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The Life Of Anne Catherine Emmerich

A FEW days after the close of the examination Anne Catharine received several visits from persons distinguished by their piety as well as by their rank, who came to testify their sympathy and veneration for the holy suffering woman. Amongst these was the far-famed Count Frederick Leopold Stolberg, the account of whose visit we will give in his own words.

“Overberg took us to see Anne Catharine about nine o’clock in the morning. Her little room has only one door, which opens upon the street, so that it is perpetually exposed to the public gaze. It is scrupulously clean and neat. Anne Catharine received us with great cordiality, although the fact of showing herself gives her evident pain. Overberg bade her take her hands from under the cloth with which she keeps them covered, that we might see them. It was on a Friday. The wounds had bled profusely. She now took off the bandage from her head, and we saw the whole of the head surrounded with wounds as though pierced with thick sharp thorns, which wounds were filled with oozing blood. It would have been impossible for any painter to have imitated the thorny crown so faithfully as it was impressed on her brow.

“Anne Catharine, who was formerly a poor peasant girl, who minded the village cows and worked for her bread, now expresses herself upon religious subjects with a dignity and refinement of language which she could never have learnt in the convent, whilst the beauty and spiritual wisdom of her mind speak in every word she utters. Her looks beam friendliness to all, her manner is bright, and her voice low, soft, and clear. There is nothing exaggerated in her expressions, because love knows no exaggeration; and overpowering love of God and long-suffering charity towards her neighbour, are the atmosphere in which she lives, moves, and breathes. ‘How happy we are,’ she said, ‘to know Jesus Christ! How easy He makes it for us all to love Him!’ Whilst far from esteeming herself as a specially favoured person in consequence of the outward signs she bears of God’s favours, she deems herself utterly unworthy of His love, and bears these marks of divine grace in humble anxiety and fearfulness.”

This letter was written by Count Stolberg to Michael Sailer, afterwards Bishop of Ratisbon, who published it far and wide, as being the testimony of so universally-respected an authority. Thus it fell into the hands of the poet Brentano, and was the primary origin of his desire to see one with whom his life was to be subsequently so strangely united, and who is well known in all her subsequent revelations under the name of “The Pilgrim.”

It is time now to turn to Anne Catharine’s own interior and exterior condition at this most trying period of her life, when she had become, as it were, an occasion of stumbling to all, on account of the marks of the Crucified Spouse which she bore about on her body; when moreover she had grown to be a burden to her friends, the weight of which burden returned with double force upon her own devoted head; when her own confessor looked upon her state as a misfortune; when she was misunderstood and often maltreated by her own relations; when the spiritual pastor of the town in which she dwelt drew back from her, so soon as he found his own calling likely to be endangered by her vicinity; and when the highest ecclesiastical authorities of the diocese had forced her to undergo severe examinations on the charge of duplicity and falsehood, sparing her no torment in order to give up her almost intolerable wounds to the gaze of the world at large; and, when this over, she was abandoned, helpless, and defenceless to the curiosity, importunity, and suspicion of every chance passer-by, and, a few months’ later, to the most terrible persecutions which ever befel an innocent human being.

Surely it was a gigantic task indeed, amidst such woes, to preserve invariable meekness and patience, and to turn a cheerful unruffled countenance to all comers. And yet well indeed did Anne Catharine accomplish this task. No word of complaint was ever heard upon her lips when she was suspected of duplicity and publicly accused of imposture, and so deeply engraven upon her soul was the conviction of her own unworthiness, and so great her dread of worldly honour or esteem, that she absolutely preferred to be looked upon as an object of popular distrust, and shrank from a syllable of praise as though torture were being inflicted upon her whole frame.

Her confessor at this time was Fr. Limberg, a Dominican, who had suffered like herself from the violent suppression of all monasteries and convents throughout Westphalia, and had returned to the world with the firm determination to continue to live as strictly in accordance with his vows as should be possible. It therefore appeared to Anne Catharine as a specially gracious ordinance of Providence that she should have received so strict and conscientious a religious for her spiritual adviser, and from the first hour of their intercourse, her utmost endeavour was ever to render to him an unhesitating, perfect obedience.

Not only did she regard him as her director, but also as the representative of her former superiors in religion, and therefore she gave to his every word and command the same unbounded deference and submission which she had formerly rendered to those placed in authority over her in the convent, and endeavoured to regulate her life accordingly. Although her strange inner life was a mystery to him, and was incessantly misunderstood by the simple-minded, inexperienced, almost unlettered religious; although in sense, wisdom, and enlightenment of mind she was immeasurably his superior, her behaviour towards him was never otherwise than that of a docile, blindly-obedient child, because she looked upon each word which fell from his lips as a distinct command from God, allowing of no opposition.

Frequently, her own experience or the prophetic warnings of her angel showed her that obedience to this or that injunction on the part of her confessor would be followed by unutterable anguish to herself; yet never did this foreknowledge, nor his invariable and often ill-judged harshness and severity, turn her by so much as a hair’s-breadth from her obedience, for the maintenance of which she spared neither pain nor sacrifice.

Just as a plant cannot grow and a flower cannot bloom without air and light, so was it with Anne Catharine’s soul and priestly guidance. The words and the blessing of God’s anointed were more to her than the benediction of even her angel. Obedience was the channel through which all the fruits of her marvellous labours flowed into the body of the Church—through which she was enabled to suffer in her own person in the stead of that body—through which, in fine, she herself was so firmly bound and united to the Church.

This obedience, however, rested upon the faith by the light of which the priest and confessor held towards her the position of God’s representative, and Anne Catharine firmly believed that her gift of prophecy was bestowed upon her in such overwhelming fulness only that she might lead a life perfected by faith, and show forth thereby to all time that those whom God favours by the bestowal of extraordinary manifestations and unusual gifts can know no other law, and follow no loftier ordinance, than the rule of faith of the infallible Church, which is the pillar and foundation of truth. The true mystic moves and breathes in no other region but that of discipline, of the service of God, of the Sacraments, of the rites and customs of the Church, and of the principles laid down by the saints and ancient fathers.

When Fr. Limberg undertook the direction of Anne Catharine’s soul, he adopted the principle of carefully striving to conceal all that appeared remarkable in his penitent, and of declaring her visions to be the result of idle fancy, in order to foster her humility. He was himself of so timorous a disposition that it cost him many years before he was capable of rendering free, unwavering homage to the magnificent gifts of his spiritual child. Even after he had guided her soul for seven long years, and received innumerable proofs of her obedience, truthfulness, and sincerity, he was still unsatisfied, and still busied himself in devising modes in which he might put her genuineness to the test, as the following circumstance, related by his own lips, will show:

“I was saying my office whilst the invalid lay in an ecstatic prayer with closed eyes. She lay thus for a full hour before I laid down my Breviary. Fresh doubts forced themselves upon my mind, and I resolved to put them to the proof. I recollected that the Abbé Lambert had consecrated two Hosts at his Mass that morning, in order to have one ready wherewith to communicate the invalid on the following day. I therefore went in quest of the consecrated particles, laid them in a corporal which I enveloped in a stole, to carry to her bedside. As I entered the door of her room, she was still lying as before, but no sooner had my foot crossed the threshold than she lifted herself up with the greatest haste and anxiety, stretched out her arms, and sank upon her knees on the bed, exclaiming: ‘Ah! there is my Lord Jesus coming from the Tabernacle to visit me!’ I let her remain thus for a while in adoration, when I restored the Blessed Sacrament to the Church.”

Anne Catharine’s spirit of obedience did not stop with the circumstances of the spiritual life. Her desire of living under obedience led her to desire to be in subjection to every creature with whom she came in contact for God’s sake. Not a day passed in which she did not, with admirable cleverness and perseverance, seek how best she could thwart and sacrifice her own will. In consequence of her total absence of all self-assertion, and by her meek and humble resignation to her sufferings, those around her had come to consider her as an invalid who did not require much care or attention.

She was silent about her sufferings; she was as anxious to help all who came near her for aid as ever; she had so often been ill before and got better again, that little notice was taken of her ailments, or of her wants. As, however, she was now unable to do her room for herself, she had taken her younger sister Gertrude to live with and assist her. She, however, was so careless and inexperienced that the sick woman was constantly obliged to give her lessons in cooking, washing, and such like ordinary woman’s work from her bed of pain, and to prepare the abbé’s dinner with her own hands.

Again, so completely did she keep silence as to the pain this caused her, that her sister grew to regard her as a whimsical person, who staid in bed from idleness or caprice, and who could eat and live like other people if she only chose; and we can imagine what Anne Catharine had to endure, while this view was held with regard to her state. Gertrude was of a weak, bitter disposition, and had neither respect nor affection for her suffering sister, grudging her the slight services she did render her, and sometimes leaving her for hours together, without so much as a glass of water within her reach.

She was, moreover, extremely touchy and obstinate, and would not bear a word of reasoning or expostulation. Day and night had Anne Catharine to suffer from the petulance, inconsiderateness, and rough usage of this wretched woman. And to this was added, owing to her gift of reading hearts, the inexpressible sorrow of knowing every one of the evil dispositions and unworthy passions which filled her sister’s soul. Day and night she prayed for her and suffered for her, but not until after her own death did it please God to answer her supplications, when Gertrude recognized her faults, and repented bitterly of the cruelty with which she had treated poor Anne Catharine.

In speaking of the people who were with Anne Catharine at this time of her life, we must not omit Dr. Wesener, of whom mention has been made several times in these pages, and who, in more respects than one, occupied a prominent position in the life of this servant of God. Led from motives of curiosity to her bedside, when the news of the stigmata was first bruited abroad, his acquaintance with her had rapidly induced the deepest interest on his part. This interest ripened into an affection and veneration which he retained to the end of his life, and had for its immediate result the restoration of his long-lost faith, and his complete reconciliation to Almighty God.

His profound gratitude for these graces, which he rightly attributed to the mediation of Anne Catharine, suggested to him the idea of noting down all his observations and experiences of her marvellous state, with the view of inscribing indelibly upon his memory the many features and points which appeared to his eyes to be so many proofs of the extraordinary state of perfection to which she had brought her marvellous life, taking special pains in the description of those circumstances and conversations which had materially aided, or had been of singular meaning, with respect to his own progress in the interior life.

These simple unadorned reports demonstrate as clearly as did five years later Clements Brentano’s eloquent and poetical language, the ways and means used by the highly favoured girl for winning souls to God and to His holy law. It would be difficult to meet with two persons whose whole tenor of life, bent of mind, and natural disposition were more widely apart than the matter of fact Dulmen physician and the highly gifted poet Brentano; and yet we find both these men cordially agreeing in the avowal that the exterior and apparently accidental circumstances which had led to their relationship with Anne Catharine, had, by no endeavours nor intentions of their own, been to them a blessed and merciful dispensation of Providence, productive of the richest blessings and most fruitful consequences.

We will give in Wesener’s own words the account of the impression which Anne Catharine made upon him, not only at the moment of their acquaintance, but after an intimacy of many years. It will conduce to shed a yet fuller and more brilliant light upon her whole personality, and upon the extraordinary influence she exercised upon the souls of others.

“I heard of Anne Catharine Emmerich,” writes Wesener, “for the first time in the year 1806, when I was practising in Rellinghausen, when I was requested by Krauthausen, the doctor to the Agnetenberg convent, to pronounce an opinion upon the inexplicable illness of a nun. At that time I had been reading about magnetism, and suggested that the attacks of which Krauthausen spoke might be cataleptic fits; in treating them as such, however, he found all remedies equally powerless, and only put the patient to unutterable torture.

“I heard no more of her until March, 1813, when her stigmata were made the subject of conversation at a party, when I made them the pretext of a medical visit to the sick woman.

“I found her unconscious in bed, but when she came to herself, she looked me frankly and cordially in the face, and on the Abbé Lambert’s telling her who I was, answered with a smile that she knew all about me. This appeared to me as very strange, and as I thought I detected a feigned simplicity in her conduct, I determined to put an end to it by a stern, forbidding manner. My expectations of unmasking deceit remained unfulfilled, and thenceforth the oftener I saw the invalid the better I learnt to know her, the more thoroughly she disclosed herself to me as the placid, unsophisticated, matter of fact person which she had shown herself to be the first time I saw her, and as which she was universally considered.

“More and more clearly I discerned in her that guileless truly Christian character which is at peace with itself and with the whole world, because it follows the most holy will of God in all things and all places. She deemed herself the worst and most unworthy of mankind, and loved all men better than herself. I shall never forget how simply and kindly she talked to me, as we got better acquainted, about my gloomy thoughts and crushing anxieties with respect to the threatened war, until I forgot their existence.

“She often distinctly told me that Napoleon’s power would soon be at an end, and that Dulmen would be spared by the French army, and this came to pass exactly as she said it would, the French garrison of Minden laying waste the whole country round, with the single exception of Dulmen.

“She was equally cordial and affectionate towards all, especially towards the poor, whom she assisted in secret to bear their heavy burdens of want or sickness in many an unknown way. She possessed a singular gift of comforting, as I myself often experienced, for she awakened within me confidence in God and the long unused habit of prayer, and thus enabled me to shake off many a load of carking care which had hitherto weighed me to the ground. Her soul, entirely detached from creatures, lived entirely in God, and never was separated from Him, in spite of the distractions she experienced from all sides, from men and women of all ranks and classes pouring their burden of woe into her ear, seeking comfort and counsel, which they never sought in vain.

“With a smiling countenance and sweet words she would bid me be patient and of good courage. ‘God is infinitely merciful,’ she would say, ‘and whoever is humble and penitent before Him finds pardon and grace.’ She always earnestly besought me to help the poor, as that was a peculiarly pleasing work to offer to God.

“Whenever an opportunity presented itself she eloquently discoursed upon the incomparable happiness of belonging to the Catholic Church. ‘Let us trust in God,’ she loved to say, ‘and hold fast to our faith. What can there be of greater comfort upon earth? What religion, what philosophy can replace it? I pity the Jews above all others, for their religion is nothing more than a legend of their rabbis, and the curse of the Lord rests upon them. But oh! how good the Lord is when we hold fast to the right way! How he comes to meet us halfway if we have but a goodwill! and how far do His outpourings of grace surpass our poor endeavours and requests!’

“Once when the conversation turned upon prayer, I said that I was quite aware that true prayer consisted in faithful fufilment of one’s duty, and in the exercise of mutual charity, but that I could not understand how she could remain for hours together in prayer, forgetting all around her, entirely lost in God, when she replied: ‘Just think for a moment whether it is not possible that you should be so deeply interested in the reading of some beautiful book as to forget all that is going on around you? Well then, is it astonishing that when one is talking with God Himself, who is the source of all beauty, one should entirely forget oneself? Begin, once for all, with humble adoration of Him, and you will find the same happen with yourself.’

“I again answered her, suggesting the hindrances which men have to endure from the enemy of souls, upon which she said, ‘it is true, the devil seeks to drive men away from prayer, and the more in earnest they are, the harder are his attacks. I was once shown an occasion of the sort. I found myself in a beautiful church, and saw three women praying, and behind them a horrible object. This figure whispered flatteries into the ear of the first of these women, who gradually fell asleep. It then went on to the second, and sought to put her to sleep, but did not entirely succeed. The third woman, however, was so beaten and bruised by the figure that I felt great pity for her, and asked my guide what this meant, when he made reply, “This is an allegory of prayer. The first woman was devoid of zeal and earnestness, and therefore the devil soon put her to sleep. The second was better, but was lukewarm; the third was good, and her prayer fervent, therefore her temptation was more violent, and nevertheless was successfully overcome.”

“ ‘The prayers that are peculiarly acceptable to God are those for others, and especially for the holy souls. Pray for them, and you will be putting your money out at good interest. As for myself I offer my whole self to God, and pray, “Lord do with me as Thou wiliest.” Then I go on safely, for I know my good loving Father can only show good things and mercifulness to me.’ She then went on to describe in burning words the woes of those in Purgatory, their pain of loss, and the forgetfulness of their sufferings, too common amongst men. I asked her also, why men were ever created, when she made answer, ‘God made men for His own glory and for our happiness. When the angels fell He determined to create men, in order to fill up the empty ranks of those legions; and when the number of these is complete, the end of the world will come.’ With amazement I enquired whence she knew this, and she answered, ‘she knew it, but how she could not describe.’

“She would also talk to me for many hours together upon the Sacraments, upon good works, upon almsgiving, upon the virtues, upon the wisdom and philosophies of the age, and upon the blind haste with which men pursue the false goods of this world, on which latter subject she related to me the following vision: ‘I stood in a great wild field, which was covered with a countless crowd of men, working at all manner of things, and expending their energies to the utmost in pursuit of their separate ends. In their midst stood our Lord, with a countenance of inexpressible goodness, Who said to me: See how these people strive and distress themselves, how they seek comfort and help in gain, how they go to and fro and never so much as perceive Me, who stand here visible to all, Who am their Lord and Benefactor. Few, indeed, there are who give Me so much in a grateful look, and that they throw towards Me in hurrying by, as if they had not time so much as to turn their heads towards Me.’ ” In this sketch of his intercourse with Anne Catharine, Wesener concludes with a long account of her revelations to him of passages in the life of the Blessed Virgin and in Our Lord’s childhood, which, as they have been separately published and laid before the reader elsewhere, we will omit in these pages.

As Wesener became daily more and more drawn into intimate relationship with Anne Catharine, it became clearly evident that, according to God’s designs, he was intended to be an instrument in the perfection of her earthly task. She soon began to make use of him as a medium by which she could shower incessant gifts and consolation upon all the needy and infirm who were unable to drag themselves to her bedside. He had always a multitude of poor under his treatment, upon whom he bestowed not only his own professional skill, but also alms and clothing which Anne Catharine handed over to him for this purpose.

Every moment which she could seize by day or by night and devote to her needle, was spent in the service of the poor and the sick, and whenever her own scanty means failed to procure the requisite amount of linen and woollen materials, she begged remnants and cast-off clothes from every compassionate heart amongst her visitors, and these apparently useless pieces of silk, brocade, or other stuffs, were marvellously and quickly shaped by the sick woman’s clever fingers into snug hoods and cloaks for newly-born babies, who otherwise would hardly have had a rag to cover them. Often when in want of materials, she would turn with touching confidence towards St. Lidwina, Blessed Magdalen of Ha-damar, or other saintly maidens stigmatized like herself, and speaking to them as though they were living persons, say, “Art thou there, Madlenchen? Look, Christmas is near at hand, and there are still so many children who want stockings and caps. Thou must keep thy promise and bring me some wool and some silk.” Wesener was in the habit of relating to her all the wants and sorrows of his patients, and declares from daily experience that there was never a single invalid who did not receive her sympathy and spiritual assistance, and he was often amazed to find, that when he had in vain exhausted all his medical science upon a case, a sudden and unexpected change for the better would ensue, owing, not to his medicines, but to Anne Catharine’s having taken the patient’s malady upon herself, in order to bring relief or a tranquil death to the sufferer.

Wesener’s Vicinity to Anne Catharine was likewise productive of the happiest effects with regard to her confessor’s relations with herself, since without the support of the experienced, intrepid medical man, poor, timorous, weakminded Fr. Limberg, in spite of all that had happened, would have again deserted his penitent at the first breath of idle calumny. Now, however, whenever he felt tempted to withdraw from the scene of endless doubt and torment, and to give up the direction of Anne Catharine’s soul, he turned to Wesener, and the sight of the manful, earnest way in which the latter fulfilled the duties of a Christian since Anne Catharine’s influence had led him to return once more to the feet of his Lord, inspired him with courage and confidence to pursue the path which God had marked out for him unflinchingly to the end.

At this period it was deemed advisable to put Anne Catharine under the influence of a fresh course of medical treatment, and the tortures she endured from the well-meaning efforts of her friends to mitigate her sufferings, were hardly exceeded by those sufferings themselves. Her Angel warned her repeatedly not to refuse to take any of the medicines prescribed for her, and showed her that the pains she endured from this cause were sent her that she might expiate the crimes committed against the Church by the false doctrines, mock mysticism, and heretical teachings of the age, until finally her agony reached to such a height that physician and confessor agreed that earthly skill harmed rather than benefited her, and that it was powerless to better her state.

For weeks together she suffered from such violent cramps at the heart, with almost total suffocation, that her death was hourly expected; nevertheless her daily communions gave her strength enough to rally sufficiently to meet each fresh attack. She was now left in peace for a year when a new doctor arrived, with a written recommendation from the Vicar General. Anne Catharine implored that she might be spared new examinations and experiments, but her prayer was not granted, and in silence she resigned herself as ever to God’s will and to suffering; receiving at this time many helpful visions upon the subject of magnetism, clairvoyance, somnambulism and fortune telling, which was then occupying the public mind and was the cause of the fresh experiments practised upon herself, and as to the relations which these divers forms of deceit held with the author of all lies and his kingdom of darkness.

A few months after this occurrence, Overberg paid Anne Catharine a visit of a few days, and describes her as being “extremely weak, but overjoyed at seeing him.” There was hardly any pulse to be felt, and at times her breathing seemed to cease, whilst her lips and cheeks were of a ghastly white, and her face sunken as that of a dead person. This was before she had received holy Communion of a morning; afterwards, strength and life appeared to return. Overberg’s object in coming to Dulmen was to try and persuade Anne Catharine to let herself be separated for a time from all her friends and attendants and removed to Munster, and there undergo another competent examination from disinterested persons, which should put an end for ever to the voices of doubt, incredulity, and suspicion. The poor invalid, however, declared that such a journey was simply impossible for her in her infirm state, besides being an extremely painful idea to herself, and that short of an ecclesiastical command, she must decline to leave her present abode.

A command, however, Overberg dared not give. If she undertook the journey, it must be of her own free will, but so fully did he believe that such a course would be for her essential comfort and peace, that he left no stone unturned to gain her consent. The worthy priest’s eloquence gained Wesener over to his side, and he next turned to old Abbé Lambert, who with tears streaming down his aged cheeks, expressed his willingness to go away himself from Dulmen, or make any sacrifice necessary for a strict examination of his poor friend, or leave her for ever, if needs be, rather than put her to such terrible pain. However, Anne Catharine’s own consent was not to be obtained; she told Overberg frankly that his good intentions on her behalf misled him, and so wisely and eloquently pleaded her own cause, astonishing them all by her firmness and resolution, that they were compelled to yield to her decision and the project fell to the ground.

In the March of the following year, 1817, Anne Catharine had the happiness of seeing her beloved mother once more. The two had met but once since the suppression of the Convent, but when the old woman (she was now eighty years of age) felt the end of her life to be drawing near, she resolved that her death should take place by her sick daughter’s bedside. In the month of January, therefore, she had herself transported to Dulmen, where Anne Catharine, who had been a consoling angel and expiatory victim by so many death-beds, had the happiness of tending her own mother in her last moments, and of showing her every service which the filial love of a grateful child’s heart could devise.

Bernhard Emmerich had died some few years previously.

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