EXAMPLES OF TRUE AND FALSE REVELATIONS
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.
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... "
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Ch. III: Examples of True and False Revelations