Many have been the attempts to penetrate the mists of misunderstanding and confusion surrounding the origins of the Franciscan women's order since Herbert Grundmann's pioneering work in the mid-1930s. Over the past [End Page 238] decade, research into the Clarist order has never been livelier, but whatever the new interpretative insights, the fundamental questions addressed by Catherine Mooney inevitably crop up, one way or another. As it happens, the appearance of her carefully argued monograph coincides with the publication of a (complementary) detailed archival study by Olga Miriam Przybyłowicz: Reguła zakonna jest wozem do nieba [The Order's Rule is the Vehicle to Heaven] (Instytut Archeologii i Etnologii PAN, 2016), and both works come on the heels of major contributions by Lezlie Knox and Bert Roest. The titles of the latters' books — Creating Clare of Assisi (Brill, 2008) and Order and Disorder (Brill, 2013) — allude to the sort of historiographic challenges that await the reader of the book under review.
Mooney proceeds chronologically, and necessarily so. She sets herself the task of investigating every skerrick of factual information, every hue of received interpretation, to scrutinize afresh the process whereby the pious aspirations of young Chiara Offreduccio to follow the charismatic preacher, Francis of Assisi, led to her being styled his female correlate, a founder of a religious order and author of one of its rules. In this forensic undertaking Mooney seeks to 'illuminat[e] a larger landscape including Francis of Assisi's Order of Lesser Brothers, Clare's community of San Damiano, and, importantly, penitent and religious women beyond San Damiano engaged in similar struggles to retain features of their religious life threatened by papal regularization' (p. 212). She brings to the task a refreshing scepticism and scrupulous objectivity. From material that has been gone over and over, she teases out overlooked details and identifies as speculative many points that, for generations, have gone unchallenged as fact. Even giants in Franciscan scholarship like Luke Wadding and the erudite Vatican savant, Giuseppe Cozza-Luzi, were not impervious to subliminal biases swaying the accuracy of their readings.
Of particular note is the new light Mooney sheds (Chapter 7) on one of the most puzzling episodes in the Clarist story, namely, Innocent IV's ill-fated forma vitae that he intended should sweep away the confusion abounding from numerous dispensations granted to the rule by his predecessor, Gregory IX. What Innocent IV promulgated on 6 August 1247, he torpedoed less than three years later on 6 June 1250. Charged with the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of this new forma vitae was the order's cardinal protector and future pope, Rainaldo of Jenne. Mooney draws attention to a document dated 17 July 1250, addressed to the abbess and sisters of Ascoli Piceno (Latin text reproduced as Appendix B), which exposes Rainaldo's duplicity. '[His] lengthy no-holds-barred letter, in contrast to the silence of Clare of Assisi and the — to date — more cryptic complaints of some sisters in the order, suggests that the most adamant and effective opponent of Innocent IV's forma vitae was the cardinal protector himself' (p. 160). [End Page 239]
Occasionally, we get a glimpse of the slippage between ideal and reality — Mooney touches on it lightly in an extended footnote (p. 246 n. 57). No less real than the strictures of the rule was the capacity of some houses for conceptual sleight-of-hand. Cases in point are the manifestly rich Clarist double-monasteries like those of the Bohemian Přemyslid princesses, Agnes and Anna (Prague, 1233; Wrocław, 1257). These foundations were able to follow Clare's rule with its uncompromising commitment to altissima paupertatis by having their physical needs provided for by an adjoining hospital, control over which was vested in the Knights Crosier of the Red Star, an order the Přemyslids founded specifically for the purpose. One thing for sure, whatever...