Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz: Summary of “Reply to Sor Filotea de la Cruz”
Don’t use this summary as a substitute for reading the text thoroughly. The meat is in the details, not the summative assertions. This is intended solely as a help in following and understanding this complex epistle.
(opening paragraph establishes her connection to her audience)
2. The publication of my work is a blessing which makes me feel unworthy.
3. I can’t thank you because I don’t know how, not because I’m ungrateful. I want to benefit more from your goodness; you can help to shape my intellect.
4. But your kindness does prompt me to answer, and I understand your warning to be against my secular writings. But how should I write of sacred things if I might misunderstand them? I don’t study to write or teach but to be less ignorant.
5. I have been overpoweringly drawn to the life of the mind from the time I could think, and I I have tried to curb the impulse, lest it be sin, without success.
6. I learned to read at three; I abstained from certain foods because I heard they dull the wit; I begged to be put in boys’ clothes and sent to the university; I learned all I could from my grandfather’s books.
7. I took orders because it seemed honorable, would tend to my salvation, and humbled my pride in the temptations offered by my intellectual ability. But the deprivation of intellectual pursuit made me desire it more.
8. So I began studying again in the time off from my duties, but it was for love of learning, not for love of God, to glorify my inclination, not my Savior.
9. I studied the arts and sciences because they are the servants of theology. But without humility and holy purpose, and the help of God to understand, all learning is worthless.
10. Yet all my study leads to little knowledge, because it is impossible to study everything.
11. Learning in a variety of disciplines allows some studies to illuminate others which are difficult.
12. I have sincerely and strongly tried to curb this insatiable thirst for knowledge.
13. I am a winsome person, but I realized my enjoyment of companionship kept me from my studies and I curbed the time I spent with others.
14. The worst difficulty has been those who love me and with good intentions tell me I will lose my salvation because of my inclination to knowledge and ability to write poetry.
15. In fact, it is universal to hate those who excel, out of jealousy.
16. In fact, jealousy caused the persecution of Christ himself.
17. People despised his very blessings.
18. Learned men should have known better, but it was the Pharisees who hated his excellence.
19. Any excellence is hated by inferior men, but especially learning.
20. No one wishes to admit inferiority of reason.
21. Even the crown of thorns suggests that the intellect is the most despised aspect of any intelligent man.
22. And miracles bring the greatest persecution. I of course have not been persecuted for achievements of learning, but only for the fact of learning.
23. Peter is an example of one who had to attain wisdom and was persecuted for it. For me, the ultimate persecution was to be told not to study.
24. So I didn’t read. But I couldn’t stop studying, even so. Observation and reflection now became my primary form of study.
25. The state of reflection is so strong and natural to me that I do it automatically.
26. I don’t even need books to study; all of life offers opportunity to observe and reflect.
27. Because I can’t help doing this activity, it is neither merit (though it is called so in men) nor fault.
28. The women in Scripture are intelligent and learned.
29. There are many examples of learned women in secular history.
30. Scripture teaches that women can’t publicly teach or preach the Word, but they should study it privately and teach it to other women if they are so qualified. (And neither unqualified women nor men should teach – men aren’t wise just because they are men. No one should study or teach who has not first cultivated virtue.)
31. Knowledge given to a man without virtue is a sword in the hand of a madman. (Cicero)
32. All of us should assess our ability before we take on this task of study.
33. We need learned women to avoid the perils of young girls being taught by men.
34. If women were learned, girls would not have to go without instruction or be subjected to temptation or seduction. Look at Scripture carefully to see all that it teaches.
35. You must know history and culture to teach Scripture well.
36. If women aren’t to learn, explain church history. The prohibition is on public teaching, not private learning and teaching, or even writing.
37. I did nothing wrong in writing my critique; I was asked to do it. I have as good a mind as the writer I critiqued (he didn’t write Scripture); I maintained the respect due him. And I didn’t write for publication but only for one person. Anyone may critique my opinion, as well.
38. But, at any rate, it is clear from secular history and church history that women can and should study and learn.
39. As for my writing poetry, I cannot find anywhere any reason to condemn it. Much Scripture is verse, after all, as well as other church writings, and we sing hymns. That some people abuse the art of poetry does not make poetry itself evil.
40. And if you say I shouldn’t write poetry because I am a woman, you are saying the evil is in my being a woman – because there is no evil in poetry. Besides, I’ve only written when begged to by others. Even the piece you respond to [the prose critique] was not written by my own volition and I did not intend someone like you to ever read it. It ahs been criticized, but I deem it better not to defend it, because the truth will speak for itself. Praise is more harmful than criticism, anyway, as it tempts one to pride.
41. I will ask your correction of any further writing I do.
42. I hope I have not been too familiar.
43. I request God’s blessings on you.