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  • La Venerable M. María de Jesús de Ágreda y la Inmaculada Concepción: El proceso eclesiástico a la "Mística Ciudad de Dios."
  • Katie MacLean
La Venerable M. María de Jesús de Ágreda y la Inmaculada Concepción: El proceso eclesiástico a la "Mística Ciudad de Dios." By Benito Mendia, O.F.M. †, and Antonio M. Artola Arbiza, C.P. (Ágreda, Spain: Monasterio de la Concepción. 2004. Pp. 350. paperback.)

Over the past decade or so, there has been increased interest in the seventeenth-century Conceptionist nun and mystic, the Venerable Mary of Ágreda. She is well known for her long friendship with king Philip IV of Spain, her mystical bilocations to the New Mexican frontier, and, above all, her enormous biography of the Virgin Mary, Mystical City of God. This book sparked enormous controversy in part because of the support it lent to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which did not become part of official Church dogma until the nineteenth century. The Spanish Inquisition took some interest in Mary of Ágreda and her book during her lifetime; the book was placed on the Index for a time and was condemned by a number of theologians. The nun was eventually able to rise above her critics and has continued to be an important figure in the religious histories of both Spain and the American Southwest. Her major written work has also been the object of sustained interest and appreciation. Supporters on both sides of the Atlantic continue to press for her beatification. [End Page 151]

This work by Fathers Mendia and Artola Arbiza was published to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the definition of the Immaculate Conception and to highlight Mary of Ágreda's contributions to this doctrine. Although the authors do describe some of the content of the Mystical City of God, including the elements that had sparked controversy, the main focus is the very convoluted history of the book in its relationship to the opinions and decisions of religious authorities in Spain, France, and Rome. The eighteen chapters progress chronologically with the most emphasis being placed on two crucial debates on the orthodoxy and value of Mary of Ágreda's work: the condemnation by the Sorbonne and the Judicium of Pope Benedict XIV. The authors contextualize the constant volley between approbation and censure that plagued the work by discussing how it became a lightning rod for debates not only about the Immaculate Conception, but also between Thomists and Scotists about the interpretation of private and public revelation in general. At the same time, negative decisions by the Holy Office and the Pope were nearly impossible to overcome.

Thus, for the authors, the definition of the Immaculate Conception as dogma in 1854 was central to the fate of both Mystical City of God and the cause for Mary of Ágreda's beatification. The definition removed some—though not all—of the controversy surrounding the book, but was not enough to reignite positive interest on the part of Rome. It was not until collaborations during the twentieth century between Spanish and American supporters of the nun and her work that any real progress was made. However an official re-examination of the book during the 1990s did not lead to Vatican approval or a reopening of her cause for beatification.

This work by Mendia and Artola Arbiza, though historical in nature, is intended as an ardent defense of the value and importance of Mystical City of God and, by extension, the cause of Mary of Ágreda. While the authors openly reveal their bias in favor of the nun and her work, the book is a testament to the complicated processes involved in the Church's decisions surrounding the orthodoxy of religious writings and the promotion of controversial figures.

Katie MacLean
Kalamazoo College


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pp. 151-152
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