Bohemia, and Clare began a correspondence in 1234. Unfortunately only Clare's letters remain, but the content of Agnes's can be inferred by Clare's response and reveal the desire of both women to live as poorly as possible in imitation of Christ. Gregory, who had intervened when Agnes sought to avoid marriage in order to enter religion, balked at the idea of her embracing the same way of life as Clare and the women of San Damiano. Between 1234 and 1238, he wrote a series of papal documents directing Agnes and responding to her concerns. The last of his papal decrees, Angelis gaudium, May 11, 1238, described the Form of Life that Francis gave to Clare and her sisters as "a milk drink, not solid food" in comparison his Form of Life for the Order of Saint Damian which he was urging them to follow. Unwittingly, however, Gregory's insistence encouraged Clare and Agnes to be more resolute and, through their exchange, brought to light the profound theology at the heart of their lives.

On August 6, 1247, Gregory's successor, Innocent IV, provided a new Form of Life for all the monasteries of the Order of Saint Damian and on August 23, 1247, bound the women of these monasteries to its observance with the papal bull, Quoties a nobis. Innocent's Form of Life was a milder form than that given by Hugolino. This document mitigated fasting obligations




Clare of Assisi: Early Documents, p. 19