In Defense of The Poem

Original Article Published in "A Call to Peace, August/September 1992, Vol. 3, No. 4, published monthly by the MIR-A-CALL Center, 1515 North Town East Blvd., Ste 138, Mesquite, TX 75150

written by The Most Rev. Roman Danylak

Several months ago Fr. Philip Pavich, OFM, an American Croatian Franciscan priest stationed in Medjugorje, sent a circular letter to the Medjugorje fans, questioning the purported visions of Maria Valtorta and the subsequent book - The Poem of the Man-God, published in English in 5 volumes (10 volumes in Italian). Eventually, I became aware of a plethora of similar views by a variety of authors, priests, concerned Catholics, conservative faithful, and not only radical or liberal Catholics, who would reject such visions and revelations out of hand. My initial reaction to this long circular letter was one of apprehension. I went back to the sources: the text of The Poem of the Man-God, in the Italian original and the English translation, to their extensive introductions, foot-notes and appendices, to the decree of the Sacred Congregation for Doctrine of Faith on the abolition of the index of forbidden books; and especially the sections that caused Fr. Pavich such concern. I reviewed once again the major work of Fr. Gabriel Roschini: The Virgin Mary in the Writings of Maria Valtorta.

    Reflecting on the areas of concern in the light of the difficulties raised by Fr. Pavich, and the plethora of writers to Catholic newsletters or weeklies, like The Wanderer, it soon became evident to me that all the reservations of Fr. Pavich and other articlists stem from their interpretation of the hearsay comments and interpretations of the episodes in The Poem of the Man-God, and especially their misreading of the notice that the first edition of The Poem had been placed on the index of forbidden books. Not one of these writers, however, took it upon himself to study the decree, and still less to study in depth The Poem of the Man-God, and the statements of scholars and Church authorities and the good things that reputable theologians had to say about The Poem of the Man-God.

    I shall address myself to the major issues at length. The above-mentioned writers were not even aware of the considerable literature of the fifties, the favorable statements of the contemporaries of Maria Valtorta, and especially the theological study and scholarly commentary of Fr. Corrado Berti, a Servite theologian, to the second Italian edition of Il Poema dell'Uomo Dio -- The Poem of the Man-God.

    The principle objections of the censors, that had placed The Poem of the Man God on the index of forbidden books, were that the publishers of the first edition purporting to present private visions and revelations, had not submitted the work to prior ecclesiastical censorship, which is true. Further they accused the book of archaeological and geographical biblical inaccuracies, bad theology, foppish sentimentalism, etc., etc. Two Servite theologians, Fr. Corrado Berti, who prepared a scholarly theological and scriptural commentary to the second edition of The Poem, and Fr. Gabriel Roschini, a noted Mariologist, the author of The Virgin Mary in the Writing's of Maria Valtorta, attest to the orthodoxy of the Catholic faith, the factual accuracy of the descriptions of the biblical geography described in The Poem, and the profundity of theological insight in these writings. Fr. Roschini availed himself of the writings of Valtorta for his course on Mariology in the 1970's, and his course notes became the basis for his final and definitive book on Mariology, The Virgin Mary in the Writings of Maria Valtorta. Initially Fr. Roschini had been very standoffish to the writings of Valtorta. He had a change of heart, overcame his initial reserve, to discover an immense treasury of insight into the mystery of Mary. He comments in the introductions of this, his last book on Mary (p. 21 in the English translation).

    We read: "on January 6, 1960 the Osservatore Romano published an article about Il Poema dell 'Uomo Dio as well as a stern censure against it. Yet that same article frankly admitted that we can find in this work "lessons in Marian Theology which shows a complete knowledge of the later studies by present day specialists on the matter... These theological lessons are written in the very terms which a professor of our days would use..." And in a footnote, Fr. Roschini adds that these officials were not even aware of Pope Pius XII's declaration of February 26, 1948, during the special audience he had granted Fr. Berti and two witnesses Fr. Andrea M. Cecchini, Prior, and Fr. Romualdo Migliorini (all three theologians). (Cf. Osservatore Romano, Feb. 27, 1948) -- with the commendation: "Publish this work as is. There is no need to give an opinion on its origin, whether it be extraordinary or not."

 
    The subsequent editions, though likewise printed without the Nihil Obstat, were published after the index had been abrogated. But Fr. Pavich was aware only of the hearsay comment of Fr. T. Pervan to a statement attributed to Cardinal Ratzinger. Unfortunately, neither Fr. Pavich nor Fr. Pervan indicate their sources for this reference to the alleged statement of the Cardinal. Other writers also mention a response of Cardinal Ratzinger to queries of Cardinal Siri of Genoa; yet none provides accurate references, so that the readers could evaluate for themselves the thrust of Cardinal Ratzinger's response, if such there were.

 

    In reply to these objections I will simply quote and comment the text of the new decree and the public giving of notice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, published In Acta Apostolicae Sedis of 1966. I introduce the English translation of the Latin text of both documents, so that the readers may see for themselves the thrust of these two documents.
 
    The decree that abrogated the index of forbidden books, distinguishes between those books that were placed on the index because of their objectionable moral, theological and anti-ecclesial character, and other literature, as writings on private revelations or purported visions that were published without prior approval of ecclesiastical authorities. The intense wish of Maria Valtorta, who disclaimed any personal authorship of The Poem of the Man-God other than that she was called to be an amanuensis or recording secretary -- claiming that the writings were a gift from the Lord -- was that the Church should approve this work. One of her greatest crosses, was that this approval was never obtained, even though the final edition of the entire corpus of The Poem was published in compliance with the new rules established by the Holy See. Nor was she herself responsible for the first, nor for that matter the subsequent, publications. This was the work of zealous friends who wanted to share a good thing with the world.
 

    There was and is nothing morally, theologically or scripturally objectionable, nothing that is contrary to Church teaching or opposed to the authority of the Church, in Valtorta's works. This was the conclusion of the several authorities that I have adduced, as well, also, of the censors of her works who were responsible for the article in the Osservatore Romano of 1960.

 

    Secondly, Fr. Pavich takes issue with the title of the book: The Poem of the Man-God inferring that Christ should be more properly called the God-Man. I wish to refer to the work of Saint Alphonsus Ligouri on "The Passion and the Death of Jesus Christ." I quote from the 1983 English edition of the 1927 translation by Rev. Eugene Grimm, CSsR., which I have at hand. It will not be difficult to correlate the translation with the original work of Saint Alphonsus. Quoting from Saint Augustine, St. Alphonsus reverses the words of St. Augustine, 'Deus-Homo' , and writes: "Nothing is more salutary than to think daily on what the Man-God has endured for us." (p. 159). This name of Christ, the Man-God apparently is common Italian usage, L'Uomo-Dio'. Cardinal Pietro Parente, one of the foremost Italian theologians before and during Vatican II, a Secretary of the Holy Office under Card. Ottaviani, in his article on the Incarnate Word in Euntes Docete (1952) titles his treatise "Unit ontologica psicologica dell 'Uomo-Dio"; this expression is often found throughout his writings on Christology.

    Fr. Pavich claims his own authority as a former seminary professor for his personal views, yet he rejects the authorities adduced by the editors of The Poem, men reputed not only for their ecclesiastical scholarship, but for their authority in the Church. I shall cite only a few: Cardinal Augustine Bea, Archbishop Carinci, secretary of the Congregation for Saints, Mons. Ugo Lattanzi, Prof. Camillo Corsanego, consistorial advocate for the causes of saints; Frs. Corrado Berti, Romualdo Migliorini, Gabriel Roschini, all theologians or canonists and professors at Pontifical universities, and others. (Cf. Poema dell'Uomo Dio. 1986 edition, vol VII. appendix pp. 1865-1871; and vol X, note 65, pp. 369-370, for list of authorities supporting work of Maria Valtorta, and for a critical evaluation of the biblical and theological competency of her writings).

    I have studied The Poem in depth, not only in its English translation, but in the original Italian edition with the critical notes of Fr. Berti. I affirm their theological soundness, and I welcome the scholarship of Fr. Berti and his critical apparatus to the Italian edition of the works. I have further studied in their original Italian the Quaderni or notebooks of Maria Valtorta for the years from 1943 to 1950. And I want to affirm the theological orthodoxy of the writings of Maria Valtorta.

    Fr. Pavich alludes to two specific areas of concern. Firstly, the words of the Blessed Mother uttered in childhood: "I would also like to be a sinner, a big sinner, if I were not afraid of offending the Lord... Tell me, mummy, can one be a sinner out of love of God?"  (Poem.. I, p. 40. English translation). I seem to remember a similar comment by Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus. Her profound understanding of the Infinite Mercy of God which finds joy in forgiving sinners. And perhaps not too far from this is the plea of St. Paul: "I have great sadness and continuous sorrow in my heart. For I could wish to be anathema from Christ for the sake of my brethren who are my kinsmen according to the flesh..." . (Rom. 9:3)

    For me, Our Lady, with the wisdom of a child, is seeking to express her profound insight, as a child, into the infinite mercy and compassion of the Redeeming God, whose greatest joy is to forgive the repentant sinner. Whether she actually said such words or not, we'll never know for sure, barring another vision or revelation.

    The second refers to the apparently harsh response of Christ to His Mother, who brings His attention to the lack of wine and the subsequent changing of water into wine in Cana of Galilee. According to Maria Valtorta, Christ indicates that subsequent translators of Scripture omitted a key word. The words of Christ to His mother should read, according to Maria Valtorta: "Woman, what is there still between Me and you?" (John 2:4). The Italian original: "Donna, che vi e pi fra me e te?"  Various translators translate in various forms the enigmatic "Quid mihi et tibi, mulier?" in the Latin Vulgate, or the original Greek. The commentaries of the eastern Fathers and the western Doctors of the Church on these words fill many pages. The comment of Christ, according to Maria Valtorta (Poem, I, p. 283), implies that the word still (pi) was omitted by many translators. This would imply a correction to the text of Scriptures as we possess them, or the suggestion that the original Greek text may have included the Greek word for "pi." I was unable to consult a wider variety of sources to the Greek manuscripts, to find manuscripts with this still or "pi." Fr. Pavich takes exception to these words attributed by Valtorta to Christ. Scripture scholars will have to address themselves to the textual issue. Be that as it may, the explanation provided in The Poem of the Man-God is more satisfactory than the reams of writings of theologians and even the Fathers of the Church for centuries, not to speak of the offensive interpretations of Protestantism, as if Jesus were putting His Mother in her place. Fr. Roschini makes his own the interpretation of Maria Valtorta:

    This regards Jesus' response to His Mother at the wedding in Cana: "Woman, what is that to Me and to You?" Maria Valtorta quotes this passage as follows:

    "What is there still between Me and You?" The adverb "still" has been added. Valtorta writes as follows: "Jesus explains the meaning of the sentence to me. 'That "Still," which is omitted by many translators, is the keyword of the sentence and explains its true meaning. I was the Son, submissive to My Mother, up to the moment when the will of My Father told Me, that the hour had come when I was to be the Master. From the moment My mission started, I was no longer the Son submissive to My Mother, I was the Servant of God. My moral ties, with My Mother, were broken. They had turned into higher bonds, all of a spiritual nature. I always called Mary, My Holy "Mother." Our love suffered no interruptions, neither did it even cool down, nay, it was never so perfect as when I was separated from Her as by a second birth and She gave Me to the world and for the world, as the Messiah and Evangelizer. Her third sublime mystical maternity took place when She bore Me to the cross in the torture of Golgotha, and made Me the Redeemer of the world.
 
        .."What is there still between Me and You?" Before, I was Yours --only  Yours. You gave Me orders, and I obeyed You. I was "subject" to You. Now I belong to My Mission. Did I not say: "He, who lays his hand on the plow and looks back to bid farewell to those who are staying, is not fit for the Kingdom of God?" (Lk 9:6 1-62) I had laid My hand on the plow not to cut the ground with the plowshare, but to open the hearts of men and sow there the word of God. I was to take My hand away from the plow only when they would tear it away to nail it to the Cross and to open with My torturing nail My Father's heart, out of which forgiveness for mankind was to flow.
 
        That "still," forgotten by most, meant this: You were everything to Me, Mother, as long as I was only Jesus of Mary of Nazareth, and You are everything in My spirit; but since I became the expectant Messiah, I belong to  My Father. Wait for a little while and once My mission is over I will be, once again, entirely Yours. You will hold Me once again in your arms, as when I was a little child, and no one will ever again contend with You for your Son. Your Son will be considered as the disgrace of mankind; My mortal remains will be thrown at you, to bring on You the shame of being the mother of a criminal. After this you will have Me once again, triumphant, and finally you will have Me for ever when you are triumphant in Heaven. But now I belong to all these men. And I belong to the Father, Who sent Me to them'..., (Poema II, p.76).
    Whatever the truth about the word "still" may be, one thing I do agree with Fr. Pavich on is that these writings, like all accounts of private visions and revelations, remain in that category of private revelations; and the same holds true of all the writings of Maria Valtorta, as with the words and writings and testimony of other visionaries. And we are getting more and more of them. They must all be submitted to the authoritative judgment of the Church, which alone can judge with authority of their authenticity for the faithful. "Videant auctores. Videat Ecclesia."
 
    But at the same time I wish to underline that the history of the Church is a constant witness to these eruptions of Divine Mercy into the course of human and Church history, through the authoritative utterances of the Magisterium, the writings of mystics and saints, and also in a special way of visions and apparitions from heaven. Why should they stop now, especially when the world has entered into a crisis situation it has never experienced before? Fr. Roschini reviews the theological principles of private revelations, and establishes sound criteria by which we can discern their authenticity. I have included as a supplement the important points that he makes. I refer the reader to his extensive analysis given in his book on The Blessed Virgin Mary in the Writings of Maria Valtorta.
 
    Thirdly, the critics are disturbed by the accounts of Christ's intimacy with His Mother, and His personal relations to the women of the Gospel. I wish to remind the reader not only that we bear our treasures in earthen vessels; but also that we have forgotten what it means to be real men and real women in the state of original justice. Experiencing our fragility we have surrounded ourselves with so many caveats and precautions, or [else] have given ourselves to our animal sinfulness. Jesus is true God and true man, the very epitome not only of humanity but of manhood. His was a holy and wholesome relationship to womankind. I shall end these reflections with the words of Christ himself, according to Maria Valtorta (The Poem of the Man-God, vol 5, pp. 947-948), according to the vision and words she received April 27, 1948):
        I came... to reinstate in their truth the figures of the Son of Man and of Mary: true children of Adam by flesh and blood, but of an innocent Adam. The children of the Man were to be like us, if our First Parents had not depreciated their perfect humanity in the sense of man, that is of a creature in which there is the double nature, spiritual, in the image and likeness of God, and the material nature --as you know they did. Perfect senses, that is, subject to reason even in their great efficiency. In the senses I include both the moral and the corporal ones. Therefore total and perfect love both for Her spouse to whom She is not attached by sensuality, but only by a tie of spiritual love, and for Her Son. Most loved. Loved with all the perfection of a perfect woman for the Child born of Her. That is how Eve should have loved; like Mary: that is, not for what physical enjoyment her son was, but because that son was the son of the Creator and out of obedience accomplished at His order to multiply the human race.
        And loved with all the ardor of a perfect believer who knows that Son of Hers is not figuratively but really the Son of God. To those who consider Mary's love for Jesus too affectionate, I say that they should consider who Mary was: the Woman without sin and therefore without fault in Her love towards God, towards Her relatives, towards Her spouse, towards Her Son, towards Her neighbor; they should consider what the Mother saw in Me besides seeing the Son of Her womb, and finally that they should consider the nationality of Mary. Her Hebrew race, eastern race, and times very remote from the present ones. So the explanation of certain verbal amplifications, that may seem exaggerated to you, ensues from these elements. The eastern and Hebrew styles are flowery and pompous also when commonly spoken. All the writings of that time and of that race prove it, and in the course of ages the eastern style has not changed very much.
        As twenty centuries later you have to examine these pages, when the wickedness of life has killed so much love, would you expect Me to give you a Mary of Nazareth similar to the superficial woman of your days? Mary is what She is, and the sweet, pure, loving Girl of Israel, the Spouse of God, the Virgin Mother of God cannot be changed into an excessively morbidly exalted woman, or into a glacially selfish one of your days.
 
        And I tell those, who consider Jesus' love for Mary too affectionate, to consider that in Jesus there was God, and that God, One and Triune, received His consolation by loving Mary, Who requited Him for the sorrow of the whole human race, and was the means by which God could glory again in His Creation that gives citizens to His Heavens. And finally, let them consider that every love becomes guilty when, and only when, it causes disorder, that is, when it goes against the Will of God and the duty to be fulfilled.
 
        Now consider... did Mary's love do that? Did My love do that? Did She keep Me, through selfish love, from doing all the Will of God? Through a disorderly love for My Mother, did I perhaps repudiate My mission. No. Both loves had but one desire: to accomplish the Will of God for the salvation of the world. And the Mother said all the farewells to Her Son, and the Son said all the farewells to His Mother, handing the Son to the cross of His public teaching and to the Cross of Calvary, handing the Mother to solitude and torture, so that She might be the Co-Redeemer, without taking into account our humanity that felt lacerated and our hearts that were broken with grief. Is that weakness? Is it sentimentalism? It is perfect love, O men, who do not know how to love and who no longer understand Love and Its voices!
 

        And the purpose of this Work [The Poem] is also to clarify certain points that a number of circumstances has covered with darkness, and they thus form dark zones in the brightness of the evangelic picture, and points that seem a rupture and are only obscured points, between one episode and another -- indecipherable points -- and the ability to decipher them is the key to correctly understand certain situations that had arisen and certain strong manners that I had to have, so contrasting with My continuous exhortations to forgive, to be meek and humble: a certain rigidity towards obstinate, inconvertible opponents. You all ought to remember that God, after using all His mercy, for the sake of His own honor, can also say "Enough" to those who, as He is good, think it is right to take advantage of His forbearance and tempt Him. God is not to be derided. It is an old wise saying.

    In concluding this somewhat lengthy exposition, I want to share some of my personal experiences. Notwithstanding various claims to the contrary, theologians of authority, Scripture scholars, who have studied The Poem, confirm the accuracy of Valtorta's descriptions of place, geography, her accurate knowledge of the Holy Land, etc. And we must remember that Maria Valtorta did not have the health nor the opportunity to study or to correlate her observations. Reading the five volumes in English or the ten volumes in Italian, I was overwhelmed by her mastery not only of poetic composition, but of details, of personages, of the events in the Gospel story. I find significant  confirmation of the many characters of apostles, disciples, penitents, etc., mentioned not only in Scripture, but in the liturgical and patristic tradition of the Church in the Byzantine tradition. Her characters are not imaginary, as I suspect of the characters of the narration of another visionary and mystic, Catherine Emmerich, but real people, whose identity is confirmed by the Fathers and the liturgical feasts of the Byzantine Church. I am sure we would also find similar confirmation in the patristic tradition of the West. I am less acquainted with this latter I leave to more competent authorities this field of investigation. We further find in the accounts of Maria Valtorta answers to many of the scriptural questions that have been hashed and rehashed by Scripture scholars and theologians for centuries, because of the apparent contradictions of the Resurrection accounts of the synoptics and the Gospel of St. John.

 
    Lastly Maria Valtorta presents one of the most vivid, beautiful, living and convincing images of the living Jesus that I have ever encountered. Many readers have found a deeper understanding of their faith and a more profound understanding of the canonicaI scriptures of the New Testament. The Poem of the Man-God merits serious study.
 
    I strongly urge that all the critics obtain and study The Poem of the Man-God (order info.), reading it in its entirety, and not relying on cursory impressions or the rehash of other critics. They will find in it, I am sure, the peace and joy, the deeper and more intimate knowledge of Our Divine Savior and His Blessed Mother that I and countless other readers, around the globe, have found.

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