"Private" Revelation and Medjugorje
Date: July 20, 2005 , Originally published November 10, 2001
Author: Dr. fra Ljudevit Rupcic, OFM
Category: Medjugorje in the Catholic Church , Theology reports , Priests of Medjugorje
Content of the article
"Private" Relevation and Medjugorje
The term "private" revelations has already for a long time become customary in theology. In contrast to it is public revelation. However, public revelation would be the one given in the Bible, and private the one given apart from the Bible. Accordingly, it would be more justifiable to speak of biblical and extra-biblical revelation. Assigning a greater honour and significance to the biblical than to the other has no real reason whatsoever. Because if they are both true, if they both come from God, according to their origin they are both divine and equally valuable. Both, the one and the other, God intends for people and wants them to accept both of them. Otherwise, there would be no reason for him to speak at all. If there may be some justifiable difference between them, it can never be in the sense that one is obligatory and the other is not. They are both obligatory. For every one that has been reached by them and for the one who has attained sufficient reasons and moral security regarding their authenticity, both of them oblige equally.
Revelation contained in the Bible is called "the canon," that is, the rule of faith. The authenticity of every other revelation is in some way measured according to it. First of all, everything that might be contrary to that revelation would be unauthentic or false. Accordingly, the biblical revelation provides the guarantee of certainty, and that in a negative way, the contrary revelation is false. Moreover, the authenticity of biblical revelation is guaranteed by the church's magisterium to which the Holy Spirit is given by Christ in order to preserve that revelation faithfully and to interpret it infallibly. For the extra-biblical revelation, the magisterium does not have that authority directly, but indirectly. That means that, if it would establish that an extra-biblical revelation is contrary to the biblical, it would be certain that it is not at all authentically divine. Because, "for even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel not in accord with the one we delivered to you, let a curse be upon him!" (Gal 1:8). On the other hand, if the Church's magisterium would in any way even affirm a extra-biblical revelation, one would not be obliged just by that to accept it as authentic. If one has his own reasons, he must accept it with fide divina. But if one does not have his own reasons, he can either reject it or doubt it. In that case, a person is not obliged fide catholica.
The history of the Church witnesses that it has always had extra-biblical revelations. According to their structure and form, they are equal to biblical revelation and are regularly connected with apparitions or visions. Usually it was Jesus appearing, angels and saints. But in recent times, it is most frequently the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Locutions [auditiones] are also connected to visions. The most recent apparitions of the Blessed Virgin in La Salette, Lourdes, Fatima and Medjugorje confirm that. The visionaries, in addition to seeing Our Lady, also hear her messages, which usually call to conversion, prayer, especially the rosary, and penance. Thereby they all the more direct toward the renewal and flourishing of Church life rather than giving some new truth of the faith.
No one can close God's mouth. He has not finished his conversation nor his revelation to people. It goes on continuously in the Church and the world in different ways. God's speech, in a broader sense, takes the form of vision or at least no one can dispute that. Therefore, extra-biblical revelations are not only possible but actual. The Spirit of God whom Christ has sent to the Church constantly reminds it of the words of Jesus and leads it into all truth (John 16:13). He does not accomplish this just through the hierarchy, but also through charisms and their bearers because the Church is not only hierarchical but also charismatic. That is why the Holy Spirit is not bound to the hierarchy, but vice versa. He is free and breathes wherever he wills. He gives incentives to the Church and leads the Church also through charismatics. Neither the hierarchy nor charismatics can usurp to themselves the exclusive right to speak and act in the name of the Holy Spirit. Their ministries originate from the same Spirit and must be harmonized. Therefore, neither the hierarchy nor the Church must be self-satisfied and indifferent toward visions, apparitions and revelations. The hierarchy must not only not reject them, nor merely tolerate them, but it must both accept and foster them. Otherwise, it would be rejecting the Spirit himself.
Vision and revelation belong to the prophetic charism of which the Church cannot be lacking and that, not because some new doctrine or truth would be necessary after biblical revelation, but because a new light is necessary, a better understanding of that same doctrine or truth and, especially, because a new direction and impetus for human activity is necessary.
A critical posture toward extra-biblical revelation has been expressed more or less throughout entire history. With the beginning of modern times, greater and more numerous debates on them have begun. According to them, the best sign of authenticity of extra-biblical revelation and vision is their agreement with biblical revelation. If that is affirmed, the content of extra-biblical revelation, which surpasses the capabilities of the visionaries, speak much in its favour. In that, the mental and physical health of the subject plays an important role. Personal holiness and the state of grace contribute to its authenticity even though they are not indispensable. In principle, even great moral defects are not an obstacle to the authenticity of the revelation. Moral heroism of the subject of the vision contributes positively to the authenticity of the truth. In that, attending circumstances also mean something, although accompanying errors are not necessarily considered a negative criterion. These internal criteria are accompanied by the external: miracle and approval of the Church. Involvement in some controversial question and political matter speaks against the authenticity of the vision because visions serve the kingdom of God and not curiosity and some purpose entirely of this world.
Extra-biblical revelations, in general, do not bring any new truths, but perhaps just a better recognition of the biblically revealed truths and all the more certainly the demand for a better and more urgent application of biblical revelation on a particular position of the Church or individual groups within it. In general, they want to inspire people to faith and conversion and thus, to bring them to salvation. They are rather requests and incentives than assertions. Their purpose is to direct the behaviour of people toward God. In that sense, St. Thomas of Aquinas says, "When there are no more revelations, people will be without guidance" (Summa II-II. q 174 a.6). This is the reason there have always been prophets in the Church who admittedly, did not proclaim some new doctrine, but gave direction to human activity. The same St. Thomas of Aquinas emphasizes, "Revelation is given for the benefit of the Church" (Summa II-II. q 172 a.4). It calls to a more authentic Christian life and points toward the necessity and the means that are of a higher priority. It is heaven's response to particular questions of the times and it thereby helps more than any intellectual and theological endeavours.
Since extra-biblical revelations are extraordinary and conspicuous, they usually produce more attention than the ordinary proclamation of biblical truths and Church directives and they act as "shock therapy." It is well known that the apparitions in Lourdes, Fatima and Medjugorje intensified devotion and they have awakened spiritual life throughout the world. They contributed a great deal to the renewal of confession and reverence for the Eucharist.
Too great an emphasis on extra-biblical revelation in place of the gospel would not be healthy or normal. Biblical revelation takes preference but extra-biblical must not be rejected, simply because it also comes from God and because with it God wants to say something to man. That is why both cases God's word is obligatory.