Exegete - Theologian - Missionary
CRITIQUE, NOTES, LETTERS
POEM OF THE MAN-GOD
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— INTRODUCTION —
With the 1991 publication of the 5th volume of The Poem of the Man-God, Masterwork of the modern Italian mystic, Maria Valtorta [1897-1961†], the English translation is now complete and is rapidly being disseminated and acclaimed in the western hemisphere, especially among the Laity. Many, indeed, who have read it with an open mind and solid commitment hail it as a singular gift of Divine Mercy to modern man and the Church of our times. The Poem is a voluminous Life of Christ and His Mother which Valtorta affirms was revealed to her in Visions given her by Christ. It also contains random Commentaries on these Visions, dictated by Christ or Mary. Essentially, then, It is the gospel, but considerably amplified, "fleshed out" with all the details and personages that doubtless initially accompanied the basic skeletal synopsis handed down to us in the New Testament.
Though Valtorta's great Work only began to be known on the Western hemisphere with the appearance of the first English volume in 1987, both she and her Poem have been known for some time in Europe. Indeed, the first preliminary publication was brought out by Pisani Editions as far back as 1956, and the ten-volume Work is now in its third critical Italian edition. In 1970, Pisani also began to publish in Italian a semiannual "Valtorta Bulletin" [Bollettino Valtortiano] for readers of Valtorta's Work. The Bulletin discusses various points or questions about the Work, while also documenting the reactions and evaluations of scholars, scientists, and ecclesiastics who have read it.Not surprisingly, though, the scientistic attitude of modern man, and hence of most scholars and ecclesiastics today, spawns in them an abrupt closure and extreme distrust toward any such Work as this claiming "private revelations" as its source. They protest the "public revelation" of Scripture to be sufficient without the need of delving into such dubious and uncontrollable "private" sources of alleged revelations.
Such an attitude, however, conveniently overlooks or deliberately ignores the fact that most of the Bible had itself largely originated in the form of what would today be scornfully branded "private revelations" and disdainfully dismissed. It was only much later that the Church determined what books constituted the canon of Scripture, the Bible, and later called these originally "private revelations" now "public revelation". Consequently, if those who espouse this dismissive attitude were consistent with its logic and intellectually honest, they would have to excise such originally "private" revelations from Scripture too, beginning with the first chapters of Genesis through and including the entire book of the Apocalypse. Clearly, we would thus be left with a drastically reduced Bible. Moreover, Karl Rahner, S.J., already observed some years ago in his article, "Les Revelations Privees" ["Private Revelations"], that such private revelations have always existed in salvation history, both before Christ and after Christ: that is, in the subsequent history of the Church [Revue D'Ascetique et de Mystique, Vol. 25 ; 506-514]. Classifying such revelations as part of the charism of "Prophecy" in the Church, he rightly cautions that we
by no means should admit too hastily that the charism of Prophecy is a privilege, now lapsed, of the primitive Church.... Why could these lights not be that enlightenment and that word of the Lord which we call—too carelessly perhaps and with a certain disdain—"private revelations," and which we consider as a luxury left to certain pious souls?... To content oneself with affirming that the content of these revelations has only an accessory and quasi-insufficient relationship with the Christian public Revelation, would raise the question: Can anything that God reveals be insignificant?" [ibid., passim]Given the wide acclaim that Valtorta's Poem has generated, however, both in Europe and now increasingly in our western hemisphere, the scientism pervading academia in the Church today quickly raises the inevitable question: "What would modern biblical scholarship say of this Work? How would a modern exegete Judge it?" But in the face of this pervasive rationalism in ecclesiastical academia today, it would be rare indeed to find a modern biblical scholar who would condescend to give a passing glance to or even browse through a Work of this nature. Nonetheless, in 1952, before the Poem's initial publication, Father (later Cardinal) Augustine Bea, S.J., Rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, did willingly read several fascicles of Valtorta's original typescript of the Work and commented:
...As to the exegesis, I have found no prominent errors in the fascicles I examined. I had also been much impressed by the fact that the archeological and topographical descriptions are set forth with much exactness.... Generally speaking, the reading of the Work is not only interesting and pleasing, but truly edifying and, for people less well informed on the mystery of the life of Jesus, instructive. [BollettinoValtortiano, No. 19, June 1979, page 75].If Cardinal Bea is a rare exception in the prevailing mind-set of today, still rarer would it be to find a biblical scholar reading and enthusiastically re-reading the entire voluminous Poem, applying his own expertise to its study and evaluation. But surely rarest of to find today such a scholar whose cause for beatification had already been opened in 1984, just 8 years after his sudden death, and who was, on December 15, 1994. declared "Venerable" by Pope John Paul II for the heroism of his virtues [Acta Apostolicae Sedis: No. 8, 7 August 1995, pp.723-727]. Yet in the author of the four parts presented in this dossier, we happily have all of these rarities combined in one eminent scripture exegete, theologian and missionary: Father Gabriel M. Allegra, O.F.M.
Father Gabriel of the Friars Minor, a compatriot of Valtorta, was both a missionary to China and a biblical exegete. He is renowned for having started the first Biblical Institute in China and for translating the entire Bible into Chinese. His work as a scripture scholar had enjoyed the support and grateful recognition of successive popes from Pius XI to Paul VI. For some time he also resided in Hong Kong. There he became a friend and frequent visitor at the Cistercian Trappist monastery of Lantao in Hong Kong, where he preached a retreat and gave scripture conferences to the monks, one of whom described him as "a very humble man".
In 1965, a confrere, Father Margiotti, had introduced Father Gabriel to Valtorta's Poem of the Man-God, and thereafter he apparently became a dedicated and profound connoisseur of her Work. In a letter to a relative that same year he stated his desire to publish some formal presentation of this Work in response to those who had asked his opinion of it as a biblical scholar. After his sudden death in 1976, many posthumous notes discovered by the postulator of his cause revealed that he had apparently written such a presentation in the form of a critique, but never published it. Many other spontaneous and random notes of his on Valtorta's Poem were also found, from which he evidently composed his more formal presentation. Along with these were also personal letters to confreres and relatives containing comments on Valtorta's great Work.
All of Father Gabriel's posthumous notes were subsequently published serially in several issues of Bollettino Valtortiano ["Valltorta Bulletin"]. It is from these serial publications that the translations in the accompanying dossier were made. They are presented here in four sequential parts:
- Part I -"A Critique of Maria Valtorta's Poem of the Man-God"
Part II - "Notes for a Valtorta Critique"
Part III - "Valtortian Notes of Father Allegra"
Part IV - "Letters of the Servant of God: Father Gabriel Allegra, OFM"
These four Parts, mature reflections of an eminent exegete and theologian, give a clear, forthright and categorical answer to that unfailing question raised by academia's rationalistic scientism so rampant in the Church today: "How would a modern scripture scholar judge The Poem of the Man-God?" They provide as well an adequate reply for western readers of the Poem often challenged with this dubious question. Nonetheless, for the a priori prejudiced, for the skeptical and incredulous of today's ecclesiastical academia, the Poem, with its feared threat to their whole hermeneutical value system is, and will sadly remain, a sealed Book: that "pearl of great price" hidden unawares in their chosen field. But then, it was not given to them. It was destined—as Father Gabriel says in his letters: "...For simple souls, for hearts that are evangelically children."
"Unless you turn and become as little children...."
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