DISCERNMENT OF SPIRITS (Wm. G. Most)
What kind of Spirit is at work when someone receives a vision, a
revelation, or a more routine favor? To determine this is called the
discernment of spirits. It is of great importance to find the right
answer. It is evident that there can be three sources: good spirit, evil
The Fathers of the Church asked a related question about the appearances
of God in the Old Testament.
The Fathers thought it was always the Logos who appeared. Cf. Aloys
Grillmeier, "Christ in Christian Tradition" (John Knox, Atlanta 2d ed.
1975) I p. 103 commenting on Justin Apology 1.46: "In his view, the
incarnation is merely the conclusion in an immense series of
manifestations of the Logos, which had their beginning in the creation of
the world." (DS 800 defined: all works outside divine nature are common to
Behind this view seems to be the idea that the Father was too transcendent
to appear in the world, and so He needed the Logos as a bridge to mankind.
Cf. Justin Martyr, "Dialogue" 127: "He is not moved nor can be contained
by place or by the whole world, for He existed before the world was made.
How then could He talk to anyone, or be seen by anyone, or appear on the
smallest portion of the earth, when the people at Sinai were not able to
look even on the glory of him [Moses] who as sent from him?" So the
Mediator is the Logos. Quasten, "Patrology" I p. 208 thinks, "Justin
denies the substantial omnipresence of God." Not so. His translation of
the Greek was poor at one point, where he said: "He is not moved or
confined to a spot in the whole world". It should be as above instead.
Also, Quasten thinks, p. 209, that "Justin tends to subordinationism....
This is evident from "Apology" 2,6: "His Son who alone is properly called
Son, the Logos, who alone was with him and was begotten before the works,
when at first he created and arranged all things by him, is called Christ,
in reference to his being anointed and God's ordering all things through
him." This does not prove any subordination. - Justin is groping. He wants
to say the Father is transcendent (arretos) but that He employs the Son as
Mediator. This is a point of theological method. We at times find two
truths, which seem to clash, yet even after checking, we see both are
established. Then we must hold both, until we find how to reconcile them
(cf. the case of the two sets of statements by the Fathers on the
knowledge of Christ, and on membership in the Church). Justin did not
find how to reconcile the truths. Nor did various other Fathers who spoke
Thus Origen has been both accused and acquitted of subordinationism:
Quasten II.77: "that he teaches subordinationism has been both affirmed
and denied; St. Jerome does not hesitate to accuse him of doing so, while
Gregory Thaumaturgos and St. Athanasius clear him of all suspicion.
Modern authors like Régnon and Prat also acquit him." - There are two
kinds of statements in Origen:
(a) Affirms divinity: "In Hebr. Frg." 24, 359: "Thus Wisdom too, since it
proceeds from God, is generated out of the divine substance itself. Under
the figure of a bodily outflow, nevertheless, it, too, is thus called 'a
sort of clean and pure outflow of omnipotent glory' (Wisd, 7, 25). Both
these similes manifestly show the community of substance between Son and
Father. For an outflow seems "homoousios," i.e., of one substance with the
body of which it is the outflow or exhalation." (from Quasten, p. 78)
"Discussion with Heraclides": "Origen said: We confess therefore two
Gods?" (cited from Quasten II, p. 64)
(b) Seems to state subordination: On John 13.25: "We say that the Saviour
and the Holy Spirit are without comparison and are very much superior to
all things that are made, but also that the Father is even more above them
than they are themselves above creatures even the highest." (from Quasten
II, p. 79). COMMENT: He says the Savior and Holy Spirit are "very much
superior to all things that are made...[and] above creatures" - which
seems to imply they are not made and are not creatures. It only affirms
the Father is higher - probably means transcendence - again, the problem
of theological method with two kinds of statements.
Really the discussions of the Fathers missed a basic point, which is now a
defined doctrine: All the workings of the Three Divine Persons outside the
Divine Nature are common to all three (DS 501, 3814).
So we turn to reports of private revelations in later ages.
At the outset we should understand that even if the Church approves of a
private revelation, we must be respectful, but need not believe. The
reason is that the commission given the Church by Christ applies only to
public, not to private revelation.
However we distinguish two cases: 1) If a Bishop declares a vision
authentic, we need not believe; 2) If he orders no pilgrimages to the
place, we must obey - that is something separate. And if his orders are
violated. then we can be sure that the alleged vision is false, at least
from that point on. The Blessed Mother or Saints will not appear to
Causes of illusions: Poulain, "Graces of Interior Prayer" p. 322 thinks
that at least three fourths of the revelations given to those who have not
reached high sanctity are illusions. And there are many cases known of
illusions even in canonized saints. So St. Teresa of Avila is quite
prudent in warning that if one hears God is giving some souls such graces,
one should never ask or desire Him to give such things. She gives several
reasons: 1) The desire shows a lack of humility; 2) one thereby leaves
self open to "great danger, since the devil needs only to see a door left
slightly open too enter"; 3) there is the danger of autosuggestion, she
says that if one has a great desire for something, he she can easily
persuade self that he/she is seeing or hearing what is desired. 4) It is
presumptuous to want to choose one's own path: only the Lord knows what is
best; 5) very heavy trials commonly go along with such favors; 6) it could
even bring loss. She adds that many holy people have never had such a
favor, while there are others who have had them and yet are not holy. A
person who gains the virtues at the cost of his own labor has earned much
more merit." ("Interior Castle." 6.9).
St. John of Cross warns on accepting revelations. It is unfortunate to
center spiritual life about these - may even weaken faith, which wants to
see, instead of believing. Cf. "Ascent" II.11; III 13, and Poulain, op.
cit. pp. 299-399; Garrigou-Lagrange, "Three Ages of the Spiritual Life"
We think also of the words of Our Lord: "More blessed are they who have
not seen and have believed."
Five causes of error on revelations:
(1) Faulty interpretation of visions by the recipient.
St. John of the Cross warns on this in "Ascent" II.19. Thus St. Joan of
Arc in prison had a revelation that she would be delivered by a great
victory - it was her martyrdom, which she did not suspect. St. Mechtilde
was asked by St. Gertrude to pray that she would get docility and
patience. St. Mechtilde reported what she thought our Lord had said,
namely, that patience comes from "pax" and "scientia," peace and
knowledge. But this is a false etymology. She would have been right to
take the words to mean that patience had its source in peace and
knowledge. -- St. Gertrude reported that on Easter our Lord explained the
word Alleluia -- saying that all vowels are in the word except o, which
stands for grief. But o can express pleasure as well as grief.- St. Peter
himself did not understand the vision of the linen sheet until getting to
see Cornelius. - Jonah did not understand that Nineveh would be spared if
it repented --St. Norbert claimed a revelation that the Antichrist would
come in his own generation.- St. Vincent Ferrer spent the last 21 years
of his life preaching that the end was at hand. He even brought back to
life for 15 minutes a dead women, who confirmed his prediction. But it
did not happen. Probably it was averted by wholesale conversion by the
Prophecies of punishment, and promises of special favors should be
considered as conditional. E.g., the Scapular promise should not be taken
to refer to mere physical wearing of the Scapular: it must be, as Pius XII
said, the outward sign of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
that is really lived. If it is used this way then even if the vision of
St. Simon Stock might not be true, the promise will be fulfilled, for Pius
XI wrote on Feb. 2, 1923: "nor would he incur eternal death whom the Most
Blessed Virgin assists, especially at his last hour. This view of the
Doctors of the Church, in harmony with the attitudes of the Christian
people, and supported by the experience of all times, depends especially
on this reason, the fact that the Sorrowful Virgin shared in the work of
the redemption with Jesus Christ." Similar statements came from Benedict
XV and Pius XII. We note that these statements of three Popes are in the
realm of public, not private revelation.
2. Visions of the life and death of Christ, or other historic scenes, must
be understood to be approximate only. Thus some saw Jesus with three
nails, some with four.
Catherine Emmerich thought Mary of Agreda took literally many pictures
that should have been taken allegorically. This is true of visions of
paradise, purgatory, or hell - the reality cannot be shown in any vision,
so mere images are used, e.g, in the Apocalypse.
Blessed Veronica of Binasco saw the whole life of Christ, and so did St.
Frances of Rome and Catherine Emmerich. The Bollandists tell us there are
many historical errors in these. Again, those of St. Mechtildis and St.
Pope John XXIII, ordered "The Poem of the Man God" put on the index, on
Dec. 16, 1960 the Index is now abolished, but Cardinal Ratzinger in a
letter of Jan. 31, 1985 wrote:..."The Index of forbidden books keeps all
of its moral authority and therefore the distribution and recommendation
of the work is considered improper when its condemnation was not made
lightly but with the most serious motivation of neutralizing the harm
which such publication could inflict on the more unwary faithful." So the
Pontifical Imprimatur is bogus. The message of April 28, 1947 explains
that the messages do not contradict Revelation 22.18: "with this work no
addition was made to revelation, but only the gaps, brought about by
natural causes and by supernatural will, were filled in." Vision shows no
understanding of Apocalyptic genre.
3. Human action may mingle with the divine action: St. Catherine Labouré
foretold many events correctly, but failed on others. It is especially
easy for this to happen with ideas that appeal to our own desires or fit
with preconceived ideas. St. Colette thought St. Anne had married three
times and had several daughters, so she thought St. Anne appeared to her
with all this family. Benedict XIV ("Heroic Virtue" III 14 p. 404) said:
"The revelations of some holy women canonized by the Apostolic See whose
saying and writings in rapture and derived from rapture are filled with
St. Elizabeth of Schoenau had many revelations on historical subjects.
Imprudently she begged her guardian angel to get more of this for her,
especially on St. Ursula whose bones were just discovered. And she also
told her community to pray urgently for 17 days for that. Yet the
Bollandists said her visions are full of historical errors, even though
she demanded they be published in her lifetime. The works of St. Hildegard
contain many scientific errors, those prevalent in her day. Bl. Anna Maria
Taigi predicted a great temporal triumph for the Church - but it did not
come. She wrote on physics and medicine, with much error. St. Frances of
Rome claims she saw in a vision that the sky was made of crystal - a
belief common in her day. Mary of Agreda made the same error on a crystal
sky. She thought the 6 days of creation were 24 hrs. each. She even said
it was a sin not to believe her! So Pope Clement XIV, a Franciscan stopped
the process of her beatification on account of her book. Even Dominican
writers often reject the revelations of Alan de la Roche, though Alan
said, "May I be accursed if I have departed from the way of truth."
Benedict XIV ("On Heroic Virtue" III.53.#16) examines an ecstasy of 1377
of St. Catherine of Siena, in which the Blessed Virgin seems to deny the
Immaculate Conception. Benedict quotes some authors who try to blame
editors or directors. But it is very possibly her preconceived ideas -
Dominican opposition to Immaculate Conception - really caused the
4. A true revelation may later be altered involuntarily by the recipient.
This happens especially with intellectual locutions which need to be
translated into words. Again, God may seem to promise a cure without
saying if it is total or partial, sudden or slow, or even physical or
moral. Again if a revelation is received in an instant, but it takes long
to write it all down. St. Bridget admits such a thing in her own case.
5. Secretaries may alter without intending to do so: The accuracy of the
text is disputed in the works of Mary of Agreda, Catherine Emmerich, and
Mary Lataste. It has been shown that 32 passages from the latter have been
taken word for word from St. Thomas "Summa."
Similarly, compilers sometimes modify them. The first edition of Catherine
Emmerich had St. James the Elder present at the death of the Blessed
Virgin. When it was seen that this was incompatible with Acts of Apostles,
it was dropped from later editions.
Five Causes of False Revelations
1. Pure bad faith, fakery: Magdalen of the Cross was a Franciscan of
Cordova, born in 1487, entered convent at age of 17. From the age of 5 the
devil appeared to her as various Saints, led her to desire to be
considered a saint. At 13 he said who he was, offered an agreement: he
would spread her reputation for holiness, and give her at least 30 years
of pleasures. She agreed, and it all came true - ecstasies, levitation,
prophecies, simulated stigmata. At door of death she confessed. Exorcism
2. Over-active imagination: We said above that human faculties may mingle
with the divine action. They may imagine a saint is near them. They may
imagine intellectual locutions. Cf. St. John of Cross, "Ascent" II 29. St.
Teresa said ("Interior Castle" 6.6) that if one has once had a real
vision, they would recognize the deception.
Hallucinations can come from excess in abstinence, fasting, and vigils.
3. Illusion in thinking one remembers things that never happened: They may
imagine they have had visions. Some invent stories and convince themselves
- in good faith. Some relate trips to far lands where they have never
been. Line between imagination and reality is dim in young children - can
happen later too. This is not rare. If a director finds his advice has
little effect, there is reason for seeing illusion. Some make false
charges in courts in this way.
4. Devil may give false visions or revelations. We saw the case of
Magdalen of the Cross.
5. Predictions by falsifiers: Some make these at first for their own
amusement, then find they have a tiger by the tail. St. Bonaventure ("De
profectu religiosorum" III.76) said he was fed up with such things, on the
troubles of the Church and the end of the world. During the great Western
Schism at end of 14th century, there were many holy mortified men who had
false revelations, and even thought they would be the pope. At fifth
Lateran Council in 1516 Leo X had to publish an order prohibiting
preachers from giving public prophecies. There were many during the French
Revolution, clear and in detail on the past, vague on the future.
In 19th century there was an epidemic of prophecy especially on "the great
Pope and the great King" inspired by the 17th century commentary on the
Apocalypse by Ven Holzhauser. Pius IX in an Allocution of April 9, 1872
said: "I do not give much belief to prophecies, because those especially
that have come recently do not deserve to be read."
What degree of certainty or probability is possible?
1. When God so wills, He can give full certainty to the recipient. We can
also be sure of revelations given to another, e.g., the OT prophets, for
they furnished certain signs of their mission. This can be done by
miracles worked in a framework in which a tie is made between the miracle
and the claim.
2. Beyond this area, probability is the most that is attainable. We need
then to work with various signs. We should: (a) Get detailed information
on the person to whom the revelation seems to have been made; and on what
facts seem to have been revealed.
Often we must work by exclusion, i.e., show that it comes not from the
devil, nor from the human mind. But psychology still cannot give full
replies on some things that seem supernormal operations of the human mind:
hypnotism, somnambulism, telepathy, thought-reading, etc. For data on the
uncertainties of psychology see Richard M. Restak, [Neurologist in
Washington D.C.] "See no Evil. The Neurological defense would blame
violence on the damaged brain" in "The Sciences," July/August 1992, pp.
3. Inquiries to be made about the alleged recipient:
(1) If the person is canonized, the Church has already checked - but
canonization does not guarantee the truth of any supposed revelation given
to the Saint.
(2) If not canonized: (a)What are the natural qualities or defects,
physical, intellectual, and moral. Is he sincere, cool-headed, of sound
judgment, of perfect mental equilibrium. Or is his mind weakened by poor
health, vigils, fasts etc.
(b) Degree of education of the recipient - what books he has read, what
information he may have picked up from other more learned persons. Much
care is needed. Some say that Mary of Agreda was an ignorant girl. But she
could read, knew the Bible well, and Cardinal Gotti showed several of her
revelations were borrowed from a 15th century book, "The Raptures of
Blessed Amadeus." And she admits the help of theologians. Yet she said, in
exaggeration: "No human mind could have imagined this work" (III, # 789).
(c) What virtues does the person have? What was his general level before
and after the alleged revelation? If a great advance in holiness is seen,
and it seems to have come from the revelation, there is good probability
for the revelations. We think of the Fatima children. But if the seer has
stayed at the ordinary level of virtue, the visions come under some
suspicion, for would God use extraordinary means to lead to a merely
ordinary state of holiness? Exception: God might use an ordinary person to
help others. The message of Fatima for example would have ample
justification even if the children had not become holy: this message God
wanted given to the world. And the three things asked for are
theologically sound and called for independently of any revelation.
(d) We need to watch out for the work of satan - he may really promote
good things for a while, provided that in the long run he gains. The
revelations of Necedah seemed to have good fruits, yet were false.
Rosaries were said to change to gold. Similarly for Bayside. But
disobedience showed them false. St. Margaret Mary was told not to do
something a vision had ordered. She consulted Our Lord next time:
"Therefore not only do I desire that you should do what your Superior
command, but also that you should do nothing of all that I command without
their consent. I love obedience, and without it no one can please me."
("Autobiography" # 47). He also told her (ibid. # 57): "Listen, My
Daughter, and do not lightly believe and trust every spirit, for satan is
angry and will try to deceive you. So do nothing without the approval of
those who guide you. Being thus under the authority of obedience, his
efforts against you will be in vain, for he has no power over the
Sometimes satan urges people to immoderate penances, so that they will in
time give up. He may make contemplatives desire the active life, or vice
versa. Blessed Jordan of Saxony, second General of Dominicans, contracted
a high fever. He had a prior skilled in medicine who told him to sleep on
a soft bed. But satan appeared to Jordan in the night and rebuked his
self-indulgence. Jordan gave into this two nights. But the third night
Jordan saw that he should obey his doctor, and so did. Jordan had
previously put himself under obedience to the doctor.
(e) Humility is a major key. Satan has the greatest horror of it. Cf. the
above words of Our Lord to St. Margaret Mary. - Yet satan can lead a
person to false humility. Pride shows in contempt for others, in an
independent spirit as to Superior and director, in obstinacy in opinions,
in refusal to submit to examinations (cf. Teresa Neumann), in anger. It
shows too in desiring to publish the graces the person thinks he has
received - when it is not necessary. Humility leads to wanting to hide
them, except in cases of real usefulness.
(f) Has the person claimed revelations before? Made predictions that were
fulfilled? If there was no reason to suppose the failed predictions were
conditional, then they will seem not of divine origin.
(g) Has the recipient suffered great trials before or after the
revelation, such as sicknesses, contradictions, lack of success.
Extraordinary graces are very likely to bring great trials, as St. Teresa
of Avila remarked, (cited above), in "Interior Castle" 6.9. It is
specially likely that the recipient will encounter skepticism or
hostility. Bl. Juliana of Liege was chosen by God to establish the Feast
of the Blessed Sacrament. Visions on it began two years after her entering
the novitiate at age 16 in 1208. Only 22 years later did she dare to
submit her project to some learned theologians, who approved it, but her
enemies got revenge by pillaging her convent. In 1256 the Bishop of Liege
established the Feast in one parish in his diocese, but died the same
year. The convent again pillaged. She was calumniated, forced to leave the
convent, wandered during the last 20 years of her life, and died at age 66
after fruitless work for 50 years. Finally Pope Urban IV established the
feast a century since the start of the revelations.
Yet not always do such things happen. St. Catherine Labouré had early
success with the Miraculous Medal.
(h) Has the recipient been fearful of deception, open to Superiors or
Director, and never desired revelations? St. Teresa of Avila was told in
a vision to found a reformed Carmelite house, but yet did nothing until
she had consulted four advisors ("Autobiography" 32). Mary of Agreda is
quite the opposite. St. Ignatius in his rules for first Week, 13 says
satan tries to keep the person from being open. St. Monica as St.
Augustine reports desired revelations about his coming marriage - they
were false ("Confessions" 6.13). So if a revelation has been desired that
alone makes it doubtful. This is especially so if answers of pure
curiosity are desired or answers to scholastic questions. Mary of Agreda
was imprudent here, and was encouraged in imprudence by her confessors.
(i) It is probably good to employ the testimony of expert psychologists as
to ecstatic states etc. However, psychology is not so solid and exact a
science that absolute trust should be placed in their results.
Further Points to be Checked
1. Do we have an entirely authentic text? Some things have been suppressed
or corrected in some cases. There may also have been additions.
2. Is the teaching in full accord with the teachings of the Church and
with the certain conclusions of history and of science? If free from all
errors, this need not prove it is of divine origin. But also, since there
can be mixtures in private revelations, one false teaching need not lead
us to conclude that all points are false.
3. Is there a revelation of the vices and sins of others? This does not
always prove a revelation is false, but calls for careful checking. Some
Saints have had a knowledge of the secrets of hearts, which helped in
reforming souls: St. Joseph of Cupertino, St. Catherine of Siena, St.
John Vianney. St. John of the Cross, in "Ascent" II.26 warns that satan at
times will make false revelations of the sins of others. Further,
sometimes seeming knowledge is only the result of imagination. The Secret
of Melanie of La Salette has harsh accusations on clergy and religious in
the period 1840 to 1865 - historically untrue. It was the time of Pius IX,
St. John Bosco, St. John Vianney.
4. Is the information useful for salvation of souls? If it is merely to
satisfy curiosity it is unlikely to be of divine origin. Some seeming
seers act like mediums, give information on births, marriages, legal
processes, diseases, political events etc. God does not run an Inquiry
Office. Some are very clever at observing and can work with little things.
Seances often push furniture about and cause vibrations in musical
instruments etc. God does not do these things. If a revelation claims to
solve a theological problem, it is suspect. Also are revelations that
merely give truisms are suspect.
A large abundance of revelations taken alone does not disprove. We have
cases like this in St. Bridget, St. Gertrude, St. Frances of Rome, St.
Catherine of Siena, St. Margaret Mary, St. Ignatius and others.
5. Is all in accord with the dignity and gravity of the Divine Majesty?
Some alleged revelations descend into vulgar speech. If there is neurotic
exaltation and crowds weeping over their sins as at revivals, it is at
least suspect. Satan at times appears taking repulsive shapes. On the
other hand, St. Frances of Rome once saw 6 devils in the form of 6
beautiful doves - when she saw through it, they changed to crows and tried
to harm her. Satan at times takes on the appearance of Christ Himself.
6. Are there sentiments of peace of disquiet? St. Ignatius considers this
sign important. The good Spirit may cause momentary disquiet, but then
brings peace. It is the opposite with satan. But the peace alone will not
prove the words are divine.
7. Revelations to direct princes or clergy are suspect: Mary of Agreda
kept up correspondence with Philip IV of Spain for 20 years. The King
divided his sheets of paper into two columns so she could comment in the
opposite column. But the comments are mostly commonplace, with general
advice anyone could have given. She had no comments on the King's relaxed
morality and his culpable carelessness on things for which he was
Rules of St. Ignatius
l. To sinners, devil proposes pleasures to hold them; the good spirit
stirs conscience with remorse for sins.
2. In souls that have sincerely returned to God, devil causes sadness,
torment of conscience. Good spirit gives courage, energy, good thoughts.
3. Spiritual consolations come from a good spirit: a) when they arouse
fervor; 2) when they cause tears that are a true expression of interior
sorrow and love; 3) when they increase faith, hope, love, and bring quiet
4. As to spiritual desolation or inclination of soul to lower things, when
these come we must not make any change as to good resolutions previously
formed -- value of a private rule; We should take advantage of them to
grow in fervor, and rely on divine help, even though it is not felt. We
must be patient. We should realize that desolation may be punishment for
5. In time of consolation gather strength for time of desolation.
6. Devil is weak in the face of resistance, but fiery and cruel to those
who yield. He tries to keep the victim from disclosing things to the
spiritual director. He attacks the person at his weakest point: so check
on that in examination of conscience.
COMMENTS: 1. Both aridity and consolation can be good or bad. God often
sends consolations at the second conversion, to help soul break with
things of world. But this should not continue, or one may love the
consolations of God rather than the God of consolations as St. Francis de
Sales said. "Introduction" 4.13, St. John of the Cross, in "Ascent" 3.39.1
compares consolations to toys. He says if a baby picks up a sharp knife,
we do not take it away from him, but instead, dangle a toy before him, so
he will drop the knife. God uses consolations this way, to detach souls
from this world. Satan may tempt a soul that is having consolations to
spiritual pride, to thinking it is a Saint. Or in dryness he may tempt to
pride again, to make the soul say: I am a strong soul, I do not need
Further, aridity may come from the person's fault, or merely from sluggish
bodily dispositions. And some by temperament are more inclined to emotion
than others- cf. St. Augustine who in his "Confessions" 9. 4, tells his
emotional state after his conversion when he recited Psalm 4.
Yet, God has myriad ways to lead souls to Himself. So although some
authors, e.g., Garrigou-Lagrange, think that infused contemplation is a
necessary feature of the growth of a soul, yet, at least the sweet forms
of contemplation, seem not necessary. Here are some statements from St.
Therese of Lisieux, and St. Francis de Sales, which seem to imply that
aridity is the more normal state for many souls:
St. Therese of Lisieux, "Autobiography" (Cap 13, p. 196, Kenedy edition):
"Do not think that I am overwhelmed with consolations. Far from it! My joy
consists in being deprived of all joy here on earth. Jesus does not guide
me openly: I neither see nor hear Him."
St. Therese of Lisieux "Poem:" "I know that at Nazareth, Virgin full of
graces/ You lived in great poverty, not wishing anything more; No
raptures, no miracles, no ecstasies/ embellished your life, O Queen of the
elect./ The number of little ones is very great upon the earth./ They can,
without trembling, lift up their eyes to you. /It pleases you to walk
among the common way,/ Incomparable Mother, to guide them to the heavens."
St. Francis de Sales, Letter 764 to St. Jane de Chantal: "It is the height
of holy disinterestedness to be content with naked, dry, and insensible
acts carried out by the superior will alone. You have expressed your
suffering well to me and there is nothing to do to remedy it but what you
are doing: affirming to our Lord, sometimes aloud and sometimes in song,
that you even will to live and to eat as the dead do, without taste,
feeling or knowledge. In the end, the Savior wants us to be His so
perfectly that nothing else remains for us, and to abandon ourselves
entirely to the mercy of His providence without reservation."
2. For certain, it is not good to center one's spiritual life around
apparitions especially those had by others. Growth in holiness consists
essentially in the alignment of our will with the will of God. Somatic
resonance develops gradually, and hence such progress is necessarily
gradual, except in instances of great strain, when and if one really does
accept the will of God heartily, there can be a large advance, instead of
the usual small advances. And we should remember, the divine presence in
the tabernacle is beyond doubt real. And the Mass is greater than any
alleged apparition. In this connection we recall too the strong words of
St. John of the Cross saying that to wish to see is to go in the direction
opposite to faith: Blessed are they who have not seen and have believed.
3. Comments on some major apparitions of the past, such as the Scapular
vision, and the Sacred Heart revelations, and on some specific apparitions
of our own day.
4. We might sum up characteristics thus: 1) Signs of the spirit of God:
fits with teaching of Church; serious; gives light to the soul, docility,
discretion: no hurriedness or exaggerations; humble thoughts; confidence
in God, rightness of intention, patience in suffering, self-denial,
sincerity and simplicity in conduct, no attachments not even to the gifts,
great desire to imitate Christ in all things (a very strong sign),
gentleness, kindness; 2) Signs of the evil spirit: (the opposite of the
above - spirit of falseness or lie, suggestion of useless things, curious
things, impertinent things, darkness, restlessness in the soul, a bold,
obstinate spirit, many indiscretions, pride, lack of hope, disobedience,
vanity, self-satisfaction, impatience, rebellion of the passions,
hypocrisy, pretense, attachment to earthly things, forgetfulness of Christ
and of imitating him, a false charity including bitter zeal, indiscretion.
Supplement: Appearances compared to revelation
Either one, revelation or vision, may come without the other. There are
three kinds of appearances:
1) Sensory or corporeal: The senses perceive a real object which is
normally invisible. Need not be a real human body that is seen - may be a
sensory or luminous form, or God or His agent may produce that image on
the eyes of the one who sees the vision.
Note on Eucharistic visions: St. Thomas III 76.8 holds that Jesus does not
appear in visible form in His real body since the Ascension. The
appearances may come: (a) by His working on the exterior senses (usually
when only one person sees the vision), so that there is nothing there in
external reality. (b) There is something in external reality, but in the
case of the Eucharist, there is a change in the figure, color etc. of the
accidents of the Real Presence. (This is usual when more than one person
sees or when the apparition continues and even is exhibited in a shrine).-
St. Teresa of Avila, "Relations" XV (Peers edition I pp. 341-42) seems to
agree with St. Thomas: "From some of the things He said to me, I learned
that, since ascending into the heavens, He had never come down to earth
again to communicate Himself to anyone, except in the Most Holy
Sacrament." - But others thinks there is a real presence, especially when
He appears in proximity to the Sacred Host (cf. also the words cited above
for St. Teresa, "except in the Most Holy Sacrament". When elsewhere, some
think it is merely moral presence - others think there is a physical
presence, and cite the case of St. Anthony kissing the Infant Jesus - a
scene witnessed by the owner of the house where it happened: Cf. Poulain,
"Graces of Interior Prayer," pp. 315-16. On visions in general, cf.
Poulain, pp. 301-02, and Royo Marin, "Teología de la Perfección
Cristiana," pp. 815-19, A. Tanquerey, "The Spiritual Life," pp. 701-02.
The same principles would apply to visions of the Blessed Virgin - and we
note the varied images in which she appears.
2) Imaginative visions: produced in the imagination by God or angels or
Saints, during sleep or when awake. Often an intellectual vision
accompanies, which explains the meaning. -- These can be produced in three
ways: (1) Awakening of images already present in memory, (2) Supernatural
combination of such images held in memory, (3) Newly infused images.-- the
devil can work in the first two ways, not in the third.
Such visions may come in sleep or while awake. May deal with things past
or future as well as present. Cf. the case of the dreams of Joseph the
patriarch. They may also be symbolic.
3) Intellectual visions: There is no sensory image present in these, the
effect is directly supernatural on the intellect. There will be more
clarity and force than what one would have from the natural powers. May
come by way of ideas already acquired but coordinated or modified by God,
or through infused ideas. The visions may be obscure, manifesting only the
presence of the object, or they may be clear.
These intellectual visions may last a long time, days, weeks, even years.
Cf. St. Teresa, "Interior Castle" 6.8.3. The effects may include profound
understanding or love. They are apt to bring absolute certitude that they
come from God: cf. St.Teresa, "Life," 27.5.
Combinations: In the Damascus road instance, Paul saw with his eyes a
sensory vision, with his imagination he saw Ananias coming to him, in his
mind he understood God's will.
Three kinds of revelations:
(Preliminary: distinguish public, found in Scripture and Tradition,
completed when last Apostle died and NT was finished. Cf. "Dei verbum" # 4
- and private revelations: all else).
1) Auricular: A sound is produced in the air by a good or evil spirit.
They may seem to come from a vision.
2) Imaginary: This does not mean false, but rather, a locution not
perceived by the ears but by the power of image making. May be received
while asleep or awake, and may come from God or a good or bad angel. The
fruits produced in the soul - if one examines all fruits, not just some --
can see if the source is good or bad. Satan can afford to produce some
seeming good fruits, if in the long run he can get evil results, such as
disobedience to the Church over alleged visions, or pride, or may suggest
great projects, beyond the ability of the soul, which will later give up
3) Intellectual: Impressed directly on the mind, with no images received
in senses or imagination. There are three classes, according to St. John
of the Cross - whom others follow ("Ascent of Mt. Carmel" II.28-31):
successive, formal, substantial.
1) Successive: These are formed by the soul, reasoning, with much
facility, especially during meditation. They are the combined effect of
the soul and the Holy Spirit. Illusion and error are quite possible here.
St. John of Cross in II.39.4 says sometimes pure heresy can come in,
created by the imagination of the soul or by the devil.
2) Formal: These seem to come from outside, whereas the successive seem to
originate within the soul, even though the Holy Spirit may have a part in
producing them. They, unlike the successive, may come even when one is
distracted: thus the exterior origin is known. Illusion by the devil is
Substantial: Same as formal, but they produce in the soul the effects they
signify, e.g, if God says to the soul: be quiet, be humble. Royo Marin,
op. cit, p. 821, thinks no illusion possible in such a case.
Note:1) These locutions and visions belong to the category of "gratiae
gratis datae" or charismatic, and "per se" are not necessary for spiritual
growth of the soul, even though "per accidens" they may aid it. They do
not even prove a soul is in the state of grace: cf. Mt 7:22-23. But one
should not desire these -- danger of self-deception or devilish deception.
St. Teresa of Avila warns ("Interior Castle" 6.9), cited above, warns of