Luisa Piccarreta and the Divine Will

Luisa Piccarretta, who supposedly lived for many years on only the Eucharist and the Divine Will, experienced ongoing visions in which Jesus gave her an understanding of holiness that had not previously been granted to any saint, an understanding of holiness as being not only acceptance or submission to the divine will, but "living in the divine will", an identification with the divine will. When she asked Jesus how it is that till her time no saint had ever fully lived in the divine will, had never reached this degree of charity, she was told that it was because they lacked this understanding, that they could not love more than they understood. She was told that with this message of the Divine Will Jesus made her "Herald of the New Era" and had a vision in which the Blessed Virgin Mary was on Jesus' right side in heaven, while she (Luisa) was at his left.

When read charitably, taking into account both the mystical language and the imprecisions that can rightly be expected to arise when someone with very little education writes down 36 volumes of such visions, the essential message of living in the divine will seems to be none other than that contained in, for instance, the writings of St. Francis de Sales and St. John of the Cross on the union of charity. (If read with indifference or with antecedent suspicion as to the truth of the message, however, it might be equally possible to read her writings as affirming an identification of the human being with God that goes beyond, or is rather antithetical to the christian doctrine of deification and friendship with God.)

Nonetheless, some grave problems seem to be present in her writings with regard to the claims surrounding this message of holiness: the claim that  (1) this way of holiness is radically new and better than anything before it, that (2) Luisa herself surpasses all the previous saints in holiness, with the exception of the Virgin Mary, and that (3) this way of holiness depends upon "understanding".

(1) "My beloved daughter, I want you to know the order of my Providence. In every 2000 year period I have renewed the world. In the first period I renewed it with the flood. In the second 2000 years I renewed it with my coming to the earth and manifesting my humanity from which, as so many channels of light, my divinity shone. And in this third period of 2000 years, those who are good and the saints themselves have lived the fruits of my humanity, but have enjoyed my divinity scarcely at all. Now we are at the end of the third period and there will be a third renovation. This is why there is general confusion. It is due to the preparation for the third renovation." (January, 1919)

(1) "These writings cost me more than creation and redemption. They have within them all the value of My Will." (Vol. 23, March 8, 1928)

(1 & 2) "When you call my Will into you, you also do a unique act. Out of respect for my Will which inhabits you, I must pour enough graces and Love into you to make you surpass all other creatures."

(1 & 2) "It is certain that I have called you first over other souls. Because to no other souls, however much I have loved them, have I shown how to live in My Will, the effects, the marvels, the riches that the creature receives who acts in My supreme Will. Search the lives of the saints as much as you wish or in books of doctrine and you will not find the wonders of My Will working in the creature and the creature acting in My Will. The most you will find will be resignation, abandonment, the union of wills, but the Divine Will working in the creature and the creature in My Will, you will not find this in anyone. This signifies that the time had not arrived in which My kindness would call the creature to live in such a sublime state. Moreover, even the way I ask you to pray is not found in any other . . . " (Book of Heaven, Vol. 12, p. xix)

(2) "Now daughter, you, . . are unique in my mind; and you will be unique in history. There will not be—either before or after you—any other creature for whom I will obligate through necessity the work of my ministers. ., . Since I wanted my Mother with me as the first intermediary of my mercy . . . I wanted her on my right. . . . I wanted you [Luisa] as the first intermediary of justice. . . . I wanted you on my left." (Book of Heaven, p. 12)

(3) "It is true that there have been saints who always did my Will, but they have taken of my Will only to the extent that they understood it. They knew that to do my Will was the greatest of acts, the one which gave Me the greatest honor and which brought them their sanctification. They acted with this intention and so this is all that they received."

In fact, precisely these claimed new aspects (a radically new and essentially better way of holiness, a holiness that depends upon understanding, etc.) are not new claims in the history of the Church. The early Church had to resist gnosticism, which in its own way made perfection dependent upon understanding, as Luisa seems to. Joachim of Fiore proposed a third era of the history of God with his people, as Luisa does. If these claims are taken as part of the message itself, they are signs that it is not from God. The rule of faith, the rule of the Church, since the beginning in fact sees this kind of radical novelty as a sign of heresy.

But while these problems could be taken as an indication that the visions were not from God, but from self-delusion or a demon, they do not necessarily imply that. It is also possible that she had a true experience in which God really revealed himself and a message of holiness to her, yet her perception of this was distorted by an ignorance of the writings of the saints and doctors, so that she pereceived it as radically new, and unconsciously imposed this perception on the vision itself, by a desire for an end to suffering, so that she imagined a "new era" on earth in which suffering would be no more, an so on.

Private revelation, precisely insofar as it is divine revelation, must be true. However, quite unlike the content of Sacred Scripture, the concrete communication of this revelation is not guaranteed free from error, even substantial error. This is sometimes overlooked in discussions of various private revelations, and the assumption is made that either the experiences are from God, and the writings in which these experiences are communicated are all true, or that the experience are not from God. The third logical possibility, however, that the experience are from God, but the communication of these experience is mingled with the recipient's own ideas and influenced by the recipient's own desires, may be a common, or even the usual case. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, indeed, implies that there is always some influence of the recipient's own background. Speaking about Fatima in particular, but also visions in general, it affirms: "Such visions therefore are never simple “photographs” of the other world, but are influenced by the potentialities and limitations of the perceiving subject. This can be demonstrated in all the great visions of the saints… the images are, in a manner of speaking, a synthesis of the impulse coming from on high and the capacity to receive this impulse in the visionaries." (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Message of Fatima, 2000)

Will Those Who are Saved Be Few?

From Augustine's Commentary on Psalm 47 (48)

"We have received your mercy, God, in the midst of your people." [Augustine's text is "in medio populi tui", though The Hebrew, Greek, and Vulgate read "in your temple"  rather than "people".] Who have received, and where have they received? Is it not the people itself that has received mercy? If your people has received mercy, how have we received mercy, and in the midst of your people, as though distinct persons: those who have received, and those in whose midst they have received? … All who bear God's sacraments are counted as God's people, but not all reach his mercy. All who receive the sacrament of Christ's baptism are called Christians, but not all live worthily of that sacrament. For there are some of whom the Apostle says: they have the appearance of piety, but deny its power.

He lives worthily of God's mercy, who hears and holds and does what the Apostle says: "we warn and entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain" (2 Cor 6:1). Therefore he who has not received the grace of God in vain, has received both the sacrament and the mercy of God.

"We have received your mercy, God, in the midst of your people." In the midst of your people who do not receive mercy we have received your mercy. "He came into his own, and his own did not receive him. But as many as received him, he gave power to become children of God."

At this point a question will occur to anyone thinking about the matter: That people who in the midst of God's people have received God's mercy, how great a number will it be? How few they are! Scarcely anyone such is found; can it be that God will be displeased with all the rest, and destroy so great a multitude? They tell this to themselves, promising themselves what they have not heard God promise. And indeed if we should live wickedly, if we immerse ourselves in enjoying the delights of this world, if we are slaves to our lusts, will God destroy us? For how many are there who keep God's commandments? We hardly find one or two, at any rate very few; will God save those alone, and damn the rest? "By no means!" they say. "When he comes and sees such a great multitude at his left hand, he will have mercy, and will grant indulgence."

Evidently the serpent also promised this to the first man; for God had threatened death, if he tasted of the fruit, whereas the serpent said: by no means, you will not die the death. They believed the serpent, they found God's threat to be true, the devil's promise to be false. So also now, brethren, put the Church before your eyes. See how it is an image and likeness of Paradise: the serpent does not cease to suggest what he then suggested. But the experience of the first man's fall should avail to warn us not to imitate his sin. He fell so that we might rise. Let us answer such suggestions the way Job did. For the devil tempted him through a woman, as through Eve, and, overcome in paradise, he overcame in the dung. Therefore let us not listen to such words, nor let us think that those [who keep God's commandments] are few; they are many, but they are hidden among an even greater number. For we cannot deny that the wicked are many, and so many that the good are not apparent among them, as a seed is not apparent on the threshing floor. For whoever sees the threshing floor can think that the chaff is alone. Send an inexperienced man, and he will foolishly think that oxen are sent and man sweat there in the heat in order to crush the chaff; but there is in fact a mass to be purged by exposure to the wind. Then an abundance of grain appears, which was hidden in the abundance of chaff. And now you want to find those who are good? Be such, and you will find them. Therefore against that despair see what follows in the psalm. For when the psalmist had said: "we have received your mercy, God, in the midst of your people," he indicated that that people, in the midst of which some receive God's mercy, was not receiving God's mercy; and lest men should get the idea that they are so few as to be almost none, how he has consoled them with the following words? "As is your name, God, so is your praise unto the ends of the earth." (St. Augustine, Commentary on Psalm 47 (48))

The argument "How many are there who keep God's commandments? We hardly find one or two, at any rate very few; will God save those alone, and damn the rest? By no means! When he comes at sees such a great multitude at his left hand, he will have mercy, and will grant indulgence." is not altogether implausible in view of the fact that eternal punishments are threatened in order to restrain persons from doing evil and thus lead them to God. If the obligation of the commandments, the breaking of which is punished by hell, were to have as a consequence that more people were ultimately separated from God than would have been in the absence of those commandments and threats, then the commandments and the threat of hell would seem to be counterproductive, something for which God would not have a motivation.

Augustine does not directly address the plausibility of this argument. One, could, however, answer it in several ways: (1) in fact many persons are restrained from evil and begin the path to good by reason of the fear of hell; Augustine's answer goes somewhat in this direction, inasmuch as he says that there are many persons will be saved, they are just many less than those who will be damned; (2) the obligation of the commandments and threat of hell does not imply that anyone will go to hell (be separated from God) who would not have in the absence of the commandments, but only makes explicit the separation from God that is already attendant upon a will that bears nothing but hatred for God and goodness; this view seem to be suggested by Pope Benedict's portrayal of hell in Spe Salvi: "There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves…. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell." In this description of hell, it seems no one would ultimately go to hell for failing to meet a high standard of love, but for utter depravity, a possibility of separation from the ultimate good, God, that would have equally existed had the commandments and threat of hell not been explicated.

Pope Benedict to the Pontifical Biblical Commission

On May 2 Pope Benedict XVI delivered a short message to the Pontifical Biblical Commission on the occasion of its plenary assembly, which meets to discuss the inspiration and truth of Sacred Scripture. (At the time of writing this post, an English translation of the message has not yet been posted on the Vatican's website, so the link is to the original Italian.)

Taking up themes of the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, the pope affirms the necessity of considering the inspiration of Scripture in order to rightly interpret it: "Inspiration, as God's activity, brings it about that the Word of God is expressed in the human words. Consequently, the theme of inspiration is 'decisive for an adequate approach to the Scriptures and their correct interpretation,' (Verbum Domini, n. 19) Indeed, an interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures that disregards or forgets their inspiration does not take account of their most important and precious characteristic, their coming from God."

The pope further recalls the connection between inspiration and truth: " "The Synod Fathers also stressed the link between the theme of inspiration and that of the truth of the Scriptures. A deeper study of the process of inspiration will doubtless lead to a greater understanding of the truth contained in the sacred books.' (Verbum Domini, n. 19)… Through his Word, God wills to communicate the whole truth about himself and about his plan of salvation for humanity. The commitment to discover more and more the truth of the sacred books is therefore equivalent to seeking to know better God and the mystery of his salvific will."

Finally, the Pope affirms the need to interpret individual passages in the context of the whole of Scripture in order to correctly understand them. ""Finally I would like to just mention that in a good hermeneutics it is not possible to apply the criterion of inspiration in a mechnical manner, as of an absolute truth, extracting a single phrase or expression. The plan in which it is possible to perceive Sacred Scripture as the Word of God is that of the unity of God's history, in a totality in which individual elements recriprocally shed light on its other and mutually open understanding of each other."

When the Pope here speaks against interpreting individual passages as containing a truth that is "absolute", this does not mean that they only contain truth in a qualified sense, but that they contain a truth that is "relative", in the sense of standing in a relation to the whole truth about God, in relation to the whole of the Scriptures.