5.1: What Is Prophesy
Prophesy is the certain foretelling of a future event by a person supernaturally informed of it, and supernaturally moved to announce it. Prophesy consists primarily in the knowledge of future events; this knowledge is beyond the natural power of creatures to acquire, and is imparted by God to the prophet. 3p291
Natural knowledge can be used at the knower's will. But the prophet's knowledge is not something he can use at will. It is knowledge specially given, by a special divine light, and given in the measure that God wills, for utterance as a divine help, guide, or warning to mankind.
The prophetic light, according to St. Thomas, is in the soul of the prophet not as a permanent form or habit, but after the manner of a passion or passing impression (Sum. Theol. II-II, Q. 171, a. 2). Hence the ancient prophets by their prayers petitioned for this divine light (Kg 8:6; Jer 32:16; 23:2; 42:4), and they were liable to error if they gave an answer before invoking God (2Kg 7:2-3).
Prophetic knowledge includes more than future free events. The prophet may announce timeless things, as Isaiah announced what was divinely revealed to him of the eternal perfections of God. Sometimes, indeed, a man is called a prophet when he tells of the past; so Moses prophesied when he wrote, under divine inspiration, of the creation of the world. In this way a prophecy is the certain knowledge and pronouncement of what is "remote from human knowledge." However, in its strict sense, prophecy is knowing and foretelling what is to come, that is, what is remote in time from human experience.
5.2: The Object of Prophecy
The objects of prophecy may also be viewed in respect to human knowledge: (1) when an event may be beyond the possible natural knowledge of the prophet, but may be within the range of human knowledge and known to others who witness the occurrence, as, for instance, the result of the battle of Lepanto revealed to St. Pius V; (2) when the object surpasses the knowledge of all men, not that it is unknowable but that the human mind cannot naturally receive the knowledge, such as the mystery of the Holy Trinity, or the mystery of predestination; (3) when the things that are beyond the power of the human mind to know are not in themselves knowable because their truth is not yet determined, such as future contingent things which depend upon free will. This is regarded as the most perfect object of prophecy, because it is the most general and embraces all events that are in themselves unknowable.10p474
A prophet is not in possession of the whole field of prophecy; he does not know all that can possibly be prophesied. He knows what God gives him to know and moves him to make known to others. 3p292
5.3: From God or From the Prophet or …?
The prophet may not always be clear in his own mind about the precise line which divides the divinely revealed message from his own knowledge. St. Gregory says in regard to Biblical prophets (Hom. i, super Ezech): "It must be observed that sometimes the holy prophets, when consulted, utter certain things by their own spirit, through being much accustomed to prophesying, and think they are speaking by the prophetic spirit." 4p1894
St. Thomas answers that, "The prophet's mind is instructed by God in two ways: in one way by an express revelation, in another way by a most mysterious instance to which the human mind is subjected without knowing it, as Augustine says. Accordingly the prophet has the greatest certitude about those things which he knows by an express revelation, and he has it for certain that they are revealed to him by God; wherefore it is written (Jer 26:15): 'In truth the Lord sent me to you, to speak all these words in your hearing'. Else, were he not certain about this, the faith which relies on the utterances of the prophet would not be certain. A sign of the prophet's certitude may be gathered from the fact that Abraham being admonished in a prophetic vision, prepared to sacrifice his only begotten Son, which he nowise would have done had he not been most certain of the divine revelation". 4p1894
On the other hand, his position with regard to the things he knows by instinct is sometimes such that he is unable to distinguish fully whether his thoughts are conceived of divine instinct or of his own spirit. And those things which we know by divine instinct are not all manifested with prophetic certitude, for this instinct is something imperfect in the genus of prophecy. 4p1894
But for that which God wishes to be inspired and pronounced, St. Gregory says that the Holy Spirit takes care that no erroneous human elements are mixed with the prophecy which God wills to have pronounced (e.g. 2Kg 7:3).
In other words, by reason of the illumination of the mind, prophecy may be either perfect or imperfect. It is called perfect when not only the thing revealed, but the revelation itself is made known, that is, when the prophet knows that it is God who speaks. The prophecy is imperfect when the recipient does not know clearly or sufficiently from whom the revelation proceeds, or whether it is the prophetic or individual spirit that speaks. This is called the prophetic instinct, wherein it is possible that a man be deceived, as it happened in the case of Nathan who said to David when he was thinking of building the Temple of God: "Go, do all that is in thy heart, because the Lord is with thee” (2Kg 7:3). But that very night the Lord commanded the Prophet to return to the king and say that the glory of the building of the temple was reserved, not for him, but for his son. 10p473
When God so wills He can impart to him who receives a revelation the full certainty that it is real and wholly divine. Otherwise one would not have had the right to believe the Prophets of the Old Testament. Scripture ordained that they be distinguished from false prophets. For instance, the envoys of God performed miracles or uttered prophecies the realization of which was verified. 8p328
The knowledge of the genuine prophet cannot be accounted for by any natural power in himself. This knowledge is from God. It is revealed knowledge, not acquired knowledge, and God is its cause. St. Peter says (2Pet 1:21): "Prophecy came not by the Will of man ... but the holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Spirit." 4p292
It cannot be said that God selects as prophets men of a suitable disposition for the office of prophet. God chooses as prophets whom He will, regardless of natural abilities and dispositions. The infinite Creator can instantly produce in any man the qualifications naturally needed (as, for instance, the power to speak, or the ability to use an unfamiliar language), just as he produces the supernatural knowledge and the authority of the prophet. 4p292
Indeed, if God choose, the office of prophet may be exercised by a person who is not even in the state of grace. For prophesy is primarily a matter of knowledge, which pertains to the intellect, whereas grace or charity pertains primarily to the will. Yet it is most unlikely that a man of sinful and passionate life should be made a prophet. 4p293
The evil spirits are fallen angels; by their angelic intellect they know things that man cannot naturally know, and, they can reveal these things to man. But this revelation is neither divine nor supernatural. One who proclaims knowledge acquired from demons is not, in a strict sense, a prophet; at best he is to be called "a false prophet." 4p293
Even such "a false prophet" may speak truth; indeed, he must offer some truth, or he would quickly be discredited, and could win no one to believe the essential falsity he wishes to propagate. 4p293
God can enlighten the human mind in any way He pleases. He often makes use of angelic ministry in prophetic communications, or He Himself may speak to the prophet and illuminate his mind. Again the supernatural light of prophesy may be conveyed to the intellect directly or through the senses or the imagination. Prophesy may take place even when the senses are suspended as in ecstasy, but this in mystical terminology is called rapture. 10p474
It is possible that the prophet himself should not understand what the Holy Spirit means by the prophetic utterance. David understood that he had prophesied when he said (2Kg 23: 2): "The spirit of the Lord hath spoken by me." But Caiphas did not understand when he prophesied (John 11:51): "And this he spoke, not of himself, but being the high-priest of that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation." 3p293
5.4: Kinds of Prophesy
By reason of the object, there are three kinds of prophesy according to St. Thomas (Sum. Theol. II-II, Q 174, a.1): prophesy of denunciation, of foreknowledge, and of predestination. In the FIRST KIND God reveals future events according to the order of secondary causes, which may be hindered from taking effect by other causes which would require a miraculous power to prevent, and these may or may not happen, though the prophets do not express it but seem to speak absolutely. Isaiah spoke thus when he said to Ezechias: "Take order with thy house, for thou shalt die, and not live" (Is 38:1). To this kind belongs the prophesy of promise, as that mentioned in Kings 2:30: "I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father should minister in my sight forever", which was not fulfilled. It was a conditional promise made to Hell which was dependent upon other causes which prevented its fulfillment. The SECOND KIND, that of foreknowledge, takes place when God reveals future events which depend upon created free will and which He sees present from eternity. They have reference to life and death, to wars and dynasties, to the affairs of Church and State, as well as to the affairs of individual life. The THIRD KIND, the prophesy of predestination, takes place when God reveals what He alone will do, and what He sees present in eternity and in His absolute decree. This includes not only the secret of predestination to grace and to glory, but also those things which God has absolutely decreed to do by His own supreme power, and which will infallibly come to pass. 10p474
That the gift of private prophesy exists in the Church is clear from Scripture and the acts of canonization of the saints in every age. To the question, what credence is to be given to these private prophecies, Cardinal Cajetan answers, as stated by Benedict XIV: "Human actions are of two kinds, one of which relates to public duties, and especially to ecclesiastical affairs, such as preaching, celebrating Mass, pronouncing judicial decision, and the like; with respect to these the question is settled in the canon law, where it is said that no credence is to be publicly given to him who says he has privately received a mission from God, unless he confirms it by a miracle or a special testimony of Holy Scripture. The other class of human actions consists of those of private persons, and speaking of these, he distinguishes between a prophet who enjoins or advises them, according to the universal laws of the Church, and a prophet who does the same without reference to those laws. In the first case every man may abound in his own sense whether or not to direct his actions according to the will of the prophet; in the second case the prophet is not to be listened to" (Heroic Virtue, III, 192). 10p474
5.5: Rules To Distinguish True From False Prophets
It is also important that those who have to teach and direct others should have rules for their guidance to enable then to distinguish true from false prophets. A summary of those prescribed by theologians for our guidance may be useful to show practically how the doctrine is to be applied to devout souls in order to save them from errors or diabolical delusion. 10p475
1) The recipient of the gift of prophecy should, as a rule, be good and virtuous, for all mystical writers agree that for the most part this gift is granted by God to holy persons. The disposition or temperament of the person should also be considered, as well as the state of health and of the brain.
2) The prophecy must be conformable to Christian truth and piety, because if it proposes anything against faith or morals it cannot proceed from the Spirit of Truth.
3) The prediction should concern things outside the reach of all natural knowledge, and have for its object future contingent things or those things which God only knows.
4) It should also concern something of a grave and important nature, that is something for the good of the Church or the good of souls. This and the preceding rule will help to distinguish true prophecies from the childish, senseless, and useless predictions of fortunetellers, crystal-gazers, spiritualists, and charlatans. These may tell things beyond human knowledge and yet within the scope of the natural knowledge of demons, but not those things that are strictly speaking the objects of prophecy.
5) Prophecies or revelations which make known the sins of others, or which announce the predestination or reprobation of souls are to be suspected. Three special secrets of God have always to be deeply respected as they are very rarely revealed, namely: the state of conscience in this life, the state of souls after death unless canonized by the Church, and the mystery of predestination. The secret of predestination has been revealed only in exceptional cases, but that of reprobation has never been revealed, because so long as the soul is in this life, its salvation is possible. The day of General Judgment is also a secret which has never been revealed.
6) We have afterwards to ascertain whether the prophecy has been fulfilled in the way foretold. There are some limitations to this rule: (a) if the prophecy was not absolute, but containing threats only, and tampered by conditions expressed or understood, as exemplified in the prophecy of Jonas to the Ninivites, and that of Isaiah to King Ezechias. (b) It may sometimes happen that the prophecy is true and from God, and the human interpretation of it false, as men may interpret it otherwise than God intended. It is by these limitations we have to explain the prophecy of St. Bernard regarding the success of the Second Crusade, and that of St. Vincent Ferrer regarding the near approach of the General Judgment in his day. 10p475
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Ch. V: Prophesy