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The Catholic Historical Review 88.2 (2002) 341-343



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Book Review

Clare's Letters to Agnes:
Texts and Sources

Light Shining Through a Veil:
On Saint Clare's Letters to Saint Agnes of Prague


Clare's Letters to Agnes: Texts and Sources. By Joan Mueller. (St. Bonaventure, New York: The Franciscan Institute. 2001. Pp. ix, 269. $21.95 paperback.)
Light Shining Through a Veil: On Saint Clare's Letters to Saint Agnes of Prague. By Edith A. Van den Goorbergh, O.S.C., and Theodore H. Zweerman, O.F.M. Translated by Aline Looman-Graaskamp and Frances Teresa, O.C.S. (Leuven: Peeters. 2000. Pp. xi, 33.)

Since the eighth centenary of her birth in 1993, Clare of Assisi has emerged from her cloister and into the limelight. Two recent full-length studies have made valuable contributions to an understanding of Clare in her context as a medieval woman and to the relevance of her message for our time. Joan Mueller's work, Clare's Letters to Agnes: Texts and Sources, provides an assessment of the sources of Clare's letters in the ancient Legend of Saint Agnes of Rome, the struggle of Agnes of Prague amidst the papal and royal correspondence of the Premysl dynasty, as well as her association with the early brothers. Mueller includes the Latin text of the letters, an English translation, and extensive footnotes commenting on the meaning of Clare's message in her time and ours.

Clare's Letters to Agnes: Texts and Sources is simultaneously about Clare of Assisi, Agnes of Prague, and Agnes of Rome and how their histories intertwine. These are the three major figures confronting contemporary readers who study Clare of Assisi's Letters as a source of early Franciscan spirituality, Agnes of Prague as an influential woman caught by the vision of Francis and his friars, or the ancient Christian legend of Agnes of Rome, popularly known for choosing martyrdom in order to preserve her virginity.

In the introduction to Clare's Letters to Agnes, Mueller presents the manuscript tradition of Clare's four letters, brief biographies to illustrate the relationship of Clare and Agnes of Prague, and her intent to examine Clare's letters in their historical cultural context. Part One of Mueller's book provides the Latin texts of Clare's four letters, an English translation, and historical and philological guidance for reading and interpretation. The extensive footnotes serve as a commentary to establish the background of Agnes of Prague, her royal family, and her place in the history of Bohemia. This approach led Mueller to identify the "three substantial sources" for Clare's letters which she treats in separate essays in the remainder of the book.

Part Two begins with an essay elucidating "The Legend of Saint Agnes of Rome as Source." Mueller argues that Clare seems to have known and improvised on the Legend of Saint Agnes, and that their dependence on the Legend cannot be fully traced through consulting only the antiphons and responsories of the January 21 Office of Saint Agnes. Mueller's second essay "The Primitive Franciscan Climate as Source: Clare's Letters and the Early Brothers," demonstrates how the spirit of Clare's letters is comparable to the spirit of the early Franciscan brothers. Mueller demonstrates how Clare's theology helped to put [End Page 341] a Franciscan stamp on the evolving penitential movement of the early thirteenth century.

"The Privilege of Poverty as Source: Clare's Letters amid Papal and Royal Correspondence," Mueller's third essay in Part Two, places the letters in the medieval ecclesiastical world, especially within the context of pertinent papal bulls. By focusing on the juridical documents relating to Agnes of Prague and the correspondence of the Premysl royal family with thirteenth-century papal officials, Mueller uncovers the tensions that developed from her desire to live "without possessions" according to the form of life given to Clare and her sisters by Francis himself. Such an ideal manner of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-0708
Print ISSN
0008-8080
Pages
pp. 341-343
Launched on MUSE
2002-04-01
Open Access
No
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