Editor’s Note: These extracts are taken from Refractions of Light by Kevin Symonds (En Route Books and Media, St. Louis MO, 2015). In his book, Mr. Symonds is using the latest official Church document which sums up fairly well the traditional Church teaching on private revelations.
1. What is private revelation?
Private revelation is the supernatural manifestation of a hidden truth by means of a vision, a word, or only a prophetic instinct. The term refers to all the visions and revelations that have taken place since the completion of the New Testament.
2. What is the purpose of private revelation?
The purpose of private revelation is to provide emphasis on a particular aspect of the Gospel at a specific moment in time so as to lead the faithful to a deepening of faith, hope and charity.
3. How does the Church respond to claims of private revelations?
The Church exercises great caution with respect to claims of private revelations as she follows the Apostolic mandate to “test the spirits.” It is also commonly said that the Church moves slowly in these matters.
7. How are alleged private revelations to be discerned?
The Church has published the Normae S. Congregationis (May 2012). These norms offer two, three-tiered structures that claims to private revelations can go through.
8. What is the first structure?
The first structure concerns the competent Ecclesiastical Authority and is delineated as follows:
9. What is the second structure?
10. What are the negative criteria?
The negative criteria are as follows:
Manifest error concerning the fact.
Doctrinal errors attributed to God, the Virgin Mary or saints in their manifestations. Vigilance is necessary against the possibility of human additions or errors being made in the alleged revelations.
Evidence of a gain of profit strictly connected to the fact.
The alleged visionary or followers commit gravely immoral acts at the time of the alleged revelation or on their occasion.
The alleged visionary demonstrates psychic disorders or psychopathic tendencies that clearly influenced the allegedly supernatural fact.
11. What are the positive criteria?
20. Are the negative and positive criteria meant to be the only criteria the Church uses in her discernment of alleged private revelations?
No, the criteria mentioned in the Normae are not peremptory but rather indicative, and they should be applied cumulatively or with some mutual convergence. For instance, there is nothing in the Normae about miracles as a criterion, yet they have a role in the discernment of a case.
21. Is there a fundamental principle by which the Church discerns alleged private revelations?
There is a fundamental principle that the Church uses to discern alleged private revelations: The criterion for the truth and value of [alleged] private revelation is…its orientation to Christ Himself. When it leads us away from Him, when it becomes independent of Him or even presents itself as another and better plan of salvation, more important than the Gospel, then it certainly does not come from the Holy Spirit, who guides us more deeply into the Gospel and not away from it. This does not mean that a private revelation will not offer new emphases or give rise to new devotional forms, or deepen and spread older forms. But in all of this there must be a nurturing of faith, hope and charity, which are the unchanging path to salvation for everyone.
22. Who determines if alleged private revelations are from God or not?
The competent Ecclesiastical Authority determines the character of such claims, and firstly the local Ordinary.
26. In what four ways can a local Ordinary intervene?
The four ways are as follows:
31. What then does “supernatural” mean in the theology of private revelation?
In the theology of private revelation, the term “supernatural” means three things:
32. Why is it that, “…the faithful can trust…if they so choose”?
The faithful are not bound to believe in alleged private revelations, but only in public revelation.
34. What is the distinction between “public” and “private” revelation?
According to the Congregation for the Faith, the distinction between the two is as follows:
The term “public revelation” refers to the revealing action of God directed to humanity as a whole and which finds its literary expression in the two parts of the Bible: the Old and New Testaments. It is called “Revelation” because in it God gradually made Himself known to men, to the point of becoming man Himself, in order to draw to Himself the whole world and unite it with Himself through His Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. Public revelation “demands faith” and private revelation “is a help to that faith.” It is not that faith in itself.
35. Does believing in alleged private revelations mean a person has put faith in them?
Yes, but there is a difference between the theological virtue of faith and human faith. An individual can believe in alleged private revelations on human faith but he or she does not give the assent of divine or Catholic Faith, which is given only to divine revelation.
37. If alleged private revelations contain a message of world-wide importance, must the faithful believe in the alleged message?
The Church distinguishes between “obligation” and “disregard” with respect to an alleged private revelation: [s]uch a message [i.e. alleged private revelations] can be a genuine help in understanding the Gospel and living it better at a particular moment in time; therefore, it should not be disregarded. It is a help which is offered, but which one is not obliged to use.
38. What is the distinction between “obliged” and “disregarded”?
Legitimate private revelations should not be taken lightly. God has offered them for a reason and the faithful should seriously consider the message being given. However, private revelations (whether legitimate or fraudulent) do not enjoy an obligatory character—the faithful are not obliged to believe in them.
68. In what manner is a judgment made on the supernatural character of a claim to private revelations?
After investigating the facts of a case, the local Ordinary renders his judgment publicly by way of one of three Latin expressions:
Constat de supernaturalitate—There is evidence of the supernatural
Non constat de supernaturalitate—There is no evidence of the supernatural
Constat de non supernaturalitate—There is evidence of the non supernatural
79. May Catholics disregard a directive on alleged private revelations issued by a local Ordinary who does not or is said not to believe in any private revelation?
The faithful may not disregard a directive by the local Ordinary even though he may not be inclined to believe in any private revelation.
94. Why are obedience and humility the fundamental virtues?
The purpose of legitimate private revelations is to lead the faithful to greater holiness, including the person said to be receiving the alleged revelations. Pride is the deadliest sin and humility is necessary to combat it. Obedience safeguards against self-will. If a person is possessed of his or her own self-will and not obedient to the Church and her representatives, such actions are sure signs of pride and disobedience. These actions are critical in the discernment of alleged private revelations.
179. Does the Church provide the faithful with a teaching on any signs of false private revelations to detect a diabolical origin?
The Church’s tradition on the interior life of virtue provides the faithful with some general signs to help discern a possible diabolical origin other than the positive and negative signs mentioned above.
180. What are those signs?
According to the Dominican theologian, Dom Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, in Three Ages of the Interior Life, the following are to be looked at as signs of the evil spirit:
1. Pride in the soul that leads to trouble, discouragement and even despair.
2. An exaggerated mortification.
3. False humility spurred on by spiritual pride.
4. A focus upon what is most extraordinary and marvelous to make the faithful feel esteemed or bring about what is foreign to our vocation.
5. Presumption, which undermines the theological virtue of hope.
6. The creation of self-love in the faithful.
7. Engendering dissensions and hatreds as opposed to peace.
8. Evident sin which cannot be concealed creates confusion, vexation and discouragement in the soul.
Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange ends by saying, “the lack of humility and obedience is a certain indication that it is not God who guides [the person in question].”
186. What are some examples of good and bad fruits?
Good fruits are those things that encourage people in holiness such as increase in one’s prayer life, conversion, increased docility to the laws and teachings of the Church, increase in virtue.
Bad fruits lead one away from God. Examples are: disobedience to the Church and her representatives, misrepresentation of the Church or her representatives, increase in pride, choosing alleged revelations over and above the teaching authority of the Church.
Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange’s signs of the evil spirit as given above are also examples of negative fruits. In all things, we would do well to heed the advice of St. Teresa of Avila who wrote in The Interior Castle: “Such [mystical] experiences, if we use them aright, prepare us to be better servants of God; but sometimes it is the weakest whom God leads by this road; and so there is no ground here either for approval or for condemnation. We must base our judgments on the virtues. The saintliest will be she who serves Our Lord with the greatest mortification and humility and purity of conscience.”