By Neil McKay
One of the great strategies of the devil is to take advantage of the ignorance of the good by sowing doubt and confusion in their minds. A prime example of this strategy is the dissemination of the false belief that Fatima is only a private revelation and that we are therefore under no obligation to believe the messages, much less act upon them. A brief look at the Catholic teaching on revelation, however, shows this to be unfounded.
Three kinds of authentic revelation
There are three kinds of authentic revelation recognised by the Church. First and foremost is the public deposit of divine revelation contained in sacred scripture and holy tradition. To refuse to believe in the truth of these is a sin against the theological virtue of faith.
Second, are private revelations. These are revelations given to one or more person, for the benefit, instruction or direction of the recipients. If the will of God is made manifest to someone in a clear and irrefutable way, that person has an obligation to do what he is required to do.
The Prophet Samuel had many private revelations from God. Some of them have been revealed to us in scripture, many have not. It is important, however, to note the humble disposition of Samuel, who, when God spoke to him, would reply, “Speak Lord, Thy servant heareth.”
Third, are public prophetic revelations. These are an extension of private revelations. The revelations are given in a private capacity to one or more person, but given for the benefit, instruction or direction, not only of themselves but also that of other people, sometimes even a whole nation.
Moses, for example, was given the Ten Commandments in a private revelation, but he was told to make them public. The atmospheric signs, and the previous miracles worked at the hand of Moses, left no room for doubt as to the veracity of these public prophetic revelations. The Commandments were therefore binding on the chosen people, even before they became part of the bible.
These prophetic gifts of the Old Testament prophets were transferred to the Catholic Church, which Jesus promised to be with until the end of the world. St. Paul, for example, was given precise instructions of what Jesus required of him in a private revelation on the way to Damascus, which providence has made part of the public deposit of faith for our instruction. If he had not obeyed Our Lord in this private revelation, this would have been a grave sin.
St. Paul was later directed by the public prophetic revelations of the Antioch Prophets, to whom the Holy Ghost said “Separate me Saul and Barnabas for the work whereunto I have taken them, then they fasting and praying and imposing hands on them, sent them away.”
Both private and public prophetical revelations continued as God directed his people. Justin Martyr writes in 155 AD: “For the prophetical gifts remain with us [Christians], even to the present time. And hence you [Jews] ought to understand that [the gifts] formerly among your nation have been transferred to us.”
With private prophecy we must act prudently and, as St. Paul says: “Despise not prophesies. Prove all things: hold fast to what is good.”
The prudent will be suspicious of the claims of anyone who lacks virtue in any way, and will be more inclined to trust the virtuous. The private revelations to St. Patrick, in which he was told to go and convert Ireland, were worthy to be believed and supported by his contemporaries because of his honest and virtuous reputation.
Many private revelations have the official approval of the Church. Pope Eugenius III, for example, gave official approval to the private revelations of St. Hildegarde.
The public prophetic revelations at Fatima have been approved by the Church as “worthy of belief”
The Church’s approving of the fact that a person, even a saint, has had private revelations, however, does not automatically mean that all the writings on the revelations are free from error. St Catherine Emmerich, for example, had many private revelations, but these were not written down by her own hand so the subjectivism, bias or misunderstanding of the scribe may have caused an error in the text. We are therefore free to choose whether or not to believe all that was attributed to her in her private revelations.
The importance of public prophetic revelations is such that the Fifth Lateran Council, of 1515 solemnly defined that the final interpretation of prophecy is left to the Pope of Rome.
Once this definition has been made, however, all the members of the Church have an obligation to “Hold to what is good.”
Fatima was undoubtedly a public prophetical revelation. The message was given through the three seers for all mankind, and Our Lady, God’s highest and most dignified representative, promised a public miracle four months in advance so that “All will believe.”
The miracle occurred in front of 70,000 witnesses, and the public prophetic revelations at Fatima have been approved by the Church as “worthy of belief”.
While Fatima is not part of the deposit of faith, is not in scripture, and has not been proclaimed a dogma, nevertheless it is patent bad will to refuse to believe in it.