So, Gareth Thomas brings his reflections on the letters between St Clare and Agnes of Prague to a gentle close – with a sting in the tail. St Clare dies knowing she had her rule of poverty for her houses, but the world of men could not long abide such a thing, and it was not long before the Church hierarchy rejected such an attempt to live so closely by the precepts of Christ – fear cast out perfect love; hierarchical models of thought could not take that leap of faith which St Clare and Agnes had taken. we can grasp something of that faith in the letters, and not least in this last one, which breathes the love of God which had taken both women deep into the mystery of that love.
We see in St Clare’s description of herself a deep humility – an ‘unworthy servant’, a ‘useless handmaid’, she remains Agnes’ ‘poor little mother’, who rejoices in the marriage of her daughter to Christ – in that marriage alone is true beauty, true refreshment, true consummation in divine love. To share in that eternally requires us to share in his poverty, his sacrifices and his humility – and to contemplate with what love he gave himself utterly for us. Inspired by that vision, the two women pass, because of it, into a state of blessedness where, St Clare says, Agnes can cry out:
Draw me after You!
We will run in the fragrance of Your perfumes,
O heavenly Spouse!
I will run and not tire,
until You bring me into the wine-cellar,
until Your left hand is under my head
and Your right hand will embrace me happily
and You will kiss me with the happiest kiss of Your mouth.
This is love, this is eros transformed into agape by faith, through prayer and devotion – this is the wondrous love in which God saved the world and which will transform our sinful bodies into the likeness of his glorious body.
Such language is foreign to our age, perhaps because the devotion and humility which inspired it is also foreign. Here, after all, were two high-born women, and what, the world might ask, did they make of themselves? By the standards of their world precious little. There was, for neither of them, the advantageous match which would have benefitted their families, no children to advance their dynastic interests through strategic marriages, no luxuries and no honour from the world which gives and is given in marriage. But their age recognised other values, and their families assented to their choices and they could rest secure in the knowledge that their holy daughters and sisters were praying for their souls and building up a heavenly reward.
We see, now, Paul tells us, as through a glass darkly, but in the ‘glass’ which St Clare holds she sees and meditates upon Christ crucified, and though that, and through the love which led there, and also through her love from Agnes, her heart is opened to that agape which is the highest form of love.
But can our secular age recognise values other than its own? Can it recognise talk of love between women without eros raising its head? An age which can read carnality into the letters between the Blessed John Henry Newman and his beloved friend, Ambrose St John, certainly shows its fallen nature. But what these wonderful letters which Gareth has introduced us to offer to this age, is an example of what it means to love God so perfectly that through it you see others as God sees them.
St Clare, pray for us, that we may too may be led in your paths to know Christ more nearly and to love him more dearly.