How should we assess a claim to prophecy outside the Church? I watched a video of the American evangelist, Benny Hinn, who claims a special "anointing" from God enabling him to heal people, read their hearts, and make them fall into a swoon. He also happens to be an ex-Catholic who mocks the Catholic Church and the Pope and tries to lure people out of the Church into Pentecostal movements like that of his master, Cerullo.

We are faced with a dilemma: Either that all the healing and swooning is fake or a psychologically induced feeling-fine, or it is genuine action of the Holy Spirit confirming his anti-Catholic teaching.

We face the same problem in assessing Muhammad. The only miracle he claims is the Qur'ân, but he used it to make people swoon and shed tears, and it still has the same effect, as I witnessed in Cairo mosques while the Qur'ân was chanted. Is this Holy Ghost fire, confirming Muhammad's preaching against Christian teaching? That is what Muhammad and Muslims maintain, just as Pentecostal preachers point to what happens in their rallies to affirm their anti-Catholic stance.

This is the problem I now want to address.

They promise prosperity in return for support

From the first beatitude, "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Mt 5;3), Jesus warned against love of wealth: "Do not store up treasures for yourselves on earth..." (Mt 6:19). "You cannot be the slave both of God and of money" (Mt 6:24). "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone rich to enter the kingdom of Heaven" (Mt 19:24). On the other hand, "everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or land for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times as much, and also inherit eternal life" (Mt 19:29).

Some modern evangelists, however, like Benny Hinn, criticize Catholic caution about wealth. His preaching starts and ends with a promise of wealth (and health) for those who put their faith in his anointing and contribute generously to his ministry.

There is reason for supporting valid ministry: "Anyone who welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet will have a prophet's reward" (Mt 10:40). This statement of Jesus is the basis of the practice of supporting clergy and religious. "The Lord gave the instruction that those who preach the gospel should get their living from the gospel" (1 Cor 9:14).

Yet a good shepherd is more concerned with giving than receiving and is expected to live a simple life. Paul went so far as to forego his right to support and earned his living by making tents (1 Cor 9:15). Yet he did not hesitate to beg for others in need (Rm 15:26; 1 Cor 16:1; 2 Cor 8-9; Gal 2;10).

Many non-Catholic evangelists, however, not only preach the gospel of prosperity, but set an example of it by their own high life style. Benny Hinn tries to justify this by pointing at the supposed wealth of the Pope, deliberately overlooking the fact that the Vatican is simply the custodian of art and book collections bequeathed to the Church for all to enjoy, but the Pope owns little personally and his ministry is operating at a deficit.

Muhammad constantly preached the Qur'ânic message that people should believe in God and in himself as God's Messenger, and that they should be just and generous to their fellow men.

Why should they do so? The answer, running though the whole Qur'ân, is to earn Paradise and avoid Hell Fire, because God is going to judge everyone according to their deeds. Paradise is a garden of shade, streams, fruit trees, and couches to recline on while wine is served that never makes you drunk and women are there to enjoy who never grow stale.

Earning Paradise is compared to making a loan to God. The more generous you are to God - by giving zakât or adaqa - the more enjoyment you will have in Paradise, because God repays many times over (Q. 2:45; 5:12; 57:11,18; 64:17; 73:20,30).

Muslims criticize Christians for being "other-worldly" ("Blessed are the poor"). They themselves expect blessing in the next life and, normally, in this life too, although the two cannot be compared (Q. 4:77 etc.). "Seek the abode of hereafter by means of what God has given you and neglect not your portion of the world" (Q. 28:77; cf. 3:148; 4:134). So Muslims should strive in the way of God not only with their wealth, but also by giving their lives (Q. 4:95 etc.). Muhammad's followers were lured into fighting by the prospect of booty if they were victorious, and Paradise if they were killed.

Thomas Aquinas criticizes Muhammad for "seducing people by promises of carnal pleasure to which the concupiscence of the flesh goads us... In all this, as is not unexpected, he was obeyed by carnal men" (Contra Gentiles, I, ch. 6).

For all its promises of blessings in this life, the Qur'ân also constantly warns of the dangers of wealth: "Worldly life is like the rain we send from heaven; the grass soaks it up, but later dries out and is blown away by the wind... Wealth and children are the glitter of this life, but good deeds are lasting and guarantee a better reward with your Lord and better hope" (18:44-5).

The 8th century Muslim Sûfî, Râbi`a al-`Adawiyya, once went out with a torch in one hand and a bucket of water in the other. Asked what these were for, she answered: "I am going to burn down Paradise and quench the fires of Hell, so that these two screens may fall away from the eyes of men, and they may see God with no motive of hope or fear." She wanted people to serve God for love of Himself, and not for the enjoyments of Paradise or to escape Hell punishemnt.

They demand faith in their extraordinary anointing

Someone claiming to be a prophet may start, as we have seen in the case of Benny Hinn, by arousing his listeners' desire for earthly blessings. To get these they must pay the price of contributing generously to the cause of God, which is represented by the prophet's ministry. But giving money or service or even one's life is very secondary to giving one's mind, by absolute faith not just in God, but specifically in the prophet as an anointed representative of God.

Muhammad started his ministry in a different way. He preached the magnificence of God, the need to worship him and to be just to all and kind to the poor; on the last day everyone will be judged accordingly. He said, "I have no control over what good or evil happens to me except what God wishes. Were I to know the unseen, I would have an abundance of wealth and no harm would touch me. But I am only a warner and an announcer to believing people" (Q. 7:188). His role was simply to remind people of what they already knew (Q. 87:9 etc.), as any ordinary preacher.

Muhammad, however, soon realized that he would not get much of a following that way, and had to lay claim to the extraordinary gift of receiving revelation of the unseen. The first instance of that was his night ride to Jerusalem where he ascended through the seven heavens where he spoke with all the previous prophets (Q. 17:1, elaborated by Hadîth). When he told his disciples about this many of them thought he had gone mad, and they gave up their faith and went away. Abû-Bakr, however, insisted that every part of the story is true; so Muhammad gave him the name "Siddîq", meaning "testifying to the truth".

The whole story sounds like Jesus' teaching on the Eucharist and Peter's profession of faith (Jn 6:66-68). Jesus too claimed to be extraordinary and demanded deep faith in himself and in his presence in the Church. A Catholic who is called to believe in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and the divine function of priests, bishops and the Pope must have more faith than a hymn-singing, Bible-reading Protestant.

That is why modern evangelists claim special anointing and ask people to put unconditional faith in what God will do through them.

They have no use for the ordinary and human

A prophet is different from an ordinary preacher because he claims an extraordinary charism or anointing. For Jesus, the Word made flesh, divine charism merged perfectly and thoroughly with his everyday life and actions. Although he spent much time in prayer, he did not have to go into a trance or mount a platform and sing choruses before he taught or worked miracles. He spoke and acted so naturally, because the human was wedded to the divine (Jesus is the "bridegroom"). That made people wonder, "Where did the man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?" (Mt 13;54).

For Muhammad prophecy and daily life were two completely separate domains. When prophecy came he went lay down in a trance and sweated profusely. The words that came were, he said, in no way his own words but a pure transmission of the Qur'ân "mother-book" which is with God. So the Qur'ân is said to be the pure word of God, and Muhammad is in no way its author.

Similarly many modern non-Catholic evangelists like to claim that when the Spirit takes over it is not themselves who are speaking and acting but it is pure Holy-Ghost power operating through their anointing. They say there is nothing human or psychological about it, even though they will not perform except in the charged atmosphere of a public rally.

Both Muhammad and these evangelists suffer from a Nestorian tendency. Nestorius, remember, taught that in Jesus the divine and human were completely divided, so that Mary is the mother only of the human Jesus and is not the Mother of God. In this respect we could liken their stance to Monophysitism, which that Jesus' divine nature abolished the human nature, leaving the Word united only to a human body.

It is Catholic teaching that grace perfects nature; it does not destroy or displace it. In Jesus grace is the very divine nature, making him a divine (and still human) person. In us grace gives us a share or participation in the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4).

They focus on signs to produce a religious experience

Every prophet uses signs to authenticate his mission and as a medium to touch people by his power. Jesus worked many miracles which authenticated his mission, but all of them were reflections of one sign, which was himself. That is because he is not just a messenger, but also the message and Word of God. "As Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him" (Jn 3:14). "When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself" (Jn 12:32). We are invited to look with faith on Jesus lifted up on the cross and in glory to receive healing, grace and glory ourselves. The Gospels tell us of people who did look to him with faith and were healed, often by a touch. Catholics are called upon to see Jesus in the Eucharist with the eyes of faith. It is enough to put some people into a state of deep prayer or ecstasy.

Muhammad never asked people to look at him personally for any divine favour, even though he was sent "as [God's] mercy to the world" (Q. 21:107). Favour does not depend on Muhammad, but "God singles out those he wants to favour with his mercy, and his favour is great" (Q. 2:105 etc.) Muhammad claimed to be a messenger but not the message, as Jesus claimed to be. Muhammad's message was the Qur'ân, and he called people to focus their attention on that.

"When they hear what was sent down to the Messenger, you see their eyes flowing with tears because of the Truth they recognize, and they say, 'Our Lord, we believe; inscribe us among the witnesses" (Q. 5:83). "When [the Qur'ân] is recited to those who already received knowledge they fall on their faces in adoration and say, 'Praised be our Lord; the promise of our Lord is accomplished.' They fall on their faces crying, and that increases their awe and respect" (Q. 17:107-9). "Had we revealed the Qur'ân to a mountain, you would see it overawed and exploding from fear of God" (Q. 59:21). In our day I have witnessed in mosques in Cairo people falling into trances as the Qur'ân is chanted.

The Qur'ân is called a "clear sign" (2:99,185,209; 11:20; 19:72; 24:1; 98:4), but only to those who believe. To critics it is magic or sorcery (34:43; 43:30; 46:7).

Non-Catholic evangelists use signs to make people fall into a swoon. It doesn't matter what sign the evangelist uses: showing his hands, puffing a breath, waving a cloth; what matters is that people focus on his sign with faith; their faith and expectation will make them fall, whether the evangelist is a fake or not.

Even in Traditional Religion faith in a prophet and the sign he tells you to focus on will give you a deep religious experience. Among the Maguzawa Hausa I have seen sessions of Bori, where after much drumming and chanting those looking for healing fall on the ground in a trance, and the spirit causing the sickness is identified, tells how he got into the person, and is driven out. I saw the same thing in the Zar cult among Traditionalists in Cairo. We have to keep several things in mind:

1) Evangelists who make people fall to the ground are not unique. This is a psychological phenomenon that can go along with almost any sort of belief.

2) Psychological reactions are not always bad, and they can go hand in hand with a genuine infusion of the Holy Spirit.

3) The Holy Spirit can act on people even when the preacher or prophet is bad, as when a sinful priest says Mass. An evangelist can be a rogue, and still God can do some good things through him. "When the day comes many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?' Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me all evil doers!" (Mt 7:22-23).

4) Even if good psychological reactions and healings take place as a result of a person's faith in God, this does not automatically confirm the message of the prophet. Particularly, if the evangelist attacks the Catholic Church we can see the influence of Satan.

Even Muhammad, after the episode of the Satanic verses, was concerned about the influence of Satan in his ministry and was told, "Whenever any messenger or prophet whom we sent before you desired something, Satan interfered with his desire, but God abrogates what Satan put there. Then God establishes his verses, since he is knowing and wise" (Q. 22:52).

They threaten those who do not believe in their mission

Anyone who claims to be a prophet or to have a special divine anointing operates by signs: to confirm his mission and to mediate any experience he wants his listeners to have.

Since there are always people who do not accept the signs and do not believe, prophets have a word of warning for them. Jesus said, "If you refuse to believe in me, at least believe in the work I do" (Jn 10:38), and to some Pharisees, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty, but since you say, 'We can see,' your guilt remains" (Jn 9: 41) and "you will die in your sin" (Jn 8:21).

Jesus applied the same warning to those to whom he sent his disciples: "Anyone who listens to you listens to me; anyone who rejects you rejects me, and those who reject me reject the one who sent me." (Lk 10:16).

Similarly, the Qur'ân calls on people to "believe in God and in his Messenger" (2:179 etc.) and threatens: "Those who do not believe will find no help in their wealth and children against God; they will be fuel for the Fire" (3:10). Even now, if they become troublesome, the Muslims are to fight them (Q. 4:76; 9:12-36).

Some evangelists make use of threats to get people to accept them as "God's anointed". Some, like Benny Hinn, do not hesitate to mock the Pope, but let no one question their own ministry or some tragedy will happen to them, like the collapse of their business or sickness. The curse they utter they are calling on themselves.

The authenticity of any prophet depends on whether he accepts Jesus, whom the Father sent, and the Church in its constituted leadership, which Jesus sent. Upstart prophets who reject Jesus or reject the Catholic Church may issue threats, but they should be laughed at, just as we should laugh at the devil when he makes threats.

They limit their followers' religious development

"I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep... The hired man has no concern for the sheep" (Jn 10:10-11,13). Jesus always tried to uplift his followers to the highest dignity and closeness with himself and his Father.

A hireling prophet promises his followers blessings and leads them so far on the way to God, but always imposes a limit beyond which they may not go. Muhammad promised his followers the blessings of God in this life and the next and required much sacrifice on their part, but he kept them to the level of slaves or servants of God. The gap between them could never be bridged by God taking on human flesh, or humans becoming friends and intimates of God and "sharing his nature" (2 Pet 1:4).

Likewise non-Catholic evangelists, promising prosperity and health in this life and Holy-Ghost power to overcome enemies, usually imprison their followers in a bottle which they cannot stretch out of. They can pray to Jesus in their hearts, but not reach out to touch him in the sacraments. They can have fellowship with their own Pentecostal members, but are forbidden to greet their Mother Mary or any of the saints in heaven. They must take direction and guidance from the prophets of their movement who control them, but are not allowed to listen to the shepherds appointed by the Lord in the Catholic Church.

Are they moved by the Holy Spirit or by Satan?

How are we to evaluate the phenomenon of prophesy combined with opposition to Catholic teaching? First of all, we should examine carefully what is happening. Falling into a trance can be the psychological result of a charged atmosphere coupled with high expectation and faith. Much of what happens is natural, and not from God or any spirit.

Secondly, when the prophet (or evangelist) attacks Catholic teaching we can say that he is operating under the spirit of Satan, who is the "father of lies" (Jn 8:44).

Thirdly, if truth is preached or people are healed when the name of Jesus is invoked, we can say that the Holy Spirit is operating.

How can it be possible for the same prophet to be one minute under the influence of Satan and the next minute under the influence of the Holy Spirit? That is very simple, as St. Thomas Aquinas explains (Summa Theologiae, II-II, q.170-174). Prophesy is not a permanent habit but a transient gift present only when it is in operation. It is a gift which does not require the state of grace, since it is for the good of others, not the prophet himself. So it is possible for someone not in the state of grace to speak the truth and heal by the power of the Holy Spirit, and then turn around and blaspheme against the Spirit guiding the Catholic Church.

Simply speaking, such people are "false prophets, who come to you disguised as sheep but underneath are ravenous wolves" (Mt 7:15). St. John Chrysostom distinguishes these from some Catholic preachers who are sinners (like priests who keep girl friends). These, he says, should be called "slaves of the flesh" and not false prophets, because they do not try to lead Christians astray.

What do their miracles prove?

We have seen that a false prophet can sometimes speak the truth or work miracles through the influence of the Holy Spirit, when Jesus' name is invoked. This raises another problem, because true prophesy is authenticated by miracles: "They, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it" (Mk 16:20; cf. Dt 34:10-12). How can a preacher, after mocking the Catholic faith, go on to heal people?

First of all we should be careful to find out what really happens. Sometimes these healings are staged. "The coming of the wicked One will be marked by Satan being at work in all kinds of counterfeit miracles and signs and wonders, and every wicked deception aimed at those who are on the way to destruction because they would not accept the love of the truth and so be saved" (2 Thes 2:9-10).

Secondly we should realize that even evil people and teachers of false doctrine can call on the name of Jesus and heal those who believe in Jesus. Such a miracle can confirm a particular truth which is preached: "You must know, all of you, and the whole people of Israel, that it is by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, and God raised from the dead, by this name and by no other that this man stands before you cured" (Acts 4:10).

What is impossible is that an authentic miracle should take place as confirmation of error or to confirm the holiness of an evil person. True teaching is confirmed by signs that accompany it, that is, which are explicitly linked to the teaching. Likewise miracles that are worked through invoking the intercession of a saint are signs of that saint's holiness and are grounds for canonization, because of this explicit link. (On all this see Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 178.)

Muammad explicitly appealed to Qur'ân verses as a miracle proving that he was sent by God (Q. 11:13; 2:23; 10:39; 17:88); the problem with this claim is that the Qur'ân is a self-evident miracle only to convinced Muslims. Non-Catholic evangelists claim to work miracles, mainly of healing; in their case, if the miracles are authentic, they are linked only with calling on the name of Jesus, not with the attacks these evangelists make on the Catholic Church.

Many false prophets will arise; they will deceive many, and with the increase of lawlessness, love in most people will grow cold; but anyone who stands firm to the end will be saved.

Mt 24:11-12