Mariologist Hauke on Medjugorje:
“Don’t let the devotees fall into the void”
By Richard Chonak
(Translated from the German-language Catholic newspaper
Die Tagespost.) RE-produced with the permission of Father Hauke
The Medjugorje phenomenon and the discernment of spirits: a conversation with dogmatic theologian Manfred Hauke.
|Father Manfred Hauke|
For years there has been discussion of the phenomenon of the alleged “Marian apparitions” that took their origin in Medjugorje: Does the Mother of God really appear to the seers who originated in Medjugorje?
Or are the experiences parapsychological fruits of the seers’ unconscious? Are they a deceptive manipulation or even a trick of evil forces? According to reports, there are plans at the Vatican to have the Medjugorje phenomenon -conclusively investigated by a commission. Regina Einig asked the chairman of the German Society for Mariology
(Deutsche Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Mariologie), professor of dogmatics and patristics at Lugano, Manfred Hauke, about the subject.
Wherein can we find the theological meaning of Marian apparitions? Appearances of the Mother of God belong to the charism of prophecy, in which the mysterious working of the Spirit of God comes to expression. St. Paul emphasizes: “Do not quench the Spirit! Do not despise prophetic utterances!” (1 Thess. 5:19-20). The book of Proverbs already emphasizes: “Without prophecy, the people become demoralized”
According to Thomas Aquinas, prophetic revelations after the Apostolic era are not given in order to spread a new teaching of faith, but serve to
guide human action. Theology speaks here of “private revelations”, inasmuch as the content conveyed does not belong to general and public revelation, which closed with the Apostolic era. “Private”, then, means a reference to an individual person, a group or even the whole Church in a particular historical situation. “Private revelations”, or (better) prophetic revelations help us to recognize the “signs of the times” (Lk. 12:56) and act accordingly.
Following Pope Benedict XIV, the recognition of a private revelation by the responsible bishop is not the basis of any duty to believe, in the strict sense (fides divina), but it states that one can approach the apparitions with a purely human faith (fides humana) based on reasoning.
So no Catholic is obliged to believe that the Mother of God appeared in Lourdes and Fatima; but the Church states that the reports of the apparitions are worthy of belief and a Catholic may believe in them and cultivate a corresponding spirituality. Yes, the Church has even set
several memorial days in the liturgical calendar and issued corresponding Mass formulas. Prophetic revelations are not the normal case of Christian life, but an exception:
“Blessed are they who do not see and yet believe” ( Jn.20:29). The Catechism of the Catholic Church stresses with St. John of the Cross: In Jesus Christ, the eternal divine Word, God the Father has shared everything with us (cf. Hebr. 1:1-12). “Any person questioning God or
desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty” (CCC 65).
Is there really a possibility of apparitions that convey to a person something that does not originate in his own psyche?
According to one widespread theory, which goes back to Karl Rahner primarily, all apparitions are “imaginative visions”. According to that theory, the content of the “apparition” has a psychogenic origin, even if it can be made possible by a divine impulse. That is, God does not work in this world immediately, but only through created secondary causes (especially through the human psyche). In other words: whether someone experiences a vision of a “ship’s goblin”, or of his own stepmother, or of the Virgin Mary depends on the subjective psychological disposition, perhaps on unconscious mental processes, and not on objective circumstances that encounter the person from
outside himself. In such a theory the question of authenticity or inauthenticity of Marian apparitions is no longer germane, in the last analysis.
Against this, I would stress that to exclude the unmediated intervention of God in this world is intellectually not tenable, because then the original creation out of nothing, which goes back to God alone, would be impossible. Besides this, there are unequivocally witnessed phenomena, in which the content of what was seen comes from an extra-mental experience: for example, in the Marian apparitions at Knock in Ireland in 1879,15 people saw Mary with other saints, and an altar, in
pouring rain; the place where the saints stood remained dry despite the pouring rain. Such an event is not explicable by Rahner’s subjectivistic proposal. We must always consider the subjective factor: even in genuine revelations errors can intrude, when human imagination adds
something or when a statement is interpreted wrongly.And there is naturally the phenomenon of fantasies of a morbid origin, or the possibility of deception. If both are excluded, standing in the center of the interpretation of apparitions is the evaluation of its extra-mental origin: the intervention of God and heavenly personages, or instead
What forms of visions or apparitions can be distinguished? “Apparition” means, in its theological definition, the intervention of a heavenly being, experienced by the external senses or by the faculty of imagination. The concept “vision”, in contrast, places emphasis on the subjective components, and therefore on the perception of an event
which is by nature not visible. Among them, there can be “bodily visions”, if the approaching object is perceived with the visual sense; “imaginative” visions (which only manifest themselves in the faculty of imagination), or “intellectual” visions (which show themselves in thought without conveying a sensory impression). Does the Medjugorje phenomenon fit, in your view, in the line of the great Marian apparition sites such as Lourdes, Fatima, or Guadalupe?
Medjugorje has, in common with the apparition sites you mentioned, which have been recognized by the Church, a formidable stream of pilgrims, who pray there, seek conversion, or renew their faith. I myself was impressed on a visit to Medjugorje in 1985 with the numerous
confessions; in one of them, someone told me: “My last confession was before the Second World War.” Also a fair number of religious vocations is connected with the pilgrimage, the believing community, and the life of prayer that can be experienced in those places. On the other side, there are obvious differences. Among those are the number of visionary phenomena and the miracles recognized by the Church as worthy of belief.
In Guadalupe there were four appearances of Mary (December 9-12, 1531), which were made credible by one of the greatest miracles in Church history, namely the impression of the image of Mary on the mantel of the seer.In the following ten years eight million Indios converted. The authenticity of the apparitions was recognized in
1566 after a canonical process and the seer was canonized in 2002.
In Lourdes eighteen Marian appearances were counted, which took place within a half year (Feb. 11 - July 16, 1858). The messages connected with them concentrated on prayer and penance. They were made credible from the beginning by miracles, which stood up to a thoroughly critical medical and ecclesiastical examination.The bishop’s recognition (1862) is connected with the personal credibility of the seer, Bernadette Soubirous, who entered a convent after her encounter with the Mother of God and was canonized in 1933.
The events of Fatima comprise six appearances of Mary (May to October 1917), which were preceded by three apparitions of angels (1916) and were extended through apparitions to the seer Lucia in Pontevedra (1925-26) and Tuy (1929- 30). The miracle of the sun in Fatima (October 13, 1917) happened in front of about 50,000 people. The Marian apparitions of 1917 were recognized as worthy of belief in 1930, and the messages to Lucia at Pontevedra and Tuy in 1939. Two of the seers of 1917 (Francisco and Jacinta,who died as children) were beatified in 2000, while the inaugural process for the recently deceased Sister Lucia began in 2008. So Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima are distinguished by a very limited number of Marian appearances, by a clearly outlined message, through the holiness, recognized by the Church, of the seers. and by the impressive confirmation on the grounds of obvious miracles.
In contrast to those, the Medjugorje phenomenon presents itself differently: the number of alleged appearances must reach over 40,000; the messages connected with them are especially numerous and raise some critical questions; regarding the credibility of the seers, there is a shadow in a few cases from the phenomenon of a provable lie;a miracle recognized by the Church does not exist; the miraculous signs predicted by the seers as confirmations of Medjugorje, have not been observed yet. The Portuguese Cardinal Saraiva-Martins, for years prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, was recently asked about
the parallels between Medjugorje and Fatima. He gave the opinion: While the shepherd children of Fatima showed themselves to be humble and chose silence, these virtues are not obvious in Medjugorje; while Sister Lucia entered the cloister, no one in Medjugorje has chosen consecrated life [one of the seers instead married an American beauty
queen; this is of course no sin, but it is also no especial sign of a supernatural influence through Marian apparitions]; Sister Lucia put down the secrets entrusted to her by Mary in writing, while the visionaries of Medjugorje keep them for themselves. “No, I see nothing in common between Fatima and Medjugorje” (www.papanews.it,
January 15, 2010).