Part 2 : Critical Study
11. The elements of the problem
THE critical problem on the subject of Fatima is twofold. First of all, as with all other apparitions or extraordinary phenomena, there is the question of the supernatural character of the facts. From this point of view, the apparitions of Fatima in 1917 present quite the same problem as the apparitions of rue du Bac, Lourdes or Pontmain.
Fatima, however, presents an additional difficulty. Father Alonso, the great expert who was officially entrusted with establishing its critical history, expresses it in a few words : « The greatest difficulty that Fatima presents from the historical, critical and literary point of view for whoever studies it seriously is the progressive augmentation of the facts and the message. » 1
What a contrast with Lourdes, where the apparitions and the diffusion of the message are narrowly circumscribed in time ! The parallel is most striking. The Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette from February 11, 1858 until July 16 of the same year. The very evening of the first apparition, the seer told her sister Toinette everything, and then told her mother. Two days later, she spoke of it to her confessor, and on February 15 she mentioned it to Sister Damian, at school. She was immediately harassed with questions and interrogated innumerable times. Except for the three secrets which Our Lady had ordered her not to tell anyone, and the prayer Our Lady taught, to be used by Bernadette alone, Bernadette answered questions on everything, with no reservations. Already, in 1858, the message was perfectly well known. Only a few very secondary details were added later on in the six written accounts drawn up by Bernadette between 1861 and 1866. Thus at Lourdes, practically everything became known immediately, and eight years after the apparitions the seer had completely fulfilled her mission as witness.
And at Fatima ? Precisely the opposite happens ! It seems that since 1917 the message has continually grown. There is no end to the accounts of new apparitions or divine communications which Lucy continued to enjoy : in 1925 and 1926, in 1927, 1929, 1939… in 1941, 1943… and here we must stop for lack of further information.
However, there is more. From 1935 to 1941, in her Memoirs Sister Lucy reports, even for the apparitions of 1917, certain words of Our Lady and facts which she had kept secret until that time : the first two parts of the great Secret of July 13, 1917 were not revealed until 1942 ! As for the third part, written down in 1944, it has not yet been divulged. Fatima is far from being over with. It continues. Some, not without some disquiet, say : “ There is no end to it ! ”
THE GROWTH OF THE MESSAGE
« This very fact, even if it is not proper to Fatima alone, very early on aroused first the interest, and then the reservations of a good many critics », Father Alonso writes. « In this progressive growth of the facts and the message, was there not perhaps introduced, albeit in good faith, some human element, mixing in with the work of God and obscuring it ? » 2 There is the whole problem, which became especially acute during the 40’s, after the appearance of works which drew quite generously on the four Memoirs which Sister Lucy had just written. Suspiciously inclined critics certainly had reason to be astonished !
THE TWO VERSIONS COMPARED. To understand how much the message grew, it is enough to compare, point by point, the accounts in works appearing before 1938 with works appearing later. For example, The Great Wonders of Fatima by Vicomte de Montelo (alias Canon Formigao), published in 1930, compared with the great work of Father da Fonseca and Canon Barthas, Fatima, Unprecedented Miracle, which appeared in January 1943. What an astonishing contrast !
For brevity’s sake, let us compare the little pamphlet of Father Castelbranco, translated into French in 1939, The Unprecedented Miracle of Fatima, 3 with later editions of the same work.
In the account of 1939, everything began with « the unexpected apparition » of May 13, 1917, to the three shepherds, Lucy, Jacinta, and Francisco. This is the first notable omission : the apparitions of the angel in 1916, which are now common knowledge, are not mentioned at all. Then comes the account of the six apparitions of Our Lady, from May 13 to October 13. Granted, the description of the apparition is given in detail. The same goes for all the exterior events, the persecutions and follies of all kinds that the children had to endure – nothing is lacking. But what is surprising for well informed readers is the content of the Message of Our Lady. What a contrast with the text published in the 40’s ! Even the words of Our Lady are briefer, in two or three places ! Here are some significant details : in June, there is no mention of the vision of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, or the prophetic announcement of the special vocation of the three seers. On July 13, it is astonishing not to find even the slightest allusion to the “ great secret ” ! On the interior life, the prayers and heroic sacrifices of the three children, again nothing.
In short, the message is reduced to this : Our Lady promises Heaven to Her three confidants, She insistently repeats Her request to recite the Rosary each day to obtain the end of the war, and She announces in July that She will work a great miracle on October 13. After a detailed account of the great miracle of the sun, the author mentions the prodigious development of the pilgrimages, the episcopal approval of 1930, and the marvellous religious and political renewal of Portugal brought on by Fatima. That is all…
It seems that the event has no more than a purely national significance. Although accompanied by spectacular signs never witnessed before, the message appears to be no more than a reminder and an echo of Lourdes and Pontmain : “ Prayer and penance… ” and the war will end. Paradoxically, everything which, since 1942, has been presented as the most important part is not yet present : neither the vision of Hell nor the announcement of a Second World War. There are no allusions either to the role of Russia as a veritable scourge of God, or the request for its consecration, or above all, to the revelation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so essential to the message. Such is the surprising fact, proper to Fatima, which poses such a serious problem for the critic.
FROM THE FIRST INTERROGATIONS TO THE MEMOIRS OF SISTER LUCY. The origin of this astonishing growth of the message is not mysterious ; it has never been hidden from anyone. The first works, from 1921 to 1938-40 (following the information more or less hastily obtained by the authors), were composed following the interrogations of the seers : those of Father Ferreira, parish priest of Fatima, beginning in 1917; those of Canon Formigao, beginning in the same year ; in 1924, that of the canonical commission, and finally those of various historians who were able to meet with Lucy (Fischer, Figueiredo). On the other hand, from 1938 on, the Portuguese authors, and later on the foreigners, begin to draw from a new, more abundant source of information, the Memoirs of Sister Lucy, as they began to appear between 1935 and 1941. Only in 1942 was all the new information brought together as a whole, for the benefit of the general public. At the same time that Cardinal Schuster, Archbishop of Milan, published for the first time the principal themes of the secret of July 13, 1917, there appeared at Rome on April 13, 1942, with the imprimatur of Vatican City, the fourth edition of the great work of Father da Fonseca, 4 a Portuguese Jesuit of the Pontifical Biblical Institute of Rome, which reprinted long excerpts from the four Memoirs of Lucy. In May 1942, an Italian priest, Don Luigi Moresco, published a similar work, Madonna di Fatima, with a preface of Cardinal Schuster and Roman approval. Finally, on October of the same year, there appeared at Portugal the third edition of the work Jacinta of Canon Galamba, the only work at that time which dared to publish the exact and integral text of the Secret. The work bore a preface by Cardinal Cerejeira, Archbishop of Lisbon. 5
These source books, so brilliantly supported by the highest levels of the hierarchy, enjoyed a prodigious success : there are no less than seven editions of the work of Father da Fonseca in 1942-43. The French public became aware of it in 1943 by the adaptation of the work of Canon Barthas, Fatima, Unprecedented Miracle, and by his magnificent work, It Was Three Small Children, which has since been reprinted many times, and has now been translated into fifteen languages. These works, intended for the general public, multiplied, arousing everywhere fervour and enthusiasm for Our Lady of Fatima. Let us give one reliable figure : in France, under the pontificate of Pius XII, almost one hundred works were written on Fatima ! This great movement of faith and devotion launched by the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on October 31, 1942, encouraged and supported by Pius XII, would last… until 1960.
OPPOSITION TO FATIMA
The “ new message ” of Fatima, however, did not gain unanimous support. Far from it ! The “ new themes ” did not please everybody ; they provoked a lively reaction on the part of a small minority of theologians. The message of 1917, being purely spiritual, did not disturb them. As one of these theologians, Father Dhanis, would later write : « Our Lady spoke of religious subjects, She recommended praying the Rosary and contrition for our sins… » There could be no objection to that ! The message of 1942 had an entirely different tone. It would explode like a bomb : the Blessed Virgin is engaging in politics !
It is true that, in 1942, Don Moresco and Father da Fonseca had altered the text of the Secret so as to avoid citing Russia by name. We shall closely study this most unfortunate falsification of the texts, astonishing on the part of men who were undeniably in good faith. Although the Germans thought that they were, in fact, meant by the « impious propaganda » that Our Lady denounced (according to the expression that our Roman authors had substituted for “ Russia ” in the text of the Secret), the excessively enthusiastic allies of Bolshevism could not be mistaken for long. 6 Since October 13, 1942, Cardinal Schuster had publicly interpreted the text in a clearly anti-communist sense : « When the promise of the Blessed Virgin is fulfilled », he said, « it will be the most beautiful and total victory of the Church over Bolshevism. » In Portugal, the integral text of the Secret had been published, and informed persons had acted quickly to make known its authentic meaning. The Message openly denounced Soviet Russia, and it alone, as the instrument of the chastisement of God for all humanity, because of the errors it would spread throughout the world, the wars and persecutions it would spread everywhere, as long as it was not converted.
Here was something infuriating for our theologians who were partisans of the Christian Democrats, and the Resistance : had not the Soviet Union been the spearhead of the “ Crusade of the Democracies ” against the one and only danger, Nazi Germany and Fascism ? The Blessed Virgin was surely mistaken about the enemy… Germany, you see, was not even mentioned in the famous secret… It was very disturbing ! Thus, the Blessed Virgin could not have said that. Was not this message, which dangerously intertwined religion and politics, very much open to question ? Had not Lucy, the only survivor of the three witnesses, invented all that almost twenty years after the initial events ? It was easily insinuated, it was written with a question mark after it, and before long certain people dared to say it openly.
In this context the critical problem of Fatima was posed with more violence and passion than ever.
(1) J. M. Alonso, Fatima I and Fatima II. The “ old ” and “ new ” history of Fatima, p. 59 in True and False Apparitions in the Church. Lethielleux, 1976.
(2) Alonso, Fatima I and Fatima II, p. 59.
(3) 1958, Téqui 1972.
(4) Le Meraviglie di Fatima.
(5) Cf. J. M. Alonso, Historia da Literatura sobre Fatima, p. 29-33.
(6) Cf. Robert A Graham, S. J., Profezie di Guerra. Fatima e la Russia nella propaganda dei belligeranti dopo il 1942. La Civilta Cattolica, October 3, 1981, p. 15-26.