By Rev. Joseph J. C. Petrovits, J.C.B., S.T.L.
Before we offer our own opinion as to the interpretation of the Great Promise, it will be advisable to summarize the more relevant facts of the situation. The letter on which the Twelfth Promise is founded is lost. Its earliest transcript dates from about the year 1714. It was not published till 1867. In the meantime the writings of the Beata were frequently misquoted and interpolated at the hands of spiritual writers. The question of the letter's authenticity and the actuality of the revelation remained untouched during the process of her beatification. There are three leading interpretations attributed to it. The Church does not come to our rescue in the attempt to solve the numerous difficulties arising from the wording of the Promise, nor does she take official cognizance of it. Therefore, one is free to form one's own conclusion in the matter, and we shall suggest an opinion which, in our estimation, is not devoid of probability. In this respect the works of Blessed Margaret Mary, her own letters as well as those of her contemporaries and acquaintances, published in 1915 in an authentic form by Archbishop Gauthey, will be of notable assistance. A few remarks concerning this latest and only authentic edition of the life and works of the Beata, will not be out of place here.
Archbishop Gauthey admits that the first two editions of the life and works of Blessed Margaret Mary were not such as would stand the search-light of modern historical criticism. Therefore, realizing the deep interest recently awakened in the incidents which took place in the life of the Beata, he decided to edit this present work, scientific both in its appearance and in the execution of the plan proposed. The text is deserving of trust, for it is compiled with the care modern critics require of a scientist. It was the various interpolations of the two editions of 1867 and 1876, whose source was not ascertainable, that induced the Archbishop to engage in this undertaking.
The Prefaces which the Mt. Rev. Editor contributed to the Memoir and the letters of the Beata as well as to the Vie par les Contemporaines are of the utmost importance, because in them he imparts all the general information that can be gathered from reliable authentic sources. In this work the letter on which the Great Promise is based is found in two distinct places, vis., in the first volume, p. 261, and in the second volume, p. 397. We deem it necessary to give some consideration to these references individually.
The first volume contains a Memoir composed by Les Contemporaries. The authors of this manuscript Memoir are two Sisters who lived contemporaneously with Blessed Margaret Mary, had the privilege of being her intimate friends, and that of being present at her death-bed. It is this document which was subjected to so many variations and interpolations at the hands not only of many spiritual writers since 1715, but of the Visitandines themselves. For the first time in its history, it is here edited without any additions or abbreviations. An opportunity is thus given us to acquaint ourselves with the order, style, chronology and the spirit of the two Contemporaries.
In the second volume of this work, p. 397, another reference is found to the Great Promise. The letter of the Beata addressed to Mother de Saumaise is published in its entirety. Following are the points to be noted in connection with this letter.
It is quoted from a manuscript which is not that of Blessed Margaret Mary. An investigation will discover that there are five different collections of manuscripts, scattered in various places from which a knowledge may be gained as to the writings of the Beata. These manuscripts are designated by the numbers 3, 6, 7, 8, and 9. In this series of manuscripts Archbishop Gauthey gives preference to the collection which is marked number 6. It contains those writings of Blessed Margaret Mary which Mother de Saumaise preserved, and which are supposed to have been copied from the original. All these have been penned by Sister Peronne-Rosalie de Farges. It is possible that the same letter may occur in 3 or 4 of these manuscript collections. Thus the letter referring to the Great Promise is found in No. 6, p. 128; in No. 3, p. 5; in No. 8, p. 43; and in No. 9, p. 23. Besides this an Italian translation of it which was made in Rome in 1828 or 1829 is also extant.
In 1715 a total of 97 letters was submitted to the Sacred Congregation. These letters were afterwards returned to the Visitandines. When in 1818 the process of the Beatification of Blessed Margaret Mary was again resumed, only 68 of these letters were recovered. These were handed to the Sacred Congregation, and translated into Italian. In one of the preceding paragraphs a passing reference has been made to these letters, and it has been pointed out that out of 27 letters which Blessed Margaret Mary wrote to Mother de Saumaise, and which were collected in 1715, not a single one was autographic. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that the letter in question was submitted to the Sacred Congregation only in a copied form that might indeed have been transcribed from the original. The difficulty that presents itself here is one that is not likely to be solved at any future time. If of the ninety-seven letters collected in 1715 they presented fifty-eight autographs to the Ecclesiastical Superiors in Rome, why did they submit only the copies of those twenty-seven letters which Blessed Margaret Mary directed to Mother de Saumaise? The natural inference would be that even at that period these autographs must have been lost. No other explanation can justify the action of the Visitandines. In this supposition the Italian translation fails to add any weight to the authenticity of the letter in question, for it is only the translation of a copied letter. The foregoing statement seems to be tacitly corroborated by Bishop Languet, who, though in all likelihood having access to most if not all the autographic documents then extant, fails to quote the contents of the letter in its original wording, and prefers to explain them in a narrative way.