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J. M. J. A.
SOME PRELIMINARY OBSERVATIONS.

 

I

Objections have been raised against some of the examples employed by St. Alphonsus in his edition of the GLORIES OF MARY.  The following observations will therefore not seem amiss.

            The examples quoted by our Saint are taken from various sources: some are from post mediaeval writers, some from his own experience, and others from the legends of the middle ages.  The word "legend" meant at that time, not fable or fictitious narrative, but event or occurrence; things to be read, "res legendae" as the Latin expresses it.

            The nature of these narratives bears witness to the simplicity and sincerity of the times in which they were written.  May we not say that sincerity and simplicity were equally characteristic of St. Alphonsus and his Neapolitan people.  In that spirit only can they be rightly understood and appreciated.

            To quote the Saint's own words: "When an opinion tends in any way to the honor of the most Blessed Virgin, when it has some foundation, and is not repugnant to the faith, nor to the decrees of the Church, nor to truth, the refusal to hold it, or to oppose it because the reverse may be true, shows little devotion to the Mother of God.  Of the number of such as these I do not choose to be, nor do I wish my reader to be so, but rather of the number of those who fully and firmly believe all that can without error be believed of the greatness of Mary, according to the Abbot Rupert, who, amongst the acts of homage most pleasing to this good Mother, places that of firmly believing all the redounds to her honor.  If there was nothing else to take away our fear of exceeding in the praises of Mary, St. Augustine should suffice; for he declares that whatever we may say in praise of Mary is little in comparison with that which she deserves, on account of her dignity of Mother of God; and, moreover, the Church says, in the Mass appointed for her festivals, 'Thou art happy, O sacred Virgin Mary, and most worthy of all praise.'"

            During the ages of which we speak the people were noted for a childlike confidence in God joined to an intimate whole-souled love for Christ and His Blessed Mother.  Little wonder then that God's goodness should manifest itself in exceptional favors bestowed on these fervent souls.  The accounts of extraordinary graces were readily accepted and put to good purpose in sermons and public discourses.  Without doubt many of the stories have a foundation in fact.  Others contain merely an historical kernel that must needs be viewed in its proper setting.  Other stories again were handed down from generation to generation and served to embody important truths.  Some writer or preacher of distinction may have narrated a story as an allegory or parable such as our Lord Himself employed.  The same was repeated by others, embellished and passed on from one to another.

            The fundamental idea of all these stories was practically the same.  Their object was to depict in graphic coloring the mercy of the Mother of God, and the power of her intercession for the repentant sinner.  They serve to bring home perhaps more forcibly than a long doctrinal discourse could do, the mediation of Christ's Blessed Mother, the truth universally accepted, that all God's graces come to us through the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mother.

            It would be far from the truth to say that people of the middle ages were influenced merely by sentiment and were only too eager to give credence to the seemingly miraculous.  Men like Vincent of Beauvais, James de Voragine, noted for their profound investigations and scientific experiments, could hardly be accused of childish credulity, and yet they employed the narrative of which we speak.  Caesarius of Heisterbach was the object of much unmerited abuse, but he is acknowledged even by Protestant authorities as holding a place in the front rank of the world's historians.  Cfr. Dialogue Miraculorum.

            There were in those days, as in ours, falsifications, forgeries, exaggerations and historical errors.  But would it be just, on that account to demolish everything at one fell swoop as the skeptic is prone to do?  A story may not be based on historical fact, but it may nevertheless serve a worthy purpose.  Often we discover in such narratives a mine of information which throws light on the history, culture and religious life of the times.  Cr. "Analecta Bollandiana" and "Studien zu den mittelaterlichen Marienlegenden" by Mussafia.

            The authorities referred to by St. Alphonsus when quoting his various narratives were looked upon in their day, as approved and reliable sources of information.  "A critical examination of all he quotes from others would often have been very difficult, and at times impossible," says Cardinal Capecelatro.  He wrote for the benefit of the people of his day, and his large experience in directing consciences guided him in selecting matter that would appeal to his reading public.  Were he writing for the people of today, no doubt he would omit some of the stories he narrates.  The same may be said of St. Augustine, and St. Ambrose, and St. Bernard and St. Francis de Sales.  (Vie de St. Alph., tr. By le Monnier.)  With this in mind therefore, a number of the original stories have been omitted, and others also quoted by St. Alphonsus put in their place.  These substitutions are designated by an asterisk.  After a rigorous examination of all the writings of our saint, the Sacred Congregation of Rites declared that "nothing in them was deserving of censure."  In the Bull of Canonization we find these words: "The faithful may read his works without any harm whatsoever."

 

THE STYLE OF THE NARRATIVES

 A few words as to the style the saint employs.  In the Introduction to the GLORIES OF MARY we find these words of the holy author:  "I have tried to gather together within a brief compass from all the writers at my disposal, the most beautiful and most significant sayings of the Fathers and theologians of the church."  These few words gave rise to the opinion in the minds of some that the work was little more than a compilation of choice quotations.  Of this opinion the distinguished writer Romano has the following to say:  "Far from being a mere compilation, the book resembles a work in mosaic executed by a clever artist; or to use another simile, it is like a work done in enamel, adorned with sparkling jewels so arranged as to exhibit a beautiful harmony of light and shade and color.  Such an achievement reveals the skill of the master who planned the work and executed it with consummate skill.  The numberless passages culled with remarkable diligence and prodigious labor are fused in the heart of the holy author as in a crucible aglow with the fire of love for the Blessed Mother.  Alphonsus lives in his work, proclaiming until the end of times, in accordance with his vow, the glories, and prerogatives of his beloved queen.  Not only are the outline of the work and the arrangement of matter to be attributed to St. Alphonsus, but his thoughts, considerations and affections are so interwoven with the text as to impart to the whole his spirit and his life.

            Listen to the words of the celebrated Jesuit Lehmkuhl:  "His [St. Alphonsus] humble disregard of self appears in almost every line of his writings.  We are almost tempted to believe that the Saint purposely tried, by his unassuming style, to keep his remarkable talents and extraordinary knowledge in the background.  But this very artifice only discloses to the observant reader his keenness of intellect and his acuteness of judgment.  From his ascetical writings there breathes a sacred unction that irresistibly draws the reader to God and His holy love."  Stimmen aus Maria-Laach 1887 II. P. 359.

            The illustrious Cardinal Dechamps says:  "St. Alphonsus is a holy and learned theologian, and the faithful echo of Tradition for our modern times.  His great learning coupled with a prodigious store of useful information render him eminently suited for such a task.  He shows an astonishing familiarity with Sacred Scripture and the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.  His very language is redolent of the unction so characteristic of the sources whence his quotations are drawn, and withal it is simple and childlike.  Witness the words he addresses to the Virgin Mother.  It is the language of the heart, and no one misunderstands that."  Cf. L'Infaillibilite etc. C. 8.

            Let us conclude these observations with the words of the celebrated Alibrandi quoted in the Acts of Conferring the Doctorate:  "St. Alphonsus has given us an excellent work and perfect from every point of view.  It is worthy of a man of his great intellectual gifts and profound knowledge.  Not only does it serve to promote piety among the faithful, but it provides ample material for theologians and preachers of the Word of God.  A cursory reading may convey the impression that it is just an ordinary book.  But an attentive study of the contents will reveal a veritable mine of ecclesiastical lore and Marian theology.  Often a single sentence or a prayer will exemplify a doctrine that other theologians use a lengthy discourse to explain.  The manna of Sacred Scripture seemed to have the property of adapting itself to the taste of him who ate it.  The same seems to be true of the GLORIES OF MARY.  It satisfies the needs and the taste of the most diverse readers.

            When the grave of Alphonsus was opened at Nocera, three fingers of his right hand were taken and sent to Rome.  This was the wish of Pope Pius VII, who said: "Let those three fingers that have written so well for the honor of God, of the Blessed Virgin and of religion, be carefully preserved and sent to Rome."

EDITOR.


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