Regarding the Diary's Authenticity

A reader named Mark recently had questions regarding the authenticity of St. Faustina's Diary, considering her lack of formal education. Referring to St. Faustina, Mark wrote:

[S]he wrote a 730-page diary. With phrases like this, "The flames of mercy are burning Me, clamoring to be spent; I want to keep pouring them out upon souls; souls just don't want to believe in My goodness." Unfortunately, I am a review real estate appraiser. So, I read numerous appraisal reports. Mostly the reports are poorly written, riddled with typos, left out words, mistakes and other disasters. Most the authors have college degrees. When I write my own review reports, the first go around is merely getting my thoughts down. I spend hours and hours re-writing and improving my report. Then proof read them the next few days, improving them. So, how is it that someone with three years of basic education can write such beautiful prose? I feel that something is disingenuous. Either she had more education or someone helped her with the writing. On Divine Mercy Sunday, I tried as faithfully as possible to open my soul to the burning flames of mercy from our Lord. Let the flames of mercy burn away all of the temporal punishments that I have built up over all these years. I am sorry but it just stuck me and so I am writing you for some clarifications on this topic.

We thought it would be worthwhile to share with you the response provided by Robert Stackpole, STD, the director of the Marian Fathers' John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy:

Dear Mark,

Many thanks for your good question! You are obviously a sincere seeker after truth, and your desire to get to the bottom of this matter is certainly commendable. To begin with, however, I am going to make your conundrum even worse, before I do my best to make it better. The fact of the matter is that little Helena Kowalska (in Polish, "Helenka," the future Sister Faustina) did not have three years of basic education. She actually had only three semesters of basic education! Publications (including our website, which we shall have to amend in this regard — thanks for bringing it to our attention!) sometimes innocently and erroneously state the former, but the latter is the case.

Now, you might say: "Well it's obvious, then, that someone with only a second grade education, only in the middle of her second year of schooling before she left, could not write her Diary. So the Diary must be a forgery." But there are several reasons why this line of reasoning doesn't hold water.

First of all, Helenka did not start her elementary education when our children normally do, at about the age of six. Rather, she started at the age of 12 . The problem was that the schools for Polish children were closed when she was a child because life was completely disrupted for families living in the war zone during the First World War. As her father certainly could read, he may have helped her get a headstart at home during those difficult years. In any case, we know for a fact that when she finally got to go to the local school in the village of Swinice, she breezed through much of the elementary curriculum, before having to leave again because she was too old to continue (room had to be made for the younger students).

Second, we know from historical sources that her teacher regretted that such a clever child had to finish her education prematurely. Indeed, throughout her youth, Helenka impressed everyone by her lively intelligence and good memory. In her biography of Sr. Faustina, titled St. Sister Faustina: Her Life and Mission (1989; an excellent biography by the way, which includes information from the official Vatican investigation about her life, including testimonies from her family members, friends, and fellow religious sisters), Maria Tarnawska shows that Helenka was remarkably bright, and already an avid reader even before she left to live and work outside home at the age of 14:

Her father, who liked to read, had a modest collection of books. She would tell [the other children in the neighborhood], above all, what she had heard from him. He read to them "from the Bible, or about missionaries teaching wild tribes, or about hermits living on roots and totally absorbed in prayer." To her father's readings could be added the Sunday sermons, which she would repeat faithfully and convincingly when she came back from church. When she herself had learned to read, she took over from her father the times of reading aloud to the family. Then her repertoire of stories grew far larger, for she borrowed books wherever she could: from neighbours, the parish priest, her teacher. They were always religious books. (p. 27-28)

Third, remember that education in those days in Poland, as almost everywhere at the time, and especially in rural areas (think "Little House on the Prairie" and a one-room schoolhouse!), was almost exclusively centered on the so-called three "R's": reading, (w)riting, and (a)rithmetic. There was almost nothing in the way of social studies, art, drama, music, physical ed, etc. — all the bells and whistles of a modern western education. All that emphasis on the three R's meant that most children in those schools, in those days, and especially the bright ones, could read and write and do their sums at a considerably earlier age than children today normally do. Indeed, the inability to write proper English is an epidemic among schoolchildren today, even at the university undergraduate level (in which I used to teach). It was a very different world back then, with no television or video games to distract children either!

Finally, Mark, the example you gave in your letter helps illustrate another important consideration. You quoted Diary, entry 730: "The flames of mercy are burning Me, clamoring to be spent; I want to keep pouring them out upon souls; souls just don't want to believe in My goodness." But notice that those were words spoken by Jesus to St. Faustina, which she merely wrote down according to her (rather good) memory. It certainly is a florid and expressive quote, but so are many of the things that Jesus said to her, as recorded in her Diary. To me, that is one of the main things that makes her Diary, and the revelations recorded in it, ring with authenticity: Jesus doesn't sound like her! Her prose is fairly simple and straightforward (except when she breaks into poetry, which is very profound in content, but the poetic form is not very good). When Jesus speaks, however, He is not just conversational (He sounds a lot like Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia, books which had not been written yet, of course). But He doesn't sound phony, pompous or grandiose either. He sounds, well ... like Jesus — and certainly not like her.

Anyway, I hope that helps. Besides all this, there is absolutely zero historical evidence of any conspiracy by anyone to produce a fake Diary with fake revelations in it, and the writing and periodic review of the whole thing was overseen by another holy soul, Blessed Fr. Michael Sopocko, who (with two doctoral degrees under his belt) could not be easily bamboozled by anyone, and who (in his "Recollections") stated that he had asked St. Faustina to write it. In short, we are on firm ground in believing that St. Faustina really wrote this book, that she really, sincerely believed that Jesus personally instructed her about His merciful love, and that she faithfully recorded these revelations from our Lord as His own "secretary of Divine Mercy" (Diary, 1605).

Yours in our Savior,

Robert Stackpole, STD, director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy.

 

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