María de San José Salazar (1548-1603) took the veil as a Discalced ("barefoot") Carmelite nun in 1571, becoming one of Teresa of Avila's most important collaborators in religious reform and serving as prioress of the Seville and Lisbon convents. Within the parameters of the strict Catholic Reformation in Spain, María fiercely defended women's rights to define their own spiritual experience and to teach, inspire, and lead other women in reforming their church.
María wrote this book as a defense of the Discalced practice of setting aside two hours each day for conversation, music, and staging of religious plays. Casting the book in the form of a dialogue, María demonstrates through fictional conversations among a group of nuns during their hours of recreation how women could serve as very effective spiritual teachers for each other. The book includes one of the first biographical portraits of Teresa and Maria's personal account of the troubled founding of the Discalced convent at Seville, as well as her tribulations as an Inquisitional suspect. Rich in allusions to women's affective relationships in the early modern convent, Book for the Hour of Recreation also serves as an example of how a woman might write when relatively free of clerical censorship and expectations.
A detailed introduction and notes by Alison Weber provide historical and biographical context for Amanda Powell's fluid translation.
About the Author
Alison Weber is an associate professor of Spanish at the University of Virginia. She is the author of Teresa of Avila and the Rhetoric of Femininity.
Amanda Powell is a senior instructor of Spanish at the University of Oregon. She is the translator of Untold Sisters: Hispanic Nuns in Their Own Words and coauthor of A Wild Country Out in the Garden: The Spiritual Journals of a Colonial Mexican Nun.
Read an Excerpt
Book for the Hour of Recreation
By Amanda Powell
University of Chicago PressCopyright © 2002 Amanda Powell
All right reserved.
BOOK FOR THE HOUR OF RECREATION
I have wished, my Sisters, that all persons might know of this angelic Life. I would not be so bold as to write these dialogues, but [I have done so] to satisfy in some measure the great desire that is mine, and because I believe my writing may work to some good effect. For indeed, even if my knowledge and ability were greater, it would be difficult to make known, to those who have not enjoyed them, the favors of heaven that are found in these divine gardens where the celestial Bridegroom takes His recreation.
I believe I must explain two things. First: why, given my intention of telling the Life of our holy Mother and the greatness of Carmel, should this subject be mixed in with such a variety of matters? For many things that I include here seem irrelevant and serve only to make the work long winded, such as the quarrels between the nuns and other extraneous conversations that are mixed in beside the point. In this regard I declare that my chief intent is to portray the nuns' friendly conversation and way of life--their humility and simplicity and mortification, their continual practices of prayer, their contempt for fine dress and their selflessness, along with their happy and holy diversions.It did not seem to me that this could be indicated by words alone, however earnestly I might speak them, but rather that I would have to create some sort of living representation, though at the same time as if it were all painted.
The second is a point I must not only explain but for which I must apologize, as I have done at the end, because of the offense I commit against the humble way these Daughters of the Most Blessed Virgin speak among themselves, for I have dared to bring in a great many passages from Holy Scrip ture. This practice is quite foreign to my Sisters and was indeed censured by our holy Mother [Teresa], as you shall see further on. For this reason, as their simple and unshowy words in fact show that they do know Scripture, I tried showing that mute tongues beget clear understanding such as all the Sisters possess, as they are greatly instructed in the things of God. With good reason are many learned men amazed at the wealth of these treasures, which I wanted to report not so that others might think I am one of the nuns who know something; rather, although I have achieved little, being the dullest and most ignorant of all, I confess that whatever I do know, I learned from these nuns.
Dearest Sisters, it now lies with you to make mighty efforts to follow our Captain, eschewing any womanish spirit. You must give a thousand lives so that not one jot may be lost of what was renewed by dint of such labor. In times like these there is great need for us all to renew both interior and exterior penance and austerity, so as to oppose two very wicked heretics. Then be grateful to that sovereign Lord, for He chose you so that it might be said, as it was in the time of the valiant Deborah: "The Lord chose new wars." May His Majesty, who brought you to this apostolic life, give you His divine grace and remove from you those nuns who did not come to religion with this true spirit. Amen.
This work has five parts.
The first fulfills an order of obedience that obligates me to tell some things about my life; this may be endured, as it goes under an assumed name.
The second tells how ancient and great is the Carmelite Order.
The third relates the life and death of our holy Mother Teresa of Jesus, under the name of Angela.
The fourth tells of the monasteries she founded, and where, and the qualities that each one possesses.
The last part is a brief summation of the effects created by the love of God in those souls where it is found, together with some octaves in thanksgiving for their principal benefits--creation, redemption, preservation-- which, as this is titled Book for the Hour of Recreation, does not stray from its purpose.
In the year of Our Lord fifteen hundred and eighty-three, on the feast of our seraphic Father Saint Francis, when one year to the day had passed since the flower of Carmel withered away, I invoked both weeping and mourning, as the Order was thus left bereft of its gentle Mother, Teresa of Jesus, of whom two of her Daughters were speaking as they stood in the shade of a lovely poplar grove, calling her by the name of Angela. And although it was not fine weather for seeking the fresh green leaves and fields, which in spring can be so delightful, yet the talk between them was aided by solitude and the sound of the wind that moved all things to feel their sorrow; with tears in their eyes, they recalled death's thievery in leaving them without their Mother, their shepherdess, and their consolation. And having wept awhile, with their eyes cast down to earth, they lifted them at last to heaven and thus tempered their grief, considering that there, safe and secure, was their treasure. So, taking pleasure in the pleasure that was hers, they fell silent for some time.
Gracia, for that was the name of the one who appeared the younger, now changing the subject of their talk, said to Justa: "Dearest Sister, many days ago Father Eliseus ordered me to write an account of my life, in which I should tell him about my way of [mental] prayer and the favors that God has thus granted me. I could not venture to tell you why he wants it; but you know his zeal and how he turns everything to advantage, so that from the venom of my vices he draws the honey of doctrine for all his Daughters. But this aside--for it is an offense to such brilliance of mind and virtue to set my dull tongue to speak his praise--I shall tell you why I began this story for you. I am greatly distressed since he ordered me to write, because from the moment I attempted to begin my mind has been so dull that I have been unable to write a word, and all that I have said until now of prayer seems to me a lie and a whim. What most clearly appear before me are my sins, of which I could write at great length; but I have no heart to write of them. It is bad indeed to be so backward that I am ashamed to tell my Prelate what I ought to reveal to him with the best of wills, and not to tell him of my delight in prayer. Yet I cannot speak of such delight with the same certainty as I can of my sins, knowing I have committed so many; I do not know if this inability be caused by the Devil, or by the fear to which we women are so given. But I console myself that whatever I may say is destined for the hands of one who even a hundred leagues off would understand what it is. I ask you, my Sister, to commend me heartily to God, that I may fulfill this order of obedience."
And Justa, who had listened to her most attentively, then said: "I am greatly surprised, my dear Sister Gracia, to see that you should find distasteful a single thing that you know would please our Father, for besides the fact that he is our Prelate, who must serve as a model of Christ to us, many considerations oblige you to hide from him nothing that is in your heart."
"May God forbid," answered Gracia hastily, "that I should fall into such vice, or hide from him a single thing that is in my soul; because, besides proving me ungrateful to one whom I love so dearly and owe so much, it would only do me harm, for we know how much is gained by speaking clearly with those whom the Lord has set in His place. And believe me when I say that the Devil has never tempted me to such a thing; rather, my very soul seemed to foretell, from the first day I saw him, when he was not yet my Prelate, all the good I would receive from him. Indeed, all the good that I asked of our Lady the Virgin, I asked in the name of Father, and it seemed that what I asked in his name was later granted me; and thus what grieves me now is that I do not know what to say of myself. This is why I have told you, so that you may give me your advice and help me with your prayers."
"What you can do, Sister," said Justa, "as God called you and brought you to the religious life through our heroic and admirable Mother Angela, is to begin with her and tell all the things you saw her do from the time you first knew her; and in speaking of such a sweet Mother, you will forget about yourself, and you will fulfill the order of obedience and will please Father Eliseus even more, for on hearing the name of his Angela, he will lend its grace to whatever you might say gracelessly."
"May Our Lord God reward you, Sister," said Gracia, prostrating herself on the ground, "and may He be blessed, for He so quickly shows us how good it is to humble ourselves and seek advice; and since God has illumined you that you might give me this plan, tell me how I should start, and don't leave me alone but stay and help me. And I will say what I know; give me your command so that I may write in accordance with it. For your name is 'Justice,' which gives each thing its due: Glory to God for all things; and to our holy Mother, eternal remembrance for the part she played that I and many other nuns might come to the Order; and to me, shame, for how little I have taken to advantage the very riches of the Indies that are here."
"Begin at once," said Justa, "for it gives me great pleasure to hear about our Angela."
"Oh, Sister Justa! How gladly would I undertake this theme," said Gracia, "because for many days I have been wanting to make a report of some of the things I saw and heard from our good Mother; but it seems to me impossible to carry it out--first because of my dullness, which will not know what to say, and in the second place what most daunts me is being a woman, who by the law that custom has created seems to have been forbidden to write; and with good reason, for it is women's proper task to spin and sew, since having no learning, they tread perilously close to error in whatever they might say."
"I admit," answered Justa, "that it would be a very great error to write about or meddle in Scripture, or in learned things; I mean, for those women who know no more than women, for there have been many who have been equal and even superior in learning to a great many men. But let us leave that aside; what harm can there be if women write of household things? For they also have the duty, as do men, of recording the virtues and good works of their mothers and teachers, concerning things that only those women who tell of them could know, that are perforce hidden from the men; besides which, it may be that such writings, though written in ignorance and without style, will be better suited to the women in days to come, than if they were written by men, because when it comes to writing and speaking of the courage and virtue of women, we usually consider them to be somewhat doubtful, and at times they may do us harm, because it is impossible that the heroic virtues of so many weak women should not cause them embarrassment, as we see, by God's mercy, in these flowering times of renewal."
"You speak truly, Sister," said Gracia, "when you say that it would be an embarrassment, if men were to believe what women write. But do you not see that they have gloried in holding women to be weak, inconstant, imperfect, and indeed useless and unworthy of any noble undertaking! And in this regard, I shall tell you a story that will certainly amuse you. You know, dearest, that when our Mother Angela went to Seville to found a convent, many servants of God came to confess us, among whom one stayed on longer than the others--a very good priest, though given to the disposition of those we have described; and he grew very angry when he saw us crossing ourselves in Latin as if we were uttering heresies. And quite deliberately he set about reproving us, and told us that women should on no account meddle in all sorts of presumptuous babble and deep waters."
"Without a doubt, that servant of God must have been a bit simple," said Justa, "for he was not aware that it pleases our Holy Church to have us nuns recite the divine office and help with the holy offices and the Sacrifice of the Mass."
"Simple, Sister!" said Gracia. "He didn't act as a simpleton, for he was very far indeed from any such thing; but there are people who are shocked by a puff of wind, and if I were to relate to you all the trials and persecutions we underwent in that foundation, with those sorts of dispositions, I would never finish telling them all. And because we nuns were discussing Our Lord and matters of the faith that every Christian is obliged to know, such as the articles of the faith and so forth, they so frightened the frailer among us that it caused great suffering, making them think that they were heretics. I consider it a great folly to create obstacles where there are none, giving these poor women to think that everything is a heresy; but that is a long story, so let us leave it. It may be that one day the Lord will order it to be written elsewhere, that our Sisters may know how many trials and afflictions our holy Mother was obliged to undergo in order to found the convents, so that they may gather strength to undergo the same thing, feeling envy for the nuns who enjoyed those festive days.
"And returning to what I had begun, I say, Sister, that whatever we might say has little strength and is scarcely to be given credence, just because we are women."
"What does that matter to us?" said Justa. "Those for whom this is written will believe it; and how much more so, for whatever it may say of our great Angela! The Lord has shown Himself to work such wonders through her life and death that all the world knows of it. And so begin, Sister, and remember that you are telling it to the Sisters in their recreations; and if you should make any foolish remarks, which I cannot say you won't, you know how receptive they are at such times, and willing to praise, so you may have no fear that the Sisters would not forgive you a single one of them."
"May it please God, dearest Sister," said Gracia, "that it might serve as recreation to these angels, because there is nothing I enjoy more than to see them happy with one another, and my soul is gladdened, for there one sees the love and sisterhood and great contentment they possess, as well as the mortification of each one, not showing any sort of hurt, though their foolishness might be laughed at; for that was the aim of our Mother Angela in desiring that, after the midday meal and after collation, they should gather together with their needlework to take pleasure in the Lord [with many others], for it is well known that one must needs relieve the spirit from fasting, prayer, and continual silence."
"It is very important," said Justa, "that all of this proceed with the same perfection that our Mother intended. And now tell me of her."
"Do not think," answered Gracia, "that because I linger on certain topics, I am deliberately leaving the matter at hand, for everything we know that is good or useful is due to her. The fruit redounds to the praise of the tree that produced it, and so anything I may say of the virtues and graces of the Sisters must be understood to have been achieved through her clear intellect and heroic virtue. But tell, for mercy's sake: how can you ask me to tell of the greatness of that admirable woman, knowing as you do my dull-wittedness?"
"To be sure, Sister," said Justa, "I do not think Our Lord holds the story of His servant in such low account that He would submit it to the hands of such a wretched chronicler. Indeed, one would need more wit than yours or mine to tell of such feats as those which God, by means of this brave woman, has wrought in our own time. For not only has she roused weak women to take up Christ's cross, but she has shamed the men, and dragged them out to the field of battle; and when they had turned their backs on discipline and primitive virtue, made them follow the banner of their woman Captain, so that they might face their enemies who had risen to become so lordly. She began like another Deborah to inspire the army of God, promising victory to their side and never staying behind in the tent, but exposing herself to the greatest dangers and affronts. Nor did she rest in times of peace, but, with the greatest hardships and the sweat of her brow, went about planting and transplanting this holy garden of Carmel that was so abandoned and destroyed and had lost its rightful beauty--that beauty which God placed in her own soul and body, showing full well the purpose for which He had raised her, endowing her with so many gifts and graces and such beauty, with a perfect countenance, as further on you will have to say, though in everything you will fall short. For how could one describe how witty and tactful she was, and how loving and gentle in manner; how prudent and wise, with the caution and simplicity of a dove; how describe her faith and hope and spirit of prophecy, the grace given her of bringing souls to God, her marvelous gift of counsel?--for, indeed, many of the nobles of Spain took her advice in the gravest matters. And thus, Sister, things like these are not for such as you or me--I mean, for you alone to tell. Well then, from among all these, see that you create some girlish trifle to console our Sisters, until such time as someone who knows better how to do it shall write it for us. And you must say what you heard and saw her do, for you were with her in the founding of some of the convents, although what you say may not seem like much to you; for it seems to me that you have scarcely yet begun."
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Table of Contents
Introduction to the Series
Chronology of the Life of María de San José Salazar
Introduction to María de San José Salazar (1548-1603)
A Note on the Translation
Book for the Hour of Recreation
In which, as Justa and Gracia continue, the latter recounts what she saw of Mother Angela and how long she has known her
In which Justa asks Gracia to tell her about Mount Carmel
In which Gracia continues to tell of the greatness of Mount Carmel
In which Gracia continues to tell of the greatness of Mount Carmel
In which they discuss the riches and precious stones of Mount Carmel
In which all three nuns discuss the properties of prayer, and the practice of the same
Which tells of the life of the holy Mother Teresa of Jesus and of her birth and parents, calling her by the name of Angela, and sums up the favors that God granted her, as she relates them in her books
Suggestions for Further Reading