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By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Jun 22, 2013)
One of the things that baffles people who dig into the story of the spread of the Divine Mercy message and devotion is that the message seems to have caused controversy among theologians at first. And it still does.

This is a bit hard for many of us to understand. We can see why there was controversy and debate over its origin: the "private revelations" of an uneducated nun. We can understand why the Church would want to proceed very carefully before giving credence to extraordinary revelations like these. We know that the Vatican in the 1950s had received a faulty translation of St. Faustina's Diary into Italian, and that this had caused a great deal of confusion and serious doubt about the authenticity of her revelations.

But why in the world would any Catholics object to the message itself: Isn't the doctrine of the merciful love of God the very heart of the Catholic faith? So what was the problem?

One of our readers, named Jim, put the question this way:

Can you tell me why there would be obstacles of a theological nature to the message of mercy? Would it be because the Church felt that God was more just than merciful then? Is this why the message was met with such suspicion?

Well, not exactly, Jim. Blessed Michael Sopocko, St. Faustina's principal spiritual director, stated in his own recollections that when he first began analyzing the content of St. Faustina's messages, such as the one where Jesus states that "mercy is the greatest attribute of God" (Diary, 301), he "found nothing on this subject in the works of the more modern theologians."

As a matter of fact, it wasn't that theologians or bishops were teaching that God's justice was greater than His mercy. Nor were they forgetting about God's mercy altogether. In 1928, for example, when St. Faustina was 23 years old, Pope Pius XI issued an encyclical entitled Miserentissimus Redemptor ("Most Merciful Redeemer") that centered on the merciful Heart of Jesus, and the importance of making reparation to His Heart.

This encyclical includes the beautiful teaching that we can actually console the Heart of Jesus by our works of love and piety (the subject of my doctoral thesis in Rome!). So it is not as if Divine Mercy was completely forgotten by Catholics at the time or that God's justice was considered greater than His mercy. But most Catholics just weren't prepared to say that any of God's attributes were "greater" than any other.

That God's merciful love is indeed His "greatest" attribute is implied in the Scriptures and had been taught by great saints of the Church such as St. Augustine in his commentaries on the Psalms and St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae.

In the mid-20th century, however, Catholic intellectuals were in the process of recovering the philosophical aspects of St. Thomas Aquinas's thought. Saint Thomas had taught that, seen from the philosophical angle, in the simplicity of God's essence, all the attributes of God are really one; they all refer to the same infinite, eternal act of God's perfect being. God does not have "parts," or attributes that are separable from each other. They are always in act, all at once, and inseparably so, bound up with each other at every moment.

Thus, God's justice is always loving, and His mercy is always just, from all eternity. Therefore, from a philosophical perspective, one cannot say that one of God's attributes is "greater" than any other; they all just refer to the same thing: His perfect being! At Vatican II, however, the Church strongly encouraged the faithful, including Catholic theologians, to recover biblical perspectives on the faith, and not just philosophical perspectives. Thus, Fr. Ignacy Rozycki, who analyzed St. Faustina's Diary for the Vatican in the 1970s, pointed out that if we consider God's attributes not just in an abstract, philosophical way, in themselves, but in their relation to us, as the Bible does, then we can indeed say that mercy is God's greatest attribute for His creatures.

Father Rozycki put it this way: "Within this biblical understanding, the results of the activity of merciful love are the greatest in the world, and in this respect, mercy surpasses all other Divine attributes." In other words, since God's mercy is synonymous with His compassionate love that seeks to meet the needs and overcome the miseries of His creatures,to us (that is, from our perspective as His creatures) there is no attribute of God that we need more, and that makes a bigger difference! And of course, this is precisely what Pope John Paul II taught in his encyclical Dives in Misericordia ("Rich in Mercy"): "Some theologians affirm that mercy is the greatest of the attributes and perfections of God, and the Bible, Tradition, and the whole faith life of the People of God provide particular proofs of this" (no. 13).

In short, the recovery by the Church of a more biblical perspective on God (a perspective that does not contradict true philosophical perspectives on God, but completes them — "rounds out the picture," so to speak) was a big step on the road to opening the minds and hearts of Catholic thinkers to appreciate the revelations of God's merciful love given to St. Faustina.

Of course, the Divine Mercy message was controversial at first for other reasons, too. Saint Faustina reported that Jesus had asked for the Second Sunday of Easter, the octave day of Easter, to be named the Feast of The Divine Mercy, and many liturgists felt that this was inappropriate. They feared it might obscure the celebration of Easter or set a precedent of establishing feast days for all the other attributes of God.

Blessed Sopocko began answering these objections as early as 1952, with the appearance of the first English edition of his booklet "The Feast of the Most Merciful Savior." Many of these objections are also addressed and answered here on this website in a long essay entitled "Understanding Divine Mercy Sunday".

A big breakthrough on this issue came in the research of our own Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, who served as vice-postulator of the Cause for the Canonization of Sister Faustina. Father Seraphim discovered that in the early Church, St. Gregory Nazianzen and The Apostolic Constitutions had pointed to the importance of the octave day of Easter as a special feast day. So to establish that octave day as "Divine Mercy Sunday" would not really be the creation of a new feast day, but the revival and renewal of an ancient one!

Finally, many theologians had lost the sense of the distinction between "private revelations" and "prophetic revelations." Private revelations are given to souls primarily for their own benefit and for their own sanctification. Prophetic revelations are given to chosen souls to communicate to the whole Church, to call the Church back to some neglected aspects of the Gospel, or to deepen the Church's appreciation of some aspects of the Gospel more than ever before. When our Lord manifested His Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary in the 17th century, that was a "prophetic revelations." He gave the Church a reminder, and deeper appreciation, of our Savior's tender and compassionate love for humanity. It was precisely what the world needed at the time — in an age of cold, arid rationalism and widespread loss of faith.

After Our Lady appeared to the children of Fatima, theologians began to reconsider this distinction between "private" and "prophetic" revelations, but it was still not widely appreciated when St. Faustina received her revelations in the 1930's — and, sadly, is still not widely appreciated today. (Again, you can read more about this in that essay "Understanding Divine Mercy Sunday".)

As you can see, gradually the Lord has been breaking down the initial misgivings of theologians to the Divine Mercy message and devotion. But we Divine Mercy theologians still have much work to do to convince the sceptics!

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). Got a question? E-mail him at [email protected].

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Oldgal - Feb 17, 2015

I believe that Jesus lives in my heart by the power of the Holy Spirit ,I experience His consolation within my mind and heart. Help me understand how I can console the heart of Jesus who is all powerful. I understand giving the consolation I receive to those around me as God consoling others through me. I do not understand how God needs to be consoled in haven?

mary-louise - Jul 17, 2013

unfortunately, we have been taught to pick everything apart. Our arguments are often a matter of semantics. When we were freed from "the Law", it didn't mean free to disregard it, but free to live by the Spirit, not splitting hairs with the Law. With all due respect to Canon Lawyers, whose job that is, maybe the rest of us should just relax and trust in His Mercy.

observer - Jul 4, 2013

one time a lady was telling me about legitimately distressful situations, and I said something about how God is merciful, and she told me that in her opinion God has been "too merciful", and she was praying for basically in other words "moral renewal" and I said that that'd be our prayer...for moral renewal I mean...it was one of those times I wished I'd had a divine mercy holy card with the chaplet on it to give her, but I did have a Mothers' Day rosary leaflet and an extra rosary so I asked her to pray for me (including for my moral renewal). I didn't want to get into an argument while she was upset, I was trying to carefully think of what to say about God's mercy. I could've said beautiful things like in the last long post, but I didn't have the confidence to catechize the message at the time. Personally I don't think God is TOO merciful, I think he is perfectly wonderfully merciful, but WE are too presumptious sometimes of his goodness & mercy and so as a result we're not always living up to the morality that he is trying to lead us into through his grace. So that's why I seconded her hope for moral renewal. Divine Mercy does lead to moral renewal actually; that was part of Sr. Faustina's sisters' apostolate, and still is. Maybe we can't always prevent demoralization everywhere with everything, as much as we'd like to be like holy superheroes swooping into a situation to make sure things go right. But we can be good examples, we can pray (not to change God's Heart) but to change OUR hearts, we can appreciate the access to the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Communion, and we can practice and spread the Divine Mercy devotion. Divine Mercy is beautiful - from the Image itself to all the words attached - and as Doestevsky says, "The world will be saved by beauty." Therefore, the world will be saved by Divine Mercy!

Humble Servant of God's Love And Mercy - Oct 13, 2009

Jesus' commandment of love, which extols the love of one person for another as the meaning and goal of life, is nothing other than the expression of Inner-Divine Love. We should love one another because God loves us so much and because God simply is Love. And when we are commanded to be as perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, this is only a completion of the commandment of love, because perfection consists in, and leads to, Merciful, Eternal Love.

We are not told continually to believe more, to love more, or to hope more; God lets us believe, love, and hope more because we pray. God increases the virtue of a trusting believer that yearns for Him by accepting his word of prayer into His Divine Silence and returning them as deeds of mercy which are works of peace for which this loving soul cannot account but deeds of which the Church takes note because the effects of one pass to all; the increased faith of one bears fruit in all; and the Communion of Saints is built up in and through the Word of the Father. And Jesus is revealed each and every time so that the Infinite Love and Immeasurable Mercy that is in the Holy Trinity might also be in all of us.

When a trusting believer loves a fellow believer, he loves him in a way directed toward God; he loves his neighbor with a view of God. This is not simply in a love that he can measure or monitor, but in a love that places him in the service of the ever greater God, a love that he offers up like an act of worship so that God might perfect it. He does not just love with his sight directed at human beings, and his love may not just be fruitful in his own sense of it; he entrusts his love to God so that God can draw it to Himself and let it be efficacious from heaven. Such love might just as well be called prayer as called love; for God accepts all genuine love like a prayer in order to use it exactly where He needs it. He can make do just as well with the love of two lovers or the love of a trusting believer for his parish and Church or a believer's love of God as he can with an express sacrifice or prayer. He takes this love to Himself, purifies it completely, and gives it back sanctified to the world, to the Church, and to men in order to lead them back to a purer, freer with joy-filled willingnes and readiness, deeper, loving intimacy with God.

Jesus' Commandment of Love, which extols the love of one person for another as the meaning and goal of life, is nothing other than the expression of Inner-Divine Love. We should love one another because God loves us so much and because God simply is Love. And when we are commanded to be as perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, this is only a completion of His Commandment of Love, because perfection consists in, and leads to, Divine Merciful, Eternal Love. And a deeper understanding of this Divine Merciful, Eternal Love is bound to a greater faith which shows itself as our will to make a more complete gift of self, as our will to trust more unceasingly which can seize us in a profound way especially in the areas in which we tend to fail, and Jesus has as His goal new successes that will draw us ever closer to the Father and in the Holy Spirit who will set in motion whatever is immovable within us, that will bend whatever is stiff and transform us so completely that we no longer recognize ourselves or need to recognize ourselves, for the recognition demanded of us now lies in His Immeasurable Mercy. Jesus has called all trusting believers, especially all the religious and all the official and ministerial priesthood to respond to His call to propagate God's Divine Mercy throughout the whole world thus participating in their own existential priesthood as Apostles of Divine Mercy. A free, prompt and ready answer is due as soon as Jesus demands it, and this is proper to the responsibility. All the faithful remains free. But as free believers, "we-ourselves" are bound in a higher way by our faith. Considered in this light, the Catholic Church responsibility grows: the Catholic Church is responsible for ensuring that that toward which all the faithful who are called to devotion to Divine Mercy is directed is kept ready for them as a precautionary measure and her decision must show this new path for the future of her members and offer them this new open possibility; indeed, she must make decisions that take into account anticipated new instances of letting her members hear God and, thus, new unexpected vocations on a marked path that is a path inside the Catholic Church and comparable to the paths along which the communion of saints of the Catholic Church have hitherto stepped and walked. The One True Catholic and Apostolic Church as bride is maternal even before she has become a mother in the sense of bearing: it is a motherliness that originates from her founding because fruitfulness is her original characteristic, as exemplified in the boundless fruitfulness of the Mother of the Divine Mercy Incarnate. The Divine Merciful Love of the Triune God should be communicated so that the faithful are made able to love God out of the same Infinite Love and that this same Divine Merciful Love that is in God might also be in all of us especially those who do not know His Immeasurable Mercy and are in most need of it. Let us all confidently pray that all the faithful especially all priests answers Jesus' call to propagate Devotion to Divine Mercy to a peaceless world for this great work of Divine Merciful, Eternal Love are works of the Triune God's Immovable Peace!

Please pray that Saint Faustina is made a "Doctor of the Church" so the Limitless Love and Immeasurable Mercy of God - meant to be given away to those who are in most need of His Love and Mercy - is in all our restored hearts!

Gagsman01 - Aug 4, 2009

Religion is for all Mankind.
For the Poor, for the Rich, for the Learned, for the Illiterate, for the People who have lost their Faith and even for those who commit Heinous Crimes against their fellow Human Beings.
Religion has lost ground to evil simply because Man has made it so complicated and so diverse.
God, to put it simply wants only for us to recognise his work in the Creation of our World and his Creation of Man and Woman and for us to acknowledge this through Prayer.
He wants us to recognise the sacrifice his Son our Lord Jesus gave so that we may be saved and to offer up our Prayers in acknowledgement of this.
And finally he wants us to take our heads out of the sand so we may recognise a Divine Gift given to us by Jesus himself for our sakes.
God when all is said and done is Love and Mercy.
The Divine Mercy Chaplet is Testimony to that Love and Mercy.

A servant of Jesus and Mary - Jun 10, 2009

Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

Thank you very much for this explanation. It is wonderful to see The Holy Trinity gently correcting and persuing His children.

May more come to the realization of the truth and in Him whom He has sent - Jesus Christ Our Lord, amen.