A Reply to Adam DeVille on Fatima

Let me begin by making two distinct but interrelated claims (at least for the purposes of this response).

First, I have the utmost respect for Adam DeVille, an associate professor at the University of St. Francis and author of Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy (University of Notre Dame Press 2011), a book I recommend to all who wish to gain a fuller understanding of the Catholic/Orthodox divide. His online resource, Eastern Christian Books, is a great asset to a bibliophile such as myself and his various opinion pieces, which typically cover issues related to ecclesiology and Eastern Christianity, are uniformly thoughtful, if not excellent.

Second, I have no love for Fatima hysteria.

And so I confess that I was deeply disappointed by DeVille’s recent web-log posting, “If She Was Silent, Why are Her Followers So Gruesomely Garrulous?” In it, DeVille heaps criticism upon the “avalanche of apocalyptic emoting about Fatima” that he predicts will take place this year, the centenary of Our Lady’s apparitions to three shepherd children in Portugal. His term for this? “Marian Mischief Making.” I like it. What I don’t like or, rather, what saddens me is to see DeVille rightly warn against falling into hysterics over the Fatima anniversary while apparently trying to deny that the apparitions occurred at all. He notes that in 1917, in the midst of the Great War, “everybody was claiming visions of some sort” (emphasis his). Well, sure, but so what?

There has probably never been any point in Christian history where the authentic visions, apparitions, and miracles approved by the Church did not occur side-by-side with false claims of visions, apparitions, and miracles, both within and beyond the boundaries of Christianity. (This is not to mention the innumerable demonic delusions that over occurred over the past 2,000 years, ranging from the visions of the false prophet Mohammed to the madcap religious awakening of Joseph Smith.) Moreover, following the East/West schism, both Catholics and Orthodox have claimed a range of divine interventions; are they all false because they were happening at the same time, perhaps even around some of the same global events? DeVille doesn’t say, which is too bad since it would be nice to know what his criterion for authenticity is.

DeVille’s next step is to posit a series of six questions which, surprisingly, read like a standard secularist (or, at the very least, non-Catholic/Orthodox) attack on any vision, apparition, or miracle. For example, DeVille questions why the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared only in 1917 rather than 1914, when she could have “attempt[ed] to avert the war” or “predict[] the rise of Hitler.” Similarly, DeVille is puzzled that Our Lady, being a Jewish woman, “was . . . apparently so anxious about as-yet unseen Russian dangers, but would see and say nothing about the impending Shoah?” Setting aside that these questions might strike some as almost blasphemous, why does DeVille believe he or anyone is entitled to ready-at-hand answers? Why not ask, “If the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, why are there two creation accounts in Genesis? If the Gospels are true, why are there differing accounts of Christ’s temptation in the desert in Matthew and Luke?,” etc. Instead of taking the apparitions and the message of the Immaculate One for what they are, DeVille casts doubt on them because they don’t address his ex post facto concerns.

It gets worse from there. Not content to remain dissatisfied that Our Lady failed to predict everything from Truman defeating Dewey to the Chicago Cubs’ 2016 World Series Championship, he tendentiously attempts to link Fatima to both Catholic hostility toward Russian Orthodoxy and “the mounting personality cult surrounding the papacy” which he traces to the pontificate of Blessed Pius IX. How much Catholic hostility there was toward the Russian Orthodox Church in 1917 is debatable, especially in Portugal which was both geographically and politically far removed from the historic tensions between the Russian state and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (and, later, the Austro-Hungarian Empire). If one was going to look for a potentially fabricated, anti-Orthodox Marian miracle to occur in the early 20th century, wouldn’t one expect to find it in Poland or Galicia? As for the personality cult surrounding the papacy (something I have never been a fan of), the fact there was such a personality cult growing does not mean that Our Lady wouldn’t have something to say about the papal office, particularly since—like it or not—it holds the immediate reins of power over a vast majority of Catholics in the world.

The ultimate problem with DeVille’s critique of Fatima is that it attempts to explain (or, really, explain away) the things of God with the things of this world. I agree wholeheartedly with DeVille that far too many Catholics place far too much stock in Fatima and the meaning of the Blessed Virgin’s three secrets. At the same time, I support honoring the Fatima apparitions no less than I support remembering Our Lady’s apparitions at Lourdes, her appearance at Blacherna in the 10th century, or her numerous miraculous icons. As a Catholic, it is a great joy to me that Christ continually sends His Blessed Mother into the world to warn, console, and—when need be—rebuke us. Mary comes not, as DeVille opines, with “narcissistic and repetitive demands” but rather with concern for our salvation and the salvation of the world burning in her Immaculate Heart. Although the hysteria and apocalyptic ravings surrounding Fatima can sometimes obscure this love, they cannot destroy it. I hope in the end that DeVille would agree with that much.