Discernment of Sprits
Fr. William 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 spirit, auto-suggestion.
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 all Three.)
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 similarly.
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:
- 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)
- 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 promote disobedience.
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" II 575-88.
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:
é 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)
- 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 Saint's preaching.
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
- 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
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. Bridget disagree.
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.
- Human action may mingle with the divine action: St. Catherine Labour
"The revelations of some holy women canonized by the Apostolic See whose saying and writings in rapture and derived from rapture are filled with errors."
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 "vision".
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.
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
- 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 was needed.
- 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
Hallucinations can come from excess in abstinence, fasting, and vigils.
- 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.
- Devil may give false visions or revelations. We saw the case of Magdalen of the Cross.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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. 16-21.
- Inquiries to be made about the alleged recipient:
é had early success with the Miraculous
- 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.
- 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.
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).
- 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.
- 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 obedient."
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Labour
(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.
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
- Do we have an entirely authentic text? Some things have been suppressed or corrected in some cases. There may also have been additions.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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 responsible.
Rules of St. Ignatius
- To sinners, devil proposes pleasures to hold them; the good spirit stirs conscience with remorse for sins.
- In souls that have sincerely returned to God, devil causes sadness, torment of conscience. Good spirit gives courage, energy, good thoughts.
- Spiritual consolations come from a good spirit:
- when they arouse fervor;
- when they cause tears that are a true expression of interior sorrow and love;
- when they increase faith, hope, love, and bring quiet and peace.
- 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 lukewarmness.
- In time of consolation gather strength for time of desolation.
- 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.
- 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 consolations.
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."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
de la Perfección Cristiana," pp. 815-19, A. Tanquerey, "The Spiritual Life," pp. 701-02.
- 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, "Teolog
The same principles would apply to visions of the Blessed Virgin - and we note the varied images in which she appears.
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:
- Awakening of images already present in memory,
- Supernatural combination of such images held in memory,
- 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.
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
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).
- Auricular: A sound is produced in the air by a good or evil spirit. They may seem to come from a vision.
- 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 all effort.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 possible here.
- 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.
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 dangers.
"No one can go off and start up his own church and call it Roman Catholic."
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