Marguerite Porete and Her Killers

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 20, 2020 | Categories: Accountability, Arts & Letters, Bishops, Dissent, Faith, History, Politics, Popes, Scandals

The chronicler William of Nangis describes the trial and execution of Marguerite Porete, 1310: 

“Around the feast of Pentecost is happened at Paris that a certain pseudo-woman from Hainault, named Marguerite and called ‘la Porete,’ produced a certain book in which, according to the judgement of all the theologians who examined it diligently, many errors and heresies were contained; among which errors (were the beliefs), that the soul can be annihilated in the love of the Creator without censure or conscience or remorse and that it ought to yield to whatever by nature it strives for and desires.  This (belief) manifestly rings forth as heresy.  Moreover, she did not want to renounce this little book or the errors contained in it, and indeed she even made light of the sentence of excommunication laid on her by the inquisitor of heretical depravity, (who had laid this sentence) because she, although having been lawfully summoned before the bishop, did not want to appear and held out in her hardened malice for a year and more with an obstinate soul. In the end her ideas were exposed in the common field of La Greve through the deliberation of learned men; this was done before clergy and people who had been gathered specially for this purpose, and she was handed over to the secular court. Firmly receiving her into his power, the provost of Paris had her executed the next day by fire. She displayed many signs of penitence, both noble and pious, in her death. For this reason, the faces of many of those who witnessed it were affectionately moved to compassion for her; indeed, the eyes of many were filled with tears.”

Marguerite

Marguerite Porete was a 14th century French mystic who wrote a book entitled “The Mirror of Simple Annihilated Souls and Those Who Only Remain in Will and Desire of Love.”  Written during the 1290s, the book was condemned by the French Inquisition as heretical.  Marguerite was jailed for a year and a half and asked to recant. When she refused to respond to her inquisitors, she was condemned to death. 

The book provoked controversy, likely because of statements such as “a soul annihilated in the love of the Creator could, and should, grant to nature all that it desires,” which some took to mean that a soul can become one with God and that when in this state it can ignore moral law, it had no need for the Church and its sacraments or code of virtues. This is not what Marguerite taught, since she explained that souls in such a state desired only good and would not be able to sin.

Not much is known about Marguerite’s early life, except that she was born in Hainault in what is now Belgium around 1248 or 1250. She lived during different periods in Valenciennes, Lorraine, Reims and Paris. She seems to have been a stubborn woman, determined to share her ideas despite ecclesiastical censure.  I don’t know why she refused to speak to her inquisitors during her trial and captivity.  It may have been disdain or defiance, or it may have been to induce a similar helplessness and frustration in her persecutors.  She refused to participate in an outcome that they had already decided.

Tina Beattie, professor of Catholic Studies at Roehampton University, London, said: “Little is known about Porete, apart from the record of her trial and what can be gleaned from her writings. It seems likely she was associated with the Beguines, a women’s religious movement which spread across northern Europe during the 13th and 14th centuries. Although the Beguines devoted themselves to charity, chastity and good works, they took no religious vows and their lifestyles varied greatly, from solitary itinerants (of which Porete was likely one) to enclosed communities. The Beguines were part of an era of vigorous spiritual flourishing during the Middle Ages. They were condemned by the Council of Vienne (1311-1312), which also condemned the Free Spirit Movement with which the Beguines were sometimes (and probably erroneously) identified.”

Her Killers – Bishops, Inquisitor, King

Gui de Colle Medio (or de Colmier) was bishop of Cambrai from 1296-1306.  He condemned The Mirror and ordered it publicly burned in Marguerite’s presence in Valenciennes. She was ordered not to circulate her ideas or the book again.

The next bishop of Cambrai, Philippe de Marigny, made her life worse.  His persecutions combined politics and religion.  Philippe Le Portier de Marigny was appointed bishop of Cambrai in 1301 and archbishop of Sens in 1309.  His half-brother, Enguerrand de Marigny, Baron Le Portier, was the chamberlain and chief minister to Philip IV, the king of France.  Enguerrand was influential in obtaining these appointments for his brother. Philippe de Marigny became an important figure in the trials of the Knights Templar, and in the execution of Templar’s grand master, Jacques de Molay. De Molay was burned alive with three other Templar leaders on a scaffold in front of Notre Dame Cathedral on March 18, 1314. He uttered his famous curse, and both King Philip IV and Pope Clement V followed him to death (and judgement) within a year. The new king of France, Louis X, had Enguerrand de Marigny hanged for sorcery in April 1315. 

Marguerite Porete’s main persecutor and tormenter was the Inquisitor William of Paris, also known as William of Humbert. This Dominican priest and theologian was the confessor to King Philip IV.  Appointed Inquisitor in 1303, William also played an important role in the trials and persecution of the Knights Templar. Interestingly, William died in 1314, the same year as Jacques de Molay, King Philip IV and Pope Clement V. Perhaps Molay included him in his curse.

The piety and politics of King Philip IV helped shape the deaths of Marguerite and the Knights Templar.  Many of the enemies of the crown were cast as heretics; a convenient label for a self-appointed defender of the Faith.  William of Paris supported the political machinations of the French king by suppressing the Knights Templar. The King aided the Dominican’s interests in ridding him of Marguerite—an independent and potentially dangerous religious voice.

Arrest and Trial

In 1308 William had Marguerite Porete arrested along with a Beghard, Guiard de Cressonessart, who was also put on trial for heresy.  Their trial began early in 1310 after they were held in prison in Paris for a year and a half.  Under tremendous pressure, de Cressonessart eventually confessed and was found guilty.  Marguerite refused to recant, withdraw her book or cooperative with the authorities, refusing to take the oath required by the Inquisitor to proceed with the trial.  William was not going to have any easy time proving her a heretic. Marguerite had consulted three church authorities about her writing and gained their approval, including the highly respected Master of Theology Godfrey of Fontaines at the University of Paris.  Godfrey’s involvement was an important factor in William’s handling of the trial, requiring him to build his case as carefully as possible.  He consulted over 20 theologians—an excessive number–on the question of The Mirror’s orthodoxy. 

Death

On May 31, 1310 William of Paris read out a sentence that declared Marguerite “called Porete,” a beguine from Hainault, to be a relapsed heretic and released her to secular authority for punishment. He ordered all copies of a book she had written to be confiscated.  William called her a “pseudo-mulier” (fake woman) and described The Mirror as “filled with errors and heresies.” William next consigned Guiard de Cressonessart, a would-be defender of Marguerite to life imprisonment.  Marguerite condemned to be burnt at the stake as a relapsed heretic.  On June 1, 1310 Marguerite was burned alive along with a relapsed Jew at the Place de Greve – today the Place de l’Hotel de Ville – in Paris.

Why Was Marguerite a Target?

 There are several possible reasons why so much effort was made to put Marguerite on trial and kill her.

  • A growing hostility to the Beguine movement by Franciscans and Dominicans. Beguines were lay religious women who were not under male authority and direction and were outside civic and ecclesiastical structures.  In 1311—the year after Marguerite’s death—ecclesiastical officials made several specific connections between Marguerite’s ideas and deeds and the Beguine status in general at the Council of Vienne.
  • The popularity of The Mirror of Simple Souls gave Marguerite a prominent profile other lay writers didn’t possess. She also wrote in French, not Latin.
  • Marguerite’s perceived association with the Free Spirit Movement or Brethren of the Free Spirit. Free Spirits were not a single movement or school of thought, but they caused great unease among churchman.  They were considered heretical because of their antinomian views.  One of beliefs some Free Spirits held is that they could not sin by having sexual relations with any person.  Extracts of The Mirror of Simple Souls were cited in the bull Ad Nostrum issued by the Council of Vienne to condemn the Free Spirit movement as heretical.

Was there a whiff of homophobia in William of Paris’ denunciation of Marguerite as a “pseudo-woman”?

Marguerite Porete’s era is a mirror to our own.  40 years ago conservative political and religious leaders like President Ronald Regan and Pope John Paul II colluded on major political actions and social change. Lay Catholics began to search for new ways to experience a direct relationship to God.  Many of these explorations were condemned since they were outside of traditional structures.  The prevailing norms of sexual and gender expression were openly questioned by ordinary people.  Sex and sexuality are fraught and fearful topics for the Catholic hierarchy, and many bishops tried their best to suppress them.  Their best allies were presidents focused on wealth and expansion.  Today, President Trump sounds and acts a lot like King Philip IV.

We can point to one improvement in the last 700 years.  We can no longer be burned at the stake. 

Further Reading:

The Beguine, the Angel, and the Inquisitor: The Trials of Marguerite Porete and Guiard of Cressonessart by Sean L. Field

Allegories of Love in Marguerite Porete’s ‘Mirror of Simple Souls’ by Suzanne Kocher

A Companion to Marguerite Porete and the Mirror of Simple Souls by Robert Stauffer and Wendy R. Terry

The World on the End of a Reed by Francesca Caroline Bussey

The Heresy of the Free Spirit in the Later Middle Ages by Robert E. Lerner

Courting Sanctity: Holy Women and the Capetians by Sean L. Field

Transmitting the Memory of a Medieval Heretic: Early Modern French Historians on Marguerite Porete by Danielle C. Dubois

Marguerite Porete: The Mirror of Simple Souls by Ellen Babinsky

 

 

Pious Trash: From the Depths of Our Hearts

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 18, 2020 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Bishops, History, Humor, Pious Trash, Popes, Scandals

Pope Benedict XVI has contributed content to a new book, From the Depths of Our Hearts, which appears along with an essay by Cardinal Robert Sarah, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.  The book, which was released this week, is an emotional defense of priestly celibacy. 

In an amazing coincidence, the book comes while Pope Francis is considering the possibility of allowing older, married men to be ordained as priests in the Amazon region.

What wasn’t mentioned in the book is an action Pope Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, took almost 9 years ago to the day the book was published:  he welcomed married Anglican priests who planned to convert to Catholicism. In other words, the same Benedict that is writing from the depths of his heart on the need for priestly celibacy was the first pope to allow married Anglican priests who converted to Catholicism to serve as Catholic priests.  A small but revealing point:  these same men left the Church of England because they wholeheartedly disagreed with the ordination of women and openly gay priests.

If this isn’t bad/funny enough, Cardinal Sarah and Archbishop Georg Ganswein, Pope Benedict’s good-looking and long-time private secretary, are engaged in a slap-fest over Benedict’s participation in the book.  Did Cardinal Sarah use the 92-year-old, frail and mentally diminishing Pope Benedict in a fight against Pope Francis and/or to prop up book sales?

Archbishop Ganswein openly contradicted Cardinal Sarah’s official account of the genesis of the book, issuing a “clarification” on January 14, 2020 saying that while Pope Emeritus Benedict was certainly aware of Cardinal Sarah’s plan to produce a book on celibacy, Benedict “did not approve a project for a co-authored book and he had not seen or authorized the cover.” Archbishop Ganswein disclosed that he had, at the former pope’s request, asked Ignatius Press to remove the name of Benedict XVI as co-author of the book. Cardinal Sarah took a step back when he announced the same day on Twitter: “Considering the controversies that the publication of the book From the Depths of Our Hearts has provoked, it is decided that the author of the book for future publications will be: Cdl. Sarah, with the contribution of Benedict XVI.”  So far, the publishers are standing firm with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as co-author.

Cardinal Sarah’s pal, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, has denounced Archbishop Ganswein for what he calls his “abusive and systematic control” of the pope emeritus.  Of course, Vigano may still be smarting from the time Archbishop Ganswein told news media that contrary to Vigano’s claim, Pope Benedict did not confirm Vigano’s “testimony” on Pope Francis and the Cardinal McCarrick scandal. Ganswein said the whole thing was “fake news.”

Isn’t it fun to watch conservative prelates go picnicking on one another!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pious Trash: Is Racism a Part of Pro-Life/Pro-Choice Campaigns?

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 10, 2020 | Categories: Accountability, Pious Trash, Politics

According to a study cited in a July 6, 2019 New York Times article, “When ‘Black Lives Matter’ Is Invoked in the Abortion Debate,”black women have the highest abortion rate at 27.1 abortions per 1,000 women compared to 10 per 1,000 white women.  Yet, I rarely see black infants in anti-abortion ads.  The majority of babies are white.

When I look at news coverage of pro-choice demonstrations, I rarely see groups of black women as part of the marchers or in the leadership vanguard.

Unwanted pregnancy is not the only issue.  Economics is a big factor in abortion decisions.

Would conservative white donors to pro-life campaigns use their influence and money to promote economic opportunities for young African-Americans?

Would liberal white donors to pro-choice campaigns use their influence and money to shake up education and teachers unions in predominately black neighborhoods?

Why are pro-choice and pro-life groups so concerned with fetuses, but much less concerned with children?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pious Trash: Inconsistent Application of Catholic Moral Teaching

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 3, 2020 | Categories: Accountability, Faith, Lesbians & Gays, Pious Trash, Politics

Dr. Jeff Mirus is the chief commentator for Catholic Culture.org, an online publication that addresses current Catholic issues.  While I don’t often agree with his positions, I enjoy his writing and think about what he has to say.  I have changed my position on abortion based on reading his articles and those of other Catholic writers over the years. 

Unfortunately, like Catholic writers on the “Left”, conservative Catholics never vary their sermons. They focus almost exclusively on homosexuality, divorce, abortion and liturgies.  They rarely bother to address or finger-point on other important Catholic moral issues, like accumulation of wealth and possessions, responsibilities for immigrants and refugees, environmental pollution and the hungry and homeless we encounter every day in our neighborhoods and cities.  Jesus did address marriage, but he had a lot more to say about how we need to treat each other, friends and strangers in our midst.  According to Jesus, the salvation of our souls depends on two commandments:  honoring God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

In a July 8, 2019 article, Dr. Mirus discusses “Truth and the limits of inclusivity.” “Tolerance and inclusivity are now often used to justify the acceptance of immorality,” he says, “such that the only intolerable groups are those which engage in the precise moral reasoning needed to determine what ought to be “included” (and what is “excluded”), based on a proper understanding of human nature and the common good.”  Of course, any reader knows that these are code words and phrases for homosexuality, communion for divorced Catholics and other conservative Catholic bugaboos.

What I miss is the “moral reasoning” by many conservative Catholics when it comes to Catholic/Christian business leaders who pollute or degrade our natural resources and aren’t called to account; partisan Catholic/Christian politicians who don’t act in good faith to help the working poor and destitute; or members of the clergy–bishops, cardinals, and others–who are not exposed as frauds and hypocrites when they preach one morality and live another.

 

Pope Francis’ Little Book of Insults

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 29, 2019 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Dissent, Faith, Humor, Popes

The Truth hurts!

The author missed my favorite:  “The Church is not a museum.”  (Pope Francis’ opening sentence at the Synod on the Family.)

Enjoy the Little Book of Insults here.

 

Pious Trash: Cardinal Angelo Sodano Finally Gets Dumped

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 28, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, History, Pious Trash, Politics, Scandals

On December 21, 2017 Cardinal Angelo Sodano celebrated the funeral Mass for fugitive Cardinal Bernard Law.  Over the protests of many, the Mass was celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica.  In his homily, Sodano said, “unfortunately, each one of us can sometimes lack in fidelity to our mission. That is why, at the beginning of every Mass, we say the ‘Confiteor.’”  This prayer begins, “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned.” 

On December 21, 2019, the same day it was reported that Cardinal Sodano had shielded sexually abusive clergy in the Legion of Christ, Pope Francis accepted the 92-year-old cardinal’s resignation as dean of the College of Cardinals. Pope Francis used the occasion to express “my gratitude, including in the name of the members of the College of Cardinals, for the precious and punctual service he (Cardinal Sodano) has offered as dean for many years with availability, dedication, efficiency and a great ability to organize and coordinate.”

In the December 21, 2019 report the Legion of Christ identified 33 priests and 71 seminarians as sex abusers. The report stated that Cardinal Sodano was the one who led efforts to cover up reports of abuse when he served as the Vatican’s Secretary of State.  Many of the reports of abuse involved the notorious predator priest, Marcial Maciel Degollago, the founder and director general of the Legion of Christ.  Maciel was respected by many within the Vatican, including Pope John Paul II, as a prolific fund raiser and seminarian recruiter. Near the time of his death in 2005 he was publicly revealed to be a thief, drug addict and serial sexual abuser of young men and boys.  Marcial maintained sexual relationships with at least two women and fathered six children.  He sexually abused two of his sons.

For many decades, Cardinal Sodano’s chief priorities have been power and money. Money from the Legion flowed to Sodano in the form of gifts and honoraria. His family also benefited from his position and connections.  A nephew, Andrea Sodano, was involved in a real estate business with Raffaello Follieri, who was jailed in New York in 2008 on charges of fraud and money-laundering.  A major part of his business was buying up church and parish properties at fire sale prices to pay for lawsuits by sex abuse victims. Follieri/Sodano then resold them at a profit.

How was Pope Francis finally able to get rid of Sodano? In 2005 Pope Benedict tried and gave up, keeping him as Secretary of State. Were the claws of this rapacious bird finally too weak to tear and rend and hang on any longer?  The Legion’s own report finally did the job. Pope Benedict must have broken out the schnapps when he heard the good news.

 

Pious Trash: Archbishop Carlo Vigano is Back in the News

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 20, 2019 | Categories: Bishops, History, Lesbians & Gays, Pious Trash, Scandals, Sex

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano is back in the news.  He wrote a letter of support to a man who organized a rosary protest of an AIDS benefit at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna held on November 30, 2019. The rosary activist is the same man who defended the faith by pitching Pachamama statues into the Tiber during the Synod on the Amazon in Rome.

Once again Vienna, the glorious capital that was able to resist the advance of the Ottoman Horde with the weapons of light and faith suffers — dismayed and scandalized — yet another homoerotic and blasphemous provocation…”

 “I join with all my heart the little flock, who are perhaps without a Shepherd but are called to gather in the Heart of the Immaculata to implore from her, through the reparative prayer of the Holy Rosary, God’s forgiveness for the offenses and outrages that have been perpetrated.”

 “Faced with the sinister vision of a church that seems to want to rebuild itself against the faith and against the truth of the human person, that supports and promotes that which degrades life and causes the loss of souls, we wish to redouble our faith and tirelessly implore the Immaculate Mother of God and our true Mother: Vitam praesta puram, iter para tutum, ut videntes Iesum semper colletemurKeep our life all spotless, make our way secure, till we find in Jesus, joy for evermore (Ave Maris Stella). ”

I assume that Vigano’s description of a little flock “who are perhaps without a Shepherd” is a veiled, but defiant statement that Pope Francis really isn’t Pope.  I mean, how could a REAL Pope be seen with all these Muslims, idol worshippers from the Amazon, and advocate mercy and welcome instead of showing sinners/liberals the door?

The same guy who trashed Pope Francis on the “secret memo” curbing Cardinal McCarrick’s public appearances, protected the sexual and possible criminal misconduct by Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis when he was the U.S. papal nuncio.  When Nienstedt was cornered, Archbishop Vigano ordered the investigation called off, and evidence destroyed.  Vigano was recently exposed as looking the other way on West Virginia’s Bishop Bransfield’s sexual and financial excesses.  Bransfield was another prelate who had a taste for seminarians.  These guys behaved exactly like Cardinal McCarrick! Imagine that!

Archbishop Vigano witnessed–or was privy to–so much sin and scandal over the years in the Vatican and U.S. He wrote fewer nasty letters and made fewer sanctimonious public statements when he still had hopes of being named a cardinal.  Now that his fondest hope is dashed, he can really let it rip.

 

 

Pious Trash: The Fake Pachamama Scandal

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 13, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, Faith, Pious Trash, Scandals

There is a wealth of Pious Trash in Msgr. Charles Pope’s column, “Church’s Silence Deafens World” published in the National Catholic Register this month.  It was a long discourse on the negative effects of tolerating bad behavior in society and in the church as defined by Catholic conservatives, and a major whine on why isn’t the Pope doing something about it!

The faithful are not discouraged, they are confused and scandalized. Many have been led to think that sins like divorce and remarriage, homosexual acts and idolatry are compatible with the Catholic faith.  They are not! Yet some of the most awful things have been done and said by Church leaders (purportedly or definitively) without any clear explanation, let alone attempts at refutation.  The silence has been deafening. The enemies of the faith are encouraged while the faithful are disheartened.”

I hope Msgr. Pope is not defining “enemies of the faith” as liberal Catholics, feminist Catholics, lesbian and gay Catholics and our defenders, Catholics who have divorced and remarried, and Catholics who are weary and fed up with legalistic and narrow definitions of “faithful Catholics.” 

By idolatry I assume Msgr. Pope is referring to the wooden carvings of Pachamama, a representation of a naked pregnant Amazonian woman that were displayed and part of  some ceremonies during the Amazonian Synod in October.  The Pachamama is a female fertility figure venerated as “Mother Earth” by some native peoples in the Amazon region. The woman who presented it to Pope Francis called it “Our Lady of the Amazon.” It is a symbol of Life. Why is this idolatry compared to our church statuary? Most churches and cathedrals in the U.S. have a statue of the Blessed Mother standing on a snake. She is crowned by real or plastic flowers every May. I remember singing when I was a teenager: Bring flow’rs of the fairest, Bring flow’rs of the rarest, From garden and woodland, and hillside and vale; Our full hearts are swelling, Our Glad voices telling, The praise of the loveliest Rose of the Vale. O Mary! We crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May, O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May. 

The lyrics certainly represent spring and fertility. The ritual of flowers and the observation has its roots in Pagan Europe.  In addition, every parish church has a statue of their patron saint.  St. Bartholomew holds his skin and a flaying knife; Saint Denis holds his talking head, and St. Lucy holds a plate with her eyeballs. Everyday Catholics are familiar with gruesome martyrdom stories, but I can imagine the wide-eyed reaction from first-time visitors who think displaying such figures is  weird, icky or sick.  To us it’s not idolatry. It’s an artistic representation that’s part of our heritage.

The ongoing sex abuse crisis has ALL Catholics scandalized. This includes not only the priests and religious that used the young and vulnerable for sexual pleasure and release but the bishops and others in the hierarchy who protected and covered up for them, and in some cases, were abusers themselves. On top of the sex abuse lies and hypocrisy, a second scandal involves the millions and millions in contributions and gifts that were used to fund decadent  lifestyles, hush money and settlements that were out of public view.  They were protected by opaque accounting practices and careerist clerics who kept their mouths shut.

Are any priests or bishops willing to forfeit their ecclesiastical careers and name names?  Release hidden records to newspapers and the local District Attorney?  Drag the scum out into the light of day?  The silence is deafening from the men who know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pious Trash: Fr. LaCuesta’s Awful Funeral Homily

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 6, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Faith, Pious Trash, Scandals

“If we Christians are right in believing that salvation belongs to Jesus Christ, that it does not come from us–and that our hand cannot stop what God allows for us, then yes, there is hope in eternity even for those who take their own lives. Having said that, I think that we must not call what is bad good, what is wrong right. Because we are Christians, we must say what we know is the truth – that taking your own life is against God who made us and against everyone who loves us. Our lives are not our own. They are not ours to do with as we please. God gave us life, and we are to be good stewards of that gift for as long as God permits. The finality of suicide makes this all the worse. You cannot make things right again.” 

Read the whole homily here.

Those comforting, inspiring and hopeful words were spoken by a priest, Fr. Don LaCuesta, at the funeral Mass of a high school student who had committed suicide.  Fr. LaCuesta is the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Temperance, Michigan. In discussing the service with the priest, the parents had asked that he focus on their son’s life. They also discussed some other arrangements for the service, including having his siblings cover his coffin with the pall.

None of that happened.  Instead, the family got blindsided with a lecture about the sinfulness of suicide and its awful consequences.  The family, relatives and classmates of the deceased were visibly distraught.  Many of them did not know the young man had committed suicide.  The father twice approached the pulpit asking the priest to stop the homily, but the priest refused and continued to the end of his sermon.

Since then, the story has received national attentionArchbishop Allen H. Vigneron, publicly reprimanded and sanctioned him.  The youth’s mother recently filed a lawsuit against Fr. LaCuesta and the Archdiocese which details their grievances. 

I’m not sure why Catholic conservatives always feel compelled to defend their brethren, even in nonsensical situations.  The Catholic World Report recently reprinted a column by Dr. Edward N. Peters about the incident entitled “God Bless Fr. LaCuesta.”  Dr. Peter’s comments certainly earned him Honorable Mention in this week’s Pious Trash award.

 

 

 

 

The Lady in Blue

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 1, 2019 | Categories: Faith, History

The Venerable Maria of Jesus of Agreda (1602-1665) was an abbess and mystic.  Her bilocation between her convent in Spain and native peoples in New Mexico, Texas and Arizona is legendary. 

Maria of Jesus spent her entire life within the confines of her family compound in Agreda, Spain. She never left her cloister. When Maria was twelve, her mother converted the home into a convent for herself and her daughters. When she was 25, Maria became abbess of this Franciscan Convent of the Immaculate Conception.

Sr. Maria is mainly known for three parts of her life: an 11-year period of bilocation to New Mexico and Texas; her correspondence of 22 years with King Philip IV and a four-volume work on the life of the Virgin Mary, titled the Mystical City of God.  She said the Virgin Mary herself dictated most of the material.  She was investigated by the Inquisition several times but exonerated. Her friendship with the king may have been an important factor in ensuring that outcome.

Maria said she first visited New Mexico in 1620. It was the first of more than 500 journeys or flights, sometimes as many as four in one day. They continued until 1631.  She did not know whether she traveled in the body or out of body.  They started when she expressed a desire to see and evangelize the native peoples.  They stopped, she said, when they had access to baptism and the Eucharist.

She spoke to people in Spanish but was understood.  She understood the languages native peoples spoke to her.  Because they did not know her name, they called her “The Lady in Blue” because of the blue cape or mantle she wore over her habit.

Sr. Maria was able to describe the plants and animals there, as well as the way people dressed and painted themselves. She described one landscape she visited as a place where two rivers meet.  In San Angelo, Texas, the Middle Concho River is joined by the South Concho River.  The current bishop of San Angelo, Bishop James Sis, said many of the native people in the area who are Catholic have a strong devotion to the Lady in Blue. 

In 1690, Franciscan priest Fr. Damian Massanet helped to create San Francisco de los Tejas, the first mission in east Texas.  In a report to the Viceroy, he relates an incident that took place during the expedition. While they were distributing cloth as gifts to the local people, their chief or “governor” as Fr. Massanet called him, asked for a piece of blue baize.  He wanted to use it as a shroud to buy his mother when she died.  Massanet writes, “I told him that cloth would be better, and he said that he did not want any other color than blue. I asked then what mystery was attached to the color blue, and the governor said that they were very fond of blue, particularly for burial clothes, because in times past a very beautiful woman visited them there, who descended from the heights, and that this woman was dressed in blue and that they wished to be like her.”

Two reports of a nun teaching the native people about Christ and Christianity reached the Archbishop of Mexico, Francisco Manzo y Zuniga about the same time. One report was from Maria’s confessor, Friar Sebastian Marilla, who contacted the Archbishop to learn if Maria’s report to him that she had mystically traveled to the southwest was true.  The other report came from missionaries in the territory who related how the natives sought them out under the direction of a Lady in Blue.  To determine the truth of the reports, the Archbishop assigned Friar Alonso de Benavides to investigate. Friar Benavides had arrived in New Mexico in 1626. He was a Franciscan priest of Portuguese descent. Charged by his order as Custodian (head) of the missions, Benavides toured New Mexico extensively, overseeing the establishment and strengthening of missions. 

In 1629 Benavides was sitting outside the Isleta Mission (south of Albuquerque, New Mexico) when a group of 50 natives from an unknown tribe approached him and asked that he send missionaries to their territory.  The travelers were Jumanos, and they had traveled a great distance from a place called Titlas, or Texas. The Jumanos said a woman dressed in blue had appeared in their midst and had taught them about the Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. She told them to ask for further instruction and baptism from the Franciscan missionaries. They knew where to find the Franciscan friars from the directions given to them by this Lady in Blue. Two missionaries were sent back with the Jumanos.  The friars found the people well instructed in the faith and baptized the entire tribe. 

Friar Benavides included this story in his famous 1630 Memorial, or report, which he personally presented to King Philip IV of Spain. This history of Spanish activity in the southwest included descriptions of the geography, culture of the native peoples, evangelization efforts, and the impact of contact with Spanish clergy, settlers and soldiers.  Benavides praised the abundant wildlife, arable land and potential mineral wealth of New Mexico.  It was a successful fund-raising document. King Philip IV continued to fully fund Franciscan missionary efforts in the region.

Benavides visited the abbess in Agreda in April 1631 and interviewed her over a period of three weeks. He wrote “she convinced me absolutely by describing to me all the things in New Mexico as I have seen them myself…She told me so many tales of this country, that I did not even remember them myself, and she brought them back to my mind.”  He even obtained the habit she wore when she went there.  “The veil radiates such a fragrance that it is a comfort to the spirit,” he wrote. 

Friar Benavides is primarily remembered for his 1630 Memorial which included the first mention of the Lady in Blue; and for bringing the religious statue of La Conquistadora to New Mexico.  On February 12, 1634, he presented Pope Urban VIII with a revised copy of his Memorial. In that edition Benavides urged that New Mexico be given its own bishop and a cathedral built in Santa Fe.  He actively lobbied for that appointment.  Instead, for some unknown reason, he was appointed as the new auxiliary bishop for the Portuguese colony of Goa. Benavides was last seen in Lisbon, taking ship for India.  After that, he disappears from history. He may have died crossing the Arabian Sea.

Another written testimony to the presence of Sr. Maria among the natives in Arizona comes from Captain Juan Mateo Mange, who traveled with Jesuit priests Eusebio Francisco Kino and Adamo Gil on the expedition to the Colorado and Gila rivers in 1699. The explorers questioned some elderly natives and asked whether they had heard stories about Don Juan de Onate, who passed through their region with soldiers and horses around 1606.  The people told the Spanish that they could remember hearing of such a group from the old people who were now dead. They added—without any prompting—that when they were children a beautiful white woman, dressed in white, brown and blue, with a cloth covering her head, had come to their land. She had spoken, shouted and harangued them…and showed them a cross.  Warriors had shot her with arrows, leaving her for dead.  She revived and disappeared into the air. They did not know where she came from or lived. After a few days, she returned again and then many times after to speak to them. 

Sr. Maria only mentions her bilocation in two documents written almost twenty years apart.  The first was a 1631 letter to Franciscan missionaries working in New Mexico to encourage them in their efforts to convert local people. She described her visits to native communities and the resistance to conversion by some members of these communities which feared Christianity as a source of evil. On several occasions the natives turned on her, and shot arrows at her, leaving her for dead. She said she felt the pain of the attacks, but when she would come to herself later in the Agreda convent there was no sign of wounds.

In 1650, Sr. Maria described her mystic journeys in a letter to Bishop Pedro Manero of the Inquisition.  In her letter she attempted to clarify some of the information included in Friar Benavides Memorial (or report) published in 1631. She argued that some of the descriptions he included were not false but had been exaggerated. She always maintained that she was unsure as to whether she had traveled in corporeal form or only in spirit, or whether it may have been an angel disguised as her.

Is there any truth to Sr. Maria of Agreda’s claims?

The native peoples of the southwest U.S. and Mexico had extensive trade and travel networks.  They also had contact with Spanish explorers, soldiers and religious since the 1530s—almost 100 years before Maria’s spiritual journeys.  It is probable they heard stories about Catholic beliefs, practices and veneration of the Virgin Mary. The Blessed Mother is often portrayed wearing a blue cloak in statues and art.  Cabeza de Vaca and his fellow shipwreck survivors, Esteban, Alonso Castillo and Andres Dorantes, sojourned with the Jumanos and other Pueblo peoples in their trek from Texas to Mexico.  They undoubtedly used Catholic prayers and blessings as part of their healing ceremonies as shaman-doctors.

Could the natives have witnessed a Marian apparition, like Our Lady of Guadalupe, or heard stories about Our Lady of Guadalupe?  She was also a beautiful woman dressed in a blue cloak.  She appeared to Juan Diego several times in 1531.  Stories of this apparition could have made their way north to other peoples. 

Another Spanish nun, Mother Luisa de Carrion (1565-1636) also claimed to have undertaken many visits to the native people of New Mexico.  Could it have been her?  In 1629 her cross was carried by Franciscan priest Francisco de Porras to a mission he established at Awatovi among the Hopi.  Mother Carrion fared less well with the Inquisition than Sr. Maria with her bilocation journeys.  She was forced to have her tongue measured “to determine if it was short, like a witch’s.” The political tensions and social fissions Fr. Porras caused by his proselytizing were resented by many tribal elders. Poison was suspected when he died in 1633.

Sr. Maria may have heard stories about New Mexico, the native peoples and Franciscan missionaries from travelers, pilgrims and others who visited Agreda.  I’m sure she yearned to go herself, but she was confined to a convent. In liminal space during prayer, Sr. Maria either took flight in her imagination, or really made the trip herself, bilocating to Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. I believe Sr. Maria bilocated at least once, traveling to the Jumanos people of Texas to direct them to the Franciscan missionaries to be baptized.

Who is the Lady in Blue?  Was it Sr. Maria of Agreda; an apparition of the Virgin Mary, or a composite legend with its root in an ancient mystical event?  Whatever the truth may be, she is an incongruous figure: a venerated woman in indigenous folklore, and a useful evangelist who helped promote Spain’s colonial ambitions in the 17th century southwest.