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Apparitions True and False
by FATHER PETER JOSEPH
a prelude, I should state my own interest in Private Revelations. I have
visited Paray-le-Monial (where Jesus showed His Sacred Heart to St Margaret
Mary in the 17th century). I have visited Rue de Bac (where the
Miraculous Medal was given to St Catherine Labouré in 1830). I have visited
I think, from all this, you can see that I am not opposed to private revelations. But I am opposed to false revelations; I am opposed to dubious revelations; I am opposed to disapproved revelations; I am opposed to obsession with private revelations. I am opposed to all these things precisely because I do believe in genuine private revelations and their role in the life of the Church.
The abundance of alleged messages and revelations in the past forty years makes ever more necessary the traditional caution and discernment of spirits. Amid today’s confusion and spiritual wasteland, many Catholics are seeking contact with the supernatural via new private revelations, regardless of whether or not they have been approved, or even whether or not they are in accordance with the Faith.
Whom does the Catechism have in mind? Among others, Moslems and Mormons. Mohammed claimed that the Gospels misrepresent Christ, and Mormons believe there is a Third Testament.
Under the heading of God, I include God’s holy creatures, such as Our Lady or another Saint or an angel.
Under man, I mean any human knowledge or skill or trickery or imagination or any human activity or machine or device causing anything to happen.
Under the devil, I include the devil himself or any one of the other demons.
power of the devil
is knowledge of diabolical trickery which makes the Church cautious here. My
next part on the power of the demons is taken from Father Jordan Aumann, a
Dominican priest, who taught for many years at the
the devils can and cannot do
(1) Produce any kind of truly supernatural phenomenon;
(2) Create a substance, since only God can create;
(3) Bring a dead person back to life, although they could produce the illusion of doing so;
(4) Make truly prophetic predictions, since only God knows the future absolutely, and those to whom He chooses to reveal a portion of it. However, the devil’s intelligent conjecture about the future might appear to mere mortals a prophecy;
(5) Know the secrets of a person’s mind and heart. However, their shrewd intelligence and observation may enable them to deduce many things about a person.
(1) Produce corporeal or imaginative visions;
(2) Falsify ecstasy;
(3) Instantaneously cure sicknesses that have been caused by diabolical influence;
(4) Produce the stigmata;
(5) Simulate miracles and the phenomena of levitation and bilocation;(6) Make people or objects seem to disappear by interfering with a person’s sight or line of vision;
(7) Cause a person to hear sounds or voices;
Cause a person to speak in tongues;
Whatever nature or science can cause, the devils too are able to cause, according to what God may permit. See the Book of Exodus where the magicians and sorcerers of Pharaoh were able to accomplish some of the prodigies wrought by Moses and Aaron (Ex -12; ; 8:7; -19; ). Close to 200 A.D., Tertullian writes, "first of all, they [the demons] make you ill; then to get a miracle out of it, they prescribe remedies either completely novel, or contrary to those in use, and thereupon withdrawing hurtful influence, they are supposed to have wrought a cure." (Apology of the Christian religion, 22).
In the face of the fallen angels’ power to deceive, it is no wonder that the Church is always very slow to declare a miracle or message authentic.
The devil has superhuman intelligence and is very clever, and to pretend that you can definitively judge in favour of something’s authenticity, without help, is presumptuous.
To know if something is false, it suffices to know that it says something contrary to the teaching of the Church. Hence, it is easier to pronounce against visionaries than in their favour. But the mere absence of doctrinal error is not enough. There have to be other positive indications.
The following quotations are from the final chapter of the rock-solid book Spiritual Theology (Sheed & Ward 1980) by Dominican Father Jordan Aumann.
"The following characteristics are general signs of the divine spirit:
1. Truth. God is truth and cannot inspire anything but truth in a soul. If a person believed to be inspired by God, therefore, maintains opinions that are manifestly against revealed truth, the infallible teaching of the Church, or proven theology or philosophy or science, it must be concluded that the individual is deluded by the devil or is the victim of excessive imagination or faulty reasoning.
2. Gravity. God is never the cause of things that are useless, futile, frivolous, or impertinent. When his spirit moves a soul it is always for something serious and beneficial.
3. Enlightenment. Although one may not always understand the meaning of an inspiration from God, the effect of any divine movement or impulse is always enlightenment and certitude rather than darkness and confusion. This is true both for the effects on the individual who receives the inspiration and its effects on others.
4. Docility. Souls that are moved by the spirit of God accept cheerfully the advice and counsel of their directors or others who have authority over them. This spirit of obedience, docility, and submission is one of the clearest signs that a particular inspiration or movement is from God. This is especially true in the case of the educated, who have a greater tendency to be attached to their own opinions.
5. Discretion. The spirit of God makes the soul discreet, prudent, and thoughtful in all its actions. There is nothing of precipitation, lightness, exaggeration, or impetuosity; all is well balanced, edifying, serious, and full of calmness and peace.
6. Humility. The Holy Spirit always fills the soul with sentiments of humility and self-effacement. The loftier the communications from on high, the more profoundly the soul inclines to the abyss of its own nothingness. Mary said, ‘I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say’ (Lk ).
Aumann mentions other signs also: Confidence in God, Flexibility of will,
Purity of intention, Patience in suffering, Self-abnegation, Simplicity,
"…[S]ince the devil may disguise himself as a good spirit and even cause what appears to be authentic mystical phenomena, it is helpful to mention briefly the various signs of the diabolical spirit.
1. Spirit of falsity. The devil is the father of lies, but he cleverly conceals his deceit by half-truths and pseudo-mystical phenomena.
2. Morbid curiosity. This is characteristic of those who eagerly seek out the esoteric aspects of mystical phenomena or have a fascination for the occult or preternatural.
3. Confusion, anxiety, and deep depression.
4. Obstinacy. One of the surest signs of a diabolical spirit.
5. Constant indiscretion and a restless spirit. Those who constantly go to extremes, as in penitential exercises or apostolic activity, or neglect their primary obligations to do some personally chosen work.
6. Spirit of pride and vanity. Very anxious to publicize their gifts of grace and mystical experiences.
humility. This is the disguise for their pride and self-love.
Fr Aumann mentions other signs also: Impatience in suffering and stubborn resentment; Uncontrolled passions and strong inclination to sensuality, usually under the guise of mystical union; Hypocrisy, simulation, and duplicity; Excessive attachment to sensible consolations, particularly in their practice of prayer; Lack of deep devotion to Jesus and Mary; Scrupulous adherence to the letter of the law and fanatical zeal in promoting a cause.
"The human spirit is always inclined to its own satisfactions; it is a friend of pleasure and an enemy of suffering of any kind. It readily inclines to anything that is compatible with its own temperament, its personal tastes and caprices, or the satisfaction of self-love. It will not hear of humiliations, penance, renunciation, or mortification. If any director or confessor goes against its inclinations, he is immediately branded as inept and incompetent. It seeks success, honors, applause, and pastimes. It is always a great promoter of anything that will arouse admiration or notoriety. In a word, the human spirit neither understands nor cares for anything except its own egoism.
"It is sometimes difficult in practice to judge whether given manifestations proceed from the devil or from a purely human and egoistic spirit, but it is always relatively easy to distinguish between these two and the spirit of God. It will be possible in most cases, therefore, to determine that a given spirit could not possibly be from God and that it must be combated, even if one is not sure whether it is in fact from the devil or the human ego." (p. 413)
"The following norms are offered as guides for the spiritual director in the discernment of spirits so far as they pertain to revelations and prophecies:
1. Any revelation contrary to dogma or morals must be rejected as false. God does not contradict himself,
2. Any revelation contrary to the common teaching of theologians or purporting to settle an argument among the schools of theology is gravely suspect.
3. If some detail or other in a revelation is false, it is not necessary to reject the entire revelation; the remainder may be authentic.
4. The fact that a prophecy is fulfilled is not of itself a conclusive proof that the revelation was from God; it could have been the mere unfolding of natural causes or the result of a superior natural knowledge on the part of the seer.
5. Revelations concerning merely curious or useless matters should be rejected as not divine. The same is to be said of those that are detailed, lengthy, and filled with a superfluity of proofs and reasons. Divine revelations are generally brief, clear, and precise.
6. The person who receives the revelation should be examined carefully, especially as to temperament and character. If the person is humble, well balanced, discreet, evidently advanced in virtue, and enjoys good mental and physical health, there is good reason to proceed further and to examine the revelation itself. But if the individual is exhausted with excessive mortifications, suffers nervous affliction, is subject to periods of great exhaustion or great depression, or is eager to divulge the revelation, there is cause for serious doubt." (p. 430)
Is the information useful for the salvation of souls? If it is merely to satisfy curiosity it is unlikely to be of divine origin. Some seeming seers act like mediums, give information on births, marriages, legal processes, diseases, political events, etc. God does not run an Inquiry Office. Some are very clever at observing, or very intuitive, and can work with little things. At séances, furniture is often pushed about, or a spirit moves a person’s hand to write messages, etc. God has never done these things in any approved revelation.
Curiosity sticks out in people who claim to tell you what was the ultimate fate of Princess Diana, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, etc. We’d all love to know who’s in Heaven and who isn’t! A lady I heard of claims to know where every deceased person is: funnily enough everyone’s either in Purgatory or Heaven! I suppose it would do harm to business and popularity to tell people that certain relatives are in Hell! Actually, anyone who pronounces on famous people is immediately to be disbelieved.
Also suspect are revelations that merely give truisms and platitudes.
Catholics ought be very cautious in giving credence to visions and messages before they have received approbation from the Church. The devil has raised up many false mystics in recent years. People ask: "Why would the devil be behind a revelation which encourages people to pray and fast and do penance? That would be Satan divided against himself."
Fair question. Why would he do it?
Answer: For a number of reasons: to distract people from the genuine private revelations; to lead them into exercises not blessed as such by God; to bring private revelations into complete disrepute; to cause disenchantment and even a crisis of faith when a seer is later plainly seen to be false; and, worst of all, subtly to lead some people out of the Church altogether. The devil is willing to lose a lot, if he can gain in the long run.
devil rejoices when Catholics reject the tried and true means of spiritual
growth to chase after the extraordinary and the unapproved. The Church is
extremely careful before approving a private revelation, for she knows how
"even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Cor ). She must avoid both credulity and unfounded
skepticism. "Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but
test everything," directs
Some individuals have been pronounced against by name, e.g., Vassula Ryden, and the Little Pebble, William Kamm. Vassula has been condemned twice by the Holy Office (the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), on the grounds that her revelations do not come from God, and because they contain errors against the Faith. You hear people say: "But her writings are so spiritual and so beautiful!" I agree; possibly 99% of Vassula’s messages are in conformity with the Catholic Faith—but that is just how the devil operates to deceive pious Catholics. It is the 1% that does harm. A poison apple is mostly good apple—but will harm you nevertheless. The devil knows he cannot mislead devout Catholics with outright heresy, but he can appeal to their piety and then subtly plant errors within.
In any case, there has been no approved revelation in the history of the Church where God took someone’s hand and gave messages by writing with their pen. But you do find handwriting messages given at séances—and séances are condemned by the Church as a practice of the occult against the law of God.
I have seen one pious magazine defending Vassula by saying that Cardinal Ratzinger never signed the statement against her printed in L’Osservatore Romano. A man I know sent them the official statement from Acta Apostolicae Sedis, the official Vatican gazette, which has the Cardinal’s signature at the bottom, along with the Bishop Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Unfortunately, the editor of the magazine had neither the humility nor the honesty to print a correction in the next issue.
example: the alleged apparitions in Garabandal in northern
is only one of a countless number. There’s Montichiari in
"Have visions; will travel" - such publicity seekers are not to be believed. Genuine visionaries fly from publicity. They do not go around with photographers and camera crews. They submit to investigation by Church authorities; but they do not have publicity agents.
No private individual has the authority to judge definitively and officially which private revelations are true and which are not.
The authority to rule on the genuineness of a private revelation rests first with the local Bishop.
is forbidden, as well as sinful, to propagate private revelations which have
received a negative judgment from the local Bishop, the conference of Bishops,
As for statements attributed to the Pope (e.g., "I heard that the Pope told Mrs Smith after Mass in his private chapel that he believes in Garabandal and Bayside;" "The Pope told Jack that he could go ahead and print that condemned book") - no one is entitled to act on such gossip. The Church is governed by publicly promulgated statements - not by hearsay and personal communications.
Popes may choose to show their approval of certain revelations, after
the decision of a local Bishop or conference of Bishops, by speaking of them,
or by placing a new feast in the liturgical calendar, or by visiting the places
intrinsically connected with them (e.g., Guadalupe, Paray-le-Monial, Rue de
Even should the local Bishop mistakenly disapprove of a genuine revelation, obedience to the Church remains paramount. It is a sin to propagate a private revelation disobediently, but it can never be a sin not to propagate one. This applies both to claimed seers and to followers. In fact, if an alleged visionary disobeys a legitimate order from the Bishop, and claims God’s backing for the action, this is a sure sign that the message is not from God. Even if a genuine private revelation has been given, not even God Himself would want or command a seer to spread it against a lawful decree of a Bishop to desist. In fact, there are occasions in the life of St Teresa of Jesus of Avila (died 1582) and St Margaret Mary (died 1690) and Sr Josefa Menendez (died 1923) where Our Lord gave them a directive, but then their superior forbade it. What did they do? They obeyed their human superior on earth. What did Our Lord then tell them? -‘You were right to obey my representative.’
one occasion, the Sacred Heart of Jesus told St Margaret Mary to do something,
writers have an axiom: A Superior may or may not be inspired by God in his
command, but you are always inspired in obeying. (Of course, we’re not talking
about where a
may really promote good things for a while, provided that he gains in the long
run. The revelations of
After error itself, the mark of a false mystic is willfulness and disobedience. I love this quote from Saint Faustina Kowalska: "Satan can even clothe himself in a cloak of humility, but he does not know how to wear the cloak of obedience." (Diary, par. 939). Genuine mystics, like Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio), are models of obedience. They never pretend to set up Christ against His Church.
Everyone is free to have an opinion, but all have to submit to the judgment of the Church with practical obedience. What I mean is: you are still free to disagree (the Bishop is not infallible in this matter), but you owe him practical obedience, that is, you may not act against the decree; you may not propagate a revelation that the Bishop has judged negatively, or continue to say publicly that you regard it as genuine. Remember, a Church commission may give a negative verdict for reasons which it cannot state publicly, e.g., it may have found out things against the character of the seer, but will not say so publicly, even though this would justify the decision and help people to accept it.
If a so-called message is judged not authentic for doctrinal reasons, then you are not free to defend such messages, because then you will be defending error. Vassula Ryden is an example of this: the judgment against her was for false doctrine in her writings. How and why pious Catholics defended her after the negative judgment by the Holy See’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is beyond me. Her whole case is black-and-white. Apart from unorthodoxy, her alleged messages, which are meant to be handwritten by Our Lord Himself, contain mistakes in English spelling and grammar!
Can you say publicly that an approved revelation is not genuine? Yes, if you want to. The Church never orders you to accept any private revelation. But any such disagreement should be voiced respectfully.
The simple fact is that most claimed revelations are false. It is extremely foolish, therefore, to devote oneself to propagating a disapproved or dubious message, which might actually come from the Father of Lies. If one day you see its falsity for yourself, you will regret it enormously, and be unable to undo the harm done to others. On the other hand, there are more than enough approved messages to spread, if you want to spread them. It is better to keep to what is countenanced by the Church, than to go it alone and risk being a dupe of the devil.
Fr Peter Joseph of Wagga Wagga, Australia, has a doctorate in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, is the editor of the revised version of Archbishop Sheehan’s "Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine" (Saint Austin Press 2001) and is currently the Chancellor of the Maronite Diocese of Australia Copied from http://www.christianorder.com