Divine Revelations and Visions - Three Ages of the Interior Life, Garrigou-Lagrance

Divine Revelations and Visions (Part VI, Chap. 54)

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 God.(1)


Those who receive divine revelations, recognized as such, should
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 authority.

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 authority.(6)

Even in revelations approved as probable by the Church, some
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 die.(7)

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." (9)

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 judge rightly.

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 of them, 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 faith.(27)

1) 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 perfect.

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 love of God, with resignation and disinterestedness as to all reward." (31)


Divine revelations sometimes take the form of visions and at other
times of words. Supernatural visions are either sensible, imaginary,
or intellectual.

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 exercised.
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 imagination 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 good.(35)

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 divine union.(41)

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."
2. Cf. Benedict XIV, De servorum Dei beatificatione, Bk. III, ch. ult., no. 12. See also C. De Lugo, S.J., De fide, disp. I, sect. 11.
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 these matters.
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.
11. The 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.
15. Ibid.
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 plenitude
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 conversion.
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.
29. Ibid.
30. Ibid.
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; The Interior Castle,
loco cit.
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
, Bk. II, chaps. 22, 24.
45. The Interior Castle, loc. cit.
46. The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk. II, chap. 24.
47. Ibid.
48. 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; Scaramelli, Dir.
., tr. II, chap. 22, no. 258; Meynard, O.P.., La Vie interieure, Vol. II, no.
51. A Spiritual Canticle, st. 22.

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