To Nature, and Beyond

VaticanProphIt might seem odd to differentiate the supernatural from an established world religion like Roman Catholicism. After all, be premise of traditional Christianity is based on a miracle or two. Church officials, however, are not naive. It has been known from the early centuries of the church that although miracles are still from time-to-time proclaimed, they are a relative rarity. Few are claimed, like Jesus of Nazareth, to have the ability to summon the supernatural at will. When my wife gave me a copy of John Thavis’s The Vatican Prophecies, I wondered if this might be a sensationalist exploration of “the hidden Vatican” and its penchant for keeping things hushed. After all, the subtitle is Investigating Supernatural Signs, Apparitions, and Miracles in the Modern Age. Thavis, however, is one of the most even-handed writers on the topic I might imagine. Clearly respectful of the Catholic faith, he doesn’t go after any pet theories or conspiracies. He lets those in the church answer with their own words. And those words paint a fascinating picture.

Beginning with the concept of holiness, Thavis shows that the point of the spiritual life is not to seek signs. Nevertheless, signs are reported. Apparitions of Mary have a long history, as does the shroud of Turin. Those who write about such things often have a clear bias, but Thavis gives the facts, interviews those who know, and offers a narrative full of possibilities. The supernatural can take a darker turn, however, as his chapter on demons and angels demonstrates. Although demons have been cast into the outer darkness by science, it doesn’t prevent people from apparently being possessed. And of course miracles come under scrutiny, particularly in the context of making saints. Prophecy, in the sense of knowing the future, is the last major topic up for discussion.

The Vatican Prophecies is a curious book that seems neither credulous or overly skeptical. It’s more like reporting than it is declaring what is or isn’t possible. Yes, the Roman Catholic Church does still profess miracles, but a vast number of them that come up for testing fail. Scientists serve as expert witnesses and personal claims are not sufficient to win the day. Although there are a few characters in this account, the majority of those mentioned in the book are understated, thoughtful individuals who happen to know they can’t decide what really happens or not. Instead, they simply deal with it. For those of use who live in a world of uncertainty, this book is a most apt introduction to topics taken seriously by some very intelligent people.

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