– I I –
BOLLETTINO VALTORTIANO: No. 29, Jan-June 1984, pp. 114-116.
— GABRIEL M. ALLEGRA, O.F.M. —
With the intention of enticing and guiding translators, the renowned biblical scholar and missionary, Fr. Gabriel Allegra, O.F.M., in 1970, wrote a long and detailed presentation of the Work "The Poem of the Man-God" by Maria Valtorta, which we received in 11 closely typed pages and published, while omitting their historical characteristics, in our Bulletin No. 6.
An interesting new discovery has now been added to the contributions which Father Allegra, an exceptional reader, has offered to the Work of Maria Valtorta. Here is how Father Leonard Anastasius, Vice-postulator of the Friars Minor, speaks of these contributions in two recent letters which accompany the precious material:
The photocopied pages are handwritten, on [calendar] memorandum pages; some are dated at Macau in 1968, others in 1970, others again are without date. They are prior therefore, at least in part, to the organic treatise which Father Allegra drew up in 1970, as if these were the first notes made for that treatise. [See Part No. I above of this dossier. –Trans.]
His writing, done on the spur of the moment and at one stretch, could reveal his intention of trying to fix (in mind) right away some thought, some impression, some intuition. When it happened that the impulse of faith had to be compared to the reasons of science, a "doubt" blossoms which is tempered in a prayerful trust, making of the "critic" a man who prays even when he is immersed in study, in research. Father Allegra could teach scholars humility.
We have given a certain order to these scattered pages, the text of which we now set forth with a feeling of veneration that surpasses gratitude.
—Emilio Pisani, Editor
– NOTES FOR A VALTORTIAN CRITIQUE –
By Blessed Gabriel M. Allegra, O.F.M.
Maria Valtorta's Poem of the Man-God has been published as a novel, and I hope that with such a title it continues to be reprinted in the future, and often; but it is not a novel. It is the complement of the four Gospel traditions, and the explanation of them.
This explanation at times surprises us, it seems so new to us, so true and so energetic that we are quite ready to neglect it. It is a question of private revelation! And then, done by a woman! And we men, we priests, know well in this how to imitate the Apostles who called the vision that the women had of the Risen Christ: "the delirium of women" [Lk 24:11]. Certainly St. Paul, in his list of the witnesses of the Resurrection, excludes the women; but the Gospels instead give them a preponderant part. Yet all priests want to imitate St. Paul in this!
Now the Poem of the Man-God does not really deserve to be neglected with that self-assurance and aloofness which is characteristic of many modern theologians. In the Church there is the Spirit, and hence, there are the charisma of the Spirit. I myself think that only through a charism of the Holy Spirit, solely with His help, could a poor sick woman of limited biblical culture write, in the space of three years, 20,000 pages which when printed are the equivalent of ten volumes. And what pages! I note also that certain of the Lord's Discourses of which the principal subjects are only hinted at in the Gospels, are developed in this Work with a naturalness, with a connection of thought so logical, so spontaneous, so coherent with the time, the place, the circumstances, as I have not found in the most famous exegetes. I would cite only the Discourse of the Lord with Nicodemus and that of the Bread of Life. But the exegetes, followers of the History of Forms [Form Criticism] will never [!] humble themselves to give one look at this Work where many problems are dissolved with marvelous facility, and where so many Discourses of which unfortunately only the theme now remains to us, are remade. In sum, I hold that this Work of Valtorta deserves at least that attention which theologians pay to the Mystical City of God of Venerable Agreda, to the revelations of Ann Catherine Emerich, and to those of St. Bridget. No one could make me believe that a poor, sick woman has written the Poem solely in virtue of her fervent religious feeling—all the more so since she did not see the various pictures or scenes from the life of the Lord in chronological order but rather, contrary to such order, scattered or confusingly re-presented to her throughout the space of three years.
What was this charism? What were its dimensions? How did the human instrument cooperate with it? What comes from the Spirit through the mind and the heart of a pious Christian woman, and what is the exclusive fruit of Valtorta's psyche? And on the hypothesis of supernatural visions, why did Jesus adopt the language of a 20th Century theology and not that of His own time? Had He wanted perhaps to teach us what is to be found in the Sacred Scriptures, and how they need to be expressed today? There are so many questions that deserve to be studied and meditated before reasonably explaining how the Poem of the Man-God never contradicts the Gospel, but admirably completes it, making it living and powerful, tender and demanding.
Having well determined the nature of the charism of the Spirit and the reality of His action in Maria Valtorta, what attitude ought the Christian to assume in reading these admirable evangelical pages?
It seems to me that the same practical conclusion imposes itself for whoever has read and studied the documents of the History of the Apparitions of Paray le Monial, Lourdes, Fatima, Syracuse....
And with the same degree of faith, and in the measure which the Lord Jesus and the Church desire it, I believe in it.
Acquaintances at the Crucifixion
Besides the pious women who assisted at the Crucifixion of the Lord on Calvary, of whom four are called by name and several others are left anonymous, St. Luke also speaks of certain "acquaintances" of Jesus: gnostoi, who assisted at His Death standing a little distance away. Who are such acquaintances? One could think of Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Manahem, Cusa (?), and other relatives of these personages of very high social condition.
Without posing the problem, Maria Valtorta in her Poem of the Man-God singles out these acquaintances in the group of the (12) Shepherds and some disciples. While the Condemned was tortured, and while He, the Tortured, remained in life, it was not permitted to the friends of the Guilty to come near, since they were men. Only to His Mother and to the pious women with her did the Centurion grant leave to draw near the Cross, and to John whom [the Centurion] believed to be the son of Mary and the brother of the Condemned.
The Death of Jesus and the Suffering of Mary
According to Valtorta (Poem of the Man-God), the chief physical causes which brought about the Death of Jesus were: 1) His bleeding before the Crucifixion which took place during the Agony of Gethsemani and the Scourging; 2) Pulmonary edema; 3) Fever; 4) Tetanus; 5) and most especially the spiritual suffering endured through the abandonment by His Father. During this unspeakable, incomprehensible trial of the Man-God, He felt in some way the separation from His Father as one who is damned. Truly, He became sin personified. Him who knew no sin He made sin! For you have been bought at a great price! (2 Cor 5:21; 1 Cor 6:20)
During the Passion and Death of the Lord, His Sorrowful Mother fulfilled her office as the new co-redeeming Eve, accepting from her heart the Will of the Father, while compassionating her Son Jesus as only she could do, and forgiving and praying for us men, His crucifiers.
After Jesus died, Mary co-redeemed with her desolation up to the moment of His Resurrection. The Desolation of the Dolorous Mother comprised a direct personal attack by Lucifer, and then so many indirect assaults against her faith in the Resurrection, and—even for her—the abandonment by the Father.
In two long chapters, Valtorta describes what she saw and heard during the night of Good Friday, the day of the Sabbath, and the night of the Sabbath [Holy Saturday]. The little that I have read on the Sorrowful Mother on this subject remains in generalities; it cannot be compared to these powerful and very tender pages of Maria Valtorta. I cannot for anything convince myself that they are a simple meditation of a pious woman. No. This soul has seen and heard! The Finger of God is here!
For a book so engaging and challenging, so charismatic, so extraordinary even from just a human point of view as is Maria Valtorta's Poem of the Man-God—for such a book I find the theological justification in the First Epistle to the Corinthians 14:6, where St. Paul writes: "If I come to you, brethren, speaking in tongues, how shall I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or doctrine?"
In this Work I find so many revelations which are not contrary to, but instead complete, the Gospel narrative. I find knowledge: and such knowledge in the theological (especially mariological), exegetical, and mystical fields, that if it is not infused I do not know how a poor, sick woman could acquire and master it, even if she was endowed with a signal intelligence. I find in her the charism of prophecy in the proper sense of a voice through which Valtorta exhorts, encourages and consoles in the name of God and, at rare times, elucidates the predictions of the Lord. I find in her doctrine: and doctrine such as is sure; it embraces almost all fields of revelation. Hence, it is multiple, immediate, luminous. Notwithstanding that at times some doubt about it may graze my mind, in thinking of the complexity of this doctrine I say to myself: I must think better of it; this opinion of the fortunate visionary is still possible.
My doubts revolve especially around what Valtorta says about Original Sin; about the call of the first Apostles, which seems to me in contradiction with the Gospel of St. John; about some points in the Discourse of Jesus on Tabor after the Resurrection and on the hill in the vicinity of Nazareth; about Jesus' reported affirmation of being God, the Son of God and the Messiah. What if such declarations on the part of the Lord were quite true, as Ebionism, born right in Palestine, explains them? and as does Gnosticism?
Certainly it is not a question of insuperable difficulties; I only say that I have not yet succeeded in surmounting them.
And the Messianic secret (especially in the Gospel of Mark), how could it agree with the very frequent assertions of Jesus that are read in the Poem of Valtorta?
Enlighten me, Lord, because I want to pass that little bit of life that remains to me in knowing You always more. Enlighten me, because Your servant wants to present himself to his King adorned with light.
Literary, Exegetical, Theological Features
The Poem of the Man-God impresses me always more from the literary, exegetical, and theological point of view. As to the literary, there is no need to have recourse to preternatural gifts; the extraordinary intelligence and very acute sensitivity of Valtorta is enough to explain this Work. However, even on this point one need not forget that the Writer did not follow the chronological sequence of the life of Jesus, but that of the visions which Jesus showed her.
Concerning Valtorta's exegesis, there would be enough to write a book. Here I limit myself to reaffirming that I find no other works of eminent scripture scholars which, like Valtorta's Poem, complete and clarify the Canonical Gospels so naturally, so spontaneously, with such liveliness. In these latter there is continual talk of crowds, of miracles, and we have some outlines of the Discourses of the Lord. In the Poem of the Man-God, however, the crowds move, shout, are agitated; the miracles, you would say, are seen; the Discourses of the Lord, even the most difficult in their conciseness, become of solar clarity.
And what makes me marvel the more is that Valtorta never falls into theological error; on the contrary, she renders the mysteries revealed more easy for the reader, transposing them into a popular and modern language.
Certainly I am not convinced of the explanation of Original Sin, of the Calling of the first Apostles, of the identification of the Magdalene with Mary of Bethany—although on this point I have almost surrendered as an exegete—of the chronology of the life of Jesus....; but I cannot prove that the opinions followed by Valtorta in her Poem are erroneous. It could be that I am myself mistaken, and with me, many others. [ ! ]
Whoever reads this Work after the articles and monographs of so many modern followers of Formgeschicte [Form Criticism] and Redktionsgeschichte [Redaction Criticism], breathes at last the atmosphere of the Gospel, and almost becomes (he may also be one of the number—but always the more fortunate—of bultmannian exegetes), he almost becomes, I say, one of the crowd which follows the Master.
Gifts of nature and mystical gifts harmoniously joined together, explain this masterpiece of Italian religious literature, and perhaps I should say this masterpiece of literature of the Christian world.
The Figure of Mary
The figure, the virtues, the mission of the Madonna have been and are described by many of the holy, wise and devoted; and yet no one does it with the simplicity of Maria Valtorta in her Poem of the Man-God.
Valtorta has seen and heard; the others, for the most part, have only thought and meditated. But what surprises me the more is the sure vision of the gifts of Mary most holy.
The Apostles had to know the fullness of Revelation..., a fullness which the Church reached in a continual progression under the action of the Holy Spirit.
The dogmas which the Church goes on defending in the course of centuries —especially the Marian dogmas—are a solemn affirmation of the faith of the Apostles. Valtorta has been plunged again into the tender, moving, spontaneous faith of the Apostles, especially of St. John.
Reply to a Critic
Civiltà Cattolica 1961 (I do not remember the number of the Periodical) gave a judgment negative as ever on the Poem of the Man-God. For the critic of this eminent Review, Valtorta is a deluded dreamer, and her Work is "pseudo-religious," not immune from a subtle sensualism, because a swarm of women accompany Jesus. Besides, it is anti-historical because of the length of the Discourses of the Master which openly contrast with the strong conciseness of the Gospel Discourses.
It seems however that with the passing of the years, so severe a judgment as this should be blunted.
In three announcements given on Vatican Radio, Fr. Virginio Rotondi is completely favorable to the Poem. And justifiably, I think. To make of Maria Valtorta a "deluded dreamer" seems to me unjust. I know of no other deluded people or hysterics who have spoken thus of Jesus. Does the critic of Civiltà Cattolica know any?
The word "deluded" with which Maria Valtorta is rewarded by this critic of Civiltà Cattolica is equivalent to "hysteric". Now if there is any sickness to be excluded from the Valtortian phenomenon, it is precisely hysteria. It is known that the visions which comprise the life of the Lord do not follow a historical or chronological order. The chronological sequence is the work of the redactor or redactors who, even in this, followed the order indicated by the Revealer: the Lord. It is also known that at times the visionary expected one vision, and instead, another was granted her. It is known, finally, that in establishing a comparison between the writings of hysterics and those of Valtorta, and by availing oneself also of graphological examination, the phenomenon of hysteria in Maria Valtorta is to be absolutely excluded. Not that it is easy to explain Valtorta's visions, but certainly there is no question of the illusions of a hysteric.
The critic of C. Cattolica sees a "subtle sensualism" suffused in the Poem of the Man-God because, according to this Work, Jesus is followed by a swarm of women. This fact cannot be denied, but there are other facts which the critic does not recall, and that is that Jesus is also followed by a swarm of children, of male disciples, of old men, of friends, the poor, sinners, the sick, and of pagans. But then what does the illustrious critic mean by "subtle sensualism"? This expression seems to me in obvious contrast with all those holy, loving thoughts, those sweet and pleasing sentiments which this Work awakes in the heart of readers.
The Mercy of the Lord in the Poem is never separated from the demands of the Divine Justice, as also all the revelations—which He makes—not only do not contradict the Gospel, but harmonize perfectly with the economy of the Faith in which those saved should live, and which constitutes the framework of the whole Bible and especially of the New Testament. Therefore I cannot accept the accusation of "subtle sensualism" made toward this Work.
Jesus appears there as the Friend: the one and only Friend, I would say, of man; but always as Son of the "Father of immense majesty", of the "Just Father", of the "Holy Father", of the Father of Mercy.
Perhaps at first reading the case of Mary Magdalene could seem an exception. But when the pages consecrated to this seraphic soul are reread attentively, it can be ascertained that the exception does not exist.
The Poem, when completed, makes us better understand the Gospel, but it does not contradict it. I still do not know how to explain to myself, and perhaps I will never know, how the Lord had ever shown His earthly life to a soul of the 20th Century, but I believe in the Love which can do all. And I think also that this Omnipotent Love never asked such a sacrifice of a poor, sick woman for herself alone, but asked it for all the faithful, at least for those who believe in the charisma diffused in His Church by the Spirit, the Head of Christ.
The critic of Civiltà Cattolica also affirms that the Poem of the Man-God is not a source of the true religion because it is crammed with "pseudo-religiosity". Certainly the Poem does not, cannot, substitute for the New Testament and the living Magisterium of the Church. But it is nevertheless a book full of biblical thought and instruction of the Catholic Church. The term "pseudo-religiosity" is calumnious.
There is no pseudo-religiosity in the works of St, Gertrude, St. Teresa, in the Meditations on the Life of Christ of Fr. John of Calvoli, in The Mystical City of God of Ven. Mary of Agreda, in the writings of St. Charles of Sezze.... And likewise, I do not find it either in the Poem. Rather, I find in it a living and complete exposition of almost all Catholic doctrine and morality. But what makes me love it more is that the Poem itself pushes the reader to read the Bible with love and humility, and to listen with love and humility to the teaching of Holy Mother Church.
The Discourses of the Lord
In the Poem of the Man-God the Discourses of Jesus are exceedingly long, and contrast with the sapiential brevity of those preserved for us in the Gospels; this is another point that the critic of Civiltà Cattolica makes on this Work.
But the judgment of the distinguished Review seems to me unfounded. The Gospels report the Discourses of the Lord not in their entirety, but in their substance; at times they only give the subject matter. All the Words of the Lord reported in the four Gospels can be conveniently recited in less than six hours. Now it is unthinkable that the Divine Master, following in the wake of the Prophets and even of His contemporary Rabbis, had not spoken at greater length as regards the manner of structuring His Discourses. What St. John says at the end of his Gospel ("the whole world could not contain the books to be written!" —Jn 21:25), is valid not only for the actions of the Lord, but also for His Words.
The Gospel for Today
Certainly in the time of His mortal life, Jesus did not speak with those theological terms that came later, nor perhaps did He develop the Heavenly richness of His Word as appears in the Poem of the Man-God, that is, as He made His beloved Maria Valtorta see and hear It.
How is this fact explained? I answer thus: After twenty centuries, Jesus repeats and explains His Gospel by availing Himself of all the theological terminology of His Church, so as to tell us that Her teaching is already found implicitly in His Gospel—M. Pouget would have said: equivalently—and that this teaching is none other than the authoritative and infallible explanation which She gives and She alone can give, because guided and illumined by the Holy Spirit.
As to what concerns these truths, e.g., the Most Holy Eucharist, the dignity and mission of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesus already spoke during His life more clearly than the Church has done for centuries, so that the dogmatic progress for these and other truths is a return to the fullness of their Source.
Varied Reactions to the Poem
Finally, I observe that the Work of Valtorta is indirectly a proof of the historicity of the Gospels: they are, yes, a catechism, a kerigma [proclamation], but based upon the martyria [testimony] of witnesses chosen and approved by God. Quite different than Formgeschichte [Form Criticism]!
The effectiveness of the Word of God is conditioned by the quality of the terrain in which it falls. Man has the dreadful gift of liberty through which he can say "No" even to God!
Keeping in mind the parable of the sower, the liberty of man, and my own persuasion that the Poem of the Man-God is the Work of Jesus first and of Maria Valtorta next, the reaction of readers before this Work is expressed thus:
The Work of the Poem meets: distracted readers, honest readers, pious readers, critical and hypocritical readers....
The theologian and exegete should be at the same time among both the honest and the critical readers.
Discourses on the Decalogue for Today
The Discourses of Jesus in the plain at "Clear Water" [M. Valtorta, The Poem of the Man-God, II] are the explanation of the Decalogue. Through them and according to His purpose manifested always more often, Jesus intended to bring the Law back to its pristine fullness, freeing it from human superfluities. These Discourses do not follow the order of the Commandments, but respond to particular needs of some of the persons present, needs known to the Lord alone, inasmuch as He is not only the Son of Man, but also the Son of God.
This intimate contact with souls, be they in sin or desirous of salvation, whether men or women, spouses betrayed or mothers tortured by the conduct of their sons, give to the Words of the Lord a living, present, throbbing tone even today.
In the dismal plain of "Clear Water" between Jericho and Ephraim, in the gloomy days of November and December at the close of the first year of His public life, the Lord did His first great sowing: He sowed the Word which does not pass away and does not die.
To what point are the Words of the Lord reported by Maria Valtorta authentic? Well: I have not succeeded in persuading myself that the visionary has invented or added her own. No. She reproduces what she hears and as she hears it.
But on the other hand, no one could deny that there is a translation of the Word of the Lord into the language of the Church of today, that is, into the rich and multiform language of our Theology, just as it was formed through and after so many centuries of polemics, discussions and preaching.
Who has done this transposing which is, then, twofold, inasmuch as from 1943 to 1947, Jesus spoke in Italian, while in the years of His mortal life on this earth He spoke in Aramaic, in Greek, and perhaps sometimes in Latin? And above all since in speaking to Valtorta He adopted our modern theological language? It can only be Jesus Himself. And He did so, I think, either to make us see that the teaching of His Church is nothing but the declaration of His own Words, or to engrave His Gospel in the heart of our contemporaries.
As the Discourses at "Clear Water" explain the Law, so the Discourse on the Mountain constitutes a step forward: it is the perfection of the Law, whether by referring to the intention of the Supreme Divine Lawgiver, or by meditating on it in the light of the Incarnation and imminent Redemption.
This double series of Discourses is completed by the Conversations of Jesus with the Apostles, by His polemics in the Temple and at Jerusalem or on the roads of Palestine, and finally, by His gracious, Heavenly confidences with the Apostles, the men and women Disciples, and especially with His Most Holy Mother.... What a work, this Poem! No, it is not a poor human work. There is in it the Finger of God.
Some Surprises and Doubts
In the Poem of the Man-God, Mammon is often equivalent to Satan; it is another name for Satan. Now I find that even Theodore Zahn, in his commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew has, for philological reasons, arrived at the same conclusion.
The Poem reserves for us many such surprises—which confirms the fact that we have before us, not the reveries of a sick woman, but rather the affidavit of a witness: only a witness, certainly, but one so worthy of faith.
This sick woman, with only the natural gift of a facile pen, though one cultivated also by studies of medieval literature, in less than four years writes a Work of ten volumes in which she brings to life again the religious, political and cultural ambient of the first century, and what frightens the specialists themselves all the more, she recounts in proper order—but this order is recognized and established after the visions have ceased—she recounts in proper order the life of Christ, completing the Gospels without ever contradicting them.
At times, it is true, some doubt has remained, and still remains, about the manner of explaining, evolving and supplementing the Gospel account; but it is always a matter of exegetical questions or knotty problems which are presented with different interpretations.
After the Gospels, I do not know of another life of Jesus which can be compared with the Poem, just as I do not know any other lives of St. Peter or St. John which make the characters of the two holy Apostles so living. I cite these two because there is something about them in the Scriptures, while of the other Apostles we have almost only the names. Now, all the characters are always so well delineated and so consistent with themselves, that we find ourselves before a dilemma: either the Writer is a genius of Shakespearean or Manzonian stamp, or she has actually seen.
I opt for—rather I am compelled to choose—the second horn of the dilemma.
As to the Mariology of this Work, I know of no other books which possess a Mariology so fascinating and convincing, so firm and so simple, so modern and at the same time so ancient, even while being open to its future advances.
On this point the Poem even, or rather above all, enriches our knowledge of the Madonna and irresistibly also our poor love, our languid devotion for Her.
In treating the mystery of the Compassion of Mary, it seems to me that Valtorta, by her breadth, depth and psychological sounding of the Heart of the Virgin, surpasses even St. Bonaventure and St. Bernardine. Could she do so without having supernaturally seen and heard?
The Autobiogrophy of Maria Valtorta departs from other similar works, even if written by saints. It is powerful and original to the point of making me think often of that of B. Cellini from its style: robust, lively and spontaneous.
It is moreover a dramatic book, because the drama stands out in the nature of things and facts: the drama is born, I would say, from the character of Valtorta's mother who, unfortunately, had little or nothing of the heart of a wife or mother. The description, so lively, of this egotistical woman weighs on the reader and makes him read with pain these pages of her daughter, of that daughter who becomes the "voice" of Jesus and who writes The Poem of the Man-God. What a difference of character between mother and daughter! And what sort of heroism, and how much, in Maria. What a trial, what crosses, what martyrdom of the heart!
The Valtorta family is completely opposite to that of St. Francis. In the latter, the father, Peter of Bernardone, does not understand his son, who instead was always understood by his mother, the gracious madonna Pica. In the Valtorta family, however, the father loves and understands his daughter, whom her mother does not understand at all and makes her always suffer.
The heart of this woman is still more gloomy than that of the Princefather of the nun of Monza, and one is left so grieved by it in reading these pages because they have been written—naturally in obedience—always by her daughter.
The style is vigorous and very lively, copious and so colorful that it perhaps surpasses that of the Poem of the Man-God itself. These are pages rich with thought and psychological soundings which help us to understand the spiritual physiognomy of the mouthpiece of Jesus: Maria Valtorta.