Prophetess or heretic?
VASSULA Ryden's claims that she hears from God have stirred controversy. Mathias Mazinga talked to her when she visited Uganda last year
Vassula Ryden, a globe-trotting Greek Orthodox preacher and promoter of Christian unity visited Uganda on November 13, 2010 and preached at Nakivubo Stadium. Vassula is best known for her writings entitled True Life in God, a compilation of about 2,000 visionary messages, which she claims to have received from God since 1985.
One of the strongest elements in these messages is the gravity of the division between churches and the urgency of the work for unity of the Church and the importance of the ecumenical movement. Vassula also advocates universal peace, love, justice, holiness and practical charity.
Vasulla claims to have been called to transmit to the world the messages she receives. Her messages have been translated into more than 40 languages and have widespread distribution and readership. Vassula has been invited to several countries to give her testimony and, to pass on the messages she has received. According to the official True Life in God website, she has been invited to more than 900 meetings in 75 countries.
Vassula claims she had never received any catechetical or theological formation and was not a serious Christian. She believes the Christian God chooses those, who are incapable of such achievements, so as to leave no doubt that it is his power at work.
Despite her seemingly good messages of Christian unity, peace, love and charity, Vassula is not in the good books of some mainstream Christian Theologians, who see her writings and visions as controversial.
In 1995, the Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith issued a notification on the True Life in God writings of Vassula. The congregation studied the written daily conversations which she said she had with Jesus and, on October 6, 1995, issued a notification in response to many Catholic bishops and faithful that had written for guidance regarding Vassula’s spiritual writings. The congregation stated that the “attentive examination of the entire question” had brought up “a number of basic elements that must be considered negative in the light of Catholic doctrine” as well as “several doctrinal errors”.
It also questioned the “suspect nature of the ways in which these alleged revelations have occurred” and considers the fact that “the aforementioned errors no longer appear in Ryden’s later writings is a sign that the alleged heavenly messages are merely the result of private meditations”. The notification concludes by requesting “the intervention of the bishops” to prevent the dissemination of Ryden’s ideas in their dioceses and “invites all the faithful not to regard Mrs Vassula Ryden’s writings and speeches as supernatural”.
In November 1996, following a series of declarations from Ryden’s supporters affirming that the notification was not a valid document, the congregation issued a press release, stating that the notification “retains all its force” and “was approved by the competent authorities and will be published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis,” the official organ of the Holy See.
Prior to her Kampala visit, Vassula was disowned by both the Catholic and Orthodox Christian leaders and, her crusade was attended by a scanty congregation.
But in an interview with Sunday Vision, Vassula denied any ill-motives against the Church and re-affirmed the purity of her prophetic ministry.
“There is nothing evil in what I preach. Even Cardinal Ratzinger, before he became Pope, investigated my writings for over two years but he never condemned me.”
“I have also never been excommunicated from the Orthodox Church where I belong. I am just delivering God’s message of peace, unity, love, holiness and practical charity,” Vassula said.
“People who attend my crusades come from all churches. I am not starting a church. I am simply preaching to Christians, to live in unity in diversity.”
“There are some people, who are opposed to my message of love, peace and unity, who write bad things about me. It is such people who have made some religious leaders look at me with suspicion.” “You know anything that comes from God has to be persecuted while that, which comes from Satan, is cherished. Even the prophets of God, Jesus and his followers were persecuted,” she added.
Asked why she was disowned by the local Orthodox Church leaders prior to her visit, Vassula expressed feelings of disbelief and said: “I don’t think that is true. The Orthodox Archbishop Jonah Lwanga hosted me at his residence and I had tea with him. Later we went to the Church and had prayers with him. Even here at the crusade, we have been with some Orthodox priests.”
Incidentally, many other contemporary Christians have claimed to have received visions from God. But what do religious leaders say about divine revelation?
We need to know the difference between personal meditation and divine revelation.
“In personal meditation, you read the word of God, internalise it and, get some spiritual insights or messages from it. This must not be confused with divine revelation, where a person gets a direct revelation from God, through a vision,” said Rev. Fr. Joseph Sserugga, Assistant Pastoral Co-ordinator, Kampala Archdiocese.
However, Simeon Kayiwa, a theologian and Pastor of Namirembe Christian Fellowship said: Jesus said, “In a little time I will come back to you, the world will not see me but you will see me (John 14:16).” This shows that people can experience divine revelation even today. Of course there are some people who make false claims of visions from God, but this does not mean all visions are bad. Remember that Paul himself was converted after a vision he received from God (Acts 9).
The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church is very clear on the transmission of Divine Revelation. In the past, God spoke directly to our fathers like Abraham. God also communicated his messages to his people, through the prophets. But in these last days, God speaks to us through his son Jesus. Jesus is God’s unsurpassable word. In him, he has said everything; there will be no other word than this one (Hebrews 1:1-2).Christ, the mediator and fullness of all revelation. The Christian economy, therefore since it is the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet even if revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries. Jesus chose the Apostles to continue transmitting his good news of salvation to all ages. Jesus’ redemptive work continues through the apostolic succession: the Pope, the Bishops, who help us interpret properly the word of God. So, the Catholic Church doesn’t simply recognize visions. Claimed visions must first be investigated thoroughly before they are accepted.
Published on: Saturday, 5th February, 2011