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The Life Of Anne Catherine Emmerich

THE wealth of visions with which Almighty God was pleased to inundate Anne Catharine’s soul began to manifest itself to all around her as soon as she could speak plainly, and although, as has been mentioned, her extraordinary utterances now and then occasioned her a petty persecution from her ignorant relatives, it was her father’s greatest delight, on reaching home of an evening, tired after a long day’s work, to call his little girl to his knee by the fire-side and bid her tell him stories. Then she would relate such wonderful pictures of the events she saw in the history of the Old Testament, so simply and naturally, and in such vivid language, that Bernhard Emmerich, unable to restrain his tears, exclaimed from time to time, “Child, how dost thou know this?” and Anne Catharine reply: “Father it is so, I can see it all!” when he would relapse into silence and close attention once more, wondering where his child learnt such things.

No matter what her occupation, these pictures were ever present to her mind at all hours of the day, and as she innocently believed that it was the same with everyone else as with herself, she used to speak openly of what she saw, and was not a little indignant when other children contradicted or laughed at what she said. Once it happened that a pilgrim, who gave out that he had visited Rome and Jerusalem, began to speak of the holy places before her, giving an incorrect description of them. The impetuous child, unable longer to restrain herself, boldly accused the man of telling lies, and thereupon commenced describing the holy places as though intimately acquainted with them. Upon this she received a sharp reprimand from her parents for being rude, and was more prudent for the future; nevertheless another day at the village school, which was superintended by an old peasant, she broke forth into a glowing description of the resurrection of our Lord just as it was then present to her mind, and again met with a stern rebuke, being bidden never to let her imagination play with such subjects. These and similar experiences closed the child’s mouth upon what she said, for the time being, but the visions far from ceasing, became towards the end of the Church’s year even fuller, clearer, and more and more vivid and rich in detail. All the glorious mysteries of faith were unfolded before her mind in a series of grand pictures, following one another in their regular order and sequence.

The first of these historical revelations took place when she was either five or six years old. She was meditating one day upon the words, “I believe in God the Father Almighty; maker of heaven and earth,” when a picture of the Creation was unrolled before her mental vision. After this, she beheld in like manner the revolt of the Angels, the creation of Adam and Eve, their fall, and expulsion from Paradise, and finally the whole of the Old Testament, in an unbroken chain of pictures, which gradually unfolded the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption of mankind throughout all ages, and all races of men, until its glorious consummation upon Calvary. She saw all the personages who, in the order appointed by God, were destined to bear a part in the advancement of “the plenitude of time,” and beheld their lives down to the minutest details. She understood the particular position and signification which each one held in the order of salvation respecting the coming of our Saviour. She saw the graces which God gave them, how He directed them, and how the blessed fruits of their actions were perpetuated from one generation to another. At the same time, she beheld all the machinations of hell and the varied forms and influence of the idolatries which should arise.

There was nothing which did not find a place in the sphere of this humble child’s visions. Thus, whilst the profoundest mysteries of grace were disclosed to her gaze, she lost none of the minor details connected with the sacred history. Thus, for example, whilst she saw the body of Adam in its glorified state before the fall, and the humiliating consequences which ensued to him from that fall, she also beheld, by a mysterious connexion with the Five Wounds of our Lord’s Body, the five sources of light which Adam lost by his sin, and which, through the infinite merits of those life-giving wounds, should be restored to him in a future state.

At another time she saw the prophet Melchisedech measuring the ground for the basin afterwards known as the pool of Bethesda, and traversing the roads and paths announcing the future Messias, which Jesus hereafter was to tread in His public life on earth. She saw Melchisedech likewise separating different races and families, leading them hither and thither, and laying the stone of the future Temple upon Sion. She saw him planting in the river Jordan what looked like seeds of the stones which should, later on, support the ark of alliance, when God’s own people re-took possession of the inheritance of their forefathers, and which stones, after a long period of oblivion, should once more re-appear from under the waters of Jordan, to serve as a font for the baptism of the Son of Mary, the accomplishment of the type figured by the Ark of Alliance. Not only did Anne Catharine see, in rotation, all the events which occurred in the lives of Noah, Enoch, Abraham, and all the patriarchs, but she also recognized the figurative signification of each one of their actions, and discerned the interior links of grace, and its mysterious influences; grace, which is the living and eternal bond by which all persons, generations and epochs are connected together, and which is the centre-point of all ages.

Thus she arrived at the time for the accomplishment of the prophecies, and as, formerly, she beheld the new in the old, so now she found the old in the new. The entire life of the Man God upon earth, from the moment of His most holy Incarnation, until the hour of his Ascension into Heaven, passed before her eyes in living pictures, which embraced the whole theatre of His career and earthly operations, and all the persons with whom He held particular intercourse. She saw our Lord in the fruits of His infinite merits, she saw Him as the Head of humanity regenerated in Him, that is to say, of His Mystical Body the Church, and she contemplated the latter in its entire hierarchy, in all its parts and degrees, without limit of time or space. In the Person of Jesus Christ the Head, the ranks of the Church Triumphant were opened to her gaze: she was ravished in spirit to assist at their celestial festivals, following the order of the ecclesiastical year, and thereat received consolations which enabled her to endure the fatigues of her earthly course. The ranks of the Church militant were also thrown open to her; and whilst visiting them, she not only succoured but also consoled, assisted, unbound and delivered.

Finally, in Jesus Christ every age of the Church was made visible to her, together with the lives of all the Saints, and the working of their influence from the time of the Apostles until the period in which she lived, when, like an industrious little bee, she collected all the blessed fruits of their merits, and applied them to the healing of all the necessities of her own time.

All these visions bore the most religiously historical character; they were not meditations upon past events, but the immedate reflexion of the facts themselves presented to Anne Catharine’s mind like a picture mirrored in a lake. Thus she received the images as they showed themselves to her, sometimes welcoming them joyfully, expressing naively her admiration and surprise, at others seeking to escape from them when the subjects they represented appeared to cause her more grief than she could bear. Her behaviour was purely passive throughout all the visions of her life: she never attempted to reason mentally about them when her angelic guide did not explain their meaning, and therefore all that she has related on the subject is distinguished by an admirable simplicity and clearness, although at the same time by a mysterious depth which irresistibly impresses on the reader the conviction that here is nothing invented, nothing which could have derived its origin in the human brain. She could never accustom herself to find any pleasure whatever in books, and rarely opened them; all her knowledge was derived exclusively from her visions. In her seventh year, after having been barely four months at school, she was sent home by the master who declared she already knew everything he could teach her: she said once of herself, “I never learnt anything by heart out of the Bible or the Gospels; for I always saw it all from the time I can remember: every year I saw the same things passing in exactly the same manner and with the same attendant circumstances, although sometimes accompanied by other scenes. I have frequently been present personally at the occurrences as though I formed part of them; but generally I felt myself raised above the scene and saw it all happening below. There were other things, touching mystical meanings and significations which I saw inwardly, as though reflected upon the conscience. I had also the faculty of seeing through all things, so that no one body hid another from my sight: without this power, there would have been a confusion in my mind.”

Even at a more advanced age, Anne Catharine could never familiarize herself with books: “At the Convent,” she says, “I wished to look into a book now and then, but it always was an annoyance to me. Thanks be to God I have hardly read a line, and when I see a book it seems to me as if I already know it by heart.” This last remark applied particularly to ascetical works and the lives of Saints, the reason of which she explains in a remark she made when asked if she would like to read the Life of St. Francis Xavier, “There is no Saint,” she said, “about whom I have seen so many things: I think I know his whole life. These written lives seem to me like the labels which are hung here and there upon threads in gardens, to show what seed has been sown in such and such a spot, whilst the piece of ground itself still resembles barren land, whereas I can see in my mind a beautiful fertile garden, filled with flowers.”

Thus the scenes and characters of the Church’s history became, as will easily be understood, more familiar and comprehensible to the child’s mind than her own actual surroundings. The latter appeared to her like a dream: she saw, to use her own expression, with her eyes, without seeing, so incessantly were they turned inwards upon that luminous world, whose dazzling labyrinths and paths she trod hand-in-hand with saints and angels.

Amongst all the holy personages with whom she thus became acquainted, her favourites, those to whom she felt the greatest devotion were they who had been the most nearly connected with Our Lord’s Sacred Humanity. As for instance, St. Joachim and St. Anne, St. Zacharias, and St. Elisabeth. She felt herself quite at home with them, and frequently accompanied them in their pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the other holy places celebrating their feast days with them, during their time of eager, anxious expectation, and joining in their loving adoration of their Saviour, the gladsome Christmas night in Bethlehem; she was acquainted with all the splendour and the riches of the Temple, the secret mysteries concealed in the holy of holies, the ark of the covenant with its contents, the priests and sacrifices, in fact, with all the innumerable customs and ceremonies of the old law, and every tradition and custom of the faithful believers of the house of Israel.

Much resemblance may be traced between little Anne Catharine at this period of her life and the great St. Catharine of Siena, who, like her, was prepared in her early years for the great deeds she was later to accomplish, by means of visions of past ages of the Church, and by her intimacy with the ancient fathers and the penitents of the Thebaid. In their school she acquired so great liberty of spirit, and so undisturbed a union with God, that amidst papal crowned heads and all the noisiest bustle of the world in its high places, she remained calm and recollected as when hidden in the privacy of her convent cell. For years and years she was permitted to contemplate those early saints in their daily lives, as though bodily present; she sang psalms and prayed with them, worked with them, weaving mats and baskets of osier and reed, learnt to fast and to do penance, to keep silence, renounce self, and practise mortification, learnt complete detachment from creatures, and indeed, the practice of every Christian virtue, whilst she grew the while as intimate and happy with them as was little Anne Catharine with her St. Joachim, St. Anne, and all their holy company.

A primary law of Anne Catharine’s life was, that the graces she received should ever be accompanied by proportionate sufferings. These visions were no exception. The mission which God had appointed for her in this world was, to suffer in her person for the Catholic faith, and to offer herself as a living sacrifice of reparation for the presumptuous wickedness of a century when men dared to dispute the possibility of a Divine revelation, when they denied the truths of the Incarnation and Redemption, denied heaven and hell, and heaped every species of diabolical blasphemy and abuse upon the prophets, apostles, saints, and holy children of the Church, past and present. In these terrible times Anne Catharine, enabled by the gift of prophecy, which she had received from above, to contemplate the whole course of the mysteries of salvation, and understand their meaning in its fullest extent, adored and worshipped the Redeemer of Mankind in the fulfilment of His secret designs, with a fervour so glowing as to be, as He Himself deigned to say, a compensation for the insults which His mercies were receiving at the hands of heretics and unbelievers, and joyfully took upon herself, in expiation of the sins of others, bodily and mental tortures and sufferings, whose acuteness might well have made the stoutest heart tremble, but which she bore from the earliest years to the last hour of her life with a patience and resignation beyond words to describe; her anguish only breaking forth now and again in some such pitiful laments as this, “Lord, why must I see these horrible things? what can I, a weak child, do to hinder crime? If thou didst but know what I suffer!” This suffering had for its origin, her profound sense of God’s sanctity, and of the vileness of the world, as occasioned by sin; and as every abomination and baseness of sinful humanity were displayed before her eyes, in order that she should do penance for these innumerable offences, the pure, innocent child often thought Nature would give way, and that she must die under the horror of the spectacle.

Jesus Christ Himself condescended to be her guide in this immeasurable territory of revelation, and taught her, with His own lips, the key to the most unfathomable of the Divine secrets, bestowing upon her, at the same time, strength of soul sufficient to enable her to endure the unutterable grandeur of her visions, and to bring her inner life into perfect harmony with her humble everyday duties.

For weeks and weeks she would be absorbed in contemplation, her mind utterly unconscious of what was passing around her, and yet everything she did, whether handiwork, field labour, or whatever task her parents gave her, was done as quickly and as well as though she had been intent on it alone. Every kind of work, whether indoor or outdoor, grew naturally under her hands, without her having the trouble of learning it; the first time she opened a book she found she could read perfectly; everything she undertook prospered, whilst no external event had ever the power to distract her mind for one moment from its calm, recollected state of contemplation. Her relatives were so accustomed to find the delicate child always eager to undertake the most laborious tasks, and to see them thrive under her fingers, that they left her undisturbed in her own quiet ways, and left off seeking to penetrate the deep silence of her soul by troublesome questions and remarks. The time was not yet come when Anne Catharine would have to fulfil the painful task of giving an account of the things she beheld, and of compressing within the narrow bounds of human words that wealth of Divine revelation which overwhelmed her soul. Though pain and suffering were her inseparable companions, they could never rob the child for one moment of her wondrous inner life, and in later years she often longed wistfully after the calm seclusion of her childhood, saying, “At that time I was never out of God’s presence, daily tasks never disturbed my inner abstraction, or my constant visions. If I were sewing, the pictures seemed so entirely to envelope me, that I felt as though my scissors were cutting through the beautiful objects which surrounded me. When at work in the fields with my parents, I was not upon earth; all here was as a dark, confused dream, whilst in that other world everything was light and clear, and filled with heavenly truths.”

Our Blessed Lord was not her teacher in the realms of miraculous vision alone, but associated Himself with her daily life in a simple, child-like intercourse, by which He led her on step by step to perfection, and to an entire conformity with His wishes. Sometimes He stood before her in the form of a child bearing a cross, silently gazing at her, until touched to the quick by His patience, she would seize the heaviest piece of wood she could find, and carry it upon her shoulders as long as her strength would permit, praying all the while. At other times she beheld Him weeping over the injuries which impudent bold children were doing to him, and this sight drove her to fling herself amongst thorns and nettles, so that, by her innocent atonement, she might soften the anger and pain of her Lord. He often joined her, too, when making the Way of the Cross, and gave her His own cross to carry, and when she was at work in the fields, or minding the cows (which was her usual occupation until she was five years old), He came to her side, as one child to another, to share in its toil and in its recreation, thus showing her that all her doings and all her comings and goings, however insignificant all her play hours might appear, were to be begun and carried out for the greater glory of God. Her own words describe this holy intercourse very sweetly, “When I was a child He used to work with me as a little boy, and used often to come and share my work. How kind He was to me! I remember when I was six years old one of my brothers was about to be born, and my mother was anxious to make some piece of clothing for him, but was too weak to sew. At that time I did not know how to thread a needle, but the little Boy came and taught me, and helped me to make caps and all the little clothes needful for a young babe, out of some old dolls’ clothes I had by me. My mother was amazed when I gave her my present, as she could not imagine how I had made them, and I saw her secretly weeping over them, though she hid her surprise from me, and used the little clothes. He used also to help me to mind the cows, or rather He made them quiet and tractable, whilst we talked together of all kinds of good things, how we would serve God, and how we would love the Child Jesus, and the like. This little Boy was with me perpetually, and taught me everything, how to make garments for the poor, how to knit stockings, and, in fact, whatever I wished to do, I did, thinking at the time it was my own fingers did everything, whereas it was really my little companion all the time. Once I recollect when I was visiting the crib in the church at Coesfeld one Christmas time, I felt an intense desire to hold the Child Jesus in my arms, and to talk to Him. When I left the crib, I sat down for awhile upon a little mound, and was noticing how green and mossy the grass was. I was quite a little thing at the time, and remember well that I had on a blue jacket lined with fur, and carried a small stick in my hand. After I had sat there for a little time, I was rapt in a vision, and beheld the Child Jesus coming towards me. So I laid my jacket upon the ground, spread it out as a seat, and He came and sat down beside me, so sweetly and kindly. He then talked to me, and told me all about His Incarnation and about His parents, He told me, too, what happiness and glory He had left to come to earth for my sake, and how much ashamed I ought to be when I complained of any little pain I felt, after what He had done for me. He related to me all about His childhood and the humiliations He had to undergo, about Herod’s persecutions, and the privations His dear mother endured in Egypt amongst a heathen people, and much else that I cannot remember now.”

The blessing of this marvellous intercourse was felt by all with whom Anne Catharine came into contact, especially by her playmates and the children of her own age, into whose infantine games she always managed somehow or other to put a spiritual meaning. For instance, if she was strolling along with them in narrow paths, over which the high hedges formed a natural arch, she would invite the little troop to walk in procession, and imagine that the holy angels were present. “We will,” she would say, “imagine this to be heaven, and do all in the name of Jesus, and always think that the Holy Child is amongst us. We will do nothing wicked, but try and prevent others doing wrong when we can, and if we find traps or snares set for hares or birds, we will take them away, and put a stop to the cruelty of idle lads. We will try and make quite a new world around us, which may be a real heaven upon earth.” Sometimes the children played together in a sandpit, while Anne Catharine’s clever little hands would be busy all the time modelling the holy places in Jerusalem for their amusement, as she knew them by her visions, for as she herself said, “Those spots were more familiar to me than any others upon earth. They were so constantly before my mind, that I could describe and find my way to every nook and corner, and it used to be my great pleasure to gather my little playfellows round me, and with damp sand or clay teach them what the holy places were like, by modelling the hill of Calvary, the Holy Sepulchre, and garden of Gethsemane, with a stream flowing through it. Across this brook a narrow bridge led to some square empty houses. Once I had a great mind to mould the figures of Our Lord and the two thieves, and His blessed Mother standing at the foot of the cross, but I did not do it, for fear it should be a sacrilege. One day two little children were playing out in the fields with me, and we were very anxious to have a cross for a little chapel we had made in clay, in order to say our prayers before it, and as we wanted a very fine one, and could not think how we were to get one, I exclaimed, “I know what we will do; you must cut it out in wood, and press it into the moist clay, and I have an old tin lid at home, which we will melt upon some coals and pour into the impression, and thus we shall have a splendid cross! I ran to fetch the lid and the coals, but just as we were in the middle of our work, my mother came out and punished me.”

Every year the child’s mysterious intercourse with the sacred persons and things of the New Testament became closer and closer. Sometimes it was St. John the Baptist who would come to her whilst tending her cows, in the form of his holy boyhood, and instruct her in all the wondrous mysteries of sanctity through which the angels had guided him in the wilderness, kindling in her soul ever more and more burning desires of imitating that simplicity and purity by which he had found so great favour in God’s sight. During every Advent she never failed to accompany the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph in spirit upon their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and her anxiety for the welfare of the dear Mother of God, and keen participation in all the discomforts and fatigues she endured upon the road, were boundless. The festivals of the Church were not simply matter for holy reflection or meditation, but actual present realities; her whole soul went with them, as though the scenes they commemorated, were visibly enacted before her.

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