Marian Apparitions

“The Church approved it!  That means you have to believe it!”

So said someone when I expressed serious doubts about LaSallette or that I was 95-99% certain the Fatima apparitions were genuine.  It never ceases to amaze me that so many can fail to grasp how these things work.  In the example of approval of apparitions, the approval is not a positive; it simply denotes a lack of negatives at that point in time.

Is it strange that a sudden influx of claimed apparitions occurred in the mid-late 19th Century and continued in the 20th?  Popular devotions had reached absurd highs (I only recently learned of the so-called “five-fold scapular” sandwich for she who cannot choose just one) as Catholics in Europe found themselves outmaneuvered at every turn by the post-Enlightenment deconstructionists.  They were desperate and turned to the Pope (“The great! The good!”, according to a little song by Cardinal Wiseman) and anything they could grasp that reminded them of the old faith in a changing world.  This left them vulnerable, gullible, and malleable to a variety of practices which are most likely superstitious.

Scapl’rs within scapl’rs, fer all yer scapl’r needs!

As far as apparitions go, I take them on a case-by-case basis.  The description of what happened at Lourdes (not the sappy 1948 movie about it) is un-fantastic enough to be believable and did not come with a magic cure-all devotion attached.  I would find it quite unfortunate and be saddened (I find the alleged miraculous water compelling and something that is worth believing in) if it was revealed to be hoax, but I would move on.

LaSallete though… is quite another story.  Popular among the SSPX, the alleged appearance of a woman crying to two children (one who ended up a drunken dissolute and the other who was committed to the mad house) has nothing about it that strikes me as Marian in a traditional sense.  The imagery is so far removed from all her portrayals in traditional iconography (Western, Byzantine, Coptic, Ethiopian, etc.) that it can but grab the attention.  Even the (satanic?) hoax of Medjugorge remembered that the Theotokos often carries the infant Christ around to symbolize her motherhood.  Furthermore, many of the more apocalyptic messages were revealed to have been written years later by an adult Melanie shortly before being locked up.

Not much in common they have, do they?

Most of the rest (Pontmain, Knock, Good Help…) evoke little feeling from me one way or the other as I don’t know much about them.  Fatima, on the other hand…

I am mostly sold on Fatima and that something happened (though I do take note that Mary appeared with both a rosary AND scapular as well as the “say the rosary every day” message), but I do not go down the Fatima Center hole.  Fatima, if it happened, was a warning of something that has already occurred.  We live in the aftermath.  We live in the punishment.  If we do not wish it to happen again and if we want to climb out of this wreckage we’ll need to remember Fatima as a warning, put it aside for reference and move forward with fixing our current problem (and a daily rosary is not a bad place for many to start).  I say this with the full understanding that the whole thing could be a hoax, but for now I will operate as usual.

I discount almost all the 20th century apparitions (with the possible exception of Akita) as knockoffs and attempts to imitate Fatima.  Shortly before he died, Michael Davies wrote up an excellent summary of how Medjugorge went against everything that we know of Christ and his Mother and the fact that it defies common sense and logic.  Meanwhile, I am open to the possibility that the apparitions of Zeitoun and Assuit are real, as the events around them (more so with Assuit) are out of the ordinary without being fantastic.

On the whole I believe there was a crazed zeitgeist which produced many phony apparitions alongside some genuine ones.  It is not like apparitions did not occur exclusively in those two centuries or in the West (for those who have never heard of it, check out the history behind the Byzantine feast of the Protection of the Theotokos) so it is not out of the question that some, if not a significant number, were actually real.  I claim that we need to walk a fine line between cynicism and frenzy.

What do the readers think?

EDIT:  There were two versions of the La Salette content.  While the first was approved in good faith in 1846, the second – written in 1879 (after France had undergone the proto-Bolshevik terror of the Paris Commune) – was not only not approved but condemned and placed on the index of forbidden books.

Regardless of what one thinks of the original apparition (and there is room to believe or disbelieve) the second version with its apocalyptic prophecy has no legitimate backing to it whatsoever.


Be ye ware of false prophets, that come to you in clothings of sheep, but withinforth they be wolves of raven; of their fruits ye shall know them. Whether men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of briers? So every good tree maketh good fruits; but an evil tree maketh evil fruits. A good tree may not make evil fruits, neither an evil tree [may] make good fruits. Every tree that maketh not good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. Therefore of their fruits ye shall know them. – Matthew 7:15-20, Wyclffe Bible

“Of their fruits ye shall know them”… and what have been the fruits of the Marian apparition craze, I wonder?  Christ did warn of us of false prophets.

Then if any man say to you, Lo! here is Christ, or there, do not ye believe.  For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and they shall give great tokens, and wonders; so that also the chosen be led into error, if it may be done. Lo! I have before-said to you. Therefore if they say to you, Lo! he is in (the) desert, do not ye go out; lo! he is in privy places, do not ye believe. For as lightning goeth out from the east, and appeareth into the west, so shall be also the coming of man’s Son. Wherever the body shall be, also the eagles shall be gathered thither. – Matthew 24:23-28, Wyclffe Bible

It is not outside the realm of possibility that the devil could imitate the guise of the Theotokos (especially in a form that Catholics of the time would have recognized), created a bright light in the sky that looked like the sun, and cured some sick people.  On the extremely slim chance that Fatima was not genuine, then it could not have been anything else but a demonic deception.  There is no possible middle ground.


8 thoughts on “Marian Apparitions

  1. Near my town there was an apparition in 1505. There were no apocalyptic messages, only a request of building a sanctuary – which stands to this day. This is the kind of apparitions I am most inclined to believe in.

    In the early 60s there was an apparition in Garabandal, similar to Fatima’s, which was quickly dismissed as a hoax (though this is not so clear for many Spanish clerics). From my point of view, any message emphasizing penance and prayer is good by itself, though I cannot support their use to strengthen an unbrided devotionalism – from my point of viw, the worst point on XIX and XX century apparitions, be thay true or false.

    I did not know La Salette’s iconography; indeed it looks rather like a pagan goddes than the Mother of God. Quite odd! Lourdes and Fatima iconography, though not the kind I like the most, are at least somewhat more Christian. And Medjugorje’s “Virgin” seems to me pretty frightening – where could I find Michael Davies’ writing on it? Why it is thought to be satanic (I had read that on SSPX sites, but never made any further research).

    K. e.


  2. I have few opinions about Marian apparitions except that I find nothing disagreeable with Fatima, and many things disagreeable with Medjugorje. In both respects, I believe I am in line with the competent authorities.

    I find the five-fold scapular to be a tad silly, especially since those wearing it often have no idea of the responsibilities associated with each scapular. I wear a brown scapular, but more as a sign of Marian devotion than as a “get out of Hell” card. It’s also a nice tie to historical English Catholicism.


  3. I take, in general, the same view. Apparitions are not to be sought in themselves. On the other hand, we should not despise prophecy, as the Apostle tells us. I’m sparing in my devotions to apparitions. Fatima is one of them, and even though I have some apprehensions about the Fatima Center, as I do with the judgments of most of my fellow humans, I do think that the main lines of father Gruner’s account is correct: the Consecration has not been done, the whole Secret has not been released, it is imperative that we work for this end. The evidence for these things is so voluminous that to deny it would be a sin for me at this point, who knows it.

    Would you agree that to deny natural facts, known by the light of reason, that one has knowledge of would be a sin? So that, if the evidence points overwhelmingly in a certain direction, we might indeed have an obligation to embrace and spread this knowledge? Would not this be the case in a court of law or a science lab? Of course, this knowledge can’t have the certitude of the Faith. But then, few things in life do. I can’t be certain with the same degree of certitude that my eyes are not deceiving me and that I’m actually touching the keyboard with my fingers.

    Finally, the Church’s judgment of apparitions is more varied than I think you let on. It ranges from outright condemnation (“clearly opposed to the faith”) to neutrality (“nothing opposed to the faith”) to outright positive (“marks of the supernatural are evident”). It seems to me that you only account for the “neutral” category, while Fatima and Lourdes, for instance, come in the outright positive category.

    In Christ,


    • I would hardly say that to not spread Lourdes and Fatima is sinful. To neglect to spread the faith would be negligent and when you spread the faith you can choose to include Lourdes and Fatima if you wish.

      As for positives and negatives, Lourdes and Fatima do indeed have positives in that the evidence seems to point strongly in their direction. That is a positive, but it isn’t an absolute dogmatic one. You are still free to disbelieve it if you wish.

      Even Gregory Hesse admitted that one didn’t have to believe in Fatima regardless o how strongly he personally felt about it. Hesse even worked at the Fatima Center.


      • I didn’t say that it is a sin not to share knowledge of Lourdes and Fatima in any and every situation. I said it might be, in a given situation, for certain persons. I think the main issue I take with the neutrality line of reasoning is that it is far too abstract, dealing with things as they are in themselves. In that realm, one can of course speak of neutral actions. But in concrete situations, for concrete persons, every action takes on a specific moral character.

        So, the premise seems to be that all that one has to believe, in a broad sense and not in the sense of the faith, is all just based on supernatural faith. To me, this is far too reductionist. Analogously, of course one can say that I’m “free” to disbelieve my eyes when I see something or “free” to disbelieve scientific evidence, even if there is no contradiction and the evidence is clear or that I’m “free” to disbelieve a doctor’s diagnosis. I would hardly say that these actions lack moral character, however. Sure, I wouldn’t be a heretic if I denied any of these, but that does not mean that it is a matter of indifference morally. Sure, if I have a good reason to disbelieve my eyes or scientific evidence or have doubts about my doctor’s competence, then, certainly, I would be quite free, maybe even obliged, to doubt, get a second opinion and so on. Moreover, if I’m not knowledgeable in an area, the moral character changes too. Not everyone is obliged to get a PhD in space engineering. But those that have such degree, and are active in their field, have certain obligations that other people don’t. I would say that the same reasoning applies to Fatima. Not everyone has to be a Fatima expert, but a person who knows the evidence is morally obliged to believe it. Not on the level of dogma, which I never said was the case. But on the level of our natural reason.

        What say you?


      • I don’t think I disagree, but I wouldn’t say there is necessarily a need to push Fatima. There are three acceptable interpretations of the event: The prophecy happened already and it is done (my personal opinion), the message still applies and the consecration is a dire need (the opinion of many others), or that all the evidence is mistaken and the thing didn’t happen (an acceptable minority opinion).

        If you take my interpretation, then Fatima is a useful warning for what happens when the Theotokos and – by extension – God are not heeded. It is a useful example, but my interpretation of events lacks the urgent necessity to pray the rosary specifically every day and consecrate Russia to the immaculate heart .


  4. What has often concerned me about Marian apparitions and devotions thereto is the iconography. Mary is present alone, sometimes distributing graces via rays shooting from her hands, she’s depicted just like the porcelain statues in vogue at the time, etc. In most traditional iconographic depictions of the Mother of God, East and West, she is depicted with her Son. (Yes, there are exceptions.)

    I’ve always found it interesting that the apparition at Guadalupe gave the world a two-dimensional iconographic representation of the Mother of God, and in the image she is with child. It strongly resembles the icon of Our Lady of the Sign, and, like the Platytera, depicts the stars of heaven.


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