February 15, 2020 – Our Lady’s Saturday – Simple Feast
A Reader Asks: “Do the Writings of Mary of Agreda
Have Any Dogmatic Value, or Are They Merely Pious Speculations?”
Mary of Agreda’s Controversial Work Known in English as the “Mystical City of God” Purports to Describe Events As They Are Not Described in Sacred Scripture And Is Exceedingly Graphic In the Peculiar Mode Of Early Modern Spanish Catholicism The Nature of the Speculations
Dear TRADITIO Fathers:
Do Mary of Agreda’s writings called Mistica Ciudad de Dios, Vida de la Virgen María (Mystical City of God, Life of the Virgin Mary) have any dogmatic value, or are they merely pious speculations? I ask specifically in reference to her description of the crucifixion in terms that are not described in the Holy Gospels.
The TRADITIO Fathers Reply.
Your question provides a good opportunity to clarify once again what is dogmatic, i.e., what must be believed by all Catholics on pain of heresy as coming from Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition, and what any Catholic is free to accept or reject, as non-dogmatic pious speculations.
The writings of Mary of Agreda clearly fall into the pious-speculations category. They are, of course, not part of Apostolic Tradition, as they were written in the seventeenth century, 1700 years after the actual events, not handed down from the Apostles. Post-apostolic writings can never be affirmatively approved by the Church, as they are not part of Apostolic Tradition. The Church can determine only negatively that nothing in such writings is contrary to Apostolic Tradition. Accordingly, there is no obligation for a Catholic to believe anything in such post-apostolic writings. It is the dogma of the Church that Apostolic Tradition closed with the death of the last Apostle, St. John ca. A.D. 100.
It seems that Mary of Agreda’s work is particularly controversial, coming from the exceedingly-graphic mode of Spanish Catholicism of the time, which was also reflected in Spanish art of the time.
As to the specific issue of the mode of Christ’s crucifixion, we have historical records contemporaneous to the crucifixion that clearly indicate what the process was. Horrible as it was, to soft-pedal the reality is wishful thinking and does no honor to Our Lord. Actually, Our Lord’s sacrifice is seen to be all the greater if we understand the truth of it. What Our Lord suffered to redeem us was horrible beyond belief. This horror is described in Sacred Scripture, particularly in chapter 50 of the Old Testament Book of Isaias the Prophet. The Church reminds of this horror also in Psalm 21 (Deus, Deus meus), recited during the stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday.