Why do visionaries describe different visual details of the same event?

Why do various mystics see the same event differently?
-Exploring the differences in the dates and circumstances of the Assumption of Mary and the Crucifixion of Jesus in the visions of various mystics

Differences in the various visions of the Assumption of Mary
For those who study the lives of visionaries and mystics it is something that comes to mind occasionally: How is it that visionaries at times seem to have different details concerning the same events and vision? For example, what about the timing of the Virgin Mary's passing from this life and Her Assumption into heaven? Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich stated that it occurred 13 years after Jesus died, while St Bridget saw it as being 14 years after Jesus died, and then Venerable Mary of Agreda saw the Virgin Mary's passing occurring 21 years after Jesus died. Why the difference?

Differences in the various visions of the crucifixion of Jesus
In the various visions of Our Lord's crucifixion, we have mystics once again seeing the same events, but with different visual details. Both Ven. Mary of Agreda and Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich saw that the pre-drilled holes in the Cross were too far apart to nail the hands of Jesus into them. So to resolve this problem, Ven. Mary of Agreda said that the roman soldiers used a chain tied to one of Jesus arms to pull His arm out of socket, stretching it to reach the pre-drilled hole, while Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich saw the soldiers use a rope.

Or again, St Bridget of Sweden said that Jesus was nailed to the cross which was already upright and in place. However both Ven. Mary of Agreda and Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich saw Jesus nailed to the cross when it was lying on the ground. Or again, St Bridget said that a total of 4 nails were used to nail the hands and feet of Jesus, while Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich said 3 nails were used. Or again, while the majority of visionaries have seen Jesus nailed to the Cross through the hands, a few have seen Him nailed through the wrists, or, as in the case of the purported mystic Maria Valtorta who allegedly saw Jesus nailed in the left hand and in the right wrist. Yet, contrary to the majority of the mystics who saw Jesus nailed through the hands, the image on the Shroud has Jesus nailed on the one wrist visible in the image.

Why the apparent differences?
So, should one be troubled by such apparent differences? The answer is a resounding NO, and for the very same reason that one should not be troubled by the apparent differences in certain stories in the four Gospels. And here is why: The primary purpose of the Scriptures is to impart Divine revelation, that is, the revelation of God to mankind, and this too is also the primary purpose of private revelation. But we must note that there is a very important and significant difference between Public and private revelation. Scripture and Tradition form the Public revelation of God, and together they are the foundation of the Church, and as such it is binding for all Catholics. Private revelation however is not binding, and Catholics are not bound to believe in any private revelations--even those like Fatima and Lourdes that have been approved by the Church.

The primary purpose of private revelation is to highlight and deepen the understanding of Divine revelation given to the Church through the deposit of Faith, as revealed in and through Sacred Scripture and Tradition. Like the Scriptures, private revelation is primarily not meant to impart knowledge of science, geography, history etc, nor is it meant to reveal specific temporal (ie.- scientific, historical etc) physical details of the biblical events, such as the specifics concerning Jesus' passion and death, but it is meant to reveal a deeper spiritual meaning behind these historical events. Likewise, while matters such as scientific, geographic and historical events are contained within the Scriptures, it is not the primary purpose of Scripture to reveal or clarify such things.

Our Lady of Kibeho
So, when a mystic/visionary sees a vision of the crucifixion of Jesus, the primary purpose of such a vision is to impart a deeper and fuller understanding of the spiritual significance of the event itself, and the temporal visual details are often adapted to make the greatest impression upon the person receiving them. Thus, in this context we can see that because there is no spiritual significance to facts such as whether certain mystics saw Jesus being nailed with three nails or four, or whether Jesus was nailed to the Cross through the hands or the wrists, etc., therefore these particular elements in the visions of various mystics are inconsequential and bear no real significance.

As I was writing the last sentence above, in a flash I was reminded of the various appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary throughout the world over the centuries. In Tepeyac hill in Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego as an Aztec woman; in Lourdes, She appeared to St Bernadette as a Caucasian woman, even speaking to her in the local French dialect (Patois). In Kibeho, Rwanda She appeared to a group of visionaries as a dark skinned woman, similar to the local African people.

Thus, the Virgin Mary appeared to these various individuals in a way most natural and suitable to them, solely and simply to impart a spiritual lesson and message, and not to reveal  Herself specifically as one race or another, and a such we can readily see Her different physical appearances in these visions have no real bearing or significance, other than to show that She is the spiritual Mother of all of humanity. And likewise it is with the majority of the temporal details within the various visions of the mystics and visionaries, and as such are really just ancillary to the spiritual significance and message meant to be imparted through the visions themselves. In short, the physical visual details seen within private revelations are simply attendant to the spiritual realities which are the primary emphasis and purpose of the visions themselves.

Thus, the ecstasies and visions that mystics receive are first and foremost intended to convey a spiritual message and meaning. They are NOT meant to instruct us on historical matters, but normally the only thing that is intended by them is the spiritual significance and meaning behind the events, and how they can be applied to one's own spiritual life, devotion and love for God. If you look at each of these visions this way, it does not matter for example whether St Anne died when Mary was in the temple, or many years later. The spiritual lesson connected to the various visions of her life is what would be the sole meaning and purpose of such visions, and this is what God intends by revealing them.
"My daughter," He [Jesus] said, "Behold these wounds. They have all been opened because of your sins. But now, be consoled, for they have all been closed by your sorrow. Do not offend Me any more. Love Me as I have always loved you. Love Me."  This He repeated several times. The vision vanished and I returned to my senses. From that time on I began to have a great horror for sin, which was the greatest grace Jesus has given me. The wounds of Jesus remained so vividly impressed in my mind that they have never been effaced."
-From one of the visions of St Gemma Galgani

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Michael Miller said...

It is a great consolation to see that I am thinking in a similar vein. If a person worried about the accidentals of things seen in visions, he might be greatly disturbed. Some visions seem very realistic, portrayed through our senses but they are thus presented because of the impact that has on the visionary, to use a convenient term. But such visions are not the only kind, and the intellectual vision which is not portrayed via the senses are no less impressive to the person seeing them. If anything, the effect they have for not being mediated through the senses is more impressive to the person because it affects a person even more deeply. A person can have either kind. And if I am not mistaken, there are visions that are even deeper and profound, and of these I am ignorant. A genuine vision contains a certain stamp of authenticity, especially the ones not mediated by the senses. They are impressive, and the impression is made very deeply in a person so it remains vivid and immune to doubting.

Glenn Dallaire said...

Thank you Michael for sharing your interesting thoughts and reflections.

May God bless you and your loved ones,
Glenn Dallaire

SilverStone said...

It can be also true that the mystics will sometimes misinterpret the vision or information given to them. Visions of Mary always show her as a young woman, not as she actually appeared at the time of her Assumption. This is spiritually closer to the truth than her appearance as an aged woman.

Daniel O'Connor said...

Beautiful post.

Permit me to make a small but essential addition though (not a criticism of anything in the post)

Scripture is also fundamentally different from any Private Revelation in that it is truly inerrant (see Providentissimus Deus), therefore it does not have a single actual error; not even historical or geographical error. Any apparent error in Scripture of *any* sort is just that -- *apparent,* not *actual.*

Private Revelation, on the other hand can have *actual* errors; errors in minor details of location, time, etc.; or errors in major things. These, as Glenn beautifully stated, should not trouble us -- the purpose of Private Revelation is not to be inerrant and foundational like Scripture; it is to be prophetic (that is, to apply the Gospel to a certain time).

Anonymous said...

The Church does teach scripture is error free...but only the original texts....and there are no original texts in existence. We only have copies of copies where things could have been changes or added.

Glenn Dallaire said...

Thank you Daniel O'Connor! You bring up a great point. This is why I appreciate having a theologian "on board" reading my posts, because your comments are always excellent and much appreciated.

Thanks again and may God bless you and your loved ones,
Glenn Dallaire

Daniel O'Connor said...

God bless you Glenn! I'm just thankful for all your hard work in running this site

Anonymous -- you are right, we don't have the actual pieces of parchment that the Evangelists and Prophets wrote on, but the mere fact that we don't have the autographs of the Scriptures doesn't change anything. The New Testament, for example, is verified precisely by more manuscripts than any document in history. Each word of the Greek is certain. Though you are correct that we cannot necessarily have inerrant certainty in the translations.

SilverStone said...

There are some problems with the numbers in scripture. For example, the New Jerusalem in Apoc. 21:16 is described as a cube of 12,000 furlongs on each side. If literally true, at eight furlongs to a mile, this building would be so tall that it would interfere with earth satellites. It is possible several zeroes were added.

Another example 2 Kings 19:35 which says an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrians. This number is too large for armies at that time (c. 700 BC) surrounding a city, Jerusalem in this case, and is suspicious due to the three zeroes, at least one which may have been added later

Herf said...

Another absolutely wonderful mystic is Maria Valtora, often referred to as one of the greatest Marian mystics of all time. Her writings are an absolute "must read." They have changed my faith so much and increased a deep love for the Mother of God and Jesus Himself in me! Her major work is "The Gospel As Revealed To Me", also known formerly as "The Poem of the Man God.""

Anonymous said...

Pulled out of the socket? His Shoulder was pulled out of the socket???! I... have no words... Other than, I wonder why it was never taught to me during religious education.

Also, Mary appearing as younger instead of aged in the time of the assumption: Mary might not have appeared aged the way a normal person ages. It's likely she looked much younger. Think about it: sin and death didn't touch her. She might not have ever been wrinkled or anything like that, she might have looked very young even when she was older.

Glenn Dallaire said...

An speaking of dates and events, the purported visionary who publishes the "Locutions to the World" messages has recently stated on Sept 3, 2015 that an Economic collapse will occur during the Popes visit to America. In light of this serious prediction, for those interested I just published an article concerning this matter here.

As stated in the article, there's no "wiggle room" in this prediction. This visionary will definitely rise or fall on this prophesy, and the truth will be revealed in a matter of days. I thought it might interest readers of this website. Of course I am obligated to cover such things given that I host this "Mystics of the Church" website!

-Glenn Dallaire

Anonymous said...

There are some mystics who are told specifically of a detail in which our Lord or Mother Mary or an Angel want humanity to have cleared up. If this is so, it is the another purpose of the vision. If none is given then it is as you say. Also consider that the Parables were moral stories given with the understanding of the time. We need to dig deep into history to dispel misunderstandings. It is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, but nothing is impossible with God. But also consider that the entrance to the city of Jerusalem was called the eye of the needle because camels frequently fought hard not to enter the close quarters and would sit down in refusal. That were with great effort, moved. A visionary may not care about the detail of rope verses chains even if it was presented. The sheer impact of the scene would be overpowering with detail and emotion!

Glenn Dallaire said...

Hi Anonymous,
Thanks for sharing your perspective---great comment!

May God bless you and our loved ones,
Glenn Dallaire

Anonymous said...

the poem of the man god says mother mary,s parents died when she was in temple.but in Bl.anne cathrine emirich's book 'the life of the virgin mary'st anne was alive at the time of the birth of jesus .also there is alot difference in the details given by each visionaries on mother mary's death,burial(even the places and people present there are different ie. in poem of the man got st john was only present at the time of death of mother mary but in the other book st thomas was the only one who was not present there)assumption etc
And now i am in a state of total confusion.(i actually started reading these books to get more closer to jesus,mother mary ,st joseph ..)

Glenn Dallaire said...

Hi Anonymous,
Thanks for your comment.

No reason to be confused! -Like I wrote in the article, the visions that mystics receive are first and foremost intended to convey a spiritual message and meaning. They are NOT meant to instruct us on historical matters, but normally the only thing that is intended by them is the spiritual significance and meaning behind the events, and how they can be applied to one's own spiritual life, devotion and love for God. If you look at each of these visions this way, it does not matter for example whether St Anne died when Mary was in the temple, or many years later. The spiritual lesson connected to the various visions of her life is what would be the sole meaning and purpose of such visions, and this is what God intends by revealing them.

I hope this explanation helps.

May God bless you and your loved ones,
Glenn Dallaire

Evocatus said...

Thank you, and well and good insights. But just a small note here to opine that from time to time it may be within the province of God's will or the mystic's vocation to supply a bona fide detail of historical fact. So St Hellen finds the true Cross by a dream or Blessed A. C. Emmerich's recorded visions leads an explorer to a remarkably plausible home of the BVM in Ephesus. Undoubtedly the normative value of mystical visions of the lives of Mary or Jesus et alia is however just as you say; even if God, being sovereign, is free to act outside the descriptive norms we rightly observe.

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