The Notification and subsequent history
On 6 October 1995, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) published a Notification regarding the True Life in God messages. It was signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) and it read:
Many bishops, priests, religious and lay people have sought an authoritative judgement from this Congregation on the activity of Mrs. Vassula Ryden, a Greek Orthodox residing in Switzerland, who in speech and in writing is spreading in Catholic circles throughout the world messages attributed to alleged heavenly revelations.
A calm, attentive examination of the entire question, undertaken by this Congregation in order to "test the spirits to see whether they are of God" (cf. 1 Jn 4:1), has brought out — in addition to positive aspects — a number of basic elements that must be considered negative in the light of Catholic doctrine.
In addition to pointing out the suspect nature of the ways in which these alleged revelations have occurred, it is necessary to underscore several doctrinal errors they contain.
Among other things, ambiguous language is used in speaking of the Persons of the Holy Trinity, to the point of confusing the specific names and functions of the Divine Persons. These alleged revelations predict an imminent period when the Antichrist will prevail in the Church. In millenarian style, it is prophesied that God is going to make a final glorious intervention which will initiate on earth, even before Christ’s definitive coming, an era of peace and universal prosperity. Furthermore, the proximate arrival is foretold of a Church which would be a kind of pan-Christian community, contrary to Catholic doctrine.
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.
Moreover, by habitually sharing in the sacraments of the Catholic Church even though she is Greek Orthodox, Mrs. Ryden is causing considerable surprise in various circles of the Catholic Church. She appears to be putting herself above all ecclesiastical jurisdiction and every canonical norm, and in effect, is creating an ecumenical disorder that irritates many authorities, ministers and faithful of her own Church, as she puts herself outside the ecclesiastical discipline of the latter.
Given the negative effect of Vassula Ryden’s activities, despite some positive aspects, this Congregation requests the intervention of the Bishops so that their faithful may be suitably informed and that no opportunity may be provided in their Dioceses for the dissemination of her ideas. Lastly, the Congregation invites all the faithful not to regard Mrs. Vassula Ryden’s writings and speeches as supernatural and to preserve the purity of the faith that the Lord has entrusted to the Church.
After the Notification was issued, Cardinal Ratzinger was asked about it on a couple of occasions by supporters of Vassula Ryden.
At a regional meeting of Bishops in 1997, Cardinal Ratzinger was asked by a Brazilian Bishop who was a supporter of Vassula Ryden – Bishop Victor Tielbeek – whether the Notification meant he had to stop supporting Vassula. Cardinal Ratzinger replied, ‘Continue as you have been doing until now, just be prudent.’
In an interview with a theologian, Niels-Christian Hvidt, in 1999, Cardinal Ratzinger was asked about the Notification and commented, ‘...the Notification is a warning, not a condemnation. From the strictly procedural point of view, no person may be condemned without a trial and without being given the opportunity to air their views first. What we say is that there are many things which are not clear. There are some debatable apocalytpic elements and ecclesiological aspects which are not clear. Her writings contain many good things but the grain and the chaff are mixed up. That is why we invited Catholic faithful to view it all with a prudent eye and to measure it by the yardstick of the constant faith of the Church.’
In 2000, Vassula Ryden asked the CDF to revisit her case. As a result, Fr Prospero Grech, Consultor of the Congregation, wrote to Vassula Ryden in April 2002 to ask her to clarify five matters ‘to obtain a clearer idea of what you are doing’. Vassula Ryden replied at length. Her response was considered, and in light of that response, Vassula had an audience with Cardinal Ratzinger. At that meeting, Cardinal Ratzinger warmly greeted Vassula but made it clear that he was not able officially to have the Notification withdrawn. He then asked Vassula Ryden to publish her response to Fr Prospero’s letter in any subsequent volumes of her writings, and she agreed. As Vassula Ryden was about to leave, she asked Cardinal Ratzinger what would happen if anyone asked the CDF in future whether the Notification was still in force. He replied, ‘We will say that the situation has been modified.’
Cardinal Ratzinger subsequently became Pope Benedict XVI after the death of Pope John Paul II, and Cardinal Levada was appointed head of the CDF in his place. Cardinal Levada was subsequently asked to clarify what was the current position as regards the Notification. On January 25, 2007, the following Clarification was issued by the CDF:
...the Congregation wishes to state the following:
1) The Notification of 1995 remains valid as a doctrinal judgment of the writings examined. ...
2) Mrs Vassula Rydén, however, after dialogue with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has offered clarifications on some problematic points in her writings and on the nature of her messages which are presented not as divine revelations, but rather as her personal meditations... From a normative point of view therefore, following the aforementioned clarifications, a case by case prudential judgment is required in view of the real possibility of the faithful being able to read the writings in the light of the said clarifications.
3) Finally, it remains inappropriate for Catholics to take part in prayer groups established by Mrs Rydén. Concerning the question of ecumenical meetings, the faithful are to follow the norms of the Ecumenical Directory, of the Code of Canon Law (canons: 215; 223 §2 and 383 §3) and of Diocesan Ordinaries.
Nothing in what has just been said establishes one way or the other whether the True Life in God messages are authentic. It certainly cannot be said that the 1995 Notification would not have been issued if the True Life in God messages were authentic. This is because in 1959 the CDF issued a Notification banning the distribution of the writings of Maria Faustina Kowalska regarding the Divine Mercy. This ban took almost 20 years to be lifted, and Maria Faustina Kowalska was subsequently made a saint, on April 30, 2000. So the CDF can make mistakes.
More generally, it is undoubtedly the case that many figures who were subsequently made saints by the Catholic Church, were in their lifetime rejected, or regarded with suspicion, by the Church authorities. In his interview with Niels-Christian Hvidt, Cardinal Ratzinger mentioned Ignatius of Loyola, John of the Cross, and Brigida of Sweden as prophetic figures who were rejected in their lifetime. In fact, suffering such rejection seems to be de rigeur for authentic mystics – it is one of the things God puts them through, possibly to bring them closer to Jesus Christ, who of course suffered the ultimate rejection at the hands of the religious authorities of His day.
It follows, then, that the fact that the CDF has issued – and re-affirmed – a Notification in relation to Vassula Ryden’s writings does not in any way establish that those writings are inauthentic. The point is made all the stronger in this case given the fact that there do seem to be divisions both within the CDF and the Vatican generally over Vassula Ryden’s case.