21: Juana Inez de la Cruz

2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the ELCA, the 40th anniversary of women of color, and the 10th anniversary of LGBTQ+ siblings.

It’s an incredibly important marker for the ELCA, though it is only the beginning for the Church, as women are still denied ordination across the denominations and hold less than 15% of the leadership positions in the worldwide church! Therefore, in 2020, we in the Oregon Synod will highlight one woman from Christian history every week for fifty weeks. Some you may know, others you may not, but all worthy of our respect and gratitude.

#21 Juana Inez de la Cruz

Juana Inez de la Cruz was a child prodigy. She begged her mother to allow her to dress as a boy to get an education, but her mother refused. Still, she found a way to educate herself and by the time she was a teenager, her genius was renowned throughout Mexico and Spain. When she was 17, the Spanish viceroy invited dozens of men — theologians, poets, philosophers, and others — to question, scrutinize, and challenge Juana in a public test of her intelligence. Juana’s knowledge astonished them all. Her love of study–and disinterest in men–led her away from marriage and into the convent where she continued her studies and became a celebrated poet, the first in Latin America. She was a fiery feminist with a particular interest in the importance of educating girls. She once quipped, “One can perfectly well philosophize while cooking supper” and “Aristotle could have known so much more if he cooked.” She wrote love poetry to women, in particular her patroness, Maria Luisa, the wife of the viceroy. In her poem, First Dream, she wrote about the torturous quest of the soul for knowledge. Her renown sparked vicious misogynistic attacks which she responded to with fire, intelligence, and wit. “I walk beneath your pens, and am not what I truly am, but what you’d prefer to imagine me.” She died of the plague while caring for her sick sisters during an epidemic.