The Father William Most Collection
Private and public revelation
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
Public revelation is what we have in Scripture and Tradition. It was completed, finished, when the last Apostle died and the New Testament was finished. So there is no more until Christ returns at the end. In this area the Church has His promise of providential protection in teaching.
Even though there is no new public revelation, the Church can progress in deepened understanding of the original deposit of faith - thus the Immaculate Conception, for example, was not mentioned in the first centuries, was even denied by many in Middle Ages, but could be defined in 1854. This progress is the result of the growing light of the Holy Spirit. At the Last Supper Jesus promised Him to lead the Church into all truth.
Private Revelation is all else. The word private is poor, but usual. Even Fatima, addressed to the world, is private. But there is a great difference. The Church does not have the providential protection in matters of private revelation. Ordinarily the decision of the local Bishop is final on authenticity of a revelation. Yet we would not have to believe any decision on private revelation - though we must obey a command, if a Bishop gives such, not to go to the place of a an alleged revelation. In obeying, we do not lose any graces. Christ saved the world by obedience- cf. Rom 5:19. St. Margaret Mary says He told her: "Not only do I desire that you should do what your Superior commands, but also that you should do nothing of all that I order without their consent. I love obedience, and without it no one can please me."
The most the Church can do on a private revelation is:1)say it does not clash with public revelation. If it did, that part of it would be out. 2)Say it seems to deserve human acceptance - that is in contrast to something accepted on the divine virtue of faith, which comes into play only in the area of public revelation.
The Church has shown very special favor to some private revelations, such as Fatima, and the Brown Scapular. For the 700th anniversary of the vision given St. Simon Stock for the Scapular, Pius XII wrote a letter to the major superiors of Carmelites, which showed he personally believed it. In that letter he warned that the mere physical wearing of the scapular is not enough - it must be the outward sign of a solid Marian devotion. If it is, then even if the vision never took place, they will get what is promised. For Pius XI in 1923 (Explorata res, Feb. 2, 1923) wrote: "... nor would he incur eternal death whom the Most Blessed Virgin assists, especially at his last hour. This view of the Doctors of the Church, in harmony with the sentiments of the Christian people, and supported by the experience or all times, depends especially on this reason, the fact that the Sorrowful Virgin shared in the work of the redemption with Jesus Christ... ." There are similar statements by Benedict XV and Pius XII. We note Pius XI rested this teaching not on private revelation, but on public revelation, on the fact that she shared in the redemption with Jesus (On this see files "Our Lady's Cooperation in the Redemption", "Unscriptural Marian Doctrine?", and "Pope Deepens Conciliar Theology". There is a true wealth of thoughts on her share in the redemption from the Magisterium in the files just listed. Most Catholics have never heard of these teachings, but will be pleasantly surprised to learn of them. Some private revelations. like Akita, urge promotion of the teaching on her share in the redemption, but do not offer much of any development on the idea. The Magisterium does). So this teaching is protected by the promise Christ gave the Church, in as much as it depends on something in public revelation.
Many things depend on both public and on private revelation. The Rosary does not depend on the reported apparition to St. Dominic, but on basic theology, since it consists of 10 Our Fathers (composed by Our Lord), and 50 Hail Marys (first half is from Gospels, second composed by the Church) plus meditation, and has been recommended by so many Popes. Similarly the three requests of Fatima -- moral reform and reparation (penance), plus Rosary, and Immaculate Heart Devotion -- are valid in general theology in public revelation. If we try to get people to follow the three requests, and they say: It is only private revelation, which I do not have to believe, then we can "sell" the three promises on the basis of general theology from public revelation. The Sacred Heart devotion rests basically on public revelation, as Pius XII insisted in his Encyclical on the Sacred Heart (please read it!) - it is honor paid to the love of God as found in and symbolized in the Human Heart of Jesus. So, it is part of the main line of our faith. It calls for consecration (recognition of the fact He, as Creator and Redeemer, has absolute rights over us, which we then pledge to respect and to carry out better and for reparation, make-up for sin (sin is a debt: cf. appendix to Wm. Most, The Thought of St. Paul, on sedaqah). Marian consecration in the full sense, means not just entrusting self to her care, but calls for acts in parallel to those for consecration to the Sacred Heart. Some private revelations, especially those on the Sacred Heart and on the Scapular, offer special promises in addition to what we find in public revelation. They are very worth while.
It is not spiritually good to center one's life around private revelations. They are good when approved, and may be used, but the core is in public revelation, especially some of the things just mentioned. Really, the essence of spirituality is conformity of my will to the will of God - for the only free thing in me is my free will. If I could make it match exactly the will of God, nothing more need be done. - To develop this takes time and effort, more than just one nice prayer.
There is much room for error in private revelations, even when they are given to Saints (cf. file on discernment of spirits). Canonization of a Saint does not at all guarantee the truth of alleged private revelations. St. Catherine of Siena seems to have claimed Our Lady appeared to her and denied the Immaculate Conception.