Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Devotion to The Sacred Heart, Its Theology, History and Philosophy part 55.

By  Rev. Joseph J. C. Petrovits, J.C.B., S.T.L.

If only a reproduction or transcription of this important letter was presented to the Sacred Congregation in the year 1715, then the autograph, in all likelihood, must have been lost long before the French revolution. This might explain the attitude of Bishop Languet who chooses to narrate its contents rather than quote it verbatim. What was it that brought about the destruction of this letter, what circumstances occasioned its disappearance, who can testify to having read it in the original, remain questions difficult of satisfactory solution.

We shall now proceed to compare the different formulas of the letter under investigation. The first volume of the Visitandine editions 1867 and 1876 gives one rendition of the promise, and the second volume of the same two editions gives another.

The two renditions are at variance in ten different points, though the meaning they convey is substantially the same. The fact that the Visitandines attached equal value to both these forms, for they published both in the same work without any discrimination, shows that they themselves entertained a doubt as to its exact wording. Nor did they intend to accept the form handed down by Les Contemporaines of 1715, as the only authentic one.

The third form of the promise is found in the work of Bishop Languet. This is not a quotation of the original promise, but only an interpretation of it given by the author. However, in substance it agrees with the foregoing. It prescribes the performance of the same number and kind of spiritual exercises. It specifies the same time, at which they are to take place, but the reward is not to be expected with the same absolute assurance, as expressed by the other two forms. For after one has complied with the required conditions, he may entertain a hope of receiving the sacraments of the Church and the grace of final repentance before dying.

The fourth version of the Twelfth Promise is found in a manuscript discovered by Father Hamon in 1902 in the library of Joseph Dechelette. This form, in his estimation, is the nearest approach to the original. However, he fears that in his decision he may have been unconsciously actuated by the self-love of a fortunate investigator. The difference between this and the one taken from the first volume of the Vie et Oeuvres de la Bienheureuse Marguerite-Marie, ed. 1867, p. 291, is insignificant. Still, for the sake of comparison it will be advisable to reproduce it in its entirety.

The same author refers to a fifth version which he does not quote, but maintains that in a fragmentary form it can be verified in the Annales du Monaster e de Dijon.

This will suffice as to the different versions of the Twelfth Promise. From their comparison it is manifest that they are not altogether uniform, nor do they differ substantially. They all promise the grace of final repentance and the last Sacraments. An important distinction, however, is not to be overlooked. While three of the forms give an absolute assurance of the above mentioned reward, Bishop Languet's formula premises it with the words: En lui faisant esperer which may be rendered into English: And leading her to hope, i. e., for the graces mentioned.

It is hardly possible to determine which of these forms, if any, is identical with the original. Father Hamon's investigation has only made the matter more complicated and the solution of the difficulty more hopeless. He points out that the Vie de la Bienheureuse par les Contemporaines, on which Bishop Languet founded most of his statements and from which he quoted many of her letters, is full of citations that do not correspond faithfully to the original autographic writings of the Beata. Hence he infers that Bishop Languet's life is not reliable in all its particulars. He pronounces the same criticism on the works of Father Croiset. He admits that the works of Fathers Daniel and Bougaud were composed according to the modern methods of hagiography but points out a number of inexact quotations in them. Yet, all these writers claim to have consulted the original documents. The explanation for all this can be found in the subsequent statements of the Visitandines. They admit that many modifications were introduced in their edition of the Vie par les Contemporaines.
Thus they have interpolated certain documents whose addition they considered necessary to complete the work. In this connection we can sympathize with Father Hamon, who, after having perused these changes, censures the Visitandines for their action and disapprovingly remarks that they ask too much indulgence when they attempt to characterize these alterations by the appellation.