- Between Two Worlds: The autos sacramentales of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz by Amy Fuller
Amy Fuller shows how Sor Juana’s autos sacramentales and their loas provide a unified statement on the question of Christ’s mayor fineza, that is, his greatest display of love for humankind. This statement, ultimately, is that Christ’s greatest gift was to have died in order to save humankind, although, as Fuller demonstrates, the autos allow the playwright to explore other finezas and how they relate to this final sacrifice. She also shows how Sor Juana connects this theological question to Spain’s imperial project of expansion and evangelization in the Americas. In the process, Fuller counters the current tendency to view Sor Juana primarily as a subversive figure. The religious dramatist that emerges from this study holds fairly orthodox positions, celebrates the spiritual conquest, and is, in turn, more celebrated than persecuted on both sides of the Atlantic.
We can better appreciate the unified, conservative message of Sor Juana’s religious theater, according to Fuller, if we restore the plays to the order in which they originally appeared in the second volume of the complete works. There (with the loa to El mártir del Sacramento, San Hermenegildo) they open with the debate over Christ’s greatest demonstration of love and (with the death of Narciso) end with a definitive statement on the matter. This volume includes letters and dedicatory poems that help contextualize the plays, as well as a republication of the Carta atenagórica, which was the nun’s first foray into the debate over Christ’s mayor [End Page 96] fineza. Since Sor Juana kept this letter in a later edition of this volume that she herself revised, Fuller argues that she must have approved its initial publication in 1690, in spite of her claim in the Respuesta that the letter had originally been published without her knowledge. Fuller uses Diego Calleja’s praise of the Carta atenagórica and his assertion that it had many admirers to bolster her claim that it was received more favorably than is typically believed.
Fuller’s recontextualization of the autos includes a discussion of the fascinating frontispiece of the first edition of Fama y obras posthumas (Madrid, 1700), which places the writer in “the same baroque landscape that she creates in her autos” (52) and nicely illustrates her position “between two worlds.” Sor Juana appears between two pillars, one labeled “Europa,” and the other, “America.” On the pillars is written the motto “plus ultra,” a reference to physical exploration and expansion that has also been taken figuratively to signify the transcending of ancient boundaries of knowledge. Fuller discusses how both readings come into play in the loa to El mártir del Sacramento, San Hermenegildo, where Sor Juana connects Spain’s imperial mission with the discussion of Christ’s greatest gift. One has to go beyond the authority of the Church fathers, just as Columbus went beyond the Pillars of Hercules. Although Christ’s sacrifice may have been his greatest gift, a full appreciation of this act comes through the Eucharist and acts of worship, such as the autos sacramentales, that help bring the gift to new converts in a New World.
The evangelizing mission that is explicit in the loas is more subtle in the autos. Where others have seen parallels between Protestantism and the Arian heresy rejected by Hermenegild, Fuller argues that, in the context of El mártir del Sacramento, Arianism better represents Mesoamerican paganism, which she also connects to Naturaleza Humana in El divino Narciso. Likewise, the focus in El cetro de Joseph on the bread of the Eucharist serves to teach a metatextual audience of Mesoamericans (provided by the loa) the proper form of sacrifice.
The book is divided into five chapters, as well as an introduction and a conclusion. Since the question of Christ’s greatest demonstration of love is a central theme of the autos, Fuller begins by discussing Sor Juana’s participation...