On the Divinity of Sor Juana’s Virgin Mary: A Question of Feminist Heterodoxy or Intercultural Agency?
- Calíope: Journal of the Society for Renaissance and Baroque Hispanic Poetry
- Penn State University Press
- Volume 13, Number 2, 2007
- pp. 23-38
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ON THE DIVINITY OF SOR JUANA’S VIRGIN MARY: A QUESTION OF FEMINIST HETERODOXY OR INTERCULTURAL AGENCY? Lisa Amor Petrov Muskingum College W ith the exception of Eve, no female biblical figure has been as impelling a force behind the monumental effort on the part of the Christian imagination to represent spiritual realities as has been the Virgin Mary. Scarcely mentioned in the gospels directly, countless visual and textual portraits of the Virgin have succeeded in transforming the historical mother of Jesus into a holy figure closely rivaling, at least in the Catholic world, those of the Trinity. This combination of historical and fictional ⎯or perhaps more precisely, “mythical,” being can be said to have captured the Catholic imagination in a continuous cycle of creation and recreation of an ever virgin Mary and her seemingly contradictory status as mother, bride and daughter of the Christ. To date, Marina Warner’s 1976 Alone of All Her Sex, Jaroslav Pelikan’s 1996 work Mary Through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture, and the more recent book by Sarah Jane Boss Empress and Handmaid: On Nature and Gender in the Cult of the Virgin Mary (2000) have been the most comprehensive studies to demonstrate that these reconfigurations of the Virgin have taken place in artistic, theological and political waves, as concerns and motives changed throughout the ages. The overwhelming majority of critics who have investigated the Virgin Mary in Sor Juana specifically have generally agreed with Josefina Muriel’s conclusion (perhaps a bit overstated): “[e]n todo el pensamiento de Sor Juana, no hay nota alguna discordante con la ortodoxia católica y sí hay una armonía perfecta con el cristianismo de su tiempo. No hay posición crítica ante punto alguno del dogma, antes por el contrario, reafirmación apasionada de las verdades en que cree, que vive y en las cuales muere” (1994, 253). The 1993 article by Linda Egan “Donde Dios todavía es mujer: Sor Juana y la teología feminista,” published in Y diversa de mí misma entre vuestras plumas ando, differs CALÍOPE Vol. 13, No. 2 (2007), pages 23-38 24 Lisa Amor Petrov D D D D D greatly with this view and concludes instead that Sor Juana does not affirm the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, rather she develops a theology concerned with deconstructing “la Trinidad masculina y reconstruirla a base de un principio femenino” (327, 330). This is by far the boldest statement made regarding both Sor Juana’s religious views in general and her employment of the Virgin Mary in particular; and as such it deserves a closer look. Before delving into Sor Juana’s treatment of the Virgin Mary in her verses in order to answer the question: is her Virgin Mary divine, as well as to refute some of the arguments Egan uses to affirm Sor Juana indeed argues Mary is equivalent to God, I wish first to underscore the patriarchal and colonial conditions under which Sor Juana wrote. I do this at the risk of stating the obvious to some readers in order to stress to others that these conditions unquestionably refereed her writing and must always be taken into consideration when reading her work. Doubly subjected to external authorities, Sor Juana was a Jeronimite nun who lived and worked within the confines of a highly structured religious institution, a “female culture” (Paz 118) existing within a larger patriarchal one; and while for a time she enjoyed ties to the vice-regal court of New Spain, the freedom of her thought and expression both as a woman and as a criolla were carefully limited. Though she lived in a society defined by its heterogeneity (Leonard 65, Paz 32-33), it was a masculine artistic tradition she inherited (Paz 45). While hers was not a lone female voice,1 she was exceptional in her thematic foci. Most often her female contemporaries wrote within the mystical tradition; Sor Juana was however, as Electa Arenal states: “above all an intellectual” (129); she was a “rationalist” (Leonard 260) and for many “a genius” (Lerner 33).2 In retrospect, many literary critics have labeled her a feminist...