Nature of Prophecy
Most people today have only their TV News Networks to advise them of current events. The TV Networks faithful to their secular agenda always equate “prophecy” with “prediction”. Namely, if the prediction does not come to pass on the day or at all — they say: “… he is a false prophet” or “the message is false”, etc. This idea of “prediction” is thought to be a good word because it has no religious overtones. The secular News Media want to leave God out of it — so they choose “prediction”. Over the past 30 years in the world, it is the way they characterise the prophets. The News Media always want to inspire skepticism — and especially “suspicion” about prophetic revelations.
Since 2010 till this date there have been many other Seers receiving dire prophetic messages as warnings of solar events and natural disasters unless mankind be converted to God. In particular, the Seers Maria Divine Mercy (MDM); Luz de Maria (Argentina); and the Little Pebble; and others. These prophetic messages are saying the same thing and prophetically announcing what is to come upon mankind because of sin. The News Media portray these prophetic messages as “predictions” that seemingly never come to pass.
The people in general do not know how to understand the prophetic Word of God. In reality, it does not equate with the term “prediction”. Only the term “prophecy” can account for God — since God is the Author of prophecy — that is what makes it authentic and the bearer of God’s Truth. Saint Thomas Aquinas helps us to understand the nature of prophecy. We need to try to grasp the meaning of secondary causality — or it is often called — instrumental causality. If we can understand this concept, we will better understand the nature of prophecy in the Catholic sense. Secondly, but more importantly, we need to understand God’s Will in relation to Prophecy.
Let’s have a look now — it is a bit steep on the learning curve, but give it a try:
Concerning the unchangeable nature of God’s Will (Summa Theologica, Q19, Article 7) I have extracted the key passages and slightly edited some parts to make it easier to follow — here is the key summary:
God’s knowledge is unchangeable, therefore His Will must be entirely unchangeable. The Will of God is the First and Universal Cause, but it does not exclude intermediate causes that have power to produce certain effects. But all such secondary causes are inferior in power to the First Cause – ie, there are many things in the Divine Power, Knowledge and Will that are not necessarily revealed in the order of secondary causes.
The Resurrection of Lazarus
The example that Saint Thomas gives is Lazarus. He points out that a person who looked only at the secondary causes of his sickness would say: “Lazarus will not rise again”. In other words, looking at the Doctor’s report on his medical condition; looking at his emaciated body; looking at the fact that Jesus had not healed him – from a purely human perspective – people would say that: “He is going to die”.
However, looking at the Divine First Cause, we would say: “Lazarus will rise again”. In other words, holding on to Our Lord’s Promises — Martha and Mary Magdalene looked at what Jesus said to them: “Your brother will rise again”.
Mary Magdalen held on to those words of Jesus with all her strength. They were Divine Words speaking of a Great Plan that Jesus knew about, but that He could not tell them much — He needed them to have faith in His words and to trust Him. Regardless, of any secondary causes, (e.g., rotting flesh; bad smell; four days in the tomb, etc) regardless of everything to the contrary (e.g., pharisees mocking their faith because Jesus healed other people but would not heal Lazarus!), Jesus asked these two women to believe and hold on to His words. Well, we know what happened, in what seemed like an eternity — Jesus spoke: “Lazarus, come out!” And, the dead man … came out!. God had a Plan for Lazarus — it was God’s Will to do it this way!! Our Lord was sorry not to be able to tell them all — it is said in the Gospel, that Jesus “cried” when they told Him where they had placed his body. Jesus needed the heroic faith of these two holy women. He worked a great miracle to inspire faith.
God’s Will is unchangeable in its outcome
In his treatise on Prophecy, Saint Thomas writes in the Summa Theologica (Q. 171 article 6 and Q. 174, article 1) that nothing false can come under prophecy. And then he explains about secondary causes (he uses the word “contingent” meaning a thing is dependent on other causes for its outcome). The certitude of Divine foreknowledge does not exclude the contingency of future singular events, because that knowledge regards the future as present and already determined to one thing. So, prophecy does not exclude (by its unchangeable truth) the contingency of future things. So, by that Saint Thomas means that secondary causes might go either way — depending on the free choice of other people or situations, etc. However, this does not undermine the unchangeable truth of God’s Plan – its outcome, because this is predestined by God Himself to be a certain outcome.
God knows future events Infallibly
If I may please labour the point. Saint Thomas goes on to explain further that – although future contingencies are determined to one thing (eg, a prophecy says: “A will not happen” … B will not happen”) yet considered in their causes (secondary) they are not so determined, but they can happen otherwise (eg, where in actual fact: “A does happen … B does happen”). He then explains how prophecy does not cover a falsehood, because he says that the meaning of prophecy is that inferior (secondary) causes – whether natural causes or human acts – are so disposed as to lead to such a result. But nothing can stop the Plan of God to reach it’s end or purpose. He gives an explanation:
“The foreknowledge that is acquired concerning future events from Divine Revelation, according to prophetic Grace is altogether certain. God foreknows future events infallibly as they are in themselves. Prophetic knowledge of future events is given to man in the same way – with perfect certitude, even though some future events are contingent.” (Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, 154)
In other words, he is saying that God has infallible knowledge of what will happen and God gives perfect certitude to His Prophet about it, but he says that things might turn out differently depending on other secondary causes. Why is that? It is because God is not obliged to reveal all the pieces of the puzzle. He sometimes chooses to allow certain causes and effects to remain hidden.
God is not obliged to tell the whole Truth: two Examples
Saint Thomas explains further, that if these secondary causes are obstructed from achieving their effects, then nothing prevents the prophecy from being modified — although God knows in advance this “modification” because God created the outcome. The example that Saint Thomas gives is when the Prophet Isaiah was told by God to tell the sick King Ezechias: “Take order with your house, because you are going to die, not live”. But he was restored to health by God a short moment later after the King made his fervent prayer to God, then God “modified” the prophecy telling Isaiah to go tell King Ezechias that God was granting him 15 more years to his life. Seemingly, exact opposites — yet God knew all along what He intended to do — but He did not tell this to His Prophet.
The other example Saint Thomas gives is: Jonah, the Prophet was told to reveal to the People of Nineveh that “after 40 days, Nineveh shall be destroyed”. Yet God did not destroy it.
The Prophet Jonah and Nineveh
Saint Thomas explains that in these two cases, the prophecy given to the Prophet Isaiah and also to Jonah was concerned with secondary causes. In other words, that Isaiah’s prophecy was according to King Ezechias’ bodily condition – that on the surface of things, he had all the conditions for dying, but when the King prayed so fervently to God – his prayer was heard. So the Plan of God was always the same, that the King would live for 15 more years. In Jonah’s case, the prophecy was given to Jonah according to the merits of its People at that moment. The fact that they all repented, was a secondary cause, that could have gone either way – but in fact they repented. So, God did not carry out the physical destruction of Nineveh. God’s Plan was always the same here too – that it was the destruction of the evil in Nineveh would happen as foretold to Jonah. Jonah did not fully understand this because it was hidden.
Authentic Prophecy is like a Puzzle
Here is an analogy – similar to the analogy of a puzzle where not all of the puzzle pieces are showing. Look at the diagram below – a Time Line of causes and effects in sequence towards the Goal. As you can see the sequence of events from A to P. Notice that some letters are “red” and this means they are not visible to the human eye or mind:
TIMELINE SEQUENCE (Left to Right):
If these letters were dominoes all standing up near each other in a line — and someone pushes domino “A” — they will all fall down one after another until the last domino hits the “GOAL”. It is a simple example. Now let’s try to apply it to a Seer who receives a prophecy from God — and sees in vision a sequence of events — or is told about a certain sequence of events. Notice the Seer cannot see all of the letters.
They are simply not visible to the Prophet or Seer. These letters are: C, G, H, J, L, M, N, But these letters are very important because they are in the line of causes and effects (eg secondary causes). So the effect “D” happened because of the HIDDEN “C” not “B”. The same for the effect “I” in which there were two HIDDEN effects — “G” and “H”. Also with “K” the HIDDEN effect “J” is really the cause, but it is not visible. So, sometimes God does not reveal the whole picture – He leaves out certain pieces of the puzzle, thus everybody is confused – because they cannot see the HIDDEN causes and effects.
Prophecy is always a Test of Faith
I hope this attempt to explain the nature of Prophecy in its Catholic sense is helpful. Prophecy is always a test for humans. It requires faith, hope and charity towards God who reveals. On this point, His Holiness, Pope John Paul II highlighted an important truth (quoting Saint Thomas Aquinas): “The knowledge of what is true is given by the fervour of love.” The Prophet through love and obedience comprehends the essence of what God reveals but cannot explain it in its details. God only asks for faith, hope and love. It is up to God to justify His own Word and also to justify His Prophet’s obedience.
I am sure there are others who could better explain these matters.
May Jesus Bless you and Our Lady love you tenderly.
+Bishop Malcolm L. Broussard, Jr.