chapter  16
22 Pages

Jesuit Apologias for Laywomen’s Spirituality

ByAlison Weber

Sebastián de Covarrubias’s Tesoro de la lengua castellana o española (Treasury of the Castilian or Spanish Language) (1611) defines beata as follows:

Covarrubias neatly captures the ambivalence toward beatas in post-Tridentine Spain. In the opinion of this lexicographer, a beata was at once a possible religious fraud and a potential saint. As demonstrated in the essays in Part 1 of this volume, pious laywomen were tolerated at least in part because they performed valuable material and/or spiritual services to their communities. But by the 1560s and 1570s beatas had become increasingly associated with certain behaviors that raised suspicions among churchmen and the laity alike. In 1575 the Supreme Council of the Inquisition issued a circular letter to local tribunals asking for their opinion on the best way to deal with the problem of single women who enjoyed an unusual degree of independence from male authority, appeared not to engage in productive work, and claimed special spiritual gifts. Some tribunals were indifferent to the issue, but others took measures to regulate the beatas’ behavior and religious practices. With a few notable exceptions, however, beatas were not disciplined harshly.2