Apparition Discernment Overview

This part of the Theotokos Books website is concerned with Apparition Discernment, that is ways of distinguishing between true and false apparitions, particularly, but not exclusively, apparitions of Mary.

The approach taken here is that our guide in all this should be the teaching of the Catholic Church, as expressed in its ordinary Magisterium, that is in the decisions arrived at by local bishops and then taken up by the Church as a whole.In addition, an attitude of prudence will be adopted with regard to alleged apparitions, on the basis that it is almost certain that the vast majority of reported visions are false. The reasoning behind this statement is fully explained in subsequent sections of the site. St. Paul tells us that the devil can turn himself into an “angel of light” (2 Cor 1:14), while St. John cautioned that it was necessary to “test the spirits” because of the danger of false prophets (1 John 4:1).

Thus a sensible attitude towards modern reported apparitions is needed, one which avoids outright scepticism and also excessive credulity, but which nevertheless comes down on the side of caution and reserve, taking the view that such incidents are extremely rare and must be very carefully investigated.

This section of the website links with one dealing with those apparitions approved by the Church, where their characteristics and what criteria we have for assessing them are examined.This section also looks at somewhat related phenomena, such as the formation of the biblical canon of accepted books, (and which writings were rejected), in the sense that both are a form of “revelation,” to see what lessons can be learned from that.

Regarding both the Old and New Testaments, many more writings were in circulation than were finally accepted into the biblical canon by the Church, and in the same way it is more than likely that most reports of apparitions, particularly nowadays, are false.The site also looks at spiritual movements in Church history, such as Montanism, with its apocalyptic teachings, or the convulsionaries of Saint-Médard, to further illustrate the point that apparently “spiritual” outbursts may not be what they seem. Similarly, it deals with some of the false apparitions which arose at the time of genuine apparitions, such as happened at Lourdes.

A basic principle adhered to here is that alleged modern apparitions should be judged with regard to those approved by the Church. This does not seem to be happening in many cases, and is a cause of much confusion. In any area we should move from what is certain to what is less certain; to do anything else is to build on sand.

Therefore, amongst other things, this part of the site is dedicated to discerning authentic apparitions of Mary, Theotokos, the Mother of God, hopefully laying down some useful ground-rules for apparition discernment, and also links to deal with more modern unapproved apparitions. But it is not attempting to replace the Magisterium, or teaching authority of the Church, in this area, rather it is meant to provide guidance for those who want to find out what the Church has said about particular apparitions

1978 Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith document on apparition discernment

Recommended Apparition Discernment Books

Recommended Marian Books