In Third Place…

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December 5, 2012 by lucieromarin

Third place, and the title ‘Bronze Queen of Not Having the Vocation You Want’ goes to to  Archangela Tarrabotti, a Venetian nun who died in 1652. (I’ve started with someone who wasn’t as saint [as far as anybody knows] so that no one can say, “Oh, piety. I’ll never be that holy,” and continue miserable.)

Born Elena Cassandra Tarrabotti, she was placed in a Benedictine monastery at the age of 11; she took (or was made to take) her final vows at 19, despite protesting that she had no vocation and didn’t want to be there. That her protests went unheeded was not because her father was unusually cruel, but because, in that era, he was completely within his rights. Dealing with ‘excess’ children by placing them in monasteries was an acceptable stratagem; the monastic dowry was cheaper than the marriage dowry, and cheaper still than supporting an unmarried woman all her life; it also preserved family wealth by limiting the number of grandchildren who could lay claim to it.

Now, it was possible to petition the Pope for release from monastic vows (and between 1668-1793 nearly 1,000 such petitions were received) but the penitent a) had to know that this option existed, b) have the support necessary for preparing and lodging the claim and c) have somewhere to go and some form of income once released. It makes sense, then, that most of the petitions granted were granted to male religious.

Archangela wrote a lengthy attack on forced monachisation, entitled ‘Paternal Tyranny,’ but this is not why she scores third place. She’s characterised as a defender of women’s rights, but, read the book carefully, and you’ll find that she’s also a defender of the religious state. That is, despite her bitterness, despite her disappointment, despite her impassioned expressions of betrayal (and it’s a pretty angry book) she never ceases to express respect and love for true religious life, and she praises its holiness when lived by those who are called to it. Lots of people can’t do this. Take Martin Luther – he entered religious life of his own accord, found out that he disliked celibacy and the Divine Office, and dealt with this by fornication and apostasy. Tarrabotti was forced into a life she hated so much she called it a living hell and a prison, but her response was not unchastity or apostasy or the wholesale rejection of vocation, but to argue that Catholics should look to Teresa of Avila as the ideal nun and treat religious life accordingly.  (It’s interesting that she also suggests giving women the option of a consecrated life in the home, which, in the Church’s restoration of the order of consecrated virgins, has been achieved.)

So…I guess it’s not that consoling to say, “Hurray! You too could end up in a life you don’t want and not apostasise!” It doesn’t sound like much. But, I guess, if we consider that life is about becoming great, and that the first step to greatness is not letting injustice get you down too much, then, as far as examples go, a woman who didn’t let a grave injustice against her vocation cloud her judgement about what a vocation really is, is a good start.

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