Maria Valtorta, Her Life and Work

written by Bishop Roman Danylak

    I have included in my website an article that I had written some years ago in defense of Maria Valtorta and her narrative: The Poem of the Man God. To introduce those who may not have heard of Maria Valtorta I include a brief historical and biographical introduction to Maria, excerpted from an introduction by Bro. Chrysostom, Trappist monk: Maria Valtorta and her epic narrative The Poem  of  the Man – God. I recommend the website of Bro. Chrysostom and the numerous articles that he has included for everyone, as an introduction to her writings and to the many problematic issues associated with the name, work and mission of Valtorta. ( ) Valtorta is one of the most outstanding manifestations of the prophetic charism in our own times. Many consider her to be one of the greatest mystics in the history of the Church.

Maria Valtorta

    Born originally in Caserta, Italy, March 14, 1897, she lived successively at Faenza in Romagna, in Milan, Monza and Florence, due either to relocation of the family home or the requirements of her own schooling. Eventually, however, the Valtorta family settled at Viareggio in October, 1924, where, except for a short period in 1944, Maria lived from then on. But in April of that year, a forced evacuation of Viareggio due to aerial bombardments of the War compelled her to relocate to St. Andrew in Compito, in the province of Lucca. She returned to Viareggio in December of that same year, where she remained until her death on October 12, 1961.

Victim for Christ

    As a member of the Third Order Franciscans, as well as of the Third Order Servites of Mary to which her spiritual director, Fr. Romuald Migliorini, O.S.M. belonged, Maria seems to have been a pious Catholic and lover of the Church from her early childhood. This was perhaps due in part, we may suspect, to a fortunate compensatory reaction to the callous and irreligious attitude of her despotic mother, who tried in vain to indoctrinate Valtorta with her own views. Maria's mother was jealously possessive of her, and apparently deemed Maria as little more than a servant to care for her in her often imaginary illnesses. Thus, she twice succeeded in breaking up two successive relationships with young men with whom Maria was in love.

    But then, in 1920, at the age of 23, Maria was attacked in the street by a delinquent who struck her in the back with an iron bar, confining her to bed for three months and presaging her life's mission of complete immolation as a victim soul for Christ.

    Inspired by the autobiography of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, she had offered herself in 1925, as a victim to Merciful Love. In 1930, having already taken private vows of virginity, poverty and obedience, she further offered herself as a victim to Divine Justice, realizing that her mission was "to expiate, to suffer and to love." The Lord soon took her at her word. Not only did her mother's tyranny and religious indifference cause Maria increasing mental duress and spiritual sufferings, but in 1934 her own deteriorating health finally 'nailed' Maria to her bed never again to leave it.

    Sufficiently well-educated, industrious, intelligent and gifted, Maria seemed also to be a born writer with a facility and fluency in descriptive writing. Having received premonitions of the gravity of the times in which she was living, she eventually received from the Lord a pressing invitation and request to place at His disposal her faculties and gifts, so that He might use them as He wished for a renewed and modern-day presentation of His Gospel. As suffering was a great part of her mission also, the success of this Work would thus be the fruit of her sufferings -- His Cross, the Sign that always marks His authentic Communications:

“You are a nothing” He said to her. “But I have called you to this mission. I formed you for this, watching over even your mental formation. I have given to you an uncommon faculty for composition, because I needed to make you the illustrator of My Gospel.... I have crucified you in heart and flesh for this. So that you could be free of any bondage of affection, and would be the mistress of many more hours of time than anyone who is healthy could have. I have suppressed in you even the physical needs of nourishment, of sleep, and of rest, reducing them to an insignificant minimum, for this.
In your body, tormented and consumed by five grave and painful major illnesses, and by another ten minor ones, I have increased your energy in order to bring you to be able to do that which a healthy and well-nourished person could not do, for this. And I would wish this to be understood as an authentic sign. But this arid and perverse generation understands nothing.
...You are a nothing. But into this, your "nothing," I have entered and said: "See, speak, write." That "nothing" has become My instrument.”
    Thus it was that, Maria Valtorta began to receive a series of consistently coherent, progressive Visions and Dictations from 1943 until 1953. These Christ directed her to write in notebooks that would form the astounding literary output of this simple, pious woman -- an output that would eventually total some 15,000 handwritten pages. On ordinary school notebook paper supported on her knees with cardboard as she sat propped up in bed, she recorded from 1944 to 1947-- the most intense period of her literary activity -- the Visions and Dictations which would constitute her major Work with which we are concerned here:Il Poema Dell' Uomo-Dio: The Poem of the Man-God,the Work that accounts for nearly two-thirds of her total writings. Translated in whole or in part as of 2000 into French, Spanish, English, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Croatian, Korean, Tamil, Swahili, Slovak, Polish, Hungarian, Dutch and Malayalam and Ukrainian, the English translation of Valtorta's great Opus made its debut in the United States in 1986, under the title: The Poem of the Man-God, and is now complete in five volumes. Translated from the critical Italian edition published and edited by Valtorta's exclusive publisher, Emilio Pisani, the readable English includes a few abridged selections of the many explanatory and doctrinal footnotes appended to the second Italian edition by her principal commentator, Fr. Corrado Berti, O.S.M., approved for publication in 1962 by the Holy Office. The editor Emilio Pisani has completed a revised third Italian edition of this work.
    Whenever Valtorta would write, it was done all at a single stroke without revision or correction, and without rereading what she had written -- often not even understanding the things she wrote. Sometimes in the text she will address her spiritual director, Fr. Migliorini, O.S.M., without naming him, a fact of which the reader is advised by a footnote in the 2nd Italian edition but not, unfortunately, in the English. After completing some pages, Maria would send them to Fr. Migliorini both for his evaluation, and to type them. He had offered her his service as typist in order to put the manuscripts into a more readable form, having soon become aware of the Divine treasure he was being granted to share. Indeed, Maria always steadfastly insisted that the Work was not hers, but was of Divine origin from beginning to end. She was but the "mouthpiece", the secretary or feeble "pen" of the Lord.

    Nor did the Lord spare her. Her Visions and Dictations would often come when she would least have wanted them: in the midst of excruciating physical sufferings, or awakening her from the fitful sleep she could sometimes manage, or even during aerial bombardments of the War which at one time necessitated her evacuation to Compito -- the Master would nonetheless require her to write down immediately what she saw or was told by Him. In addition, He would often give her precise directions as to the sequential arrangement and redaction of the Visions or Dictations with a view to their eventual publication and diffusion.

    What then is The Poem of the Man-God? First of all, it is not a poem in the usual meaning of that term. It is rather an epic narrative of poetic beauty: a great Life of Christ. But unlike so many other portrayals of the Life of Christ produced by man, this one claims to be the work of Christ Himself. The first volume begins with the Conception of Mary; the last volume culminates with her Assumption into Heaven. Between these two events, the Work encompasses the principal facts and deeds of Christ's life and Mary's, along with the attendant circumstances and personages that surrounded them. In the critical second and third Italian editions, the Valtorta Opus therefore comprises ten large volumes, most averaging 500 pages or more. (The English edition, by using smaller print and omitting Footnotes, compresses these ten volumes into only 5 volumes, each of around 800 pages. Thus each English volume contains two volumes of the Italian edition.)

    The Poem, (order from then, is the Gospel: the Good News of Jesus Christ as it was experienced and proclaimed at the beginning. As such it is nothing "new,", nothing that would basically modify the present economy of salvation, as Rahner expresses it. And yet it is new: a new look at old truths for twentieth-century man: a gift from Him Who knows how to bring forth from His Treasures things at once old and new.

    With Valtorta's permission, the Master employed her human faculties and "recorded" His life in them, much as a video camera on its receptive video tape. We who read the Work "replay" that tape, so to speak, and are thus made virtual eye-witnesses of the Gospel at its very beginnings. Through Valtorta's fluent pen, we are able to step through a "time-warp," as it were, twenty centuries into the past, to find ourselves walking with the apostles and first disciples of the new Galilean Rabbi. We see His miracles: not only those recorded in the Gospels along with their surrounding circumstances, but many others not recorded there, yet in complete continuity with the Gospel's miracles and accomplished with the same sobriety and salvific purpose. Nothing here of the bizarre, sensational miracles found in the apocryphal gospels.

    In this "video-replay" we also listen to, even "see," the Master's parables: again, not only a more ample and probably original version of those recorded in the Gospels, but many other beautiful parables created with the consummate ease that only the Master of parables could have. And we hear Him interpret them according to His exegetical method in the Gospel for the parable of the sower, a method He there implied was the key to understanding all the parables.

    Through Valtorta's eyes we are admitted into intimate glimpses of the first model and exemplar of Christian life lived in community -- doubtless the inspiration for the later life in common described in chapters two and four of Acts, and which in its turn would beget subsequent forms of monastic and religious community life. At a small place near the Jordan, about nine miles northeast of Jericho, called Acqua Speciosa or "Beautiful Water" in the Italian (rendered "Clear Water" in the English), Jesus lives with His apostles in a small servants' quarters loaned to Him by Lazarus of Bethany at the beginning of His public ministry. It was indeed a community life in common, with Christ, the Master and Superior, assigning each apostle his own task and responsibility in the household. It also functioned as a kind of mission base from which Christ would send the apostles forth into the surrounding districts or hamlets to proclaim that the long-awaited Messiah was in their midst, and to inform the people there of what day and time He would come to speak to them and heal their sick.

    Through Valtorta's eyes we also see the different temperaments, strengths and character defects of the apostles, particularly of Judas Iscariot. We listen in on some of the Master's moving confrontations with Judas, trying to forestall the tragic end He foresaw for this vain, proud, lascivious and arrogant man in quest of purely human glory. The character traits of Judas, portrayed in many episodes, figure prominently in the Work and merit a study in itself.

    Again, through Valtorta's pen we see Christ's persistence at the beginning of His public ministry, in seeking out the twelve shepherds who were originally present at His birth in Bethlehem. Though He learns that some by then had died, He succeeds in finding the remaining ones, who were to become His first evangelizers. Among those remaining, we discover that it was the shepherd Tobias -- he had by then changed his name to Matthias -- who was subsequently to be chosen to replace Judas among the twelve apostles, as related in the first chapter of Acts.

    In the Poem then, we have a "fleshing out" with so many more of the rich details that surely surrounded the "bare bones"-- the skeletal essentials of the Gospels as we have received them. And that there was so much more besides those essentials, St. John himself reports in the final verse of his Gospel:

    And the reason for so vast and voluminous a Work? To what purpose such a cost of labor and words -- and sufferings -- if we already possess the essentials in the Gospels, however skeletal?

    In the final chapter of Volume Ten of the Italian edition, the Master Himself gives an ample reply to this question. As often occurs throughout the Work, if there is any need for clarification of a particular Vision or episode, or its existential meaning for us today, it is immediately followed by a Commentary dictated to Valtorta by Christ or by Mary. So too for this question of the purpose of The Poem. It is answered at length by a Dictation from Christ as a final "Farewell" of the Work, far too lengthy to quote here in full. But by way of a brief answer to that question now, we can listen to the Master's answer to Valtorta from an earlier part of the Work:

“Do you know, Maria,... what I am doing by showing you the Gospel? I am making a stronger attempt to bring men to Me.... With so many books dealing with Me and which — touch them up, retouch them, change, embellish them — have [nonetheless] become unreal, I want to give those who believe in Me a vision brought back to the truth of My mortal days.... I will no longer confine Myself to words. They tire men and detach them. It is a fault, but it is so. I will have recourse now to Visions also of My Gospel, and I will explain them to make them more attractive and clear.
I give you the comfort of seeing them. I give every one the possibility of wanting to know Me. And if it be of no avail and they, like cruel children, throw away the gift without understanding its value, you will be left with My present, and they with My indignation. I shall be able once again to repeat the ancient reproach: "We played for you and you would not dance; we sang dirges and you would not weep."
Ecclesiastical Approbations

In 1947, Fr. Migliorini, OSM, together with Valtorta's future theological censor, Fr. Conrad Berti, OSM, his confrere in the Servites of Mary, succeeded in having the first complete Italian typescript of The Poem of the Man-God submitted to the then reigning Pope Pius XII, for his evaluation. After personally reading the Work and acquainting himself with Valtorta's Visions and Dictations, Pius XII granted a special audience to both Fathers Migliorini and Berti and their Prior, Father Andrew M. Cecchin, OSM, on February 26, 1948.  At that audience, he directed them to publish the Work without omitting anything, not even the explicit assertions reporting "Visions" and "Dictations":

Publish this work as it is. There is no need to give an opinion on its origin, whether it be extraordinary or not: whoever reads it will understand.
    [These days] we hear of so many visions and revelations. I am not saying that all of them would be true, but there can be some of them that are authentic.
    Because of its obvious importance as an endorsement of the authenticity of Valtorta's Work by the Supreme Head of the Church, recent critics of the Poem now attempt to impugn this Papal audience as a "fabrication" of its promotional literature. The fact that the Pope did grant this audience, however, is historically documented. Indeed, no less a personage than Edouard Cardinal Gagnon, writing to the Maria Valtorta Research Center from the Vatican on October 31, 1987, referred to Pope Pius XII's action as:
the kind of official Imprimatur granted before witnesses by the Holy Father in 1948.
    As a result of this "Official Imprimatur" of the Supreme Authority of the Church, Fr. Conrad Berti and Valtorta's publisher, Emilio Pisani, felt authorized to bring out the first Italian edition of her Poem of the Man-God in four volumes from 1956-1959. However this was done as an anonymous work at Valtorta's request, and without the theological annotations of later editions to clarify ambiguous passages. It was perhaps for these reasons that in 1959, the Holy Office, apparently ignorant of the Official Imprimatur granted earlier by Pius XII, thus invalidly placed the Poem on the former Index of Forbidden Books. This was in effect to overturn the hierarchical structure of the Church, while at the same time violating Canon Law which outlaws any such reversal of a decision of the Supreme Head of the Church by a subsidiary Vatican Congregation, or even by appeal to an Ecumenical Council.
    This censure was perhaps due also to the Holy Office's ignorance of the favorable impressions made by Valtorta's Poem on Cardinal Joseph Pizzardo, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, and expressed by him in a spirit of affection and of friendship to Father Conrad Berti. However, the Cardinal Secretary's favorable views were apparently never communicated to his subordinates or their successors in the Holy Office.

    Nevertheless, with courageous hope Valtorta's publisher and editor, Emilio Pisani, together with Fr. Berti, "found a system for resuming the publication of the Work with such criteria as would not exclude the respect due toward the authority of the Church." Moreover, after the first volumes of the 10-volume 2nd Edition had already gone out, now under Valtorta's name and with Fr. Berti's theological annotations, he was summoned anew to the Holy Office in December, 1961, where he was able, in an atmosphere of serene dialogue, to relate the previous words and approbation of Pius XII of 1948, and to exhibit the favorable certifications of other authorities. Among these were three consultants to the Holy Office itself: Father (later Cardinal) Augustine Bea, S.J., Pius XII's confessor and Rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute; Msgr. Alfonsus Carinci, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation of Rites; and Fr. Gabriele Roschini, O.S.M., theologian and Mariologist, whose certifications favorably impressed Cardinal Pizzardo, then Secretary of the Holy Office.

    Required to deliver a report and some documentation, Fr. Berti returned four more times to the Holy Office in January of 1962, and was always able to deal with its Vice-Commissioner, Father Giraudo, O.P. From Fr. Giraudo he finally obtained a sentence which effectively repealed the 1959 censure on the Index. Father Giraudo stated: "We have no objection to your publishing this 2nd Edition," concluding with: "We will see how the Work [the Poem] is welcomed."

    As noted above, Valtorta's Poem had previously been submitted to several notable ecclesiastical personages among whom were, e.g., Msgr. Alfonso Carinci, then Secretary of the Congregation of Sacred Rites who, in 1946, stated:

There is nothing therein which is contrary to the Gospel. Rather, this work, a good complement to the Gospel, contributes towards a better understanding of its meaning.... Our Lord's discourses do not contain anything which in any way might be contrary to His spirit.
    Later, in 1951, Msgr. Hugo Lattanzi, dean of the Faculty of Theology at the Lateran Pontifical University and consultant to the Holy Office noted:
The author...could not have written such an abundant amount of material...without being under the influence of a supernatural power.
    Again in 1952, Msgr. (later Cardinal) Augustine Bea, S.J., Rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute and also consultant to the Holy Office, was asked to evaluate the exegetical methodology of some of the many commentaries on scriptural texts contained in Valtorta's Work. In responding to this request he stated:
Some years ago [before being named consultant of the Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office], I read several fascicles of the Work written by the lady, Maria Valtorta, attending particularly in my reading to the exegetical, historical, archeological and topographical parts. As far as its exegesis, I did not find any prominent errors in the fascicles examined by me. Further, I had been much impressed by the fact that her archeological and topographical descriptions were propounded with notable exactness. Concerning some particulars less exactly expressed, the author, questioned by me through an intermediary, had modestly given some satisfactory explanations. Here and there some scenes appeared to me too diffusely described, even with many vivid colors. But generally speaking, the reading of the Work is not only interesting and pleasing, but truly edifying and -- for people less well informed on the mysteries of the life of Jesus -- instructive.’
    Turning now to witnesses in the field of science, two noteworthy examples among many are illuminating for their evaluation of the Poem. In 1952, Dr. Victor Tredici, geologist, mineralogist, and president of the National Miners' Association of Italy, emphasized
‘..the inexplicable precision of [Valtorta's] geographical, panoramic, topographical, geological and mineralogical knowledge of Palestine -- inexplicable, because Valtorta had never gone to the Holy Land, nor did she have access to the indispensable documentation that would have furnished her with possible sources for such accurate knowledge.’
    That same year of 1952, some observations were also offered from the perspective of medical science in the person of Dr. Nicholas Pende, endocrinologist of world renown and consultant to the Sacred Congregation of Rites. Dr. Pende declared his great astonishment at the way in which Valtorta, in depicting Christ's spasms on the Cross:
‘..describes a phenomenon which only a few informed physicians would know how to explain, and she does it in an authentically medical style.’
    And indeed, for anyone who has read the complete Work of Valtorta's Poem of the Man-God with an open mind and heart, it is abundantly clear that no mere human being, however gifted -- least of all one in the deteriorated physical condition of Valtorta -- could have written such a Work by human resources alone. A Work of such magnitude and sublime doctrine, written over so long a period and yet with such coherence and consistency both with itself and with the Gospels, surely could only have been conceived and achieved by the Divine Mind and Divine Love: the Good Shepherd seeking again His strayed sheep, man, bewildered and lost in the miasmic mazes and twisted thickets of the twentieth century.

    Parenthetically we might also note here that besides her great Opus, The Poem of the Man-God, Valtorta has other voluminous writings now in the process of translation. Among these, and of particular importance, are her so-called Notebooks for the years 1943, for 1944, and for 1945-1950

Back to index