Q: What to think about Mary of Agreda's Mystical City of God?
A: A complicated story, and at least as long as the Mystical City itself. In short, there seems to be little doubt that the person of Maria Agreda is, and was, widely considered to be a saintly person. Her cause was introduced for the first time shortly after her death in 1672, then promoted again a century later, but, to this day, has not come to fruition. As to her Mystical City, it was written in obedience to her confessors (spiritual directors), burnt twice, recommenced three times, never of her own volition. The book was condemned in 1681 by Innocent XI, but execution was suspended for Spain. The Sorbonne or University of Paris did the same in 1696 by 102 votes of 152 after having had it examined by 132 doctors of theology. In contrast, several Spanish universities such as Salamanca and Alcala gave their approval, as did the Spanish Inquisition after ten years of study. In 1729, Benedict XIII maintained the condemnation. The work was placed on the Index, but the decision was contested by its supporters, invoking faulty translations from the Spanish original. Some of the reasons for the condemnation by the Sorbonne were: indecent (i.e. very physical) language; a tendency to give Mary adoration instead of veneration; her Immaculate Conception, and, thanks to this privilege, mediation of all graces. Being of Franciscan obedience and culture, Maria Agreda was following Scotist and not Thomist theology. Some of the theological ideas, namely the Immaculate Conception and the mediation of all graces became common opinion in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the former even dogma. The Index was abolished in 1966, although with the caveat to avoid readings harmful to faith and moral conduct.
At regular intervals, the ML/IMRI receives questions about the validity and orthodoxy of Agreda’s Mystical City of God. Most of these questions deal with the faith binding character of this work, in other words, ‘do we have to believe in what is said in this book?’.
1) The Mystical City of God falls in the category of what the Church terms “private revelations,” that is insights and experiences of individuals pertaining to events and persons of Salvation history, or, more generally, the possible understanding of, and rapports between the natural and the supernatural order.
Though frequently the result of a special grace given to the recipient, these insights and experiences are in no way binding for faith and morals of the faithful.
2) Their validity has to be measured against the official revelation as the church received it in and through Jesus Christ, has treasured and deepened it for millenaries, and pronounced by and through its magisterium.
So what can be said about the Mystical City? According to Enrique Llamas, a Spanish Mariologist of reputation, the Mystical City of God not only does not contain any theological errors, but is compatible with the Mariological doctrine of Vatican II (LG,Ch. 8) (See: La Madre Agreda y la Mariologia del Vaticano. Editorial Arca de la Alianza, 20072, 126). On the other hand, a committee initiated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1992-1999) reached different conclusions on some of the issues at stake. It admits that the Mystical City does not contain specific doctrinal errors and/or heresies, but observed that the presentation of Our Lady contrasts with what Scripture tells us about her, and affirms, at the same time, that its Mariology is not compatible with that of Vatican II. One of the practical consequences thereof was, that the nihil obstat regarding the pursuit of Mary of Agreda’s beatification and canonization was not granted for the time being. (Rome, February 19, 1999).
3) This having been said, the Mystical City of God, well before the abolition of the Index in 1966, has all along been a source of inspiration for many souls eager to deepen and enliven their spiritual life. In conclusion then it would be advisable, figuratively speaking, to read Mystical City of God with Scripture in one hand, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the other.
Chronology for the Lifetime of Mary of Agreda*
|1602||Birth of Maria Coronel, Agreda, Spain.|
|1605||Birth of Spanish Hapsburg prince Felipe, future king of Spain, Portugal, Naples, and Sicily.|
|1618||Thirty Years' War erupts between Spain, France, Germany, and all major powers.|
|1620||Nuns witness Sor Maria levitating in Agreda; she reports simultaneous bilocation to New World.|
|1620||Marriage of Prince Felipe to Isabel de Bourbon, daughter of King Henry IV of France.|
|1621||Death of King Felipe III. Prince Felipe accedes to throne as Felipe IV under thumb of minister Olivares.|
|1623||Church conducts ecclesiastical investigation of Sor Maria of Agreda and exonerates her.|
|1626||Native Americans inform New Mexico missionaries of repeated apparitions of Lady in Blue.|
|1627||Sor Maria is elected abbess of the Convent of the Conception, Agreda, Spain.|
|1628||Letters circulate between New World and Spain about Spanish nun's supernatural appearances.|
|1629||Native American Jumano chieftain, Capitan Tuerto, cites appearances of a Lady in Blue.|
|1630||New Spain missionary, Alonso Benavides, writes to Felipe IV about the Lady in Blue.|
|1631||Benavides visits Agreda for three-week interrogation on Sor Maria's bilocations and confirms them.|
|1635||Spanish Inquisition opens case against bilocation experiences of Maria of Agreda.|
|1637||Sor Maria begins writing controversial biography of Mary as Co-Redemptoress alongside Jesus.|
|1643||Felipe IV meets Sor Maria en route to battlefront, begins a twenty-two-year friendship and correspondence.|
|1644||Death of Isabel, Felipe IV's first wife. He consults Sor Maria on temporal and spiritual matters.|
|1645||Sor Maria completes writing Mystical City of God, then burns it on the order of a temporary confessor.|
|1646||Engagement of Felipe's son to Emperor Ferdinand III's daughter, Mariana of Austria. Death of prince.|
|1648||Treaty of Westphalia marks end of Thirty Years' War and significant losses for Spain.|
|1648||Sor Maria is implicated in a plot against the Crown, adding to the Inquisition's list of concerns about her.|
|1649||Marriage of King Felipe IV to his son's former fiancee, Mariana of Austria, also Felipe's niece.|
|1650||Spanish Inquisition interrogates Maria of Agreda for eleven days and ultimately acquits her.|
|1655||Sor Maria begins second writing of Mystical City of God, completed in 1660.|
|1657||Sor Maria intervenes with Duke of Gramont, helps to effect the Peace of the Pyrenees with France.|
|1665||May: death of Sor Maria de Jesus of Agreda. September: death of King Felipe IV.|
* Fedewa, Marilyn H. Maria of Agreda: Mystical Lady in Blue. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2009. pp.277-278.
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