Colette of Corbie
Learning and Holiness
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: Franciscan Institute Publications
Title Page, Copyright
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A chain of fortunate circumstances, too long to describe here, led to my interest in Saint Colette, as well as in medieval hagiography in general and its cultural implications. This has taken the form of a doctoral thesis.
I would never have succeeded in this enterprise, no matter how keen I was to devote study to this great fifteenth-century figure, without the constant support and consideration of Professor René Fédou, thanks to whom this work...
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Although Saint Colette (1381-1447) founded or reformed seventeen Poor Clare monasteries in France, Burgundy, and Savoy in the first half of the fifteenth century and was canonized in 1807, she has attracted more attention from story-tellers than from historians, with the exception of one learned Franciscan, Ubald of Alençon, who, at the beginning...
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The first Vitae were written in the fifteenth century by two followers of Saint Colette – Brother Pierre de Vaux, her confessor and first biographer, and Sister Perrine, the reforming abbess’s companion in several convents. Since that time, her legend has been enriched with numerous embellishments, attributable to the cultural and religious preoccupations of later editors. Historical discipline gradually developed, forcing...
Part One- Saint Colette According to the First Biographies and the First Witnesses
Chapter 1: Childhood and Adolescence
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This study will begin with an examination of the two Vitae of Saint Colette because they are the most authoritative documents available. Of these, one was written by a Colettine Franciscan, Pierre de Vaux, around 1447, and the other by a Colettine Poor Clare, Sister Perrine, around 1477. Both authors were contemporaries of Colette and witnesses of her...
Chapter 2: Vocation and Seclusion
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In her youth, Colette passed through a period of uncertainty.
She fervently desired to serve some good and devout religious women. So, in order to fulfill this desire, while still dressed in secular clothing, she humbly went to present herself at a monastery of religious ladies, where she expected to be able to live before God according to her holy wish. But our Lord, who...
Chapter 3: The Journey to Nice and the Visit to the Pope
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The decision to go and see the pope followed acceptance of the mission. According to chapter II of Pierre de Vaux, while the recluse felt herself under obligation to Saint Francis, she considered an appeal to the pope to be a simple call to the reform in which she herself wished only to be a “servant.” She would live “near the reformed monastery.” Pierre de Vaux appears to be unaware that she does not need the...
Chapter 4: Colette's Personality and Her Piety
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After the visit to the pope and the beginning of her mission, the chronological record ceases and gives way to a portrayal of Colette. Thus, following the schema of Pierre de Vaux’s work, chapters V, VI and VII describe Colette’s personality and virtues and the importance of the supernatural in her religious life. What portrait of sanctity does the author depict? How far does Perrine match this or deviate from it? ...
Chapter 5: Marvels, Extraordinary Eventsand Spirituality
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As a measure of the quality of the spiritual life, as well perhaps as revealing a particular attitude, the marvelous is especially important to Pierre de Vaux.
Colette’s miracles reveal both the authentic nature of her virtues and the power of her prayer. It is outside the scope of this study to judge the veracity of these accounts, but we can consider the features within them that are undoubtedly real...
Chapter 6: Colette's Virtues
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The virtues refer to the three traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They also hide others such as humility, patience in trials, and austerity of life. In Pierre de Vaux, the virtues of obedience, poverty, and chastity frame the biographical passages from the period of seclusion to the start of the reform. The relationship between these virtues and...
Chapter 7: Eternity in Time
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Colette’s particular form of sanctity is demonstrated by a set of fixed, pre-determined evidential data. Her sanctity is heroic from the outset, rather than the slow transfiguration by grace of a free nature rooted in a specific society and period. These latter merely form a backdrop against which a conventional schema unfolds...
Chapter 8: The First Inquiries for Canonization
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Around 1471, about twenty-five years after Colette’s death, the first inquiries into the informative process for Colette’s canonization began in Gand, Hesdin, Amiens and Corbie. Memories were collected from her contemporaries (or from those who knew her contemporaries) and depositions were taken about post mortem miracles.1 The Vitae by Pierre de Vaux and Sister Perrine date from this period and are the...
Part Two- Colette’s Writings and Contemporary Works
Chapter 1: The Letters
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The extant writings of Saint Colette are few and far between. The most significant are administrative in nature (constitutions, advice, opinions, etc.,) dealing with the internal life of reformed communities. There are also letters, addressed either to religious or lay people, discussing precise...
Chapter 2: The Themes of the Letters
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The themes of the letters fall under two headings: the reformer’s relationships with people in the world (or outside her order) and her relationships with the religious sisters and brothers within the reform.
Relationships with People outside the Order
Colette’s relationships with those outside the order are, nonetheless, entwined with the life of the reform. One letter discusses the founding of a monastery, another acknowledges services rendered to a convent, and the third examines the...
Chapter 3: The Heritage
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For a better evaluation of the place Colette holds in the renewal movement of the fifteenth century and before examining her legislative writings, it would be helpful to set out the main elements of the founding rule of St. Clare of Assisi, to which Colette makes constant reference.
The Origins of the Rule of Saint Clare
When she retired to San Damiano in 1212, Saint Clare had no intention of founding an order. She simply wanted to lead a life of prayer with a few companions, adopting the life...
Chapter 4: The Constitutions of Saint Colette
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Saint Colette’s Constitutions were approved and promulgated by William of Casals, General Minister of the Order, under the authority of Pope Eugene IV, on September 28, 1434 and confirmed in 1458 by Pope Pius II. The confirmation was accompanied by an introductory letter from the...
Chapter 5: Colette's Other Writings
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While the Constitutions portray the official side of Saint Colette’s legislative work, her other writings are less sophisticated or of a more circumstantial character. But they were widely distributed and much used by the Colettine community. They were largely responsible for shaping the mindset of the sisters and creating a family tradition.
The Testament completes the Writings, although, as we will see, it certainly does not belong to the first half of the...
Part Three- Colette and Her Times: What Became of the Reform?
Chapter I: Witnesses of Colette
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By witnesses, we mean here the contemporaries of Colette whose writings shed light on her deeds, her personality, and the kind of relationships she had in her life. The account covers her relationship with the “world” (by which we mean the laity, individuals and groups), with the Church hierarchy, and with the Franciscan Order...
Chapter 2: The Reform Movement
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At the time of Saint Clare’s death, as we have said, the Order had about one hundred and fifty monasteries. By the beginning of the fifteenth century, there were at least four hundred, with an estimated population of around fifteen thousand nuns. Most were, of course, in southern Europe, but they were also in eastern Europe, Hungary, Poland, Sweden...
Chapter 3: The Italian Clarisses of the Fifteenth Century
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The character of the female reform in Italy was different from the Colettine reform. It was more extensive, geographically and temporally, and therefore slower. It lasted throughout the century, while in France, the second generation of Colettines was already spreading by 1450.
The initial impetus came from the Observant friars who had begun a reform of the First Order at the end of the fourteenth century. Their institutional or fraternal links with the...
Chapter 4: Imitating the Model of Holiness
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In 1447, Colette still had many projects in hand that her daughters would bring to fruition over the next decades, assisted by Pierre de Vaux, their loyal collaborator.
Extension of the Colettine Reform
Colette’s reform was spreading out in different directions. It was developing in new provinces, penetrating regions already receptive to her influence, and even reaching Spain through the foundation at Lézignan thanks to an unexpected...
Chapter 5: Monastery Life or Living the Heritage
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Monasteries and Society
A study of some of the Colettine Clarisses provides insight into certain aspects of the relationship between the monastery and society.
Recruitment from Society
The founders of the various male or female monasteries had one or more members of their own families in the Colettine reform, including...
Chapter 6: Hagiography and History The Canonization Process
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As monasteries were established with the support of the great houses, the influence of the model of sanctity represented by Colette spread beyond the circle of her own foundations and her reform was extended.
In the eighteenth century, at the request of successive groups of petitioners, the Church began to consider all the circumstances surrounding Colette’s sanctity and her influence – her personal story, her work, her life through...
Chapter 7: The Colettines in Modern Times and Today
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After consolidation of the Colettine reform in Europe in the sixteenth century, there were few foundations made in the seventeenth century (Gand founded Tournai in 1628). There seem to have been none in the eighteenth century, a slowdown perhaps explained by the vigor of the Capuchin, Franciscan, and Carmelite reforms as much as by the fact...
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Saint Colette remains a reference point in today’s world for numerous Clarisses, offering them an example through her experience. Her main contribution to history was to reintroduce the Rule of Saint Clare to France during a difficult period for the Church and the Franciscan Order. In bringing the original forma vitae up to date, she placed considerable...
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Index of Names
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Index of Places
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Page Count: 616
Publication Year: 2010