Divine revelations manifest supernaturally a hidden truth
by means of a vision, a word, or only a prophetic instinct; they
presuppose the gift of prophecy. They are called public if they have
been made by the prophets, Christ, or the apostles, and are proposed
to all by the Church, which preserves them in Scripture and
tradition. They are called private when they are directed only to
the particular benefit of certain persons. Private revelations, no
matter what their importance, do not belong to the deposit of
Catholic faith. However, some may draw attention to a certain form
of worship of a nature to interest all the faithful, for example,
the devotion to the Sacred Heart. After examining the reasons which
motivate this worship, the Church may promote it and establish it
without judging infallibly about the divine origin of the private
revelation which gave rise to this movement of prayer. These private
revelations will remain the object of pious belief, as will the
supernatural origin of exceptional favors which occasionally
accompany them, such as the stigmata of a particular servant of
WHAT SHOULD BE THOUGHT OF PRIVATE
Those who receive divine revelations, recognized as such,
most certainly, after prudent and authoritative judgment, incline
respectfully before this supernatural manifestation.(2) St. Margaret
Mary followed this rule in regard to devotion to the Sacred Heart;
so also did St. Bernadette in respect to the revelations she
received at Lourdes, after favorable examination by diocesan
According to certain theologians, a person who receives a
private divine revelation with the certitude of its divine origin,
like St. Joan of Arc, should believe in it with divine theological
faith, for, in their opinion, the revelation contains the formal
motive of infused faith, the authority of God revealing.(3)
According to other theologians, and their opinion seems
more exact, anyone who receives a certain private revelation should
adhere to it immediately, not through divine faith but by prophetic
light. This supernatural certitude may last or, on the contrary,
give way to a moral certitude when the prophetic illumination
disappears; but this illumination may return in order to restore the
first certitude. (4)
When the Church approves private revelations made to the
saints, she simply declares that they contain nothing contrary to
Scripture and to Catholic teaching and that they may be proposed as
probable to the pious belief of the faithful.(5) Private revelations
may not be published without the approbation of ecclesiastical
Even in revelations approved as probable by the Church,
error may slip in; for the saints themselves may attribute to the
Holy Ghost what proceeds from themselves, or may falsely interpret
the meaning of a divine revelation, or interpret it in too
materialistic a manner, as, for example, the disciples interpreted
Christ's remark about St. John to mean that the latter would not
The explanation of this possibility of error lies in the fact that
there are many degrees in prophetic light, from the simple,
supernatural instinct to perfect revelation. When there is only
prophetic instinct, the meaning of things revealed and even the
divine origin of the revelation may remain unknown.(8) Thus it was
that Caiphas prophesied, without being aware of it, when he said,
"that it was expedient that one man should die for the people."
One of the signs of the divine origin of a revelation is the
humility and simplicity with which the favored soul receives it and,
without excessive attachment to it, communicates it briefly to its
spiritual director, whom it obeys perfectly as the minister of Jesus
Christ.(10)The gift of prophecy may, it is true, be found in those
who do not possess these qualities, but such an exception is rare.
Before regulating its conduct, at least indirectly, by a private
revelation, a soul that is truly enlightened by God will always consult its director or some other learned and discreet person who will
examine the matter from the point of view of faith, theology, and
supernatural prudence. St. Teresa insists particularly on this
point(11) This is especially necessary since the soul may easily go
astray in the interpretation of revelations, either because it
considers them too literally and according to habits tainted with
egoism, or because they are sometimes conditional.(12) A learned,
prudent, and virtuous confessor, however, has graces of state which
make him avoid error, especially when he prays humbly, fervently,
and assiduously for these graces. He himself then receives the
inspirations of the gift of counsel that he may see clearly and
What should be thought of the desire for revelations? St. John of
the Cross, who often invites interior souls to desire humbly, but
confidently and ardently, the infused contemplation of the mysteries
of faith and the divine union resulting therefrom, strongly reproves
the desire for revelations. On this point he is in complete accord
with St. Vincent Ferrer,(13) and shows that the soul desiring
revelations is vain; that by this curiosity it gives the devil the
opportunity to lead it astray; (14) that this inclination takes away
the purity of faith, (15) produces a hindrance for the spirit,(16)
denotes a lack of humility,(17) and exposes it to many errors.(18) To
ask for revelations shows also a lack of respect toward Christ,
because the fullness of revelation has been given in the Gospel.(19)
God sometimes grants these extraordinary favors to weak souls,(20) or
again to strong souls that have an exceptional mission to accomplish
in the midst of great difficulties; but to desire them is at least a
venial sin, even when the soul has a good end in view.(21) They are of
value only because
of the humility and love of God which they awaken in the soul. (22)
All this shows clearly the error of imprudent directors who,
impelled by curiosity, are concerned with souls favored by visions
and revelations.(23) This curiosity is a deformation of the spirit
which casts the soul into illusion and trouble, and turns it away
from humility through vain complacency in extraordinary ways.
Finally, St. John of the Cross insists strongly on the fact that the
desire for revelations turns the soul away from infused
contemplation. He says: "The soul imagines that something great has
taken place, that God Himself has spoken, when in reality there is
very little, or nothing, or less than nothing. In truth, of what use
is that which is void of humility, charity, mortification, holy
simplicity, silence, etc.? This is why I affirm that these illusions
offer a great obstacle to divine union, for if the soul makes much
this fact alone drives it very far from the abyss of faith. . . .
The Holy Ghost enlightens the recollected intellect according to the
measure of its recollection. The most perfect recollection is that
which takes place in faith. . . . Infused charity is in proportion
to the purity of the soul in a perfect faith: the more intense such
charity is, the more the Holy Ghost enlightens the soul and
communicates His gifts to it." (24) No words could more strongly
condemn the desire for revelations and make the soul long for that
perfect spirit of faith, which is found in infused contemplation and
which leads to almost continual intimate union with God.
As we have pointed out several times, it is, therefore, a serious
error, rather frequently committed, to confound the desire for
revelations with a desire for infused contemplation. Not only is the
former blameworthy, but it also turns the soul away from infused
contemplation, which is highly desirable. St. John of the Cross thus
gives us the loftiest commentary on St. Thomas' words: "Sanctifying
grace is much nobler than gratia gratis data." (25) In other words,
sanctifying grace (with charity and the seven gifts connected with
it) is far superior to the charisms, and even to prophecy, the
highest of all. This statement puts clearly before us the whole
scope of St. Paul's teaching on the eminence of charity.(26)
However, at this point in our study we must distinguish two kinds of
private revelations: (I) revelations properly so called reveal
secrets about God or His works; (2) revelations improperly so called
give a greater understanding of supernatural truths already known by
I) Revelations manifesting secrets to us are much more subject to
illusion. Without doubt God sometimes reveals to the living the time
that remains to them on this earth, the trials that they will
undergo, what will happen to a nation, to a certain person. But the
devil can easily counterfeit these things and, to gain credence for
his lies, he begins by nourishing the spirit with likely things or
even with partial truths.(28) St. John of the Cross says: "It is
almost impossible to escape his wiles if the soul does not
immediately get rid of them, because the spirit of evil knows well
how to assume the
appearance of truth and give this appearance credit." (29) "In order
to be perfect there is, therefore, no reason to desire these
extraordinary supernatural things. . . . The soul must prudently
guard itself against all these communications if it wishes, in
purity and without illusions, to reach divine union by the night of
faith." (30) No words could make a clearer distinction between these
extraordinary supernatural things and infused contemplation, and
more effectively show that infused contemplation is normal in the
2) Revelations improperly so called, which give us a greater
understanding of revealed truths, are associated with infused
contemplation, especially if they concern God Himself and do not
stop at particular things, but profoundly penetrate His wisdom,
infinite goodness, or omnipotence. In The Ascent of Mount Carmel
St. John of the Cross says on this subject: "This profound loving
knowledge is, moreover, accessible only to a soul in union with God.
Such knowledge is this union itself, for it has its origin precisely
in a certain contact of the soul with the Divinity. Consequently it
is God Himself who is felt and tasted, though He is not perceived
manifestly in full light, as He is in glory; but the touch is so
strong and so profound, by reason of the knowledge and attraction,
that it penetrates the substance of the soul. It is impossible for
the devil to interfere in this and to deceive by imitation, for
nothing is comparable to it, or approaches it in enjoyment and
delights. These touches savor of the divine essence and of eternal
life, and the devil cannot counterfeit such lofty things. . . . In
regard to the other perceptions, we said that the soul should
abstract itself from them, but this duty ceases in the case of this
lofty loving knowledge, since it is the manifestation of that union
to which we are trying to conduct the soul. All that we have taught
previously on the subject of despoliation and of complete detachment
was directed toward this union; and the divine favors which result
from it are the fruit of humility, of the desire to suffer for the
of God, with resignation and disinterestedness as to all reward."
Divine revelations sometimes take the form of visions and
times of words. Supernatural visions are either sensible, imaginary,
Sensible or corporal visions of our Savior, the Blessed
Virgin, or the saints, are sometimes granted to beginners to detach
them from worldly things. If the vision is common to a great number
of persons, it is a sign that the apparition is exterior, without
any certainty thereby that it is of divine origin.(32) If it is
individual, the dispositions of the witness who declares that he has
had it must be attentively examined and great prudence must be
The director will be able to recognize whether these
apparitions are graces of God, by their conformity to the teaching
of the Church and by the fruits which they leave in the soul. The
soul itself should be very faithful in reaping the fruits of
sanctity which God proposes by granting it these favors. Those who
are favored with apparitions of our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, and
the saints should render to the persons represented the honors due
them, even though the apparition should be the result of an illusion
of the imagination or of the devil, for as St. Teresa says:
"Although a painter may be a wicked man, honor should none the less
be paid to a portrait of Christ done by him." (33) These apparitions
must never be desired or asked of God.
Imaginary visions are produced in the imagination by God
or by the angels when a person is either awake or asleep. According
to the Gospel, St. Joseph was on several occasions supernaturally
instructed in a dream. Although the divine origin of a dream may be
difficult to discern, ordinarily when the soul seeks God sincerely,
He makes Himself felt either by a feeling of profound peace, or by
events that confirm the vision; thus in a dream a sinner may be
warned of the urgent necessity of conversion.
Imaginary visions are subject to the illusions of the
and of the devil.(34) We have three signs, however, by which to
discern whether they are of divine origin: (I) when they cannot be
produced or dismissed at will, but come suddenly and last but a
short time; (2) when they leave the soul in great peace; (3) when
they produce fruits of virtue, a great humility and perseverance in
A divine imaginary vision, granted while a person is
awake, is almost always accompanied by at least partial ecstasy (for
example, the momentary loss of sight) so that the soul may
distinguish the interior apparition from external impressions; (36)
there is ecstasy also because a soul enraptured and united to God
loses contact with external things.(37) No perfect imaginary vision
occurs without an intellectual vision, which makes the soul see and
penetrate its meaning: (38) for example, the former may concern the
sacred humanity of Christ; the second, His divinity.(39)
Imaginary visions should not be desired or asked of God
any more than sensible visions; they are in no way necessary to
holiness.(40) The perfect spirit of faith and infused contemplation
are of superior order and prepare the soul more immediately for
An intellectual vision is the certain manifestation of an object to
the intellect without any actual dependence on sensible images. It
is brought about either by acquired ideas supernaturally coordinated
or modified, or by infused ideas, which are sometimes of angelic
order.(42) It requires, besides, an infused light, that of the gift
of wisdom or of prophecy. It may refer to God, spirits, or material
things, like the purely spiritual knowledge of the angels. The
intellectual vision is at times obscure and indistinct, that is, it
manifests with certitude the presence of the object without any
detail as to its intimate nature. Thus St. Teresa often felt our
Lord Jesus Christ near her for several days.(43) At other times the
intellectual vision is clear and distinct; it is then more rapid and
is a sort of intuition of divine truths or of created things in
God.(44) It cannot be translated into human language.(45)
Intellectual visions, especially those caused by infused
ideas, are free from the illusions of the imagination and of the
devil; but at times what is only an over-excitement of the
imagination or a suggestion of the devil (46) may be taken for an
intellectual vision. The divine origin of these favors may be
recognized from the effects they produce: deep peace, holy joy,
profound humility, unshakable attachment to virtue.(47)
St. John of the Cross says: "By the very fact that this
knowledge is communicated suddenly, independently of the will, it is
useless for the soul to desire it . . . ; it ought simply to allow
God to act when and how He wills. . . . These favors are not given
to a soul which is attached to any good; they are the effect of a
special love which God bears toward the soul which strives for Him
in detachment and disinterested love." (48)
The loftiest intellectual visions, since they are
inferior to the beatific vision, cannot attain the divine essence
sicuti est, but only "by a certain manner of representation" due
to infused ideas, as St. Teresa says.(49) In the opinion of a number
of authors, (50) the intellectual visions that often accompany the
transforming union are the equivalent of a special revelation that
gives the soul the certitude of being in the state of grace and of
predestination. St. John of the Cross even says, as we have seen:
"In my opinion, the soul can never be placed in possession of this
state [the transforming union] without at the same time being
confirmed in grace." (51)
1. Cf. M. J. Congar, O.P., "La credibilite des revelations
privees" (La Vie spirituelle, October I, 1937, suppl., pp.
[29J-[49J: "As ecclesiastical authority is an essentially paternal
and family authority,- for the Church does not only govern us, it
begets us in Christ - it is, in the last analysis, under the influence
of filial piety that we adhere, by human faith commanded by
obedience, to what the Church tells us about the formal and positive
element in some very rare cases of private revelations."
Benedict XIV, De servorum Dei beatificatione, Bk. III, ch. ult.,
no. 12. See also C. De Lugo, S.J., De fide, disp. I, sect.
3. Such is the opinion of Cardinal Gotti, O.P., Theot. schol. dogm.,
I, tract. 9, q. I, dub. 3, par. 2. It should be remarked on this
subject that when an attempt was made to obtain a denial of her
divine mission from St. Joan of Arc, she replied that she had to
believe in it as she believed in the mystery of the redemption; and
several times she appealed to the pope, as the supreme judge in
4. The Carmelites of Salamanca (De fide, disp.
I, dub. IV, no. 104,
III ) quote St. Thomas and his principal interpreters in favor of
this opinion. They also point out that a number of these revelations
bear on temporal matters (for example, the proximate date of the end
of a war), which have not a sufficient bond with the first object of
theological faith to be believed on divine faith.
However, several of these theologians admit that adherence to a
certain private revelation on the part of the person receiving it,
may proceed either from prophetic light or from faith which is
mentioned among the graces gratis datae (I Cor. 12:4-10).
5. Benedict XIV, op. cit., II, chap. 32, no. II.
6. Cf. the decree of Urban VIII, March 13, 1625, which was confirmed
by Clement IX, May 23, 1668.
7. John 21:23.
8. St. Thomas, IIa IIae, q. 173, a.4.
9. John 18: 14.
10. Cf. Cardinal Bona,
De discretione spirituum, chap. 20.
Interior Castle, sixth mansion, chap. 3.
12. The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk. II, chaps. 19-20.
13. St. Vincent Ferrer,
Treatise on the Spiritual Life, chap. 13.
14. The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk. II, chap. II.
16. Ibid., chap. 16.
17. Ibid., chaps. 16, 17.
18. Ibid., chaps. 21, 27.
19. Ibid., chaps. 19, 22. Under the Old Law it was otherwise, for the
of revelation had not yet been given.
20. For example, to convert them; thus the young Israelite Alphonse Ratisbonne, at the age of twenty and still far from the Catholic
Church, received while visiting the church of St. Andrea delle Frate
in Rome as a sight-seer a
vision of the Blessed Virgin which was the beginning of his
21. The Ascent, Bk. II, chap. 21.
22. Ibid., Bk. III, chaps. 9, 12.
23. Ibid., Bk. II, chap. 22.
24. Ibid., Bk. II, chap. 29.
25. See Ia IIae, q. III, a.4.
26. Cf. I Cor. 13.
27. The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk. II, chap. 25.
28. lbid., chap. 27.
31. Bk. II, chap. 26.
32. St. Thomas, Ia, Q.51, a.2.
33. The Interior Castle, sixth mansion, chap. 9. Signs of respect
should, however, be given only conditionally if the soul thinks that
perhaps the devil wishes in this way to make himself adored under
the figure of Christ.
34. The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk. II, chap. 16.
35. The Interior
Castle, sixth mansion, chap. 9.
36. Summa, IIa IIae, q.173, a.3.
37. The Interior Castle, loco cit.
38. St. Thomas, De veritate, q.12, a.12.
39. St. Teresa, Life, chap. 29.
40. The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk. II, chaps. 16, 17;
41. The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk. II, chap. 8.
42 Summa, IIa IIae, q.173, a.2 ad 2um;
De veritate, q. 12, a. 12.
43. Life, chap. 27.
44. The Interior Castle, sixth mansion, chap. 10; The Ascent of Mount
Carmel, Bk. II, chaps. 22, 24.
45. The Interior Castle, loc. cit.
46. The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk. II, chap. 24.
The Ascent of Mount Carmel, loco cit.
49. The Interior
Castle, seventh mansion, chap. I.
50. Philip of the Blessed Trinity, Theol. myst. Prooem., a.8;
myst., tr. II, chap. 22, no. 258; Meynard, O.P.., La Vie interieure,
Vol. II, no.
51. A Spiritual Canticle, st. 22.