Thursday, January 15, 2009

The tired old "fruits" argument

Here is a comment from a reader on a recent post I did on news from Rome that the Pope was going to announce some new (stricter) guidelines for dealing with alleged apparitions. Here is what this reader said:

Mathew [sic] 7:16 "You will know them by their fruits"

Despite opinions to the contrary, Medjugorje is bringing souls to Catholicism and Christ, including me. I was not interested in Catholicism until my wife dragged me there and I had an unexpected and uncoerced conversion. I'm now in RCIA, attend the Mass regularly and listen to the Catholic Channel on XM and EWTN whenever I can. No one can truly understand Medjugorje unless they visit there.

Medjugorje statistics for 2008:

Holy Communions distributed 1,357,100
Concelebrating priests - total: 31,724
Evening Holy Mass: 12,375
Largest number of languages in which the Gospel was read during the Evening Mass: 16
Meeting for leaders 125 participants
Meeting for priests 233 participants
Meeting for married couples 90 couples
Youth Festival more then 50,000 participants
Peace March 3,000 participants

Anniversary of the Apparitions Mass 50,000 participants
Mass on Cross Mountain 20,000 participants
New Year’s Vigil 10,000 participants
Statistics - “Domus Pacis” Retreat house
Fasting, prayer and silence seminars 21 seminars - 790 participants
Franciscan Youth Fraternity 10 seminars - 335 participants
Altar Boys 1 seminar - 32 boys
Seminars for young girls 7 seminars - 213 girls
Other seminars 13 seminars - 462 participants

First of all, I do want to congratulate this gentleman on his reception into the Church, but I find serious fault with this "fruits" argument. This is the same old canard that Medjugorje enthusiasts have been throwing around for decades now when any sensible criticism is leveled against the alleged apparitions: It must be from God because of all these good "fruits." This is an argument I totally reject, and I intend to give a thorough rebuttal to this oft made assertion here.

1) To borrow from Mr. Edmund Burke, these numbers would be great evidence for Medjugorje's authenticity, if the Kingdom of Heaven were a matter of mathematics.

This argument amounts to saying that it must be right because everybody is doing it. Sheer numbers do not mean anything at all. The Kingdom of Heaven is qualitative, not quantitative. On the last day it is not about how many people said "Lord, Lord," but about how many have done the will of the Father Who is in heaven. It has often been remarked by many theologians that the love of God is so magnanimous that Christ would still have come and died upon the Cross even if He knew that but a single soul would respond to His grace.

The fact that many people are buying into something, even within the Church, doesn't mean anything to me. In the Old Testament (and the New), one could make a strong argument that the Faith usually is preserved and handed on by what the Bible calls a "remnant." The theology behind the idea of the "remnant" is very interesting, but I will not go into it here. Suffice it to say that we must heed the warning of Christ: the true path is narrow. So don't come throwing around statistics about how many people go to Medjugorje. The Mormon Church has over 13 million members and 52,000 missionaries too, and I'm sure a lot of them are led to lead decent, moral lives by means of their faith. Are we going to apply this same argument to them? After all, they're making lots of baptisms!

2) Numbers especially do not matter if the message is wrong; i.e., the quantitative loses all value if the qualitative is errant.

This is the reason why nobody would make the same case about the Mormons - sure they have 52,000 missionaries and thousands of baptisms every year, but we all understand that the missionaries are spreading error and the baptisms are into an errant faith.

Now, Medjugorje is not as errant as the Mormons, don't get me wrong. But it is a fact that when people go to Medjugorje and defend it, they are defending a phenomenon that (1) Has been condemned by the local ordinary many times (2) Is in a manifest state of disobedience (3) Promulgates questionable doctrines via the alleged seers (4) Promotes a type of pseduo-spiritual emotionalism (5) Is radically different from anything in Catholic Tradition.

So, when you quote how many seminars and conferences, I must ask, "And what is being taught at these conferences?" If you point to the Youth Festival, I say, "So what? The NCYC Youth Festival had over 20,000 people there and it was hardly Catholic and had lots of heresy and was probably positively harmful to many souls." The fact that lot's of people participate in this stuff is meaningless if the content is bad. So you had 1,357,100 Holy Communions distributed? How many of these were done in the hand, by lay ministers, to people who had not fasted, were in a state of sin or did not believe in the Real Presence? Maybe many; maybe none -we have no way to know this, but in general, the bigger the gathering, the larger the abuses and the greater the margin of people who will receive with inappropriate dispositions.

3) Baptisms, conversions and seminars, while good, are not proof of supernatural activity.

This is one of my biggest hang-ups with Medjugorje. When I say that the apparitions are false, people say, like our reader, "I was not interested in Catholicism until my wife dragged me there and I had an unexpected and uncoerced conversion." Well, praise the Lord! But let me ask you, does that establish the supernatural nature of the apparitions? Is the fact that lots of people chose to amend their lives mean that Mary really appeared? The two have nothing to do with each other.

Remember the Millerites? William Miller preached that the end of the world was imminent and that Christ was about to return. Many people reformed their lives, had conversions and began to "get religion." Of course, when Christ did not return to earth in 1844 as Miller had predicted, his followers suffered disillusionment and what has been known as the "Great Disappointment." Many people had converted and amended their lives - but of course, that has nothing to do with whether or not the apparition or prediction is actually supernatural.

4) The fact that God uses something as a tool does not mean that it is good in itself or is to be promoted.

Now, let's give everybody the benefit of the doubt here. Let's say that our reader is truly and sincerely converted, and that he has a real relationship with God (which I do not doubt), and furthermore that this was in fact attributed to graces received through Medjugorje. Still, this does not establish Medjugorje's authenticity.

Let's look a simple biblical principle: God often uses things as tools to prod people to repentance that are not in themselves good. Take Assyria. God deliberately sent Assyria to conquer the northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC so that they might repent of their sins. I guess some could say, if we lived back then, "Wow! Ever since the Assyrian conquest, we have seen people repenting of their sins in the street, amending their lives, praying more and returning to God! Isn't Assyria wonderful?" Well, no, of course not. Though the Assyrian conquest brought about repentance and conversion (it's purpose), we understand that it is not in itself good. It is being used by the Lord as a rod to chasten the people. It says so much in Isaiah 10, when God promises to turn and judge Assyria for its haughtiness:

Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath!...Does the ax raise itself above him who swings it, or the saw boast against him who uses it? As if a rod were to wield him who lifts it up, or a club brandish him who is not wood! (v.1,13)

God is using Assyria as a "rod" to accomplish His purpose, but that does not mean the "rod" is in itself good. In fact, in this verse God is specifically saying that though He used the rod for a time, He is now going to turn against it and judge the rod because it has grown haughty.

Applied to Medjugorje, we could say that though God may use Medjugorje, as a rod, to move people to repentance and bring about conversion, that does not mean that Medjurgoje is in itself good, or true, nor does it mean that He will not in fact turn and judge it one day when it becomes too haughty (as in disobeying the local ordinary, for example) or when its purpose is accomplished.

5) God uses many means to bring us to where He wants us, some good, some bad.

This is an elaboration of point 4. Consider this: I had a conversion back to Christianity through the agency of a vibrant, Pentecostal Non-Denominational Protestant church. I actually owe my salvation to people from that Church. But under no circumstances would I refer people to it now. I was first introduced to Catholicism by a schismatic group (not the SSPX, another more obscure group). It is because of them that I am Catholic - but there's no way I'd ever defend them now or send people to their doors! Just because you had a conversion through the agency of something doesn't mean you are in the right place. It just means God wanted to touch you, nothing more nothing less. It's just the way things are. Everybody is on their own journey, but we have to disassociate our own journey essentially from any of the steps on that journey. A step is a step - it may not be a good one, but God may use it to get you where He wants you to go.

The Didache, which deals with discerning prophecy, tells us that one may even speak with the Holy Spirit but still bear a false message if He is not living in obedience to God. "Yet not every one that speaketh in the Spirit is a prophet, but only if he have the ways of the Lord" (11:12).

6) The fruits admonition in Matthew refers primarily to false prophets being signaled out by their nature of rapaciousness - i.e., being "ferocious wolves."

The entire verse from Matthew 7:15-20 reads:

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Regarding Medjugorje, I would make two points. First, based on much of what I've said above, I don't think Medjugorje as a movement has good fruits. There may be good stories, just as I am sure there are good stories from some people who went to NCYC, but overall the phenomenon I think has negative fruits.

Two, using Christ's symbolism that a false prophet is a ferocious (or in some translations, "ravenous") wolf has to do with their desire to profit from their ministry - St. Peter fills this in for us in by attributing their deceptiveness to greed: Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up (2 Pet. 2-3). St. Paul tells us that these deceivers live to fill only themselves: many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach (Php. 3:18-20). So, using the Scriptures, we can see that one sign of a false prophet is a desire to make money or a sign of greed.

The Didache tells us plainly: "[B]ut if he ask money, he is a false prophet" (11:9). Now, to anyone who does not know, the seers of Medjurgorje (unlike St. Bernadette or Sr. Lucia) are fabulously wealthy and continue to profit by the Medjugorje phenomenon. This has been well documented, and if you do not believe it, do the research yourself. But some some will say, "But Boniface, they did not ask for the money - they just receive it when it is freely offered!" Well, okay. A technicality. But, in the Scriptures, simply receiving money for prophecy or spiritual things is condemned, even if you did not technically ask for it. Let's look in 2 Kings 5. This is the story of Naaman the Syrian who was cleansed by Elijah from leprosy by bathing in the Jordan seven times. After his healing:

Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, "Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant."But he said,"As the LORD lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none." And he urged him to take it, but he refused (2 Kings 5:15-16).

See? Elijah positively refused any material compensation, even though it was freely offered to him and he did not ask for it. But Elijah's servant, Gehazi, was greedy for the gifts that Naaman wanted to offer, and so went back and took advantage of Naaman's good nature to secure the gifts for himself. When he returned to Elijah, the prophet told him:

Did not my heart go when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Was it a time to accept money and garments, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male servants and female servants? Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever." So he went out from his presence a leper, like snow (v.26-27).

Granted, Gehazi lied to get the money. But here is the point: Elijah considered it wrong to receive any payment for his prophecy and his miracles, even swearing by God that he would not take anything. Elijah chastises Gehazi not for lying to Naaman, but for thinking it was a prudent time to accept money and for doing so. Therefore God struck him with leprosy.


The numerical value of what goes on at Medjugorje is meaningless, especially if the substance of the visions is errant or doubtful, which it is, as I have documented in other posts. Even true conversions do not prove supernatural origin - a man could be converted just from a good homily, but that doesn't mean God inspired the homily supernaturally. Sometimes God uses external things (people, churches, movements) to move us by His grace towards some further end, but that cannot be taken as a validation of the agents (the "rods") that God uses to do so. Furthermore, the Medjurgorje seers are fabulously rich because of their "apparitions," and in the same verses where Christ says we shall know false prophets by their fruits, He also tells us to beware of greedy "wolves," and from the story of Elijah, Naaman and Gehazi we can see that it is not necessary to ask for money to incur condemnation - to simply accept money freely offered for a prophecy or spiritual good is reprobated.

So no more of this "fruits" argument please!


Anselm said...

Elsewhere than just in connection to Medjugorje I've often wondered about the "fruits" principle.

It is true of course that one may judge something by its fruits (which must be considered qualitatively, not quantitatively, as you pointed out), but it is also true that God brings good out of evil. Indeed, that he does so is the only only rational answer to the problem of the existence of evil.

So, when you see a good fruit, how can you really judge whether the tree is good, or whether God had drawn good from an evil tree?

In practical terms, the "fruits" principle seems a lot more useful in identifying bad trees than good. And this negative application actually seems to be the emphasis in the text you cited from Matthew's Gospel.

Anonymous said...

As a Legionary cult survivor, I get so tired and frustrated hearing about its "fruits." Good post.

The Mamasaurus said...

Instead of dedicating a whole blog to proving why Medugorje is false why don't you use this space to promote love and tolerance...something positive? You're actually fueling the thing you seem to be so against by doing this. This blog just seems rather wasteful to me. Jesus Christ spent his time on this earth as a living example of how we are to live...he didn't spend his time orating about how others were wrong. How are you living in Christ by doing this? Do you really think God wants you to spend your time this way? Tell me, how this is bringing others to God through Christ Jesus?
Whether you allow this comment or not, I do hope for your own sake, you take note of it. Such prolific writing would serve a much better purpose if you directed your talent towards witnessing and being an instrument of God's peace. - In Christ, - Christine

BONIFACE said...

Hey Mamasaurus-

Thanks for your comments, but first, my whole blog is not dedicated to ripping Medjugorje...I haven't posted on Medjugorje in months, actually.

Secondly, while I accept the spirit of your critique and acknowledge that we all have to be careful on judging others, it is true that we also have to test all things. Let me ask you: what is it about the above critique that you disagree with so much? Is it just the fact that it is a critique? That's no real reason - what is it about this post that bothers you - have I said something untrue? Please enlighten us.

Veneration said...

To Christine July 7, 2009

I am curious as to why your understanding of the Gospels requires good feelings rather than self sacrifice and good deeds. I do not know where you would find Jesus condemning the act of condemning bad reasoning. It takes courage, a willingness to endure contempt, and authentic compassion to point out the errors of ideas and social forces that are destructive to the faith even within the Church. And to do so is a requirement of all of us. Taking refuge in words like love and tolerance can slip into a mindset that can easily become indistinguishable from the sort of soft mindedness that has generated tolerance and indifference for all the ravages of the sex revolution including the abortion holocaust.

The accusation of judgmental, direct or implied, does seem to be invoked as a stock response whenever destructive beliefs or actions are properly identified as such, and with little sense of irony. On what basis can anyone assume the rightness of judging the wrongness of those designated judgmental. Isn’t this a judgment? From the way the rebuke of judgmental gets applied to anyone forming a moral judgment, you would think there is no difference between judging moral right and moral wrong. Why even consider sitting on a jury?

Nonetheless, a truthful and complete reading of the Gospels makes it clear that Jesus describes the objective moral order and requirement of judging right and wrong actions and beliefs. This is different from the moral condemnation of souls, for which we are prohibited. Yet we are always required, as an ultimate act of love, to confront evil. The idea of natural law, which we accept as dogma, means many things, not the least of which is a recognition that right is right no matter who or how few believe it, and wrong is wrong no matter who or how many believe it.

Authentic faith would at least consider the pride involved by even wanting a rosary to turn to gold or by visionaries organizing groups, for a fee, to touch the veil or hand of the vision. If we can not remove ourselves from a disinformation campaign with personal animus towards the authority of the local bishops, or ignore the authority of Jesus when he said, “It is an evil generation that looks for a sign”, we can at least have sufficient regard for protecting the honor of Our Holy Mother.

Ed Baker

Anonymous said...

Pro Medjugorje fans like to link their particular cultish following to vatican ii and its spirit. The ambiguous language in the council documents have provided the church with bad fruits , if you look at the numbers, and yet it could be a blessing as it might be thinning and flushing out the enemies within the church. Medj. on the other hand claim they have nothing but good fruits. Lots of confessions, reception of Holy Communion etc. but as you pointed out, there might be the possibility of a lot of bad communions. It would appear there is no silver lining with Medj. It appears Medj. was tailor made to fit with vat.ii, ambiguity as its vehicle. Now, I wonder if there is a connection to all these masses attributed to Medj. and the fruits of vatican ii, with the novus ordo being a "fruit" of the council? What does the future hold for the NO and medj. if they are not from genuine faith?