Thrust Into The Limelight, Revelations Of German Mystic Commanding Attention
by Michael H. Brown
We continue to be intrigued by Anne Catherine Emmerich, the 19-century mystic who's suddenly very much on the scene (headed for beatification and said to have been an influence on a new Mel Gibson movie about Christ's Passion). More than that, we're fascinated in learning the astounding fact that Emmerich's visions led Church investigators to discovery of the home in Ephesus, Turkey, where the Virgin Mary is said to have lived with St. John -- and where she may even have been assumed into Heaven.
Let's stay for a moment on the movie: This has ignited controversy with Jewish groups who claim it portrays Jews as especially cruel players in the Crucifixion. "Mr. Gibson also set off alarms among the scholars when reports quoted him as saying his script had drawn on the diaries of Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich, a 19th-century mystic whose visions included extrabiblical details like having the Jewish high priest order that Jesus' cross be built in the Jewish temple," said The New York Times last Saturday.
A Jesuit priest working with Gibson, Father William Fulco, professor of ancient Mediterranean studies at Loyola Marymount University who translated the film's screenplay into Aramaic, insists that The Passion is consistent with current Catholic teachings and that while the writer of the script's original draft drew on Venerable Emmerich, neither she nor another mystic mentioned in line with the project, Maria of Agreda — whom he says he had never even heard mentioned in relation to the project — is an important source for the film. "Whether some of [Emmerich's] ideas worked in there or not I'm not sure," he said. "I rather doubt it."
These statements have come in the wake of the Jewish controversy, of course, and we are really more impressed with the fact that Emmerich's revelations on the life of Mary, as portrayed in a diary of her visions called The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, caused skeptical scholars to search a specific part of Ephesus on Nightingale Mountain where the specific ruins stunningly matched what the sickly mystic had "seen" from her bed 1,000 miles away. In effect Venerable Emmerich discovered an archeological treasure that virtually all visitors (including two popes) now describe as a source of great grace!
As we will be noting in the days ahead, Emmerich -- such a hot button because of her beatification (and now the movie) -- had other astonishing things to say about Jesus, the Blessed Mother, and how and where they lived. Some of it just leaps out from the pages. Can we believe it all? With mystics, there is often a mix -- and we'd be surprised if this wasn't the case with Emmerich. I once discussed such matters with a scholarly priest, Father Benedict Groeschel, who wrote a book (A Still, Small Voice) that points out the pitfalls of mysticism (and how certain revelations from one mystic -- or even a canonized saint -- can conflict with those of another).
This I had seen years before in a monograph published by the great expert of mystical theology, Father Augustin Poulain, who recommended interesting guidelines for discernment. Poulain noted that descriptions of Mary's death, especially the time, varied from mystic to mystic. St. Bridget had it as occurring 14 years after the Crucifixion, while Emmerich said it was 13 and Maria of Agreda (who we will be exploring soon) said that Mary and was assumed into Heaven died 21 years after Jesus.
Emmerich herself warned of this. She often hesitated to offer dates (a notorious stumbling block for mystics), and according to Clemens Brentano, who collected her writings and put them in cohesive form, "she herself never attached to her visions anything more than a human and defective value, and therefore yielded to an inner admonition to communicate them only in obedience to the repeated commands of her spiritual directors and after a hard struggle with herself." Brentano himself associated the writings with the countless other representations of the Passion by artists and pious writers -- describing them simply as a nun's "Lenten meditations imperfectly comprehended."
This was not a seer yearning for the limelight. Emmerich virtually never left her sickbed -- where she suffered the stigmata -- but without question had a gift of spiritual sight that, though imperfect (as anything humanly-filtered is imperfect), lent tremendous and sometimes startlingly literal insights into the lives of Jesus and Mary.
Her diary was begun in January of 1820 and contained a variety of visions with descriptions that are tremendously detailed. Although Emmerich cautioned that her visions should not be taken as historical truth, and while there are obvious points at which there are human elements, there is also a breathtaking ability to convey the feeling of what life was like for Mary and Jesus.
In point of fact, Emmerich was beyond most pious writers -- and many of her visions were far more than simple meditations. Noted one publisher, "most of her intricate genealogical statements [on the Blessed Mother's family], so remarkably consistent throughout, find no parallels in the apocryphal literature."
Indeed, the details are often mesmerizing.
What did the mystic have to say about the Blessed Mother's ancestors? And about the Virgin's mother? How did they live and pray? Did they too experience revelations?
And what about Mary's own birth?
We'll look at that next.
[Resources: The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary (in the SpiritDaily bookstore]
Mystic Described 'Ancestors' Of Blessed Mary And Signs Preceding Her Holy Birth
By Michael H. Brown
Famed seer the Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich -- soon to be beatified by the Vatican -- kept a diary of visions purporting to describe the Virgin Mary's ancestry as well as her birth and life. The visions, recorded by poet Clemens Brentano in a volume entitled The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, (in our bookstore), provide dramatic detail to which we are paying particular attention after learning that a section of the same book accurately depicted a house where Mary lived in Ephesus, Turkey -- and led to its actual discovery in 1891.
Emmerich, whose visions of the Crucifixion are said to have influenced an upcoming movie directed by Hollywood mega-star Mel Gibson, warned that her visions were not to be taken as "historical truth" -- but went on to provide stunning detail about the Blessed Mother's ancestry, the alleged signs that foreran her birth, and her entrance into the world.
"They themselves, I saw, were so quiet, gentle and kindly, that I often said to myself in great anxiety about them: 'Oh where can these good people find a refuge?'" the mystic said -- speaking of the Blessed Mother's forbearers. "I must have seen them back to the fourth or fifth generation. I saw them always as wonderfully pious and simple people inspired by a quite extraordinary secret longing for the coming of the promised Messiah. I saw them always living amongst other men who, compared to them, seemed to me rough and barbarous.
"I always saw these people leading a life of great self-denial," added the mystic. "I often saw that those among them who were married bound themselves mutually to observe continence for a time; and this gave me much joy. They practiced these separations chiefly when they were occupied with all kinds of religious ceremonies.
"From these I perceived that there were priests among them. I often saw them moving from one place to another, leaving large homesteads and retiring to smaller ones, in order to lead their lives undisturbed by wicked people. They were so devout and so full of longing towards God that I often saw them, alone in the field by day and by night too, running about and crying to God with such intense desire that, in the hunger of their hearts, they tore open their garments at their breasts, as if God were about to burn Himself into their hearts..."
Were these really the ancestors of the Blessed Mother? Was this the kind of devotion that paved the course?
It is an intense portrayal of piety, a setting that one might indeed expect to precede the holiest woman in history. But the detail is extraordinary. Emmerich claimed Mary's ancestors lived near Mount Horeb -- the holy mountain of Exodus -- and also Mount Carmel, where a small prophetic cloud had once appeared to Elijah -- a cloud that Emmerich claimed bore a symbolic image of the woman who would arrive centuries later, born to a people called the "Essenes" or "Essaees."
"The real Essenes were specially concerned with prophetic matters, and their head on Mount Horeb often vouchsafed divine revelations in the cave of Elias respecting the coming of the Messiah," maintained Emmerich. According to the mystic, the ancestors on the side of St. Anne, Mary's mother, fought strenuously against sexual impurity and their prophets were said to have knowledge "of the secret mysteries of the Ark of the Covenant."
"I saw that, in general, they employed themselves in healing," wrote Emmerich. "I saw, too, that the Essenes healed the sick by the laying-on of hands, or by stretching themselves on them with arms extended."
Emmerich described what may have been a precursor to the roses so often associated with the Virgin Mary. According to the mystic, a prophet entering the cave of Elijah saw from under the heart St. Anne's grandmother -- known phonetically as Emorun (or "noble woman") -- "a rose tree with three branches, with a rose on each of them. The rose on the second branch was marked with a letter, I think an 'M.' He saw still more. An angel wrote letters on the wall; I saw Archos rise up as if awaking and read these letters. I forget the details. He then went down from the cave and announced to the maiden who was awaiting his answer that she was to marry and that her sixth suitor was to be her husband. She would bear a child, marked with a sign, who was chosen out of a vessel of election in preparation for the coming of the Savior."
According to Emmerich, St. Anne was born in Bethlehem to a woman named Ismeria (not Emerentia, as has been often related in apocryphal literature). Supposedly, Ismeria married a man named Eliud and in the manner of Essenes lived near Nazareth. Their first child, claimed Emmerich, was a daughter named Sobe. If Emmerich's revelations are correct, Ismeria was then barren for an extended period, before she was granted a revelation one night: the appearance of an angel beside her bed "writing a letter on the wall. It seems to me that it was again the letter 'M.' Ismeria told her husband of it; he also had seen it in his sleep, but now, while awake, they both saw the sign on the wall."
Could all this be literally true? Did Emmerich envision the circumstances leading up to Mary's birth in the same way she accurately pictured the house in Ephesus?
According to the mystic, St. Anne went on to marry a poor man named Joachim and bore a daughter, but not the one, she felt, that had been promised. This caused both Anne and Joachim great distress, claimed Emmerich -- and they looked upon the prophecy's lack of fulfillment as a punishment from God. Emmerich took pains to describe their home in great detail -- from the partitions and rooms to the trelliswork. They too lived a life of continence and self-denial, according to the mystic -- leading up to a remarkable event in which St. Anne experienced the apparition of an angel.
This purportedly occurred in a courtyard where there was a tree resembling that in the Garden of Eden. "The Jews used these leaves specially for the Feast of the Tabernacles," said Emmerich, referring to the kind of plant she envisioned. "And lo, there appeared to [St. Anne] an Angel of God, he seemed to step down before her from the top of the tree, and spoke to her, telling her to be of good heart, for the Lord had heard her prayer."
That night, awakened from her sleep, Anne had a second vision of the angel, who, according to Emmerich, "told her she would conceive a holy child; stretching his hand over her, he wrote great shining letters on the wall which formed the name MARY. Thereupon the angel dissolved into light and disappeared."
It was the sign long awaited.
Joachim too received a visit and blessing from the angel, asserted Venerable Emmerich. "It was revealed to me that with this blessing Joachim received the highest fruit and fulfillment of Abraham's blessing, namely the blessing for the true Immaculate Conception of the most Holy Virgin who was to bruise to head of the serpent."
[Resources: The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ]
Did German Mystic Really 'See' Death Of Virgin And Her Assumption Into Heaven?
By Michael H. Brown
In addition to her revelations on the Passion, on the ancestry of Mary, and on the Virgin's home in Turkey -- which led investigators to the location -- German mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich also recorded alleged insights into the death and Assumption of the Blessed Mother.
We must point out that her revelations were "meditations" from which may be gleaned a general tenor of an event and certain details, but that as such they are far from historical truths -- a fact that Emmerich herself acknowledged. Nonetheless, her stunning accuracy in describing the house in Ephesus where Mary reputedly lived out her final days [see previous story] warrants a further look at other parts of her revelation, outlined in the book, The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary -- especially the way in which history's holiest woman died.
It was on August 13, 1822, that Emmerich -- who will soon be beatified -- said she had experienced a great vision of the Virgin's death the night before. That death, of which so little is known, occurred, maintained Emmerich, 14 years after the Crucifixion and after Mary had lived on Mount Zion, in Bethany, and finally for nine years just outside of Ephesus -- where she was also assumed into Heaven, according to Emmerich (whose revelations on Mary's house have been accepted by the Vatican).
"I suspect that the news of her death, burial place, and Assumption into Heaven was permitted by God to be indefinite and only a matter of tradition in order that Christianity in its early days should not be in danger of heathen influences then so powerful," said the mystic in pondering why there is so little actually known about Mary's death. "The Blessed Virgin might easily have been adored as a goddess."
Instead, Mary manifested as a force that led to the construction of Christ-centered altars, temples, and churches across Europe and Asia Minor after her death, which Emmerich describes in tremendous, almost mind-boggling detail.
How much is fact? How much is sheer meditation?
On the Blessed Mother's death: "I saw her lying on a low, very narrow couch in her sleeping alcove all hung with white, in the room behind and to the right of the hearth place," said Emmerich -- whose revelation on the hearth was confirmed when excavators found burnt residue at the site. "Her head rested on a round cushion. She was very weak and pale, and seemed as though completely consumed with yearning. Her head and whole figure were wrapped in a long cloth; she was covered by a brown woolen blanket. I saw several women, I think five, going into her room one after the other, and coming out again as though they were saying farewell to her."
Present also, claimed Emmerich, were the Apostles, who had been summoned from all parts of the region by means both natural and supernatural. Peter, Andrew, John, Thaddaeus, Batholomew, and Mathias were the first to arrive, "standing in prayer together on the right-hand side of the front part of the house."
Others, summoned by visions, arrived in the following days, holding prayer services and representations of what we now call the Mass, alleged Emmerich. In her last days, Mary -- who may have been 64 years of age -- was fed spoonfuls of liquid from a bowl. Intriguingly, she is said to have had a Cross on her couch that was shaped like the letter "Y" -- as Emmerich always envisioned the Cross.
Was 48 A.D. actually the year of Mary's death?
There is always controversy over such dates. Other mystics -- including at least one canonized saint -- have given different years for the Virgin's death, and if Mary was 18 at the time Jesus was born -- an age discerned from her reported age at death -- it appears to conflict with an earlier revelation in Emmerich's diaries that seemed to put Mary's age upon marriage at 14. "The matter is also confused by the historical problems of the date of the birth of Christ and the date of the Crucifixion and Ascension, and cannot be decided with any certainty," warned one of her editors.
But remarkable is the fact that Emmerich was shown numbers in Roman numerals -- which she was not familiar with. Equally remarkable is the vivid nature of her revelations, which reportedly have influenced an upcoming Mel Gibson movie and are so lucid one feels like an eyewitness to earth-shaking events.
What was the Virgin's death actually like?
"Her maidservant was in the utmost distress, throwing herself on her knees and praying with outstretched arms, sometimes in corners of the house and sometimes outside in front of it," asserted the German stigmatic -- who experienced her vision from a sickbed to which she was confined for 12 years. "The Blessed Virgin lay still and as though near death in her little cell. She was completely enveloped in a white sleeping coverlet, even her arms being wrapped in it. In the last days of her life I never saw her take any nourishment except now and then a spoonful of juice which her maidservant pressed from a bunch of yellow berries like grapes into a bowl near her couch.
"Towards evening the Blessed Virgin realized that her end was approaching and therefore signified her desire, in accordance with Jesus' Will, to bless and say farewell to the Apostles, disciples, and women who were present. Her sleeping cell was opened on all sides, and she sat upright on her couch, shining white as if suffused with light. The Blessed Virgin, after praying, blessed each one by laying her hands on their foreheads.
When the time came, said Venerable Emmerich, after a drawn-out process, "the Blessed Virgin lay back on her pillows pale and still. Her gaze directed intently upwards; she said no word to anyone and seemed in a state of perpetual ecstasy. She was radiant with longing; I could feel this longing, which was bearing her upwards -- ah, my heart was longing to ascend with hers to God!" Once more the Apostles stood around her bed, praying after celebration of the Eucharist. When the actual moment arrived, said Emmerich, Mary's eyes "were raised towards Heaven in holy joy. Then I saw a wonderfully moving vision. The ceiling of Our Lady's room disappeared, the lamp hung in the open air, and I saw through the sky into the heavenly Jerusalem. Two radiant clouds of light sank down, out of which appeared the faces of many angels. Between these clouds a path of light poured down upon Mary, and I saw a shining mountain leading up from her into the heavenly Jerusalem.
The Blessed Mother then "stretched out her arms towards it in infinite longing," said Emmerich, "and I saw her body, all wrapped up, rise so high above her couch that one could see right under it. I saw her soul leave her body like a little figure of infinitely pure light, souring with outstretched arms up the shining mountain to Heaven.
"The two angel choirs in the clouds met beneath her soul and separated it from her holy body, which in the moment of separation sank back on the couch with arms crossed on the breast.
"My gaze followed her soul and saw it enter the heavenly Jerusalem by that shining path and go up to the Throne of the Most Holy Trinity."
There were many souls to greet her, said Emmerich, and the Virgin's light was transcendent. She was buried in a tomb near the Ephesus house, a burial spot which Emmerich claimed was camouflaged by a spring the Apostles diverted toward the entrance.
Soon after came the Assumption, which the Church officially recognized in 1950.
"Those who were on their way home saw from the distance a strange radiance over Mary's tomb," stated Emmerich, in describing this event. "It was as if a shaft of light descended from Heaven towards the tomb, and in this shaft was a lovely form like the soul of the Blessed Virgin, accompanied by the form of Our Lord.
"Then the body of Our Lady, united to the shining soul, rose shining out of the grave and soared to Heaven with the figure of Our Lord."
[Resources: The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ]
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