Wednesday, 8 October 2014

“Primitive peasant culture”? No, an industrial city!

For many years my mother and brother – who deplore my interest in the topic and say it shows I am not scientific – have said that stigmata stories in countries such as Italy and Spain and their absence in Australia reflect a “primitive peasant culture”.

I have told my relatives the difference is that in Italy and Spain the working classes favoured doctrinally atheistic Marxism, whereas those in Australia were very conservative and often practicing Catholics. Consequently, unusual means were needed for the Church to protect its right to state its moral position, since the working classes desired this impossible in order to eliminate opposition to the right to seize wealth workers believed the ruling and business classes usurped.

When today I read an article by Rod Dreher about the efforts of the US, especially the Northeastern states, to completely outlaw the practice of traditional Christianity as a step beyond legalisation of homosexual marriage, I recalled the story of Marie Rose Ferron, the only (major) stigmatist from North America. Upon reading Father Michael Freze’s They Bore the Wounds of Christ, I instantly took the fact that Ferron came from the most liberal and most atheistic region of the United States as proof that radical leftist working class politics was the driving force behind stories of stigmata and inedia (living only on the Holy Eucharist).
Marie Rose Ferron with spiritual director Father Gauthier
The desire to find out the history of radical politics in the Northeast drew me, though some will think this paradoxical, to Ferron, about whom I knew less than European stigmatics like Thèrése Neumann, Marthe Robin, Pio of Pietrelcina and Louise Lateau.

These are pictures of Marie Rose Ferron’s feet
What I found was revealing – that Ferron was a Québécois who migrated to Massachusetts due to lack of job opportunities in Québéc and the refusal of the government there to encourage industrialisation, and that Ferron’s stigmata were received when she was living in the Providence, Rhode Island metropolitan area! This counts as one unsurprising revelation, but a telling one. A stigmatist in a working-class industrial city is unlikely if stigmata stories are a product of a primitive peasant culture as those near me suppose. However, if my theory that modern stigmata stories reflect class war aimed directly or indirectly at the Catholic Church be correct, industrial cities are exactly the places one would expect stigmatists, since it would be there that stigmata miracles (whether true or not) most clearly oppose the beliefs of locals.

At the very time Ferron received the stigmata a strongly Catholic Democratic “industrial machine” developed in the Northeast and Great Lakes. This may explain the timing of her story and that of Rhoda Wise, as beforehand Catholics may have been too few among the ruling class for such need. At the same time, many in the working classes of the Northeast favoured policies much more radical and morally liberal than either the mainstream Democratic Party or (especially) more radically Catholic organisations like the Catholic Worker. Thus a fear that Communism could take over was present among Catholics in the Northeast in a manner contemporaneously absent from the rest of North America, which was then generally too conservative.

The existence of a stigmatist in the middle of an industrial conurbation is certainly a challenge to the  “primitive peasant culture” theory of stigmatists, and strengthens my notion that the critical requirements for stigmata stories are:
  1. a politically radical and atheist working class that seeks to erase Catholicism from the public sphere
  2. a ruling class with a strong influence from Catholicism whose power is an obstacle to (1) achieving its atheist goals
This theory explains the concentration of stigmatists in southern Europe, the “headquarters” of Catholicism, and their absence from not only Australia but also the American South, which also has a long Catholic history but is little higher, steeper or (except for the Mississippi alluvial areas) richer in nutrients. Both regions are consequently naturally extremely conservative and have very limited or no class struggle. The one exception seems to be Latin America, which was strongly Catholic (but is now less so) mainly mountainous and had strong socialist movements, but never had the stigmata stories found in Europe. It’s possible that its ruling classes were not as ideologically Catholic as Europe’s (at least one Guatemala dictator was a born-again evangelical) but this is uncertain and needs more research on my part.

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