Among the many things that could be said about the supposed goings on at Fatima, perhaps the first point is contextual: war (and the rumour of war, and the aftermath of war) brings out an hysterical-apocalyptical complex in just about everybody. This point is abundantly illustrated in a book I have previously noted on here: Philip Jenkins' The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade.
Jenkins, a widely published and respected historian, makes two points in this book that would be equally shocking to most Christians today: the first pertains to the gung-ho enthusiasm for the war, and the bloodthirsty language one heard from pulpits of every tradition (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim) and in every country, each insistent that God was blessing their side and going to smite their enemies. Libido dominandi was the order of the day, not the soft pacifism on the cheap one so often finds on the lips of prelates, preachers, and people today.
The second was equally ecumenical: everybody was claiming visions of some sort--French atheists in foxholes claiming visions of their dead comrades in arms; Russian Orthodox peasants claiming divine visions; staid German Lutherans and English Anglicans got in on the act with their own supposed apparitions; and even Muslims were also claiming to have had visions! So the Roman Catholic visions that supposedly manifested themselves at Fatima were entirely unsurprising and just one of many during the Great War. All these others quickly faded.
Why Fatima did not fade but took off raises all sorts of questions:
- How is it that she who silently pondered in her heart (cf. Luke 2:19) the staggering Incarnation via her womb would suddenly become garrulous 19 centuries later in predicting the depredations of Russia? Why then, and why Russia? Why not 1914 in attempting to avert war? Or why not later, in predicting the rise of Hitler? (Cf. q. 4 below.)
- How can such a focus on Russia be seen and interpreted in anything other than the context of geopolitics at the time, in which context one must include Western hostility to Bolshevism, longstanding hysteria (recently revived in our own day) about Russia (even to the extent that two ostensibly Christian powers--England and France--would side with a Muslim empire against her in the Crimean war), and Catholic hostility to "schismatic" Orthodoxy, above all in Russia?
- How could she who is portrayed so often iconographically as the hodegetria, the pointer of the way to Christ, suddenly develop a taste for narcissistic and repetitive demands for devotion to be pointed to herself and, especially--bizarrely--her "Immaculate Heart"? Devotionally this seems very close to fetishism.
- How, if Fatima did indeed consist of "prophetic" messages foretelling future disasters, was a Jewish woman apparently so anxious about as-yet unseen Russian dangers, but would see and say nothing about the impending Shoah?
- How can we not see Fatima in any other context than that of the mounting personality cult surrounding the papacy, so amply documented by eminent historians such as Eamon Duffy (himself a Catholic) and Owen Chadwick? How, that is, can 1917 be interpreted without recourse to the 1854 definition of Pius IX, the 1870 definition of papal infallibility, and continuing on through other so-called apparitions from the 19th century? Can the papal-centric rhetoric in Fatima (and all the hysteria surrounding the supposed "third secret") be interpreted without regard for this novel ecclesiology of which it is a part?
- How much damage to its own credibility did the papacy inflict on itself by tendentiously dragging Fatima through the 20th century, dangling prospects of the revelation of the "third secret," before dashing all that to the ground in the year 2000 with a conveniently retroactive rubbishing of the whole thing:
Insofar as individual events are described, they belong to the past. Those who expected exciting apocalyptic revelations about the end of the world or the future course of history are bound to be disappointed. Fatima does not satisfy our curiosity in this way, just as Christian faith in general cannot be reduced to an object of mere curiosity. What remains was already evident when we began our reflections on the text of the “secret”: the exhortation to prayer as the path of “salvation for souls” and, likewise, the summons to penance and conversion.If this is all that Fatima is--just a convenient reminder to pray, fast, do penance, and convert to the gospel of Jesus Christ--then it is of course entirely unobjectionable. But in too many hands for too long it was turned into a spectacle, almost a fetish, and wrapped up in a gauze of apocalypticism. Let 2017 pass without any more commentary. It edifies nobody.