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Renaissance was the precursor of many modern thoughts, and among them the belief in one’s own reason

to find the course of one’s faith is one. The two women Sor Juana and Suor Maria Celeste were two of the Renaissance beings who through the conflicting times of faith and reason, tried to find the balancing way for themselves in their life. Married to the Christ, these two nuns did not neglect the study of sciences and arts, and like true humanists pursued the intellectual evolution of mind, believing in their capacity to reason. Unlike many Renaissance men like Giordano Bruno, or to some extent Galileo, these women pursued successfully the disparate paths of intellect and faith together. Sor Juana and Suor Maria Celeste both were nuns, and thus they had sacrificed their life for the faith. They had voluntarily withdrawn from the pleasures of the world, confining them within the walls of their convents, trying to imitate some of the Christ’s virtues, and embracing the suffering just like the Christ had done for the salvation of the mankind. In fact with the Answer, Sor Juana tried to make the authorities’ charges against her as ridiculous and sinful as those hurled against Jesus Christ (Cruz, 22). Suor Maria Celeste had a stronger life of poverty than Sor Juana in this regard. While Sor Juana lived “in quarters whose comfort and amplitude made them seem more like salon than a cell” (Cruz 6) and had “mulatta slaves” (Cruz 6) for herself, Maria Celeste lived in severe poverty. She did not have her cell and the cell that she shared with other nun was cold and uncomforting. Living in such a poor condition, she had to study everyday the Bible, and all her faculties were encouraged by the convent to learn more about the God. Christ was their husband, and He was thus the Supreme male authority for them, and all their works and behaviors were supposed to please Him and make the way for their salvation. They were thus proficient in the matters of theology. For example, Sor Juana

“demonstrated a command of the sermons, one of the most popular forms of the period, in her impassioned reenactment of sin from Calvary” (Cruz, 22). It is however interesting to note that the faith and their devotion to the Christ were build upon weak foundations. Maria Celeste had joined the convent at the tender age of thirteen, not because she chose it, but because her father thought it was the only way left for an illegitimate daughter whose parents were not married. We thus would not know for sure whether Maria had some other aspirations that were hindered by her joining the convent or the state of her faith before she became nun. In her letters she never complained about her hectic life in the convent, but she was living virtually in a prison, and she confessed to it in one of her letter to her father (Sobel, 321), perhaps not with regret, but with compassion to her father living under house arrest. Sor Juana had chosen to be nun when she was nineteen, thus she had voluntarily chosen the celibacy. However, through her writing, it can be argued that she joined the convent not because it was her spiritual or divine calling, but she joined it because it was the only place where she could quench the thirst of her intellect. Both nuns excelled their skills of oratory and writing in the church. However, none of them wrote extensively about the religion itself. Though the poems and writings of Sor Juana had references to the Biblical figures and theological allegories, most of her work was about literature, science, music and other subjects which were considered by the religious authority as nothing but “hand-maidens” of theology. Sor Juana’s works were weaved by rich words and classical references arguing for the emancipation of women and their equal share in the intellectual pursuit of the human mind. In her works she “interpreted and revivified” (Cruz, 15) the classical and Biblical writing “styles and thought, applying them to what was most relevant to her” (Cruz, 15). Like most of the

Renaissance writers, her works were her own interpretations and not just what were interpreted by the society and the church. This intrepid style of her writing often antagonized religious authorities of her time. She defended her maverick works on liberal sciences by giving sound arguments on why the study of those seemingly worldly topics were necessary to understand the allegories and metaphors of the Scripture. Her eccentric religious views were genuinely creative interpretations of her eloquent mind. “She included the Virgin Mary,” for example, “in references to the Trinity, placing her at the pinnacle of the sacred and even the poetic pyramid” (Cruz, 16). It appears almost heretical but her interpretations were suitable from the point of view of her feline feminism, and the circumstances of her experiences. Her description of the beauty of the Christ and the wisdom and beautiful mind of Teresa and St. Catherine deliberately tries to ridicule the stereotyping of the role of sex in the society. Like a “royal galleon” (Cruz, 4) against a number of small pirate rafts, she would defend her pursuit of liberal sciences as a nun and a woman. She had not written too much about the religion because she felt she had too little knowledge of it, and “that many things that are to say can not be contained in mere words” (Cruz, 43). And after all writing about religion was risky and was punishable if the Church found it inappropriate, however she argues that “a heresy against arts is not punished by the Holy Office”(Cruz, 49). That is why she decided to write more on liberal arts than on religion, which was technically her occupation. The only work available of Maria Celeste, her letter to Galileo, too deals with broad range of topic from science to medicine to astronomy to finance, but does not go deep on the theological discussion. Perhaps it was inappropriate to talk about religion to the deeply religious scientist of her age, and her discussion on theology might have been looked as discouraging by her father whose ingenious works were declared sacrilegious. She should have immense knowledge of the subject of course, but like Sor Juana, she chose not to speak

about knowledge that comes from faith but to write about the empirical knowledge that evolves from the senses to her father who was considered the father of modern science. The two nuns believed that faith and pursuit of intellect was not contradictory. “Sor Juana wrote for salvation”(Cruz, 8); she believed that salvation that comes through faith based upon truer understanding of the scriptures, can not be achieved without learning and writing about arts, which she deemed essential to fully comprehend the Scripture. Sor Juana would argue that the understanding of “God’s creation comes not through vision or revelation but through empirical observation and deduction” (Cruz, 22). The study of nature was thus no heresy for Sor Juana. Halfway across the globe, Maria Celeste, like Sor Juana, saw no contradictions in the empirical scientific works by her father that were judged inappropriate by the church. She believed in her father’s deep faith, and saw no heresy in his scientific writing. “It might have been difficult for Suor Maria Celeste to condone this course- to reconcile her role as a bride of Christ with her father’s position as potentially the greatest enemy of the Catholic church since Martin Luther”( Sobel, 8). But still she supported her father in his quest for better understanding of the universe, for she knew and believed in the faith of her father. For her like Thomas Aquinas, there was no conflict in between the faith and reason. They in fact complimented each other. Knowledge was incomplete without either of them. The two women both judged supreme their inner faith in God than the critical eyes of the Fathers and the Church; it is clearly the Renaissance and the Reformation specialty. They believed in the authority of scripture and its personal interpretation, than the male religious authorities that tried to dictate their own interpretations on them. They had knowledge of all the muses and fields of the Renaissance liberal studies. Sor Juana also had excellent oratory skill,

perhaps so did Maria Celeste, we don’t know. Oration skill being one of the most desired skills during the Renaissance, Sor Juana was clearly an exemplary Renaissance product. So was Suor Maria Celeste, and together the two were paradigm of the Renaissance women.

Works Cited Cruz, Sor Juana Ines de la. The Answer/ La Respuesta. Arenal, Electa, and Amanda Powell, eds. Trans. The Feminist Press: City University of New York, 1994. Sobel, Dava. Galileo’s Daughter. New York: Penguin Books Ltd, 2000.