Six Women and the Reformation

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In Chapters 22 through 27 of the In Her Words: Women’s Writings in the History of Christian Thought (1994), what Amy Oden, as editor of volume, illustrates with six very different female writings from the period of 1500 to 1800 CE is six reactions to the Reformation in the form of confessional writing. Each of these confessional writings –to varying degrees of execution and dimensions of confession –illustrates the female authors’ understanding of what it means to be a Christian woman during the Reformation. In the first selection, the poetry of Vittoria Colonna “address[es] the most pressing issues of her day, secular and religious, where she illustrates, through sonnet form, the internal dialogue of someone negotiating their faith in reference to how that faith might be perceived in the world. The same can be said, therefore, about the following selection by Teresa of Avila, entitled The Interior Castle, which, as Oden notes in its introduction, is a “text [that] provides an exposition of the soul’s progression toward God, through the many rooms of the castle until [the soul] reaches the very center, where union with God and full human being are found.”[1] What Teresa of Avila illustrates is the way that faith transforms the soul into a seeker of truth, something that can only find solace in union with God. The “interior castle,” then, is undoubtedly an illustration of searching into the innermost recesses of the soul, navigating the corridors and channels of the human heart in order to understand the fundamentality of the God-human relationship and the necessity of Christian faith as an anchor to Christian spirituality. This is similarly illustrated in the third selection from Jane de Chantal’s letters of spiritual devotion, which “reveal the heart of her theology and devotion.”[2] Jane de Chantal’s letters, as Oden notes, places at its center Jesus and illustrates the notion that Christian life revolves around Christ, where Christ becomes the embodiment of Christian knowledge. Knowledge, of course, is also illustrated in the fourth selection from Juana Ines de la Cruz, which “addresses the character of human knowing and the persecution often attendant upon those seeking knowledge.”[3] What follows, then, in the fifth selection is from Madame Jeanne Guyon is a further extrapolation of knowledge and, specifically, thought, with an illustration of “[Guyon’s] basic notions about the nature of the human soul and the avenues, differentiated in details, through which God leads it.”[4] Finally, in the last selection of the Reformation section, the letters and writings of Susanna Wesley “demonstrate Wesley’s own theological insights on the nature of human being, predestination, the nature of God, and salvation.”[5]

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[1] Amy Oden, ed., In Her Words: Women’s Writings in the History of Christian Thought (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 223-224.

[2] Ibid., 231.

[3] Ibid., 240.

[4] Ibid., 245-246.

[5] Ibid., 251.

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