Translated by William Little©
Santa Fe College (2008)
I have seen the letter of yours in which you impugn the gracious gifts of Christ as the
Reverend Father Antonio de Vieira expounded on them in his Maundy Thursday sermon. Fr.
Vieira's exposition was so exquisite that the finest scholars opined that such a singularly talented mind—like a new Eagle of the Apocalypse2—had risen above itself by following the groundwork laid out previously by the most illustrious César Meneses,3 who is counted among the foremost intellects of Portugal. But in my opinion, whoever may read your apologia cannot deny that you cut your quill more finely than both of them, and they ought to boast about being challenged by a woman who is the pride of her sex.
I, at least, have admired the wittiness of your conceits, the cleverness of your proofs, and the lively clarity with which the theme is persuasively argued, for clarity is the inseparable companion of wisdom and knowledge. For this reason, the first word spoken by the divine Word was light, because, without clarity wise knowledge has no voice. Even Christ's, when he was wont to utter the highest mysteries veiled in parables, was not considered admirable by the secular world, but only when he spoke clearly did he merit acclaim for knowing everything. This is one of the favors you owe to God, because one cannot acquire clarity through hard work and cleverness; rather, it is a gift infused in the soul itself.
In order for you and your handwriting to be seen in your essay in a better light, I have had it printed. I have done so also so that I may acknowledge the treasures God placed in your soul, and so that you may be more grateful for this favor—for being better understood. For gratitude and understanding have always been birthed during the same parturition. And if, as you say in your letter, those who have received the most from God are the most obligated to repay Him,
Sor Filotea de la Cruz is a pseudonym for Fr. Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz, the Bishop of Puebla, Mexico. The bishop's pseudonym Sor Filotea de la Cruz means Sister Godlover of the Cross, or something like that. For a picture of the Bishop, see the webpage for Bishop Fernández on the HUM 2461 website.
The Eagle of the Apocalypse refers to St. John of Patmos, the putative writer of the last book of the New
Testament, the Apocalypse (i.e., Revelations). From the 2nd century C.E. until the 20th century, Christian exegetes generally conflated John the Presbyter with both John of Patmos (the Greek island on which a person named John is said to have received the divinely inspired visions set forth in the Book of the Apocalypse) with John the evangelist and John the author of the so-called Johannine epistles (John I, II, III).
César Meneses. Most likely, the Bishop is referring to the aristocratic Portuguese Churchman and Political activist,
Sebasti o César de Meneses (? – 1672). He earned a doctorate in canon law from the Jesuit University of Coimbra,
Portugal in 1628, when he published a book in Latin on Church hierarchs. Throughout his life he was an official of the Portuguese Inquisition (Santo Ofício). He participated in the Portuguese independence revolution against Spain beginning in 1640, and in 1642 he was named Bishop of Oporto, although he never actually took up the position. In
1649, he publish a book on political theory (Suma Política) that a modern critic (Aubrey Bell) called "notable for its logical precision and clarity and concision of form." After suffering a decade of political vicissitudes, he became
Grand Inquisitor in 1663. This same year, he published a work on ingratitude, Sugillatio Ingratitudinis, which is not doubt the book the Bishop of Puebla had in mind when writing this letter to Sor Juana. The last ten years of his life he was condemned to internal exile several times. He is buried in the Discalced Carmelite…