Tuesday 19 February 2019

Illustrissimi: The Letters Of Pope John Paul I - Albino Luciani - Pope John Paul I

Illustrissimi: The Letters Of Pope John Paul I
Albino Luciani
Pope John Paul I
Papas (Illustrator)
Basil Cardinal Hume (Introduction)
Isabel Quigley (Translation)
William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd.
ISBN 0002114186

Gracewing Publishing

This book was first published in 1976 in Italian, it is a collection of fictional letters, written to people from history, from the pages of books, and even from plays. The English edition was commissioned after the election of Albino Luciani to the chair of peter where he took the name Pope John Paul I. currently this is available as an eBook in a few different languages, but alas not in English. If you are English speaking it is well worth tracking down. While reading it I could not help but feel the penetrating insight, and how applicable the message in many of the letters are for today. Maybe even more so today. Over 40 years after his election to the Pontificate and death shortly there after. The volume I read has a wonderful preface by Cardinal Basil Hume, and was translated by Isabel Quigley.

The letters in this volume were addressed to:

Charles Dickens
Mark Twain
G.K. Chesterton
Maria Theresa of Austria
Charles Peguy
St Bernard of Clairvaux
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
King David
The Pickwick Club
Pinocchio 93
Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordova
St Bernardine of Siena
St Francis de Sales
St Romedio’s Bear
P.I. Chichikov
King Lemuel
Sir Walter Scott
The Unknown Painter at the Castle
St Theresa of Lisieux
Alessandro Manzoni
Luigi Cornaro
Aldus Manuzio
St Bonaventure
Christopher Marlowe
St Luke
Guglielmo Marconi
Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli
Felix Dupanloup
St Theresa of Avila
Carlo Goldoni
Andreas Hofer

We are told about the letters:

“The ‘Letters’ published here are not private correspondence with his relatives, friends or contemporaries, but are ‘open letters’ originally printed in the Italian Christian paper Il Messaggero di Sant’Antonio, and addressed to various individuals, some fictional, some historical.  He writes to legendary figures, to important scientific, historical and literary people, to characters from their books, plays, operas and poems, to saints, and even to Christ himself.”

Many of these letters spoke to me in a direct way. I could not help but read this book, and find myself reflecting on my own life, my passions, my responsibilities. The advice is often pointed. Such as this one on vacations written to Paolo Diacono:

“Well, here’s my first thought: don’t people sometimes spend too much on travel, a really unjustified amount? I’m not speaking of the odd case here and there. The mania for holidays, which makes people spend more then they can afford, is with us today as it was in Goldoni’s time, often at the expense of duties and domestic qualities like a sense of economy and an idea of where to draw the line, and what to save.”

Or this sample:

“The most frequent objections you’ll hear will concern the Church.  You may be helped by a remark quoted by Pitigrilli.  In London, at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, a preacher kept being interrupted by a dirty unkempt man.  ‘The Church has existed for two thousand year,’ this man shouted at one point, ‘and the world is still full of thieves, adulterers and murderers.’ ‘You’re right,’ replied the preacher.  ‘Water has existed for two million years, and look at the state of your neck!’

In other words, there have been bad popes, bad priests and bad Catholics.  But what does that mean?  That the Gospel has been applied?  No, just the opposite.  In those cases the Gospel hasn’t been applied.

Dear Pinocchio, there are two famous sentences about the young.  I recommend you the first by Lacordaire: ‘Have an opinion and make it work for you.’  The second is by Clemencau and I don’t recommend it at all:  ‘He has no ideas but defends them warmly.’”

Ingino Giordani in the preface stated:

“When I agreed to write the Preface to the English edition of the ‘Letters’ written by Pope John Paul I when he was Patriarch of Venice, I little thought that before I had completed the task we would be mourning his death.  This totally unexpected loss, and the sorrow it brought to millions of people throughout the world, naturally means that I now approach this task with very different thoughts and ideas from those in my mind when I accepted the publisher’s invitation in mid-September.

In any others case, I should have been embarrassed to give unreserved praise to an author.  But I am not at all embarrassed to give it to the Patriarch of Venice, since in these letters he has dealt most amusingly and dismissively with praises and compliments.  It is years since I had so attractive and lively a book in my hands, or one so useful to me and, I believe, to anyone else.”

And it is true some of the letters are deeply amusing. Some piece to the bone. Reading this collection has been both inspiring and a challenge to me and how I live my life. It is an incredible collection and I wish it was still in print or that an English eBook edition would come out. But no matter how you lay your hands on this book I challenge you to give it a read. 

Update: there is an English edition available from Gracewing Publishing in the UK.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2019 Catholic Reading Plan!

Reviews of books about Pope John Paul I:
John Paul I - Stephen Dean

Books by Pope John Paul I:
A Passionate Adventure: Living the Catholic Faith Today

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