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  • Católicos, devociones y sociedad durante la Dictadura de Primo de Rivera y la Segunda República: La Obra del Amor Misericordioso en España (1922–1936)
  • William A. Christian Jr.
Católicos, devociones y sociedad durante la Dictadura de Primo de Rivera y la Segunda República: La Obra del Amor Misericordioso en España (1922–1936). By Federico M. Requena. [Colección Historia Biblioteca Nueva.] (Madrid: Editorial Biblioteca Nueva. 2008. Pp. 359. €24,00 paperback. ISBN 978-8-497-42877-4.)

Spain’s devotional magazines and diocesan bulletins from the 1920s and 1930s have many references to Amor Misericordioso (Merciful Love), and in Spain’s secondhand bookshops one still finds the little Merciful Love pamphlets and books once printed in the hundreds of thousands. Yet until now there has been no well-documented history of this devotional movement. From 1922 to 1942 an international and somewhat unruly coalition of middle and upper-class enthusiasts—well-heeled laywomen, aristocrats, diplomats, and Dominican specialists in mysticism—propagated and strove to gain papal approval for the anonymous writings of a French Salesian sister, Marie Thérèse Desandais, which largely took the form of first-person messages seemingly dictated by Christ. This thorough and revealing study by Federico M. Requena is based on the unpublished correspondence among many of the chief protagonists, including Desandais; her chief Madrid enthusiast, Juana Lacasa; the Dominicans of Salamanca, Atocha, and Rome; several Jesuits including José María Rubio; three active and influential Chileans; a group in Lyons around the wealthy Emilie Blanck; and, most surprisingly, the nuncio in Spain, Federico Tedeschini. In it, we see a Catholicism that is a changing field of decisions and inspirations, in which strategy, enthusiasm, and critical judgment come into play and in which the prestige and saintliness of individual actors give them special influence.

Requena shows how Desandais’s writings built on the cult of the Sacred Heart and the enthusiasm for St. Thérèse of Lisieux and how they were in synchrony with and adapted to successive papal encyclicals. His valuable description of the evolving content of the divine messages goes hand in hand with the evolving process, with many false starts, of the movement’s attempt to gain approval. It shows something that readers who have depended on Vida Sobrenatural, the most accessible source for the movement’s history, and on the biographies of its director, Juan González Arintero, would never know—that the height of Merciful Love’s popularity was the last two years before the Spanish Civil War. Requena’s work is based on unexamined sources and reveals an unexamined side of Spanish devotional history, far from the theocratic tendencies of the Integrists or the more militantly patriotic side of the cult of the Sacred Heart. Tedeschini, working for accommodation with the Republic, had a hand in this, convincing Desandais, for instance, to modify her paintings of the Christ of Merciful Love by de-emphasizing the crown. The popularity of the devotion, Requena asserts, “questions purely political interpretations of Catholic devotion” and points to “a spiritual and pacific interpretation of the reign of Christ,” along with “the existence of true ferments of renovation in Spain’s Catholic panorama involving religious, secular clergy, and laity” (p. 317). [End Page 624]

The author distinguishes between a sociological approach and a doctrinal-theological one, and seems to lean more toward the latter, but his account is rich in sociological insight, as he follows the arresting tale of enthusiasts jostling for control (the desire to be known as a founder, the spiritual direction of Desandais, and the editing and framing of the messages) and Desandais’s attempt to maintain the integrity of her writings and keep the devotion noninstitutional.

The reader notes the author’s sympathy for Desandais’s messages, and the book has a discreetly apologetic slant, as if seeking to rehabilitate the devotion. Be that as it may, one might take a step back and consider the wider matrix of competing doctrines, messages, and devotions in this period that may have affected Merciful Love’s success and demise. Its chief proponent in Spain, González Arintero, had a strike against him because of...


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pp. 624-625
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