Originally published in CATHOLIC INTERNATIONAL
by Sandra Miesel
Did God or a demon speed her pen? The writings of Italian mystic Maria Valtorta continue to rouse furious debate more than 40 years after her death. Her supporters insist that her principal work, the five-volume The Poem of the Man-God (1956-59), is a "flawless" expansion of the gospels that records heaven-sent visions and direct dictation from Jesus Christ. But in 1959, the Poem became the second-to-last publication placed on the Index of Forbidden Books.
Valtorta was born to Lombard parents on March 14, 1897. Her father was a non-commissioned army officer. Her publisher describes her mother as "callous," despotic," and extremely severe. Valtorta's mother willfully curtailed her education and terminated two promising courtships.
After taking private vows in 1931, Valtorta aspired to be a "victim soul" and became permanently bedridden two years later because of a heart condition and an old back injury. Her spiritual director was Fr. Romauld Migliorini, a member of the Servants of Mary. Valtorta was a tertiary in the same order which has never ceased to promote her writings and reputation for holiness.
Valtorta is supposed to have offered God the sacrifice of her intelligence in 1949. She gradually ceased writing as mental aberrations increased over the next decade. (Repetitious use of words can be noticed in her last batch of revelations.) By the time of her death in 1961, she had reached what Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R., a psychology expert, describes as "a state similar to catatonic schizophrenia." Illness would suffice to explain her decline without looking for diabolic causes, as some have attempted.
The Poem is a Life of Christ in which scenes based on Valtorta's visions are interspersed with commentary directly attributed to Jesus and Mary. Valtorta could remember--and later clarify--what she said she saw in visions but not the dictation she recorded. The latter process resembles automatic writing. Both kinds of experiences were recorded in random order between 1943 and 1947, generating 10,000 handwritten pages. The dates episodes of the Poem were typed and arranged in Gospel chronology by Fr. Migliorini, who refrained from editing inconsistencies.
Sometime after April of 1947, a bound copy of this manuscript was sent to Pope Pius XII via the papal confessor. The Pope received Fr. Migliorini and two other Servites in a special audience on February 26, 1948. His polite murmurs about the Poem reportedly included the phrase "publish this work as it is" which the Servites afterwards remembered and interpreted as a "Supreme Pontifical Imprimatur" This alleged oral imprimatur is the only one the publishers of the Poem have ever received --or sought.
Although a pope could in theory grant such an imprimatur and even do it orally, no one has produced a modern instance of this. Surely, so meticulous a man as Pius XII would have made his intentions perfectly clear and not left his words to be construed after the fact by interested parties.
It is impossible to determine how much of the Poem Pius XII actually read. But given his crushing burdens leading the postwar Church and the many crises he had to face while the Iron Curtain thundered down, how much time could the pope possibly have devoted to reading and evaluating thousands of pages of manuscript? The job is flatly impossible in the time available.
After a harsh rejection at the Vatican press, the Poem was released by Italian publisher Emilio Pisani. On December 16, 1959 the Poem was condemned by the Holy Office, then headed by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani. Osservatore Romano printed this decree on January 6, 1960 accompanied by a hostile unsigned review of the Poem entitled "A Life of Jesus Badly Novelized."
Valtorta's defenders try to blame this and subsequent censures on a secret "Modernist clan" within the Holy Office. They offer no evidence of how "Modernists" could operate undetected by the strictly orthodox Ottaviani nor why Modernist and other anti-Catholic books continued to appear on the Index, 1948-60.
Moreover, as Ottaviani's successor Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has declared, the 1966 abolition of The Index of Forbidden Books in no way sanitizes previously banned works, including the Poem. In 1994, Ratzinger's office issued another statement through the apostolic nuncio in Canada reiterating its judgment that Valtorta's works are simply fiction: "These writings cannot be recognized as being of supernatural origin." (The Poem's English edition has been distributed from Canada since 1986 by Editions Paulines of Sherbrooke, Quebec.)
Valtorta's supporters remain adamant. Denying the normal delegation of responsibility within the Church, they will accept nothing less than a personal decision by Pope John Paul II--which he will always be too busy to make.
More than a decade ago, the Medjugorje movement has become entangled in the Valtorta controversy because pilgrimages to the Bosnia site were major vectors for disseminating the Poem. Two of the seers--one of whom is writing her own "inspired" Life of Mary-- have been queried on Our Lady's views of the work and reported a positive response. This reflects an ominous contemporary trend among followers of apparitions to treat mystics as the ultimate arbiters of Catholic belief and practice.
"There is nothing of my own in this work," insisted Valtorta. (I: p. 57) She claimed to be Christ's own secretary, his "Little John," chosen to expand what the Apostle St. John and other evangelists wrote. As Jesus himself explains, the New Testament needs to be supplemented (I: p. 432) because of the evangelists' "unbreakable Jewish frame of mind". Their "flowery and pompous" Hebrew style kept them from writing everything that God wished. (V: p. 947)
The heterodoxy and objective falsity of these statements should have sufficed to discredit the Poem. Not only do the Gospels suffice for our salvation, their language is simple and concrete. At least three of them were composed in Greek, one by an ethnic Greek. Nevertheless, Jesus denounces future critics of the Poem who dare to search for mistakes "in this work of divine bounty." (V: p. 751-52)
The Poem also presumes to "correct" the received text of Scripture. Valtorta's reading of John 2:4 adds a novel "still" to Christ's remark concerning the wine at Cana: thereby making it a comment on their own relationship: "Woman, what is there still between me and you?" (I: pp. 283-84) But her reading has no basis in the Vulgate or in any translation into a modern vernacular from the original Greek. The Poem tries to place itself about the Bible and "Little John" beyond criticism.
Despite claims of originating entirely in heaven, the Poem somehow incorporates legendary material from the Apocrypha (including The Acts of St. Paul and Thecla), The Golden Legend, The Meditations of Pseudo-Bonaventure, the revelations of St. Birgitta, bits of Patristics, and classroom memories. Valtorta is at odds with Mary of Agreda and Anne Catherine Emmerich in chronology, familial relationships, and details of key events such as the Passion and Assumption. For instance, Mary lives and dies in Jerusalem, not Ephesus.
What Valtorta knows about first century Palestine and Jerusalem seems to come from maps and study aids commonly bound in Bibles. Her visuals recall soft, gilt-touched Italian holy cards and her metaphors are monotonously limited to flowers and jewels, with the occasional animal reference. She is amazingly ignorant of local conditions and Jewish customs. Her houses resemble Italian farmhouses with fireplaces, porches, and kitchen gardens. The rich enjoy jasmine pergolas and hedged gardens closed with iron gates. The countryside holds apple orchards (which are always in bloom whatever the season), fields of rye, stands of cactus and agave. People frequently eat apples and drink fresh milk, even honey-water, but wine is scarcely seen. The screwdriver and the iron horseshoe are in use. But none of the above was known in ancient Palestine.
Valtorta acknowledges her confusion about the layout of the Temple, but still erroneously pictures it as having multiple gilded domes, angel-headed capitals, and a choir of maidens. Not only does Jesus have a bar mitzvah, a ceremony which did not yet exist, everything described is false, even to the name of the Bible book he reads as a "test." The name Jehovah, unknown in antiquity, is freely used for God although to speak the Divine Name was a punishable offense among Jews.
Throughout the Poem, Valtorta prefers her visions to the information that historians, archaeologists. and Scripture scholars have uncovered.
But Valtorta's anachronisms are not nearly as objectionable as her distorted characterizations of Jesus and Mary. They are, of course, fair-haired, blue-eyed, and alabaster-skinned quite unlike the swarthy Jews around them. Because a pale complexion signifies holiness, Mary Magdalene and John are also fair while Judas is dark.
Our Lord is a ranting, hypersensitive Mama's boy whose stripped body "looks like a delicate lady." (V: p. 564) (His last word on the Cross is, in fact, "Mother." (V: 620) Jesus must exercise supreme will power to restrain his aversion toward sinful mankind: "My first contacts with the world had sickened and depressed me." (I: p. 432) He would rather touch a corpse than an impure person. "I feel such disgust for lewdness that it upsets me." (I p. 695-96) "... He never laughs." (I: p.282) (italics hers) He also demonstrates his sublime purity to a prostitute by trampling a "lascivious" caterpillar underfoot. (IV: p.785)
Mastering these sensitive feelings, Jesus is ready to provide fresh Paschal blood by breaking off his "magnificent, wholesome, pure virility. (V: p. 390) Openly proclaiming his Divinity and Messiahship, Christ baptizes his Apostles with kisses and preaches every doctrine in the catechism to followers who are already called "Christians," despite Biblical testimony to the contrary.
Mary, whom Jesus calls "the Second-Born of the Father," (I:7) and "second to Peter with regard to ecclesiastical hierarchy" (IV: 240) preens over her unique exemption from "the torture of generating." (I: 115). After the Crucifixion, she rages in morbid hysteria with incestuous overtones (V: 630-59). The grieving Virgin proclaims her hatred of men, who are likened to wolves, snakes, and hyenas. "Man disgusts and frightens me." (V: p. 640) Yet in the next day's dictation Jesus praises the Sorrowful Mother's forbearance and forgiveness (V: 670), evidence that Valtorta really could not recall what she had written.
The Poem titillates with several invented subplots of "delicate" maidens barely escaping the Fate Worse Than Death. Its tasteless moments include Herod trying to tempt captive Jesus with his lascivious African dancing girls who "touch Christ lightly with their nude bodies." (V: p. 562) Despite the homoerotic flavor of Christ s frequent kisses, cuddles, and caresses off his disciples, Valtorta has an almost Gnostic loathing of sexuality. She claims that unfallen humanity would have reproduced asexually. The Primal Sin was Eve s perverse dalliance with the serpent followed by intercourse with Adam. (I: p. 83) Now sexual satisfaction is " bread made with ashes and excrement." (I: p. 665) Jesus absurdly claims that animals mate soberly, only for the sake of offspring. (I: p. 30) Can the Man-God be unfamiliar with male dogs?
But Valtorta s worst fault is her savage anti-Semitism, both religious and racial, that weaves through the entire Poem. Contrasted with Roman soldiers, Valtorta's swarthy, stinking, big-nosed cowards are stereotypes straight out of The Eternal Jew. Jewish corpses are "so many snakes the less." (V: p. 623) The Blessed Virgin rages that Rome was right to fear this "tribe of killers." (V: p. 642). One fictitious Jewish character converts because "the cult of Israel has become Satanism." (V: p. 673) The confrontation between Pilate and the Sanhedrin delegation is an embarrassing exercise in vulgar comedy with Pilate sniffing a flower to ward off the stench of Jews. (V: pp. 557 ff)
Most distressing of all, Valtorta makes Jews Deicides. Aside from Christ s followers, "the whole Jewish people gathering in Jerusalem wanted his death." (V: p. 293). The whole city pours out to jeer at Jesus. The Roman soldiers try to minimize his sufferings, but executioners with the "clear Jewish profile" (V: p. 563) scourge the Savior and nail him up . Christ's plea "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," is directed at the squabbling thieves, not to his thousands of Jewish persecutors." Therefore, the Risen Christ explains, God has withdrawn from Jewish rites and Judaism is "dead forever." Her rituals are nothing but :gestures that any historian could mime on the stage and amphitheater. (V: p. 831) She scorns Jerusalem as the site where the synagogue received the libel of repudiation from God for its many horrible crimes. (V: p. 869) To have written such things while fires blazed in Auchwitz is sheer obscenity. Valtorta is a one-woman argument for Nostrae aetate, the Vatican II decree that condemned the notion of collective Jewish guilt. These are only a small sample of Valtorta's many and pervasive errors. "Childishness, fantasy, false history and exegesis" make the Poem exactly what an unnamed writer cited by Cardinal Ratzinger said it was: " a monument to pseudo-religiosity." *** The popularity of this deeply evil book says that Catholics can't read what's in front of their eyes if the work has been presented to them as "holy."
Refer also to
The SSPX's Fr. Kevin Robinson's Promotion of Maria Valtorta and her "Poem of the man-God" - An Exercise in Misguidement, Deception and Cover-up
See "Annals Australasia's Un-official Home Page
What's New? at Sean Ó Lachtnáin's Home Page
Sean Ó Lachtnáin's Home Page