An “Ottaviani Intervention” on Signs and Wonders

Given the fever-pitch excitement (or anxiety) in many quarters over Francis’s upcoming consecration of Russia, it seems a good time to republish this 1953 text from Msgr Alfredo Ottaviani. He was later made the prefect of the Holy Office, and was chief signatory of the Short Critical Study of the Novus Ordo Missae (“The Ottaviani Intervention“).

The text below is republished with permission from the Bellarmine Forums. The spelling has been anglicised and headings and some punctuation added for clarity.

It is inevitable urging caution and calmness at present will result in some falsely claiming that we are “against Fatima”. Nothing could be further from the truth, and although we resent the need to do so, we will state (again) that at The WM Review, we believe the revelations of Fatima to be true, and to have a continuing importance for the Church and the world.

Image: Ottaviani, Wiki Commons.

Christians, Don’t Get Excited So Quickly!

Msgr Aldredo Ottaviani


Article by Msgr. Alfredo Ottaviani, Assessor of the Holy Office, Later Cardinal and Secretary of this same Supreme Sacred Congregation, published in the official Vatican newspaper: L’Osservatore Romano, February 4, 1953.

Miracles in the Life of the Church

No Catholic would call into doubt, not only the possibility but even the existence of miracles. The mission and the divine nature of Christ were proven by the great and multiple miracles that the Lord performed here below. Later the nascent Church overcame the first difficulties and persecutions thanks to a special assistance of the Holy Ghost, rendered tangible, as it were, by the charisma which the Apostles and the multitude of chosen souls of the first Christian generations enjoyed.

Once the Church was established, the charisms, as is understandable, diminished, but did not disappear.

The assistance of the Holy Ghost and the presence of Christ in His Church will last until the end of ages, and this presence still manifests itself by supernatural signs: by miracles.

So as not to multiply our examples, let it suffice to cite those miracles that are submitted for examination in the process of beatification of the Servants of God and of canonisation of the Blessed. These are rigorously studied both from the scientific and the theological point of view. And everyone knows with what scrupulous rigour the miraculous healings which take place at Lourdes are examined.

Warnings against Credulity

Consequently let no one accuse us of being enemies of the supernatural, if we proceed now to put the faithful on their guard against the unverified affirmations of pretended supernatural events, which in our day are taking place all over and risk casting discredit on the true miracle.

Moreover, Jesus has already put us on our guard against “false Christs and false prophets,” who will perform great signs and prodigies, capable of seducing, if it were possible, even the elect. (Mt 24:24) Things of this sort have been taking place since the beginning of the Church. (Acts 8:9). That is why it is a right and a duty of the Magisterium of the Church to pass judgment on the truth and on the nature of happenings or revelations which are claimed to be the effect of a special intervention of God. And it is a duty of all true sons of the Church to submit to this judgment.

As all mothers, the Church must bear the heaviest and most painful of duties; as all mothers, the Church is sometimes obliged, not only to act, but also to suffer, to be silent and wait. Fifty years ago, who would have imagined that today the Church would have to put her children, even priests, on their guard against defenders of visions, of pretended miracles, in short, against all the events qualified as preternatural which, from one continent to the next, from one country to the next, indeed, from every direction, attract and excite the masses?

At that time, in an atmosphere of such scientism and positivism, anyone who would have paid attention or given credence to what they called the superstitions of the age of obscurantism would have been laughed at. They hated the Church which alone stubbornly defended their existence and their spiritual value, for good or for evil, by affirming or denying them. One of the most repeated and most eloquent chapters of apologetics in these days was the miracle.

Today, the Church must counsel her children, by the mouths of her bishops, and repeating the words of the Divine Master (cf. Mt 24:24) not to let themselves be carried away easily by events of this sort, and not to believe in them, unless with open eyes, and after having undertaken the most serious inquiries, with proofs to support them.

For years now we have been witnessing a resurgence of the popular passion for the spectacular, even in the religious domain. Crowds of the faithful head for the sites of alleged apparitions or pretended miracles, at the same time deserting the Church, the Sacraments, sermons.

Persons who do not know the first words of the Creed make themselves the apostles of an ardent piety. They are not ashamed to speak of the Pope, the Bishops, and the clergy in terms of open reprobation, then become indignant the latter do not share their ardor or join in the furor of certain popular movements. Unpleasant as the thing is, it is not astonishing.

Original Sin and Creduilty

In the very nature of man, there exists the religious sentiment; man, being a rational animal and a political animal, is also a religious animal. Original sin, establishing disorder in the nature of man and in all his feelings, also attacked, so to speak, this religious sentiment. This explains the deviations and the errors of so many natural religions just as it explains so many other perversions in the history of man.

It is true that, when it is a question of religion, these errors are the most regrettable. Fortunately, revelation and grace, coming to redeem man from his ignorance and his weaknesses, have also restored man in the rectitude of his nature. And this grace, once it has healed our sick and wounded nature, also bestows upon our nature a superabundance of strength for the service and the love of God, a strength of light and a flame of warmth.

From the word and the blood of Jesus was born the Church, guardian and interpreter of the true religion.

One must not believe that one can be religious in any fashion; one must be so as one ought. There can be, and there are, in fact, deviations of the religious sentiment, as of all the other sentiments. The religious sentiment must be guided by the reason, nourished by grace, and governed by the Church, like our whole life, and more severely. There must be a religious instruction, education, and formation. Those who have with such levity fought against the authority of the Church and the religious sentiment, now find themselves faced with the frightening explosions of an instinctive religious sentiment, bearing no more trace of the light of reason, nor of consideration nor of grace, having no longer neither brake nor government. This is so true, that they burst forth into sad acts of disobedience towards ecclesiastical authority when this latter intervenes to settle matters as necessary. This is what has taken place in Italy, after the so-called apparitions of Voltago; in France, for the events of Espis and of Bouxieres; with the gatherings of Ham-sur-Sambre, in Belgium; in Germany, for the visions of Heroldsbach; in the United States, for the manifestations at Necedah (Lacrosse), and I could continue to quote examples in other countries, both near and far.

The Two Excesses of Irreligion and Credulity

The period that we are crossing is presently between two excesses, that of declared and ruthless irreligion, and that of over-flowing and blind religiosity. The Church, persecuted on one side and compromised on the other, can only repeat her maternal warnings – but her words remain neglected, between the refusal of some and the exaltation of others.

The Church certainly does not wish to consign to the shadows the prodigies accomplished by God; but she wants only to keep the faithful attentive to that which comes from God and to that which does not come from God, and which can come from our adversary, who is also hers. She is the enemy of the false miracle.

A good Christian knows, and knows from his catechism, that true religion is in the true faith, that it is in Revelation, which ended with the death of the last Apostle and was confided to the Church, who is its interpreter and guardian. Nothing else could be revealed to us which would be necessary for our salvation, we have nothing to wait for, we have, as long as we make use of it, everything we need. Even if the most respectable of visions could furnish us with new motives of fervor, they would give us no new elements of life and of knowledge. True religion consists essentially, after the knowledge, in the love of God and the love of neighbour which is its consequence, and the love of God, even before it is expressed by acts of worship or of the liturgy, consists of doing the will of God, that is, obeying His commandments. This is what makes true religion.

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A good Christian knows that, even in the Saints, sanctity does not, by its nature, consist of preternatural gifts of visions, prophecies, and miracles, but is entirely in the heroic exercise of virtue. It is one thing that God authenticates, in a certain way, sanctity by miracles; it is another thing to say that sanctity consists of miracles. We must not confuse sanctity with what can be and regularly is an infallible mark thereof, but not always clearly enough for us to do without the supervision of the religious authority.

The teaching of the Church has never been equivocal on this point, and he who follows, in preference to the word of God, events of a doubtful interpretation, prefers the world to God. Even when the authority of the Church canonizes a Saint, that does not suffice for her to guarantee the preternatural character of all his extraordinary actions, nor for her to approve all his personal opinions; much less does she guarantee all that is recounted, sometimes with unpardonable levity, by biographers richer in imagination than in judgment.

To be religious, it is necessary – we repeat again – to be so indeed and as one ought. To be Christian and to be pious, we must apply all the attention that we give to the most serious things of life. To the true believer, credulity is as harmful as incredulity. Certainly, everyone cannot form for himself an opinion on everything; but what are the Pope and the Bishops there for? This is curious. No one would dare to build his house himself, to sew his own clothing, to make his own shoes, or to try to cure his own illness. But when it is a question of religious life, they reject all authority, refuse all confidence, worse, they challenge it and deliberately disobey.


The Catholic priesthood these last two hundred years, and more acutely these last fifty years, has been so accused, insulted, and denigrated, in politics as in literature, that it is understandable that the faithful should make a great effort to become closer to the priest and to give him their confidence. But in the incontestable return to God which we are witnessing, the faithful must overcome their prejudices and begin again to live in communion of sentiment, of thought, and of faith with the priest.

For the last fifteen years, while the religious authority has remained hesitant, the people have not been waiting, but have been rushing in crowds towards miraculous happenings which, to say the least, go uncontrolled.

We must say sincerely that phenomena of this sort are perhaps manifestations of natural religiosity. They are not, however, Christian acts, and they furnish a terrible pretext to those who wish at any price to discover in Christianity, and especially in Catholicism, infiltrations or remnants of superstition and of paganism. Just as sin finds its way into our moral life, so error can find its way into one Catholic individual or another; and anyone who knows what man is will not be astonished; but just as sin must be recognised as sin, if we want to rid ourselves of it, so it is also with error. And just as the Church has the power to forgive our sins, she likewise has the divine mission of delivering us from error.

Let Catholics listen to the word of God that the Church, and only the Church, conserves and repeats pure and without corruption; and let them not run, like sheep without a shepherd, there where they hear echoing other voices seeking to cover up the voice of God, if it happens that these are opposed to the voice of the Church.

Christians, be less hasty to get excited. Dante wrote in his day: Be not like a feather before the wind. He gave the same reason we have given; “You have the Old and the New Testaments, and the Shepherd of the Church to guide you.” And he gave the same conclusion we wish to give: “Let that suffice for you to save your souls.” (Paradiso, V)


Towards the end of this piece, Ottaviani writes:

“We have Sacred Scripture, we have Tradition, we have the Supreme Pastor and a hundred pastors near our own houses; why present to those who oppose and detest us a spectacle of folly and of senseless exaltation?”

The current, dire situation in the Church does not undermine Ottaviani’s point. True: there are now not hundreds of morally accessible Catholic priests “near our own houses”; the status of the “Supreme Pastor” is at best disputed; and we are now unable to submit to our supposed “pastors” in the way he describes in the article – unless we are content to change our religion.

Indeed, we are not able to submit to the various “emergency” priests in the way described either: for while we cannot express our gratitude for their ministry, they are not pastors in the canonical sense and exercise a merely supplied jurisdiction for the benefit of the faithful on an act-by-act basis.

But while this is the case in the West and many other places at present, we certainly still have Sacred Scripture and Tradition and so much sound, traditional Catholic theology available – and so we should still be cautious and refrain from engaging in “a spectacle of folly and senseless exaltation.”

Now, I am not suggesting that Fatima is “a spectacle of folly and senseless exaltation”, nor that it is comparable to the false apparitions that Ottaviani mentions above. It is evident, however, that some persons have a disordered approach to this true apparition, and act as if the Church’s traditional theology should be subject to their interpretation it.

After so many deceptions in recent years, let us watch and pray that we are not deceived.



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