CRITERIA OF DISCERNMENT
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.
1) DIFFERENCES IN THE PERSONS THEMSELVES
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
2) DIFFERENCES IN THE PHENOMENA
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
3) DIFFERENCES IN THE EFFECTS
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.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Ch. IV: Criteria of Discernment