from the Christian Research Journal, Spring 1991, page 20. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.
In Part One I presented a descriptive survey of the unusual Catholic phenomenon known as Marian apparitions. I explained how the Catholic church specifically defines an apparition and described its method of evaluating these elusive, ethereal visions. I also surveyed some of the more important and popular alleged apparitions of Mary at such places as Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima.
In the present article I will conclude my description of this extraordinary phenomenon, discussing in detail the currently reported apparitions in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia. I will also examine how apparitions in general have influenced Catholic piety. Finally, I will respond to some of the difficult theological questions this phenomena raises, addressing them from an evangelical Protestant perspective.
apparition: The sudden appearance of a supernatural entity which directly manifests itself to a human person or group (a supernatural vision).
encyclical: A letter of instruction from the Pope which circulates throughout the church.
indulgence: The partial or complete remission of the penalties still due to be paid for sins which have already been forgiven in the sacrament of penance.
Mariology: (1) The totality of Catholic dogmas, beliefs, and speculations regarding Mary, the mother of Jesus. (2) That branch of Catholic theology concerned with the study of Marian doctrines.
papal bull: An official document, edict, or decree from the Pope.
purgatory: In Catholic theology, a state of purification and/or maturation one may experience after death for the purpose of preparing one's soul to enter the presence of God.
MEDJUGORJE, YUGOSLAVIA 1981 -
As the decade of the 1980s began, few people outside of Yugoslavia had heard of Medjugorje (pronounced Med-ju-gory-ah): a small and remote farming community nestled between the hills in the province of Hercegovina, in southwestern Yugoslavia. In the summer of 1981, however, events transpired that would transform this once-obscure community into an international pilgrimage center. In fact, over a ten year period, some 10 to 15 million people from five different continents have journeyed to Medjugorje. This is even more significant when it is recognized that Yugoslavia is a Communist country.
What could attract so many people to this out-of-the-way place? It is the startling claim of six Croatian youths that, for the past decade, they have communicated almost daily with an apparition that identifies itself as the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Beginning of the Apparitions
On Wednesday, June 24, 1981, two teenage girls -- Ivanka Ivankovic (15 years old) and Mirjana Dragicevic (16) -- had gone out to a hillside behind their homes to smoke cigarettes. While walking down the rocky slopes of Podbrdo (Pod-bre-do) hill in the late afternoon, Ivanka looked up and saw the luminous figure of a young woman in a grey robe, hovering three feet above the ground. "Look, Mirjana," Ivanka said excitedly, "it's the Gospa" (the Croatian word for Madonna, or Virgin Mary). Mirjana, seeing that her friend was genuinely startled, replied: "Don't be an idiot. Why on earth would the Gospa appear to the likes of us?" Both of the girls were gripped with fear and ran down the hill to the village.
About an hour later, the two girls reluctantly agreed to go back up the hill to help a friend round up a small flock of sheep that had been grazing on Podbrdo. When they reached the spot where Ivanka had seen the apparition, all three girls saw a figure of a woman holding a child in her arms. Just then a fourth teenage girl joined them, Vicka Ivankovic, who had come looking for her friends. Vicka was especially terrified by the woman and ran down the hill seeking help. Two teenage boys were summoned and they also witnessed the apparition. The radiant figure beckoned the youths to come toward her, but all six were shaken and ran down the hill to their homes.
The next day, four girls and two boys encountered the apparition again at the same place on the hill. This group was slightly different than those who had seen the apparition the previous day. It included from the first day Ivanka, Mirjana, Vicka, and Ivan Dragicevic (16). The young people who joined the group on the second day were Marija Pavlovic (16) and the young boy, Jacov Colo (10). These six Croatian youths would become Medjugorje's permanent group of "visionaries" or "seers." They are the only people who can see the apparitions.
On this second day, it was again Ivanka who first saw the figure. As before, the luminous woman beckoned the children to come toward her. Still fearful, but nevertheless feeling strangely drawn to "the Lady," the children rushed toward the glowing apparition, knelt down in front of it, and began to pray. Still grieving from her mother's recent death, Ivanka was the first to speak: "Where is my mother?" The Lady told the girl that her mother was well, that she was with her, and not to worry. Ivanka asked if her mother had left a message for her children. The Lady responded: "Obey your grandmother and be good to her because she is old and cannot work." Mirjana, being concerned with what others would say, complained: "Dear Gospa, they will not believe us when we go home. They will tell us that we are crazy." The Lady merely smiled and promised to return the next day. "Go in the peace of God," was her salutation as she disappeared from sight. The apparition had lasted some ten to fifteen minutes.
News about the apparitions spread like wildfire throughout Medjugorje and its surrounding areas. By Friday, the third day of the appearances, two or three thousand people joined the visionaries on the hill awaiting the apparition. A bright light flashed three times on the horizon just before the apparition appeared. The young people were much bolder now in approaching the mysterious Lady. Vicka, the most outspoken, brought forth some holy water mixed with salt. She sprinkled the apparition, saying: "If you are really Our Lady, then stay with us. If not, leave us!" The Lady only smiled in response. Then the following dialogue ensued:
Visionaries: "Who are you?"
Apparition: "I am the Blessed Virgin Mary."
Visionaries: "Why have you come here? What do you desire?"
Apparition: "I have come because there are many true believers here. I wish to be with you to convert and to reconcile the whole world."
Visionaries: "Why are you appearing to us? We are not better than others."
Apparition: "I do not necessarily choose the best."
Visionaries: "Give us a sign which will prove your presence."
Apparition: "Blessed are those who have not seen and who believe."
Following the dialogue, the Lady joined with the young people in reciting several traditional Catholic prayers. Seven times they recited the "Our Father" (also known as the Lord's Prayer), the "Hail Mary" (with the Lady not participating), and the "Glory Be to the Father." At the Lady's insistence, they also recited the Apostles' Creed.
The apparitions were drawing so much attention by the fourth and fifth days that the communist police immediately cracked down on the new movement. They dispersed the large crowds (15,000 present on the hill during the fourth day of apparitions) and interrogated the visionaries. All six youths were submitted to rigorous medical and psychiatric examinations. But when the tests showed no sign of maladjustment, they were allowed to return to their homes. The police also ordered the priests of St. James parish (the Catholic church in Medjugorje) to ban the apparitions. Ten days after the appearances had begun, Yugoslavian television condemned them as "a Croatian nationalist plot." The communists suspected that the apparitions were really a front, intended to cover a politically motivated uprising.
The local Franciscan priests were initially very skeptical about the apparitions. Father Jozo Zovko, the newly appointed pastor of St. James Parish, at first thought the youths were using drugs. Zovko gradually grew to accept the visionaries' claims, and sought to protect them from the police. In a private interview he informed me that he himself witnessed a silent apparition one night during mass. Shortly after his acceptance of the apparitions, Zovko was arrested for "inciting the crowds." He ended up serving 18 months of a three year prison sentence.
The police did their best to stop the phenomenon, but to no avail. As the visions continued, most of the villagers in and around Medjugorje began to be convinced of their authenticity. Because the communists do not allow religious services outside the church, the visionaries asked the Lady if she would appear to them in the church. Soon after their request, they began receiving apparitions in the church rectory of St. James Parish. Except for a few apparitions in the visionaries' homes, the appearances have remained in the church.
What Do The Visionaries Claim To See?
The young people all attest that three flashes of light almost always precede the coming apparition. They also claim they see the Virgin Mary as a real, external person, occupying three-dimensional space. They describe her as a young woman wearing a grey robe, with a white veil, having a crown of stars around her head, and having blue eyes, black curly hair, rosy cheeks, and floating on a cloud. They say Mary speaks to them in their native language of Croatian, and that they can both hear and touch her. While they all see the same figure, sometimes the messages to particular visionaries are individual and private. They also claim that other persons have appeared to them, including: various angels, Jesus, the Devil, and certain deceased relatives. They have also reported seeing visions of heaven, purgatory, and hell.
Twenty-Five Hundred Apparitions and Counting
As the tenth anniversary of the apparitions approaches, it is extraordinary that the visionaries still claim to witness them nearly every day. While two of the original visionaries have stopped seeing daily visions (Mirjana and Ivanka), the other four (whose ages now range from nineteen to twenty-six) claim that the appearances continue. The total number has reached approximately twenty-five hundred. This is in sharp contrast to the alleged apparitions at Lourdes, where St. Bernadette received only eighteen total apparitions over a period of five months. Similarly, at Fatima there were only a handful of apparitions over several months.
One Thousand Messages
Over this ten-year period the visionaries claim to have received nearly a thousand messages from the Blessed Virgin Mary. According to Catholic scholar Mark Miravalle, Assistant Professor of Theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the overall messages of Medjugorje fall into a few basic divisions. The most important are: the secrets, information for later disclosure, and the principal messages.
The "secrets" consist of ten messages the Lady has promised to give to all the visionaries. This is similar to both Lourdes and Fatima, where secrets were also given. The secrets are generally apocalyptic in nature, and are said to affect the entire world.
One of the secrets has already been partially disclosed by the youths. The Lady has promised to leave a visible sign on the hill to commemorate the apparitions.
The secrets consist of both blessings for the obedient and punishment for the wicked. The ninth and tenth secrets are spoken of as particularly grave for mankind. Mirjana and Ivanka claim to know all ten. The other four visionaries know only nine. It is presumed that once all the visionaries have received the ten secrets, the apparitions will cease in Medjugorje. In fact, the visionaries have all stated that, according to the Lady, this will be her last appearance on the earth. This divulgence contributes to the messages' already apocalyptic orientation.
"Information for later disclosure" consists of information which the visionaries have been instructed to disclose at the appropriate times in the future. It is commonly thought that the visionaries will reveal certain things to church authorities -- possibly even the Pope. Such disclosures will have some connection to the secrets and will verify the predictive aspect of the secrets.
The third division, referred to as the principal messages, is considered the most important. These messages are universal in their scope and application. According to Miravalle, they contain six foundational themes: (1) faith (both in God and in the authenticity of the apparitions); (2) prayer (especially the rosary); (3) fasting (twice a week on bread and water); (4) penance (self-denial for the sake of lost souls); (5) conversion (to God and away from sin); and (6) peace (of the soul first, then of the world).
The call for peace appears to be the central focal point in the Medjugorjian message; so much so that the Lady reportedly identifies herself to the visionaries as the "Queen of Peace."
Signs and Wonders
There have also allegedly been various signs and miracles that accompany the already supernatural apparitions in Medjugorje. The most popular is undoubtedly the "Miracle of the Sun" phenomenon. Rene Laurentin, an eminent Marian scholar, stated that "on numerous occasions, thousands have witnessed the sun change colors, spin, become a silver disc, throb and pulsate in the sky, and throw off a rainbow of colors." When I visited Medjugorje in September of 1990, I observed thousands of people looking directly into the sun every day at 5:45 p.m., when the apparition was allegedly taking place.
Most pilgrims claim that part of the miracle is that they are able to observe the sun for several minutes without damaging their eyes. This is not true in everyone's case, however. A recent New England Journal of Medicine discussed people who have suffered serious eye damage from watching the sun in Medjugorje. Because it is happening rather frequently, some doctors are calling it the "Medjugorje affliction."
In addition to the phenomena of the sun, unusual things have reportedly taken place in connection with a large cross at the top of Mount Krizevac, the highest peak in the area. This twenty-foot cement cross, which overlooks Medjugorje, was built in 1933 to commemorate the 1900th year of Christ's death and resurrection. Some pilgrims have testified that they have seen the arms of the cross mysteriously spin. Others say it frequently becomes a column of light more intense than a neon cross. Still others claim that they have seen it disappear before their eyes. It has also been reported that the word "MIR" (the Croatian word for PEACE) has appeared in bright letters in the sky above the cross.
Other signs have been reported, including: rosaries turning a gold or copper color, fires on the hillside with nothing being scorched, images of Jesus and Mary seen in the sky, and numerous claims to physical healings.
Many Catholics who have visited this village, however, say they are most persuaded by the spiritual fruit they see present there. This fruit, in their thinking, is the changed lives of those who visit Medjugorje and are challenged to live the simple but relevant messages given there.
The Catholic Church's Judgment
The happenings in Medjugorje are unique among reported apparitions, if only for their duration. Just what is the Vatican's attitude toward them? The answer to that question remains unclear.
According to church Canon Law, the responsibility for investigating an alleged apparition rests with the local bishop. In this case, that is Bishop Pavao Zanic of Mostar-Duvno, the prelate (high-ranking clergyman) of the diocese in which Medjugorje lies. Shortly after the apparitions began, Zanic began looking into the events. Though always cautious, his initial findings confirmed the need for further study. In 1982, he headed an official diocesan commission to investigate the phenomenon. A fifteen-member panel studied it for five years before reaching a conclusion. Their findings were reportedly negative, but the results were never made public. The majority of the panel, made up of nearly a dozen theologians and two psychiatrists, voted against a supernatural explanation of the events. Bishop Zanic informed me during a private interview that the results of the voting were as follows: two votes that the supernatural was confirmed; one vote that there was something supernatural, but only in the beginning; one abstention; and eleven votes that the supernatural was not confirmed.
Bishop Zanic told me that he found serious discrepancies between the youths' testimonies. He stated he had caught them in clear fabrications, and that the healings and miracles were either fraudulent or grossly exaggerated. He also stated that the local Franciscans had been guilty of disobedience and, in some cases, unethical practice. His conclusion: the apparitions in Medjugorje are a fraud perpetuated by the local Franciscans, with whom he has been feuding.
In April 1986, Zanic brought his report to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the prefect (official) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome (the deciding body with regard to apparitions). Cardinal Ratzinger decided that the conditions surrounding the apparitions at Medjugorje warranted a broader examination. In some ways, just the popularity of Medjugorje itself has demanded a more extensive evaluation. In addition, the long-standing conflict between Bishop Zanic and the Franciscans is well known. Some felt that this dispute influenced Ratzinger's decision to have Bishop Zanic's diocesan commission dissolved. Ratzinger then transferred the authority for rendering a judgment on Medjugorje to the Bishops' Conference of Yugoslavia, presided over by Cardinal Kuharic, Archbishop of Zagreb, Yugoslavia. The Bishops' Conference installed a new commission that has been investigating Medjugorje for the past five years. Their evaluation has progressed slowly, but in late November, 1990, they released this controversial statement:
From the very beginning, the bishops have been following the event of Medjugorje through the local bishop, the bishop's commission and the commission of the bishops' conference of Yugoslavia for Medjugorje. On the basis of studies that have been made to this moment, it cannot be affirmed that supernatural apparitions and revelations are occurring here.
The meaning of this statement is open to interpretation. Opponents of Medjugorje argue that if nothing supernatural has been confirmed after ten years of investigation, then the apparitions are not genuine. They tend to see this statement as leading to a final negative verdict on Medjugorje. Supporters, however, believe that this is not the final word on Medjugorje -- the validity of the apparitions is still an open question. It appears that both sides are still awaiting an official word from the Vatican. Recently, however, Cardinal Ratzinger has issued a reminder to the pilgrims that Medjugorje has not yet been approved by the church, and that it is forbidden for pilgrimages to be sponsored by the church.
Many feel that Medjugorje's popularity will have some influence on the Vatican's final decision as to whether the apparitions should be approved. Regardless, many Catholics already view Medjugorje as the continuation of Lourdes and Fatima. Medjugorje has had a substantial impact upon millions of Catholics worldwide.
HOW APPARITIONS HAVE INFLUENCED CATHOLIC PIETY
Having surveyed several diverse examples of Marian apparitions (in Part One, and concluding with this article's look at Medjugorje), I now wish to consider how Marian apparitions have influenced Catholic devotional life.
The reciting of the so-called Dominican rosary is one of the most popular and recognizable forms of prayer in the Catholic church. The rosary is considered a pious practice that is intended to combine both vocal and contemplative prayer. Praying the rosary consists of reciting 15 decades (or sets of ten) of "Hail Marys," each preceded by an "Our Father," and followed by a "Glory be to the Father." The vocal prayers are accompanied by meditations upon certain aspects of the life of Jesus and Mary, referred to as "mysteries." The worshiper recites the vocal prayers, but dwells on the mysteries assigned to the decade he or she is reciting. The mysteries are separated into three divisions (Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious), with five meditations to each division.
The worshiper keeps track of these many prayers by use of a string of beads (also called a rosary), to which a crucifix is attached. The central prayer of the rosary is clearly the "Hail Mary," which is repeated 150 times when the complete 15 decades is recited (ordinarily, to "pray the rosary" means to pray only five of the fifteen decades). The Hail Mary is recited in two parts:
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
The origin of the rosary, at least St. Dominic's connection to it, has been vigorously debated. "Pious tradition" teaches that the Virgin Mary appeared to Dominic in an apparition and gave him the rosary. She instructed him to proclaim its many benefits, and promised him many personal blessings if he did. This tradition has been around at least since the fifteenth century. It gained wide acceptance because of its insertion into many papal bulls and encyclicals, which promised various indulgences for those who faithfully recited the rosary.
Linking the origin of the rosary to an apparition seen by St. Dominic has been disputed by modern Catholic scholars. The New Catholic Encyclopedia states that "those who have favored the tradition have not succeeded in mustering convincing proofs to support it," and concludes that "the most satisfying explanation of the Rosary"s origin is that it developed gradually as various Christological and Marian devotions coalesced." Nevertheless, many Catholics still believe this pious tradition.
While the origin of the rosary cannot be convincingly connected to an apparition of Mary, the command to pray the rosary is a central motif in nearly all of the ecclesiastically approved Marian apparitions. As we saw in Part One, this is especially true of Lourdes and Fatima, where praying the rosary is one way of averting apocalyptic disaster. The Medjugorjian message follows this pattern. During one of the apparitions at Medjugorje, the Lady requested that the full 15-decade rosary be said every day. According to Miravalle, the rosary is the fundamental form of devotional prayer requested at Medjugorje.
Apparitions of Mary have thus done much to increase the popularity of the rosary among Catholics.
Another object of Catholic devotion that is attributed to a Marian apparition is the scapular. Scapulars are worn devoutly by millions of Catholics throughout the world.
The first scapulars were worn by monks as early as the eleventh century to protect their habits (religious dress) while performing manual labor. Initially, they consisted of a large cloth worn over the shoulders (scapular is Latin for "shoulder"). Today, however, they are made up of two small double squares of cloth, suspended from the shoulders by two strings or cords. Over a period of time a symbolic meaning was attached to the garments. They were considered a kind of cross worn around the shoulders -- a sign of God's protection. There is now close to twenty different scapulars connected to various religious orders.
The oldest and best known of the Marian scapulars is the brown scapular dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Its origin is allegedly connected to a Marian apparition. The New Catholic Encyclopedia explains: "According to Carmelite legend, Our Lady appeared to St. Simon Stock in Cambridge in 1251 and, showing him a brown scapular, declared that whoever wore it until death would be preserved from hell and on the first Saturday after his death would be taken by her to heaven."
Historically, it is questionable whether this apparition or the scapular associated with it was known to the Carmelite friars in the mid-thirteenth century. Some believe it was a pious invention of a later time. However, the promise of deliverance from hell has been a source of controversy. While theologians insist that the scapular is not to be regarded as securing salvation in and of itself (the interior disposition of the soul must be considered primary), many Catholics nonetheless view the scapular as having a magical efficacy. Again, for many Catholics, its alleged connection to an apparition makes it a guarantee from heaven.
A PROTESTANT EVANGELICAL RESPONSE
Because of their seemingly miraculous character, Marian apparitions present a challenge to Protestant evangelical faith which needs to be addressed. In the remainder of this article I will therefore evaluate these occurrences from that Protestant position. In so doing, I must assume -- rather than defend -- the Protestant belief in the supreme authority of Scripture. That belief has been adequately defended previously in this journal.
It seems evident from studying this distinctly Catholic phenomenon that the only way one could justify belief in Marian apparitions is to accept completely the Roman Catholic view of Mary. That is, if these apparitions are authentic and are performed under the auspice of almighty God, then we are dealing with the Mary revealed in Roman Catholic theology. For these apparitions do nothing but confirm distinctly Catholic beliefs about Mary. However, this is the central reason why Protestant evangelicals cannot accept these apparitions as being from God. To accept these apparitions is to accept a completely unbiblical view of Mary. And, for the evangelical Protestant, the clear teaching of Scripture must supersede any private revelation, especially those that are directly incompatible with the Bible.
Just as the Catholic church uses an objective criteria for accepting or rejecting apparitions (conformity to Catholic teaching), the Protestant does as well. For the Protestant, the phenomenon must conform to Scripture. Protestants, then, are no more closed-minded (apriorism) to supernatural manifestations than Catholics; we merely use a different and, from our perspective, more appropriate criteria.
The Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), upon which Protestantism stands, asserts that Scripture is the supreme authority in matters of doctrine. However, the Catholic affirmation of Mary's immaculate conception, her perpetual virginity, her bodily assumption into heaven, and her work as an intercessor all lack biblical support. Further, there is no biblical basis for granting Mary such exalted titles as "Queen of Heaven," "Mother of the Church," and "Queen of all Saints."
It is not just that these Marian beliefs lack biblical support (nonbiblical); some of them undermine clearly defined scriptural doctrines (unbiblical). For example, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception directly contradicts the biblical teaching of the universality of sin (Rom. 3:23). What concerns Protestants most, however, is the way Mariology challenges the uniqueness of Christ's person, and also detracts from the complete sufficiency of His work. If there is doubt about this, consider how Catholic Mariology parallels Christology: (1) Jesus was born without sin -- Mary was conceived without original sin. (2) Jesus was sinless -- Mary also lived a sinless life. (3) Following His resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven -- Mary was assumed bodily into heaven. (4) Jesus is a mediator -- Mary is a mediatrix. (5) Jesus is the Redeemer -- Mary is the coredemptrix. (6) Jesus is the new Adam -- Mary is the new Eve. (7) Jesus is the King -- Mary is the Queen. Even Protestant scholars who are sympathetic to Catholicism believe that this parallel can only threaten Christ's preeminence and blur His exclusive role as sole redeemer and mediator (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 2:16-18; 4:14-15; 7:25; 9:12-14; 10:1-10). A further concern is that Mary, by virtue of her exalted status, has actually become a semi-divine being.
Because Catholic Mariology and Marian apparitions are inextricably woven together (Mariology providing the basis for potentially authentic apparitions), we must jettison both. You see, if we are forced to reject the Catholic view of Mary on scriptural grounds, we cannot then accept Marian apparitions which simply espouse the same doctrinal errors. Protestants, therefore, have a scriptural right to discount Marian apparitions a priori, simply because they fail our criterion.
The truth or falsity of apparitions is measured then upon whether the phenomenon as a whole conforms to Scripture, not on how dramatic or sensational the experience may be. For the Protestant, apparitions could never confirm the truth of Catholic Mariology, which is unbiblical by its very nature.
Finding an Explanation
Any honest effort to provide a satisfying explanation for the phenomenon known as Marian apparitions will prove to be a complex and difficult task. I freely admit that I may not be able to account for everything connected to these unusual occurrences. Nevertheless, logically the origin or cause of Marian apparitions must be either natural or supernatural. There could be numerous natural explanations. These range from outright human deception, to psychological projection or hallucination, or even possibly to some physical or natural scientific cause. The cause could even be found in a combination of these factors. However, because of the unbiblical nature of Marian apparitions, if the cause is supernatural in origin then we can only be dealing with the demonic, not with God. I realize that this line of reasoning will be offensive to many Catholics; nonetheless, I believe it is a necessary theological inference.
When one analyzes many of the alleged miracles that accompany Marian apparitions, they seem to be of a different kind than those found in Scripture. This is true of biblical miracles as a whole, as well as the miracles in Jesus' public ministry. When did Jesus ever make the sun dance or crosses spin? All of His miracles were done in the context of ministry. Biblical miracles had a strong practical aspect. Many of the miracles associated with Marian apparitions seem dramatic and sensational; attention-getting if you will -- the kind of miracles that Jesus consistently refused to perform (Matt. 12:38-39). This is a good reason to at least suspect the source of these miracles.
But could Satan (and/or demons) pull this off? There seems to be clear scriptural evidence that the answer is yes. First, we are told that the devil "masquerades as an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14-15). He is also capable of performing "counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders" (2 Thess. 2:9-10), and near the end of the ages he will inspire false Christs and false prophets who will "perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect -- if that were possible" (Matt. 24:24). The Book of Revelation speaks several times of how the "beast" and the "false prophet" -- both extensions of Satan -- will perform "great miraculous signs" in the end times (Rev. 13:13; 16:14; 19:20). In addition to counterfeit miracles, he is also capable of predicting the future (sometimes with astounding accuracy, but often not) and declaring a way of salvation (Acts 16:16). His goal is always to deceive, to cause people to abandon their faith, and, ultimately, to lead the world astray (1 Tim. 4:1; Rev. 12:19).
How does this apply to Medjugorje and other popular Marian apparitions? Satan's purpose behind this phenomenon might be to divert Catholics in general, and evangelical Catholics in particular, from a faith centered in Christ and the biblical elements in Catholicism to an emphasis on the more unbiblical and even cultic aspects of Catholicism (Mariology in general, penance, purgatory, veneration of saints, etc.). All these cultic aspects are directly connected to apparitions. As long as the emphasis remains on these things, Satan can afford to candy-coat his deceptive scheme by mouthing Christian theology (e.g., telling Mary's followers to pray the creed, teaching there is only one God, etc.). Scripture is clear that Satan has both the means and the motive to orchestrate the unusual events described in this article.
Legend, Delusion, or Psychosis?
A number of alleged Marian apparitions are based upon very sketchy evidence. As we have seen, the New Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that the apparitions to St. Dominic and the apparition to St. Simon Stock in 1251 are virtually legends. As well, this same encyclopedia points out that the documentary basis for the apparition at Guadalupe, Mexico (1531) is not without problems, though certainly more credible than those associated with St. Dominic and St. Stock.
The Catholic church also admits that most apparitions remain unverified, and can probably be explained by natural means. Some are intentionally fraudulent, while others are caused by illness. Modern psychiatry has proposed that religious visions are frequently the result of psychological projection, hysteria, and/or hallucinations. Although an anti-supernatural bias no doubt influences some of these explanations, yet they do seem to fit and adequately describe much visionary phenomena (biblical visions being an obvious exception).
Problems with Medjugorje
There are several problems with the phenomena of Medjugorje, let alone the underlying theology. First, there are some inconsistencies in the visionaries' testimonies. On June 30th, 1981 (the first week of the apparitions), the visionaries reported that the "Gospa" would appear only three more times. This was a definite mistake. Additionally, when the apparitions began, it was stated that there were five secrets. This was later changed to ten. Laurentin has attempted to explain these apparent contradictions, but in the wake of a thousand alleged messages, I am not sure he succeeds.
There is also the problem of some messages sounding pluralistic (i.e., implying the salvific validity of all religions). In 1981, a priest asked the visionaries: "Are all the religions good?" Their answer was that the Lady says "all religions are good before God." On another occasion a message came forth stating that "you are not true Christians if you do not respect other religions" and that "division among the religions is caused by man, not God." Laurentin attempts to defend these statements by stating that the Lady is only requesting tolerance among differing religions. However, even Vatican officials are concerned with these pluralistic sounding messages. It would seem these messages are at least ambiguous, if not genuinely pluralistic in content.
Another troubling aspect of Medjugorje is that some of the visionaries have seen, talked to, and even touched people who have died. In Ivanka's case, she embraced and kissed her dead mother. This sounds very similar to the occultic practice of necromancy, a practice the Bible explicitly condemns (Deut. 18:10-12; Isa. 8:19; 1 Chron. 10:13-14). While some may argue that this is not technically necromancy because the dead are not conjured, still the visionaries are receiving information from the dead -- which is entirely foreign to Scripture and very much like the occultic practice. I would also argue that Mary herself is among the dead. If this contact with spirits is really happening, I must conclude they are communicating with demons.
We would do well to heed the warnings of Scripture: "Test everything. Hold on to the good" (1 Thess. 5:21). "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1). I do not believe that the occurrences at Medjugorje, for example, have been adequately tested for signs of the demonic. Spraying holy water mixed with salt is not sufficient. As well, since Scripture instructs us to test the spirits, the fact that the Lady at both Lourdes and Fatima refused initially to identify herself raises great suspicion as to her real identity.
Whether the cause is demonic or human, the effect of this phenomenon is to lead people away from the truth of God's Word. In fact, if we are to succeed in guarding against this type of spiritual aberration, Holy Scripture must be our standard. Protestants have long argued that it is Catholicism's failure to understand and accept the supreme normative authority of Scripture that has allowed the doctrinal excesses found in Catholic Mariology. This is especially tragic because the popularity of these apparitions demonstrates that millions of Catholics are sincerely hungry for spiritual truth. However, the truth that sets men free is found only in the Christ of the apostolic writings. Therefore, it is precisely because of this evangelical Protestant's regard for Christ and Scripture (as well as the true honor of Christ's mother) that I must protest against Marian apparitions and the cult of the Virgin Mary.
1 The word "Medjugorje" is Croatian for "between the hills."
2 These figures were given to me by Catholic journalist Gabriel Meyer. He is based in Medjugorje and writes for the National Catholic Register and Catholic Twin Circle.
3 Gabriel Meyer, A Portrait of Medjugorje (Studio City, CA: Twin Circle Publishing Company, 1990), 19.
4 As cited in Mary Craig, Spark From Heaven: The Mystery of the Madonna of Medjugorje (Notre Dame, ID: Ave Maria Press, 1988), 16. This quote comes from an interview transcript for the BBC Everyman/Westernhanger film, The Madonna of Medjugorje.
5 Svetozar Kraljevic, The Apparitions of Our Lady at Medjugorje, ed. Michael Scanlan (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1984), 13.
7 As cited in Rene Laurentin and Rene Lejeune, Messages and Teachings of Mary at Medjugorje (Milford, OH: The Riechle Foundation, 1988), 150.
8 Rene Laurentin and Ljudevit Rupcic, Is the Virgin Mary Appearing at Medjugorje? (Gaithersburg, MD: The Word Among Us Press, 1984), 26-27.
9 Meyer, 23.
10 Laurentin and Rupcic, 31-32.
11 Mark Miravalle, Heart of the Message of Medjugorje (Steubenville, OH: Franciscan University Press, 1988), 14-16.
12 Ibid., 30.
13 Rene Laurentin, Latest News of Medjugorje (June 1987), trans. Judith Lohre Stiens (Milford, OH: The Riehle Foundation, 1987), X.
14 See Edgar L. Havaich, "On a Hill Far Away: The Message and Miracles of Medjugorje," The Quarterly Journal, July/September 1990, 5-7.
15 Rene Laurentin and Henri Joyeux, Scientific & Medical Studies on the Apparitions at Medjugorje, trans. Luke Griffin (Dublin: Veritas Publications, 1987).
16 As cited in E. Michael Jones, "Medjugorje Goes Up in Smoke: The Yugoslavian Bishops Just Say No," Fidelity, February 1991, 16.
17 Chuck Sudetic, "Heavenly Visions? Bishop Says No," New York Times, 28 September 1990, A9.
18 New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967), s.v. "Rosary."
19 Ibid., 668.
20 Ibid., s.v. "Scapulars," 1115.
22 See Elliot Miller, "The Christian and Authority" (two parts), Forward, Spring and Summer 1985, 8-15; Kenneth R. Samples, "Does the Bible Teach `Sola Scriptura'?," Christian Research Journal, Fall 1989, 31.
23 See Elliot Miller, "From Lowly Handmaid to Queen of Heaven: The Mary of Roman Catholicism" (two parts), Christian Research Journal, Summer and Fall, 1990.
24 See George Carey, A Tale of Two Churches (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 37.
25 Laurentin, Latest News of Medjugorje (June 1987), 25-31.
26 Jan Connell, Queen of the Cosmos: Interviews with the Visionaries (Orleans, MA: Paraclete Press, 1990), 40.
About the Author
Samples is currently serving as director of the Augustine Fellowship Study Center at Post Office Box 23, Hemet, CA 92543; (909) 654-1429.
End of document, CRJ0079A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"Apparitions of the Virgin Mary: A Protestant Look at a Catholic
Phenomenon, Part Two"
release A, April 30, 1994
R. Poll, CRI
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