Sunday, August 10, 2008

Exclusion and Private Revelation

Courts exist as truth-finding bodies. One of the primary tools for determining the truth is to carefully control the pieces of information, or evidence, that are presented to the "finder of fact" for consideration. Is the fact-finder allowed to know that the defendant committed the same crime of which he is accused years before? That the witness has a history of lying? Often evidence will be excluded because its 'probative value is outweighed by its prejudicial effect'. That is, it makes for a greater hindrance in the truth-seeking process than it is a help. If evidence that should have been excluded is admitted, you have a mistrial on your hands, and need a new, untainted fact-finder.

Stuck in this mindset as I am, I often consider parallels or analogies between what is done at law, and what is done by the Christian Church.

The Catholic Church asserts that it (or she) does not consider private revelation in reaching its general doctrines. Its Catechism says that private revelations, even if recognized by the Church "do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith" (Para. 67). While general (public) revelation "ended with the preaching of the Apostles and must be believed by all," the Church imposes no obligation on the faithful to believe private revelations (Catholic Encyclopedia, Private Revelations).

The skeptic in me wonders whether this is so, or if the Catholic Church has (rather) imposed private revelations on the faithful via the back door, as influential evidence in the formation of a general doctrine or dogma. (I admit I am being a skeptic, which entails my skepticism of the Catholic claim that the Holy Spirit preserves the Church from error -- Lord willing, I will overcome my skepticism soon.)

In writing this post, I tried to give a few examples that had come to mind related to the more famous Marian apparitions and the two most recently proclaimed Marian dogmas. In both instances, I had my factual chronology mistaken -- the private revelations I had in mind occurred just after the proclamations were given by the Church. I take that as a sign against my premise of the influence of private revelation, but would appreciate any contributions noting where private-revelation-induced popular support for a dogma possibly led to a dogmatic formulation. Toward the contrary, I welcome any contributions noting how my premise is false.

I believe what drives my inquiry here is my difficulty with the claim that Catholics can disbelieve any particular private revelation, in light of the widespread and official use of things like the image of Mary from Guadalupe. It seems these private events have been subsumed into the psyche of the Catholic faithful. I suppose psyche does not equal regula fidei...


Anonymous said...

I don't really know enough to give a full answer to your question regarding private revelations, but I have a few thoughts about Our Lady of Guadalupe that I hope might be of help to you.

No matter of Doctrine rests on the apparition at the hill of Tepeyac. St. Juan Diego was instructed to tell the Bishop to build a church on the spot, and miracles were provided to validate the request. The famous image itself is ascribed to a miracle. Now, there is nothing binding a Catholic to believe whether the image is a miracle or not, though I myself believe the reports.

The historical effects of the apparition have been immense, especially in regards to the spread of Christianity through Central and South America. The apparition served as a sign to the Aztec people, and made them more receptive to the Gospel. It is in honor of this historical and cultural heritage that the Virgin of Guadalupe is venerated throughout Latin America and the US, not merely it's miraculous origin. It also helps that it is a very beautiful icon.

Pax et bonum,
Sam Urfer

Thos said...


Thank you for your kind comment. The church built on that hill, that is, but would not be but for the private revelation, is a good one to ponder. It is not doctrine, but a building, so I realize it is not 'binding' on the faithful. But how are Catholics who do not believe in that private revelation supposed to feel when they go there to worship (and I think that's a bit tongue-in-cheek, as I doubt there are any such disbelieving worshippers)?

A guess a lot of my anxiety about these things is driven by my belief that *something* of a spiritual nature is happening in many (if not all) of these approved events. I don't think the receiver of such messages was just high, crazy, or lying. That leaves me with thinking the messages are true, or they were given by the deceiver (I hope I don't offend). Here I try to keep in mind the rule, "you shall know a tree by its fruit". In that light, I appreciate your noting how Guadalupe helped spread Christianity throughout Central and South America. I saw the image used by a culture group when I lived in San Diego, and it was not used in a heavily religious way (e.g., it would appear prominently on the hood of a low-rider). From that experience, I got the impression that this image was some kind of good luck charm (bad fruit). But you remind me that it has a much older and prouder pedigree (as fruit).

Peace in Christ,

Tim A. Troutman said...

As for the good luck charm, the same thing could be said of the cross.

Guadalupe is probably the hardest apparition for me to believe.

Anonymous said...

A useful illustration with the use of the image as a cultural marker is how many Americans treat the flag. It can often be cheesy, tacky, and downright degrading, but it stems from a deep love of the history the symbol stands for.

TheDen said...


I don't think it's possible for an approved apparition to conflict with Church doctrine.

The reason why is because the Church will not approve an apparition until after they have ceased and verified that nothing said conflicts with Church doctrine.

So, after they review and conclude that nothing revealed goes against Church doctrine and a thorough investigation has been performed will they announce it as an official "private revelation" which usually occurs a 50 to a 100 years later.

The Church, however, holds that all official revelation was revealed by the Apostles so any private revelation after that must be in line with the Apostolic Tradition (with a Capital 'T')

Some examples of what we choose to believe: In Fatima, Mary talks about the war and other items about the world at that time. We can choose to believe what she says or does not say.

If she gives the Rosary to St. Dominic, that's something we can choose to believe or pray. The rosary is not Church doctrine, it's a discipline and a tradition (with a small 't'.)

I think the easiest way to understand this is to consider that the Church has never officially given a view on Predestination. I have the "freedom" to pick between Molinism or Thomism (or some other idea about Predestination that would be considered Scripturally valid) and would be considered within the boundaries of the Church.

If Mary were to appear to me and say, "The Molinists are wrong about Predestination." Well, the Church can still call it a valid apparition but I can choose to believe she was right or wrong about her view on Molinism--unless the Church decides to issue a doctrine on Predestination which still adheres to Apostolic Tradition.

The Church is the authority and not a private apparition.

Gil Garza said...

Certainly one should agree that a visit from a heavenly person is possible. Such a visit can only be religiously binding on the person who was visited because public revelation ceased with the death of the last apostle. The Church is the custodian of public revelation and seeks to defend the deposit of faith. In this regard, the vast majority of so-called apparitions are repudiated by ecclesiastical authority. Some are tolerated. Local bishops always have jurisdiction in these matters. In a few cases, Commissions of Inquiry have been established to assist local bishops to reach a decision regarding the veracity of the heavenly visit. “Apparitions or revelations have neither been approved nor condemned by the Apostolic See, but it has been permitted piously to believe them merely with human faith…” (St. Pius X, Pascendi).

Thos said...

Theden and Gil,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I think I generally had grasped what you said, but need to sort through it. Again, if I can get over my skepticism enough to trust the Church's authority claims, I will be good to go. In the mean, I ponder wether 'nothing-conflicts-with-Tradition' private revelations could add to general (public) revelation. I grant (wholeheartedly) that if it is given that the Church is preserved from error in faith and morals, this is not possible. But if you could permit my skepticism for a breath, what if Mary appeared and said "the grace you have received is working infallibly toward your salvation, as it does for all the elect"? That does not *conflict* with church teaching, as Theden has noted (assume my statement was an accurate expression of Thomistic predestination thought, and excuse me if it wasn't). So the church can approve the apparition, without absorbing it into Tradition (big T), since it was not general (public) revelation. Here's the skepticism I had: what if big popular movements break out Church-wide celebrating Our Lady of ____ and her expression in support of Thomism -- and what if a few years later the Church dogmatically pronounced Thomism the winner? It would then (in a very hypothetical situation) seem like church teaching had been influenced by private revelation, binding on all the faithful.

But let me say it myself - I think I've gotten a bit silly with this. I stewed up the idea while thinking that "I am the Immaculate Conception" had preceded the declaration to that effect by the church. It turns out I was wrong, and in sweet fashion (that the girl who was told that would have no way of knowing the Church had declared it only a few years prior).

I appreciate your comments on this. I think (hope) it helps me to talk about it a bit, and get more comfortable with it.

Peace in Christ,