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The Life Of Anne Catherine Emmerich

THE year 1820 opened with fresh sufferings for Anne Catharine. In the month of February she lost her kind old friend, Abbé Lambert, and at the same time received an intimation from Clement Brentano’s brother that a new dwelling had been procured for her, where she would be safe from intrusion—the truth being that Brentano’s jealousy of the smallest interruption to the recital of her visions, had risen to such an height, that the presence of Anne Catharine’s few friends had become an intolerable burthen to him, which burthen he had determined to remove.

His behaviour to Anne Catharine herself was now unfeeling in the extreme, for in the excitement of transcribing the narratives as they fell from her lips, he knew no mercy or consideration for her sufferings. When spasms of pain contracted her limbs, when violent fits of coughing attacked her, accompanied by copious spitting of blood, which rendered articulation next to impossible, and the tears streamed down her cheeks, her bitterest enemy could not have treated her with greater rigour than did Brentano. Question followed question; bitter reproaches and complaints greeted every symptom of pain the sufferer displayed, whilst he fell upon her every word as a prey, of which he openly said he dreaded that death should rob him, putting her poor agonizing body entirely out of the question.

In spite of her perfect patience and submission, the poor invalid would sometimes long for death to come and free her from her tormentor, whose very faults recoiled upon himself by the additional attacks of illness which she took upon herself in expiation for his impatience, but she had a great task to fulfil, and was told that strength should be given her until it was ended, and that was the narrative of the Life of Jesus Christ upon earth, which took up a period of about seven years; and therefore she bore her sorrows calmly on, as she had borne those of her lifelong, waiting patiently till God, in His own good time, should see fit to release her from the weary burden of her life.

Whilst Anne Catharine was hesitating, in the goodness of her heart, whether she should obey Brentano’s arbitrary plans on her behalf, or accept an offer of a home which was made to her, on the news of the Abbé Lambert’s death, by a noble family to whom she was personally known and beloved, a carriage drew up one evening before the door of her apartment, in which Clement told her she was to be removed to the dwelling he and his brother had hired. Great was the dismay of those with the sick woman, who all considered that a shameful advantage was being taken of the poor sufferer’s helplessness, and who all entirely declined to co-operate in her removal.

However, finally, Brentano had his way, and in the night of the 7th August Anne Catharine, senseless and unconscious, was once more conveyed across the little town to a dark, gloomy little apartment on a ground floor, almost as much a prisoner as when carried by force some years before to her three weeks’ captivity in the house of Counsellor Mersmann.

Senseless, and to all outward appearance lifeless as she was, on passing before the door of the parish church, she raised herself and bowed down in lowly reverence before the most Blessed Sacrament.

And now, even when Clement’s every wish seemed to be fulfilled, he broke out afresh into unreasonable complaints against her increasing illnesses, and the impossibility of enforcing her total seclusion. And so it continued until her death! Hard heartedness and reproof from those who should have shown her most sympathy and compassion; intervals of rest, interspersed between public insult or private interference, and sickness succeeding sickness, amidst which the hardness of her task in relating the “Life of Jesus Christ,” with Clement transcribing by her bedside, may be more easily imagined than described.

In these sicknesses she had every symptom of consumption, profuse perspiration, severe cough, high fever, and expectoration of blood, accompanied by acute pains in the pit of the stomach, which were supposed to be gout, and by cramp in the intestines, to which was added unvarying pain from the stigmata, whence blood flowed copiously at frequent intervals. Her body became so attenuated that every bone could be counted beneath the skin, and in many places grievous wounds were occasioned, which prevented the poor skeleton-like frame from finding ease in any posture whatever. Amid such sufferings her tranquillity of soul grew and increased day by day until the end, and she derived new strength to endure each time that the Blessed Sacrament was brought to her.

Occasionally she was given relief by the application of some consecrated oil to the parts affected, but whatever agonies she might endure, her patience equalled her pain. If an involuntary moan were wrung from her lips, it was instantaneously succeeded by expressions of love towards God, and by exclamations of how happy she was in suffering, and then she would pray for others who suffered yet more than herself. Sometimes in the midst of the terrible anguish, which even ecstasies did not appear to interrupt, she would lift herself up upon her bed, and render fervent acts of thanksgiving to God, and one day, turning to those by her side, she rapturously exclaimed, “Oh! how good God is! How marvellously he has sustained me; sometimes He sends me a holy martyr; sometimes a saint; who bring me sweet flowers or fragrant herbs, which calm my pain or infuse new strength into me for fresh sufferings. I see these divine medicines so distinctly, that I am often half fearful that my confessor may upset some of the precious vases which cover my bed.”

The year 1823 brought her an increase of all the spiritual labours of her former years. She was bidden to make up the Church’s accounts, and atone in her own person for all the negligences of the Church militant, and gather together the numerous graces which Christ had deposited for the requirements of each individual, and for the expiation of each sin, and which had been carelessly neglected or trodden under foot. Her Lord now demanded a strict account from His Church of these treasures, the misuse of which Anne Catharine saw would be visited by heavy affliction and temporal punishment.

Her task was, therefore, as it ever had been, to cast herself between the uplifted arm of God’s offended majesty and His offending creatures, and offer herself, her prayers, sighs, groans, and anguish, as a holocaust which should suffer the punishment which the guilt of others had deserved. Days and nights she spent in supplicating her Lord’s mercy, who at first appeared deaf to her cries, and rebuffed her. Still she persevered until her prayer, in its agony of fervour on behalf of her beloved Mother the Church, seemed to grow into a bold, yet humble dispute with God, and then at last her sacrifice was accepted.

With the beginning of Advent these heavy sorrows were in some degree soothed by peaceful visions, resembling those of her childhood, of the Blessed Virgin’s journey to Bethlehem, and her preparations for the birth of her Divine Son. This season of the Church’s year had always been one of sweet consolation to Anne Catharine, and she had usually forgotten all care in the delight of accompanying Our Lady and St. Joseph step by step as they went along, but this time she had fewer consolations and more fatigue.

Thus at the hour of Our Saviour’s birth, a moment which generally had been one of almost intoxicating joy to her, her weary spirit dragged itself painfully to the side of the Blessed Infant in the manger, and had no other present to bring Him but myrrh, no offering save His cross, under the weight of which she fell as though dying, at His feet. It seemed to her as though she were brought there to render up her last earthly account to God, and that she was thus offering herself in sacrifice for the last time for a multitude of physical and mental sufferers.

When she returned to the actual world, she was heard to murmur gently to herself, smiling as she did so: “The Child Jesus has brought me nothing this year but a cross and instruments of torture.”

As day now followed day she concentrated herself more and more in her sufferings, and spoke at rare intervals; the few words she let fall now and then, betokening that her mind was still following her Lord through the course of His earthly life.

With the new year she grew visibly worse, and about the 15th January she said: “The Child Jesus brought me great pain this Christmas, but He came again last night with a fresh load. I was once more beside His crib at Bethlehem; He was very feverish, and showed me His sufferings and those of His mother; they were all so poor that their only food was a small piece of stale bread. He then sent me fresh pains, saying: ‘Thou art Mine; thou art My betrothed; suffer as I have suffered, and ask not the reason why!’ I do not know what this new suffering will be, nor whether it will last long. I offer myself willingly to my martyrdom; whether I live or whether I die I desire that the hidden will of God be accomplished within me. As for the rest, I have many a consolation amidst my pains. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Week after week passed, and Anne Catharine’s long agony continued; her sufferings continued to increase, if increase could be possible in so pitiable a state: propped up in her bed, she would sway from side to side in her anguish, stifled groans escaping her blanched lips: did anyone attempt to lay her down, she was threatened with immediate suffocation; her breathing was laboured, whilst every muscle and nerve quivered and contracted with pain. Violent retchings racked her frame, her throat was swollen and burning, her mouth parched, her cheeks hectic with fever, her pulse throbbing at the rate of 180 a minute, and the marks of the sacred stigmata glistening like silver beneath the distended skin.

On the 27th January it was deemed necessary to administer Extreme Unction, which she received with deep gratitude and full consciousness. After this she grew somewhat calmer, and the following morning was able to receive Holy Communion with her accustomed fervour of devotion.

February arrived, and Anne Catharine still lingered; she lay now to outward appearances in a state of semiconsciousness, save when some fresh paroxysm of pain would draw from her a faintly uttered expression of thankfulness, such as “Ah! Lord Jesus, I thank thee a thousand, thousand times,” or, “My Jesus, I live and die for Thee alone.” Once, when her friends were striving to give her ease by changing the position of her pillows, she begged them not to move her, saying, “I am upon the Cross; leave me alone; it will soon be over.”

Although she had received the last Sacraments, she was still anxious about a fault committed in her childhood, and Fr. Limberg therefore gave her a general absolution, and recited the prayers for the dying; at this moment her sister Gertrude came forward and besought her much injured sister’s forgiveness, when Anne Catharine looked at her with a blank stare of astonishment, saying, with grave earnestness, “There is not a creature upon this earth whom I have not forgiven.”

After this she took an affectionate farewell of her Confessor and relapsed into silence, whispering occasionally, “Come soon, oh! come Lord Jesus!” whilst her breathing grew shorter and more laboured, and a look of heavenly peace and solemnity settled upon her face.

As she lay thus, some of her friends who were watching in the ante-room, fancying that she could no longer hear their voices, began to speak of her wonderful patience and other virtues, when the dying woman moved uneasily upon her pillows, and exclaimed, “Oh! for the love of God, do not praise me; you know not that for every word you say I am detained longer here! I cannot die whilst, so many good people think well of me, miserable sinner that I am. Ah! would that I could cry out in the streets what an unworthy wretch I am! Ah! Lord Jesus, tell them that I am far below the good thief on the cross, who never had the graces I have received! I must pay for these praises by uniting new sufferings with those of Jesus. Ah! Lord, here they are coming, for I see new flowers falling upon me!” (Flowers had always been the precursors of suffering with her.)

About six o’clock in the evening the Pilgrim entered the room, and together with Gertrude and a few other friends knelt in prayer by her bedside, waiting for the end. Graver and more serene grew Anne Catharine’s countenance as she lay propped up on her little wicker bedstead, her eyes riveted upon a crucifix, which Dr. Limberg held before her. Then one of the thin, wan hands was slowly withdrawn from under the coverlid, as though seeking something, when the priest placed a lighted taper in her hand and gave her the crucifix to kiss. Faithful to her deep humility, upon the feet alone did she press her lips.

Again she was heard to speak: “Now I am so peaceful,” she murmured, “I feel a confidence as though I had never committed a sin!” She kissed the crucifix once again, most lovingly, gently sighing, “Oh! help me, help me, Lord Jesus,” sank slowly upon her left side, bowed her head upon her breast, and the pure beautiful soul left this sorrow-laden, sin-stained world, to join (as we may venture to believe) that blessed company of virgins who follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.

This was at about eight o’clock in the evening of February 9th, 1824.

When the little bell used by the Religious of Anne Catharine’s Convent to proclaim the decease of one of their number was rung by Fr. Limberg, Clement Brentano rose from his knees and approached the bedside. For the last time he took in his own the hand of his faithful, long-suffering friend, that marvellous right hand marked with the sign of the world’s redemption, upon which the Giver of all good things had bestowed the unparalleled favour of recognizing all that was holy and all that which the Church had blessed. It was quite cold, quite lifeless, that instrument of helpfulness and mercy and charity, which had fed so many hungry, and clothed so many naked. A mighty channel of grace had been withdrawn from the earth, a living suffering witness to God’s mighty power.

The dead face was sublime in its calm majestic repose; every line and feature bore the impress of Anne Catharine’s deep love of her crucified Lord, and touchingly pourtrayed the spirit of patience, resignation, and self-sacrifice, which had been her’s in life and in death. As Brentano beautifully expressed it, “she looked as though she had died for the love of Jesus Christ in the act of performing some work of mercy for souls.”

Fr. Limberg and Dr. Wesener faithfully fulfilled Anne Catharine’s dying charge, that her body should be buried untouched, so that in death at least she might be spared the exposure which had been her torture when living. On Friday the 13th she was borne to her grave, followed by the entire population of Dulmen.

About six or seven weeks after her death, a rumour having got afloat that the body had been secretly withdrawn from its tomb, the coffin was ordered to be privately opened in the presence of seven witnesses, when with a surprise mingled with joy, the latter beheld the sweet serene countenance of the saintly nun upturned to their gaze, unchanged as when she breathed forth her last sigh, save that it had grown far more beautiful than at the moment of death. All traces of care and suffering were smoothed away, and a faint rosy colour tinged the cheeks and the marks of the sacred wounds; the whole expression was that of a person smiling in the midst of a peaceful, happy dream. Upon the coffin was now placed a little plate, containing her name and the date of her death, and then the grave was re-blessed, and all that remained upon earth of the God-favoured, gifted peasant girl, was lowered into a humble nook of the parish churchyard, and the spot marked by the usual simple cross, a rose bush, and a few other flowers, planted by some loving hand.

Before closing this life of Anne Catharine Emmerich, a few words remain to be said on the subject of her works, by which term we mean those visions and meditations which were transcribed at her bedside by Clement Brentano, and which have already been laid before the public in German, French, or English.

These consist of “The Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ on Earth,” of which the well known “Dolorous Passion “is the conclusion; the “Life of the Blessed Virgin,” and a number of more or less fragmentary narratives concerning the Church in each succeeding era, the holy angels, saints, and stigmatized persons, especially Sts. Agnes, Paula, Agatha, Dorothea, Mary Magdalen of Pazzi, Benedict, Scholastica, Walburga, Thomas of Aquino, Augustine, Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal, and many martyrs. Anne Catharine herself attached no historical value to these narrations,—she simply related that which had been shown to her, in obedience to distinct commands laid upon her by her angel at different periods of her life. Speaking one day, when in ecstasy, upon the subject, she said:—

“I know that I should have died many years ago, if it had not been necessary for me to relate all that God had in His mercy shown me touching the Old and New Testaments and the lives of the Saints, for the benefit of others. When I come to the last word of the Life of our Lord, I shall be released from this weary body. Also, so soon as the pilgrim shall have put all which he has written in order, he will die too. One night when I was grieving because I saw so many things which I was too ignorant to comprehend, my Betrothed said to me that these visions were not given to me for myself, but they were sent that I might have them written down and distributed to all the world. That now was not the time for exterior miracles, and that He gave these visions in order to show that He will be with His Church to the end of all ages. He told me, too, that no matter how I suffered, no matter if I were even jeered and mocked at, I must tell all that I beheld, that this was not my affair, but that of the Church.”

Anne Catharine generally gave her narratives in her native dialect, Westphalian. Whilst she spoke Brentano noted down the principal points upon paper, completing his task afterwards from memory, and then he brought the transcription to Anne Catharine to be revised, corrected, and completed according to her directions, cancelling every syllable which she did not recognize as in perfect accordance with her own visions.

An objection has been urged by some persons in later years against the veracity of Brentano’s edition of these recitals, on the score that as he was a poet, the temptation to add something of his own elegance of language and rich imaginary genius might have induced him to give to the simple narrations of the lowly-born Religious a gloss and fulness of detail which were not their own. To this we can but reply, in the words of Mons. de Cazalés, in his preface to the translation of the Dolorous Passion, that “a sufficient guarantee of Clement Brentano’s good faith is offered by the facts of his devoting his life to a task which he held as sacred, for which he prepared himself by various exercises of piety, and in which he steadily persevered for years, entirely retired from the world, in spite of the railleries which his voluntary assumption of the post of secretary to a ‘poor visionary,’ earned for him in those brilliant literary circles where he had hitherto met with naught but homage and adulation.”

After Brentano’s death his own works were published by his surviving relatives. They plainly testify to what a height of literary renown he might have climbed had he not voluntarily renounced his title to fame by consecrating his last years to arranging and publishing these notes written by the bedside of the suffering ecstatic. This complete disinterestedness with regard to his own reputation is, it appears to us, as clear a testimony in favour of his sincerity as could be desired.

Other proofs may be found in the frequent blanks, obscure passages, repetitions, and even contradictions which we sometimes encounter in Anne Catharine’s narrations, and which are sufficiently accounted for by the cruel sufferings and incessant interruptions which intermitted these confidences, and by the difficulty she often experienced in clothing in ordinary language that which had been shown her under the “light of ecstasy,” together with her oft-felt perplexity as to whether her words were thoroughly understood by the faithful transcriber.

That she herself was satisfied with Clement’s work is plainly proved by the fact that one day, after lamenting that so many precious revelations of various saints who had been shown visions very similar to her own—especially those of St. Hildegarde, St. Frances of Rome, St. Veronica Giuliani, and the Venerable Mary of Jesus—had been either partially lost or else distorted and changed by the carelessness and incapacity of those to whom the charge of publishing their writings had been left, Brentano happened to hold before her eyes as she lay apparently unconscious (the room was badly lit at the time) a page of his manuscript, when she eagerly exclaimed: “That paper is covered with shining characters. They have been written by the man whom I saw last night seated writing near that other person whose heart is torn and wounded, and who was telling him many things. The letters are bright and radiant with light. The Pilgrim has not done it, but it is the grace of God! Oh! I cannot explain how it is. No one else could write as he does.” The fact of the letters appearing to Anne Catharine as bright and shining was doubtless owing to the same gift by which she discerned relics and other holy things by a light hovering over or round them, as was sometimes the case with her own stigmata.

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