Bilinkoff on Juan of the Cross at the Lisbon ASPHS

Jodi Bilinkoff’s paper, “John of the Cross in His Earliest Biiographies” used the first accounts of the saint’s life to explore vocation and masculinity. John of the Cross has little autobiographical material, so what we know of this controversial man comes from these early biographies. Even his supporters had anxiety about his qualities as a leader – his personality and administrative skills did not always make for smooth relations between him and the other male Discalced Carmelites in the order he helped found. He never held the highest offices in the order, and was in fact cashiered of the offices he did hold late in his life. It seems he liked solitude and contemplation, and urged those activities on his colleagues in what was often seen as harsh criticism. Interestingly, it seems there was a split between friars, like John, who wanted the new order to remain strictly contemplative and ascetic, and those who wanted a more active mission, with activities like preaching and overseas missions. It was a male version of enclosure that John of the Cross espoused, perhaps: stop begging – God will provide – and get back into your sell and pray. Nevertheless, the early biographers of John of the Cross deployed a narrative strategy that allowed them to present these events (ie John ends up on the losing side of these conflicts, is deprived of office, etc.) as evidence not of failure but of sanctity.


About emspanishhistorynotes

Scott Taylor is an associate professor in the history department at the University of Kentucky.


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