Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Devotion to The Sacred Heart, Its Theology, History and Philosophy part 66.

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


In view of the facts thus far presented one is justified in stating that the evidence as to the historicity of the letter in question is inconclusive. It is likewise true that, on the ground of the evidence adduced, not a few writers are inclined to pronounce in favor of its authenticity. There is another class of spiritual writers who maintain that not the slightest doubt can be entertained as to the authenticity of the letter in question. Needless to say that this last class of writers cannot find sufficient warrant to vindicate their position.

From the perusal of the accessible evidence it seems fairly certain that Blessed Margaret Mary actually wrote a letter in which she advocated a devotion similar to the present Devotion of the Nine Fridays. This may be concluded from the various versions of the present letter which though transcribed at different times and preserved at different places, agree in substance as to the spiritual exercises and the reward to be expected. Since, however, the autographic document containing an authentic exposition of the revelation in the words of its authoress is lost, and knowing well how in the course of recopying, notwithstanding the care exercised by the copyists, unintentional mistakes creep in, we are confronted with the doubt whether we possess the wording of the letter as framed by the Beata. Whatever may be the nature of this doubt, it would hardly justify an absolute rejection of every factor connected with the Great Promise. Therefore, until more convincing evidence is adduced we must consider the letter as doubtful. Prudence would dictate not to reject it entirely, but to make such use of it as the circumstances warrant, provided it be interpreted in conformity with sound theological principles. The possibility of such an interpretation is tacitly presupposed by the decision of the Sacred Congregation. It declared distinctly that her writings contained no statements deserving of a theological censure.

Father Hamon maintains, that none of the essential features of the Great Promise have been subjected to a change, as for instance, communion on the first nine Fridays for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance, not to die without the sacraments; but there is no criterion which would justify such an admission as regards the other words. Again, it is a well known fact that the contents of the letter are of such a nature that even the most significant modification, like the one introduced by Bishop Languet, may easily prove to be the cause of a notable change in its interpretation.

That Bishop Languet was in a better position than any other individual in his time, or since, to ascertain some of the facts concerning this letter, hardly anybody would deny. That he gave mature consideration to the life he wrote is evidenced by his letters published in the first volume of the 1915 edition of Vie et Oeuvres de la Bienheureuse Marguerite-Marie, pp. 619-626. Throughout our research into this problem we met with no warrant which would justify the supposition that the Visitandines invented the revelation in question, and, to give it more weight, framed an imaginary letter. To accuse Bishop Languet of a similar crime would be equivalent to contradicting all the traits of his character made public by contemporary documents. He was a man endowed with a sensitive conscience, rare gifts of mind, mature judgment, and a high regard for the opinion of others. He hesitated at first to associate his name with the life of Blessed Margaret Mary, fearing the ridicule of the sceptical age in which he lived. But, finally, he acceded to the entreaties of Sister Peronne-Rosalie de Farges, and " all Europe knew that the life of the servant of the Sacred Heart, already so calumniated, was edited by the Bishop of Soissons, a member of the French Academy."

Father Hamon remarks that at the reading of the book the Jansenists, the philosophers, a number of Catholics, and even some Bishops covered their faces, because, as they believed, it " ridiculed religion and dishonored piety." The blasphemous lawyer Barbier noted in his journal: " M. Languet, Bishop of Soissons, wrote the greatest folly imaginable, the life of Marie Alacoque." 8 Msgr. Lan-guet's membership in the French Academy testifies to his learning, while his elevation to the episcopate and his writings give ample evidence to the holiness of his life and the esteem he enjoyed in the eyes of his contemporaries both clerical and lay. Therefore, whether he possessed the document in question or received his information from another trustworthy source, he could not be accused of imposition; this imputation would be justifiable only if he had published such a statement without sufficient warrant. His character, as portrayed by Father Hamon on the strength of contemporary documents, would militate against any attempt at deception. In our opinion this is an additional reason which ought to induce one to pronounce in favor of a letter similar to the one in question. Viewing collectively all the facts that can be gathered on this matter, there is nothing that would militate against accepting Bishop Languet's rendition of the Great Promise.