Over on his blog, the gentleman known by the fictional sobriquet Turretinfan posted an article entitled Lourdes and “Worthy of Belief” Fictions critical the Catholic Church’s teachings on private revelations. Mr. Fan chose to write this particular article in response to comments I had made on his blog in response to some remarks of one “louis.” louis asked:
Perhaps I should have given a more detailed answer, but the reply I gave was:
But does your church believe this story [the story of "St. Philomena"] is true? Or are they saying that even if this vision [revelation that Maria Luisa di Gesù, a Roman Catholic nun, claimed she received] is a delusional lie (a false sign or wonder), then it is still "not contrary to the Catholic faith", and may still be used to express devotion to this saint?
Hi louis, The Church does not offer an opinion as to whether it is true or not because we, as individual Catholics, are not required to accept as true a private revelation made to a private individual as true as such do not belong to the deposit of faith. What the Church has said is that a person may accept the revelation as true if they wish without danger to their soul. [CCC 67] We recognize that such revelations are devotional in nature, not doctrinal.Apparently Mr. Fan did not like this response. Since he could not have his way with Saint Philomena anymore, he decided to pick on little Saint Bernadette Soubirous. I was bit reluctant to reply his latest article would take me away from finishing up my posts on whether Catholics worship Mary, but because of the remarkable superficiality of the Mr. Fan’s article and specifically because he sought to use my words to attack the Church that Christ Himself founded to which I belong and love, I felt it necessary to offer a detailed response. I do not intend to respond to each and every remark he has made in his article, particularly the remarks he made about Pope Benedict XVI and his actions at Lourdes as well as the claim that Catholics worship Mary since I am addressing it elsewhere. However, I will address his criticism of the Church’s treatment of miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary and other private revelations. At the outset, I do want it known that based on my own personal investigations of the matter, I believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary did appear to Saint Bernadette. Thus, I will be writing from standpoint of belief rather than disbelief.
Mr. Fan starts out:
The RCC is a little unusual in this regard. In some cases, things are written off as frauds. In other cases, things are indicated as being, in essence, believable or "worthy of belief." For example, people are permitted to believe that something miraculous happened at Lourdes, but a person is not required to believe that.For starters, Mr. Fan does not state why he feels the Catholic Church’s treatment of private revelations is a “little unusual” given the fact that at least some Calvinists, called continuationists, feel apparently free to believe that God continues to distribute the biblical gifts of miracles, etc. And it is interesting that he does not discuss how his church handles such matters, so we do not have a baseline of usualness, so-to-speak, to judge the accuracy of Mr. Fan’s assessment that the way the Catholic Church handles private revelation is a “little unusual.” So while Mr. Fan feels compelled by his Calvinist tradition of men to attack all things Catholic, he doesn’t quite seem to know how to do so here. Let me help.
The Catholic faith teaches that there are two types of revelation. Universal or public revelations are those contained in the Scriptures or in the Apostolic deposit of faith transmitted by the Church. As with our separated brethren, the Catholic Church holds that universal and public revelation was completed and ceased upon the death of the last apostle. See, Vatican II, Dei Verbum 4; Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 65. Accordingly, all such revelation is binding on all Christians.
With that being said, it should be noted that while public revelation has ceased, the Catholic Church does not hold that everything that has been revealed has been fully understood. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the full significance of public revelation comes to be gradually understood by the Church. See, CCC 66. Now Mr. Fan interposes an object later in his posting that the words “Immaculate Conception” do not appear in Scripture. Likewise he will claim that the doctrine is unscriptural as well. I will merely state at this point that Mr. Fan would be right that the words “Immaculate Conception” do not appear in Scripture. Just like the words “Holy Trinity” do not appear in the Scriptures. However, just because the words are not found there, it does not mean that the Church can not come to understand that certain Scripture passages are to be understood in such a way that defines a doctrine. Thus, while a doctrine such as the Immaculate Conception is not explicitly explained in the Scriptures, nevertheless, the Church over time came to a better understanding of the Scriptures that certain passages of Scripture, such as Gen. 3:15; Lk. 1:28; and Rev. 11:19-12:2, are to be interpreted to as proof of same.
The second type of revelation is private revelation. As I correctly noted in my comment to “louis,” individual Catholics are not required to accept the verity of any particular private revelation. However, for the sake of clarity, I want to make it clear that it is also understood that a true private revelation is binding upon the person who receives it or the person to whom such revelation is directed.
The reason for this is simple: the Magisterium of the Church has the charism of infallibility only when Scriptures and the Apostolic deposit of faith (Tradition), in mutual interdependence, form the foundation for a dogma, whether solemnly defined by an ecumenical council, by an ex cathedra pronouncement of the Pope, or by the universal ordinary Magisterium which is the constant preaching and teaching (sensus fidelium) of the Church as a whole. Because private revelation is not contained in the Scriptures or in the Apostolic deposit of faith, the certitude that can be reached as a result of investigating apparitions and private revelations can never have the certitude of divine faith.
In 1734, Pope Benedict XIV writes in his encyclical, Concerning the Beatification and Canonization of Servants of God:
" Even though many of these revelations have been approved, we cannot and we ought not to give them the assent of divine faith, but only that of human faith, according to the dictates of prudence whenever these dictates enable us to decide that they are worth of pious credence.” (De canon., III, liii, xxii, II)
hen private revelations, such as Lourdes, have been approved by the Church, this only means that they do not contain anything contrary to faith and morals and that there is sufficient factual evidence to justify belief in the authenticity that the private revelation occurred. The Church does not and can not impose belief in a private revelation and its contents on the faithful at large. This is the public revelation of Scripture and the Apostolic deposit of faith is all sufficient for one’s salvation and because nothing contained in private revelation could be necessary for salvation. No Catholic is obliged to believe, as a matter of faith, in Lourdes, Fatima, etc., although, when the Church acknowledges or approves of same, one should not capriciously reject them out of hand.
CCC 67 (which for some strange reason Mr. Fan chose to disregard) summarizes:
Throughout the ages, there have been so-called "private" revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ's definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church.
Christian faith cannot accept "revelations" that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such "revelations."CCC 67 acknowledges that the Church does take a role in examining private revelations to discern whether they are an authentic call to Christ or a “false sign or wonder” using the terminology that “louis’ employed. Some of these principles are outlined in the Catechism as follows:
799. Whether extraordinary or simple and humble, charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of men, and to the needs of the world.Specifically because private revelations are not contained in the Scriptures nor do they constitute part of the deposit of faith, the Church will not impose an obligation on the faithful to believe them. Private revelation, has never been understood as the means that God chooses to reveal new doctrines. Rather, it is one of the ways He uses to point the faithful back to His public revelation.
800. Charisms are to be accepted with gratitude by the person who receives them and by all members of the Church as well. They are a wonderfully rich grace for the apostolic vitality and for the holiness of the entire Body of Christ, provided they really are genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit and are used in full conformity with authentic promptings of this same Spirit, that is, in keeping with charity, the true measure of all charisms.
801. It is in this sense that discernment of charisms is always necessary. No charism is exempt from being referred and submitted to the Church's shepherds. "Their office [is] not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to what is good," so that all the diverse and complementary charisms work together "for the common good." [Footnotes omitted]
Mr. Fan can find fault all he wants with the Catholic Church in the manner in which it decides whether to “write off” a particular private revelation or not. But as Mr. Bellisario points out in his comments to Mr. Fan’s article, isn’t it silly that Mr. Fan does so on this occasion particularly when we all agree that the faithful are not be obligated to believe in private revelations?
It is not my intent to go into detail how the Church discerns whether a private revelation is true or not as there are some very excellent articles that do so here and here. What is important here to recognize is that the Church distinguishes between private revelation and public revelation because the authority of private revelation is essentially different from that of public revelation. The latter demands faith as it is the infallible Word of God. Private revelation, on the other hand, can only be an aid to help with one’s faith. Its credibility derives from its ability to by leading one back to the definitive public revelation.
Mr. Fan continues:
On the other hand, sometimes (much more rarely) the RCC adds some new requirement to the list of things that must be believed.
My response: Of course, considering Calvinists adhere to TULIP, an acronym found nowhere in the Bible, it is fair to say that Protestants, including the whatever-Turretinfan-goes-to-if-he-goes-at-all Presbyterian denomination, do the same. So in the words of Clara Peller, “Where’s the beef?”
Calvinist polemics aside, Catholics too resolve “to know nothing ... except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2) As a help to the members of the Body of Christ, the Magisterial authority granted the Church by Jesus Christ Himself permits it to define doctrines to help us understand better what it means when we know Jesus and Him crucified and how to pick up, shoulder and carry our crosses. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure.” (CCC 89) Perhaps Mr. Fan will take the time to read the Catechism §§ 88-95 and then we can take the time to discuss this issue further.
Now back to the show...
For example, about four years before the Lourdes event, the RCC defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception - requiring people to believe the unbiblical (and frankly Pelagian) doctrine of the Immaculate conception.My response:
I have already supplied the reader with three scriptural texts that properly understood, help form the foundation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. So that the reader is not merely taking my word on it, I am also providing links to the papal bull that first defined the dogma, Ineffabilis Deus, to Fulgens Corona, a later encyclical written by Pope Pius XII that discusses the dogma, and Munificentissimus Deus wherein Pope Pius XII defined the related dogma of the Assumption of Mary. Whether Turretinfan chooses to accept the dogma as understood by the Church is an exercise of his own personal, private, and -more importantly in his mind-Protestant judgment and interpretation.
However, I am intrigued by his claim that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is somehow “Pelagian.” The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception states “that the Most Blessed Virgin Mary at the first moment of Her conception was, by singular grace and privilege of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved from all stains of original sin, is revealed by God, and therefore to be firmly and resolutely believed by all the faithful.” (Dogmatic bull Ineffabilis Deus, of Dec. 8, 1854). If Mr. Fan is not purposefully dissembling in making the assertion that the Immaculate Conception is somehow “Pelagian,” it is plain then that Mr. Fan either has not read Ineffabilis Deus or does not understand it if he had as the dogma itself expressly acknowledges that Mary was preserved from original sin by virtue of the application of the merits of her Son, Jesus Christ.
It is not a coincidence that the early Church Fathers, Saint Epiphanius, Saint Ephraem, Saint Ambrose, and Saint Augustine of Hippo who actively battled the heresies of the fourth and early fifth centuries were the first to actually address Mary’s sinlessness in light of the various claims that the heretical sects such as the Arians who pointed to Jesus’ birth by Mary as proof that He was not divine, the Bardesanites, who denied that Jesus was born of a human mother, and the Pelagians who pointed to Jesus’ Incarnation through her as proof of the non-existence of original sin.
In his masterwork, The Panarion, Saint Epiphanius of Salamis (310 - 403 AD) writes:
"How will holy Mary not possess the kingdom of heaven with her flesh, since she was not unchaste, nor dissolute, nor did she ever commit adultery, and since she never did anything wrong as far as fleshly actions are concerned, but remained stainless?" (Panarion haer 42:12; PG 41:777B)
"Mary, the holy Virgin, is truly great before God and men. For how shall we not proclaim her great, who held within her the uncontainable One, whom neither heaven nor earth can contain?" (ibid 30:31; PG 41:460C)
"Whoever honors the Lord also honors the holy [vessel]; who instead dishonors the holy vessel also dishonors his Master. Mary herself is that holy Virgin, that is, the holy vessel." (ibid 78:21; PG 42:733A)
"Yes, Mary's body was holy, but it was not God. Yes, the Virgin was surely a virgin and worthy of honor; however, she was not given us for us to adore her. She herself adored him who was born of her flesh, having descended from heaven and from the bosom of the Father." (ibid 79:4; PG 42:745C-D)We find in the writings of Saint Ephraem of Syria (306 - 373 AD), a doctor of the Church, the following on Mary’s sinlessness:
"Because there are those who dare to say that Mary cohabited with Joseph after she bore the Redeemer, we reply, 'How would it have been possible for her who was the home of the indwelling of the Spirit, whom the divine power overshadowed, that she be joined by a mortal being, and gave birth filled with birth pangs, in the image of the primeval curse?' If Mary was blessed of women, she would have been exempt from the curse from the beginning, and from the bearing of children in birth pangs and curses. It would be impossible therefore to call one who gave birth with these birth pangs blessed." (Commentary on Tatian's Diatessaron)Since the birth pangs of women were often considered a curse and result of original sin, it is telling that Saint Ephraem writes that she was exempt from such. Here is another explicit reference to Mary’s sinlessness:
Saint Ambrose of Milan, the mentor of Saint Augustine of Hippo writes in 387 AD:
"Only you Jesus and your Mother are more beautiful than everything. For on you, O Lord, there is no mark; neither any stain in your Mother." (Carnina Nisibena 27, 8).
Come, then, and search out your sheep, not through your servants or hired men, but do it yourself. Lift me up bodily and in the flesh, which is fallen in Adam. Lift me up not from Sarah but from Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin whom grace had made inviolate, free of every stain of sin. (Commentary on Psalm 118:22-30)Saint Augustine of Hippo appears to hold to this notion as well when he wrote in 415 AD the following:
"With the exception, therefore, of the holy Virgin Mary, in whose case, out of respect for the Lord, I would have no question raised when there is talk of sin -- for how do we know what further grace was conferred on her for absolute victory over sin, she who deserved to conceive and bear Him who obviously had no sin? -- with the exception, then, of this Virgin, could we but gather together in their lifetime all those saints, men and women, and ask them whether they were free from sin, what in our opinion would have been their answer? ...No matter how remarkable their holiness in this body...they would have cried out with one voice: 'If we should say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us' [1 John 1:8]." (De natura et gratia, cap 36, n. 42) (However, see De nuptiis concupscentia II, 15, which suggests that the above could be understood that Saint Augustine was writing about Mary’s personal sinlessness, not that she was conceived without sin.)Since Mr. Fan wants me to speak “frankly,” it is plain that he has never thought through the ramifications of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception which in truth is a direct refutation of the Pelagian heresy. If Mary, a creature, had not been preserved through God’s advance application of the merits of His Son’s crucifixion and resurrection, one could arguably claim that Mary contributed to her own salvation through her fiat by agreeing to conceive the Son of God and through her personal effort of bearing and birthing Our Savior. One could further argue the Cross itself was made possible through Mary's consent alone and in effect makes our salvation dependent on the power of a creature, Mary, to say “Yes” to God. It is striking that only Protestants like Turretinfan make such contentions when they are misrepresenting the teachings of the Catholic Church to their readers.
However, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception prevents such contentions. Through the Immaculate Conception, it is affirmed that Mary is saved by the actions of Jesus Christ alone. She is “blessed among women” to be the New Eve who bears the New Adam, the Savior of the world because God chose to apply the merits of His Son’s death and resurrection to her in advance. Her sinlessness is due to the virtue imbued her by the saving work of Christ. As a result, her fiat (“Let it be with me according to your word”) is untainted by sin, demonstrating the hope that all Christians share that Christ’s death and resurrection has the power to undo sin and death for the members of His body, the Church. Rather than embracing Pelagianism, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is actually an unyielding defense against the Pelagian and other heresies as it emphasizes that Mary’s salvation too was totally and completely dependent on God’s gratuitous gift through His application of the merits of Our Lord’s death on the Cross and His Resurrection. God’s gift of salvation to us all, even Mary as taught by the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, is totally gratuitous, making clear that gift is not dependent upon human merit, but on grace alone.
In sum, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is but an application of the concept of sola gratia, which it is hoped that Protestants, even Calvinists such as Turretinfan and “louis,” must now acknowledge.
Let’s move on:
Interestingly, at Lourdes, a 14-year-old local girl named Bernadette Soubirous (who is the central figure in the event) claimed that the apparition of a beautiful woman told her, "I am the Immaculate Conception." This oddly ungrammatical claim (original French: "Je suis l'Immaculée conception") is probably best explained by the fact that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception had recently been defined, and Bernadette, while aware of the definition, didn't fully understand it. Mary calling herself the "Immaculate Conception" would be like Jesus saying, "I am the virgin birth." Of course, an alternative is that since Mary was a Palestinian Jewess, perhaps her French just isn't that good. But this seems unlikely, because other things that Bernadette reportedly heard from the apparition were more well constructed grammatically - even to the point of being formal.Mr. Fan does not give the source of his knowledge so-called. Unfortunately, for Mr. Fan, his source is in error as actual history recounts something a bit different than the novelization Turretinfan spins. The Blessed Virgin Mary never said, “Je suis l'Immaculée conception" but “Que soy era Immaculado Councepciou” to young Bernadette Soubirous when the girl asked ‘Aquéro’ who she was during the sixteenth apparition on March 25, 1858. The vision spoke to her in a Basque dialect patois as Saint Bernadette at that stage of her life did not speak or understand French. So if the vision spoke to Bernadette in French as Turretinfan represents, there would be little wonder why she did not understand what was said.
Mr. Fan also states that the events that occurred in the little grotto at Massabielle could “probably best explained by the fact that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception had recently been defined, and Bernadette, while aware of the definition, didn't fully understand it.” Actually, I would suggest that the events that occurred at Lourdes probably could be best explained by considering actual evidence as opposed to Mr. Fan’s speculations. Here are some facts to consider: At the time she encountered the Blessed Virgin Mary, Bernadette did not know how to read or write. She did not know French. Due to her total lack of education, she had not yet received her First Communion. Thus, while it is possible that Bernadette may have heard the term “Immaculate Conception” spoken in her native patois, it is more probable that she had no idea what that term meant.
The actual record of events provides us with Bernadette’s own explanation:
After the sixteenth apparition, Bernadette went to the Curé Peyramale and told him what the Lady told her. He said to her, “You are mistaken! What does that mean, ‘the Immaculate Conception’?” Bernadette replied, “I don’t know, and that is the reason that all the way here I haven’t stopped saying the words over and over lest I forget them.” See, Blanton, Margaret, Bernadette of Lourdes [London: Longmans, Green and Co. (1939)] at page 135.
The author then adds the following:
It would certainly be unreasonable to suppose that Bernadette did not know that this was one of the titles given to the Virgin. The tiny plaster image at the grotto was so called. And the invocation to the Lady “conceived without sin” was usual in the liturgy. It is, however, quite reasonable to believe that the theological reasoning behind the title was a mystery to her. At fourteen she might easily have heard it discussed without perceiving its implications.
Mr. Fan continues:
In any event, Rome views the Immaculate Conception itself as a dogma that must be believed (despite the fact that we can't find it in Scripture or among the extant writings of orthodox Christians for the first few centuries of church history). In contrast, the fraud at Lourdes is viewed as being "worthy of belief." Rome won't say that it is true, and won't say that it is false.Turretinfan finishes with this gem of prose:
So, while "I am the Immaculate Conception" should be seen to be a clumsy fraud, Rome approves of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and consequently sees no harm in letting people believe that the events of Lourdes are true.
As we have already discussed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, where it may be found in Scripture, and why the doctrine started to be defined in response to the heresies that arose during the fourth and fifth centuries, so I will not repeat myself here. I will merely add that the doctrine was defined specifically at a time when the heresy of Pantheism, which shares with Pelagianism the same intellectual and psychological assumptions in equating the creature and the "created will" with the Creator and the divine will, was taking hold in Europe. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception explicitly denies such.
Likewise, I will not address Mr. Fan’s comments regarding Pope Benedict XVI and his supposed Mariolatry here as I am already addressing the falsity perpetrated by some Calvinists that Catholics worship Mary in a separate series of postings.
What I will close with is addressing Mr. Fan’s claims that Lourdes is a fraud, and a clumsy one at that. Unfortunately, nowhere in his article does Mr. Fan deign to enlighten us how he discerned the “fraud.” He gives no example, offers no proof, nor cites to any authority that demonstrates the falsity of the Lourdes phenomena. We are expected to assume its falsity based on the say-so of pseudonymous anti-Catholic who presents no credentials, no evidence, and no real explanation.
If Turretinfan is claiming that what Saint Bernadette was fraudulent in what she saw, heard and did or that the apparitions were sent from hell, then let him adduce his evidence for our consideration. Prove her the liar and be done with it. I, for one, want to see how Turretinfan tested Saint Bernadette’s private revelations in accordance with Scriptural exhortation at 1 Thess. 5:19-21.
If Turretinfan is talking about the documented cures that occurred there, he has an additional problem. Whatever he wants to say about them, the cures happened. Let us see his proof that they are not miraculous. Using the thoughtful guidelines I mentioned earlier that were promulgated by Pope Benedict XIV as well as the latest medical technologies and stringent scientific enquiry, the independent medical bureau that examines miraculous cures at Lourdes has substantiated 70 cures that meet all of the criteria to be regarded as miraculous. Thousands of other individuals, including Protestants, have claimed to be cured at Lourdes. What credentials does Mr. Fan have that none of the medical and scientific professionals who have actually examined the evidence have?
If, however, Turretinfan is claiming that Lourdes is a fraud merely because he is a Calvinist cessationist, who rejects all private revelation whatsoever, or because he rejects Saint Bernadette’s private revelation and/or the cures that occurred at Lourdes merely because Saint Bernadette is a Catholic and the Lourdes sanctuary is operated by Catholics, then let him show some integrity and be honest enough to say so.
I suspect that it would make no difference to Mr. Fan how much evidence can be brought to bear, people like him will never be satisfied no matter how much evidence is adduced or what the quality of the evidence is raised because he is not seeking the learn truth of the matter. Instead, he is merely seeking to defend his particular religious viewpoint despite the fact that the evidence for the approved miracles at Lourdes is impeccable.
By the way, here is what the “fraudulent” Lourdes-france.org, the official website for the Sanctuaries at the Our Lady of Lourdes has to say about the apparitions: