Review of "Marian Apparitions, the Bible,
and the Modern World" in ESBVM Newsletter
Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary Newsletter Spring 2003 - Book Reviews - Marian Apparitions, the Bible, and the Modern World - reviewed by Martin Blake
Donal Anthony Foley, Gracewing, 454pp, pbk, 0852443137, £20
For anyone remotely interested in apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary this book is a must. Either one can take the view that what happened at Lourdes, Knock, Fatima and the rest were pious delusions, meaningless ghost stories which shed no light on the Catholic Faith, or one must reckon that they were genuine and that God had some definite purpose in allowing them to occur. This is the line taken by Donal Foley, and in a scholarly study of over 400 pages he has made an extraordinary amount of sense out of what could be dismissed as nonsense.
Beginning with the apparitions of 1531 in Mexico to St Juan Diego, recently canonised by the Pope, and coming into modem times with those to St Catherine Labouré in Paris in 1830, he examines in detail each of the apparitions which have been recognised as authentic by the Church. What is ground-breaking about Foley's study is that not only does he link each of the supernatural events to contemporary history, but he manages to find a link for each one with a story or type from the Old Testament. I don't think anyone has attempted this before.
Secular historians may criticise Foley's interpretations of history, but he manages to trace the events and philosophies which have led us from the late Middle Ages up to the Third Millennium from a Catholic point of view. For example he devotes three whole chapters to the nature of the Protestant Revolution which changed the face of Europe and initiated the secularisation of culture. This is linked to the apparitions at Guadalupe, which led to many millions of Aztec Mexicans accepting the Faith at a time when many millions of Europeans were rejecting it. It is a fascinating story, well told by Foley, which has become more than ever relevant since the canonisation of St Juan Diego in 2002. Today Guadalupe is the most visited shrine of Our Lady in the world, and she is regarded both as the Empress of the Americas and the Patroness of the Life Movement. The Old Testament typological link is in this case Chapter 3 of Genesis where the so-called Protoevangelium foretells the woman who would come to crush the head of the serpent, which was one of the principal objects of worship in the Aztec religion. Early Christian writers regarded Mary as the second Eve, and it was no coincidence that she should play a leading role in the conversion of the New World.
Chapter 14 on "Social Revolution, World War, and Communism" is the best synthesis of l9th Century history I have read. Foley explains brilliantly the steps which led from the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars up to the rise of Marxism and the emergence of the Prussian hegemony in continental Europe. The influence of Nietzche and Feuerbach on atheistic thought is stressed, as well as the theory of evolution. Then there was the rise of Modernism in the Church. The very fact that St Pius X had to condemn it in 1907 is significant, and his conclusion that "the error of Protestantism made the first step on the path (to heresy); the error of Modernism makes the second; atheism makes the third." There followed the First World War which put paid to the Austro-Hungarian Empire (which was largely Catholic) and allowed the rise of Communism in Russia as the Bolshevik leader Lenin seized power in 1917. All this leads up, of course, to the apparitions at Fatima in Portugal which Foley regards as the key to the whole of his thesis.
An excellent chapter on the Fatima story follows, and then one on the typology of Fatima, which Foley links convincingly to the story of Elijah. He also covers the various critics of Fatima. We have only to see the extraordinary revival of interest in Fatima in the last part of the 20th Century, sparked of by the attempted assassination of Pope John-Paul II on May 13th 1981 and fuelled by the Holy Father himself since then, to appreciate that the apparitions of 1917 were indeed pivotal in modem history. The events of 1989 and 2000 clinched this.
In the years between the two World Wars came the apparitions at Beauraing and Banneux in Belgium In the second half of the 20th Century there has been an alarming increase in claimed apparitions, most of which have been condemned as unworthy of credence by the Church. Foley shows how narrowly the western states of Europe escaped being engulfed in the Communist coup which took over Eastern Europe after World War 2. He recognises two apparitions in 1947, both of which played a part in the struggle with communism which marked the governments of Italy and France. The first was that at Tre Fontaine near Rome in April 1947, and the second that at Ile-Bouchard in the Loire Valley, France, in December. Foley examines Ile-Bouchard in some detail, and links it to Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream and his own dream. Indeed he reckons that in view of the typological points of reference to the Book of Daniel, and the presence throughout of the Archangel Gabriel, the Ile-Bouchard apparitions may possibly be the final ones in the series. There are fascinating links with Guadalupe, Rue du Bac, La Salette, Pontmain and Fatima. Thus Ile-Bouchard may well be seen as a summing up of the previous apparitions.
The final chapter deals with the Collegial Consecration of 1984 and the subsequent Fall of Communism. The Acts of Entrustment by John-Paul II in 1982 and 84 had a profound influence on events. Again Foley gives us a brilliant analysis of modern political history, covering not only Europe but South East Asia. The seventies showed no relaxation of the power or ambitions of Communism. With hindsight 1978 may be seen as the turning point, with the election of John-Paul II to the papacy. He has given unprecedented support to the Fatima message, and since the beatification of the two little shepherds on 13 May 2000 and the publication of the so-called Third Secret, Fatima has come right to the forefront of the Church's life and attention. The Apostolic Letter on the Holy Rosary is a first-fruit.
To sum up. This is an important and original book, which though scholarly is easy to read. Whereas it deals with all the recognised apparitions in the last half-millennium, the real strength of the book lies in the author's analysis of history. And there is also his fascinating connection with Old Testament stories. I hope he will write more.
Martin Blake January 2003
Theotokos Catholic Books - Theotokos Books Section - www.theotokos.org.uk