y The Recluse Sisters y Causes for Leaving, According to the Rule y The Doorkeeper and her Substitute y Precautions for the Guard of the Cloister

Persons entering the Cloister

CHAPTER XI, 1-12 1 Let the portress be mature in her manner of acting, discerning, and of a suitable age. 2Let her remain in an open cell without a door during the day. 3Let a suitable companion be assigned to her who may take her place in everything whenever necessary. 4 Let the door be well secured by two different iron locks, with bars and bolts, so that, especially at night, it may be locked with two keys, one of which the portress may have, the other the abbess. 5Let it never be left without a guard and securely locked with one key. 6 Let them most diligently take care to see that the door is never left open, except when this can hardly be conveniently avoided. 7Let it never be opened to anyone who wishes to enter, except to those who have been given permission by the Supreme Pontiff or our Lord Cardinal. 8 the sisters may not allow anyone to enter the monastery before sunrise or to remain within after sunset, unless a manifest, reasonable, and unavoidable cause demands otherwise. 9 If a bishop has permission to offer Mass within the enclosure, either for the blessing of an abbess or for the consecration of one of the sisters as a nun or for any other reason, 10let him be satisfied with as few virtuous companions and assistants as possible. 11 Whenever it is necessary for other men to enter the monastery to do some work, let the abbess carefully post a suitable person at the door, who may only open it to those assigned for work and to none else. 12Let the sisters be extremely careful at such times not to be seen by those who enter.



The ³Recluse Sisters´
From the beginning of the Church, consecration in virginity somehow implied the idea of a certain degree of external protection as a condition for dedication to God alone. That protection, especially at the monasteries of women, used to be regulated by more or less rigorous norms and traditions. But we may not speak of a general legislation on ³enclosure´ until the very end of the thirteenth century, exactly till the bull of Boniface VIII in 1293. It was St. Clare¶s turn to start her life in poverty at that precise moment when the ecclesiastical authorities were undertaking the task of imposing a more rigid and suspicious discipline on the physical separation of nuns. On 1213, some definite norms were promulgated as means to maintain the cloistral separation of Cistercian nuns, and similar directives were issued at about the same time for the Premonstratensian nuns. It is not our concern now to check up on the social and cultural motivations of that phenomenon. Historians remark, as ambient external cause, the attitude that the epoch¶s society was taking about women in general: on one hand, it turned her into a legend pretending to make her as an inaccessible being, and on the other hand, she is considered as fragile treasure and irresponsible, incapable of moral fortitude. It was but normal, then, that the precautions taken by parents and tutors towards their maidens, and husbands towards their wives would also be taken by ecclesiastical authorities towards the ³spouses of Christ´, by removing every occasion of being unfaithful to the divine Spouse. Let us add that in those centuries, and even up to the time not so far from our own, there were many cases of nuns without any calling, driven to the monastery against their will or for reasons that have 204

nothing to do with following Christ. Every precaution will not be enough if nuns consider the monastic enclosure as a jail. But, setting aside historical causes, we may state that St. Clare accepted without reservations the new orientation of the Church, much in tune with her longings of seclusion anddevotion. She admitted into her Rule the most essential of those norms, although mitigating their rigidity with the measure we have been able to observe in her on other instances. As Sister Chiara Augusta Lainati, a Poor Clare at the protomonastery of Assisi, has critically proven in a well pondered article.1 The enclosure adapted at San Damiano was not only to be imposed from outside against Clare¶s will, but was positively accepted and ordained by the Saint as a necessary requirement of the contemplative life of the Poor Sisters. We simply do not know how the separation from the world was regulated on the first three years of the community housed at San Damiano. It was a period of searching and experiencing, at the prompting of the Gospel ideal proposed by St. Francis and perhaps a bit of spontaneity was also present on this regard. Jacques de Vitry wrote on 1216 in reference to the female communities initiated by Francis: ³The women of this Order 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.´ 2 It is very possible that the need of eluding the overadmiration and curiosity of the people would have been to Clare the decisive cause of the seclusion in strict enclosure. Apart from this, with the development of the new communal society there were coming up at that time around the municipalities numerous groups of ³mulieres 205

inclusae´ (enclosed women), in voluntary isolation, but without monastic structure. The citizens picked up the meaning of that hidden presence at the mystery of seclusion that was not nevertheless a social remoteness; the µrecluses¶ thus came to be an innate factor of the communal reality, a witness to the absolute and the guarantee of an effective intercession for the city¶s sake.3 We should not wonder, then, if the rule of Hugolinus opens up with a sharp prescription about rigid enclosure: ³They should remain enclosed the whole time of their life. After they have entered the enclosure of this Order and have assumed the religious habit, they should never be granted any permission or faculty to leave this enclosure, unless perhaps some are transferred to another place to plant or build up this same kind of religious Order.´ 4 In regards to the entrance of outsiders, Hugolinus established an equally rigid criterion, though entrusting its observance to the responsibility of the abbess and the sisters. The Rule of Innocent IV kept substantially the enclosure as Hugolinus had fixed it, adding some more reasons for the leaving of nuns with the permission of the Minister General, to whom was likewise granted authority to allow the entrance of outsiders when necessary. It was this Rule that introduced the duty of covering up their faces when an outsider entered or talked to them over the grille. Clare and her followers identified themselves in such manner with the rigidity of this separation, at San Damiano and at the rest of the ³damianite´ monasteries that they immediately came to be known as the ³Poor Recluses´ ³pauperes moniales reclusae´ ± even in papal documents, as the bull of Gregory IX said, ³they distinguish themselves from the rest of nuns in having shut themselves up to carry out a more pleasant offering of themselves to the Lord´.5 206

St. Bonaventure will state later: ³The San Damiano nuns profess a greater separation from human fellowship than all other nuns.´6 Let it be noted that the fundamental motivation is not, as will be in the later Canonical Law, the protection of chastity, but a ³greater freedom for the Lord¶s service´ and precisely in regards to ³absolute poverty´. This is the beautifully expressed concept of Cardinal Rainaldus when approving St. Clare¶s Rule: ³You have chosen to live bodily enclosed and to serve the Lord in the highest poverty, in order to be dedicated to Him in freedom of Soul.´7 In effect, shutting oneself up physically behind walls and grilles makes sense only after having experienced that liberation of the spirit. Separation then acquires the value of renunciation, in accordance with ³the highest poverty´, in order to perceive more directly the greatness of belonging only to the Supreme Goodness. The nun who has come to experience the cloister as the price of that spiritual freedom and of her total dedication to God, without ties, loves that seclusion and does not measure it by the number of restrictions that protect it, but by her resolute will to maintain it.

Causes for Leaving, according to the Rule
The Rule of Hugolinus mentioned just one [reason] for leaving the enclosure: founding of a new monastery. The Rule of Innocent IV added some more: reforming a monastery, avoiding a serious harm and for reason of governance or of correction. The Rule of Urban IV adds another one of natural law: a grievous danger, such as fire and enemy invasion. 207

St. Clare declines coming down to particulars that might give way to fruitless casuistry. What really matters to her is their willingness to being separated; that willingness on the part of the poor sisters, responsibly sustained, that inspire their decision at every time and circumstance. Her Rule, affirming the principle of perpetual enclosure, limits itself to just giving a criterion for necessary departure. ³Thereafter, she may not go outside the monastery except for a useful, reasonable, evident, and approved purpose´ (R, II, 12). The abbess and the sisters alone are to judge about this cause. The Rule does not allude to any external authority¶s mediation. What did Clare mean as ³useful, reasonable, evident, and approved purpose´? We have no testimonies about the practice followed at San Damiano while the Saint lived. The enumeration itself of the well chosen adjectives denotes the earnestness she wants each case to be dealt with. Let us also have in mind that, in view of the text, is the sister herself who should ponder the reasons before asking for permission to leave the cloister. The Rule does not say ³May she not be permitted to leave´ but ³She may not go outside´, that being a clear appeal to her personal conscience. ³Useful and reasonable cause´. This usefulness is of course to be measured in relation with the commitment to the professed form of life. Leaving the cloister will not, then, be justified unless it is due to an unavoidable need or if leading to a spiritual enrichment of the sisters or of the others. ³Evident and approved purpose.´ It is not enough that the religious be personally convinced of the motivation; the rest are to see and recognize it so, mainly the abbess and the sisters, otherwise there would be lots of oppositions not lacking peculiarities, hateful distinctions, selfish demands, all the more so when relatives or other influential people 208

meddle in the affair. The cause is to be worthy of the ³approval´ not only of the abbess but of the sisters too, all have to agree with a criterion accepted as a norm by the community. It should also be worthy of the approval of outsiders who are interested in and watch over the enclosed life of the nuns. As in so many Rule passages, Clare prefers now a broad, though precise, formulation, foreseeing the different possibilities of time and place the sisters might find themselves in as the years pass by, instead of tying them down with details valid only for the current moment. Therefore, they will have to accept at each time not only the sway of canonical legislation on enclosure, but the social and cultural changes too that might require new ways of giving themselves up in order to keep ³the freedom to dedicate themselves to the Lord´, which is indeed the very purpose of the Poor Clares¶ enclosure.

The Door-keeper and her Substitute
³Let the portress be mature in her manner of acting, discerning, and of a suitable age.´ The Rule speaks of the ³door-keeper, for it is her job to attend to the door. That was the term given by the Rules of Hugolinus and Innocent IV. The latter speaks already of the ³revolving window´ that was to be ³strong and sufficiently wide and high to get in and out through it the necessary things, and so arrange that the nuns may neither see nor be seen´. This prescription was also kept at Urban IV¶s Rule. And, in the course of time, the main duty of the door-keeper was to attend to the ³revolving window´ ± ³rota´ in Latin ± [and so the portress] was also known as ³rotaria´ in Latin. 209

St. Clare¶s Rule nevertheless says nothing about the ³revolving window´, most probably because it did not exist at San Damiano. The sister-in-charge of the door is to remain close to it through the day in an open doorless room to be able to observe whatever happens. According to the Rule, the door-keeper is only one. The companion that is assigned does not have the mission of keeping an eye on her or secretly listening to her, as has been interpreted so long at many monasteries, but to take her place ³in everything´ whenever necessary: absence, occupation, sickness or just taking turns according to time schedule. And naturally, helping her if she cannot do it all by herself.8 From the qualities required by the Rule for the task of the door-keeper we may collect up to the point it was held as most delicate. She is actually the immediate responsible of the communications with the outside world; she is, above all, like a living testimony before the people of the religious standard of the enclosed community, which is usually judged from the impression exhibited by the doorkeeper. For that reason, St. Clare wishes her to be exemplary in her conduct, discreet in her words and of age as to guarantee her necessary maturity. But the extraordinariness of the office does not confer upon her any special category over the other positions in the community. It is just one among the many services, equal to any other, which must be provided with like the rest in virtue of the Rule.

Precautions for the Guard of the Cloister
We have to admit that, in spite of the efforts Clare exerted at forming her sisters on the awareness of their own responsibility and common co-responsibility, obvious in many passages of the Rule, this eleventh chapter leaves, nevertheless, an impression of dryness, of distrust and alarm before possible abuses. The distrust, however, does not fall on the sisters inside, but rather on persons outside, specially when they enter the cloister duly authorized. Very probably, reasons for such precautions were not missing. Yet, were we to compare the 24 lines the Saint devotes to these preventive measures with the pages occupying the above mentioned Rules, we will notice the soberness and calmness with which these indispensable disciplinary norms have been accepted. It says nothing, for example, about the ³lift-staircase´ which, by the Rules of Innocent IV and Urban IV, was to [be used to] communicate outside with the monastery gate; this is to be raised up to a certain height and was to be fully lifted with chains from the Hour of Compline up to the Hour of Prime the next day, as well as on meal time and rest time. Nothing is said either of the outer protection walls or of other details minutely described by the Rule of Urban IV, where every possible risk or abuse is seemingly foreseen to be prevented. The precautions prescribed by St. Clare pertains to the security of the monastery door specially so by night.

Persons Entering the Cloister
There is a general categorical norm: the door is not to be opened to anyone without first having gotten the 210 211

authorization from the Supreme Pontiff or the Cardinal Protector. St. Francis had written for his brothers in his Rule: ³And they may not enter the monasteries of nuns, except those brothers to whom special permission has been granted by the Apostolic See.´ (Rnb, XI, 2). That was the ³papal enclosure´ made by then a canonical institution. ³From sunset to sunrise´ no outsider is to remain within the enclosure. This is an arrangement easily understood having into account the lighting systems at that time. But here again, St. Clare surprises us with another one of her full of moderation clauses: ³unless a manifest, reasonable and unavoidable cause demands otherwise´. This principle is once more referred also to the sisters, more exactly to the co-responsible community. One of the occasions that the monasteries of the Benedictine tradition were invaded by a throng of outsiders was the solemn investiture and blessing of the abbess, as well as the consecration of a nun according to the traditional rite. St. Clare had done away totally with such a ceremonial that so strongly contrasted with the atmosphere of simplicity, poverty and private seclusion that pleased her so much. Foreseeing, nevertheless, that not all the monasteries nor all the abbesses would see it that way in the future, Clare wishes, through her easy sense of adaptation, that in those rituals, if they were to be introduced, let those who will join as companions to the officiating prelate be limited to the maximum.9 Fortunately, neither the abbatial blessing nor the solemn consecration of virgins have taken popularity in St. Clare¶s Order. The rite of this consecration has been maintained by Vatican II and has recently been brought up to date by the Sacred Congregation for the Divine Worship; but the decree itself states that said rite is only authorized to institutes that had held it by an old standing custom; the others need a special authorization to introduce it. 212

The Rule speaks too about the persons entering the monasteries to carry out necessary tasks. In accordance with Hugolinus¶ Rule, two things are disposed for the case: vigilance so that only the necessary persons should enter, and furthermore, the warning to the sisters about not letting themselves be seen by them. But nothing is said about covering their faces, which as we noted earlier, had been decreed by the previous Rule of Innocent IV. In conclusion: St. Clare¶s Rule holds enclosure as an essential element to protect the seclusion and freedom of self-offering to the Lord. The particular measures adopted for that purpose do not allow us to glimpse even the least trace of distrust towards the sisters who have willingly shut themselves up, but on the contrary they are made responsible together with the abbess. It is not against the ³spirit´ of the Rule, but very much in consonance with the Church¶s practice to continue adapting the ³letter´ of said prescriptions to the new dispositions the Apostolic See might give from time to time regarding the enclosure discipline in relation to the physical signs of separation Vatican II has ordained: ³Papal enclosure is to be maintained for nuns whose life is wholly contemplative. However, it should be adjusted to suit the conditions of time and place, abolishing absolute practices after consultation with the monasteries themselves.´10 The new Canon Law distinguishes three degrees in the law of enclosure: the ³common´, binding all religious communities and determined by their respective Constitutions; the ³monastic´, peculiar to the Orders devoted to divine worship and without external apostolic activities; and the ³papal´, so called for being governed by special norms from the Holy See. This is the one professed by the religious of cloistered contemplative life. Its general regulation is nowadays contained in the Instruction ³Venite 213

Seorsum´ published in 1969 by the Congregation of Religious and Lay Institutes in virtue of the ordained by Vatican II. (PC, 16) In the same way that Clare accepted and adapted the dispositions existing at that time on enclosure, so also the actual Constitutions have yielded to the discipline enforced today, although keeping the peculiar spirit of seclusion such as lived and taught by St. Clare. All the monasteries of St. Clare¶s Order profess the ³papal enclosure´ that carries a serious obligation of conscience, though the previously existing canonical sentence of excommunication has been suppressed. The basis of today¶s legislation is the assumption that no sister is enclosed today against her own will but that all love the separation freely chosen in virtue of the divine vocation. For that very reason, the external means limiting communication with the exterior are no longer ³obstacles´ set up to prevent possible abuses, but ³signs´ meant to express in a clear way the ³will of separation´. Therefore, the area reserved to the religious may be protected either by a wall or by a fence to impede access to outsiders. The discipline on the keeping of doors and using up the keys, traditionally so complicated, is to be adapted by the abbess, with the consent of the Chapter to the conditions of our time. No one then, should wonder that there be on this point notable differences between monasteries and, above all, between countries. Having into account the Order¶s tradition and the circumstances of the place, the material and effective separation is binding at the choir and at the parlor. With regards to the departures from the enclosure, the cases are here specified wherein they are permitted with prior permission of the abbess and the consent of the diocesan bishop or of the regular Superior and the conditions of the same. 214

There has been added, much to the sentiments of many sisters and communities, the motive of visiting father and mother when grievously ill or dying, provided that an evident reason of charity may so advise it and the sister freely asked for it; in such a case, the visit is to be short. When there are no ³extern´ sisters in the monastery, some may be appointed in a permanent way to carry out the necessary errands, provided they accept it freely and distinguished themselves in religious observance. The persons who are permitted the ³entrance´ into the enclosure, with a just cause, are likewise enumerated. It would be of no use setting distance and physical separation between the world and the contemplative community, were there is a reception later on without discernment of all kinds of superficiality from the outside. On this account, the Constitutions establish a sound principle over the means of information consonant with cloistered life, and a restrictive norm regarding the audiovisual means of social communication. (Gen CC, art. 46-55; Cap CC 97-107).


Footnotes to Chapter 17:
1. ³La cloture de sainte Claire et des premieres clarisse´ at ³Laurentianum´ 14 (1973) 223-250. 2. I. Omaechevarria, ³Escritos´, p.36. 3. J. Hubert, ³Les recluseries urbaines au Mojen Age´, at L¶eremitismo occidentalenei secoli XI e XII´, Milano 1975, 485-487. 4. I. Omaechevarria, ³Escritos´, 219 f. 5. ³Bullarium Franciscanum´, I, 270. 6. St. Bonav. ³Expos. Super Regulam´, XI, 3; Opera Omnia, VIII, 435. 7. The formula had already been employed in a document in relation to the Damianites of Citta di Castello, but it seems that the text, such as we have it today, was rehashed later . (Hist. Fr. Arch. 14, (1922) 89. The reclussorium of Citta di Castello had been known under the name of ³Le murate´, ³the walled in´. 8. The role of the substitute is precisely determined at Hugolinus¶ Rule, where St. Clare borrowed it from: ³Let there be another sister equally suitable and designated as her companion who may take her place in all things, when she is occupied and detained by some reasonable cause or necessary occupation.´ (Rule of Hugolinus, 13).

9. Clare does nothing but insert literally what number 10 of
Hugolinus¶ Rule had already prescribed. 10. Cf. Motuproprio ³Ecclesiae Sanctae´, II, 30ff; Instr. ³Venite Seorsum´, Aug. 15, 1969.


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