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The Life Of Anne Catherine Emmerich

THREE years passed away after the events narrated in the last chapter, and during these three years Anne Catharine’s mental vision was filled with a rich series of manifestations, visions, and pictures, which she was commanded by her angel to make publicly known for the welfare and support of souls.

How to obey this command she knew not, for although she had long been spiritually acquainted with the fact that a person existed who would undertake the task of transcribing the narrations and revelations which she had to make as they fell from her lips, hitherto she had totally failed in meeting with anyone either capable of accomplishing so arduous a work, or with sufficient time at his disposal; when by a fortuitous circumstance, as it seemed, Clement Brentano came to Dulmen, and in him she beheld the man who was destined to be instrumental in furthering God’s glory by the recital of the favours which He was pleased to bestow upon His servant.

Brentano’s object in passing through Dulmen at this time was that of meeting his friend Sailer, and paying a visit with him to Count Stolberg, little thinking that his footsteps were to be arrested, and a great part of his future life to be passed in what seemed to him so dull and uninteresting a little town. Whilst at Dulmen he thought he might as well take the opportunity of visiting its much talked-of ecstatica, and he thus describes in his diary his first interview with Anne Catharine.

“On Thursday, Sept. 24th, 1818, I arrived in Dulmen, and had myself announced to the Emmerich by Wesener, in order not to startle her. In order to reach her little chamber we had to pass through an old, damp, disused cellar. We knocked at the door, which was opened by the sister, and passing through a small kitchen we entered the room where she lies. She greeted me with much friendliness. The candid innocence of her countenance, and the quick, pure tones of her voice, made a most agreeable impression upon me. I failed to find a single trace of exaltation or exaggeration about her. All that she says is short, simple, and to the point, but full of depth, love, and life. I felt at home with her at once, and understood and felt the whole atmosphere of her life.”

The reason of Anne Catharine’s warm reception of Clement Brentano is easily explained. She saw in him at the first glance the long prayed-for means of fulfilling the commands God had laid upon her, but as for himself he was far from imagining the part he was destined to play, and had in the first few weeks of their intercourse no other thought than that of making her life the subject of a biography more poetical than literal.

First of all we find him describing her in his notes “as a wild flower,” or as “a songster of the woods whose carols grow suddenly more and more mystical until they develope into prophecy.” Then she becomes to him the “mysterious, blessed, loveable, charming, simple, merry, sick unto death, unnaturally-supported, countrified friend.” Soon after she is “the clever, refined, unsophisticated, modest, heavily-tried, powerful, and yet thoroughly peasant soul,” who offers him fresh surprises every moment in her words and dispositions, and then he concludes with the audacious hope that his presence and influence will, at a single stroke, alter the whole outward state of things.

The sick woman bore the endless caprices and changeable humours of this being, whose nature was so widely different from her own, with inexhaustible patience, and ever met him with the same winning sweetness which she showed to the poorest and humblest of those who gathered around her couch; at the same time testifying to him a special confidence which deeply touched his heart, prevented him from finding his stay at Dulmen, lengthened by Sailer’s delay in joining him, so unendurable as he had anticipated, and fully compensated for the many privations which a residence in a little country town, destitute of all society and amusement or literary circles, naturally occasioned him.

Moreover, whilst he was occupied in listening, as he imagined, to the “prophetical warblings of a wild bird of the woods,” that songster was penetrating deeper and deeper into the most secret recesses of his own soul, and preparing the way for his subsequent reconciliation to God, and for the regeneration of his powerful but erring mind by an honest submission to the Church and an open confession of the faith, and by bringing under the yoke of Divine obedience those magnificent gifts and talents which he had hitherto so grievously misused. So unerring was her tact and so well-judged her words that each syllable fell like a seed of corn into his heart—a heart which hitherto had been a dreary waste of schism, atheism, and unsatisfied longing—there to be watered and cherished by her covert teaching and open example, until she was rewarded by a full harvest of rich, ripe grain.

Clement Brentano had had many a struggle with his better self before his final separation from the Church, and even during the period of his greatest spiritual darkness had turned in his own mind despairingly towards the haven of salvation from the abyss of comfortless doubts and endless confusion into which he had plunged, saying, “Oh! if I had but some great mind which would attach itself to me, and lead me as a blind man into an atmosphere of God-like innocence and piety! for myself I cannot trust.” So now that he had reached the dreamt-of atmosphere of innocence and devotion, he yielded to its sway—he saw the profound earnestness of the sorrow-laden life of an innocent victim of penance side by side with the humble simplicity of a holy child, in whose person the majesty of the Church and the truth of her doctrine revealed themselves daily more and more clearly to his astonished eyes.

It was not her visions, it was not the charm of the supernatural intimacy in which Anne Catharine lived with God and His holy ones, which made so deep an impression upon the pilgrim, but the aspect of her divine piety and the perception of her perfect life, regulated by the principles of faith, which appeared to him in the light of a faithful mirror of the Church herself, until the deep emotion of his heart found vent a thousand times over in the exclamations: “Now I know what the Church is! Oh! how altogether new the world has become for me! What a thorough Christian the sufferer is indeed!”

The forlornness of Anne Catharine’s outward condition was a source of great grief to the pilgrim. A week after his arrival he writes, “the poor thing lives in a state of the greatest discomfort, without any of those womanly attentions she so keenly needs. Her sister is extremely ill tempered and uncouth, and as she is utterly ignorant, the poor invalid has to help her in all household work. Yet she never complains.

“One day I found her surrounded by a mass of wet linen, which so weighed down the bedclothes that she could not move. All this damp, steaming linen she had to fold and sort with her wounded hands, until they were blue and stiff with cold. And this is how she often works for days together, and should she fall the while into a happy vision, or make an ecstatic movement, she is roughly shaken and bidden to be quiet by her unnatural sister, as though she were a naughty child.

“The whole life of this pathetic being is rendered an unceasing martyrdom by perpetual physical and mystical sufferings, to which is added the torture of a constant influx of inquisitive importunate visitors. Nevertheless she greets every one cordially, and in all circumstances adores the Divine will, which ordains these trials for her greater humiliation and sanctification. Her miserable bed is as uncomfortably arranged as possible, but she is always cheerful and contented. She who once lived amongst the beauties of nature cannot catch so much as one glimpse of sky, nor even see the tops of the trees from the window of her room, but she never complains, and lies smiling on her couch of pain conversing with the angels and the saints the livelong day.

“One of the most wonderful things about her is the effect of the priestly blessing. If she is in ecstacy, and the consecrated fingers approach, she raises her head and follows them, till when they withdraw she sinks back into her original posture. This is the case with all priests. And oh! how touching is her obedience. When the time comes for her bed to be made, her confessor, by her sister’s request, bids her awake (if she is in ecstacy), and at the sound of his voice she quivers, rubs her eyes, and raises herself with an anxious, scared look which goes to my heart. It seems so sad to drag a poor, helpless, suffering creature thus ruthlessly from the bright happy world in which her spirit is dwelling back to the miseries of her own wretched existence!”

The depth of Anne Catharine’s humility was often incomprehensible to him, especially with regard to her sister’s treatment of her, and many and many were the arguments and persuasions Brentano used to induce her to throw off the additional burden of so clumsy and unkind an attendant, and replace her by a suitable nurse. But no; Anne Catharine would never hear of giving pain to a fellow-creature, and weeping because she could not accede to his request, she declined to bid Gertrude leave her.

Another day he was again convinced of the effect of the Church’s blessing upon her, by happening to be in the room when she was rapt in a vision. Suddenly she began to cough violently without awaking; he asked if she would drink, but she shook her head and said blessed water she must have, or she should die. He hurried in quest of her confessor, who blessed some fresh water and took it to her, of which she drank willingly and said, “Now I am refreshed.” Often when he tried to give her some drink which should mitigate her sufferings when consumed with fever, she would smilingly say, “Ah, why are not you a priest?”

More and more circumstances conspired to induce Clement Brentano to tarry on in Dulmen. He felt that here, and here alone he had a home; that here was a task for him to fulfil, an object for which he must devote his life, a treasure of graces which depended upon himself to gather and employ for the salvation of his own soul and the greater glorification of God. Sailer and Brentano’s brother arrived in Dulmen as proposed, and proceeded on their journey without Clement, who promised to join them on their return to Berlin, but when the time came he could not bring himself to leave the atmosphere of childlike innocence, peace, wisdom, and heavenly truth which he had found in the vicinity of the poor unlettered peasant woman, and return to the cold, delusive, and unsatisfactory life in which he had spent his youth, energies, and talents, for forty long, barren years.

His presence, although desired by Anne Catharine, was in one respect far from being an uninterrupted comfort to her. The arrival of so brilliant a mind into this humble circle, so widely different from that to which the poet and pet of Berlin society had been accustomed, was naturally calculated to produce discord, which discord was fomented by the ardent, fiery and jealous spirit of Brentano, who knew not the meaning of the words patience and self-control, and considered every moment as lost which was not spent by Anne Catharine in their mutual work, namely, the recital of her visions, and who, upon interruptions on the part of sick people who came for help, mourners who came for consolation, and of other claimants of her bounties, would break forth into violent outbursts of anger, and bitter expressions of ill-will, which it required all Anne Catharine’s tact and patience to soothe.

According to his way of thinking, the physician ought never to address his patient, beyond enquiring after her health, the confessor never to hold conversations with her on spiritual subjects, Abbé Lambert never to seek sympathy with the ailments of a failing old age, in order that the thread of her relations might never be interrupted, and her ear given to the pilgrim alone.

Anne Catharine’s patience was thus often sorely tried, and her strength of spirit tested in restoring a perpetually interrupted peace to these ill-assorted elements of her home; until finally she could think of no other method of enforcing self-conquest upon Brentano than by persuading him to a temporary separation.

By dint of reiterated entreaties and promises of a hearty welcome on his return, she induced him to leave in the January of 1819, and did not allow him to return until the end of May, when, although four months had elapsed, which he had spent in earnest endeavours to control the selfish impetuosity of his nature, it was still a considerable time before he attained that peace and freedom of spirit requisite for the fulfilment of the great mission marked out for him by Almighty God.

Gladly would Fr. Limberg, Abbé Lambert, and Wesener, have parted for ever from the pilgrim, for now that he had left them awhile in peace, they felt more keenly than ever what discomfort and suffering his presence had caused to all, and what pain and weariness his inconsiderate questionings and pertinacious thirst for knowledge had occasioned the invalid. They knew that a repetition of the same trial was inevitable, and only Anne Catharine’s solemn assurance that her earthly task could not be completed without his assistance, succeeded in inducing either of the three to give his consent to his re-entering the house.

Moreover other circumstances had arisen to increase their anxiety by pointing to the possibility of a renewal of the torture of a public examination. Not only was the pilgrim the object of the attention of the whole of Munster, but also on account of the ruthless freedom of his tongue, an object of popular animosity and suspicion. His keen insight into the weaknesses and failings of others, the unmerciful manner in which his biting sarcasm or sense of the ridiculous, laid bare the defects of his neighbours, made him an object of dread to all, whilst, to the staid, humdrum little town of Dulmen his whole person presented so enigmatical and unusual an appearance, that conjecture and gossip were alike rife as to what possible motive could occasion his confidential relations with Anne Catharine, and only his compassion towards the poor, his piety, and the rare simplicity of his way of life, held in check the tongue of scandal.

Therefore it was not quite without reason that Anne Catharine’s little band of friends dreaded a fresh interrogation, since through Brentano himself the news had spread throughout Munster, that a change was visible in the stigmata.

When this intelligence and other idle stories reached the ears of the Vicar-General Droste, he had considered it incumbent upon him to pay the invalid a visit in order to make a personal observation of her state. But a short half-hour’s conversation with Anne Catharine and the contact with her child-like, unsuspecting candour, sufficed to convince him of the idleness of the reports he had heard, and to reinstate the invalid in the high opinion and veneration he had ever felt for her since his former investigation of her case.

Thus stood matters when the news came of the Pilgrim’s intended return. Fr. Limberg declined to give any opinion as to the course to be pursued, whilst the Abbé Lambert and Wesener declared hotly that his re-admittance was impossible. Anne Catharine finding it impossible to pacify them, applied to her sole human stay, Overberg, and besought him to make those around her comprehend why and wherefore it was not in her power to forbid Clement Brentano the house. The consequence of his mediation was that when the Pilgrim arrived at Dulmen in the course of May, he received a cordial reception from all, whilst Anne Catharine spared no pains to remove every symptom of ill-will which might lurk in the heart of any of her household, and peace was once more established.

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