Pope Leo, Jesus and Satan: A Question

Hello everyone! I hope that all is going well with you. Summer is quickly winding down, and it has been a good one thus far!

I wanted to write a note about something that I have been hearing concerning Pope Leo XIII’s vision. There is a trend wherein people appear to be re-drawing the timeline of when the contents of Leo’s vision begin and end. This trend is based upon unsubstantiated information that appears to lean on later (alleged) private revelations for support. The following is a basic summary and critique of the facts.

Leo’s Vision–Some Background:

First, to acclimate the reader who may have no prior knowledge of the topic at hand, some general background is necessary:

  1. There is a famous story that Pope Leo XIII (r. 1878-1903) received a vision,
  2. Reports of the contents of this vision vary and have become very popular,
  3. Though they vary, said reports agree that Leo was given a vision,
  4. Allegedly, Leo overheard a conversation between Jesus and Satan,
  5. During the alleged conversation, Satan asked Jesus to subject the Church to a severe trial,
  6. Permission was granted to Satan for this purpose,
  7. Many reports say that the time-frame was a century–specifically the twentieth century (1901-2001), though not all accounts agree with this specification.
  8. Pope Leo composed the Prayer to St. Michael and ordered its recitation in the Prayers after Mass.

STM_CoverOwing to the often differing versions of Leo’s vision, I decided to write the book Pope Leo XIII and the Prayer to St. Michael. This book examines the sources behind Leo’s vision. It intends to marshal said sources into a cohesive narrative that separates fact from fiction.

According to the best information available at this time, what we know with at least a decent amount of certitude on Leo’s vision is as follows:

  1. Leo did receive a vision,
  2. We know very little about the contents of this vision,
  3. In it, we know demons were “gathering” (addensavano) upon the Eternal City (Rome),
  4. Freemasonry appears to have something to do with the vision,
  5. Leo did compose the Prayer to St. Michael after receiving the vision and ordered it to be recited in the Prayers after Mass.
  6. One of the (known) sources of the claim that Leo received a vision was his private secretary, Msgr. Rinaldo Angeli.
  7. Angeli said something on the matter to a man who later became the Cardinal Archbishop of Bologna, Italy (Cardinal Nasalli),
  8. Nasalli wrote briefly about the matter in his 1946 Pastoral Letters for Lent.

In the available literature, no reliable statement was discovered that discusses the alleged conversation between Jesus and Satan. From whence, then, comes the story of this alleged conversation and its contents?

At this time, the earliest known source for the alleged conversation and permission is an Italian priest named Fr. Domenico Pechenino.

In a two-part article that he wrote in the Italian publication La Settimana del Clero (March, 1947), Fr. Pechenino

writes about the tragedy of our times and the works of Satan. Towards the end of the second half of the article, Fr. Pechenino relays that he has knowledge about Leo’s vision from a source that he does not name in the article.[1] He proceeds to tell his version of what happened when Leo received the vision. After relaying it, Pechenino then asks “What happened? This….” He then explains the vision in terms of the Book of Job, that the Devil went before God and asked for 50-60 years to attack the Church. This permission was given.

Fr. Pechenino's reference to Job.

Fr. Pechenino’s reference to Job (Italian).

While the above is impressive, for reasons that are outlined in my book, one has to ask some critical questions about Pechenino’s account. Briefly: there is evidence that his memory was faulty and that his facts were a bit mixed-up. Moreover, in relaying the “Job” explanation, there is some ambiguity as to what Fr. Pechenino was saying.

In short, while not discredited, Pechenino’s account is questionable. Such open questions require us to exercise discernment and discretion with his claims.

Different versions of Leo’s vision arose, the earliest known (in print) being an article from the German publication Altöttinger-Leibfrauenbote (1931). This version was later published in the same year as a stand-alone book entitled Weiche Satan! It was subsequently translated into English by Fr. Celestine Kapsner, O.S.B. as Begone Satan! The relevant passage from the book is as follows:

A rather peculiar circumstance induced Pope Leo XIII to compose this powerful prayer. After celebrating Mass one day he was in conference with the Cardinals. Suddenly he sank to the floor. A doctor was summoned and several came at once. There was no sign of any pulse-beating, the very life seemed to have ebbed away from the already weakened and aged body. Suddenly he recovered and said: “What a horrible picture I was permitted to see!” He saw what was going to happen in the future, the misleading powers and the ravings of the devils against the Church in all countries. But St. Michael had appeared in the nick of time and cast Satan and his cohorts back into the abyss of hell. Such was the occasion that caused Pope Leo XIII to have this prayer recited over the entire world at the end of the Mass.[2]

Especially since the story first appeared in print, the story grew with each telling, but for our purposes, it suffices to say that a general idea took hold in the minds of many Catholics, namely that the twentieth century was given over to Satan. This idea, ironically, gave people hope and comfort as it appeared to explain why there were so many atrocities committed in that century. Subsequently, there arose the hope that Satan’s extended power would be broken at the conclusion of said century.

Leo’s Vision–Re-drawing the Timeline:

Since the year 2001, the world has continued on a trajectory that, at least to not a few Catholics, has given cause to re-think Pope Leo’s vision. There was so much evil that continued in the world (think 9-11, for instance). How could it be that Satan’s “extended” power seems not to have ended?

In answer to this question, people have been attempting to re-draw the timeline of events. When this “re-drawing” precisely began is not entirely clear at this time, though an indication appeared in the year 2000.[3] What can be said is that as the early years of this twenty-first century have progressed, more people seem to have become disillusioned with the “twentieth century” take on Leo’s vision.

The evils of the twentieth century had seeped, according to the thought, into the twenty-first. Thus, it could not be that only the twentieth century was given over to Satan. We have stated that there were various versions of the story. It is possible that a loophole in these versions was exploited. For some said “100 years” while others specified a “century” (specifically the twentieth).

Regardless of how it happened, the emphasis is now placed on “100 years” for Satan to try the Church. The shift in wording is not insignificant: “given a century” to “given 100 years.” The former is specific whereas the latter is not. What is the big deal? A “century” is defined as a set period of years (in this case: January 1, 1901 to January 1, 2001), whereas “100 years” is less defined and can be started in any year.

A near-perfect ambiguity has since allowed some re-drawing of the timeline of Leo’s vision. As an example, let us look at the following example.[4] In 2012, Michael Brown of Spirit Daily posted an article wherein he discussed an alleged stigmatist. At the end of the article, he provided the following alleged message dated February 17 [2012]:

“My daughter, I know you are weak and I know without me you are always imperfect, unable to move. Don’t worry; I will take care of you. I will take care of you until all my works are done. My chalice of mercy has overflowed. Daughter, when My Mother appeared in Fatima on May 1917, she said the devil asked the Divine Throne to tempt the world for a hundred years. This time is going to end in 2017. He will no longer reign on earth because I will come with My peace. I will cover the world with My peace because, I am peace and passion. My call is to the whole world.” She interpreted this not as the end of the world, but as the end of a period — Satan’s time, to be accompanied by major events, for which we should prepare, in ways she believes will be revealed in coming years (emphases mine).[5]

Notice that we see the focus on “100 years,” beginning in 1917 (for further discussion, click here).[6]

This claim gives rise to an idea that, apparently, people had it all wrong about Pope Leo and the twentieth century. In short, the real timeline of Leo’s vision is now said to begin on May, 1917. This date is significant because it connects to the 100th anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady in Fátima, Portugal.[7] There is now an expectation that the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary promised at Fátima will take place on or around this date. The expectation is helped, in part, by a statement made by Pope Benedict XVI on May 13, 2010 during a homily while in Fátima concerning the year 2017 and the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart.

For people who are weary of all the culture-wars taking place, this expectation has become not a little source of hope that God will miraculously intervene to save us. There is an apprehension within people that creates some deep concern for the future. Anyone familiar with current events both nationally and internationally knows that the current state of affairs is unsustainable. Something, we know not what, is about to happen, or so people sense.

Among religiously-minded people, there is a general notion that God needs to correct us. Hence some terrible chastisement is about to befall us all. This could well be true, I will not dispute that, and there are people prophesying just such disastrous tidings. One has to ask, however, some questions: 1) are these alleged prophets taking the temperature of the cultural landscape and using their own intellect and reason to foresee events down the line, and 2) are these alleged prophets simply feeding off the fears of people?

People are trying to make sense of what is happening in the world and anyone who questions this is attacked out of emotion.[8] A blanket of comfort is perceived as having been stolen, leaving them feeling exposed and vulnerable to all the elements raging about them.[9]

I share many people’s concerns about the future and thus I understand why people go into “attack mode” when their comfort is taken away. This is not, however, the response of the Christian to the difficulties in any age. It betrays a lack of Faith in God and thus demonstrates one’s nettle.

Leo’s Vision—Call to Holiness:

Here’s the good thing about this phenomenon: we can use such an opportunity for good—to pop the hood over our souls and check our engine. An exciting spiritual challenge awaits us and we should take advantage of it for the love of God and the increase in holiness.

St. John of the Cross reminds us, in Book II of his Ascent of Mt. Carmel, that, for one’s union with God, we are to remain in the dark night of faith. It is in faith that we grow in virtue and the love of God. As this pertains to private revelations, Holy Mother Church reminds us that while they are given by God in order to help the faithful to live the Gospel in a particular moment of history, these are not Divine and Catholic Faith.

Friends, I know the drab, dreary, get-you-down sort of existence to which we are all subjected. It can get to one after a while. We, however, are Christians. Our hope is in Christ. When tribulation is given to us, it is our duty to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. We sin against Faith when we take off our eyes from Jesus and seek the latest fad or fancy, especially private revelations.[10] They can make us feel “special” or “connected” to some “higher purpose.” Often though, novelty leaves people unfulfilled—hence the desire to continue the search for that “spiritual high.” It is a form of gluttony, and is utterly tragic for pastors to see souls in such a state.

Of course, none of these warnings intends to disparage authentic revelations that encourage and uplift us. It is a warning against accepting them blithely, without discernment (often done without knowledge of the Church’s teachings) and in advance of the guidance of the Church herself.[11] I mentioned Fátima earlier. This is an approved private revelation and Our Lady requested two things: 1) the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart, and 2) the communion of reparation of the Five First Saturdays devotion.

While respecting a “both/and” approach, there is a hierarchical dimension to that first request, whereas the second tends to emphasize everyone. I have always wondered if we have not misunderstood Our Lady. Is the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary contingent on just the consecration of Russia or also the implementation and practice of the Five First Saturdays devotion with said consecration?

Let us, the laity, ask ourselves: do we expect God to do everything—to wave a magic wand over the world and solve our problems—or do we have our part as Christians to bring about His Will in the world? If it is the latter, then I would think we should get to fulfilling Our Lady’s request for the communion of reparation of the Five First Saturdays. Pronto. We are God’s instruments in the world, His witnesses, and if Heaven has given us the Immaculate Heart of Mary as a refuge for our times, we ought to avail ourselves of such a grace. By reforming ourselves with such heavenly support, we shall truly see war and evil come to naught.

In the end, it is about Jesus Christ and loving Him. Loving Him encompasses all that He has given us for our salvation–above all His Public Revelation, His Church and the Sacraments. We cannot say that we love these if we choose a private revelation over the Church. In short, “prophetic words” that do not bring us closer to Christ and instead instill a morbid fear and disobedience in us are to be rejected.

Let us then have Faith! For Christ has conquered the world and we are in Him!

See also: Refractions of Light.

Update: 8-9-16 A.D.
Links added in second paragraph to Fr. Heilman’s web site.

Update: 8-24-16 A.D.
Added new link in second paragraph to Fr. Z.’s web site.


[1] I have been unable to track down later issues of La Settimana del Clero. If anyone is able to do so, please contact me.

[2] The more astute reader will notice that there is no mention of a precise timeline in this version of the story.

[3] Michael Brown of Spirit Daily carried an article that discussed this issue.

[4] No statement is here being made on the character of this person’s claims. Moreover, it is not claimed that this is the first time such a statement on “100 years” has been given, or in connection to 1917. It is only used as one example of the point being discussed. For an example of the “100 years” vs. a “century,” see this example from 2006.

[5] It should be noted that the last surviving seer of Fátima, Sr. Lúcia, never spoke of this alleged discussion attributed to the Virgin Mary in May, 1917.

[6] This talk appears to conflict with information that came out of Medjugorje wherein it was alleged that a century was given over to Satan’s power. The alleged seer, Mirjana, seems to have a conflicted understanding of the meaning of the word “century.”

[7] This focus upon Fátima also appears to be related to a very influential claim that Pope Leo’s vision occurred on October 13, 1884—thirty-three years to the day of the miracle of the sun in Fátima. This theory is unsubstantiated for reasons that are discussed in Pope Leo XIII and the Prayer to St. Michael (p. 32, note 20).

[8] People who question alleged prophets are often threatened (directly or indirectly) or demonized, by the alleged prophet(s) or his/her followers (asseclae).

[9] Subsequent events from 2001 onward clearly call the “twentieth-century interpretation” into question. In an attempt to make sense of contemporary events, people are re-drawing the timeline of Leo’s vision. The proverbial goal-posts are being moved and this re-drawing is quickly taking off among various groups of Catholics. Expectations are now high for the year 2017, the centenary of Fátima, which has now placed a burden upon the place. I suspect that if nothing happens in 2017, the goal posts will be moved yet again to state that the 100 years “really” began in 1929—the 100th anniversary of the request for the consecration of Russia.

[10] It is for this reason why St. John of the Cross also stated that it is to crack open the door to the Devil when we are so readily accepting of such revelations. That crack will be fully taken advantage of, one can rest assured, by the Devil and his angels.

[11] What is worse, sometimes it is even against lawful directives issued by the Church! There is also the matter of heeding false interpretations of authentic private revelations and the danger thereby.

3 thoughts on “Pope Leo, Jesus and Satan: A Question

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