As a result of my recent posting on Palmar de Troya, I received an interesting e-mail from a former SSPX seminarian who remembers the events in 1975 at Ecône. Namely, a Canon Maurice Revaz (professor at Ecône) went to find a Vietnamese archbishop in exile by the name of Pierre Martin Ngô-dinh-Thuc and persuaded him to go to Spain and ordain and consecrate as bishops a small group of seemingly pious laymen.
I was given this extract of a text:
“In his autobiographical notes, written in 1976, Thuc claims that Maurice Revaz suddenly appeared at his home, saying: ‘Excellency, the Holy Virgin sends me in order for me to send you to central Spain immediately to render her a service. My car is ready for you at the presbytery’s door and we will depart immediately in order to be there for Christmas.’ According to his own testimony, Thuc then answered, ‘If it is a service that the Holy Virgin required, I am ready to follow you to the end of the world, but I must inform the priest because of the Christmas Mass and must pack my bag.’ On the journey, Revaz and Thuc were accompanied by the McElligotts, a married Irish couple who lived in Switzerland.
It was not the first time Thuc and Revaz met; they had talked during the archbishop’s visit to Ecône about a year earlier. In the meantime, Revaz’s interest in El Palmar de Troya was wakened by the McElligotts, who, apart from their Swiss home, owned a property on the Andalusian coast, close to the apparition site. A more concrete reason for Revaz’s interest in El Palmar and his active role in assisting them was related by Thomas W. Case in a series of articles published in Fidelity journal. The author wanted to prove connection between SSPX and groups that he regarded as clearly heretical, such as the Palmarians. In the article, Case wrote about a ‘dwarf who claimed she heard voices and the Blessed Virgin telling her that Thuc should begin a line of bishops through the seer Clemente.’ This woman was the McElligotts’ daughter. According to Case, Revaz believed in her messages and used them to convince Thuc.”
I have only ever met people involved with the Palmar church fleetingly around 1981 and the following year when I attended Mass at the SSPX church in Holloway (north London). There were indeed some very strange characters who talked about their experiences and seemed very distant in terms of ordinary communication. My correspondent mentioned the son of the author Hugh Ross Williamson, and he emerged from the archives of my memory as an odd soul with a “cow pat” wig and odd manners about him. There were some others who claimed to have seen something or heard voices. Palmar de Troya seemed to be a haven for those considered too “far out” for the Society of St Pius X. My correspondent ended his e-mail with this poignant reflection:
There’s a certain fascination in the exotic and sordid Palmar phenomenon but also a baroque horror about it all.
In other contexts, I have read things about various mental disorders related to experiences like sights and sounds not experienced by other persons in the same place. It is risky to explain religious and spiritual phenomena by psychiatric science. Atheists do it all the time to give a simplistic explanation for anything outside materialism. St Joan or Arc would seem to have been a perfect candidate for a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The Freudian school of psychiatry would dismiss all religious belief as delusional, but progress has been made in vital distinctions between faith and pathology. When is something pathological? I don’t think anyone knows. Is it the notion of something being shared by several persons? For example, an event happened at Fatima in Portugal in 1917, when thousands of people saw what looked like the sun spinning and moving around the sky.
My own tendency would be to doubt the conventional distinction between reality and delusion, because of the possibility of parallel universes and that some persons experience more than one at the same time. This would give some explanation to UFO’s and communication with the dead for example. Quantum theory gives ideas about things that cannot be explained by traditional Newtonian physics. I do think that someone can experience something that would not be recognised by other people to be real. Miracles and visions have happened, recognised as such by Churches, and experienced by generally rational people.
It is dangerous for those of us outside the medical profession to venture into psychiatric diagnosis beyond the observation of some typical characteristics, which may indicate one pathology or another, or a co-morbidity of several conditions. I do think that “cow pat wig” was someone whose religion made him unhappy, and who might have benefited from medical care in some way.
Oscar Wilde’s great Epistola in Carcere et Vinculis (complete text) relates the notion of imitation in religion:
And so he who would lead a Christ-like life is he who is perfectly and absolutely himself. He may be a great poet, or a great man of science ; or a young student at a University, or one who watches sheep upon a moor ; or a maker of dramas, like Shakespeare, or a thinker about God, like Spinoza; or a child who plays in a garden, or a fisherman who throws his nets into the sea. It does not matter what he is, as long as he realises the perfection of the soul that is within him. All imitation in morals and in life is wrong. Through the streets of Jerusalem at the present day crawls one who is mad and carries a wooden cross on his shoulders. He is a symbol of the lives that are marred by imitation.
That image of the madman in Jerusalem or the traditionalist cranks in Victoria Street outside Westminster Cathedral has impressed me strongly. Perhaps true madness comes from denying one’s own personality rather than mystical experience. Reading through Wilde’s text once again, I find the name of Emerson, of whom I knew nothing before Walt Whitman lead me to an acquaintance with Transcendentalism. Wilde seemed to have absorbed English Romanticism and the American movement of the era of his childhood, and then added something of his own. We have to be ourselves as Christ was perfectly himself, imitating or conforming to nobody.
I don’t know whether there is a relationship between the suppression of personality and madness. Different specialists in the field will come up with various more or less credible theories, perhaps in some cases with ideological prejudice at the root. I come across characters like “cow pat wig” on the internet, but their personalities are hidden by the lack of anything other than written communication. The phenomenon of the troll is revealing, especially as I experienced the exchanges and discussions concerning the TAC and the Ordinariates, still discernible in the blog St Mary’s Hollywood: The Cold Case File and the turn it has taken fairly recently. Most of the other creeps who caused me to close down a former blog I was running have all crawled back into their holes. Was it something to do with the abdication of the Pope?
How do we keep ourselves in good mental health? Perhaps I cannot speak for all, but I heed the idea of self-reliance being a strong basis rather than conformity to something which is OK for another person but not me. We have a lot to learn from philosophers like Umberto Eco, a healthy scepticism and being difficult to convince. As I have discussed about cults, the essential is our freedom and that of others. The Enlightenment has been frustrating for churches, but was a good thing and gave us the distance we needed to be healthy believers. I do believe that mental health is largely determined by philosophy of life and a balanced attitude in everything. We are not made to be drugged up to the eyeballs just to give the appearance of “normality”.