The scientific interest in Valtorta’s work has made it exceed the level of solo studies published after the historical certificates of the fifties.
The latter, all very favourable to the substance of Maria Valtorta’s work, expressed some reservations about the form, which is the other element to be evaluated, even if only in relation to a good novel. Here is what some of those scholars wrote after justifying their appreciation of the intrinsic value of the work:
… it seems to me that the work, duly shortened, purged and corrected, could do a great deal of good in Catholic families … (Agostino Bea S. J., rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute, later cardinal, 1881-1968)
I noticed some flaws in this narrative part … Moreover, I believe that these shortcomings must be attributed to the personal action of the writer and are correctable. (Alfonso Carinci, archbishop, secretary of the Congregation of Rites, then of the causes of the Saints, 1862-1963)
… Unusual expressions can be seen near pages of extraordinary theological depth … In my humble opinion, the volumes, stripped of some exuberant descriptions, purged and pruned of the scenes I have said, and corrected in the “unusual” expressions, could be published … (Ugo Lattanzi, quoted above)
THE FIRST PUBLICATIONS AND THE FINAL VERSION
Influenced, perhaps, by suggestions of this kind, coming from authoritative people, Father Berti, the religious Servita who taught sacramental theology at the “Marianum” and to whom a triple merit must be recognised (having prevented the manuscript of the work from falling without return in the clutches of the Holy Office; having requested and collected the certificates we have discussed; having directed and edited the first publications of the work with self-denial and personal risk), he had a crazy idea. Once published the work (it was the first edition, that of four large volumes), he entrusted a person of his acquaintance, who was a doctor with literary qualities, the task of retouching it in its expressive forms.
The work of Dr. Diego Lentini (this is the name of the reviewer) proceeded with great accuracy and was also compensated; but it caused a sense of rejection in those who are now recalling it, who believed that Valtorta’s work should be published with the absolute fidelity of a document of historical significance, with strengths and weaknesses. Overcoming, therefore, the natural subjection of his young age to the authority of Father Berti, with whom he actively collaborated, he was able to interrupt that work and obtain the personal care of a much more necessary and appropriate literary reclamation work. Thus it happened that the printed pages of the first edition – composed in the typography by copying mechanically from the typewritten copy delivered to the Pisani publisher as if it were the original of the work – could be compared word for word with the writing of Maria Valtorta’s autographed notebooks. Those pages, already printed but corrected by hand to restore the authenticity of the original text on them, were used to compose a new edition of the work, the first to be divided into ten volumes.
The comparison was useful to highlight and amend mistakes and oversights of Father Migliorini, the spiritual director of the author, whom, while typewriting multiple copies of the original of Maria Valtorta, transcribed for example “schiava” (slave) rather than “schiva” (timid), or a grain of goodness (bene) from a grain of wool (lana). The refinement of a term could, at times, have caused the transcriber to read it distorted. An example for all. In the work of the Gospel, the verb to clearing up, which gives a good idea of cleaning up, referred to the action of some proud Pharisees who chase away unknown strangers from a hotel so as not to feel contaminated by their contact (137.3), was becoming “evict” on the typewritten copy, reproduced with its imperfections in the first edition of the work.
The richness of vocabulary, embellished with some archaism, is a notable part of the literary style of Maria Valtorta’s work, to the point that collating with the original manuscript meant to have a good vocabulary of the Italian language at hand in order to check the terms that are unusual or have become unusual. Tuscanisms are also frequent in the work, both in terms (for example: ne ho basta to say I have enough; è peso instead of it is heavy), and in the impersonal forms of verbs (for example: si va instead andiamo – we go ). In the complexity of its expressive form, now faithfully reproduced in the printed edition, the work reflects the personality of the writer, capable of giving life to the story with her cultural background, interspersed with the idioms of the environment in which she lived.
Maria Valtorta was a natural writer. Her innate ability to write straight away, with correct use of language and without second thoughts that could induce her to correct herself, noticeable already in her manuscript of the Autobiography, the very first of her works, written (while in bed, already ill) within a couple of months. Destined to her spiritual father, who had requested it, it is in the form of letters. The same style reappears at times in writings of very different kinds, started immediately after the Autobiography, and among which is the manuscript of the Gospel, which is the subject of our examination. There is like a glimmer of stylistic continuity. In her Autobiography, Valtorta illustrated herself to the good Father Migliorini; now she continues to turn to him, but only sporadically, to tell him what she “sees” and “hears”. In the second case, the epistolary style is marginal and secondary, so as not to authorise the redefinition of the literary genre of the work.
Moreover, there is another aspect to mention, and it consists in the fact that the extraordinary material of the work does not prevent Maria Valtorta from dealing, at the same time, with an ordinariness of relationships, feelings, events, noticeable in the letters to various recipients, including Father Migliorini. This ability to alternate the writing of a colossal, highly complex work with a dense correspondence of letters, would indicate that the “science” of the work does not engage the writer as a creative activity, because it does not lead her to concentrate and isolate herself.
Writing letters, as to have written her own memoirs, is congenial to Maria Valtorta. She still uses the same genius to record what she is given to transmit. It is a particular aspect that concerns the nature of the work, but it could also be an element capable of reconsidering her literary genre.
NOVEL OR NOT?
“Maria Valtorta’s work was published as a novel, and I hope it will continue to be reprinted in this capacity and often in the future, but it is not a novel”. The lapidary sentence is by P. Gabriele M. Allegra (1907-1976), Franciscan missionary in China, first translator of the Bible into Chinese, proclaimed Blessed on 29 September 2012. He continues: “… it is not a novel. It is the complement of the four evangelical traditions and the explanation of them”
An exegete and man of letters, a man of faith and science, an apostle in mission land, Father Allegra declares his appreciation for the Valtortian work in the notes of the diary and in the letters to brothers, relatives and acquaintances. Here are some excerpts:
… I feel the Gospel in this book, or rather, the inebriating perfume of the Gospel.
It is a work that makes one grow in the knowledge and love of the Lord Jesus and his Holy Mother.
… certain talks of the Lord, of which only the main topic is hinted at in the Gospels, are developed in this work with a naturalness, with a concatenation of thought so logical, so spontaneous, so close to time, place, circumstances, which I have not found in the most famous exegetes.
… It never contradicts the Gospel, but completes it admirably and makes it alive and powerful, tender and demanding.
We would have to write a book about the exegesis of Valtorta …
So: it reads like a novel, but it’s not a novel. Nor can be said to be strictly an exegetical work, as an interpretation of the Gospel texts, because we find this intent only in some “dictations”, commenting on a well-known evangelical fact: when, for example, it has been rectified and clarified the expression “the day after” in a passage from John’s Gospel (47.10), or when Jesus’ response to the Mother at the wedding at Cana is integrated with a “plus” (52.7), or corrected “To drink my cup” in “drink from my cup” (577.11). The inaccuracies are to be attributed not to the original works of the evangelists but to the work of the translators. However, even the evangelists are not spared of some criticism, perhaps with a motivation that justifies them, as when (in 594.9) Jesus explains the reasons why they have not handed down the lesson on the sterile fig tree.
Exegetical criticism is marginal in the work, yet the whole work constitutes a formidable contribution to the exegesis of the four Gospels. This book demonstrates this by bringing the example of significant evangelical passages that Valtorta’s work “makes us understand in their fullness”, as it is written in the introduction, adding “the story of Jesus’ earthly life”. Here is the point: it is a biographical work. Some readers, with commendable audacity, have called it the Autobiography of Jesus, not being able to renounce to believe it “revealed”.
If it can be accepted as such, in compliance with the rules that the Catholic theology dictates to qualify private revelations, there is no doubt that the living and real knowledge of all that Jesus did and said day after day, with the corollary of the description of His birth and childhood and, finally, of His passion, death and resurrection, is none other than the full knowledge of the Gospel. Therefore the biographical genre, referring to the Person of Jesus, responds well to the evangelising purpose of the work of Maria Valtorta.
The trait of the “revelation” entails to distinguish the figure of the Author, who conceived, wanted and transmitted the work, from the figure of the person who materially wrote it with a spirit of service.
You are nothing more than a spokesperson and a channel in which the wave of my Voice flows – Jesus says to Maria Valtorta on July 19, 1943 – … you are nothing. Nothing more than a lover.
As a nullity, Maria Valtorta is as an “instrument” (spokesperson or channel) who can do nothing on her own; but as a “lover” all she can. By falling in love, she annihilates herself by offering herself. Whom makes use of her could do nothing if did not have the passionate totality of her. Divine wisdom and science are revealed to Maria Valtorta, so that she learns everything with her strong intellectual and sensitive skills and transmits it in her own language as a gifted writer. It is not possible to draw the dividing line between the author and the writer. The work is conceived by Him. Her potential has made it happen.
The spokesperson, or channel, is only required to execute. She is exempted from thinking and foreordering. Otherwise, the immediacy of Maria Valtorta’s writing would not be explained. Who does not have to have the time necessary for all the mental operations (preceding, simultaneous and subsequent to the writing of the work) that are proper to an author? She did not even know where the Lord would lead her day after day (according to one of her expressions, reported by the witness Marta Diciotti). Yet her work is not at all affected by disorganisation or illogicality in the sequence of events, speeches, characters of the characters, characteristics of various kinds. Without the guidance of a superior mind, the work, being written straight away, could not have avoided stretch marks of oversights and inconsistencies in the plot of its very long story.
THE HUMAN INSTRUMENT
The writer Maria Valtorta always remains a human instrument. The editor of the edition of his work pointed out in the notes some of her obvious slips, which is the involuntary error of the hand writer. In fact, she never corrected her manuscript; however, she would then revise one of the typewritten copies of Father Migliorini and sometimes correct herself on it. The printed edition of the work, which faithfully reproduces the original manuscript, notes and documents in the notes these subsequent interventions on the typescript, which correct some terms in the descriptions of what she “saw” and almost never intervene on the terminology of what she “heard” “. In the two ways of “receiving” a diversity of style and also of attitude is shown. In fact, she is responsible for observing and describing, but she is not responsible for the content of speeches and dialogues. These are not her competence.
Let’s take a small example. One of the minor characters in the work (there are hundreds) is the Roman blacksmith Tito, a good-natured and honest worker. He married the Jewish Esther, who loves him and would like to make him a proselyte. The woman pleads with Jesus after having listened to his speech and confided in him:
«… Pray for my spouse! That it belongs to the true God… ».
“It will be. Be sure of it. You ask what is holy and you will have it. You have understood the duties of the wife toward God and toward your husband. So it should be with all brides! Truly I tell you that many should imitate you. Continue to be like this and you will have the joy of having your Titus by your side, in prayer and in Heaven. Show me your children ».
The woman calls her numerous offspring: “Jacob, Judas, Levi, Maria, Giovanni, Anna, Elisa, Marco”. And then she enters the house and goes out with one who barely walks and one who is three months at the most: «And this is Isaac, and this little girl is Giuditta», he says, finishing the presentation.
«Abundance!» Says James of Zebedee laughing.
And Judas exclaims: «All males! And all circumcised! And with pure names! Bravo! ». (331.12-13)
The cultured Judas Thaddeus could not elude the fact that the name of one of the six males (Marco, of Latin origin) was not “pure” according to the Hebrew conception, despite being a name in common use in Palestine. Was Valtorta wrong? Not at all. Instead, it is a question of entering into the mentality of Judas, who had listened to Esther speak of her husband to Jesus with great praise: “… He always lets me deal with the children. Customs, rituals, all Jewish here! … Titus is good … For our feasts he closes the farriery, with great loss of money, and accompanies me with his children to the Temple. Because he says that you can’t live without religion. He says that his is that of family and work, as before was that of the duty of a soldier… “. The apostle must have been impressed by this and, perhaps, did not want to offend the good Titus with a clarification: “And with pure names, … except one!”.
It is an example of historical realism, given not to the brilliant reconstruction of Maria Valtorta, who even shows herself unaware of it, but to the source of the “revelation”. The historicity of the great speeches and the close dialogues that are in the work is due to the same source, compared to which the example cited is of minimal importance.
INSTRUCTIONS FROM HEAVEN
The “revelation”, however, does not constitute the determining element in the logic of the author of the work, for whose circulation He gives instructions and directives (published among the minor writings of Valtorta) in which prevails an interest that could be defined, in modern term, of apostolate. The work should be offered as nourishment to souls in our time of bewilderment and moral and spiritual deviations.
To this end, the divine tactic follows a line of correctness that can only be understood in a plan of teaching and of warning, since the foresight of failure does not condition it. The authority of the Catholic Church, on whose ground the work was born, is recognised. Maria Valtorta defines herself as the “most obedient daughter of the Church”, and such she is. The Church, which is in Rome but is universal, is asked permission to publish the work with the approval of its “imprimatur”. The request passes through a consolidated religious Order (that of the Servants of Mary, in the seventh century of life) to which the work is given as a “gift” and entrusted together with the duty of take care for the writer, who is the instrument.
It is a full-blown path. At a certain point, it is pointed out to the writer that the expressive forms that denote the “revelation” could represent an obstacle to the ecclesiastical approval. And then, invalid, she gets one of the typewritten copies of the work and on it, she begins to cross out or correct the “I see” and “I feel” and make any other verbal form impersonal. Useless effort. The religious Order, unwilling to accept the directives that Valtorta transmits by divine mandate, is not as zealous as she is and takes false steps. The ecclesiastical authorities are stiffening and imposing prohibitions to the point of threatening the condemnation of the work if it is published (as in fact will happen ten years later).
The Author’s voice changes tone (from Quadernetti di Maria Valtorta, dated January 6, 1949):
“… if it is definitively decreed, with sacrilegious stubbornness, that my work is condemnable, … I allow the work to be published like any man’s writing. But this not by my consent to their judgment, not by my disavowal of the nature of the work and the true Author of it, but only out of pity for souls … I want souls to be able to drink from the vital Source of my Word … Let’s open then for them another outlet to the Divine Source, and the Good Master, the One who brings the Good News, the Word of Life that “coming out of my Mouth will not return to Me without fruit, but will do everything I want and will do those things for which I sent “[Isaiah 55,11], the Word of Life, of Health, of Guide, of Truth, of Love, for all, will go again and equally to the blind, the deaf, the crippled and paralysed, to the lepers, the insane, the dead, the thirsty and hungry for the spirit, to open eyes and ears to the Truth, to restore agility to the crippled or paralysed spirit, healing from the feelings to those whom whose feelings are leper of sin, reason to the delusional minds through demonic possession of antidium doctrines, to the dead in the soul to revive their spirit, to those who are hungry and thirsty of Me and of Heaven so that they can satiate themselves, to everyone, everyone, everyone, even those who do not think they will meet Me by reading a work. “
It cannot be denied that the lack of official ecclesiastical approval penalises the Catholic faithful, but we must also admit that it favours non-faithful and non-Catholics, who generally have prejudices towards the seal of an established religious authority. In fact the work has been able to reach, and continues to reach, an universality of readers because it spreads in accordance with the prophetic intuition of Blessed Gabriele M. Allegra: … it was published as a novel, and I hope that in this capacity it continues to reprint and often in the future, but it is not a novel.