— I —
[BOLLETTINO VALTORTIANO: No. 6, September 1972, pp. 21-24:
— GABRIEL M. ALLEGRA, O.F.M. —
Exegete - Theologian - Missionary
On January 14, 1984, at Hong Kong, in the presence of the diocesan Bishop, Msgr. John B. Wu, the process was opened for the canonization of Fr. Gabriel M. Allegra who had just died in Hong Kong, on January 26, 1976.
Father Allegra was born in 1907, at San Giovanni La Punta, in the province of Catania. At 16, he entered the Order of the Friars Minor, became a priest in 1930, and the following year departed for China, where he distinguished himself as an exemplary missionary and man of culture, founding a biblical Institute and accomplishing the first translation into Chinese of the whole Bible. His work had had the support and acknowledgment of successive popes from Pius XI to Paul VI.
We should note that Father Allegra was a profound connoisseur of the writings of Maria Valtorta, of whom he became a passionate reader in 1965, when he obtained her volumes from a confrere, Father Fortunato Margiotti. With the intention of illustrating The Poem of the Man-God for eventual translators, the renowned biblical scholar drew up at one stretch in 1970, at Macau, a presentation which occupies 11 closely typed pages. It is an analysis of the Writer, Maria Valtorta, and of her Work [The Poem...], and an exposition of the Work's vicissitudes and criticisms - a serene and conscious judgment as only a scholar who has the gift of humility could give. Father Allegra's presentation turns out to be so interesting that it was hard for us, even if necessary, to select the passages we report here.— Emilio Pisani, Editor ]
A CRITIQUE OF MARIA VALTORTA'S
" P O E M O F T H E M A N – G O D "
Gabriel M. Allegra, 0. F. M.
The Poem contains, or rather is, a series of visions witnessed by the Writer [Valtorta] as if she were a contemporary of them. She therefore sees and hears whatever concerns the life of Jesus from the beginning of the Birth of Most Holy Mary, which occurred through a Heavenly grace in the old age of Anne and Joachim, up to the Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord--or rather, up to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin into Heaven.
The Visionary-Hearer usually begins by describing the location of the scene which she contemplates; she reports the chatter of the crowd and of the disciples; and then, according to what she sees and hears, she describes the miracles, relates the Discourses of the Lord, or the dialogues of those present with Him or with the disciples, or the dialogues among themselves. This re-evoking of the life of Jesus, its times and surroundings, and in its various aspects: physical, political, social, familial, is done without any effort. The Writer reports what she has seen or heard. Her style does not resound with the erudition notable in the most famous lives of Jesus. It is rather the report of an eye and auricular witness. If Mary of Magdala or Joanna of Cusa had been able during their life to see what Maria Valtorta sees, and had written it down, I believe that their testimony would not differ much from that of the Poem. Valtorta observed with such intensity the place and personages of her visions that anyone who has been in the Holy Land for studies and has repeatedly read the Gospels, need make no excessive effort to reconstruct the scene.
That a novelist or a playwright of genius may create unforgettable characters is a known fact; but of the numerous novelists or playwrights who have approached the Gospel in order to use it in their creations, I do not know of one who has drawn from it such richness and sketched with such force and so pleasingly the figures of Peter, of John, Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, Judas--especially of Judas and his tragic and pitiful mother, Mary of Simon--and of so many, many others (and I omit for now Jesus and Mary), as does Valtorta with the greatest naturalness and without the least effort.
The most impressive thing, at least for me, are the Lord's Discourses. Naturally there are all those found in the Holy Gospels, but developed; as are also developed a good many themes which in the Gospel are barely sketched or hinted at. There are, moreover, many other Discourses reported of which nothing is said in the Gospel, but which the circumstances led Jesus to pronounce. These too are constructed as the former [i.e., as those found in the Gospel]. It is the same Lord who speaks, whether He adopts the style of the parable--the Poem contains some forty "agrapha" [i.e., "unwritten"] parables--or an exhortative or prophetic style, or finally, whether He employs the sapiential style in use among the rabbis of the New Testament epoch. Therefore, besides the great Discourses of the Gospels, like the one on the Mount, that of the Sending Out of the Apostles, the Eschatological Discourse, those of the last week and of the Last Supper, there are in the Poem many others, e.g., which explain the Decalogue, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, or which constitute special instructions to the men or women disciples, to an individual person, to mixed hearers of Jews and Gentiles.... Finally, there are the Discourses on the Kingdom of God or more clearly on the Church, which are held before the Passion as a colloquy by the Lord with His brother-cousin, James, on Carmel, and are then developed after the Resurrection while He was speaking to the Apostles and the disciples on Tabor and on another mountain of Galilee. The theme of these latter is indicated by St. Luke with the simple phrase: ...speaking of the Kingdom of God (cf. 9:11).
In briefly considering the matter treated in these Discourses, one finds in them all of the Christian Faith, Life and Hope. The tone and the style never belie themselves; they are always the same: lucid, strong, prophetic, at times full of majesty; at others, overflowing with tenderness. I will cite some examples.
We all know the anxiety of the greatest exegetes to situate and explain according to their living context, e.g., the colloquy with Nicodemus, the Discourse on the Bread of Life, the theological-polemical Discourses pronounced at Jerusalem: how many efforts made and how varied! In the Poem, however, their connection is spontaneous, natural, as if flowing logically from the circumstances.
What is said of the Discourses is valid for the miracles. In the Poem there are so many of them--which the Gospel subsumes under the phrases: and He cured and healed all. There are also some events which neither exegetes nor novelists nor the apocryphal writers have thought of. For example, the evangelization of Judea hinted at by St. John (Jn 1-4) at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus; the merciful apostolate of the Lord in favor of the Samaritans, of the poor, of the peasant-farmers of Doras and Giocana, of the inhabitants of the district of Ophel, the continuous journeys of the tireless Master through the territory of all the twelve ancient tribes, and the conspiracy plotted, by some in good faith, by most in bad faith, to proclaim Him king and thus to destroy Him more easily by Roman hands--a plot which John (Ch. 6) soberly hints at.
And how forget the heroic fidelity of the twelve Bethlehem shepherds and the double imprisonment of John the Baptist? and those converted by the convert, Zaccheus, and those persons whom Jesus saved even materially, like Syntica, Aurea Galla, Benjamin of Aenon? Or again, the last prophetic voices of the chosen People: Sabea of Bethlechi, the healed Samaritan leper, Saul of Keriot? Or how forget the relationship of Jesus with Gamaliel, with some of the members of the Sanhedrin, with a group of pagan women who gravitated around Claudia Procula, the wife of Pontius Pilate? Or the story and figure of Mary Magdalene, of the little boy, Marziam? or of the individual Apostles, each of whose character is indelibly impressed in the heart of the attentive reader: especially the characters of Peter, John, and Judas and his pious and unfortunate mother?
The Palestinian World
And how much do we not learn about the political, religious, economic, social and familial situation of Palestine in the first age of our era, even from the discourses of the most humble--rather, especially from these--which the seeing and hearing Writer, Valtorta, reports! One might say that in this Work the Palestinian world of the time of Jesus comes back to life before our eyes; and the best and worst elements of the characters of the chosen People--a people of extremes and enslaved by every mediocrity--leaps alive before us.
The Poem is presented to us as the completion of the four Gospels and a long explanation of them; Valtorta, the Writer, is the illustrator of the Gospel scenes. This explanation and completion is justified in part by the words of St. John: "Many other prodigies Jesus did before His disciples, which are not written in the present book..." (Jn 20:30); and: "Many other things Jesus did which, if they had to be written one by one, I think that the whole world could not contain the books to be written" (Jn 21:25). It is a completion and explanation which is justified, I repeat, only in part or in principle, since from the historical-theological point of view, Revelation was closed with the Apostles and all that is added to the revealed Deposit, even if it does not contradict it but happily completes it, could at most be the fruit of a particular individual charism which obliges to faith the one who receives it, as also those who believe it to be a question of a true charism or charisma--which in our case would be the charism of revelation, of vision, or of discourses of wisdom and discourses of knowledge (1 Cor 12:8; 2 Cor 12:1...).
In summary, the Church has no need of this Work to unfold Her salvific mission until the Second Coming of the Lord, as She had no need of the Apparitions of the Madonna at La Salette, at Lourdes, at Fatima.... But the Church can tacitly or publicly recognize that certain private revelations can be useful for the knowledge and practice of the Gospel and for understanding its mysteries, and hence, She can approve them in a negative form, that is, by declaring that the revelations are not contrary in word to the Faith. Or She can officially ignore them, leaving Her children full liberty to form their own judgment.
In this negative form the revelations of St. Bridget, of St. Matilda, St. Gertrude, Venerable Mary of Agreda, St. John Bosco and many other saints have been approved.
Comparison With Other Works
Whoever starts out to read [The Poem] with an honest mind and with commitment can well see for himself the immense distance that exists between The Poem and the New Testament Apocrypha, especially the Infancy Apocrypha and the Assumption Apocrypha. And he can also notice what distance there is between this Work and that of Venerable Catherine Emmerich, Mary of Agreda, etc. In the writings of these latter two visionaries, it is impossible not to sense the influence of third persons, an influence which it seems to me must on the contrary be absolutely excluded from our Poem. To be convinced of this it suffices to make a comparison between the vast and sure doctrine--theological, biblical, geographical, historical, topographical--which crowds every page of the Poem, and the same material in the [other visionary] works mentioned above. I am not going to speak of literary works, because there are none which cover the life of Jesus beginning from the Birth to the Assumption of the Madonna, or at least none known to me. But even if we limit ourselves to the basic plots of the most celebrated ones, like: Ben Hur, The Robe, The Great Fisherman, The Silver Chalice, The Spear..., these could not quite bear comparison with the natural, spontaneous plot welling up from the context of events and characters of so many persons--a veritable crowd!--which forms the mighty framework of the Poem.
I repeat: it is a world brought back to life, and the Writer rules it as if she possessed the genius of a Shakespeare or a Manzoni. But with the works of these two great men, how many studies, how many vigils, how many meditations are required! Maria Valtorta, on the contrary, even though possessing a brilliant intelligence, a tenacious and ready memory, did not even finish her secondary education; she was for years and years afflicted with various maladies and confined to her bed, had few books--all of which stood on two shelves of her bookcase--did not read any of the great commentaries on the Bible--which could have justified or explained her surprising scriptural culture--but just used the popular version of the Bible of Fr. Tintori, O.F.M. And yet she wrote the ten volumes of the Poem from 1943 to 1947, in four years!
We all know how much research scholars have done, especially Hebrew scholars, in designing various maps of the political geography of Palestine from the time of the Maccabees up to the insurrection of Bar Kokba. For more than twenty years they have had to consult a pile of documents: The Talmud, Flavius Josephus, Inscriptions, Folklore, ancient itineraries.... And yet, the identification of a good many localities still remains uncertain. In the Poem though--whatever could be the judgment given about its origin--there is no uncertainty. At least in 4/5ths of the cases, recent studies confirm the identifications supposed in [The Poem]; and the number would grow, I think, if some specialist would be willing to study this question deeply. Valtorta, for example, sees the forking of roads, landmarks which indicate directions, various cultivations according to the differing quality of the terrain, so many Roman bridges thrown across various rivers or streams, springs that are lively in certain seasons and dried up in others. She notes the difference in pronunciation between the various inhabitants of diverse regions of Palestine, and a mass of other things which perplex the reader, or at least make him thoughtful.
There are a series of visions in which the mystery of the Birth of Jesus, His Agony, His Passion, and His Resurrection are described with Heavenly words and images, with an angelic eloquence; while on the other hand, so much light is thrown on the mystery of Judas, on the attempt to proclaim Jesus king, on His two brother-cousins who do not believe in Him, on the impression awakened in the Gentiles about Him, on His love of the lepers, the poor, the aged, children, the Samaritans, and especially on His love, so pleasingly ardent and delicate, for His Immaculate Mother.
And not only from the human point of view, but especially a theological one, who can remain indifferent reading the two chapters on the desolation of His most holy Mother after the tragedy of Calvary, which reveal to us how the Co-redemptrix had been tempted by Satan, and how Her Redeemer-Son had been tempted? The sublime theology of these two chapters may be compared to that of so many of the laments of the Sorrowful Mother.
Exegetes today, even Catholics, take the strangest and most daring liberties over the historicity of the Gospel's Infancy accounts and the narratives of the Resurrection, as if with Form Criticism ["Formgeschichte"] and Redaction Criticism ["Redaktionsgeschichte Methode"] one finds the panacea for all difficulties--difficulties which were not unknown to the Fathers of the Church. Truly, to speak only of some recent exegetes: e.g., Fouard, Sepp, Fillion, Lagrange, Ricciotti..., on these difficult points they spoke their balanced and luminous words. But today there are other masters whom even our own follow with such confidence.... Well then, to come back to us: I invite the readers of the Poem to read the pages consecrated to the Resurrection, to the reconstruction of the events of the day of the Pasch, and they will ascertain how all is harmoniously bound together there--just as so many exegetes who follow the critical-historical-theological method have tried to do, but without fully succeeding. Such pages do not disturb, but gladden the heart of the faithful and strengthen their faith!
But there is another surprise: this woman of the 20th Century who, though confined to a bed of pain became the fortunate contemporary and follower of Christ, heard the Apostles and Jesus talk in Italian, but in an Aramaicized Italian--except for certain moments carefully noted by her: when, that is, the Apostles and Jesus prayed in Hebrew or in Aramaic. Moreover, the Lord, the Madonna, the Apostles, even when treating of subjects dealt with in the New Testament, adopt the theological language of today, that is, the language initiated by the first great theologian, St. Paul, and enriched throughout so many centuries of reflection and meditation, and which has thus become precise, clear, irreplaceable.
There is in the Poem, therefore, a transposition, a translation of the Good News announced by Jesus into the tongue of His Church of today, a transposition willed by Him, since the Visionary was deprived of any technical theological formation. And this is, I think, in order to make us understand that the Gospel message announced today by His Church of today, and with today's language, is substantially identical with His Own preaching of twenty centuries ago.
The Valtorta Phenomenon
A book of great bulk, composed in exceptional circumstances and in a relatively very short time: here is one aspect of the Valtorta phenomenon.
The Writer confesses repeatedly that she is only a "mouthpiece," a "phonograph," one who writes what she sees and hears, while remaining "crucified on a bed". Hence, according to her, the Poem is not her own, it does not belong to her, it was revealed, shown to her. She does nothing else but describe what she has seen, report what she has heard, while also participating with all her heart of a woman and a devoted Christian in the visions. From this intimate participation of hers is born the antipathy she feels for Judas and, on the contrary, the intense affection she feels for John, for the Magdalene, for Syntica..., and I do not even speak of the Lord Jesus and of the most holy Madonna towards whom at times she pours out her heart and her love with words of passionate lyricism worthy of the greatest mystics of the Church.
In the Dialogues and Discourses which form the structure of the Work there is, in addition to an inimitable spontaneity (the Dialogues), something of the ancient and at times the hieratic (the Discourses). In sum, one hears a very good translation of an Aramaic or Hebraic manner of speaking, in a vigorous, multiform, robust Italian. It is again to be noted that in the structure of these Discourses, Jesus either moves in the wake of the great Prophets, or adapts Himself to the method of the great rabbis who explain the Old Testament by applying it to contemporary circumstances. Let us recall the Pesher ["Interpretation"] of Habakkuk found in Qumran and compare it (passing over the word itself) with the "pesher" which Jesus gives us of it.
We may also compare other explanations which the Lord gave for other passages of the Old Testament and for which we possess, in whole or in part, the commentaries of the rabbis of the 3rd or 4th Century B.C., but which obviously follow a traditional style of composition much more ancient and probably also contemporaneous with Jesus. Besides an external similarity of form, we will perceive such superiority of depth, of substance, that we will finally understand fully why the crowd said: "No one has spoken as this Man."
A Gift of the Lord
I hold that the Work [of Valtorta] demands a supernatural origin. I think that it is the product of one or more charisma and that it should be studied in the light of the doctrine of charisma, while also making use of the contributions of recent studies of psychology and related sciences which certainly could not have been known by old theologians like Torquemada, Lanspergius, Scaramelli, etc.
It is the property of charisma that they are bestowed by the Spirit of Jesus for the good of the Church, for the upbuilding of the Body of Christ; and I do not see how it can be reasonably denied that the Poem upbuilds and delights the children of the Church. Undoubtedly, charity is the most excellent way (1 Cor 13:1); it is also well known that some charisma which abounded in the primitive Church had become rarer later on. But it is equally certain that they have never been wholly extinct. The Church through the centuries must test if they derive from the Spirit of Jesus or are a disguise of the spirit of darkness masquerading as an angel of light: Try the spirits, if they are of God! (1 Jn 4:1)
Now, without anticipating the judgment of the Church which to this moment I accept with absolute submission, I allow myself to affirm that since the principal criterion for the discernment of spirits is the Word of the Lord: From their fruits you will know them..., (Mt 3:20), and with the good fruits which the Poem is producing in an ever growing number of readers, I think that it comes from the Spirit of God.
Go to Part II