Best known for his works on the mystical practice of meditative recollection, Franciscan friar Francisco de Osuna published his candid manual for lay life, Norte de los estados (North Star) in 1531 before leaving Spain to reside in Antwerp.
Professor of Spanish Dana Bultman has published the first modern edition in Spanish restores Osuna’s reformist voice and expansive vision to the animated conversations on marriage and family in which he engaged. A Q & A with Bultman on the new book reveals some of its intricacies and insights particularly to our present moment:
What is the main argument presented in your book?
A Franciscan friar of the Observants, Osuna energetically set down detailed instructions for his readers using private dialogues between himself and his fictional nephew, Villaseñor. In my introduction, I argue that Osuna was attempting to cultivate a married laity operating within the economic and spiritual values of his order. The book’s most exceptional features are its detailed criticism of men’s common behaviors and insistence on the value of fidelity for both husbands and wives. Osuna contends that the practice of devoted loyalty between spouses is the principal purpose of marriage, conspicuously placing it above the importance of producing offspring. He also has a skeptical view of the habits and proclivities of Villaseñor, who serves as a representative of married men in his text.
Can you summarize what this book is about?
True to its title, it was intended as a ‘north star’ to dependably guide people through the challenges of youth, married life, and widowhood. Osuna advises his readers how to successfully handle conventional dilemmas such as selecting a spouse, what to say at one’s betrothal, preparing for one’s wedding, problems of impotence and fertility, pregnancy, birth, and children’s education. He also describes—in a popular register—how to manage a variety of common relationship hazards caused by mistrust, absence, gambling, drinking, and violence, as well as how to best behave upon the illness and death of one’s partner. Throughout the book he is surprisingly candid, opposing narrower definitions of spousal roles that were to become orthodoxy within a few decades with the Roman Catechism of 1566.
Cervantes read him and now we can as well. Congratulations to Dr. Bultman on this important new scholarship that will bring Osuna's writing to a wider public.