MARIAN APPARITIONS, THE BIBLE, AND THE MODERN WORLD
by Donal Anthony Foley
foreword by Aidan Nichols OP
(Gracewing, 2002, 453pp, $51.50 plus postage $4.40.
Available from Ignatius House Services, PO Box 180, Sumner Park, Qld 4074, (07) 3279-7415)
A Vatican document is due later this year on the subject of apparitions and other alleged manifestations of the supernatural, so this new book by Donal Anthony Foley is particularly timely.
Its credentials are enhanced by a supportive foreword from prominent English theologian, Fr Aidan Nichols OP, who writes: "I hope this book will make some readers look at the Marian appearance accounts with more sympathy and others reject 'apparitionism' - the attempt to build a spirituality on such foundations alone. There is only one Gospel, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to which all the Scriptures bear witness. But if Mary is the most eminent member of the Church that carries the Gospel, how can she lack all role in evangelism, the bearing of the Gospel to others?"
Donal Foley's balanced and well-researched book focuses on the major Marian apparitions over the past 500 years, "which the Church has decided to accept as authentic". As the book's title indicates, each of these apparitions is linked to contemporary secular happenings, with historical details included on the conquest of Mexico, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French and Russian revolutions, and Darwin and evolution.
In addition, the background to each approved apparition includes elements of the Church's history such as the Council of Trent, the Curé of Ars, Marian dogmas, Vatican I and various pontificates, including the present one.
The most distinctive - and probably controversial - feature of the book is its attempt to identify "intriguing typological affinities between the Marian apparitions and incidents found in the Bible." Foley claims that the apparitions "do seem to follow a definite pattern, laid down, apparently, in the Old Testament, and thus it appears that they have a greater significance for both the Church and the world than has generally been acknowledged."
But, as Foley emphasises, "the primary need is to be guided by the Church in its acceptance of the major Marian apparitions." For it has been the failure in this regard in recent years that has prompted Rome to prepare a document providing direction for the faithful in responding to a plethora of alleged supernatural phenomena.
No doubt the widespread crisis of faith and secularising tendencies in parts of the Church - particularly in the developed world - have prompted many Catholics to seek spiritual consolation in "supernatural" happenings, even in the face of episcopal disapproval.
Apart from providing copious historical details on the better known approved apparitions, such as Guadalupe, Lourdes and Fatima, Foley includes interesting background on La Salette, Pontmain, Knock, Beauraing, Tre Fontane and others. In this regard, alone, it is valuable as a source book on the approved apparitions.
The book's structure of outlining the events around each apparition, the scepticism and criticisms encountered but overcome, the Biblical parallels and contemporary world events proves helpful and illuminating. Foley concludes that the timing of each of the approved apparitions over the past 500 years is more than mere coincidence as each echoes some major revolutionary event, ranging from the Reformation to the rise of Communism.
Today, with the spread of neo-paganism, the marginalising of religious values from public life and the secularising trends within parts of the Church, Foley sees the Marian apparitions as "helping to revitalise Catholicism".
He concludes: "The Marian apparitions, and particularly Fatima, are a decisive call to listen again to Christ and the Church, and it is the great promise held out by them, that the world will see true peace, and a new civilisation of love, that should encourage us for the future.
Michael Gilchrist is Editor of 'AD2000'.