Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Prologue, Foreword and Contents

If you would like to read other articles by Rev. Joseph Dwight, click on his photo and choose the topic you are interested in. If you would like a good monthly meditation in MS Power Point Slide Show format with nice music and images in the background, choose the topic title “Spiritual Food” (or go directly to: http://spir-food.blogspot.com/) and then choose “The Importance of a Meditation!”
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I wrote this book, “The Holy Catholic Church and Private Revelation”, in 1983 to offer help in a particular situation at Necedah, Wisconsin where there was a cult based on a false apparition. Over 500 copies of the book were handed out by an old Roman Catholic Bishop, Francis DiBenedetto, on May 31, 1983 in the Shrine Men's Home Chapel. This work, in a way, represents our attempt to help others not to fall into the same trap or pit that I and so many others fell into (see: http://necedah-cult.blogspot.com/).

Since then I have had the opportunity to study philosophy and theology in Rome and to understand better the gift of the Second Vatican Council. Thus, if I wrote this book today I would certainly write it differently. Perhaps this written work lacks in regard to the true spirit of ecumenism and Christian charity; the mentality and attitudes expressed in this book are mostly pre Vatican II (see: http://trueevangelization.blogspot.com/ as well as http://schis-trad.blogspot.com/). But I feel there is a certain advantage and need to offer this work (with its references mostly written before the Second Vatican Council) as it was written in 1983, precisely because there are many people who have not had the opportunity to study and appreciate the documents of the recent ecumenical council. Thus these people can perhaps better relate to such a book in its original form. For this reason, as well as due to lack of time, I have not re-edited the book.

Joseph Dwight

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The Holy Catholic Church and Private Revelation


What is private revelation? What is the meaning and purpose of private revelation? How does private revelation fit into the overall divine plan of glorifying God and saving souls? What is the significance and role of private revelation within the entire Mystical Body of Christ. the Church? What should be our prudent attitude toward private revelation? Before the Church has had time to investigate a particular apparition, how can we prudently determine whether an apparition is probably true or probable false? What is the prudent use of private revelation? What are the dangers of the imprudent use of private revelation? The purpose of this work is to shed light on these and other pertinate questions regarding private revelation.

The apparitions of Our Lady in modern times have awakened the interest of laymen as well as theologians in the direct intervention of heaven in the affairs of men. Revelations are striking and extraordinary manifestations of the divine will. Although they sometimes shock or frighten the faithful, they are a form of God's pastoral activity, a way in which He continues to guide mankind.

But throughout history skeptics have been eager to deny the fact of God's personal communications with men. Others have been overenthusiastic in giving credence to reports to visions. How has our infallible guide on earth, the Holy Catholic Church, approached the question of revelations. In this work we will trace and analyze the guideposts in the history of the Church's attitude toward revelations.

Where the Apostles freely welcomed revelations, later Fathers were forced to exercise caution in confronting the extremist claims of the "new prophecy" of the ecstatic Montanists. Joachimism also provoked a reaction within the Church with its predictions of a new gospel.

But the dangers from pseudo-revelations did not - and should not - obscure the enrichment to be derived from true revelations. This work brings spiritual as well as psychological light to bear upon the question of discernment by showing how the findings of psychiatry supplement the wisdom of the clergy in distinguishing true from false revelations. We will draw upon the experiences of holy persons and the teachings of popes, saints and theologians.

But it cannot be emphasised enough that the greatest source of experience and wisdom as well as the supreme juridical authority on earth in regard to all spiritual matters, which includes private revelation, is our Holy Mother Church. We cannot go wrong if we humbly and confidently look to her and follow her counsels and judgments as given to us by her representatives on earth.

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I.1: Creation
I.2: The Fall of Man
I.3: The Incarnation and Redemption
I.4: Christ's Bride Sent to Be our Guide
I.5: The Church, Full of Grace and Truth
I.6: Admonishment From God Through the Church
I.7: Private Revelation - A Charism of the Church

1.1: Definition
1.2: Holy Scriptures -- Inspired by the Holy Spirit
1.3: Supernatural Revelation
1.4: "Apocryphal" Books
1.5: Private Revelations - One of the Charisms of the Church

2.1: An Edification
2.2: Enlightenment of the Mystical Body
2.3: Effects of Private Revelation On the Soul
2.4: Edifying Food for the Soul
2.5: Private Revelations Are Precious

3.1: Why God Gives Private Revelation
3.2: Pseudo-Revelations
3.3: The Pouring Out of the Holy Spirit
3.4: Revelations To The Apostles
3.5: An Early Pseudo-Revelation
3.6: Revelations in the Age of the Fathers
3.7: The "New Prophecy"
3.8: Reaction in the Church To Montanism
3.9: In the African Church of the Third Century
3.10: Joachimism - Twelfth Century
3.11: Reaction Against Joachimism
3.12: The Revelations of St. Bridget
3.13: Among Theologians
3.14: Apparitions of Recent Centuries

4.1: Difficulty of True Discernment
4.2: The Manner In Which Revelations Are Made
4.3: Criteria For the Subject of Revelations
4.4: Criteria For the Content of Revelation
4.5: Criteria For the Effects of Revelation
4.6: Miracles As Criteria of Revelation
4.7: Psycho-Physiological Phenomena
4.8: The Authority of the Church as Criteria of Discernment
4.9: Discerning the True from the False Within Revelations Themselves (Illusions)
4.10: Hallucinations and Revelation
4.11: Difference Between Supernatural Phenomena & Psycho-neurosis
4.12: The Power of the Devil
4.13: Diabolical Phenomena

5.1: What Is Prophesy
5.2: The Object of Prophesy
5.3: From God or From the Prophet or ...?
5.4: Kinds of Prophesy
5.5: Rules To Distinguish True From False Prophets

6.1: Moral Necessity of Spiritual Direction
6.2: Duties of the Spiritual Director
6.3: Duties of Penitents
6.4: Rules of Conduct Regarding Revelations

7.1: The Ark and the Dove
7.2: Christ Established a Church
7.3: The Authority of the Church
7.4: Why This Authority?
7.5: Why Church Laws?
7.6: Infallibility of the Church
7.7: The Necessity and the Fact of Infallibility
7.8: When Infallibility Is and Is Not Exercised
7.9: What Modernism Is and Is Not
7.10: The Greatest and Grandest Institution
7.11: The Four Marks of Our Greatest Treasure
7.12: Our Glorious Heritage
7.13: "The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail" - Indefectibility
7.14: Unconditional Surrender
7.15: Indefectibility
7.16: The Communion of Saints

8.1: Normal Tensions Between the Prophetic Function and the Hierarchical Church
8.2: Private Revelation - Direction In a Specific Way
8.3: The Attitude of the Church Toward Revelation Before the Nineteenth Century
8.4: Attitude of the Church Toward Certain Apparitions of the Last Two Centuries
8.5: Pastoral Ministry
8.6: Private Revelation Cannot Commit the Church
8.7: Church Recognition of Apparitions After Mature Reflection

9.1: In All That Is Not Sin
9.2: Humility - the True Visionary
9.3: Obedience To the Church
9.4: Different Realms of Authority
9.5: The Pit of Cynical Self-Deception
9.6: Destructive Propaganda
9.7: Prudent Action of a Son
9.8: Fundamental Imprudence Within a Family
9.9: Authority Destroying Authority
9.10: St. Thomas and Fraternal Correction
9.11: Danger of (Extreme) Traditional Groups
9.12: False Notions of Modernism
9.13: Cause of Disunity
9.14: "Holier-Than-Thou" Movements
9.15: Earth - A Battle Ground
9.16: Prudently Separate the Office From the Man
9.17: Protestantism
9.18: Protestant Clergy
9.19: Protestant Son
9.20: Proper Procedures
9.21: "New Things and Old"
9.22: Disobedience - Our Great Moral Disease

10.1: Catholic Faith vs Human Faith
10.2: The Abuse of Revelations
10.3: The Pit of Self-Deception
10.4: Few Respond To the Whisperings of the Holy Spirit
10.5: Great Saints or Mediocre Sinners?
10.6: Revelations: A Problem of the Present Time
10.7: The Right Not To Make Use of Revelations
10.8: The Usefulness of Belief in Revelations
10.9: The Fruitful Use of Revelations

11.1: Social Structures
11.2: Constructive Community Life
11.3: Destructive Community Life
11.4: Discernment of Good or Bad Community Life
11.5: Natural Tendency Toward Cults and Mind Control
11.6: Partial Reason For Increase In Cultism
11.7: Totalistic Environment
11.8: The Deception of Destructive Cults
11.9: God Offers True Freedom


BIBLIOGRAPHY (referenced by number & page; i.e. #p#)

(Click on the photo of Joseph Dwight to go to the other blog sites.)



I.1: Creation

In the outpouring of God's infinite overflowing love, He created the angels and men in His own image and likeness. This not only means they will live forever with an immortal soul, but also that they are endowed with understanding and free will. In other words, with these two gifts, they have the ability to comprehend and the choice to accept and cooperate with or reject God's love and graces. Thus, by this gift of our free will, or rather tremendous (fearful) responsibility, each one of us is given the opportunity to choose our destiny of eternal happiness or eternal pain.

I.2: The Fall of Man

Although our first human parents, Adam and Eve, were given many wonderful gifts and privileges, they did not remain faithful to God and His commandment (Gen 3:6). Since their gifts and wonderful privileges were purely gratuitous favors, there was no injustice done when, upon their fall, they were deprived of them. As the whole human race is descended from Adam and Eve, we all enter the world deprived of the gifts, most especially sanctifying grace, which we would have inherited if they had remained faithful.

I.3: The Incarnation and Redemption

But God did not abandon mankind. After promising them a Redeemer (Gen 3:15), He continued to guide them and communicate with them through His prophets and other holy men. Finally, in the fullness of time, out of love and mercy, God the Father sent His only begotten Son. It was not enough that He should leave His home in heaven and stoop to take up our human nature. It was not enough that He should have spent thirty-three wearisome years on this earth, toiling and suffering in order not only to give us the means to divine life, but to show us how to live that life after the example of His own Son. No, all this was yet not enough. It was not enough that He should die the ignominious death of the Cross to open the gates of paradise and offer to mankind once more the first loving invitation of the Father, which was rejected by our first parents, namely, to enter on the highway of love which leads to the eternal bliss of the vision and possession of Him.

I.4: Christ's Bride Sent to Be Our Guide

His infinite love still impelled Him to send us His Bride, Our Holy Mother the Church, that you and I, at this moment, hundreds of years after His sojourn on earth might have a visible, infallible, and unchanging Guide to lead us on the way He had pointed out. That you and I today with the faithful of the nineteen hundred and some odd years that have passed, and those of the tomorrows to come, should know the ministrations of this wonderful and divinely ingenious Mother of ours.

She orders the holy household of her ministers beginning with the visible head, the pope, in descending degrees of variety. She takes care that the spreading network of her saving channels reaches all of us, her children, with a marvelous efficiency, and teaches us His very own doctrine by her living voice. Every year of her life she completes that golden circle of truths which make up the Drama of Divine Love; directing our halting and sometimes childishly willful footsteps, by the hand of her government, along the straight and narrow path of His virtues and commandments, and having our thirsting souls to drink of the waters of His living grace.

I.5: The Church, Full of Grace and Truth

Thus, Christ did not leave us orphans with only a memory of Him and His works. He left us His Church; an identifiable Church that is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic and also divinely endowed with the three attributes (or charisms) of authority, infallibility, and indefectibility along with many other lesser charisms from the Holy Spirit. If Christ would give us no more, we could easily make it to His heavenly kingdom of eternal bliss if we would merely reach out and take advantage of our motherly infallible guide filled with Christ's precious truths and graces.

I.6: Admonishment From God Through the Church

But just like the Jews of the Old Testament who frequently slipped away from doing God's will expressed by His commandments or like a prudently raised child who often disobeys his generous and God-loving parents, so too, the Christians of the New Testament frequently did not and still do not do as they should even though God's will has been clearly spelled out by the Church and ample graces are openly and freely available through the Church especially in the seven sacraments.

In mercy and love, God sent Prophets and Judges to the Jews to jolt them back to Him. Good parents lovingly admonish their child. So too, God the Holy Spirit inspires the Church, normally through the ecclesiastical body of the bishops, with the Pope as their head, to lovingly admonish straying Christians. The Church fulfils this important task of guidance at all levels of her divinely formed structure from the Pope down to the parish priest using a whole array of methods including encyclicals, ecclesiastical pronouncements as well as the Sunday sermons by the parish priest.

I.7: Private Revelation - A Charism of the Church

A more rare method by which the Holy Spirit communicates to the Mystical Body of Christ for a particular situation at a given time in history to guide our conduct is by the charism of prophesy or better know as private revelation.

Private revelations are not the foundation upon which the Church rests but rather an extra charism of the Church bestowed on the faithful through God's generosity and mercy. It is the Church which approves them (or condemns then) and it is in her that revelations find their aim and fruit, that being, the edification of souls.

This work follows the brief advise of St. Paul to the Thessalonians (5:19-29). The first part (chapters 1-3), which aims at the acceptance of the fact of revelations, follows St. Paul's precept "Extinguish not the Spirit. Despise not prophecies." The second part (chapters 4-6), which deals with the discernment of revelations and the qualifications of the Catholic Church, is an explanation of the continuation of our text: "but prove all things!" The third part (chapter 7) corresponds entirely with the final Pauline advice: "prudently hold fast that which is good." This deals with the finality and the fruit of these divine communications. Thus our study is presented as a theological interpretation of the scriptural data in regard to particular revelations which, moreover, have often been advanced by the Fathers and by theologians.

Also included in this work is a brief discussion about the necessity of obedience to lawful superiors, prudent and imprudent attitude toward private revelation, and the dynamics of community with a look at constructive and destructive cults.

Ch. I: What Is Private Revelation?

Chapter I


1.1: Definition

What is private revelation? Private revelations are heavenly and verbal manifestions of the divine will made to man in an extraordinary way in order to direct human activity in a particular situation of the life of private persons or of humanity in general. More striking because of their marvelous character, they provoke among certain people, and sometimes in the whole Christian people, a salutary shock which the sacramental signs, neglected and familiar, do not always produce.

St. Thomas Aquinas, the "angelic doctor' of the Church, tells us, in regards to private revelation that, "The prophets who foretold the coming of Christ could not continue further than John, who with his finger pointed to Christ actually present. Nevertheless as Jerome says on this passage, 'This does not mean that there were no more prophets after John. For we read in the Acts of the apostles that Agabus and the four maidens, daughters of Philip, prophesied. John, too, wrote a prophetic book about the end of the Church; and at all times there have not been lacking persons having the spirit of prophecy, not indeed for the declaration of any new doctrine of faith, but for the direction of human acts." (Sum. Theol.II-II, 174, 6).

This same concept and definition of private revelation was reiterated by Pope John XXIII in his message addressed "to all Christians" at the conclusion of the centenary of the apparitions at Lourdes: "`They (the Roman Pontiffs) also have a duty to recommend to the attention of the faithful - when after mature examination they consider it opportune for the general good - the supernatural lights which it has pleased God to dispense freely to certain privileged souls, not to propose new doctrines but to guide our conduct." The Holy Father made his own the essence of the doctrine of St. Thomas and cited the original text of the passage quoted above. (A.A.S. 51 (1959), 144, 147.)

Thomas Aquinas, in his commentary upon St. Matthew, also makes an observation which illustrates very well what we have just said. It concerns the text: "For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John" (Mt 11:13). The commentator asks: Does it follow this that after John there were no more prophets! Here is the reply: "The mission of prophecy is twofold: it is sent to establish the Faith and to correct morals; but (today) the Faith has already been founded, for the promises were fulfilled by Christ. But for that which is concerned with correcting morals, prophecy never has, never will be lacking." (Divi Thomae Aquinatis Expositio in. ..Matthaeum, chap. XI, 13. (Neapoli, 1858), p. 102.)

1.2: Holy Scriptures - Inspired by the Holy Spirit

The divine revelations contained in the Bible differ from private revelation in that the entire Bible is inspired by God. The Bible's principle author is God, though it was written by men whom God enlightened and moved to write all those things, and only those things, that He wished to be written.

Inspiration is a force that God puts into a man so that he can write what God wants him to write. Just as electricity gives light and power, so does inspiration give God's light and power, the light and power that come from the Holy Spirit.

This enables a writer to write just what God wants Him to, though he uses his own language, his own style and his own writing skill. The power of inspiration keeps the writer from making a mistake. There are no errors or mistakes in the Bible. All that is there is truth.

We have the guarantee from our infallible Church that the books in the Bible are inspired (Council of Hippo, 393, later confirmed by Council of Carthage, 397). The infallible guarantee does not hold for private revelation although the faithful are permitted to read the messages of a particular private revelation, for our edification, unless this particular private revelation is forbidden by the Church.

"The right and duty to prohibit books for a good reason rests with the Supreme Pontiff for the whole Church, with the particular councils for their territory, and with the individual Ordinary for his diocese. From the prohibition of inferior authorities recourse may be had to the Holy See, not however, 'insuspensivo' , which means that the prohibition must be obeyed until Rome has rescinded the orders of the inferior authority." 7p287

1.3: Supernatural Revelation

Supernatural revelation, the truths found in Sacred Scripture and in Tradition, is the communication of some truth by God to a creature through means that are beyond the ordinary course of nature. Some revealed truths, for example, the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, are strictly beyond the power of the human mind. We could never know such truths unless God revealed them. Other truths, for example, the immortality of the soul, while not beyond the power of the human mind, are objects of revelation because God has revealed them in a supernatural way. Although these latter truths could be known without revelation, they are grasped with greater ease and certainty once God has revealed them.

God's public revelation of truths to men began with Adam and Eve and ended at the death of Saint John the Apostle.

Divine revelation contained in the Old Testament is called pre-Christian. It can be divided into: first, Primitive revelation, made to Adam and Eve; second, Patriarchal revelation, made to the patriarchs, for example, to Abraham and Lot; third, Mosaic revelation, made to Moses and the prophets.

Christian revelation contains the truths revealed to us by Jesus Christ, either directly or through His Apostles.

The Church does not oblige the faithful to believe private revelations given, at certain times, to individuals. Those to whom private revelations are given are obliged to believe them when they are certain that the revelations are from God.

1.4: "Apocryphal” Books

An "apocryphal" book is a book which appears to arrogate to itself a divine authority, or one formerly held to be sacred, but which in fact has not been accepted in the list of Sacred Books. The description does not, therefore, according to another and fairly common acceptance of the word, mean books of uncertain origin containing many false items mixed up with some true elements.

1.5: Private Revelation - One of the Charisms of the Church

True private revelations are from God by their very definition. If former examples of faith and of divine grace were written down in books for the honor of God and the comfort of man, why should not the same be done, for the same ends, in regard to more recent happenings? Times change; but the strength of the Spirit remains the same. The prophets of Scripture, in regard to the latest times, teach us that the new deeds should surpass the old in the abundance of grace. That is why we recognize and honor the new prophecies and visions and we consider that they are at the service of the Church along with other resources of the Holy Spirit.

Private revelations are not the foundation upon which the Church rests, but they do exist and act within the Church. It is the Church which approves them and it is in her that revelations find their aim, for they form part of the charisms which are bestowed for the edification of the Church. Undoubtedly they do not possess the importance of the sacraments, but they are normal means willed by God to direct and strengthen the life of the Church.
Private revelations do not form a part of Catholic faith, which rests solely upon the deposit of truth contained in Scripture and Tradition, and which has been confided to the Church for interpretation. Hence, there is no obligation for the faithful to believe them. Even when the Church approves them she does not make them the object of Catholic faith, but as Benedict XIV states, she simply 'permits' them to be published for the instruction and the edification of the faithful. The assent to be given them is not therefore an act of Catholic faith, but one of human faith, based upon the fact that these revelations are 'probable' and ‘worthy of credence'. "Although an assent of Catholic faith may not and can not be given to revelations thus approved, still, an assent of human faith, made according to the rules of prudence, is due them; for according to these rules such revelations are probable and worthy of pious credence." (De Serv. Dei Beatif., 1. II, c. 32, n. II).

Ch. II: Benefits of Private Revelation

Chapter II


2.1: An Edification

The most venerable and most traditional term by which to designate the aim and benefit of private revelation is "an edification." It is used in this sense in the Bible (1Cor 14:3-4), as also in the writings of the Fathers, and it has remained in use right up to our own day. Private revelation is always an impetus or a stimulus toward a more serious, more authentic spiritual life. The call to conversion, also, is the strongest expression of the aim of private revelations. The invitation to prayer and penance has been frequently expressed in revelations ever since the first centuries. These divine pressures have denoted something new in the sense that men in a particular situation have "forgotten" certain divine ideas. For them the matter has been new.

When revelations contain facts, accounts, information or when they draw the attention of the faithful to certain aspects of doctrine, they always have for their aim action, edification: they are striving to make the faithful grow in their love for God or to urge them on to apostolic undertakings. They are first of all given for the salvation of souls. And what St. Thomas says about prophetic revelations holds good for all revelations. Their aim is to promote the salvation of the elect (Sum. Theol., II-II, 174, 6).

2.2: Enlightenment of the Mystical Body

God corresponds on His part to the boundless variety of talks which He asks of men by a boundless variety and wealth of gifts. Among the most important of these is the prophetic gift which often expresses itself under the form of particular revelations.

Private revelation, writes Mgr. Journet, "contribute to the orientation of the conduct of the faithful of the Mystical Body in innumerable ways. They may draw the attention of the jurisdictional power to this or that aspect of the Christian message and thus provoke speculative or practical decisions which will benefit the entire Church..." And although they cannot add new data to the Catholic Faith, "they retain, nevertheless, an immense role in the work of the enlightenment of the Mystical Body."

Even theological studies are influenced by private revelation. These revelations, by drawing attention to a doctrine which seems new, may draw the theologian into biblical research which justifies or condemns it. Revelations concerning the life of Christ may also stimulate biblical study by presenting details which serve at least as working hypotheses.

Although we use the term "private revelation', hardly any revelations are strictly private. It may happen that a revelation remains always the secret of one individual. The spiritual progress which it produces in that individual increases the sanctity of the Church. Every cell of the Mystical Body, by the very fact that it is itself expanding, augments the vigor of the whole Body.

The fruit of revelations, however, is not limited to this. The person who preserves the secret of his revelation inevitably communicates to others something of the fruit which he is receiving from God.

But there are revelations which are directly intended for many people. These revelations, called "social," bear the most abundant fruits and their influence upon the life of the Church is immense. The number of extremely beneficial movements which such revelations have inspired in specific groups of the faithful is incalculable. Countless foundations of convents, pilgrimages, and all sorts of institutions owe their origin to revelations. Powerful pious movements within the Church have been set in motion or nourished under the impulse of revelations. For example, one should read the bull of canonization of St. Bridget, proclaimed by Pope Boniface XI, to realize to what extent this saint's revelations regenerated the members of the Church.

Particular revelations were at the source of the movements of reparation of these latter centuries. We know that the devotions in honor of the Sacred Heart and of the Eucharist are due to revelations. The value and the abundance of their fruits are confirmed by the fact that they lead the faithful to the great sources of the life of the Church of the Word Incarnate, that is, toward the Faith and the sacraments.

It is a fact that the manifestations of Christian faith in the places of the great Marian apparitions of our epoch find their completion in the greatest of the sacraments. In these places God acts upon souls, not only through the sacrament of penance, which is greatly sought in them, but He is loved and glorified there in the Sacrament of Sacraments. The life of the pilgrims in these places is marked by the celebration of the Eucharist, by the procession of the Blessed Sacrament. So revelations bear the most wonderful fruits by intensifying the Church's life in places where Jesus, Mary and the faithful are most intimately united and where human activity receives the highest and most discerning direction.

Through these revelations God continues to guide and exhort His people just as He did in the Old Testament and in the time of Christ. Through them, God communicates His designs to the world and to us.

The revelations of St. Margaret Mary and the great Marian apparitions, gave expression to the devotions to the Sacred Heart and to the Blessed Virgin which they would not have received, at least at that moment of history, if these extraordinary manifestations had not taken place.

The Lord revealed His clearly specified wishes to St. Margaret Mary. They applied to her own life as well as that of the Church: "I will be your strength," He said to her, "fear nothing; but be attentive to My voice and to what I ask of you in order to dispose you for the accomplishment of My designs. First of all you will receive Me in the Blessed Sacrament as often as obedience will permit ... You will receive Communion in addition on the First Friday of each month ... I ask you that the First Friday after the Octave of Corpus Christi be dedicated to a particular feast in honor of My Heart ..." lp230

2.3: Effects of Private Revelation On The Soul

The grace of a particular revelation is not sanctifying grace which elevates the soul itself. Revelations stimulate the soul to live according to that grace or they predispose it, sometimes in an irresistible fashion, to receive it.

It is a matter of the awakening of a life or of the orientation of its activities. Revelations shake the soul; they turn its false peace, fill it with a holy fear in order to flood it with a delicious peace.

Referring to personal revelations, not approved, of mystics, St. John of the Cross tells us (Book II, ch. 17): "God sanctifies man according to his nature. He begins with what is the least elevated and the most exterior - the senses. He perfects them by supernatural communications. By this means the senses are greatly confirmed in virtue and withdrawn from their inclination to evil. The supernatural visions which God is accustomed to give afterward to a soul which is well disposed, enlighten the senses, spiritualize them and produce great fruits in the spirit.

Spiritual writers often distinguish humility (which manifests itself among other fruits) as one of the marks of true revelations. St. Teresa dilates upon this subject in chapters three and eight of the Eighth Book of Abodes: "God," she says, "has another method of awakening the soul ... this is by way of words which God addresses to the soul in many ways" (Moradas, VI, cap. 3, note 1). A few words such as, Do not be troubled, are enough to bring calm to a soul disturbed by trial and tribulation or plunged into darkness and dryness. A few words flood it with a divine light and remove all fear from it; a few words immediately give certitude on the outcome of an important matter with which it is concerned. Despite all the interior or exterior obstacles, the word of the Lord which promises success accomplishes it. And then "The soul apprehends from it so much joy and lightness that it wants to do nothing else but to praise His Majesty continuously" (Moradas, VI, cap. 3, note 8).

2.4: Edifying Food For the Soul

Private revelations are often characterized by the same doctrinal limpidity and penetrating unction which are to be found in the inspired books. Simple, good and intelligent persons, who are open-minded and entrenched neither in a hypercritical attitude nor in a taste for the miraculous, find in the reading of such revelations truly comforting and edifying food for the soul in the biblical sense of the term.

Who has spoken as glowingly as St. Gertrude of the delights hidden in the sacred Humanity of Christ? Who has written better of the action of God in the soul than St. Teresa of Avila? St. Francis de Sales, after quoting St. Paul, St. Thomas, Gerson, and the Carthusian, Denis, as the authors who have worthily written upon this most important of subjects, adds in the introduction to his Treatise on the Love of God: "But in order to make known that this kind of writing is more happily accomplished by the devotion of lovers than by the doctrine of scholars, the Holy Spirit has willed for certain women to achieve wonders in this field. Who has better expressed the heavenly passions of sacred love than St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Angela da Foligno, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Mathilda?" lp255

2.5: Private Revelations Are Precious

Private Revelations are very precious things for they help us to conform our lives to the plan which God has for us in a particular situation. They are equally precious because of the way in which they act upon men. They come as a surprise and engage man's feelings and his attention in such a way that they are effective in cases where other methods would not be.

The abundance of the fruits of these apparitions is not surprising if we think of the Incarnation. God wishes to accomplish His work of redemption through the Incarnation by which God adopted Himself to man in order to reach Him. And the apparitions, which by their nature make appeal to the senses, belong to the consequences of the Incarnation. Within this perspective we better understand why prophetic revelations have for their aim the good of the Church (Sum. Theol., 11-II, 172, 4).

Ch. III: Examples of True and False Revelations

Chapter III


3.1: Why God Gives Private Revelation

It has always been observed that at turning points of history, at periods of upheaval, God has shown Himself more visibly in the directing of human events. We are in one of these periods now. For the last hundred years we have been observing a social and religious upheaval of a scope never witnessed before in history. World wars have followed closely upon one another. Their disastrous repercussions have been immense, no less in the religious sphere than in the others. Many people have lost their way even in the most essential affairs of life.

In addition to this, Christians are mixing in a new way with pagans, with unbelievers or with the followers of other religions. A Christian society does not protect them as it did before. They have more need of divine guidance since they are exposed to danger.

And here is something no less important. Confidence in the laws of thought, the metaphysical mentality, has largely disappeared. Logical deductive thinking and even basic common sense or intuitiveness is becoming more and more scarce. An infinite number of doctrines are in circulation and being presented as the truth despite the fact that they contradict one another. Moreover, atheistic reasoning such as humanism or positivism or existentialism have penetrated everywhere in one form or another putting man and his experience into the center of our philosophical thought. The technological age, as Pope Plus XII has called our era, links us almost irresistibly to visible things. In short, our day has a particular need of facts, we are thirsty for experience, we want to see.

God adapts Himself to man in order to reach him. That is why He became Man; that is why He changes His methods of acting as the outlook and the situation of men change. It is not surprising, therefore, that in our day perhaps there should properly be more heavenly revelations than at other periods. But for the very reasons given above, we may also expect an extraordinary number of pseudo-revelations.

3.2: Pseudo-Revelations

While admitting revelations, the Church is fully conscious that there are imitations of them. Pseudo-revelations appear with such verisimilitude and frequency that anyone investigating them might end, if he has not taken the trouble to make a thorough study of some particular revelation which is authentic, by rejecting on principle all particular revelations.

It is a fact that each of the great Marian apparitions has been followed by a huge number of fraudulent imitations. False revelations are as old as the true ones; they are certainly considerably more numerous. Pseudo-prophets were the contemporaries of true prophets, and even while the Gospels were being spread, apocrypha were being diffused everywhere. Due to forgery and fakery, the weakness of human nature, and the influences of the devil, it is difficult to determine the true from the false.

Since the evidence of these revelations rests solely upon the sincerity of the person favored with them and upon the faith of persons who believes in them, it would be easy to counterfeit them. That is why false revelations are to he found beside genuine ones. In the days of the Old Testament, as in apostolic times, it was necessary to be on one's guard against " pseudo-prophets." St. John expressly warned his brethren: "Dearly beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits if they be of God: because many false prophets are gone into the world" (1John 4:1). And these latter would always be at work. Since the time of Christ, the defenders of the Church have had to struggle against false prophets and sometimes even against their prophetic movements.

Thus, we will briefly describe a few approved private revelations (or at least not condemned private revelations) and a few condemned private revelations before delving into the discernment of revelations as given to us from the experience and divine wisdom of the Church.

3.3: The Pouring Out of the Holy Spirit

God in His sovereignty reveals Himself when and to whom He wishes. Ever since Creation He has communicated with mankind. In various ways, first of all through the Prophets and later through His Son (Heb 1:1). Then God manifested Himself through the Apostles to the Church.

At the precise moment when the Church, and within the Church the Holy Spirit, were manifested to the world, the man upon whom Christ chose to build His Church began his first sermon by insisting upon the charism of prophecy.

After the strange scene of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, Peter felt obliged to explain the cause of the extraordinary phenomenon of the gift of tongues. And he did so in a very solemn manner. Peter "stood up" with the Eleven (Acts 2:14). Then, dominating the hubbub of the voices of the other Apostles, he raised his voice and began his discourse with a solemn formula: "Ye men of Judea, and all you that dwell in Jerusalem, be this known to you, and with your ears receive my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day: But this is that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel: "And it shall come to pass in the last days. (says the Lord), I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. And upon my servants indeed, and upon my handmaids will I pour out in those days of my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heaven above, and signs on the earth beneath: ... that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved" (Acts 2:14-21).

This text indicates to us the pouring out of the Holy Spirit over all without distinction of race, sex or condition through prophecy communicated in different ways.

3.4: Revelations To The Apostles

Holy Scripture tells us that the Apostles received many visions and prophecies (Acts 19; 22; 28:9; 27:23-24; 2 Cor 12:1-6; Apoc 2:18-23; etc.). But revelations were not restricted to the Apostles. Certainly they were by right the beneficiaries of revelations. Given charge of the universal Revelation, they needed to possess all the charisms useful for their mission. But in the primitive Church many other people received revelations, as the book of the Acts tells us: "Now there were in the Church which was at Antioch, prophets and doctors, among whom was Barnabas, and Simon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manahen, who was the foster brother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul" (Acts 13:1). Agabus was another important prophet (Acts 13:1; 11: 27-28; 21: 11).

Referring to the prophets of the New Testament, St. Paul tells us: "He that descended is the same also that ascended above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. And He Himself gave some men as apostles, and some as prophets, others again as evangelists, and others as pastors and teachers, in order to perfect the saints for a work of ministry, for building the body of Christ" (Eph 4:10-12).

3.5: An Early Pseudo-Revelation

Even in the young early Church, there were numerous false prophets. The Sacred Books denounce some of them. Christ Himself warned us against false prophets: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit, and the evil tree brings forth evil fruit." Wt 7:15-17). "For there will rise up false christs and false prophets, and they shall show signs and wonders, to seduce (if it were possible) even the elect. Take you heed therefore; behold I have foretold you all things" (Mk 13:22-23). Here we shall transcribe the first detailed accounts of a pseudo-revelation which we find in Tradition.

Firmilian of Caesarea wrote to St. Cyprian: "I want to tell you a story of something which has happened here among us and which concerns our subject. About twenty-two years ago, at the time following the death of Alexander Severus, plagues and trials in dire profusion fell upon all the populations here, and in particular upon the Christians. Repeated earthquakes destroyed buildings in Cappadocia and Pontus. The very cities disappeared, swallowed up in the craters ... Now suddenly there arose a woman who, going into ecstasy, professed to be a prophetess and behaved as though under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. She received so compelling an influence from the leading demons that for a long time she attracted and duped our brethren as the result of the amazing prodigies she performed. She even announced that she was going to shake the earth or disturb one of the elements. Sometimes the evil spirit, understanding and foreseeing that an earthquake was going to occur, make it seem that he was the author of the thing he knew was going to take place. These lies and extravagant boasts had subjected many spirits to him: people obeyed him and followed him wherever he wished .... Due to him this woman, in the midst of the coldest winter, walked barefoot through snow and ice without suffering any harm." (Letter from Firmilian included in the collection of the letters of St. Cyprian, Ep. 75, C.S.E.L. 3, 816-817.)

3.6: Revelations in the Age of the Fathers

Two very early testimonies or revelations of post-apostolic times contained among the "apocrypha" were the "Didache" and "The Shepherd" of Hermas.

The contexts of the "Didache" may be divided into three parts; the first is the "Two Ways", the Way of Life and the Way of Death; the second part is a ritual dealing with Baptism, fasting, and Holy Communion; the third speaks of the ministry. Doctrinal teaching is presupposed and none is imparted. The "Didache" is mentioned by Eusebius after the books of Scripture.

It is interesting to note that due to the advantageous and creditable position which was given to the prophet of the early Church, intriguers were also attracted. The Didache puts Christians on their guard against these. Here were the rules which it laid down for the discernment of true and false prophets: From the fact that someone spoke in the Spirit - or that he seemed to do so - it did not follow that he must be an authentic prophet. Every prophet was false:

1. Whose way of life was not that of the Lord's.

2. Who profited from his position to eat according to his choice.

3. Who asked for money for his personal use.

4. Who taught without practicing what he preached.

5. Who professed some doctrine other than that of the Church (11:2-8).

These regulations imply the presence of a fairly considerable number of prophets in the communities and the existence of frequent revelations.

"The Shepherd" was written by a pious merchant. It is divided into three parts - visions, precepts, and parables - but the last two are scarcely more than an explanation of the visions. "The Shepherd" was basically a prophetic call to lukewarm Christians to prayer and penance. Although it was held in high esteem and recommended as good reading material by many early Fathers, it was explicitly not accepted as a canonical book. (Enchiridion Biblicum (Romae, 1954), n. 7).

3.7: The "New Prophecy"

At the moment when the "Shepherd" by Hermas was reaching the pinnacle of fame in the West, a powerful prophetic current was being released in the East. This occurred toward A.D. 172. Here is how a contemporary, the anonymous polemicist quoted by Eusebius, described its origin: "There is, it is said, in Mysia, on the frontier of Phrygia, a town called Ardabau. It is there, by all accounts, that first of all one of the new faithful, called Montanus, when Gratus was proconsul of Asia Minor, gave the enemy access to his soul through an immeasurable ambition for the highest places. Stirred by the spirit (of evil), he suddenly became as though possessed and seized by a false ecstasy, and he began, in these transports, to speak, to utter strange words and to prophecy in a manner wholly contrary to the traditional usage which is preserved by the old succession of the Church. Among those who at that time heard these spurious discourses, there were some who, importuned by him as by a frenzied demoniac and as one possessed by the spirit of error which agitated the masses, reproved him and hindered him from speaking, recalling the teaching of the Lord and His warning concerning the vigilance which must be maintained against the advent of false prophets. Others, on the contrary, as if exalted by the Holy Spirit and the charism of prophecy, and above all puffed up with pride and forgetful of the Lord's teaching, incited the frenzied spirit, the flatterer and seducer of the people, who were charmed and misled by him to the stage where they could no longer be compelled to be silent." (Eusebius of Caesarea, " Hist. Eccl.," v, 16, in: Sources chretiennes, vol. 41, pp. 47-48, n. 7-8.).

Among those who were in this state of exaltation were to be found women. Two of them, Priscilla and Maximilla, soon began to manifest the same symptoms as Montanus. The activities of all three of them were mainly centered in the plain of Pepuza in Phrygia. They called this place Jerusalem, meaning by this the new Jerusalem of the Apocalypse. They spoke with such persuasion that their listeners were completely captivated by them, and the ecstatic and convulsive agitation took on such dimensions that it could not fail to have tremendous repercussions.

The "new prophecy," as it was soon called, made followers everywhere. It penetrated all the provinces of Asia Minor; whole communities were carried away by it and all the churches suffered at its hands. The constant invitation of the Montanists to a more ascetic life is proof that the need for this was felt in the Church. The "Shepherd" of Hermas, around A.D. 150, complained of moral laxity, and the book showed the need for penance. The elegant Greeks, and the Romans, disciplined and full of themselves, readily sneered at the Phrygians as poor, awkward, timid and ignorant people. But on the testimony of the historian Socrates, these Phrygians abstained from the circus games and controlled their passions better than all other peoples, hiding beneath a rather somber manner an ardent mysticism.

But beneath this exaggerated asceticism were hidden more disquieting aims. The Cataphrygian prophets arrogated to themselves an authority higher than that of the bishops. The prophetesses assumed a large part in the government of the churches. All the doctrines of the Montanists, their organization and their tactics, were sustained by one conviction - the Trinity had opened Itself to humanity: this was now the great manifestation of the Holy Spirit! Didymus of Alexandria recounts this utterance by Montanus: "I am the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. " 1p43 And Eusebius of Caesarea relates that zealots had the temerity to boast of Montanus as the Paraclete (Hist. Eccl., v. 16-17).

3.8: Reaction in the Church to Montanism

This pseudo-prophetic trend was quickly stigmatized as "new prophecy." The term prophecy was used because the Cataphrygians spoke in the name of God. But this type of prophecy seemed new, that is to say, anti-traditional and therefore false in the eyes of the defenders of the orthodox Faith.

New, first of all, was the manner of prophesying. The traditional prophets did not prophesy, as did the Cataphrvgians, in a state of ecstasy comprising obnubilation, even an eclipse of reason. In their case the agitation, the convulsions, the unknown words uttered in a state of delirium such as one observes here were unknown; they kept the use of their reason and understood everything they were saying. This is often emphasized by the representatives of the Church who were fighting Montanism. One example is given by St. Jerome writing in the prologue to his commentary on the prophet Habacuc. P.L., 25, 1274.

This aforesaid prophecy was new as regards its content and its principles. New was the claim, says Hilgenfeld, that the fullness of the Spirit had not came through the Apostles, nor even through Christ, but solely through Montanus and his companions, and that with them alone the time of true charisms began. Neither is the origin of the Montanist schism to be sought in the disciplinary regulations issuing from the Paraclete, but in the fundamental conception of the Paraclete as the last and supreme source of Revelation, to which the whole Church is subject. 1p55.

The Montanists claimed to have the permanence of Charisms, but at the same time they denied it by saying that after them there would be no more prophets. St. Epiphanius clearly illustrates this when he said: "We also have a duty to welcome charisms. For the Holy Church of God welcomes them, too, but (in her case) there are truly charisms, authenticated for her by the Holy Spirit... (But) note that the very thesis which they defend convicts them of not being able to attain the object which their jealousy desires. For if we must welcome charisms, and if there be need of charisms in the Church, how does it come about that since Montanus, Priscilla and Maximilla they have no more prophets? Has grace then lost its force? It has not come to a standstill, however, in the Holy Church; God forbid. lp56

St. Epiphanius also stood up against the extreme anti-Montanists, the Alogi, who sought to demolish the "new prophecy" by doing away with the Gospel of St. John upon which the disciples of Montanus believed they could build their teaching.

"These people," he wrote, "not accepting the Holy Spirit, are judged from the pneumatic point of view as understanding nothing of the things of the Spirit. They want to speak in conformity with reason and they do not recognize the charisms which are at work in holy Church." (P. de Labriolle, La crise Montaniste (Paris, 1913), p. 195).

St. Irenaeus also censured the Alogi in his work, "Against the Heresies", composed between A. D. 180 and A. D. 192:

"Others, in order to suppress the gift of the Spirit which "in latter times, according as it has pleased the Father" has been-poured out upon the human race, do not admit this form of the Gospel which is according to St. John and in which the Lord promised that He would send the Paraclete; but they reject both the Gospel and the prophetic Spirit. They are indeed unhappy spirits who, because they do not wish to admit false prophets, would drive out the grace of prophecy even from the Church. In that, they are like to those who, because of a few hypocrites to be found in the Church, refrain from even associating with the Brethren. It goes without saying that these same spirits no longer accept St. Paul. For in his first Epistle to the Corinthians he spoke in detail of the prophetic gifts and he knew men and women who "prophesied" within the Church... Thus, by their whole attitude they sin against the "Spirit" of God and fall into the "unforgivable" sin." ("contra Haer.," III, 11, 9, Sources chretiennes, vol. 34, p. 202. ).

And no one could testify more explicitly than St. Irenaeus that there still existed men of the type the Apostles called spiritual, "these just men who have received the Spirit of God." The Bishop of Lyons continues: "We have heard speaking in the Church many brethren who possess the prophetic charisms; they speak by the Spirit in all languages and they reveal men's secrets. Heretics, it is true, claim to do as much; they even think that they are surpassing the Master. But what they are performing is: Magic: through their tricks they delude the foolish... The true disciples of the Son of God perform their charisms in His name for the good of others: some of them drive away demons, others have knowledge of things of the future, see visions and hold prophetic discourses, others cure the sick by the imposition of hands...

"The Shepherd" was a prophetic call to penance; it sought to awaken lukewarm and skeptical souls by heavenly messages. The "Shepherd" was, after all, looked upon as a phenomenon parallel to Montanism yet compatible with orthodoxy. When the "new prophecy" reached Rome, then, it found a favorable atmosphere, at least for a while. Montanism was condemned by the Church although not solemnly. Regional synods, however, were organized to fight it. The different churches combated the error in proportion to the extent that it affected them, and all of them reacted in a wonderfully balanced Catholic manner. Now that the hierarchy was solidly established, it would have been easy to condemn all prophecy under the pretext of effectively fighting the "new prophecy", but the churches did not succumb to this temptation.

3.9: In the African Church of the Third Century

Despite the ravages of Montanism, in Carthage the majority of the faithful remained united to the great Church; they continued to believe in prophetic charisms, in visions and in revelations, without, however, adhering to Montanism. One of the best proofs of this is provided by the "Acts of the Martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua and Felicitas".

Although these five visions in the "Acts ... Felicitas" received some criticism, but the testimony of Tradition, by way of various bishops, doctors and saints of the Church, has proven favorable. From St. Augustine's writings we learn that these "Acts" were well known, commonly accepted and highly valued, to such an extent that the Bishop of Hippo felt obliged to state that the book was not canonical. He did so in replying to the monk Rene who was using the Passion of Perpetua as a theological argument. Augustine did not criticize him on this point; he himself made a long theological reflection on the theme of the struggle engaged in by Perpetua in her dream about the horrible Egyptian. He exalted the Passion and the "divine revelations" of these celebrated saints and he bore witness to the religious respect with which their exhortations were accepted in his time. lp63

St. Cyprian noted revelations in his entourage. In Epistle 16: 4, he wrote: "Amongst us, innocent boys receive from the Holy Spirit, not only nocturnal visions but others in the daytime, and in ecstasy see with the eyes and hear and utter things by which the Lord deigns to admonish and instruct us." Heavenly communications were received not only by the children in Cyprian's entourage, but also by Cyprian himself.

The numerous writings of St. Augustine and St. Cyprian along with a variety of other saints and early Christians demonstrate that the charism of revelations did not disappear with the apostolic age after the Montanist crisis, but that its permanence was subsequently affirmed even after the peace of Constantine. Among the Fathers, no one reflected so much upon revelations and apparitions as did St. Augustine, and his attitude toward them was generally adopted by the Fathers of the following centuries.

3.10: Joachimism - Twelfth Century

Joachimism was an apocalyptic movement which had been set in motion by a certain monk called Joachim, born in Calabria, Italy. After leaving his Cisterian Abbey around the year 1191, he founded a monastery near Cosenza where he soon gained the reputation of being a saint and a visionary, and in fact conducted himself in the manner of a prophet in attacking the abuses of his time. Due to his writings, his reputation spread beyond the limits of his own country. His errors on the subject of the Trinity straight away made his influence dangerous, but his theory regarding the periods of the world (status mundi) assured him, for all that, a lasting success.

He divided history into three periods. The first extends from the origin of the world to the coming of Christ; the second from Christ's coming to the year 1260; the third from then until the end of the world. The first period is that of the Father, the second that of the Son, and the third that of the Holy Spirit. On the ecclesiastical level the periods correspond respectively to that of the laity, of clerics, and of monks. In each period one draws from a certain source. In that of the Father this source is the writings of the Old Testament; in that of the Son it is Christ's Gospel; in that of the Holy Spirit it is the "eternal Gospel." Hence, after Joachim's death, his followers wrote the "eternal Gospel" with an "Introduction to the Eternal Gospel" (condemned by Alexander IV). The "eternal Gospel" was composed of three main works of Abbot Joachim - the 'New Apocalypse' , the 'Harmony of the New and Old Testament', and the 'Harp with Ten Strings'.

3.11: Reaction Against Joachimism

The reaction against Joachimism came quickly. The Church which condemned Joachim's teaching upon the Trinity refrained from doing the same with respect to his other teachings, and that the most competent doctors have emphasized the persistence of revelations in the history of the Church. The most authoritative theologians even among the mendicants were too clear-sighted to fall into Joachimism: the attitude of Alexander of Hales, of St. Bonaventure and of St. Albert plainly demonstrates this; but we shall confine ourselves chiefly to David of Augsburg and St. Thomas Aquinas.

David of Augsburg was a Franciscan. Totally dedicated to the to the formation of his friars and to the evangelization of the people, he reacted with vigor against the apocalyptic tendencies in the millieu in which he carried on his ministry: "The revelation of things which are hidden or are still to come," he wrote, "seems to be the achievement of many. But many are the victims of illusion - as in the visions which already have been questioned - and attribute to the Holy Spirit what they have invented in their own minds or under the influence of a spirit of error. That is why we are flooded to saturation point by all sorts of prophecies upon the coming of the Anti-christ, signs of the judgment to come, the destruction of religion, the persecution of the Church, the defection of Christians, the calamities which are bound to fall upon the world, etc. There is no shortage of serious and pious men who given an exaggerated adherence to all this; the same is true of the writings of Joachim and of others who prophesy by interpretations of all kind." 1p79

But while David of Augsburg was convinced that the majority of people were misled by revelations and visions, he equally declared that thanks to them others were turned toward the truth. And he wrote in his third book, 'On the Exterior and Interior Formation of Man’ ... some masterly pages on revelations and visions. He laid down a classification of revelations, emphasized that other charisms are superior to them, and indicated the reasons for illsions in this matter, etc.

St. Thomas, surely had nothing of the visionary about him, was familiar both with Joachimim and the excessive reaction it provoked, especially among the secular clergy. He stood out against this. He mentioned Joachim, who was not, in his eyes, a heretic. The Abbot of Fiore was neither a pseudo nor a genuine prophet: he spoke of mysteries and revelations, but lacked a solid theological training.

We again note that the traditional teaching regarding particular revelations was confirmed and made more explicit at the very time when a big prophetic movement deviated from orthodoxy and when an infatuation for revelations did considerable harm in the Church.

3.12: The Revelations of St. Bridget

In the middle ages to our own times. God raised up many great mystics including St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Francis De Sales, St. Magdalen de Pazzi, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, St. Gertrude the Great and many other great saints. These saints became the counselors of great numbers of poor people and notables, a source of knowledge and wisdom to their contemporaries, the edification and the reform of Christian people. Each of these cited saints had a powerful influence on the intelligences and hearts of the faithful while receiving numerous visions and revelations from God. A well documented example which we will examine in particular are the revelations of St. Bridget.

After St. Bridget's husband died in 1340, she retired as an oblate into a guest house of the monastery of Alvastra where she began to receive the revelations which were to have such immense repercussions in the Church. These revelations were addressed to everyone: to the poor, to the noble, to kings and to princes of the Church. They had as their subject Swedish sovereignty, the indifference of Christians, the Church, the Blessed Virgin, etc. There were messages for Pope Clement VI at Avignon, urgings for the Pope's return to Rome, and quite often reproaches of the Lord.

Confronted by these revelations, Bridget was incredulous. She asked herself in great anguish if they might not have come from the devil. The Lord reassured her (Rev., I, 4; III,10) and told her to submit then to the judgment of her directors, which she faithfully did.

The revelations of St. Bridget exercised a great influence on Christians towards the end of the Middle Ages. The Council of Basle had to reject a proposal to assimilate then into Scripture. The saint's secretaries were, indeed, called evangelists (Bevel. extrav., cap. 49).

Obviously not everyone received these revelations with enthusiasm. They did not form part of public revelation, and they freely attacked abuses among Christians of every walk of life. In the circumstances of the period these attacks inevitably aroused political resentment. A great many ecclesiastics at that time were political figures. In addition to this, the revelations were published in a Latin translation made by theologians who undoubtedly interpreted the original text according to their own theological formation. Every translation involves an interpretation.

So these revelations provoked a debate, the most important and most solemn debate which had taken place in the Church on the subject of particular revelations. The most prominent theologians were to display their competence in the course of it.

The Council of Basle had put on its program the examination of the revelations of Bridget of Vadstena. In view of this examination Gerson composed his treatise 'On the Discernment of Spirits' (De probatione spiritum), as he said himself in his fifth Consideration. He wished to recommend prudence to the Fathers of the Council. Fifteen years previously he had composed a treatise, 'On the Distinction Between True and False Visions'. Therefore he knew his subject. "In this latest hour," he wrote, "at the coming of Antichrist, the world is in a delirium, like some old man. Imaginings and illusions are assailing it like dreams. All sorts of people are saying: I am Christ. Someone foretells who is going to be the future Pope, et cetera." lp85

Gerson pointed out five signs which distinguished true revelations: humility, discretion, patience on the part of the visionary, the truth of the revelations, and finally charity or love of God.

Now he was able to give good advice to the Fathers of the Council. “Try the spirits!" This, he said, is an order from St. John. Gerson insisted: "Expertis crede: believe those who have experience, especially St. Augustine and Bonaventure, for there is scarcely a more destructive, more pernicious pest than a yearning for revelations"

But the Swedish bishops and the preaching friars vigorously supported the revelations in question. John of Torquemada, Master of the Sacred Palace, became the champion of the defense. In his 'Defense of the Revelations of Blessed Bridget' he endeavored to prove that they proceeded from the Holy Spirit. As arguments he advanced also five characteristics (signa) which differ little from those of Gerson. These are:

1. The opinion of competent men, specialists in the matter.

2. The effects of the revelations - humility, the piety of the visionary and the glory of God.

3. In regard to the object of the revelations: truth.

4. In regard to their "Form": conformity with Scripture.

5. In regard to their subject: holiness. lp86

One can hardly exaggerate the importance of St. Bridget in the history of revelations. Her work occasioned the first. systematic expositions upon the discernment of revelations, formulated by Gerson and Torquemada.

3.13: Among Theologians

The theologians of the sixteenth century did not speak generally about revelations except in their treatises or commentaries upon faith and prophecy. Following them, the majority of theologians remained on the same level and reproduced their thought. Some, however, wrote upon revelations with the aim of discerning them. In 1638, the Dominican Gravina, consulter to the Holy Office, published his "Touchstones for Distinguishing True Visions and Revelations from the False.” This is an attempt to formulate a genuine and systematic treatise upon revelations: it is the most complete with respect to the scope of the aspects examined, and one of the best of its kind that has been written to the present day. It sketches an outline of the history of revelations, seeks to lay down a definition and establish distinctions, examines the object and the subject, the circumstances, etc.

3.14: Apparitions of Recent Centuries

Since the Ascension of Our lord, there has been an uninterrupted series of heavenly communications which, since the Ascension of Our Lord, God has addressed chiefly to the obscure and humble for the greater good of the Church. Many of the apparitions of recent centuries are well known throughout the Christian world.

Among these must be counted the apparitions of Parayse-Monial during the years 1673-1675. Here is the most important revelation, communicated in the last great apparition, during the Octave of Corpus Christi: 1. The heart of Jesus revealed His great love for men and demanded "the return of love". 2. He complained of receiving in recognition only coldness or scorn, and He was particularly sensitive to this ingratitude among individuals consecrated to Him. 3. He urged reparation for all these sins.

The apparitions of Jesus Christ to St. Margaret Mary were revelations in the most perfect sense. They comprised a dialogue between persons who saw one another (Sum. Theol., II-II, 174,3). Relative to faith, they showed the important role of particular revelations of which they were a typical example. A revelation, in fact, should teach us something which we did not know. It cannot establish a new doctrine but it should supply something new, whether in a domain other than faith or in the sense that it causes to be understood in a vital way some Christian teaching which has been somewhat forgotten or is vaguely known.

The apparitions of the Blessed Virgin to St. Catherine Laboure immediately bore abundant fruits. Even before the general public knew of them, the Miraculous Medal was arousing or increasing Marian devotion everywhere.

At LaSalette the Blessed Virgin not only foretold chastisements as a consequence of sins, but also blessings as the fruit of the conversion of Christians. She urged prayer and penance.

In 1858 at Lourdes, the Mother of God appeared to St. Bernadette and proclaimed to the world, "I am the Immaculate Conception". Fifty nine years later the Blessed Virgin appeared to three children in Fatima, Portugal pleading for prayer and penance to save souls and to avoid world catastrophes.

As in the past, these numerous apparitions have stimulated a greater degree of theological synthesis on revelations including principles of discernment and the meaning and purpose of private revelations. All of these studies and many others affirm the existence of particular revelations, but they always warn against pseudo-revelations.

Summing up, during the whole history of the Church there has been belief not only in the existence of revelations, but also in their permanence in the Church. Obviously they have not always happened in the same way. During the first centuries they were addressed most of the time to representatives of ecclesiastical authority who were often priests and prophets; throughout the long period of the union of throne and altar (state and Church) it was chiefly, it would seem upon religious, and especially women, that God conferred the charismatic gift of revelations; in the last few centuries, it has been chiefly the humble and the ignorant who have received them for the edification of the Church. In all that, there is nothing exclusive. God distributes His gifts when He wishes and as He wishes. But He is faithful to His own word which was revealed to us by the prophet Joel and which was repeated by the Prince of the Apostles on the day of the birth of the Church: your sons and your daughters shall prophesy... "

Ch. IV: Criteria of Discernment

Chapter IV


From all we have said, this much at least is clear: The Church while teaching that official Revelation concluded with the death of the last Apostle, believes that God continues to manifest Himself through revelations. But while she affirms in principle the existence of these revelations, she does not recognize, at least not solemnly, the authenticity of this or that revelation in particular. It is true that she has given guarantees for certain ones, and the magisterium has, on many occasions, declared in favor of the authenticity of this or that apparition. But we are dealing here with a "permissive" attitude. No one is obliged to believe in any particular revelation. If a Christian accepts it, he does so on his own initiative. He should ponder his reasons for belief. More often than he realizes, he is led to make some effort of discernment in the matter of the revelations he is considering. It is useful, therefore, to know what procedure the experts follow in this matter.

In this section, we shall try to give an analytical and structural insight, into the discernment of revelations as practiced by our infallible guide on earth, the Holy Catholic Church.

4.1: Difficulty of True Discernment

When one considers the wit and power of the devil, the natural human attraction to the miraculous, and especially the complicated psychology and natural ingenuity and intelligence, even without the devil, of a human being motivated by pious enthusiasm or pride or any other self motive, the faithful may be easily deceived if they do not apply the true criteria of discernment when confronted by pseudo-revelations. It is not easy to discern fake piety or humility especially if one doesn't know the "visionary" well or one has allowed himself to turn off his mind and turn off prudent critical analytical thinking and judgment due to peer pressure or due to the natural human tendency to avoid the hardship of prudent critical thinking. This type of thinking is one of the most basic crosses and paths to heaven. It is also to be noted that never in all her history has the Church explicitly rejected such a large number of false revelations as in our own twentieth century. In the last thirty years alone she has condemned at least fifteen of them.

A sure discernment of true revelations assumes a penetrating knowledge of pseudo-revelations.

Anyone who knows the structure and the sources of these is better enabled to estimate the value of the positive criteria of a revelation. Every revelation is a communication from one person to another. In our case it is a communication from God to man. That is why it is easy to understand the lapse from a revelation to its counterfeit: an individual is never completely knowable even when he is quite open and frank. This is all the more true when God is concerned in the matter. God remains always a mistery, even when He manifests Himself. Despite grace, He is never comprehensible to man in his earthly condition.

It is not surprising that the man who thinks that he has received a divine communication might be mistaken. For he has no evidence of the divine presence which spoke to him. Certainly God, in revealing Himself to man, may give the certainty of His presence. But this is a grace granted to the visionary who cannot transmit to others this personal guarantee. There must, then, be reliable criteria of discernment for everyone.

That is not all. God may speak to a man through an intermediary. This makes no difference to the nature of the revelation. He may address Himself to us by means of His creatures. As a matter of fact He has frequently chosen angels, His "messengers," as the instruments of His communications.

Finally, if God speaks to man personally, or through an intermediary, He is expressing Himself in a human manner and man can only grasp the divine communication through the means and the method of human knowledge. In such conditions the danger of confusing a revelation with its imitation is intrinsic in the event itself. The principle danger lies in man himself who in certain psychological states may believe that God is speaking to him whereas in reality he is speaking to himself. But, when a true communication is objectively received, it does not necessarily proceed from God; the creatures, in particular the fallen angels, are capable of giving it. There are, therefore, two sources of confusion which make discernment very difficult, namely, the human psyche and the interference of the demons in the life of man. In this matter, then, certain principles must be remembered before a study of the criteria for discernment is undertaken.

God likes to work through secondary causes. He is able to make use of imagination, of the realities of the subconscious projected into the tran subjective domain. This projection is a normal fact of psychology as hallucination also is. Why should not God make use of it as a means of communication? He may use it, just as the devil may abuse it.

There are religious, hallucinations, as there are diabolical hallucinations. There is no purpose in dwelling upon the clear consciousness of an objective perception which the visionary says he has had. Hallucination also carries an impression of perfect objectivity.

Certainly the visionary is not a mechanical transmitter of words which he may hear: he is not a parrot. But neither is that to say that God always makes use of all the layers of the psyche. On the contrary, there are many clear indications in favor of a restricted use of the psychic capacities of the visionary.

4.2: The Manner In Which Revelations Are Made

Before we present a detailed criteria of discernment, let us carefully define the nature and the various ways in which revelations are made.

The prophetic vision which gives the prophet his knowledge is not the vision of God in heaven. If a prophet were to see God in the beatific vision, he would be instantly glorified and confirmed in grace, and this is impossible to man while he is a wayfarer, that is, is living this earthly life. 3p293

The revelation made to a prophet by divine power is sometimes an infusing of new ideas: sometimes, a new arrangement of ideas the prophet already possesses; and sometimes, a light that shows hitherto unseen implications in old ideas in their old arrangement . 3p293

Private revelations are made in three different ways: through visions, supernatural words, and divine touches. 2p701. etc.

A) Visions are supernatural perceptions of some object naturally invisible to man. They are revelations only when they disclose hidden truths. They are of three kinds: sensible, imaginative, or purely intellectual.

1) Sensible or corporeal visions, also called apparitions, are those in which the senses perceive some real object that is naturally invisible to man. It is not necessary that the object be a real human body; it suffices that it be a sensible or luminous form.

The opinion of St. Thomas, which is generally held, is that after His Ascension, Our Lord rarely appeared in Person; He merely appeared in a visible form, but not in His real body. His apparitions in the Eucharist may be explained in two ways, says St. Thomas: either by a miraculous impression made on the sense of sight (which is the case when He manifests Himself to a single person) or by a form, that is real and visible, but distinct from His own body; for the Saint adds, the Body of Our Savior cannot be seen in it’s own proper form except in the one place which actually contains it. (Sum. Theol., III,q. 76,a. 8). The same conclusion is deduced from the testimony of St. Teresa, Relation XIII, where she says: "By some things which He told me, I understood that after He ascended into heaven He never descended on earth to converse with anyone, except, in the Holy Sacrament."

What has been said of Our Lord applies also to the Blessed Virgin. When she appeared at Lourdes for Instance, Her body remained in heaven, and at the spot of the apparition there was but a sensible form which represented Her. This explains how she could appear now under one aspect, now under another.

2) Imaginative visions are those produced in the imagination by God or by the Angels, either during sleep or while one is awake. Thus an Angel appeared several times to St.. Joseph in his sleep, and St. Teresa relates several imaginative visions she had of Our Lord while she was awake. These visions are frequently accompanied by an intellectual vision which explains their meaning. At times, one travels in vision through distant countries: such visions are for the most part imaginative.

3) Intellectual visions are those in which the mind perceives a spiritual truth without the aid of sensible impressions: such was St. Teresa's vision of the Holy Trinity (Interior Castle, VII Mansion, C. I.). These visions take place either through ideas already acquired, but which are coordinated or modified by God, or through infused ideas which represent divine things even better than do acquired ideas. Sometimes these visions are obscure and manifest only the presence of the object; at other times they are clear, but last only for a moment: they are like intuitions which leave a deep impression.

Same visions are at once sensible, imaginative and intellectual. Such was St. Paul's vision on the road to Damascus. He beheld with his eyes blinding light; he saw with his imagination the personal traits of Ananias; and his mind understood God's will.

B) Supernatural words are manifestations of the divine thought conveyed to the exterior or to the interior senses, or directly to the intelligence. They are called auricular when they come to the ear in the form of sound waves, miraculously produced; imaginative when such manifestations are directed to the imagination; intellectual when addressed directly to the intellect. (St. John of the Cross treats at length of these three different kinds of supernatural words, successive, formal and substantial - 'Ascent of Carmel', Bk. II, C. XXVI-XXIX).

C) Divine touches are spiritual sentiments full of sweetness, impressed upon the will by a kind of divine contact and accompanied by a vivid intellectual light.

We may distinguish two kinds of such touches: ordinary divine touches, and substantial divine touches; the latter, though they affect but the will, make such a deep impression that they seem to take place within the very substance of the soul.

Hence the expressions of mystics describing their experiences as a contact of substance with substance. In reality these touches take place in the superior part of the will and the intellect, and according to St. Thomas, it is the faculties, and not the substance, which receive these impressions.

4.3: Criteria For the Subject of Revelations

By subject we do not mean the object of the revelations but the person who receives them.

Revelation is true if its content comes from God. But this content is not given to us directly by God; it passes through the visionary - the person who receives it. Now there is a universally recognized law which says: "Everything which a subject receives, he receives according to his dispositions." Everything transmitted by human means undergoes some change by the subject who transmits it. To arrive at discernment one must know in a concrete case the extent of the change made in transmitting the message. Has the substance of the content been retained intact? Have we all the content? Is it false or rather a simple imitation of a transmitted message? Has the visionary kept his open-mindedness as a witness or not? Here arises the problem of all testimony, the dialectics of which were expressed in the clearest possible way by Christ Himself. "We testify what we have seen and you receive not our testimony” (John 3:11). "My doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent Me" (John 7:16): "for I have not spoken of Myself; but the Father who sent Me, He gave Me command what I should say, and what I should speak. And 1 know that His commandment is life everlasting. The things therefore that I speak, even as the Father said unto Me, so do I speak” (John 12:49-50).

Bit we must not forget this: Christ is the ideal witness because He has the same nature as His Father and is His perfect image. The human witness or "prophet" is not in the same position; in every stratum of his being obstacles may arise which could disturb the pervious ness which would allow him to transmit perfectly what he has received from heaven, obstacles which may belong to his physiological constitution, to his psychic make-up or development, to his moral or religious attitudes.

In judging of revelations or visions we may proceed in this manner: (a) get detailed information about the person who believes himself thus favored; (b) also about the fact of the revelation and the circumstances attending it. To prove that a revelation is Divine (at least in its general outlines), the method of exclusion is sometimes employed. It consists in proving that neither the demon nor the ecstatic's own ideas have interfered (at least on important points) with God's action, and that no one has retouched the revelation after its occurrence. To judge revelations or visions, we must be acquainted with the character of the person favored with them from a triple point of view: natural, ascetical, and mystical. (For those who have been beatified or canonized, this inquiry has been already made by the Church.). llp5

God can no doubt make revelations to whomsoever He pleases, even to sinners; but almost always, He makes them only to persons who are not only fervent, but already raised to the mystic state. Moreover, even for the interpretation of true revelations, it is necessary to know the qualities and the defects of those who think themselves favored with revelations. Hence, we must study their natural and supernatural qualities 2p704

A) :Natural Qualities:

Concerning the one who believes he has "visions”, what are his natural qualities or defects, from a physical, intellectual, and especially moral standpoint? If the information is favorable (if the person is of sound judgement, calm imagination; if his acts are dictated by reason and not by enthusiasm, etc.), many causes of illusion are thereby excluded. However, a momentary aberration i s still possible. 11p6

Is the person well-balanced or affected by psycho-neurosis or hysteria; for it is evident, that in the latter case, there is ground for suspecting the alleged revelations, such temperaments being subject to hallucinations. 2p704

Other physiological factors may affect discernment, such as the illness or age of the visionary. Obviously, the visionary need not be in perfect health. An illness, even a psychic illness, is not necessarily a proof against the authenticity of a revelation. But there are illnesses which exclude authenticity, such as Parkinson's disease or cerebral lesions which predispose the sufferer to auditory hallucinations.

It is not pointless to consider the age of the visionary. In the case of a child, for instance, the question of split personality could not be assumed: but it would be important to investigate whether or not there are eidetic dispositions.

Outside of physical impairments, the conscious or subconscious motive for a hallucination can range from nonculpable, naive and imprudent piety (pious hallucination) to willful and vain deceit (deceitful hallucination). But usually, as in most circumstances and situations of life, some combination of these two extremes along with other personal motives and outside influences enter into the underlying cause of each hallucination. Hallucinations will be treated in greater detail later.

Is the person in question possessed of common sense, of sound Judgment, or rather of a vivid imagination together with excessive emotionalism; whether their mind has been weakened by disease or long fasts. 2p704 How has the person been educated? Can the knowledge of the visionary have been derived from books or from conversations with theologians? 11p6

Is the person thoroughly sincere or does he have the habit of exaggerating and drawing on his imagination; is he self-possessed or passionate. If the subject has a high intelligence or a fierce determination to draw attention to himself, one should consider the possibility of a clever simulation of the circumstances of the "revelation" in question.

The mere verification of these particulars will not of itself prove the existence or non-existence of a revelation, but it will aid greatly in judging the value of the testimony profferred by those who claim to have received them. 2p704

B) Supernatural Qualities:

Is the person endowed with solid and tried virtue, or merely with a more or less sensible fervor. 2p704

Is the person sincerely and deeply humble, or whether on the contrary, they delight in being noticed and in telling everybody about their spiritual favors; true humility is the touchstone of sanctity and the lack of it argues against a revelation. 2p704 Has he made progress in holiness and especially in humility? The tree can be judged by its fruits. 11p6

Does he make the revelations known to his spiritual director instead of communicating them to other persons and does he readily follow his advice? Does he practice the following rules of basic prudence: fear deception; be open with your spiritual director; do not desire to have revelations? 11p6

Has the person already passed through the passive trials and the first stages of contemplation (purgation)?

What extraordinary graces of union with God have been received? The greater they are the greater the probability in favor of the revelation, at least in the main. 11p6

Has he been subjected to heavy trials? It is almost impossible for extraordinary favors to be conferred without heavy crosses; for both are marks of God's friendship, and each is a preparation for the other. 11p6

Has the person practiced the virtues in a heroic degree; for God generally reserves these visions for perfect souls? 2p704

The presence of these qualities does not prove the existence of a revelation, but simply renders more worthy of credence the word of those who claim to have received it; their absence does not disprove the fact of revelation, but makes it quite unlikely. 2p705

The information thus obtained will enable us to discover more easily the lies or the illusions of the alleged seers. There are some persons who, through pride or through the desire for recognition, voluntarily simulate ecstasies and visions. A notable instance was that of Magdalen of the Cross, a Franciscan Nun of Cordove, of the XVI Century, who after having given herself to the devil from her infancy, entered the convent at the age of seventeen and was three times Abbess of her monastery. Aided by the demon, she simulated all the mystical phenomena of ecstasy, levitation, stigmata, revelations and prophecies repeatedly fulfilled. Thinking herself at the point of death, she made a confession which she later retracted, was exorcised and moved to another Convent of her order. 2p705

There are others, more numerous, who owing to a lively imagination are the victims of illusions, and mistake their own thoughts for visions or for interior words. St. Teresa in several places speaks of such persons. "It, happens that some persons (and I know this to be true, for not three or four, but many persons have spoken with me on the subject ) are of so weak an imagination, that what ever they think upon, they say they see it clearly, as it indeed seems to them; they have also so vigorous an understanding or whatever else it may be, for I know not, that they become quite certain of everything in their imagination." (Interior Castle, VI Mansion, C. IX). 2p705

More on illusions will be covered later.

4.4: Criteria For the Content of Revelation

The content of private revelation also provides a certain measure of judgment to be reached. If it is a matter, for instance, of things which men could not know, but which have no religious value, at least in their purpose, then one should give up the idea of seeing a particular revelation in them. A certain religious content is obviously not sufficient to prove the existence of a particular revelation. But this content may be so profound and so much in the context of religious events and circumstances that it gives at least a favorable indication of the authenticity of a revelation.

The criterion based upon the content of the revelations is chiefly of a negative character. It is used above all to establish that a revelation is not supernatural. But. it may have a positive value. Certainly the fact that a text put before us as a revelation contains nothing opposed to the teaching of Scripture and Tradition does not constitute an argument for the authenticity of that revelation. So too, the 'imprimatur' given by ecclesiastical authority for the publication of texts presented as revelation is not an approbation. It is simply an official statement that there is nothing in them contrary to faith and morals. However, the criterion of content may have more than a purely negative effectiveness. When the content in question is not merely correct but of a depth and doctrinal balance which surpasses the capacity of the subject who is presenting it, and when it is, furthermore, simple and original, then one may see in these qualities a criterion which has a positive value for discernment. Obviously, however, this criterion is not sufficient alone to prove the divine origin of the content of the revelation.

It is particularly important that our attention must be directed to rules concerning the content (or object) of revelation. For all revelations contrary to faith or morals must be absolutely rejected, according to the unanimous teaching of the Doctors of the Church based on these words of St. Paul: "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema." (Gal 1:8) God cannot contradict Himself, nor can He reveal things opposed to what He teaches through His Church. From this fact, follow a number of rules which we shall now recall.

A) Opposition To Truth:

We must consider as false every private revelation in opposition to any truth of faith: such are for example the alleged revelations of spiritualists which deny several of our dognas, particularly eternal punishment. The same holds true if revelations are opposed to the unanimous teaching of the Fathers and Theologians, for this forms part of the ordinary teaching of the Church. 2p705

Any revelation pretending to solve a problem freely discussed among theologians must be suspected, for example, one claimed to settle the controversy between the Thomists and the Molinists. God is not wont to pronounce on such questions. 2p705

More specifically, the following questions should be considered: (1) Does the revelation agree with the teaching of the Church or with the recognized facts of history or natural science? (2) Is the teaching helpful towards the obtaining of eternal salvation? In the fakery of Spiritism we find the spirits evoked (?) treat only of trifles. They reply to idle questions, or descend to providing amusement for an assembly (e.g., by moving furniture about); deceased relatives or the great philosophers are interrogated and their replies are woefully commonplace. A revelation is also suspect if its aim is to decide a disputed question in theology, history, astronomy, etc. Eternal salvation is the only thing of importance in the eyes of God. "In all other matters", says St. John of the Cross, "He wishes men to have recourse to human means" (Montee, II, xxii). Finally, a revelation is suspect if it is commonplace, telling only what is to be found in every book. It is then probable that the visionary is unconsciously repeating what he has learnt by reading. (3) Have the revelations been subjected to the tests of time and discussion? 11p6

B) Opposition To Morality or Decency

We must likewise reject visions opposed to morality or decency, for instance, apparitions of nude human forms, vulgar and immodest language, detailed or meticulous descriptions of shameful vices which cannot but offend against modesty. God, Who makes revelations only for the good of souls, cannot, it is evident, be the author of such visions which leads by their very nature to vice.

For the same reason we must suspect such apparitions which lack dignity or proper reserve, above all, such as are ridiculous. This last characteristic is a mark of human or diabolical machination. 2p706

More specifically, (1) Does it teach nothing contrary to good morals, and is it unaccompanied by any indecent action? The commandments of God are addressed to everyone without exception. More than once the demon has persuaded false visionaries that they were chosen souls, and that God loved them so much as to dispense them from the burdensome restrictions imposed on ordinary mortals. On the contrary, the effect of divine visitations is to remove us more and more from the life of sense, and make us more rigorous towards ourselves. (2) After examining all the circumstances accompanying the vision (the attitudes, acts, words, etc.), do we find that dignity and seriousness which become the Divine Majesty? The (fake or demonic) spirits evoked by Spiritists often speak in a trivial manner. Spiritists try to explain this by pretending that the spirits are not demons, but the souls of the departed who have retained all their vices; absurd or unbecoming replies are given by deceased persons who are still liars, or libertines, frivolous or mystifiers, etc. In Protestant ‘revivals’ assembled crowds bewail their sins, but in a strange. exaggerated way, as if frenzied or intoxicated. It must be admitted that they are inspired by a good principle: a very ardent sentiment of the love of God and of repentance. But to this is added another element that cannot be regarded as divine: a neuropathic enthusiasm, which is contagious and sometimes develops so far as to produce convulsions or repugnant contortions. Sometimes a kind of unknown language is spoken, but it consists in reality of a succession of meaningless sounds. (3) It often happens that the revelation inspires an exterior work - for instance, the establishment of a new devotion, the foundation of a new religious congregation or association, the revision of the constitutions of a congregation, etc., the building of a church or the creation of a pilgrimage, the reformation of the lax spirit in a certain body, the preaching of a new spirituality, etc. In these cases the value of the proposed work must be carefully examined: is it good in itself, useful, filling a need, not infurious to other works, etc.? 11p6

C) Opposition To Possibility

Nor are we, considering the laws of Providence and the miracles which God is accustomed to work, to admit as coming from God commands impossible of realization, for God does not demand the impossible.

In the life of St. Catherine of Bologna it is related that the devil sometimes appeared to her in the form of the crucified Christ and demanded of her, under the appearance of perfection, the most impossible things, in order to drive her to despair. 2p706

4.5: Criteria For the Effects of Revelation

A tree is judged by its fruits: hence, we can judge revelations by the effects they produce in the soul.

A) According to St. Ignatius and St. Teresa, a divine vision causes at first a sense of wonderment and of fear, soon to be followed by a sense of deep and lasting peace, of joy and of security. The contrary is true with regard to diabolical visions; if at the outset they produce joy, they soon cause uneasiness, sadness and discouragement. It is thus that the devil brings about the downfall of souls. 2p706

Here is the rule as formulated by St. Catherine of Sierra and St. Ignatius: "With persons of good will (it is only of such that we are here treating) the action of the good spirit (God or His Angels or Saints) is characterized by the production of peace, joy, security, courage; except perhaps at the first moment." Note the restriction. The Bible often mentions this disturbance at the first moment of the revelation: the Blessed Virgin experienced it when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her. The action of the demon produces quite the contrary effect: "With persons of good will he produces, except perhaps at the first moment, disturbance, sorrow, discouragement, perturbation, gloom. " In a word the action of Satan encounters a mysterious resistance of the soul.

B) True revelations strengthen the soul in humility, obedience, patience and conformity to the divine will: false ones beget pride, presumption and disobedience,

St . Teresa says: “This is a favor of Our Lord, which brings great confusion of oneself and humility; but, were it from the devil, the effect would be quite the opposite. Since, then, it clearly proves itself to be given by God ... It is attended with immense gain and interior effects, which would not be, were melancholy the cause; much less could the devil effect so much good, nor would the soul enjoy such great peace, or such continual desires of pleasing God, or such contempt for whatever does not conduce to unite us with Him." 2p706

Also the reaction of the visionary with regard to the revelation should be noted. If the visionary is disinterested, if he seeks only to carry out what the requirements of the revelation ask of him, going contrary to his own tendencies and not, allowing himself to be too impressed by sufferings and disappointments, we have a favorable sign in support of the authenticity of the revelation, but not a criterion. But the opposite would be the case if the visionary profited by his 'revelation' and sought his own glory, a situation in society, or even material advantages.

4.6: Miracles As Criteria of Revelation

A miracle is a fact apparent to the senses, performed by God and beyond the forces of nature.. It is, indeed, essentially a work of God which surpasses the entire power of the creature. But if the miracle consisted only in that, the whole dynamism of grace would have to be called a miracle. It is, besides, a fact apparent to the senses, and this is a secondary but essential aspect of the miracle.

Miracles are really extrinsic criteria of a revelation. We may even say that they are the best positive criteria. Besides, no other criterion is supported more explicitly or with more authority in the Church.

Her Founder, our Savior, has already laid down the principles touching this matter. His will is that all may be saved. But in order to be saved men must believe in the love of the heavenly Father revealed in His Person: "Whosoever believes in Him shall be saved." To arrive at this faith, we receive two kinds of help: First, interior attraction through grace: "No man can came to Me, except the Father, who has sent Me, draw him" (John 6:44). There are some who have no need of other aids for belief: "Blessed are they who have riot seen, and have believed" (John 20:29).

Christ, with visible regret but because of the poor dispositions of certain people, points out another help, this an exterior one: works and signs, that is to say, miracles. "If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though you will not believe Me, believe the works: that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father" (John 10:37-38). The two forms of help do not exclude each other: "The work which the Father hath given Me to perfect, the works themselves which I do, give testimony of Me, that the Father Himself who has sent Me, has given testimony of Me ..." (John 5: 36-37).

This pattern established by the Lord is visibly fulfilled in the history of the Church. This constituted a proof for the primitive Church: for the faithful, the Eleven, "going forth preached everywhere: the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed" (Mark 16:20).

The Church has spoken in the same terms. In the constitution on the Faith at the Vatican Council, Session III, chapter III, she declared: "God has chosen to add to the interior aids of the Holy Spirit certain exterior proofs of His revelation, that is to say, divine occurrences, and notably miracles and prophecies. These are signs which are very sure and suited to the understanding of all because they manifest excellently the omnipotence of God and His infinite knowledge" (Denz., note 1790). lp177

St. Thomas sums up the basic reason for a miracle: "Miracles are the sensible signs given to manifest a truth" (Sum. Theol. , III, 55, 5).

Two conditions are required in order that a miracle may be a criterion: the miracle must be genuine and it must be performed in testimony to the revelation. In other words, the matter is one of the authentication of the miracle itself and of its connection with the revelation.

The first condition, the authentication of the miracle, assumes that the miracle can be discerned as such. In our days we are particularly sensitive to the difficulties surrounding the discernibility of miracles. They can be resolved, however, when the criteria of discernment are faithfully applied and follow the example of the ecclesiastical authority. Miracles are by their very nature more easily discernible than revelations; for they are designated, according to the teaching of the Vatican Council, as "very sure and adapted to the understanding of all" (Denz.,1790). If in our days the difficulties have become subtler, the methods of authentication are also more delicate. Moreover, the Church authenticates miracles with the assistance of the most highly qualified specialists. She does this particularly in the matter of the canonization of saints, but also through her magisterium in the confirmation of an apparition or of a revelation.

The second condition, the connection of the miracle with the revelation, must be quite clear. It is not sufficient for a miracle to occur at the scene of an apparition for it to be considered as a proof of this apparition. The lesson which St. Bernadine draws from the anecdote "San Beinforte" is very genuine. Beinforte, he relates, was a dog so named because he had heroically defended his master's baby against a serpent. The dog was honorably buried and his master erected a little monument in commemoration and gratitude. The faithful began to think of this heroic Beinforte as a saint, and to pray to him. Miracles occurred at the place where he was buried. The miracles could have been geuuitie, concludes St. Bernardine, despite the error of those who requested them. God wanted to reward the trust of His faithful. 1p180

There are cases in which we can be certain that a revelation is divine. (1) God can give this certainty to the person who receives the revelation (at least during it), by granting an insight and an evidence so compelling as to exclude all possibility of doubt. We can find an analogy in the natural order: our senses are subject to many illusions, and yet we frequently perceive clearly that we have not been deceived. (2) At times others can be equally certain of the revelation thus vouchsafed. For instance, the Prophets of the Old Testament gave indubitable signs of their mission; otherwise the would not have been believed. There were always false prophets, who deceived some of the people, but inasmuch as the faithful were counselled by Holy Writ to distinguish the false from the true, it was possible so to distinguish. One incontrovertible proof is the working of a miracle, if it be wrought for this purpose and circumstances show this to be so. A prophecy realized is equally convincing, when it is precise and cannot be the result of chance or conjecture of the evil spirit. 11p5

Here the question arises whether one may ask for signs in confirmation of private revelations especially if the seer is impelled to certain undertakings or if he whishes that his prediction should be firmly believed. If the thing is of importance, one may do so, but humbly and conditionally; for God is not bound to perform miracles in order to prove the truth of these visions. If signs are asked for, it is well to leave their choice to God. The parish priest of Lourdes requested Our Lady in the apparition to make a sweetbrier to bloom in the midst of winter: the sign was not granted but she did cause a miraculous spring to well forth which was destined to heal both body and soul. The careful verification of the requested miracle and its relation to the apparition affords a convincing proof. 2p707

With regards to miracles, the statement sent to the Holy See issued by the local ordinary at La Salette was: "Considering in the second place that the wonderful consequences of the fact of La Salette are the testimony of God Himself, manifesting Himself through miracles, and that this testimony is superior to that of men and to their objections ..." The respective statement by the local ordinary at Lourdes was: "We remain convinced that the apparition is supernatural and divine ... Our conviction is based upon the testimony of Bernadette, but especially upon the facts of the occurrence which cannot be explained except as a divine intervention... The testimony of Bernadette, already important in itself, assumes a wholly new power from, we would even say is complemented by, the wonderful facts which were accomplished after the first event..:" 1p186

4.7: Psycho-Physiological Phenomena

Another type or class of miracles are the psycho-physiological phenomena which affect both the soul and the body, and which are more or less related to ecstasy. The principle phenomena of this kind are: levitation; luminous rays; fragrant odors; prolonged fasting; stigmatization. 2p711

In each of these different phenomena, Pope Benedict XIV teaches that the facts must first be thoroughly investigated in all its circumstances in order to ascertain whether a particular phenomena can be ascribed to a natural cause including psycho-neurosis, or to the power of angels or demons, or to God.

Levitation is a phenomenon whereby the body is raised above the ground and sustained in midair without any natural support. Sometimes the body rises to great heights; at other times it seems to glide rapidly over the ground.2p711

Ecstasy is at times accompanied by luminous phenomena: it may be a halo about the head, or a glow enveloping the whole body. 2p712

At times God permits the bodies of the Saints to give forth during their lifetime or after their death a fragrant odor, a symbol, so to speak, of the perfume of the virtues they have practiced. 2p712

There have been Saints, especially among those bearing the stigmata, who have lived many years without taking any other food other than Holy Communion. 1p713

We must mention here another phenomenon of a somewhat similar nature, that of protracted vigils. St. Peter of Alcantara slept but one hour and a half a night for forty years; St. Catherine of Ricci slept but one hour a week.

The phenomenon of stigmatization consists in a kind of impression of Our Lord's Wounds make upon the feet, hands, side and brow. These wounds appear spontaneously, from no exterior hurt, and periodically there is a flow of fresh blood.

A more detailed outline of investigation of these phenomenon can be found in Pope Benedicts XIV's work, "On the Beatification and Canonization of Saints"; the basic tenets of this work regarding these phenomenon can be found in the "The Spiritual Life" by A. Tanquerey.

We will give here the basic signs by which to discern the stigmata. To be able to better discern stigmatization from the artificial phenomena provoked in some individuals, attention must be paid to all the circumstances which characterize true stigmatization.

1) The stigmata are localized in the very spots where Our Lord received the five wounds, a fact, which is not true of the bloody sweat produced by hypnotism.

2) Generally, the wounds bleed afresh and the pains recur on the days or during the seasons which recall the Savior's Passion, such as Fridays or the feast days of Our Lord.

3) The wounds do not become infected, and the blood which flows from then is pure, while the slightest natural lesion in some other part of the body develops pus. The wounds do not yield to the usual medical treatment, and remains at times thirty or forty years.

4) The wounds bleed freely and produce a veritable hemorrhage. That this should occur at the moment when they first appear is quite conceivable, but that it should take place again and again is inexplicable. The extent of the hemorrhages remains likewise unexplained; the stigmata generally lie on the surface, removed from the great blood-vessels, yet the blood literally streams from them.

5) Lastly, and above all, the stigmata are not met with except in persons who practice the most heroic virtues and possess a special love for the cross.

A study of all these circumstances proves indeed that we are dealing here not with some ordinary, pathological case, but with a free, intelligent cause which exerts its influence in order to make these persons bearing the stigmata more like the Crucified Christ.

When St. Thomas treats of the role of miracles in the life of Christ, he first of all expounds a general principle which he then applies to Christ. Here is his thought: Every miracle is a testimony. Sometimes it is a testimony for the truth which is being enunciated; at other times, however, it is a testimony for the person who performs the miracle. Now no miracle is performed except through God. But God cannot be a witness to a lie. Therefore, every time that a miracle is performed in testimony to an enunciated doctrine, it is clear that this doctrine must be true, even if the person who enunciates it does not present morally good qualities. However, these qualities are required if the miracle is performed not in testimony to the doctrine but to the person. lp178

St. Thomas speaks not only of the miracles of Christ or of the Apostles but of every miracle, even those which might be performed by sinners. According to him the miracle is above all a guarantee of the truth rather than of' the holiness of the person who enunciates the truth. "God," he writes, "grants to man the power to work miracles for two reasons: the first, which is the chief one, is to confirm the truth which someone is teaching. Everything which comes within the realm of faith is beyond the reason of man; it cannot be demonstrated by human proofs; it is necessary, therefore, to have recourse to proofs derived from divine power, so that, confronted by works which God alone can perform, men may believe that what is being said comes from God" (Sum. Theol., III, 43, 1).

4.8: The Authority of the Church as Criteria of Discernment

The authority of the Church cannot he ranked among the criteria for discernment, if by this we mean that this authority imposes full acceptance upon the faithful. In that case it is a criterion of the Faith, ‘regula fidei’, but when the Church pronounces upon revelations she does not commit the faithful. If the magisterium of the Church declares, for instance, that the faithful have good grounds for believing that such and such an apparition is authentic, there is no obligation to believe in it. However, such a declaration is undoubtedly a very solid guarantee of authenticity. It may have a tremendous value as a criterion of discernment. The value of this criterion depends upon the attitude of the Church in regard to revelations in general and to such and such a revelation in particular.

The great Marian apparitions of La Salette and Lourdes were carefully investigated by the local ordinaries using the principles taught by Pope Benedict XIV, and following the way outlined by him in his immortal work "On the Beatification and Canonization of Saints." The essential decision of the local ordinary at La Salette was that the apparition "bears in itself all the characteristics of truth, and that the faithful have good grounds for believing it to be indubitable and certain." lp186 At Lourdes, the local ordinary declared "this apparition bore all the marks of truth and that the faithful have good reason to believe it certain." 1p187

In 1877, three bishops addressed themselves to the Congregation of Rites inquiring what attitude the Holy See was adopting in regard to the apparitions of La Salette and of Lourdes. The reply was clear and restrained: "These apparitions or revelations have been neither approved nor condemned by the Holy See which has simply allowed them to be believed on purely human faith, on the tradition which they relate, corroborated by testimony and documents worthy of credence." Therefore neither approval nor condemnation was forthcoming, but simply a permissive attitude from the Holy See. This text was literally repeated thirty years later in the encyclical of St. Pius X against Modernism. (Actes de Pie X (Paris, 1938), t. III, p. 175) 1p187

Due to the authority of the Church given to her by Christ along with her hundreds of years of experience and highly developed principles and techniques in the area of discernment of revelations, the Church's attitude is a very Important criterion and, in a certain sense, a decisive criterion for discernment. 1p191

4.9: Discerning the True From the False Within Revelations Themselves (Illusions)

A revelation may be true in the main and yet contain some incidental errors. God does not right the prejudices or errors that they may lodge in the minds of the seers; He has in view their spiritual welfare, not their intellectual formation.

It is not usually easy to extract the true meaning of revelation which is basically what we want. All the details of content are not of equal importance, yet each should not be considered separately. The point is to apply, to a certain extent at least, the method by which one interprets the parables. The details are to be interpreted within the context of the whole.

It is certain that many saints were deceived and that their revelations contradict one another. What follows will explain the reason of this. Revelations and visions are subject to many illusions which shall be briefly set forth.

FIRST, like Jonas at Ninive, the seer may regard as absolute a perdition that was only conditional, or commit some other error in interpreting it. 8p327

SECOND, when the vision represents a scene from the life or Passion of Christ, historic accuracy is often only approximate; otherwise God would lower Himself to the rank of a professor of history and archaeology. He wishes to sanctify the soul, not to satisfy our curiosity. The seer, however may believe that the reproduction is exact; hence the want of agreement between revelations concerning the life of Jesus Christ. 8p327 This error is quite natural, being based on the assumption that, if the vision comes from God, all details (the landscape, dress, words, actions, etc.) should be a faithful reproduction of the historic past. This assumption is not justified, for accuracy in secondary details is not necessary; the main point is that the fact, event, or communication revealed be strictly true. It may be objected that the Bible contains historical books, and that thus God may sometimes wish to reveal certain facts in religious history to us exactly. That doubtless is true, when there is question of facts which are necessary or useful as a basis for religion, in which case the revelation is accompanied by proofs that guarantee its accuracy. A vision need not guarantee its accuracy in every detail. One should thus beware of concluding without examination that revelations are to be rejected; the prudent course is neither to believe nor to deny them unless there is sufficient reason for so doing. The Church does not oblige us to believe in them, but it is prudent not to reject them lightly when they are affirmed by saints. 11p5

Concerning the revelations of Marie de Agreda and Anne Catherine Emmerich, for example, contradictory opinions have been expressed: some believe unhesitatingly everything they contain, and are annoyed when anyone does not share their confidence; others give the revelations no credence whatsoever (generally on a priori grounds); finally there are many who are sympathetic, but do not know what to reply when asked what degree of credibility is to be attributed to the writings of these two ecstatics. The truth seems to be between the two extreme opinions indicated first. If there is question of a particular fact related in these books and not mentioned elsewhere, we cannot be certain that it is true, especially in minor details. In particular instances, these visionaries have been mistaken: thus Marie de Agreda teaches, like her contemporaries, the existence of crystal heavens, and declares that one must believe everything she say, although such an obligation exists only in the case of the Holy Scriptures. In 1771 Clement XIV forbade the continuation of her process of beatification "on account of the book". Catherine Emmerich has likewise given expression to false or unlikely opinions: she regards the writings of the pseudo-Dionysius as due to the Areopagite, and says strange things about the terrestrial Paradise which according to her, exists on an inaccessible mountain towards Tibet. If there be question of the general statement of facts given in these works, we can admit with probability that many of them are true. For these two visionaries led lives that were regarded as very holy. Competent authorities have judged their ecstasies divine. It is therefore prudent to admit that they received a special assistance from God, preserving them not absolutely, but in the main, from error. 11p5

God is not wont to reveal the precise details of the life of Our Lord or of our Blessed Lady, when these have but little bearing on piety. Now, many seers, intertwining their own devout meditations with the revelations they receive, give details, numbers, dates, which contradict historical documents or other revelations. Thus, among the various accounts of the Passion, many little details related in visions, are either contradictory (for example, details regarding the number of strokes Christ, received in His flagellation) or in opposition to the best historical authorities. 2p707 The will may so ardently desire what the intellect considers, that it contributes to the state of rapture. 3p295

THIRD, during the vision personal activity may be so mingled with the Divine action that answers in the sense desired seem to be received. In fact, during prayer vivid imaginations may go so far as to produce revelations and visions out of whole cloth without any evil intent. 8p328

Eusebius Amort believes that in visions of the saints - he speaks in particular of St. Gertrude - the forces of fantasy intervene. And he is wholly convinced that it is with pleasure that God sees these forces at work in the souls of the just. In his opinion God mingles holy insights and spiritual movements with these forces. And it is not solely the forces which please Him; He Himself encourages the fantasy so that it may exercise its activity and enable Him to introduce His lights and manifestations in the soul. It is Amort's conclusion that in such visions of the saints "one must examine and correct what is human." 1p154

FOURTH, sometimes, in his desire to explain it, the seer afterwards unconsciously alters a genuine revelation.

St. Bridget realized herself that at times she retouched her revelations, the better to explain them; (Supplementary Revelations, C. XLIX.) these added explanations are not always free from errors. 2p708

FIFTH, secretaries and editors take deplorable liberties in revising, so that the text is not always authentic. Some revelations are even absolutely false because: first, in describing their prayer, certain persons lie most audaciously; second, amongst those afflicted with neuropathy there are inventors who, in perfectly good faith, imagine to be real facts things that have never occurred; third, the devil may to a certain degree, counterfeit divine visions; fourth, amongst writers there are genuine forgers who are responsible for political prophecies, hence the profusion of absurd predictions. 8p328

It is acknowledged today that the scribes who wrote the revelations of Mary of Agreda, of Catherine Emmerich, and of Marie Lataste modified them to an extent difficult to determine. In the 'Works of Marie Lataste' we find among her revelations passages translated from the Summa of St. Thomas. 2p708

SIXTH, a divine revelation may be wrongly interpreted. For example, St. Joan of Arc having asked of her "voices" whether she would be burnt, received the reply that she should trust in Our Lord, Who would assist her, and that she would be delivered through a great victory. In reality, her deliverance an victory were her martyrdom and her entrance into heaven. St. Norbert affirmed that he knew through revelation and with certainty that the Antichrist would come in his generation (XII Century). Questioned closely by St. Bernard, he said that as least he would not die before seeing a general persecution of the Church. St. Vincent Ferrer announced the 'Last Judgment as nigh', and seemed to confirm this prediction by miracles. Father Fages, O.P., in the 'Histoire de S.V. Ferrier', explains that this was a conditional prophesy, like that of Jonas against Niniveh, and that the world was saved precisely on account of the many conversions the Saint brought about. 2p708

SEVENTH, in private revelation we find the errors of the times in what relates to the physical or historical sciences. St. Frances of Rome asserts that she had beheld a heaven of crystal between the empyreal and the starry heavens and attributed the blueness of the sky to the starry heaven. Mary of Agreda thought she knew through revelation that this crystal heaven was divided into eleven parts at the moment of the Incarnation. ('The Mystic City', Part II, n. 128; Part. I, n. 122.) 2p707

EIGHTH, at times we also meet with the prejudices and the systems of the spiritual directors of the seers. Relying upon her directors, St. Colletta thought she had seen in visions that St. Anne had been thrice married and was coming to visit her with her numerous family. Sometimes Dominican and Franciscan Saints speak in their visions according to the systems peculiar to their Orders. 2p707

For all these reasons we cannot be too prudent when examining private revelations.

4.10: Hallucinations and Revelation

One of the major sources of pseudo-revelations is hallucinations. Here we are considering in particular "corporal" and imaginative revelations. These, in fact., play a fairly important part in the devotion of the faithful and therefore in the pastoral work of the Church. But they are very much more exposed to fraudulent imitations than are purely spiritual revelations. In a thousand ways elements may deceive or falsify the transmission from spirit to spirit. It is easy, too, to take for revelations phenomena which are purely psychic, or even communications which come simply from man or the devil. There are such things as occultism and spiritism; there are all sorts of metaphysical phenomena such as telepathy, clairvoyance, etc., which may resemble revelations to such an extent that despite the best criteria their discernment becomes difficult. But the most perfect imitation of revelations is achieved in hallucination. Depth psychology has done nothing to change this fact; it enables us only to understand hallucination very much better and especially to discover its sources and the reasons that lead up to it. One must endeavor to define the nature of hallucination before trying to resolve the problem which it raises with respect to revelations.

Hallucination is "perception of objects with no reality." Taken literally it seems to express an impossibility: if there is no object there is no perception. But if properly understood, it indicates the two essential characteristics of hallucination. The first, expressed in the definition by the word "perception," is exteriority. Hallucination causes the subject to feel all the characteristics of true perception which has its source in objective space. It is in this sense that Frobes can say of true hallucinations - as distinct from pseudo-hallucinations - that they are physical perceptions. 1p123

They cause the subject who is undergoing them to experience all the characteristics of true perception: the feeling of presence and of immediate reality, the impression of complete objectivity, a vivid, precise, and spontaneous representation. This is the mark of the exteriority of the perception.

The second mark of hallucination is the absence of the real object which the sensory perception presents to the subject in an incoercible manner. This perception obviously has an object, but it is a subjective phenomenon; it is not to be found where the perception places it, namely, in spatial objectivity. In principle, it has not even its source in the trans-subjective world. Hallucination is really a perception without an object, just as is understood by the definition. One can define it in a more positive way by saying that it is a sensory representation containing an apparent objectivity and reality. It is not surprising that psychologists place hallucinations among the pseudo-perceptions. lpl24

Another source or type of hallucination is a simple metes thesis; a sensory perception appearing after the presence or the action of the real object. The time of this appearance is of little importance, so long as the real perception has ended. One may likewise count among hallucinations the eidetic phenomena. These phenomena are visual hallucinations set in motion by true perceptions; one finds these chiefly in children, and in particular children from the country. lp125

Here is a type of eidetic hallucination encountered in a psychological clinic. A little boy is looking very attentively at a vividly colored picture projected in a dark room. The picture represents a small cat prowling around a jar full of marmalade. The cat dare not lick it because, let us suppose, it is too hot. The picture is then removed from the little boy. A short while later he bursts out laughing. When he is asked why he is laughing he relates that the cat has just knocked over the jar and that the marmalade is spilling out over the floor. In vain he is told that this is not true. He protests: "But it is. I see it." And he relates in detail how the cat overturned the jar. There was nothing at all of this in the picture. This was a hallucination provoked by a true perception which preceded it. lp125

Thus we can see that it is very difficult to discern between revelations and hallucinations. The compelling sensation of a present reality may be as strong in hallucination as in external sensation. The most developed and complete hallucination, the hysterical hallucination, proceeds in a very autonomous way. It may fabricate something out of nothing and succeed in giving a certain unity to the whole invention. This achievement is greatly facilitated by depersonalization, or by a split in the personality which allows an imaginary personality to take possession of the psychological faculties. Everything may then seem normal and every invention appear as real. Hysterical hallucination has, indeed, and quite rightly, been called "the great simulator." Hysteria has all the hallucinatory range at its disposal: visual and auditory hallucinations, hallucinations of touch, of smell, diabolical hallucinations and mystical hallucinations. Hysterical hallucination gives a personal character to everything and if under its inspiration imagination freely enters into play, visions are also clothed with a charm and a dazzling beauty which surpasses everything one can see in a normal state. 1p130

It might seem, therefore, that we must accept the following conclusion: even the most beautiful apparitions and the most detailed revelations can be naturally explained. But such a conclusion is imposed upon only a superficial observer. We do not claim that discernment is easy or that one may reach it through purely psychological means, but impartial and detailed psychological observations are sufficient to prove the contrary to those who maintain that discernment is impossible. 1p131

The most carefully studied data demonstrates that auditory-verbal hallucinations reproduce the thoughts and feelings of a sufferer whose mental powers of expression have been deranged by illness, and have become a kind of autonomous activity alien to the personality of the subject. It remains to be estimated to what extent these hallucinations reveal a deep disturbance of the personality and how easily they may be accompanied by psychic disintegration and the dissolution of the links by which the unity of the ego is ensured.

Auditory-verbal hallucinations are also the most complicated. Animals do not seem to have them; they do, however, suffer from visual hallucinations of every kind. Hallucinations of language imply an intellectual activity conditioned by the illness; it seems that there is an intellectual transformation of psycho-sensory phantasms. The word is made in the likeness of its efficient cause, namely, man. It is perfectly material; it extends in the dimensions of space and time. But it is also immaterial, being the likeness and the emanation of the mind. lpl32

In this context it is easier to understand that verbal hallucination assumes a splitting of that which makes the unity and the greatness of man, namely, the person. The simulation reveals itself as such to a thorough medical examination.

This is the case, in particular, of the hysteric who allows a hallucination to run its maximum course. But from the fact that the hysterical hallucination is capable of simulating everything, or almost everything, one cannot conclude that revelations are not discernible. A simulation is, by definition, different from the reality simulated, and this difference renders discernment possible in principle. But in practice the method of discerning simulation from reality comes to us from the very nature of the hysterical hallucination: it is accompanied by pathological symptoms. These are not only of a psychological kind; cerebral lesions may, according to the statement of doctors, explain the supervening of auditory-verbal hallucinations. All this belongs to the domain of debate. Discernment, therefore, remains in principle possible. 1p133

In the quest for discernment the believer and the theologian, for whom God and the saints of heaven are persons as real and present as the men who surround them, are naturally inclined to see revelations in manifestations which are presented as such. But the psychiatrist, who is dealing only with persons whose extraordinary manifestations are of a pathological kind, has a tendency to resolve the case of a revelation as if it were also pathological, since his experience of similar or "identical" cases is so great. There are the addicts of miracles and there are the addicts of psychology. In the field of revelations the inflation of hysteria is a fact. Every time that there is a question of discernment, a serious diagnosis must prove that symptoms of hysteria are not present and a study must be made of the whole behavior of the subject. In order to discern the true from the false in our sphere one must be free from all prejudice for or against psychological or supernatural solutions. 1p134

4.11: Difference Between Supernatural Phenomena and Psycho-neurosis

The phenomena connected with ecstasy and psycho-neurosis have been well established. No doubt, the saints are subject to illness just as other human beings are, but the question is whether in spite of their ailments they appear to be sane and well-balanced. On this point the differences between mystical and psycho-neurotic phenomena are so essential that no honest observer can fail to note them. This difference is even brought out by unbelievers such as M. de Montmorand, 'Psychologie des Mystiques', 1920, although the later attributes these phenomena to hallucination. For the refutation of these theories our readers are referred to A. Huc, 'Nevrose et Mysticism,' Rev. de Philosophie (P. Peillaube), juil., aout, 1912, pp. 5, 128; Mgr. Farges, op. cit,. P. 322-585. 2p715

These differences are found: 1) in the persons themselves; 2) in the diversity of the phenomena; 3) in the results.


If we compare those affected with psycho-neurosis with persons favored with ecstasies, we find that the former are unbalanced physically and mentally, whilst the latter are at least mentally sound.

A) The former lack mental and physical soundness.

We notice in them a decrease of intellectual and volitional power: consciousness is altered or temporarily suspended, attention is-relaxed, intelligence deteriorates, memory disintegrates to such an extent that one is led to believe they have a double personality, and before long their mind is depleted save for a few fixed ideas the final result of which is monomania bordering on insanity. Their will likewise becomes weaker and weaker, their emotions gain control, and they become the playthings of their own whims or of some stronger will. This means a disintegration of personality and a lessening of intellectual and moral power. This is a summary of the characteristics noted by P. Janet, 'L'Automatisme psychologique, P. II, ch. III-IV. 2p715

B) It is very different with the mystics. Their mind develops, their will grows stronger, and they become capable of conceiving and realizing the greatest undertakings. We have seen how they acquire a new knowledge of God, of His attributes, of the dogmas of faith, of self. Doubtless, they are unable to express all they see, but they sincerely declare that they learned more during a few moments of contemplation than by long and extensive readings. That they are right in their conviction is proved by the real progress made in the exercise of the most heroic virtues. We see that they become more humble, more charitable, more submissive to the Divine Will even in the midst of very intense suffering, and that they enjoy a sweet calm and peace which nothing can disturb. How utterly different all this from the spasms and the passionate commotions of hysteria! 2p715


Differences just as marked as the foregoing are likewise discernible in the manner in which the two kinds of phenomena occur.

A) Nothing is sadder and more heartrending than to witness the fits of hysteria.

i) The first stage of hysteria resembles a slight attack of epilepsy. It can be distinguished however from the latter by the sensation of a lump rising in the throat. In reality, there is a swelling of the throat which produces a feeling of suffocation accompanied by a sort of hissing sound perceptible to the ears. ii) The second stage is marked by uncontrolled gestures and contortions of the entire body. iii) The third stage gives rise to attitudes of fright, of jealousy, of lust, according to the nature of the obsessing idea or image. iv) The fit ends in a paroxysm of tears or laughter. After the crisis has passed, the patient is left weary and exhausted, and suffers from various indispositions. 2p716 These various indispositions can be controlled at least superficially for a time for whatever motive, if the person has a strong enough will and if these fits of hysteria do not occur too frequently.

B) Note once more the difference between this and ecstasy. In the latter there are no convulsions, no violent spasms, but only the peace and the rapture of a soul intimately united with its God. So true is this that those who have witnessed a person in ecstasy, those for example who saw Blessed Bernadette during her visions at the Grotto of Lourdes, could not withhold their admiration. As St. Teresa remarks ('Life by Herself', C. XVIII and XX), the body, instead of becoming exhausted, gathers new energies during the time of ecstasy. 2p716


Here again hysteria differs widely from ecstasy.

A) With hysterical persons the disintegration of the faculties increases in proportion to the frequency of the crisis. Dissimulation, lying, stupor, brutality and lewdness follow in the wake of this disease. 2p716

B) In the case of the mystics, on the contrary, there is a steady mental growth, an increase of the love of God and of devoted service to the neighbor. When they have the opportunity of engaging in some public enterprise, they give evidence of common sense, of an open and strong mind, of a determined will, and success crowns their efforts. 2p716

St. Teresa, in spite of the frequent opposition she encountered, founded sixteen convents for women and fourteen monasteries for men. St. Colletta established thirteen monasteries and restored discipline in a great number of others. Madame Acarie, who had been favored with ecstasies from her sixteenth year, was happily married for thirty years, reared a family of six children, restored her family's fortunes, which had been imperiled by her husband's imprudences, and after the latter's death, was instrumental in the establishment of the Carmelite Order in France. St. Catherine of Siena, who died at the age of thirty-two and who for a long time did not know how to read or write, played an important part in the stirring events of her times, and particularly in the return of the Popes of Avignon to Rome. A recent historian has called her a statesman, and a great statesman. (Em. Gebhart, Rev. Hebdom., 16 mars, 1907) 2p717

It is evident then that the differences existing between the phenomena of hysteria and ecstasy are such that to attempt to place them in the same category is to violate all the canons of scientific investigation. 2p717

4.12: The Power of the Devil

Satan is the fallen angel who labors in souls against God's reign on earth. The Hebrew word "Satan" signifies adversary. Satan is the supreme adversary of Christ and of Christians. Why should he not struggle against revelations, since these are methods used by God to animate the Christian faith and to strengthen Christ's reign?

His destructive activity is very dangerous because as an angel he still has his penetrating intelligence. He knows how to make the best use of it. What is more, he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). As an individual, he knows how to deceive people. He very cunningly discredits true revelations and raises up the false ones. His power enables him to deceive. Christ called him the "prince of this world" (John 12 :32), and as such Satan has his co-operators among the men who do not submit to God. The Council of Trent held that man became the prisoner of the devil through original sin (Denz., 788). Certainly Christ conquered the prince of this world; but the latter still retains a certain domination over the world. "He that commits sin is of the devil" (1 John 3:8). The devil continues to exercise a certain domination over the world inasmuch as sin persists in the world. 1p142

The fallen angels retain their noble angelic nature-and thus superiority of action, as the result of the superior quality of their being. Since through their nature they are superior to men, their domination over matter surpasses that possessed by men to such a point that their actions seem to be miracles. The man who is without knowledge and experience does not succeed in distinguishing these actions from miracles properly so called, that is, the works of forces surpassing those belonging to any creature. So Satan has been called "the amazing wonder-worker." His power is surprising, when he makes use of created means, and surprising too is the power of the people who rely upon him. St. Thomas wrote: "All the facts which in this world come under the experience of the senses may be produced by the demons acting not only through their own energies, but also making use of the forces of nature." (De Malo, 26, a. 11). It is, in fact, thanks to Satan that Antichrist is capable of achieving "all power, and signs, and lying wonders" (2Thess. 2 :9). So too the coming of Antichrist will be marked by the "working of Satan, in all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and in all seduction of inquity.." (2Thess 2:9-19).

The dominion of the devil may even extend to the mind of man. It is true that he cannot directly touch the intelligence or move the will, but he can act strongly upon these spiritual faculties by way of the senses. Through the interior senses, for instance, he can arouse such perturbation in the human spirit that all intellectual knowledge becomes practically impossible. Besides, through the tremendous means at his disposal and through his penetrating knowledge of signs, he can divine secrets and future events. 1p144

4.13: Diabolical Phenomena

The devil, jealous of God's influence on the souls of the saints, strives to exercise his own dominion, or rather his tyranny, over men. At times he, so to speak, besieges the soul from without by assailing it with horrible temptations; at other times, he takes up his abode in the human body, which he moves at will as if he were its master, in order thus to afflict the soul itself. In the former case we have obsession, in the latter, possession.


Obsession consists in a series of unusually violent and persistent temptations. It is called external when the temptations affect the exterior senses by means of apparitions, and internal when they stir up sensations or emotions. It is rare that obsession is purely external, for the devil acts upon the senses in order the more easily to disturb the soul. However, there have been saints who, though obsessed from without by all sorts of phantoms, preserved an unruffled peace of soul. 2p718


There are two elements which constitute possession: the presence of the devil in the body of the possessed, and the dominion exercised by the devil over that body, and through it, over the soul. This latter point needs to be explained. The devil does not unite with the body in the same manner as the soul does, nor does he enter into the soul itself; it is only by acting upon the body in which he dwells that he can affect the soul. He can indeed act directly on the bodily members and cause them to perform all sorts of motions, and indirectly he can move the faculties of the soul in so far as they depend for their operations upon the body.

We can distinguish two distinct states in possessed persons: the crisis and the period of calm. The crisis is like a violent attack in which the devil manifests his tyrannical sway by imparting to the body a feverish agitation which finds expression in contortions, outbursts of fury, and impious and blasphemous utterances. There upon the victims seem to lose all sense of what takes place within them, and they retain no memory of what they say or do, or rather, of what the devil does through them. It is only at the beginning of the crisis that they are aware of the invasion of the Evil One, and after that they apparently lose consciousness. 2p720

During the intervals of quiet and calm there is nothing to disclose the presence of the evil spirit; it is as though he had departed. Sometimes however his presence manifests itself by a sort of chronic infirmity which baffles all the efforts of physicians. 2p721

According to the Roman Ritual (De Exorcizandis Obsessis a Daemonio) there are three principle signs by which possession may be recognized: "Speaking an unknown tongue or understanding it when spoken by another; making known distant and hidden things; exhibiting a strength out of all proportion with one's age and circumstances. These and other like signs, when they concur in great number, are the surest indications of possession" 2p721

One might add here another sign pointing to the fact of possession to be found in the reactions produced by the use of exorcisms or of holy objects, especially if they are employed without the knowledge of the supposedly possessed persons. At times, the mere contact with a pious object or the recitation over them of the liturgical prayers drives them into a fury and provokes horrible blasphemies. However, this is not a sure sign of possession unless the experiment just described is made unknown to the patients, for if they realize what is about to be done, they may purposely work themselves into a state of frenzy, either because they have a horror of all things religious, or because they wish to deceive. 2p722

It is not easy therefore to recognize a case of real possession, and one cannot be too careful before making a decision.


A) One-of the most efficacious of all is the purification of the soul by a worthy confession, particularly a general confession, which by humiliating and sanctifying the penitent puts to flight the proud and impure spirit. The Ritual counsels the addition of fasting, prayer and the reception of Holy Communion. The more pure and the more mortified one becomes, the weaker becomes the influence of the devil, and in Holy Communion one receives Him who conquered Satan. It need hardly be said that Communion should not be given except in moments of calm. 2p724 etc.

B). The Sacramentals and blessed objects are also efficacious remedies because of the prayers said by the Church when blessing them. St. Teresa had great confidence in holy water, and rightly so, since the Church imparts to it the power of putting the devil to flight. But such objects are to be used in a spirit of faith, of humility and of confidence.

C) The Crucifix, the Sign of the Cross, and especially genuine relics of the True Cross are terrifying to the devil who was vanquished by the Cross: "That the one who conquered by a tree should himself be likewise conquered by the Tree." (Preface for the Feast of the Holy Cross). For the same reason the Evil Spirit dreads the invocation of the Holy Name of Jesus, which, on the Master's own promise, possesses a wondrous power for putting the devil to flight.

An EXORCISM is a rite preformed by an Exorcist who is usually a priest expressly deputed for that purpose by the Ordinary. The power of exorcism to expel devils comes from the Church having received this power from Christ. 2p724

It is clear that we now find ourselves confronting the richest and most subtle source of illusions and frauds. "Evident proofs and experiences show us that the devils may make things appear to men in sensible fashion” (De Malo, q. 16, a. 11). When the most beautiful guise is not sufficient to deceive, the devil even propounds truths to attain his ends; he can thus at least create confusion. Jesus Himself spoke of false christs and false prophets who would produce signs and prodigies so considerable as to be able to deceive if possible even the elect (Mt 24:24). There is no situation more difficult for discernment than this. And still it is not impossible. That is not to say, indeed, that one will always arrive at a satisfactory result, but actually one may succeed in discerning the true from the false by making use of the appropriate criteria. It would be difficult to admit that God would not give to His own, to the Church, the means of distinguishing His activity from that of the devil. In fact, God does give such means abundantly here where human means are even less efficacious than in other domains. The appropriate means from Christ which the Church places at the disposal of her ministers for withdrawing from the devil his domination over men and things in particular cases is exorcism. 1p146

In the presence of extraordinary events which are presented as revelations, one first should use the method of elimination. Before assuming the devil to be at work, one should inquire about the presence of human forces or weaknesses such as clairvoyance, hysterical manifestations, split consciousness, etc. A subject suffering from denonomania could perfectly play the part of a possessed person. Violent impulses in opposition to the habitual temperament, the feeling of being a victim of a strange force, convulsive attacks, and so on are not necessarily symptoms of possession, but they may be the effects of demonomania. A subject who manifests them, however, cannot be considered as the bearer of a particular revelation. 1p146

If the visionary does not show signs of obsession or possession as described above, we cannot conclude that the revelation is true. But all of the criteria taken together make it possible to discern with certitude the false revelations from the true.