Official Papal Approval

Blessed Innocent XI (1676-1689)

He was the first Pope to take official action regarding the Mystical City of God. A great Servant of Mary (he was a Servite tertiary), he took great interest when the Supreme Inquisition in Rome condemned it.

On June 26, 1681, a condemnation of the book by the Tribunal of the Holy Office was presented to him. Since the book had stirred controversy, and since he trusted the Holy Office had done due diligence, he signed it. The condemnatory decree was published Aug. 4, 1681.

This decree caused great dismay in Spain and Portugal. Both the King and Queen of Spain, being themselves devotees of The Mystical City of God, penned respectful and loving letters to His Holiness beseeching him to reconsider this decision.

What he did next shall eternally redound to his glory: He read it himself! (Would that priests, religious and laity in our own day follow his example.) Convinced of its excellence and benefit to souls he decided to suspend his previous sentence and allow the books to be read until a more thorough examination and decision could be made (which indeed was done; see below). His suspensory decree is dated Nov. 9, 1681, a mere three months after the above condemnatory decree, and its salient sentence reads thus:

“Regarding the cause of the books of the nun, Mary of Ágreda, we have decided to suspend sentence…even though the procedure and practice of this Sacred Inquisition would counsel otherwise…Given at Rome from St. Mary Major, under the Ring of the Fisherman, November 9, 1681, the sixth year of Our Pontificate.”

And for our day, here is the critical point. I have been personally told this suspension was for Spain only. At face value this assertion struck me as odd, for how could a book be permitted in one geographical location in the Church yet forbidden everywhere else?

To lay this assertion to rest once and for all, we need only refer to an incident in 1713 in which the Bishop Examiner of Ceneda, Italy proclaimed that according to the condemnatory decree of Aug. 4, 1681, The Mystical City of God was prohibited. However, Clement XI issued a decree in which, noting the Examiner had concealed many other previous decrees of several Popes who favored the book, he approved the decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office dated Sept. 26, 1713, in which the Examiner was commanded to retract his condemnation; this decree also stated the suspensory decree of Innocent XI had the force of law throughout the universal Church. Hence there is no basis to assert the suspension was for Spain only, and even if the suspensory decree of Innocent XI of Nov. 9, 1681, was the only official action taken by a Pope, we would be allowed to read the book. That is objective fact and cannot be argued. Yet the book was minutely examined by Rome, and no less than four future Popes approved it as shown below.

Yet I must delve deeper here, since this whole episode begs the question: How could a Pope condemn a book, and then approve it? Good question, and the answer is given in The Cause for the Beatification of the Ven. Mary of Jesus of Ágreda, a Latin manuscript which is to this day in the archives of the Congregation of Rites. This original document was personally researched in Rome in 1957 by Very Rev. Peter Mary Rookey, OSM, Consultor General of the Servants of Mary, in order to answer this very question. He found on page five of this document a deposition of Cardinal Aquaviva informing Benedict XIV the primary evidence presented to the Tribunal in 1681 was given by a biased censor, the Tribunal was unaware of this bias, and (shockingly) the Tribunal issued the condemnation without having the book before it either in the original or authentic copy. And most importantly, the censor had based his objections not on the authentic Spanish text of The Mystical City of God but upon a grossly false French translation done by Jansenists!

Thus I believe it may be argued the authentic Mystical City of God has never been condemned by Rome, but rather the false French translation of it. To my thinking this must be the case, for otherwise we have the confusing, scandalous, and indeed impossible case of the Supreme Magisterium condemning a book and yet a scant three months later allowing it to be read. And in fact such was not the case, since we are here dealing with two different books: The Magisterium condemned the false book and approved the true one, to the dismay of the heretics and the vindication of Ven. Mary. We can no more say The Mystical City of God is condemned by the Church than we can say the Bible is condemned by the Church, for in similar fashion the Church has approved The Latin Vulgate and all correct translations of it while condemning many false translations.

Regarding the assertion I have personally heard from certain priests that the book is either condemned or could be read only in Spain (?), when I asked where they obtained that information the universal reply has been the Catholic Encyclopedia. I researched this and found the passage referring to Ven. Mary of Ágreda in the 1907 Edition. I read this article, and comparing it to my other research found it to be such a grossly biased tissue of calumnies and glaring omissions I could not believe it passed for scholarship. What especially marks this article as nothing more than a non-Catholic diatribe is its omission of any positive decrees of the Popes regarding the book (cf. the 1713 incident above) while emphasizing the condemnation of the Mystical City of God issued by the theological faculty of the Sorbonne (University of Paris) in 1696, a faculty riddled with (you guessed it) Jansenists. And note this bold and scandalous condemnation was issued 15 years after Innocent XI decided the books could be read. But this is not surprising, since this 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia contained so much Modernist pseudo-scholarship * that when the first volume of it, ironically containing the very article on Ven. Mary, was boldly presented in person to St. Pius X, he threw it on the ground.

And by the way, the authorities in Rome were none too pleased the Sorbonne had dared to issue its own judgment of the book while Rome was still studying it, allowing it to be read in the meanwhile. So Rome investigated the Sorbonne and found it to be so infested with Jansenists that Rome took away its right to call itself a Catholic institution. And in case the reader does not know, perhaps the greatest hallmark of Jansenism is its impious downplaying and/or lack of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Simply put, they are not sons of the Handmaid of the Lord (cf. Lk. 1:38; Ps. 85:16; 115:16; Preparation for Mass for Priests), and their wicked opposition to The Mystical City of God is a classic example of this.

Alexander VIII (1689-1691)

Bl. Innocent XI’s successor Alexander VIII took up the cause of the Mystical City of God, declaring verbally “hos libros posse ab omnibus impune legi”, these books may be read by everybody with impunity. (Books is plural because the City of God is divided into three parts and eight books.)

Clement XI (1700-1721)

Not only did he command the Bishop of Ceneda in 1713 to retract his condemnation of the book (see above), declaring the suspensory decree of Bl. Innocent XI had full force of law throughout the universal Church, he also commanded the name of Ven. Mary to be erased from the Index of Forbidden Books; it had appeared in the 1704 edition, and when investigated no one would take responsibility for it. He also prohibited the Mystical City of God from being placed on the Index. He came to realize the Sacred Congregation of the Index was proposing to pass judgment on the book, so he ordered nothing to be discussed in this Commission without his consent, reserving final judgment to himself.

He also issued a decree on June 5, 1705, stating the book was free from errors in faith and morals and could be retained and read by all the faithful.

Benedict XIII (1724-1730)

The Mystical City of God, having been minutely scrutinized periodically for decades by Rome, was finally given entire and unequivocal approval by Benedict XIII, who signed the following decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, which was examining the cause for the beatification of Ven. Mary:

“It is ordered that the cause of the above-mentioned Servant of God shall be continued before the holy Congregation of Rites without further examination of the Mystical City of God, and these books can be retained and read. March 14, 1729.”

It was truly appropriate for this great Pope to give final approval, since he himself was such an avid devotee of the book. In fact, when he was Archbishop of Benevento he gave a series of sermons taken from it.

Benedict XIV (1740-1758)

On Jan. 16, 1748, Benedict XIV promulgated a decree in which he declared the Mystical City of God contained nothing contrary to faith or morals.

Full approval having been given, the enemies of the Mystical City of God could no longer attack the book itself, so their final attacks were against the claims that Ven. Mary actually wrote and personally composed the book. On May 7, 1757, Benedict XIV answered the first charge by promulgating the following decree:

“It follows the Venerable Servant of God, Sister Mary of Jesus of Ágreda, wrote in the Spanish language the work which is treated in eight volumes and distributed under the title The Mystical City of God.”

He also stated in 1753 (as extant in Magnum Bullarium Romanum):

“We read in the history of the life of Sr. Mary of Jesus that after she had written the work known as The Mystical City of God a certain confessor commanded her to burn the work. She did so immediately as she was ordered. Then another confessor who was more experienced in spiritual matters commanded her to rewrite the work anew. It happened, not without a miracle, that the same work was rewritten by the Servant of God without any discrepancy from the one which was burned previously, except for certain unimportant editions.” [my emphasis – Ed.]

Clement XIV (1769-1774)

As for the charge that Ven. Mary had not personally composed The Mystical City of God, but had merely copied part or all of it from the work of another author (O the depth of impious intrigue!), Clement XIV laid that to rest by the following decree of March 11, 1771, the last Papal decree regarding the book:

“The Mystical City of God follows the uniformity of style of other works written by the Servant of God, Mary of Jesus of Ágreda; therefore it can truthfully inferred this aforesaid work was composed by this Servant of God.”

Let all who believe the Mystical City of God is condemned by the Church, or who presume to judge and condemn the book themselves, even forbidding others to read it, take notice of the above Papal pronouncements and conform themselves to the decisions of the Holy See if they wish to avoid the sin and crime of schism incurred by anyone who knowingly dares to reject the authority of the Roman Pontiff.

Moreover, since in our own day there are (sadly) a few priests and laity who have in fact publicly condemned the book, it is my intention to demand public retraction of their opposition according to the following statement of Abbe J.A. Boullan, D.D., who extracted a book on St. Joseph directly from The Mystical City of God:

“He who, by whatever rank, dignity or honor he may be invested, presumes to forbid the reading of The Mystical City of God, which has been approved by the Holy See, will be obliged, if required, to make a public retraction.”

Having published the New English Edition, I intend to spend the rest of my life continuing to promote and defend The Mystical City of God, giving lectures and even challenging any obstinate opponent of the book to a public debate. I shall do this respectfully, yet not with respect of persons, since especially in our times when Modernism, the operation of error, is so rampant, we must, as St. Paul said, receive the love of the truth (II Thes. 2:10). No one needs designated or special authority to defend the manifest truth as given to us by the infallible Magisterium of the Church; rather, it is the duty of every baptized and confirmed Catholic to do so when the good of souls and the defense of Catholic Magisterial truth demands it.

* A textbook example occurs in an article on the Apostles’ Creed in which it is stated “we cannot safely affirm the Apostolic composition of the Creed” (Vol. I, p. 631). This is blatant heresy.