|Sor Juana's Reply is structured much
like a classical argument:
One sets forth the subject and purpose of the discourse. It is important here to establish
credibility (ethos) with the audience.
para. 1-2: She addresses the bishop of Puebla as if
he were "Filotea de la Cruz." She wonders (sarcastically) how to thank
"her" for publishing her letter, stresses her own low position, and conjectures
that the publication of the letter was a kind of punishment from God. She concludes
by stressing her dependence upon God's mercy.
para. 3: She discusses the irony of speaking about
not speaking or understanding.
para. 4: She takes to heart the "lady's"
admonition to spend more time on religious study and less on her secular writing.
She expresses some awe and dread in taking upon herself the commentary on Scripture, for
she notes that secular art is not punished for heresy in the same way that theological
writing would be.
para. 5: From early on she has always been hungry
for learning, which God continued to give her even when she desired him to take it away.
II. Narratio (The Statement of the Facts):
One outlines the basic context for the discourse and the basics of the argument.
In this case, Sor Juana uses this section of the argument to recount her own
para. 6-7: She recalls her desire for an education
at three and her early successes, her desire at seven to be dressed as a boy so she could
attend University, her early study of Latin, her cutting of her hair to punish herself for
poor study, and her motive for entering convent life that she might pursue her studies.
para. 8-9: She stresses what she needed to learn in
order to study Scripture and Theology--logic, physics, rhetoric, music, math,
architecture, history, law, Patristic commentary, and astronomy. She also recognizes
the greatest prerequisite for such study is "uninterrupted prayer and purity of
para. 10: She had no forced system of study, but
then all subjects are interrelated because God has designed it so.
para. 11-13: She notes that what was unclear in the
study of logic, she might learn in the study of rhetoric (or vice-versa). She also
discusses the daily interruptions she experienced in convent life. Thus, she felt
torn between the demands of knowledge and those of her fellow sisters, and she vowed to
stress her studies whenever possible.
para. 14: She was tormented by those who considered
her studies unfitting for a nun's "sacred innocence." She compares herself
to a martyr. [The next nine paragraphs develop and clarify this point.]
para. 15-18: We "abhor [the] one who
excels" she notes. Wasn't Christ abhorred for his divine beauty as the God-man?
Wasn't he condemned for his miracle-working?
para. 19-20: Riches and power strike at reason, for
few will allow that someone else is better.
para. 21: Christ's own crown of thorns was to
punish his wisdom. Consequently, his triumph encourages others who are wise.
para. 22-23: Why do we oppose Christ for raising
the dead? Sor Juana is persecuted not for her wisdom, but for her love of
wisdom. She is like Peter who wished to be wise from afar without any risk to
para. 24-27: She recalls when the Abbess banned her
from study for three months. During that time, she "studied " everything
she encountered: she closely observed the visual lines of how things were made; she
meditated on the geometry in a child's top; she looked on a game of pick-up sticks, and
made connections with the Star of David and the Trinity. She even made chemical
observations as she cooked. It would be better for such a one to study
books. Nonetheless, she trusts the lady to make the right decision concerning Sor
III. Confirmatio (The Confirmation) & Refutatio
(The Refutation): One advances the parts of the argument, and one answers
para. 28-29: She recounts a great catalogue of
Hebrew and Greco-Roman female scholars and leaders.
para. 30-31: She undertakes to answer Arce's
objection that women should not study and interpret scripture publicly in a pulpit or
university setting. She stresses that only those who are able, men or women, should
be allowed to do so. "Study is harmful" for the only half-informed and
foolish. We should know the measure of our abilities.
para. 32-34: She willingly submits to correction of
what she has written. Jerome believed his daughter Leta should be educated;
shouldn't his spiritual daughters, the nuns, also be? Shouldn't older women teach
younger women and thus keep them safe from ignorance as well as the temptations of male
para. 35: She reiterates her point that Scripture,
as well as other secular texts, need extensive knowledge of the cultural context and often
of the original languages in order to understand them aright.
para. 36: To illustrate this, she discusses two
options in interpreting I Timothy 2:11, "Let the woman learn in silence," and
shows that neither forbids women from private study.
para. 37: She defends her original letter's intent,
audience, and impact.
para. 38: She recalls two notable instances
mentioned by Arce of nuns' great intellectual abilities, and she suggests that they would
have been better employed in more thorough study.
para. 39: She defends her writing of verse by
pointing to examples from Scripture, Greco-Roman sources, and Church history, including
para. 40: She defends her writing in general.
Her verse has never been found indecent and was always written at the request of
others. Her letter was meant to be a personal answer not a published, learned
IV. Peroratio (The Conclusion): A summary
of the discourse and an appeal to the audience's pathos.
para. 41-43: She concludes with a
conventional politeness, including a pledge to always offer her writing for Your
Reverence's correction, and asks for a pardon if she has breached the standard of decorum.