LUISA PICCARRETA AND SAINT HANNIBAL DI FRANCIA
In these past few years the private revelations of Luisa Piccarreta(1865-1947) on the Divine Will have been spreading throughout the U.S.A. Some commentators have called them heretical, others have equated them to a cult. Some have questioned the judgement of Fr. Hannibal in giving the Nihil Obstat to some of her writings. Saint Hannibal had a very balanced and orthodox opinion on private revelations, but he was ready to call Luisa “a fit instrument for a sublime mission, to which no other can be compared, of the triumph of the Divine Will in the universe, as prayed in the Our Father: Fiat Voluntas tua, sicut in coelo et in terra.”
The opinion of Fr. Hannibal about how to deal with the private revelations of Luisa, can be found in his letters to the Servant of God, which go from 1924 to 1927. Don Luca Masciave’, in the preface of the letters of Fr. Hannibal to Luisa, published in Italian but now available in English, notes that Saints come in pairs: St. Francis de Sales and St. Jean Frances de Chantal; St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross; St Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac. He adds: “This is also true of Saint Hannibal Maria Di Francia, who was destined by God to be the Spiritual Director of the Servant of God, Luisa Piccarreta, The Little Daughter of Divine Will.”
The first formal relation of Saint Hannibal with the Piccarreta probably took place when he asked her to write in 1912 the reflections on the Passion of the Lord, to which he himself gave the title “The Hours of the Passion”. The letters, written in the last three years of his years of his life, speak in a special way of the publication of the work of Luisa. The archbishop of Trani, Msgr. Giuseppe Maria Leo, had asked him to review it for the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur.
Saint Hannibal called the revelations “Sublime, with examples worthy of the divine Creator…” We can see in the letters the trials of the end of the life of Saint Hannibal and the trust he had in Luisa. He had abandoned any other work, because of the urgency he felt in publishing her writings. But he was not simplistic and he gave her very clear instructions.
We can summarize some of the teachings and suggestions of the letters:
1- Do everything for obedience. “Write everything, everything, by day, by night, but do not show it not even to your confessor, but only to your spiritual director.” He considers himself Spiritual Director only for the publication of the writings.
2- The lack of Jesus is the greatest sorrow. To lack Jesus is an irresistible pain, infinitely greater than any material sorrow.(Idem pg.19) When we read of divine punishments in the revelations of Luisa, we cannot forget this truth: to lack Jesus is the greatest sorrow.
3- Private revelations can be mistaken. The writer, the interpreter, the compilator, can make “mistakes about the divine revelation, who pass through a human channel, not totally free of subjective imperfection, not by fault but by accident: as the mystics teach us…let us therefore pray with humility and fervor.” (Idem pg 25)
4- Not all private revelations should be published. Some writings, although true should not be published because of prudence. “They would meet the criticism of Ecclesiastical Authority, which would have prejudice about the whole work. Some chapters should only be published when you will be in Heaven.” (idem pg. 54)
5- To enter in the Divine Will is more important than miracles and extraordinary events. The Lord in a mystical way with his own hands put a crown of thorns on the head of Luisa.(Idem pg.39) The Lord offered Luisa the Gift of miracles and she refused it.(Idem pg.66) Luisa once “brought back to life a murdered young man” (Idem pg.68)
6- The devil is opposed to the publishing of the writings. Saint Hannibal felt that his sickness was from “the infernal enemy, who wanted to stop the great work” to publish her writings. (Idem pg. 47 and pg. 52)
7- Holiness in the Divine Will is not a formula. It cannot ignore the Saints of the past. “Holiness does not consist in a formula. In this new Science (of the Divine Will) to form saints that will be superior to those of the past, it will be necessary that the new saints have all the virtues in heroic degree of the saints of the past, of the Confessors, of the penitent, of Martyrs, of Anacorets, of Virgins, Etc.. Etc. (Idem p. 14)
8- Devotions to spread the Divine Will should be simple to attract more people. Saint Hannibal composed the Little Rosary of the Divine Will, and was about to begin “The universal Pious Union of the Daughters and Sons of the Divine Will” with no requirements or rules or fees, but only the promise to recite 5 times a day “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” To found an order of the Divine Will would not be so effective. (Idem pg. 58) The last letter is dated May 5, 1927, less than a month before Saint Hannibal’s death on June 1st, 1927.
The Church is always skeptical about private revelation. The “Positio super virutibus” for the beatification of Saint Hannibal had to answer why the servant of God was drawn to private revelations and pious souls. He himself acknowledged such inclination, specifying however that he does not allow himself to be subdued: “I love the private revelations of holy persons, but I never accept everything.” (The Father’s Soul pg. 88)
His successor, Fr. Francesco Vitale, writes: “Always well balanced in faith, he discriminated among true and false revelations, and demanded faith, not private revelations as a foundation for action. Not to take a false step toward mistakes or danger, he likes inner virtues best, especially obedience.” (Vitale, Life of Fr. Hannibal Di Francia pg. 280)
In a letter to Mrs. Zuccaro, Fr. Hannibal writes: “The revelation is the one Jesus Christ entrusted to the Church through the Apostles, which contains the destiny of human being. No new comer can change it at all.” People should not accept private revelations supinely.
In 1925 in a letter to Bishop Liviero of Citta’ di Castello, he criticized the publication of St. Veronica’s entire diary:
“Being taught by the teachings of several mystics, I have always deemed that the teachings and locutions of even holy persons, especially women may contain deceptions. Poulain attributes errors even to saints the Church venerates on the altars. How many contradictions we see between Saint Brigid, D’Agreda, Emmerich, etc. We cannot consider the revelations and the Locutions as words of Scripture. Some of them must be omitted, and others explained in a right, prudent meaning.” (The Father’s Soul pg. 89)
Fr. Hannibal elaborates these ideas in a letter to Fr. Peter Bergamaschi, who had published all the writings of a renowned Benedictine Mystic, St. M. Cecilia of Montefiascone (1694-1766). The Father criticizes such a criterion:
“Conforming to prudence and sacred accuracy, people cannot deal with private revelations as if they were canonical books or decrees of the Holy See. Even the most enlightened persons, especially women, may be greatly mistaken in the visions, revelations, locutions, and inspiration. More than once the divine operation is restrained by human nature. For instance who could ratify in full all the visions of Emmerich and St. Brigid, which show evident discrepancies? I love very much the private revelations of holy persons, but never I accept them in full!
Were I to publish revelations, I would eliminate or revise what is inconsistent with a sound criterion, or reliable tradition, or opinions of sacred, learned writers. I think of behaving prudently…
My dear father, to consider any expression of the private revelations as dogma or propositions near of faith is always imprudent! The mistakes could amount to thousands. Poulain substantiates this fact with examples of saints we venerate on the altars. It is not surprising because the visions or the news undergoes some modifications while passing through human channels… Aptitudes and dispositions may not be the same: a psychological, moral spiritual, physical event can modify them, hindering the spiritual enlightenment from shining perfectly in the soul. Thus the person is unaware of circumstances, details or propositions, and is mistaken involuntarily. In fact, everything is received through and according to the subject.
This is proved by experience, by the mystical theologians, such as St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa, Castrotevere, Poulain, etc. By prudence and reason we cannot accept all the words of revelations as they were propositions near to the faith; still less when they are contrary to the authoritative opinion of renowned writers and to the simple, beneficial devotion of the saints. (Idem pg. 90)
On one occasion, to reorganize itself, a community was expecting the revelation of a holy person, but Father Hannibal intervened: ” Do not provoke the Lord. We have faith, trust, counsel, reason, and prayer at our disposal; these are means our Lord gave us to know his adorable will, or to follow it without gratifying our selfishness. Therefore, let us pray. Our Lord taught us how effective is the humble, trustful, perseverant prayer when we surrender ourselves to the Divine Will with pure intention.’ (Idem pg. 90)
With this criteria Father Hannibal approved “the very precious writings “ on the Divine Will for “which Hell trembles so much “ (Letters pgs. 47 and 65) Reading some of the writings of Luisa to Pope Pius X, the pope invited Fr. Hannibal to kneel, because he felt that Jesus was really speaking. (DivineWill.org It.Page)
It seems that the same criterion was not used by Fr. Benedetto Calvi who published the 5th edition of “The Clock of Passion” of Luisa Piccarreta in 1934. Fr. Calvi wrote: “I tried to make the book more conforming to the original, putting a different order in the parts, adding many more writings of the pious Author.” (Positio Vol.II, pg.715)
The last edition by Fr. Hannibal of the same book was published in 1921, and was in circulation with Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat for 13 years, without considering the previous editions. The 5th edition and other Books of Luisa Piccarreta were put in the index of forbidden books by Holy Office on July 13, 1938. [There were three edited works, none of which were the 36 Volumes of the Book of Heaven. One of the two works was the “Virgin Mary in the Kingdom of the Divine Will,” which, along with the “Hours of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ”, received the Imprimatur of Archbishop Cassati in their original form in 1997. The third work was actually an edited compilation of passages from Luisa’s writings done by Fr. Calvi. This work is no longer in circulation. The Index was abolished by Pope Paul VI in 1966.] The Osservatore Romano did not give a kind judgement about her writings [the three edited works]. (Idem pg. 714)
We still see the necessity of following the criteria of Saint Hannibal about the sublime revelations of the Divine Will and not lose a precious gift, by paying attention to the marginal, or giving undue importance to certain aspects, especially when in contrast with accepted theology. Archbishop Cassati of Trani (Italy) where the process for the Cause of Beatification is held, warned against those who publish Luisa’s writings without the approval of the Church, noting that Luisa was always obedient to Church Authority. In the beginning of this year the same Archbishop asked the promoters of the cause of Luisa Piccarreta to “pause for a period of time for reflection”, because of the many misunderstandings and exaggerated teachings about Luisa Piccarreta and the Divine Will. The directions of Fr. Hannibal to her are still very sound and necessary.