I wanted to elaborate on a point that I brought up (although not too eloquently) in class. I find the idea that the Church had standards by which all apparitions were to be judged to be puzzling, although at the same time (being skeptical myself) I understand where they are coming from. I think it’s an interesting dichotomy of their thought process, wherein utmost belief needs to be coupled with careful investigation. I can certainly sympathise with the latter, because it’s quite understandable that many people would want to take advantage of pulling wool over the Church’s eyes in search for fame, respect - in short, whatever may be gained from such a hoax. Such deceit can obviously not be tolerated by any religious institution, or indeed any well-meaning institution at all.
We discussed in class how the Church was very demanding of the apparitions; they had to fit a certain mould, and tick some checkboxes in order to be classified as a bona fide apparition. I looked this up online right after class today because I was curious to see what exactly these criteria were, and I’d like to share what I found on this website: http://www.ewtn.org/vexperts/showmessage_print.asp?number=419853&language=en
- an evaluation of the personal qualities of the person in question (mental balance, honesty, moral life, sincerity, obedience to Church authority, willingness to practice faith in the normal way, etc.)
- an evaluation of the content of the revelations themselves (that they do not disagree with faith and morals of the Church, freedom from theological errors)
- the revelation results in healthy devotion and spiritual fruits in people's lives (greater prayer, greater conversion of heart, works of charity that result, etc.)
The negative criteria include the following:
- glaring errors in regard to the facts
- doctrinal errors attributed to God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, or to the Holy Spirit in how they appear - any pursuit of financial gain in relation to the alleged event
- gravely immoral acts committed by the person or those associated with the person at the time of the event
- psychological disorders or tendencies on the part of the person or persons associated.
(EWTN is a Roman Catholic-themed cable television network; they cite the “Norms of the Congregation for Proceeding in Judging Alleged Apparitions and Revelations”, issued by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees the Catholic Church doctrines.)
I think that, while the negative criteria are more defined and can be grounded in evidence (such as psychological disorders or doctrinal errors), it is much harder to fulfil the positive criteria in a decisive fashion. I am especially puzzled with the last sub-criteria: “The revelation results in healthy devotion and spiritual fruits in people’s lives”. How can you solely attribute the improvement in the devotion of a person to seeing an apparition of the Virgin? To play devil’s advocate here briefly, I would posit the idea that it is merely the thought or notion of having seen an apparition that might cause one to pray more sincerely and so on. Even with the assumption that the recognised apparitions were in fact truly apparitions, it would be hard (I think) to judge whether someone has been touched by an apparition or simply by a perceived apparition.
It’s also hard to gauge a lot of the attributes and qualities that comprise the positive criteria such as honesty, sincerity and moral life. Who can judge the “willingness to practice faith in the normal way” of the two children, Maximin and Mélanie, from the story of Our Lady of La Salette? Children are usually not considered to be fit to make decisions, and it’s hard to imagine that these two were special in any way. Regardless, they seemed to have ticked enough boxes for the Church to deem the apparition “worthy of belief”.
I would also like to touch briefly on the Church having such a clear-cut (or apparently clear-cut) way of determining whether or not an apparition is worthy of belief. The fact that Bernadette saw the apparition as a young girl is interesting, as we have mainly encountered the divinity of the Virgin in any context of her as a maternal figure, rather than her as a young girl who has yet to fulfil the prophecy of the virgin birth. It seems that perhaps the Virgin appears to different people in different forms. “But why?” one may ask, “Why does the Virgin appear in different forms? Shouldn’t there be some consistency?” To this, I think a good (if wishy-washy) answer is that the Virgin has never been one for crystal clarity - think about all the mystery surrounding her, like in certain passages in the Walter of Wimborne reading. I cannot explain her several different apparitions, but it certainly stays true to her inexplicability.
I think the Church is caught in an interesting catch-22 where they are criticised for not taking all apparitions to be true manifestations of the Virgin while they would be criticised as being superstitious and backwards for accepting all of them. While I can see why they would not accept every single “apparition” as being worthy of belief, I think that the criteria by which the Church judges worthiness is open to interpretation; hence investigation into an apparition may vary greatly depending on the conductor of the investigation. However in a situation where so much relies on faith, sincerity and devotion, it is unsurprising that it is these criteria that need to be fulfilled.