Anne Catherine Emmerich
Augustinian nun, stigmatic, and ecstatic, b. September 8, 1774, d. February 9, 1824
Emmerich, ANNE CATHERINE, an Augustinian nun, stigmatic, and ecstatic, b. September 8, 1774, at Flamsche, near Coesfeld, in the Diocese of Münster, Westphalia, Germany; d. at Dülmen, February 9, 1824. Her parents, both peasants, were very poor and pious. At twelve she was bound out to a farmer, and later was a seamstress for several years. Very delicate all the time, she was sent to study music, but finding the organist’s family very poor she gave them the little she had saved to enter a convent, and actually waited on them as a servant for several years. Moreover, she was at times so pressed for something to eat that her mother brought her bread at intervals, parts of which went to her master’s family. In her twenty-eight, year (1802) she entered the Augustinian convent at Agnetenberg, Dülmen. Here she was content to be regarded as the lowest in the house. Her zeal, however, disturbed the tepid sisters, who were puzzled and annoyed at her strange powers and her weak health, and notwithstanding her ecstasies in church, cell, or at work, treated her with some antipathy. Despite her excessive frailty, she discharged her duties cheerfully and faithfully. When Jerome Bonaparte closed the convent in 1812 she was compelled to find refuge in a poor widow’s house. In 1813 she became bedridden. She foresaw the downfall of Napoleon twelve years in advance, and counselled in a mysterious way the successor of St. Peter. Even in her childhood the supernatural was so ordinary to her that in her innocent ignorance she thought all other children enjoyed the same favors as she herself did, i.e. to converse familiarly with the Child Jesus, etc. She displayed a marvellous knowledge when the sick and poor came to the “bright little sister” seeking aid; she knew their diseases and prescribed remedies that did not fail. By nature she was quick and lively and easily moved to great sympathy by the sight of the sufferings of others. This feeling passed into her spiritual being with the result that she prayed and suffered much for the souls of Purgatory whom she often saw, and for the salvation of sinners whose miseries were known to her even when far away. Soon after she was confined to bed (1813) the stigmata came externally, even to the marks of the thorns. All this she unsuccessfully tried to conceal as she had concealed the crosses impressed upon her breast.
Then followed what she dreaded on account of its publicity, an episcopal commission to inquire into her life and the reality of these wonderful signs. The examination was very strict, as the utmost care was necessary to furnish no pretext for ridicule and insult on the part of the enemies of the Church. The vicar-general, the famous Overberg, and three physicians conducted the investigation with scrupulous care and became convinced of the sanctity of the “pious Begnine”, as she was called, and the genuineness of her stigmata. At the end of 1818 God granted partially her earnest prayer to he relieved of the stigmata, and the wounds in her hands and feet closed, but the others remained, and on Good Friday were all wont to reopen. In 1819 the government sent a committee of investigation which discharged its commission most brutally. Sick unto death as she was, she was forcibly removed to a large room in another house and kept under the strictest surveillance day and night for three weeks, away from all her friends except her confessor. She was insulted, threatened, and even flattered, but in vain. The commission departed without finding anything suspicious, and remained silent until its president, taunted about his reticence, declared that there was fraud, to which the obvious reply was: In what respect? and why delay in publishing it? About this time Klemens Brentano, the famous poet, was induced to visit her; to his great amazement she recognized him, and told him he had been pointed out to her as the man who was to enable her to fulfil God‘s command, namely, to write down for the good of innumerable souls the revelations made to her. He took down briefly in writing the main points, and, as she spoke the Westphalian dialect, he immediately rewrote them in ordinary German. He would read what he wrote to her, and change and efface until she gave her complete approval. Like so many others, he was won by her evident purity, her exceeding humility and patience under sufferings indescribable. With Overberg, Sailer of Ratisbon, Clement Augustus of Cologne, Stolberg, Louisa Hensel, etc. he reverenced her as a chosen bride of Christ.
In 1833 appeared the first-fruits of Brentano’s toil, “The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the Meditations of Anne Catherine Emmerich” (Sulzbach). Brentano prepared for publication “The Life of The Blessed Virgin Mary”, but this appeared at Munich only in 1852. From the MS. of Brentano Father Schmoeger published in three volumes “The Life of Our Lord” (Ratisbon, 1858-80), and in 1881 a large illustrated edition of the same. The latter also wrote her life in two volumes (Freiburg, 1867-70, new edition, 1884). Her visions go into details, often slight, which give them a vividness that strongly holds the reader’s interest as one graphic scene follows another in rapid succession as if visible to the physical eye. Other mystics are more concerned with ideas, she with events; others stop to meditate aloud and to guide the reader’s thoughts, she lets the facts speak for themselves with the simplicity, brevity, and security of a Gospel narrative. Her treatment of that difficult subject, the twofold nature of Christ, is admirable. His humanity stands outclear and distinct, but through it shines always a gleam of the Divine. The rapid and silent spread of her works through Germany, France, Italy, and elsewhere speaks well for their merit. Strangely enough they produced no controversy. Dom Gueranger extolls their merits in the highest terms (Le Monde, April 15, 1860).
Sister Emmerich lived during one of the saddest and least glorious periods of the Church‘s history, when revolution triumphed, impiety flourished, and several of the fairest provinces of its domain were overrun by infidels and cast into such ruinous confusion that the Faith seemed about to be completely extinguished. Her mission in part seems to have been by her prayers and sufferings to aid in restoring Church discipline, especially in Westphalia, and at the same time to strengthen at least the little ones of the flock in their belief. Besides all this she saved many souls and recalled to the Christian world that the supernatural is around about it to a degree sometimes forgotten. A rumor that the body was stolen caused her grave to be opened six weeks after her death. The body was found fresh, without any sign of corruption. In 1892 the process of her beatification was introduced by the Bishop of Münster.
E. P. GRAHAM