REVIEW: Refractions of Light

Have you ever wondered how the Church decides what is a “real vision” or “true private message from heaven”? Or what is the process they go through to approve an apparition or state that it is in error? In my studies of saints, I’ve often wondered how the Holy See (the Vatican) decides that what this saint saw was a real vision or a private revelation is divine in nature (such as St. Faustina or Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich), yet others who have also said they’ve experienced visions and received miracles were determined to contain doctrinal errors and deemed to be false. Refractions of Light by Kevin Symonds makes this all very clear, in a very straightforward and logical manner. Symonds writes the book in the format of a student asking questions, and provides documentation for each key point. He begins with the simple, asking, “What is private revelation?” and to the more complex of how does the Vatican investigate these claims, ending with, why would God grant a request to an individual that would cause confusion.

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15. Why must alleged private revelations be immune from theological and spiritual error in doctrine?

Alleged private revelations must be free from error in the above areas because God cannot contradict Himself. What he has established for our salvation does not change.

The questions are very straight forward and answered in easy to follow logic and language. After answering the questions on the process to confirm private revelation, Symonds discusses the effect on the faithful that these devotions or messages may have on the Church, especially if that message is deemed to be in error and the process to have them corrected. The most important point here is that the Church takes it’s time when determining the validity of a message and that no grace is lost among the faithful, no matter how long it takes.

118. Why is it not true to say that by waiting the faithful are losing grace?

The faithful are not losing grace because, “Visions are not like sacraments that produces their effect by their own power in those who do not place an obstacle [to sacramental grace]…There is no grace to be had by disobeying. To wait will not entail any loss at all, rather, God’s favor will be upon those who obey.”

Symonds also touches upon the dissemination of information through published materials, the Index of Forbidden Books (which is no longer maintained), and the current power of censorship the Church has on books published on alleged private revelations. This is where a local bishop or diocesan “censor” will check a book for nihil obstat or “nothing obstructs” and grants an imprimatur or “let it be printed.” The questions and answers only cover the first half of the book. The second half are the documents Symonds used to research and answer each of these questions, straight from the Magisterium. These are amazing documents to read! The documents have been translated into English and are also included in their original language (for those of you who read Italian or Latin)! He also gives a brief introduction and background to each of these documents. Finally, Symonds has 26 pages of endnotes documenting his other resources cited throughout the question and answer portion of the book. Talk about a well-researched book!

I highly recommend Refractions of Light by Kevin Symonds. It is the most complete question and answer book covering the complex topic of apparitions, visions, and private revelations I have ever come across. He clearly reveals the Church’s stance on messages given beyond the completion of the New Testament revelation, how the Catholic Church takes great thought, time, and care when evaluating these messages, and making sure these messages ultimately do not harm the faithful of the Church. This book is an invaluable resource for anyone who is interested in the study of private revelation and learning more about how the Church approves of those messages and visions which ultimately lead to greater devotion to our Lord.


Laura Hensley received a copy of this book for the purposes of review

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