Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Venerable Claire Dullaerts, Abbess of Beaupre

The seal of the Abbey of Beaupre. (Source.
The final entry in today’s reading from the Menology concerns a wise abbess known variously as Clair, Claire, or Clara:

In Belgium, Blessed Clare, Abbess of Beaupre, near Grammont, illustrious for her love of poverty, her zeal for discipline and her miracles. Elected in 1500, she ruled her monastery forty years, and by her faith and prayers, secured for it in certain emergencies special Divine Assistance.

Several things struck me about this notable woman, the first being that she was known more for being a shepherd of her flock than a mystic or wonderworker. Some accounts say that in the time of The Venerable Claire there were more than 200 nuns at Beaupre, living in the poverty they found consistent with the rule. Abbess Claire’s miracles relate chiefly to answered prayers that saved the day when the wolf was at the door. The Cistercian mystics are generally considered to be the Order's glory, but too often the wise abbess gets lost in the glare of the spiritual pyrotechnics of her sisters.

A second interesting piece of The Venerable Claire's story is that she was a reformer. While one of her Cistercian sisters in Germany chose to embrace contemporary ideas of reform by marrying Martin Luther, Claire and her house set an example of living the rule in the best manner they could manage. (Not many years after her death, the wars of religion forced the community to withdraw from the house and seek shelter in Grammont for nine years.) In a period in which, in the English-speaking world in particular, we are taught to think of traditional Christian practice as decadent and overripe, Claire and her sisters were models of the evangelical counsels.

Finally, in an age of innovation, Claire put her trust in the observance of the Rule of St. Benedict. As the learning of the Renaissance flooded Europe, putting all settled ideas up for debate, Claire seemed to remain certain that there was value in the lived experience of the past rather than only in its newly rediscovered abstractions. One French snippet of a biography I found said that she was chosen abbess for her vigilance and that she would not compromise observance in the slightest, but that she acted with perfect humility.

An artist's reconstruction of Beaupre. (Source.)

After peace returned to the region, Beaupre seems to have enjoyed a rather long period of tranquility before being swept away by the aftermath of the French Revolution, and so this entry too ends as these entries so often do. Venerable Claire, pray that we see the value in fidelity when we are tempted by novelty for novelty’s sake.