Rewriting the Future: The story of the modern Catholic scenario for the End Times

The medieval End Times synthesis and sequence of Ruler-Pope-Antichrist-Doomsday has given way to a new one of Warning-Miracle-Chastisement-Era of Peace. Here’s how and why.

"Four Horsemen of Apocalypse" (1887) by Viktor Vasnetsov []

Hora novissima, tempora pessima sunt, vigilemus.
Ecce minaciter imminet arbiter ille supremus;

The world is very evil;
The times are waxing late;
Be sober and keep vigil,
The Judge is at the gate.i

Bernard of Cluny speaks perennial truth. For nearly 2000 years, the hour has always been late and the Judge has always been imminent. But the Catholic scenario from Bad Times to End Times has evolved and changed through successive eras. Bernard’s century, the twelfth, already awaited a Last World Emperor, an Angelic Pope, the Antichrist, and Doomsday. Taking their cues from Patristic teaching, speculation, holy prophecies, and political propaganda, Catholics of the Middle Ages played vigorous rounds of “pin the tail on the Antichrist” and endured periodic spasms of millenarianism.

The medieval End Times synthesis dominated Catholic thought into the middle of the twentieth century, as old prophecy collections demonstrate. Yet by century‘s end, the old sequence of Ruler-Pope-Antichrist-Doomsday had been given a new prologue encompassing the Warning (a mini-Judgment within each soul), the Miracle (a permanently visible supernatural Sign), the Chastisement (culminating in the Three Days of Darkness), and the Era of Peace. Private revelations had rewritten the future for millions of Catholics who scarcely recognized the novelty of their new expectations. Tracing and interpreting the change is the purpose of this essay.

Private revelations, prophecies, and “apparitionism”

But before we can examine what private revelations did, we must look at what they are and how they interact with their audience. Jesus is the supreme, public Revelation of God. Private revelations can add nothing to what the Church knows of her Savior. For as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says,

They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history.“ii God may bestow mystic charisms including prophecy, but according to rules established by Pope Benedict XIV, when the Church approves private revelations “for the instruction and the good of the faithful,” they are accepted only with “a human assent, according to the rules of prudence. . . .iii

Private revelations may take the form of personal apparitions, visions, locutions, or wordless and imageless perceptions in the soul. The heavenly figure who communicates is most often the Virgin Mary but also Christ, angels, saintly persons, and even God the Father. Charismatics claim direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit. For the purposes of this paper, recipients of revelation will be collectively called seers or prophets, reserving visionary and locutionist for specific examples.

Some analysts of Protestant apocalypticism, such as Robert Fuller and Paul Boyer, mistakenly think that Catholic interest in the topic is rare. But for millions of Catholics, End Times messages delivered through human messengers are the mirror image of Bible prophecies discerned by prophecy teachers among Evangelicals. Both kinds of phenomena can be turned into pious industries; both may obscure other aspects of the Christian Faith.

“Apparitionism” is my term for building one’s religious life on private revelations. There are pilgrims who travel from site to site around the world trying to get closer to God at places touched by heaven. (The availability of tours indexes an apparition’s popularity.) In extreme cases, obsessions result. To cite some actual examples, a man quit his job to study apparitions, a pregnant woman fasted in obedience to a vision until she miscarried, and a family sold their home to move to a “refuge” recommended by a seer.

The prophecies studied here are apocalyptic in that they claim to reveal the future, but not necessarily the ultimate eschaton when heaven and earth will pass away. They do, however, fit historian Bernard McGinn’s principles of apocalypticism: “. . .first a sense of the unity and structure of history as a divinely inspired totality; second, pessimism about the present and conviction of its imminent crisis; third a belief in the proximate judgment of evil and triumph of the good.”iv

Historically, Catholic prophets have usually concerned themselves with topics of immediate interest including the well-being of people who sought their advice. (A few contemporary seers also address private concerns such as conversion or health.) The modern emphasis on apocalypticism is an index of anxiety over the last two centuries, starting on the eve of the French Revolution. This watershed event of modern times also divides the old scenario of Ruler-Pope-Antichrist-Doomsday from the first stirrings of the new one of Warning-Miracle-Chastisement-Era of Peace.

Older prophecies–some dating to Patristic times–are transmitted to mass audiences as discrete paragraphs strung and restrung like so many beads in twentieth century collections by Gerald Culleton, Edward Connor, Leonard Kramer, Yves Dupont, Benjamin Martin Sanchez, Desmond Birch, and others. There are virtually no primary citations or textual criticism (except by Birch, who defends traditional attributions) and no context beyond a few words about the seer‘s holy life by way of credentials. The prophecy anthologist builds the scenario by his selection and by his interpretations, typically jeremiads at modern sinfulness. (In Dupont’s case these include Radical Traditionalist jibes at the “Judeo-Masonic plot.”)v

Collectors of newer prophecies such as Michael Brown, Ted and Maureen Flynn, Albert Hebert, and Thomas Petrisko also arrange and interpret their material but they have much more to work with. Documentation in terms of biographical data and full messages has become far more available since the Marian apparition at La Salette, France in 1846 made national sensations of both vision and visionaries.

Since La Salette, “public” apparitions have usually been serial events where crowds watch visionaries in periodic ecstasy–or in a few cases, claim to share the vision. But now even privately transmitted visions and locutions are also deemed to be messages of universal import intended for general consumption.

Established networks exist to spread the word. Once an message is reported, a seer will acquire a spiritual director and an audience soon thereafter. No event is too banal for the dedicated apparitionist, to whom a rust stain can be a Divine sign. Some prophets prefer to remain anonymous but others become international celebrities and go on tour. A favored few get papal audiences. In any case, the periodical, the book, the website, the tapes and the television and conference appearances publicize the prophet. Seers are often known by their first names like saints or rock stars. Millions of dollars have been spent on prophecy paraphernalia, pilgrimages, and contributions to the work.

Prophecy media range from crude, photocopied news sheets to professionally made audiovisuals. As nineteenth century promoters discovered, easy access to messages makes prophecy flourish. Imprimaturs have not been deemed necessary since 1966 when Pope Paul VI seemed to change canon law dealing with the publication of religious texts by abolishing The Index of Forbidden Books. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1996 clarification stating that accounts of private revelations were not to circulate without prior permission of the local bishop has not stemmed the tide of these materials. Rome has issued specific cautions in only a few cases (notably Maria Valtorta and Vassula Ryden) where revelations were theologically objectionable.

Mystic experiences confer authority to speak on seers who are often young or marginalized people, overwhelmingly female and lay. Their audiences enjoy seeing the weak confound the strong. “Little” is a complimentary adjective in these circles because it denotes simplicity. (“My dear little children” is a favorite Marian greeting.) But prophetic charism aside, the meaning of the supernatural event is negotiated among prophet, audience, and handlers. Seers cannot fully control how their prophecies will be shaped or applied. For instance, an anonymous American seer reinvented Our Lady of Guadalupe as an anti-abortion icon 459 years after her original appearance in Mexico. This interpretation is now taken for granted by non-Hispanics.

Bishops have the duty of investigating claims of supernatural events in their dioceses although most adopt a wait-and-see attitude in hopes that phenomena will dwindle of their own accord. For instance, archbishops of Atlanta never got around to evaluating Nancy Fowler of Conyers and eventually her visions stopped. Only a tiny handful out of the more than 700 private revelations reported in the twentieth century have gained episcopal recognition. This has not discouraged followers of apparitions that failed to secure approval or were actually condemned. Except in a few cases of proven fraud such as Theresa Lopez and “Brother Gino” Burresi, faithful followers remain confident that some future bishop will reverse the decision on their favorite seer. Discredited messages litter prophecy books like dud artillery shells on old battlefields. Apparition promoters make no effort to acknowledge their past errors.

The opinions of bishops do not loom as large in the apparitionist mind as miracles. Events are validated by ecstasies, stigmata, Eucharistic prodigies, abnormalities in the sun, pictures in clouds, images that come alive, weep, bleed, sweat, or exude oil, rosaries that turn to gold, photographs of apparitions, demonic attacks, changes in the properties of bodies, physical and spiritual healings, the scent of roses, showers of rose petals, even pictures imprinted on rose petals. Definitive proof in the form of future “great signs” are promised for several apparition sites including Garabandal, Spain and Medjugorje, Bosnia where events have not gained episcopal sanction. Apparitionism has, in effect, developed its own religious folklore.

Seers operate in the sphere of popular religion. This is a descriptive term, not a statement about class. Popular religion is more affective and emotive than learned religion, more concerned with finding aid and protection in a dangerous world, intent on personal intimacy with the Divine. But it is not sealed off from learned religion and its appeal is not limited to the laity or to the poor and uneducated. Priests and religious, bishops and popes pay heed to private revelations. (Some even receive them.) Reputable scholars including René Laurentin and Michael O’Carroll have become ardent–and influential–advocates of seers.

New apocalyptic revelations and the Three Days of Darkness

But two centuries ago, apparitionism had yet to attain mass market status although Christians generally believed that God would chastise or spare men depending on their behavior. French Protestants and Jansenists used prophecy to judge the political and social order by godly standards.

When Catholics thought about the End Times, they did so with concepts inherited from the first millennium. Someday a Great Monarch, the Last Roman Emperor, would collaborate with the Angelic Pope to make the world safe for the Church. Once that Ruler laid down his crown in Jerusalem, the Antichrist would appear to delude and persecute men until the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment.

New apocalyptic revelations surfaced in the last years of the ancien régime although they did not see publication until the upheavals of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars were over. After the Bourbon Restoration in 1815, prophecies old and new became intensely popular in all sectors of the French Church as a way of understanding the turmoil just past. France was seen as a special object of Divine solicitude–a view she and her friends have not ceased to export to the rest of the world.

While the French were pouring over prophecies to trace the vindication of the Church, Anne Catherine Emmerich, “the Seer of Dülmen” in Germany, was having visions of coming tribulations. In a series of revelations from 1820, she predicted schism, heresy, clerical corruption, Masonic plots, physical threats to the pope, and the destruction of St. Peter’s. Emmerich also saw the Great Monarch and the Holy Pope arising to save the Church after the unchaining of the Devil around 1950. Her visions depicting a “Church of Darkness” make Emmerich popular among Radical Traditionalists, to the extent that prophecy anthologist Yves Dupont fabricated a criticism of the Novus Ordo Mass by stringing together unrelated sentences of hers.

But some saintly Italian contemporaries of Emmerich’s were adding a new development to Catholic expectations of the End Times. In 1820, the Roman mystic Bl. Elizabeth Canori-Mora prophecied horrible chastisements when “the sky was covered with clouds so dense and dismal that it was impossible to look at them without dismay.” During the worldwide hurricane that follows, demons drag away all the wicked while Sts. Peter and Paul protect “all true and good Catholics.”vi

Another Roman mystic of the same generation, Bl. Anna Maria Taigi, also foresaw the intervention of Rome’s patrons but she sharpened the image of lethal blackness.

There shall come over all the earth an intense darkness lasting three days and three nights. Nothing will be visible and the air will be laden with pestilence, . . . During this darkness artificial light will be impossible. Only blessed candles can be lighted and will afford illumination. He who out of curiosity opens his window to look out or leaves his house will fall dead on the spot.

Demons again destroy the Church’s enemies except for a few who will convert. vii

The third of this trio–who were all acquainted with one another–was popular evangelist and religious founder St. Gaspar del Bufalo. He, too, foresaw the destruction of persecutors, emphasizing the death toll. “He who outlives the darkness and the fear of these three days will think that he is alone on earth because the whole world will be covered with cadavers.”1

Although they took decades to spread, these Romantic-era messages became foundation texts for the Three Days of Darkness because of the seers’ reputations for sanctity. Images of darkness, storm, and punitive demons echo through later nineteenth century prophecies although they are merely part of a series of chastisements. The new motif did not displace the Great Monarch and the Holy Pope. Those figures still commanded keen interest as various seers attempted to predict their identities and battle plans.

The Scriptural cognate of the Three Days is surely the Ninth Plague of Egypt (Ex 10: 21-23), plus the images of storm and darkness associated with the Day of the Lord in the Old Testament and Christ‘s apocalyptic discourse in Matthew 24. It is a curious contrast in mentalité that while Catholic prophets of the End Times were picturing bad people carried off to hell, Protestant Dispensationalists were imagining good people raptured up to heaven.

Meanwhile, the Great Age of Mary got underway in France in 1830. In that year, private apparitions to St. Catherine Laboré in Paris produced the Miraculous Medal, a badge of certain victory in conflict with Satan.

The next private revelation would have very public consequences thanks to winning speedy approval from the Church. In 1846, two shepherd children, Mélanie Calvat and Maxim Giraud, reported seeing the Virgin weeping over the sins of men. The bad harvest of that year was punishment for ritual transgressions and worse would follow unless people amended their lives. French Catholics concluded that holiness could transform the world, a lesson repeated without celestial threats at Lourdes in 1858 .

Mélanie and Maximin made themselves irresistibly fascinating by claiming that Mary had given each a secret. Secrets have figured prominently in many subsequent private revelations, forming what scholar William Christian calls a “’locus of power’” and a “’carrier of apocalyptic speculations.’”viii The children were induced to write down their secrets for Bl. Pope Pius IX, although the Vatican seems to have subsequently lost their letters.

Maximin’s Secret as later revealed made End Time prophecies that did not come to pass but Mélanie expanded hers into a florid pastiche of apocalyptic literature that still fascinates apparitionists. Denouncing corruption in Church and society, she predicted calamities, wars, and cities swallowed by earthquakes or incinerated by heavenly fire as “the sun is darkening.” Before the world’s final purgation, “Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of Antichrist,” a sentiment that endears her to Radical Traditionalists.ix

Following years of partial circulation, Mélanie published her complete Secret in 1879 after France had suffered defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, the overthrow of Napoleon III, and the horrors of the Paris Commune. With the public mood apocalyptic, vengeance and renewal proved a popular message. (Prophecy publications increased five-fold in the 1870s.) Anxious French Catholics waited for Mary to save them and hoped for a Bourbon Restoration. In vain they looked for pretender Henri Comte de Chambord to become the future Great Monarch and defend the papacy.

While Mélanie’s Secret was stirring keen excitement, Breton seeress Marie Julie Jahenny, was promising great things for Chambord and envisioning fiery hail and flaming rain during the Three Days of Darkness. (Today‘s Radical Traditionalists also present her as prophesying against the Novus Ordo Mass.) When Chambord died unrestored in 1883, many of his prophecy-fed supporters turned their energies to anti-Masonic and anti-Semitic causes.

Fatima, The Third Secret, and Chastisement

Anti-Communism became an additional issue after the Fatima apparitions of 1917, which ended on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution. There the Virgin appeared to three Portuguese peasant children asking for prayer and penance lest Russia “spread her errors throughout the world.” She promised that Marian devotions would convert Russia and give the world “an era of peace.”x The final apparition climaxed in a vision of the sun plunging and spinning–a foretaste of fire from the sky. Two of the young seers, Francisco and Jacinta Martos, soon died and have been beatified but their cousin Lucia dos Santos lived as a Carmelite nun until her death in 2005 at the age of 97.

Over the decades Lucia slowly released details of their experience except the so-called Third Secret, which was sent to the pope. The Third Secret became the object of intense speculation during the Cold War because it was imagined to predict dire tribulations, including atomic war and apostasy. Other private revelations and leaked data purporting to be the Third Secret seemed to reinforce this expectation. Cross fertilization cannot be ruled out. For instance, the Church-approved visions of a nun at Akita, Japan in 1973 speak of “a punishment worse than the deluge” in which “fire will fall from the sky and wipe out a great part of humanity.”xi This is suspiciously close to a version of the Third Secret published by a German magazine in 1963 which predicts “a big, big war” with fire falling from the sky will kill “millions and millions” of people.xii The latter account was being recycled as late as 1996 and attributed to a Vatican insider.

When Rome finally released the text in 2000, the Third Secret proved to be a symbolic vision about martyrdom and persecution of the Church, befitting for the bloody twentieth century and the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. Some apparitionists refused to accept this as the complete or authentic text because they expected a sensational message about calamities. Fatima had to build on La Salette; it had to harmonize with later apocalyptic revelations. Furious debates are still raging over “the whole truth of Fatima.”

But during the decades while the Third Secret stayed hidden, accounts of Fatima and La Salette influenced other seers in Poland, Italy, and Spain. In 1931-32, as the Spanish political order staggered towards collapse, a cluster of visions were reported at Ezkioga in the Basque country. Hundreds of visionaries–children and adults, males and females– issued apocalyptic prophecies that grew ever grimmer as crowds of admirers multiplied.

As at Fatima, Russia was the enemy. Chastisement would come in three waves, destroying whole cities. At last, not only would the Three Days of Darkness and the worldwide hurricane arrive, there would be a “rain of fire and clouds of snakes and sudden death,”xiii followed by a spectacular vision of the Virgin and St. Michael. That would be seen by the public and leave a permanent sign behind in the form of miraculously constructed walls. The date of this vision had been recorded in secret but would be announced eight days in advance. The Great Monarch (a Carlist) would then appear, leading a military order of cruciferos who would fight for the Church. After a brief period of peace, the Antichrist–born in 1924 in accordance with the La Salette Secret–would have his day until the world ended in 1958. The situation was re-enforced by newly “discovered” prophecies of chastisement forged in the name of Bl. Maria Rafols, a holy foundress who had died in 1853.

Although the events at Ezkioga drew a million viewers in 1931, the local bishop sternly condemned them in 1933. The Spanish Civil War and opposition from Franco further diminished their memory, but the themes of Ezkioga re-emerged at Garabandal, 1961-65.

In that Cantabrian village, four young girls reported 2,000 apparitions of the Virgin, following preliminaries with an angel, as at Fatima. There were prophecies of persecution and the pope driven into hiding, not to mention a prediction that would make Pope John Paul II the last pontiff to reign, and “then it will be the end of times.”xiv More importantly the visionaries pulled together themes from earlier private revelations into a new apocalyptic scenario: the Warning, the Miracle, and the Chastisement, before the Last Days commence. (The Great Monarch and the Holy Pope were cut from the play.)

The Warning will resemble a spiritual fire, inwardly revealing the state of each person’s soul. Time will seem to stand still during this “mini-judgment.” Within a year the Warning will be followed by the greatest Miracle ever worked, which will convert Russia and the rest of the world. The Miracle will leave behind a permanent Sign in Garabandal that will be able to be seen and photographed but not touched.Then Chastisement ensues, worse than enveloping fire, its severity dependent on mankind’s previous efforts at penance. Two of the Garabandal seers divide between them the date of the Miracle. They will reveal the secret in time for people to reach the site and enjoy its graces.

Although the wonderworking saint Padre Pio was cited in support of the visions, seven successive local bishops have declined to see anything supernatural at Garabandal. In recent years the visionaries’ memories have seemed muddled. Nevertheless, most apparitionists maintain confidence in this scenario which they expect to culminate in the Three Days of Darkness.

Two decades after events at Garabandal, the capital of the apparitionist universe moved to Medjugorje in Bosnia. In 1981, four girls and two boys began reporting visits from the Virgin Mary, who could be touched as well as seen. Thousands of apparitions and millions of pilgrims later, the phenomenon still continues, but has yet to win episcopal approval. Each Medjugorje seer is supposed to receive ten secrets, at least some of which involve prophecies of global chastisement. Before that happens, men will be given a series of three warnings or admonitions announced in advance by one visionary, swiftly followed by a Great Sign centered at the apparition site but visible all over the world. Many expect this to be a giant red cross of light in the sky. The Three Days of Darkness and Era of Peace are supposed to arrive soon afterwards although the visionaries have not actually said so.

Yet in the nearly forty years since the Medjugorje scenario became known, “the skein of divine interventions”xv has become snarled. Some apparitionists wanted to condense the time frame so that a suspiciously millennial Era of Peace would arrive by the Year 2000. Ted and Maureen Flynn’s periodical, Signs and Wonders for Our Times, was anticipating the Warning for 1996. Thus the 1990s had to be a time of tribulation with the Antichrist already on scene and preparing to suppress the Mass. The revelations of Italian locutionist Fr. Stefano Gobbi offered this solution with such flourishes as the Freemasons setting up a blasphemous idol in the Vatican by 1998. Fr. Gobbi conveniently stopped hearing Mary’s voice on the last day of the century when his prophecies went unfulfilled.

The Flynns’ book The Thunder of Justice (1993) papers over inconsistencies among seers to attempt a grand synthesis of all the prophecies mentioned in this paper–and many more. Their book is a Catholic counterpart to Hal Lindsey’s Late, Great Planet Earth (1973), intertwining religious revelations with Right-wing concerns over the New World Order and Antichrist’s One World Government. Bud Macfarlane’s Pierced by a Sword (1995), which packages the same material as didactic fiction, has nearly 350,000 copies in print.

Undeterred by the popularity of such materials, Desmond Birch’s Trial, Tribulation, and Triumph (1996) attempts to snip away the recent prophetic accretions of Warnings and Miraculous Signs, split the Chastisement into two sessions, restore the Great Monarch and Holy Pope to their former eminence, and push the Antichrist into the indeterminate future. Other critics such as John Loughnan use the Internet to debunk dubious apparitions. Such efforts are unlikely to purge the new scenario from tens of millions of minds or restrict private revelations to “approved” channels. (Interestingly, Radical Traditionalists also scorn the new scenario, clinging to the punitive images of the La Salette Secret, Fatima, and Akita.)

Prophecy hunger now bites too deeply to be suppressed for it is driven by fear and frustration. Fear was especially keen during the Cold War because Fatima and Akita were taken as visions of nuclear holocaust. Sr. Lucia was even quoted saying that Communists would conquer the entire world, including America. The credibility of Ukrainian visionary Josyp Terelya depends on his sufferings in the Soviet-era Gulag. Terelya, who claimed that Boris Yelsin was a demon in human guise, predicted war between Russia and China before 2000.

The adaptations of apocalypticism

But apocalypticism can adapt with time. The “Rome Prophecies” made by charismatics on Pentecost, 1975 were then taken as predicting the destruction of St. Peter’s during a future persecution but have recently been interpreted as foretelling the fall of the Trade Towers on 9-11. Some devotees of prophecy, however, are so reluctant to give up the Soviet Union as a foe that they insist its fall was only a cunning hoax.

Fear of moderization is now uppermost. Technology, particularly information technology, is viewed as a tool for Antichrist. John Leary, an American who claims locutions from Jesus, preaches incessantly against computer chips in the hand as the Mark of the Beast. (His Jesus is also keenly interested in the stock market.) Leary’s messages–disallowed by his bishop–recycle concerns raised by Evangelicals David Webber and Noah Hutchings in the 1970s. Miracles and prophecies are being used to fight the secularizing pressures of modern life, a tactic previously used by nineteenth century French Catholics.

Frustrations abound as conditions in Church and Society steadily deteriorate. Despite their loyalty to the Pope, apparitionists were unconvinced by John Paul II’s rallying cry, “Be not afraid!“ Inability to stop abortion bitterly frustrates the faithful. Abortion is the chief sin that will call down God’s chastisement, with homosexuality and other moral offenses closely following. Tribulations must be imminent since virtue seems to be making so little headway against hedonism, materialism, and rationalism in the world or heresy and liturgical abuses within the Church.

Against fear and frustration, apparitionism offers what William Christian calls “a luminous community”xvi of like-minded people who share a common mythic narrative. They are confident that history will make sense, that God will hear their pleas, that vindication is coming. Their apocalyptic vision defines Them against the unregenerate Other. Having a common cosmic enemy keeps Them vigilant–not to mention adding drama to routine lives. The need to draw sharp boundaries has unfortunately led to bitter disputes about the authenticity of particular visions.

Apparitionism taken to excess looks like a semi-Monantist para-Church in which seers, not bishops, have the last word on ecclesiastical issues. (The most extreme case to date was the Committee to Restore the Ten Commandments, a prophecy cult that killed up to 5000 people in Uganda.) Less extreme examples are still troubling. Some apparitionists discomfitted Sr. Lucia by using her as a sort of living oracle to correctly interpret the message of Fatima. Even the sternly condemned seer Veronica Leukens of Bayside, New York was consulted about receiving Communion in the hand, a practice she denounced. At the theological level, apparitions of Our Lady of All Nations to Dutch visionary Ida Peederman (1945-59) promised world peace if the Church would proclaim three new Marian dogmas (Mediatrix, Co-Redemptrix, and Advocate).

Meanwhile, the fearful and the frustrated are consoled by Mary’s motherly interventions. “Mary appears to a member of a community that is suffering, or whose existence is threatened; she explains or clarifies what lies behind the suffering or threat; and she recommends a remedy.”xvii The Virgin herself suffers, she weeps and bleeds for her children and begs them to offer up their own sufferings in reparation for sin. Obedience to the demands of private revelation will turn sorrow to joy.

The other comfort for apocalyptic anxieties is imagining . . .”the last becoming first (accompanied by the sweet vindication of being able to watch the first become last.)”xviii Hitherto untouchable evildoers will be punished while the faithful get their reward for living heaven’s messages. They will be the ones celebrating the fresh-scrubbed Era of Peace after two-thirds or three-quarters of the human race has been dispatched to hell during the Three Days of Darkness.

Apparitionists are confident of their own survival. The most obsessed ones go beyond keeping blessed candles at the ready (perhaps purchased in a “Deluxe Mercy Tribulation Pack” ). American visionary M. J. Evan urged people to move ahead of time into districts of invulnerability that she called “triangles of refuge.” John Leary promises that before the Chastisement, angels will lead the righteous into invisible refuges where all necessities will be provided miraculously, as in the days of the Exodus.

However they survive, the faithful few will enjoy a bucolic respite on the restored earth . This 1987 locution received by Franciscan Br. David Lopez at Medjugorje is a patchwork of older messages, including a forged letter from Padre Pio. “After this purification, there will be spring. Everything will be green, and everything will be clean. . . . The most beautiful thing is that people are going to live off the land not to survive but for love and mutual support.“xix There will be no factories or cities to disturb tranquility. All mankind will be united as one Christendom.

Although predicted to last for only a few years instead of a thousand, the Era of Peace looks quite millennial, with some seers promising a post-Tribulation return of Christ. Modern prophecies trump official Church teaching, which condemns even “modified” millenarianism .xx Here in its culmination, the new scenario for the End Times overturns ancient Catholic traditions–without its devout followers noticing.

Regardless of official disapproval, the novelties will endure. They have been too widely disseminated to be forgotten. But more importantly, they have met psycho-spiritual needs not otherwise addressed. In the late twentieth century, private revelations provided intense religious experiences for tens of millions of people and helped keep the terrors of the age at bay. Prophecy has taken root in popular religious folklore despite the failure of individual seers and the ebbing of interest since the Year 2000. If apocalyptic enthusiasm crests again because of war, calamity, or the two-thousandth anniversary of the Crucifixion, it will most likely expect a sequence of Warning-Miracle-Chastisement-Era of Peace. There are and will continue to be anxious souls who long for their very own moment of cosmic vindication, when Jesus Christ will “terminate the evil” and “diadem the right.”

ut mala terminet, . . .
Recta remuneret, . . . .xxi

(Editor’s note: This essay was originally delivered, in slightly different form, at the 2003 Touchstone conference.)


1Culleton 193.

iBernard of Cluny, “De contempt mundi,” trans. J. M. Neale 1-2.

iiCatechism of the Catholic Church (Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994) par. 67.

iiiDe servorum dei canonizatione et beatificatione lib. II. cap. 32, no. 11. qtd. in Desmond A. Birch, Trial, Tribulation and Triumph (Goleta CA: Queenship Publishing, 1996) 75.

ivBernard McGinn, Visions of the End: Apocalyptic Traditions in the Middle Ages (New York: Columbia UP, 1979.) 10.

vRadical Traditionalists are not simply Catholics who prefer pre-Vatican II practices. They are a small faction in psychological–if not actual–schism. They have a distinctive agenda: monarchist, anti-modern, anti-American, and pro-French, plus much anxiety about Jews and Masons.

viR. Gerald Culleton, The Prophets and Our Times (1941, 1943; Rockfort IL: TAN Books and Publishers, 1974) 189.

viiCulleton 193-94.

viiiWilliam Christian, Visionaries: The Spanish Republic and the Reign of Christ (Berkley CA: California UP, 1996) 354.

ixTed and Maureen Flynn, The Thunder of Justice (Sterling VA: MaxKol Communications, 1993.) 112-17.

xFlynn and Flynn 136.

xiTeji Yasuda, Akita: The Tears and Message of Mary, ed. John Haffert (Asbury NJ: 101 Foundation, 1989) 196.

xiiSandra Zimdars-Swartz, Encounting Mary (1991; New York: Avon Books, 1992) 213- 24.

xiiiChristian 359, 364.

xivFlynn and Flynn 171.

xvChristian 396.

xviChristian 396.

xviiZimdars-Swartz 8.

xviiiRobert Fuller, Naming the Antichrist: The History of an American Obsession (New York: Oxford UP, 1995) 104.

xixFlynn and Flynn 348.

xxCatechism par. 676.

xxiBernard of Cluny 3-4.


Selected Bibliography: 

Scholarly Works on Apocalypticism and Apparitions:

Boyer, Paul. When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture. Cambridge MA: Belknap-Harvard UP, 1992.

William Christian. Visionaries: The Spanish Republic and the Reign of Christ. Berkley CA : U California P, 1996.

Fuller, Robert. Naming the Antichrist: The History of an American Obsession. New York: Oxford UP, 1995.

McGinn, Bernard. Visions of the End: Apocalyptic Tradition in the Middle Ages. New York: Columbia UP, 1979.

Kselman, Thomas A. Miracles and Prophecies in Nineteenth Century France. New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers UP, 1983.

Weber, Eugene. Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults, and Millennial Beliefs Throughout the Ages. Cambridge MA: Harvard UP, 1999.

Zimdars-Swartz, Sandra. Encountering Mary. 1991; New York: Avon Books, 1992.

Popular Books About Private Revelations:

Brown, Michael. The Final Hour. Milford OH: Faith Publishing. 1992.

Flynn, Ted and Maureen. The Thunder of Justice. Sterling VA: MaxKol Communications, 1993.

Petrisko, Thomas W. The Fatima Prophecies: At the Doorstep of the World. McKees Rocks PA: St. Andrews Productions, 1998.

Popular Prophecy Collections:

Birch, Desmond. Trial, Tribulation and Triumph: Before, During and After Antichrist. Goleta CA: Queenship Publishing, 1996.

Connor, Edward. Prophecy for Today: A Summary of the Catholic Tradition Concerning the End-of-Time Era. 1956; Rockford IL: TAN Books and Publishers, 1986.

Culleton, R. Gerald. The Prophets and Our Times. Rockfort IL: TAN Books and Publishers, 1973.

Dupont, Yves. Catholic Prophecy: The Coming Chastisement. 1970; Rockford IL: TAN Books and Publishers, 1973.

Hebert, Albert. Prophecies: The Chastisement and Purification. Paulina LA: n.p.. 1986.

____. The Three Days of Darkness: Prophecies of Saints and Seers. Paulina LA: n.p., 1986.

Popular Studies and Texts of Particular Revelations:

Albright, Judith M. Our Lady at Garabandal. Milford OH: Faith Publishing, 1992.

Stefano Gobbi. To the Priests Our Lady’s Beloved Sons. St. Francis ME: The Marian Movement of Priests. 14th ed., 1993.

Kraljevic, Svetozar. The Apparitions of Our Lady at Medjugorje, 1981-83: An Historical Account with Interviews. ed. Michael Scanlan. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1984.

Yasuda, Teiji. Akita: The Tears and Message of Mary. ed. John M. Haffert. Asbury NJ: 101 Foundation, 1989.

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About Sandra Miesel 27 Articles
Sandra Miesel is an American medievalist and writer. She is the author of hundreds of articles on history and art, among other subjects, and has written several books, including The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code, which she co-authored with Carl E. Olson, and is co-editor with Paul E. Kerry of Light Beyond All Shadow: Religious Experience in Tolkien's Work (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2011).


  1. I suppose that we all receive glimmers of revelation and hopefully they encourage us on our spiritual journey home.
    So, “should we be out in the street telling everyone the vision/message”
    Yes! if it gives a purposeful message to mankind and the Church.
    While we test its authenticity, in asking ourselves does the message serve and give direct Glory to God
    Does it bear witness to the Truth?
    Does the message resonate within my own heart and in doing so draw me closer to our Father in heaven, as in walking His ‘Way’ towards Him?

    While reflecting on Isaiah 55:11
    “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it”

    ‘God’s servants must be content to wait God’s time, and while waiting, patiently go on pleading, sure that in the end “God will avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto Him’
    So Yes, we must look to the sign of the times’, as in, not to fall prey to the apathy of Noah’s day, while reflecting on these words

    Mark 13:32 “But as for that day or hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”

    We must always look to the possibility of renewal, while understanding that our own end time, comes soon enough, individually. While understanding that ‘renewal’ always begins with accepting responsibility for our own past, may God have mercy on me a sinner.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  2. Well…this helped to look up some more , about Bl.Emmerich , whose visions helped The Church to come to know about and locate the Bl.Mother’s place in Ephesus , in her last days and this site below does not even mention same – .
    As to apparent discordance in visions, we have the Resurrection scene , with one mention of one angel and St.Luke’s version with two angels – very likely that one woman saw only one and another either saw another angel or two ..The Church asking for trust , in her authority ..
    and true , we do not have to believe any of the private apparitions , yet , they can be an aid against the flood waters of the dragon ..even against the spirit of
    contempt against The Truth , which is like the beast like the leopard , that can slowly crawl in , with any excess focus or total rejection of these as well .
    Thank God that Mother Church has shown enough wisdom in guiding us to discern
    better .
    Surprised that St.Faustina is not mentioned 🙂 – her revelation that when the # of the fallen angels are replaced in heaven, the universe as it is would cease to exist – good reassurance for those who worry about the earth running out of resources , even as we do need to be wise stewards of same .
    Any of these revelations , if they have helped hearts to be more holy , to pray with more zeal and trust , we may not know yet if same helped to avoid what could have been .
    Books such as of visions of Emmerich , the Diary of Divine Mercy ( there is also the book by Cora Evans , the Mormon convert – reading through the first few chapters , they were rather impressive ) – they all can be of good help at many levels and can also be an aid to protect many from the ‘soft porn ‘ of reading worthless fiction .
    Blessings !

    • The lack of mention of the house at Ephesus in the article may simply be an oversight.

      From House of the Virgin Mary:

      The house was discovered in the 19th century by following the descriptions in the reported visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774–1824), a Roman Catholic nun and visionary, which were published as a book by Clemens Brentano after her death.[2] While the Catholic Church has never pronounced in favour or against the authenticity of the house, it nevertheless has maintained a steady flow of pilgrimage since its discovery. Anne Catherine Emmerich was Beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 3, 2004.

      Catholic pilgrims visit the house based on the belief that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was taken to this stone house by Saint John and lived there for the remainder of her earthly life.[3][4]

      The shrine has merited several papal Apostolic Blessings and visits from several Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

      • Thank you and agree that it was a good oversight at that site , in the sense
        that , same was not focused upon, instead sharing enough of the other good points about the saint , esp. about the need for prayers for holy souls , which might be a neglected aspect in many lives .
        Christmas Day is when the most #s of holy souls are said to leave purgatory ..
        and may be the little ones being made aware of the good of making little sacrifices , to help the holy souls , to be themselves set free from excess desires as well as to know more about the truth of the need for purification , thus , to be an antidote for the increasing prevalence of despair about life , from the bestial spirits, with its unchecked appetites that are unleashed through sins against life and marriage , promoted through the work of the media under control of related powers .

        Heard a good homily the other day , how ‘no one was home for Christmas ‘ 🙂 –
        The Son left the bosom of The Father be instead in the ‘House of Bread’ . to feed the hungry children , starving for the Bread of holiness and its fruit of holy relationships , with God and each other ..
        Mary and Joseph too , there at the manger .. and the shepherds .. the Magi .. ..even the holy angels ..yet , all in one sense , also ‘home ‘ , with Him ..
        and all that , to take us all home , to The Father , including the many holy souls who awaiting for the gates of heaven to be opened , through the merits of the perfect love of The Son , for The Father , undoing the holds of the animal instincts that make persons run away from God ordained pain as well , thus falling into fears and carnal debts with its imperfections in own lives and generations .
        Glory be for the mercy of The Trinity for each of us through the Holy Family .
        Blessings !

  3. “that day”, Jesus tells us, ” no one knows ..but the Father,” meaning it will be up to the Holy Will of the Eternal Father. We know from scripture that the wrath of God could be diminished or voided when people turned back to God, repented and did penance. What we do know is that grievous sins and horrific abominations shape the present time and many souls are turning away from God. It has to inspire to be sober and do penance and strive and struggle to console the Lord and pray for conversions. The wrong thing to do would be to find an option of a religious sterile bubble to practice your own religiousness. We belong to the Body of Christ, his Bride, he abides in us and we in Him. And, we don’t have to be afraid, we have hope; we cannot get around to follow him, imitate him, daily, smack in this world of sin and turmoil, because we have a merciful Savior.

  4. Raised a fundamentalist protestant who reconciled to Holy Church nearing 40yrs ago, I was quite relieved to read later in the new Catechism than the multitudenous multifarious seeings could be ignored….having long ago grown tired of various protestant church attempts to play pin the tail on the anti-Christ, already having heard it was the pope, or Henry Kissinger, or etc etc.

    Any authentic spiritual guide, written or personal, will flat out tell you we are made for one purpose, union in love with God, and to desire unusual experiences and visions is the surest way to miss that one goal, and perhaps even lead to insanity or even demonic possession.

    Any visions should be met with, “that is very nice, but it is God alone whom I desire.”

  5. Written with the Sarcasm and “over-intectualism” one expects from this magazine…truly what is hidden from the “learned” is revealed to little children (literally as can be seen above)…some of the apparitions ridiculed are fully church Approved, and I think I will trust the faith of the 80 million who have traveled to Medjugorje over the sarcasm and triumphalism inherent in this article among many….

  6. What incredible arrogance and error in this pseudo-scholarly article written by an author who evidently has no theological credentials.

    Yes, the glorious Era of Peace is coming; dear friends — like it or not.

    If you want to see what the Church actually teaches *and* what approved trustworthy private revelations say on this matter, feel free to see pages 351-455 of my free book, The Crown of Sanctity.

    Professor Daniel O’Connor
    MA Theology
    Doctoral Student

    • Could not agree more. This piece drips condescension. Not to mention classism — oh those poor benighted “marginalized” lay female seers!

      It also fails to make crucial distinctions between obviously bogus private revelations and fully approved apparitions. It conveniently fails to mention, for instance, that the Fatima Miracle of the Sun was witnessed by 70,000 people over a 32-mile radius and reported by atheistic eyewitnesses from the hostile Lisbon newspaper *O Seculo.*

      And I loved the part where the author implied that the Garabandal seers drew on previous private revelations to come up with their Warning-Miracle-Chastisement scenario. These were 10- and 11-year-old girls in a remote mountain village, but apparently they were scholars of the Church’s mystical tradition. Who knew?

      The Church takes an admirably prudent approach to claims of private revelation. But prudence is one thing. Contemptuous, patronizing dismissal is quite another. This article exhibits the latter.

  7. A craving for the spectacular is Archbishop Sheen’s take. Although we have scripturally inspired motivation to be vigilant (Bernard of Cluny spoke well). A sober assessment of a highly intoxicating topic for many of us [Ms Meisel seemingly essaying under the influence is not subject to literary felony – although I was once charged with some justification]. Had the essay been posted on some websites the responses would have been rapid and continuous. The essay rightly exposes many of the fallacies requiring correction by the faithful. The “millenarianism” period of peace following the Second Advent is a major canard. She addresses it well citing CCC 676. It gives the false impression that complacent sit and wait suffices rather than active response to the current real crisis of faith. Especially for clergy. And she doesn’t discount private revelation simply counsels sobriety.

  8. End notes notwithstanding, this is a truly poorly written, rambling piece. The messages of Our Lady are consistently directed to personal conversion. Placing them almost entirely in political context is quite useless. It is not the perceptions of end days that is significant but the end of individual lives, lives that will face Divine justice.

    • “End notes notwithstanding, this is a truly poorly written, rambling piece.”

      You’ve made me laugh. Congratulations. “Poorly written” and “rambling” are, frankly, rather bizarre adjectives to use about Sandra’s writing. Seriously.

          • Other comments in the class included: “acerbic”, “over-generalization” “Misanthropic” “ejaculating unsubstantiated thesis in poorly developed paragraphing”
            “discordant lumping (Bayside and Fatima).” Each person was given the opportunity to explain their reasoning. No one was mocked or embarrassed. Only two did find the article helpful. Have a nice day.

          • Yikes. Snarky much? And that “embarrassing yourself” remark was like something one would encounter at Twitter. It reminds me of the very funny Dilbert strip about “that guy from the Internet.” Whatever happened to charity?

  9. Eastern Christianity, Catholic, Orthodox, or Oriental, is much more disciplined in such matters. Not by top Dow design it just simply isn’t in the culture. Not that apparitions are not there, but they are not free-floating spiritual touchstones acting as a magnate for anxieties and uncertainties.

    Eastern iconography testifies to this. The Mother of God never appears, as she can be in the West – in spite of the overexplaination to say otherwise – isolated and powerful.

    • An interesting comment .. and not wanting to sound snarky 🙂
      Yet, would it be that , in the so called ‘West’, Bl.Mother is not seen as ‘isolated and powerful ‘ but as The spouse of the Holy Spirit , to help bring all of humanity to The Father , through her Immaculate Heart and that deeper awareness and mission , also related to the centuries long devotion to the holy Rosary , hence no need to depict same always …
      Blessings !

  10. A common denominator among inauthentic/cultic Marian apparitions from within Christianity is the possible interplay between (a) subjective or perhaps mystical personal experiences, plus (b) enthusiastic and overreaching validation in the responses of other persons, and with all of this (c) mediated by very imperfect human language.

    This hypothesis is professionally and sympathetically explored in connection with the full range of inauthentic (and authentic) Marian apparitions in the Catholic world, by Sandra L. Zimdars-Schwartz, a non-Catholic associate professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas (Encountering Mary, Princeton University Press, 1991).

    Absent the filter of a magisterium to accept or reject cases, is Islam in its origin less equivalent to Christianity (alleged “pluralism”) than it is to inauthentic Marian apparitions?

    Based in part on symptoms reported in the Koran itself, Western researchers often attribute Muhammad’s visions to epilepsy with auditory recall of religious stories heard on the caravan trails of his early years, from Jewish and Christian fellow travelers. His subjective experiences then might have been solidified by the initial interpretation given by his wife’s (Khadijha’s) cousin, to whom she referred him at the beginning. The cousin, Waraqua ibn Naufal, was a somewhat-Christian (roughly Nestorian?) convert from homegrown hanif monotheism in Arabia and then Judaism. (Some Western and Islamic scholars, both, suggest that the older Khadijha, also, might have been a somewhat-Christian, which could help explain his atypical monogamy until her death when he was age fifty-three, two years before his Flight from Mecca to Medina in 622 A.D.)

    Waraqua is understood to have interpreted Muhammad’s early revelations on Mount Hira as similar to—-or as renewing—-the Law, but without any later apostasy by the Jews or the “polytheism” of Trinitarian Christians.

    For example: “Waraqua knew something of the older scriptures and declared that what had come upon his cousin’s husband was none other than what had previously descended upon Moses, the namus. This term [the language factor noted above] seems to have been understood by the Arabs as meaning an angelic messenger, especially Gabriel, but it is a corruption of the Greek nomos, meaning ‘law,’ or Torah” (Frederick Denny, An Introduction to Islam, Macmillan, 1994).

  11. A topic of great interest, but I found the article to be a disappointment. What I mean is that I would expect something more than a merely sociological, psychological analysis from an article in CWR, especially when the subject is the public life of certain private revelations, be they of saints or sinners. I would expect at least some hint of discernment, maybe some attempt to separate what we could reasonably think of as authentic as opposed to the inauthentic. What I get instead is a blanket of contempt thrown over the whole subject.

  12. Among other reasons people distrust bishops: The bishops relentlessly campaign for infinite immigration, even though immigrants vote 80% pro-abortion.

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