Monday, 7 November 2016

Devotion to The Sacred Heart, Its Theology, History and Philosophy part 64.

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


In the three foregoing chapters probably all the more important questions in connection with the interpretation of the Great Promise have been touched upon. We shall now see what degree of credibility is to be attributed to this supposed revelation from the facts that (i) the writings of Blessed Margaret Mary were submitted to an examination by ecclesiastical authority; (2) that on September 22, 1827, a decree was issued to the effect that nothing was found in these writings deserving of theological censure; 1 and, finally, (3) that she was beatified in 1864.

It will be well, at the outset, to adduce a few analogous cases which will help to solve the question proposed. Admitting that the revelation claimed to have been communicated to Blessed Margaret Mary actually took place,— it would be only a private revelation. Any approval or confirmation given by the Church to a private revelation means nothing more than that it contains nothing contrary to faith and morals. A decision of this nature imposes no obligation on any one to give it his assent.

Benedict XIV, speaking of such revelations as those of St. Hildegard (approved in part by Eugene III), St. Bridget (approved by Boniface IX), and St. Catherine of Sienna (approved by Gregory VI), says: " We are not obliged, nor is it possible, to give the assent of the Catholic faith to such revelations, but only of human faith in conformity with the dictates of prudence, even if they be approved by the Holy See. Therefore, one may dissent from them without any jeopardy as to the integrity of his faith. Even if such private revelations are proved and accepted, though they are to be believed by the persons to whom they were made, the adverse opinions retain the same probability that they possessed before the revelation."

The same author declares that the revelations to which women lay claim must be scrutinized and examined with the utmost carefulness and accuracy. It may happen, he continues, that a saint from preconceived notions and from fixed ideas of the imagination, may fancy that certain things are revealed to him by God, which God did not reveal.

In the light of the foregoing information in our possession it will be well to investigate the nature of the approbation which the writings of Blessed Margaret Mary received at the hands of the Sacred Congregation.

No one will deny that the cause of the popularity of the Nine Fridays' Devotion lies in the graces promised. Boudinhon remarks that since the special attraction for the majority of the faithful consists in the assurance of a Christian death and eternal salvation, this phase of the Great Promise must have been considered in the process of the Beatification of Blessed Margaret Mary.  Father Vermeersch maintains that the Vistandines of Rome are still in possession of a manuscript containing the authentic Italian translation of the writings of the Beata as they were presented at the process of her Beatification.  In this document the Great Promise is heavily underlined, a sign that it did not pass by oversight but after mature consideration. M. Charrier, author of the life of Father de la Colombiere, verified this statement in 1895. We owe this intelligence to the kindness of Father Hamon, author of the recent life of Blessed Margaret Mary.

But the decree of September 22, 1827, is not to be considered as a formal approbation of all the writings of the Beata. Nor did the letter form a part of the discussion at that time. One could, however, conclude that the promise was capable of an explanation corresponding to sound theology. In 1844, a discussion took place as to the Virtues and other supernatural favors of the venerable servant of God. On this occasion the office of the Promotor Fidei was filled by Msgr. Frattini, that of the Postulator Causae by Msgr. Arnoldi. The former draws attention to the suspicious fact that the visions of Blessed Margaret Mary several times take the form of an assurance of predestination given to living people. It is hardly credible, he continues, that the gift of final perseverance which lies hidden in the inscrutable decrees of God, would be revealed to Blessed Margaret Mary with such frequency.  St. Francis de Sales declares those revelations to be especially open to suspicion which give assurance of predestination and confirmation in grace. To this objection the Postulator Causae replied that all such promises imply the supposition that one complies with all other requirements or means of salvation. He compares these promises with those made in favor of the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, or of the Rosary. God promises to those who perform certain prescribed spiritual exercises a more abundant grace, which will help them to keep His commandments and to enter life eternal. Here it may be remarked that the Postulator Causae, Msgr. Arnoldi, must have attached a special importance to the words of the Twelfth Promise: Si elle ne se trompe (if she is not mistaken), for he insisted that they should not be separated from, or left out of, the text.

On the whole the discussion, as the official documents record it, does not appear altogether satisfactory. Even Father Thurston remarks that "both the objection and reply appear somewhat perfunctory and ineffective." 9 Thus, while the contents of the Great Promise were submitted to some discussion, it can be said without fear of contradiction, that the authenticity of the letter or the actuality of the alleged revelation was left entirely out of consideration. Hence, even Father Thurston, a zealous defender of the Twelfth Promise, is forced to admit that " it is still possible that the letter attributed to Blessed Margaret Mary may be spurious or interpolated, or that she herself was the victim of an illusion."

Furthermore, it is to be remembered that the conditional clause with which the Beata premises her revelation, could have been considered as a safeguard against what might have proved an obstacle to her beatification. The Postulator Causae, Msgr. Arnoldi, apparently anticipated some difficulty of this character; therefore, he would not brook the omission of the clause from the rest of the text. Besides, beatification, and even canonization, is only a declaration of heroic virtues the person in question practised while on earth. Even heroic faith may be compatible with certain unwitting errors with regard .to doctrines of faith and morals, still more with regard to private revelations and supernatural visions. As a matter of fact, when the Church canonizes or beatifies a person, she does not thereby declare that all the writings of the same are to be followed and his teachings unqualifiedly accepted. St. Thomas frankly, though reluctantly, confesses that St. John Chrysostom fell into errors. St Thomas himself taught some doctrines which the Church does not accept, nor does the canonization of St Anselm necessitate the conclusion that the Church advocates his a priori argument for the existence of God.  If, therefore, these learned saints taught material heresy without detriment to their holiness, no greater immunity from material error need be claimed for a contemplative nun. This is one of the reasons which induced Msgr. Arnoldi to insist that Msgr. Frattini, the Advocatus Diaboli, should always quote the text of the Great Promise with the introducing words: Si elle ne se trompe. Did Blessed Margaret Mary use these words in obedient submission to her Superior's suggestion, or did she mean to express actual doubt as to the proper interpretation of the revelation ? These are questions which no man can answer with anything like absolute certainty.