The book was first published in Italian in 1956 and has since been translated into 10 languages and is available worldwide. The book is based on over 15,000 handwritten pages produced by Maria Valtorta between 1943 and 1947. During these years she reported Visions of Jesus and Mary and claimed personal conversations with Jesus.
The book has received the imprimatur and approval of some Catholic Bishops but the official position of the Holy See with respect to the book is currently less than clear. Since 1993 the Vatican has decided to remain silent on the work. Given the endorsements provided for the book in the visions of the Virgin Mary reported at Medjugorje in 1981, if and when the Holy See selects a position on Medjugorje, it may also be viewed as having selected a position on the work of Maria Valtorta.
The handwritten pages were surprising to her priest and others in that they included no overwrites, corrections or revisions and seemed somewhat like dictations. The fact that she often suffered from heart and lung ailments during the period of the visions made the natural flow of the text even more unusual. Some readers were struck by the fact that the sentences attributed to Jesus in the visions had a distinct and recognizable tone and style that was different from the rest of the text.
The consistency of her almost eyewitness-like descriptions of the topography of the terrain in the Holy Land has been surprising to some experts. A geologist, Dr. Vittorio Tredici (a past president of the National Miners' Association of Italy) found the detailed knowledge of the geological and mineralogical aspects of Palestine present in her notes unexplainable in view of the fact that she never left Italy and was bed-ridden much of her life. A biblical archeologist, Father Dreyfus, noted that her work includes the names of several small towns which are absent from the Old and New Testaments and are only known to a few experts.
The Poem of the Man God is very specific in its description of the topography and geography of Palestine. Its level of detail has been surprising to experts, in that it includes more ancient town names than were generally recorded when the book was written in the 1940s.
The book names 255 specific locations in Palestine as it narrates the life and travels of Jesus, but 52 of these locations have no biblical reference at all. However, 79 of these 255 locations (about 30%) were not mentioned in the then current 1939 edition of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Atlas. And 62 of the 79 locations were not mentioned in the 1968 edition of the Macmillan Bible Atlas, published after Maria Valtorta's death, but her account of the connectivity of the locations is correct.
Of these locations, 20 confirmations have been made via the 1989 editions of atlases of Palestine published after the Poem of the Man God was written and 9 more have since been confirmed via the analysis of ancient documents. The book also mentions 6 ancient Palestinian cities whose locations correspond to the modern consensus among experts.
Valtorta gives particular emphasis to the words she attributes to Jesus. While the Gospel of Matthew refers to the Beatitudes in a few paragraphs (Matthew 5:3-12), the text for the single Beatitude “poor in the spirit” spoken by Jesus in her vision is one and a half pages long. The full text of the Sermon on the Mount that she wrote in her notebook and attributed to Jesus takes three episodes from May24th to 27th 1945 and is over 30 pages long. The fact that her text of the Beatitudes still has the same eight or nine fold structure as the Beatitudes in the Gospel (but is far more detailed) characterizes her notebooks.
In some cases, such as the Passion, her descriptions are very detailed and graphic. An endocrinologist, Dr. Nicholas Pende, expressed surprise at the level of detail in which Valtorta depicted Christ's spasms in Crucifixion, saying that she described "a phenomenon which only a few informed physicians would know how to explain, and she does it in an authentic medical style.
An example is how the episode she wrote regarding the Trial of Jesus by Caiphas after Jesus was betrayed presents an extended life story of Jesus beyond the synoptic Gospels. She wrote this episode on February 16th 1944, as the 600th episode in the Poem of the Man God.
The Trial of Jesus by Caiphas is discussed in all synoptic Gospels. However, the fact that some place it at night, while others refer to it after daybreak has at times been viewed in terms of a synoptic problem. Luke 22:66 states: "At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. Luke thus places the trial after daybreak. However, both Matthew and Mark refer to the trial at night. Some biblical scholars have struggled with these facts, e.g. The Complete Gospels Annotated Scholars Version notes for Mark 14:53-72 state: "...It is difficult to reconcile much of Mark's picture with known Jewish judicial procedures: a secret court session, at night...
While the synoptic Gospels do not directly refer to the role of Gamaliel in the Trial of Jesus, the Poem of the Man God does. Indeed, Gamaliel (a leading authority in the Sanhedrin) makes repeated appearances in Valtorta's narrative and Valtorta reports a number of meetings between him and Jesus over the years.
In the episode that Valtorta wrote for the Trial of Jesus by Caiphas, there are two trials, one at night and the other after daybreak. The second trial is prompted by Gamaliel using the same reasoning that The Complete Gospels notes used to criticise Mark 14, namely Gamaliel considered the time and place of the night trial against Jewish judicial procedures, and demanded a new trial after daybreak. Thus Valtorta's episode makes any criticism of the Gospel of Mark's account of the Trial of Jesus unnecessary and produces an explanation that reconciles Mark 14 with Luke 22.
Another example is the episode she wrote on February 28th 1946. It reports that in preparation for His Passion, Jesus visited the town of Kerioth to say farewell and performed a miracle, curing Anne of Kerioth on her deathbed. In this episode Jesus instructs the cured Anne of Kerioth to forever tend to and comfort Mary of Simon, the mother of Judas Iscariot who will be heartbroken upon the betrayal by her son and the deaths of Jesus and Judas in the near future.
The fact that Valtorta wrote each multi-page episode as a much more detailed version of an episode in the New Testament and her inclusion of as yet unreported events in the life of Jesus generated both interest and controversy from the moment the book was offered for publication.
The two priests approached their contacts at the Vatican with the typed manuscript and in February 1948 Reverend Augustin Bea, S.J. who was then the confessor to Pope Pius XII bypassed the Vatican hierarchy and facilitated a private audience for them and their Prior Father Andrea Checchin with the Pope. The meeting was mentioned in L'Osservatore Romano's list of audiences and thereafter Father Berti provided a signed affidavit that recorded Pope Pius XII as saying: “Publish this work as is. There is no need to give an opinion about its origin, whether it is extraordinary or not. Whoever reads it, will understand."
Assuming that he had a verbal papal approval, Father Berti then approached the official hierarchy at the publishing office of the Roman Curia where he met serious resistance and opposition. Furthermore, one year later, in 1949, the Holy Office condemned the work and confiscated Father Berti’s typed copy, but Father Berti returned the handwritten pages to Maria Valtorta.
From the beginning, by its nature, the work generated high emotions among those who approved or disapproved of it. Those opposed to the work saw it as an affront to their beliefs for it claimed to elaborate the Gospel. Those who supported it often seemed amazed by its consistent flow as an elaboration of the Gospel and felt that the text attributed to Jesus was extraordinary.
Eventually, a lay publisher, Michele Pisani, decided to publish the work in 1956, despite the opposition to it at the Holy Office. Pisani published the book in four volumes of about one thousand pages each, one volume per year through 1959. When the third volume was being published in 1958 Pope Pius XII died and was succeeded by Pope John XXIII. In 1959 when the fourth volume was being published, the Holy Office recommended that the work be placed on the Index of Forbidden Books and in 1959 Pope John XXIII issued a decree to that effect.
Maria Valtorta died in 1961, deeply hurt and rejected by the fact that her work remained on the Index of Forbidden Books. But in 1965 the Index of Forbidden Books itself was abolished by Pope Paul VI who succeeded Pope John XXIII. Valtorta supporters immediately claimed that this in effect nullified the suppression of 1959 since the Index no longer existed. Those opposed to the book considered the abolition of the Index as not reversing the Church’s opinion of the work. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) while acting as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1985 wrote that "the Index retains its moral force despite its dissolution." Valtorta supporters point to the fact that the long list of books on the Forbidden Index also included writings by Jean Paul Sartre, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, David Hume, Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Milton, John Lock, Galileo Galilei, Blaise Pascal and Saint Faustina Kowalska, among others. But some authors (e.g. Karl Marx or Hitler) whose views are highly unacceptable to the Church were never put on the Index.
At the moment the official position of the Catholic Church with respect to the book is less than clear. The church does not endorse the book, yet does not ban it either, although church officials (including Cardinal Ratzinger in 1985) have made occasional comments about it. The last formal action taken by the Vatican with respect to the book was in May 1992, when Dionigi Cardinal Tettamanzi, the Secretary General of the Italian Bishops' Conference, wrote to the publisher Emilio Pisani. In his letter, Cardinal Tettamanzi requested that a paragraph be added to the first few pages of the book disclaiming any supernatural origin for the work. A month after the letter, in June 1992, the publisher Emilio Pisani visited the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican and stated that he had been informed that the letter indicated that the Italian Bishops' Conference saw nothing in the work that contradicts the doctrines of the Church. Yet some detractors claim that the letter intended to classify the work as fiction. Since 1992 the Catholic Church has chosen to remain silent on its position with respect to the work.
The Poem of the Man God has, however, drawn criticism from a variety of theologians and skeptics, who claim internal inconsistencies, friction with the Holy See and theological errors of the Biblical account of the Gospel and Catholic dogma.
Regarding the issue of internal consistency and correspondence with the Gospels, Valtorta supporters point to the fact that ever since Saint Augustine of Hippo addressed the Augustinian hypothesis in the 5th Century, religious scholars have been debating issues regarding the comparison of various texts with the Gospels, at times with no clear resolution. Such debates still take place among experts even on issues regarding the Church Canons and the early Gospels themselves. Valtorta supporters point to the fact that the Poem of the Man God seems to provide solutions to some synoptic debates such as those regarding Luke 22:66 and Matthew 26:57 by providing simple explanations that resolve the conflicts. And highly respected scripture scholars such as the Venerable Gabriele Allegra have expressed their support for the Poem of the Man God and its correspondence with the Gospel.
As for friction with and within the Holy See, it is well documented that the Cardinals favorable towarrds Valtorta's writings (e.g. Cardinal Augustin Bea) and those opposing it (e.g. Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani) had high levels of friction with each other on a wide range of issues beyond Valtorta's work. Thus in defense of Maria Valtorta, when providing his imprimatur for the Poem of the Man God, Bishop Roman Danylak recalled John 8:7 and referred to some of her critics as "those who want to cast stones.
On one hand, the Vatican can not suddenly declare a new and more detailed version of the Gospel every time a mystic produces a manuscript. Indeed, as a historical pattern, Vatican approval of visions of Jesus and Mary has usually followed general acceptance of a vision by well over a century in most cases. Hence the resistance to the book from deep within the Holy See’s hierarchy needs to be understood by Valtorta’s supporters.
On the other hand, the Holy See can no longer issue an outright condemnation of The Poem on the Man God because of its strong following among Catholics worldwide, including clergy such as Archbishop George Hamilton Pearce, S. M., the respected scripture scholar the Venerable Gabriele Allegra and Bishop Roman Danylak (a canon of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome) who provided his imprimatur for the book. When providing his imprimatur in 2002, Bishop Danylak wrote:
It is clear that at the moment, open support for Maria Valtorta does not make someone a persona non grata at the Vatican. When the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican declared the respected scripture scholar Gabriele Allegra as venerable in 1994, they were aware of the fact that had written that he considered the Poem of the Man God to have a "supernatural origin. Yet Allegra became the only scripture scholar beatified by Pope John Paul II .
Further complexity is added by the fact that the Vatican also wishes to remain silent on the visions at Medjugorje, neither approving nor disputing them. The Medjugorje visions by Marija Pavlovic and Vicka Ivankovic have both stated that Maria Valtorta’s records of her conversations with Jesus are truthful. According to an Ivankovic statement made on January 27th 1988 , in 1981 the Virgin Mary told her at Medjugorje: "If a person wants to know Jesus he should read Maria Valtorta. That book is the truth . If at some future date the Vatican decides to approve the Medjugorje messages, it may also have to acknowledge Valtorta’s work as valid. Hence the silence of the Church on the book needs to be understood by Valtorta’s detractors.
Valtorta's supporters also point to the fact that the Holy See has at times reversed its position on visions of Jesus and Mary (as was the case for Saint Faustina Kowalska, whose writings were placed on the Index at the same time Maria Valtorta's was) and they expect that increased support for Maria Valtorta from the mid levels of the Church will in time achieve the same result for the Poem of the Man God.
Support for Valtorta's work continues to appear from various corners of the Vatican. The respected Mariologist, and the author of many books on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Fr. Gabriel M. Roschini, professor at the Pontifical Faculty of Theology in Rome, advisor to the Holy Office and founder of the Marianum (which is both the name of the pontifical school and the prestigious journal of Marian theology) wrote of Valtorta:
In the meantime, Valtorta’s supporters continue to publish the book. They view the current silence of the Holy See as leaving them with the "Whoever reads it will understand" verbal authorization that they attribute to Pope Pius XII.