Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Some Further Perspectives on Anne Catherine Emmerich

by Samuel Sinner


Samuel Sinner responds to a "Catholic Replies" in "The Wanderer" of January 11, 2001 concerning the Venerable Servant of God Anne Catherine Emmerich. He relates the facts concerning her cause currently in progress.

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The Wanderer



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Wanderer Printing Co., 201 Ohio Street, St. Paul, MN 55107, March 1, 2001

What follows is in response to a Catholic Replies in The Wanderer of January 11, 2001 concerning the Venerable Servant of God Anne Catherine Emmerich. Having read and studied Brentano's Emmerich writings in the original German as well as most of the 20th-century scientific literature on these, and also having translated some of the key ecclesiastical documents relating to Emmerich's current beatification case into English, several friends have asked me to relate the facts concerning her cause currently in progress.

In America there exists some misinformation in the press, but mostly ignorance and silence regarding Emmerich. This is almost always the case because the relevant developments are reported mostly in German. The facts of her case are as follows. At the urging of Blessed Pope Pius IX, who called her "the highly blessed virgin Emmerich," Fr. Theodor Wegener began working for the nun's cause. Finally on November 14, 1892, thanks also to the efforts of Fr. Pius Keller, whose own beatification process is now also underway, the first step in the beatification case began, the so-called informative process. This lasted until May 15, 1899, at which point 131 witnesses had testified in 70 sessions.

The case was prematurely halted, without explanation, by a reponatur issued by the Holy Office on November 30, 1928. This action was always considered odd, since not the Holy Office, but rather the Congregation of Rites had competence and jurisdiction over the case. Nevertheless, ecclesiastical authorities continued to endorse the publication of Brentano's works and to grant imprimaturs to new books sympathetic to Emmerich.

On January 31, 1973, the German Bishop Heinrich Tenhumberg petitioned the Congregation for Beatification to reopen Emmerich's cause. On May 18, 1973, Pope Paul VI approved the request. Contrary to the image implied by some journalists, the German bishops and the Augustinian Order did not "force" or "cajole" Paul VI into reopening the case. It is standard procedure for the local ecclesiastical authorities and the religious order connected to a candidate to take an active role in the beatification process.

On reopening the case, Paul VI finally made public the reasons for the 1928 reponatur: concerns about Emmerich's chastity and the Brentano writings. The Pope declared that the first factor no longer applied, since studies had shown that the charges against Emmerich's chastity were mere slanders. The only obstacle to be tackled now, according to the Pontiff, was Brentano's writings. That any of the Roman authorities had ever had a problem with the writings came as a great shock to theological experts, since for over a century they had been recommended by an unending list of holy priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, even by the now St. John Neumann.

On February 15, 1975, Emmerich's remains were transferred to Holy Cross Church in Dulmen. At this point, in March 1979, all the German bishops assembled at a conference collectively signed a petition to be sent to Pope John Paul II requesting his special attention in the matter of Emmerich's cause. Sixty-four bishops signed the document, which was sent to Rome on March 7, 1979, which included the basic biography of Emmerich as well as a historical sketch detailing her importance and significance for today's Church. The Holy Father was deeply moved and impressed by the document, as was the Congregation for Beatification. The influence of the document had a lasting impact, as Joseph Ratzinger's own signature to the second votum at a May 1981 Special Congress of the Congregation for Beatification and Canonization Affairs demonstrates.

Three official episcopal scientific Emmerich conferences, all in German, have been held in relation to the beatification case, in 1982, 1990, and lasting in 1999 at the Pontifical Gregorian University, with Bishop Reinhard Lettmann as a conference participant. On May 1981, the Congregation for Beatification and Canonization Affairs issued a decree containing the official decision that "the cause of the Servant of God A.C. Emmerich shall be opened."

After these years of comprehensive philological, theological, historical, and literary research -- conducted at the scientific, not the polemical level -- all hurdles were finally overcome and in October 2000, Emmerich's virtue process came to a positive conclusion when she was unanimously declared to have lived a life of heroic virtue and sanctity. This conclusion was affirmed by the full assembly of cardinals and will soon be promulgated in a solemn papal announcement.

Already on May 1, 1987, during a visit to Munster, Pope John Paul II had publicly honored Emmerich. After having praised several holy people from the bishopric, the Holy Father stated: "Many other names could be mentioned. I will, however, further recall only Sr. Anne Catherine Emmerich, who with her special mystical vocation shows us the value of sacrifice and suffering with the crucified Lord."

In October 2000, the beatification case entered the decisive stage, the miracle process, the so-called procesus super miro. A well-documented miracle is being authenticated by the official ecclesiastical court in Germany, which expects to transfer the materials to Rome in the early months of 2001. The German bishops are confidently hopeful that the evidence will be accepted by the Pope, and that in the not-too-distant future, she will be beatified. These are the basic historical facts and recent developments in the Emmerich case.

In the reopened case, the Brentano writings are a moot point. Since Brentano wrote Emmerich's visions down, and not Emmerich herself, they cannot technically be considered Emmerich's writings. They therefore bear no positive or negative weight in the case. Critics of this decision must remember that the experts involved in the process are just that -- well-experienced experts in the field of beatification and canonization affairs. They are following stringent and accepted rules. This should be realized before criticizing the behavior of the sacred congregation involved in the case. By excluding the writings, they were, however, by no means condemned. On the contrary, all the Brentano Emmerich works have been recently re-published in Germany. In excluding them from the official case, the experts are merely following a former decision made in 1916 during the positio super scriptis, which was reaffirmed by the Congregation of Rites on May 18, 1927.

From a comparative philological and literary view, the contention that Brentano "fabricated almost all" the Emmerich material is exaggerated and false. Editorial work there certainly was, but Brentano's accounts agree with the basic picture of Emmerich found in the firsthand written accounts of Dr. Franz Wilhelm Wesener (Emmerich's medical doctor) and author Luisa Hensel. Moreover, as the internationally renowned and critically reserved Germanist Dr. Anton Brieger states, the Emmerich visions recorded by Brentano have all the marks of a woman's psychology and a feminine attention to detail. Additionally, Fr. Joseph Adam, the author of Emmerich's new official positio accepted by the Roman authorities, has demonstrated that the former charges made by Fr. Winfried Humpfner (whose activities led to the 1928 reponatur), namely that Brentano was guilty of wholesale fabrication, were "rabid attacks" against a pious Catholic, and were furthermore "hard and pre-emptory." Although recognizing at times their problematic nature and that they were adapted and edited, Adam nevertheless characterizes the Brentano Emmerich writings as exhibiting simultaneously "a deep piety and a solid ecclesiastical spirit."

Charity Should Rule

As for the complaint that some of the Emmerich visions contain historical errors and "fanciful descriptions," if one were familiar with the episcopal scientific Emmerich conferences, this would be of small concern. Since only Scripture is inspired, it commonly happens that even approved visions will contain certain historical errors as well as elements from the seer's human fantasy. Current theology on mysticism, according to the conferences, does not see these as obstacles to authentic private revelation.

The claim that Emmerich teaches that Mary had no earthly father is patently fallacious. Emmerich always calls Mary the daughter of Joachim. The problem is that Emmerich's symbolic images and statements, no different than with the Bible, are subject to misunderstanding. In the later 19th-century German editions of Brentano's Emmerich works, extensive theological introductions and explanations were added for precisely this reason. These, unfortunately, were not included in the works when they were translated into English. If one has not read these older German comments, as well as all the recent scientific literature officially related to the Emmerich beautification case, then one is simply not competent to make serious charges against someone whom the Church has declared to have lived a life of heroic virtue, and one upon whom the Church has officially bestowed the title servant of God.

As for the charge that Emmerich says Mary was ensouled not simultaneously at but after her physical conception, this is not heresy. The general opinion among theologians today is that ensoulment occurs at the instant of physical conception. But for over 1,000 years the general opinion was that of delayed or "mediate" animation. This was taught by St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Hildegard von Bingen, and countless others of their rank. If one criticizes Emmerich for teaching mediate animation, then countless Catholic saints, theologians, and philosophers stretching over a majority of Church history would also have to be criticized. It is furthermore erroneous that immediate animation is a "defined dogma." The Church has simply never defined exactly when animation occurs. Since this is an undefined area, as St. Augustine wrote, charity should rule the discussion, not charges of heresy.

As the episcopal Emmerich conferences have stressed, Emmerich does not contradict the Holy Father's teachings on the culture of life. Indeed Emmerich is an eminent model for us today when suffering is seen as purely negative; those who suffer are often seen as disposable, as a burden. Emmerich can teach us that this is a shortsighted perspective -- in Christ suffering becomes meaningful, even redemptive. Especially the handicapped and invalids can find an inspiring model in Emmerich. To refer to "the pernicious notion that to be an unschooled, bedridden seer is the highest manifestation of sanctity," is in my opinion at least potentially offensive to the handicapped, as well as incautious when used in the context of one whom the Church in her judgment has declared a servant of God.

Sometimes God does apparently raise up the ignorant and weak to confound the strong and wise; He has in all ages. Indeed, the highest degree of sanctity can be seen in a man who was considered unschooled by His contemporaries (see John 7:15), and who achieved the redemption of the world by being strapped to a cross. The bedridden Emmerich, like all those who find themselves imprisoned by their physical or spiritual pains, can be a beautiful example of the Suffering Christ, who was "bedridden" if you will, on the holy cross on Good Friday.

Those acquainted with the recent Emmerich conferences know that Fr. Herbert Thurston's criticisms of Emmerich in his Surprising Mystics are now outdated. I devote an entire chapter to these criticisms in a manuscript I hope to have published in the near future. He specifically charges Emmerich with spiritual pride and other sins. The relevant Church authorities have ruled against his position in declaring Emmerich a servant of God. Thurston's views should not be further promoted by theologians or lay people. We are confident that if he were still alive, he too would withdraw his criticisms and accept the judgment of Holy Mother the Church's authorities. They have spoken; let us respect their judgment, especially in these days when there is so much dissent in the Church.

Here we should remark that Emmerich also speaks to the crisis of dissent we are in today. This crisis distresses not only traditionalists but also conservatives, even our Holy Father himself. Why an Catholic should be concerned about Emmerich's prophecies concerning apostasy or schism is puzzling, since the same prophecies hold out hope for a renewal. Conservatives would also no doubt rejoice that Emmerich's visions also prove that the New Mass is valid contrary to the position of some extremist traditionalists. I explore this and other traditionalist misinterpretations of Emmerich in my manuscript.

Have Faith In The Church

A last note on Brentano's writings. I urge those concerned to read especially the 1990 Emmerich conference paper by Professor Elmar Klinger of Wurzburg entitled Das Interesse Brentanos an Anna Katharina Emmerick. Dichtung und Religion ("Clemens Brentano's Interest in Anne Catherine Emmerich. Poetry and Religion"). Contrary to the impression some give in the American press, the question of Brentano's writings has not been ignored by those involved officially in the Emmerich beatification case. Brentano is dealt with scientifically, critically, and not polemically, at all the Emmerich conferences. Neither was Paul VI unaware of the popular approbation, at least in the minds of the public, which Brentano's writings would receive if Emmerich were to be beatified. This is why he called for research and conferences to examine the writings. And this has been addressed at the conferences, despite the fact that there is no technical need for it anymore in relation to the beatification itself. At the conferences there is no "Brentano bashing."

Different scholars, of course, have different views on Brentano's writings, ranging from reserved caution to more positive assessments. But the two extremes of charges of wholesale fabrication and claims of word for word exactness in the transcription of Emmerich's dictations never surface in the official conferences, since both claims are patently false. A widespread opinion is that despite Brentano's editorial activity, his writings and he himself, if not relevant technically to the beatification case itself, nevertheless are important factors in Emmerich's life and cult. Some conference participants actually view Brentano's editorial activity in a positive light. In the 19th century, the Brentano Emmerich writings outsold even Goethe and Schiller, and quickly established themselves as Catholic devotional classics.

St. John Neumann, a number of Catholics whose own beatification cases are now underway, countless holy members of the hierarchy in the past and present have recommended reading the Brentano Emmerich writings. That numerous respected and holy Catholics have recommended a seer's writings has also been traditionally considered as a sign of the possible authenticity of private revelations. Moreover, Blessed Pope Pius DC was not unaware of Brentano's writings when he called the holy nun the "highly blessed virgin Emmerich" in the context of urging a priest to work for her beatification. Blessed Pope Pius IX, our present Holy Father, St. John Neumann, a number of servants of God and blesseds -- their collective judgment, in my opinion, can be safely followed.

As with the liberal media which have criticized several recent beatifications and canonizations, Emmerich's critics in America would similarly do well to first conduct serious and up-to-date historical research in the relevant German, Latin, and Italian documents relating to Emmerich's cause before criticizing the Church's decisions.

Catholic journalists would do well, again in my opinion, to have some faith that the Holy Ghost is still leading the Church when the relevant Roman authorities work favorably for a candidate's beatification.

For official and up-to-date information on Emmerich, one should consult at least the following published versions of the episcopal Emmerich conferences:

Emmerick und Brentano. Dokumentation eines Symposions der Bischoflichen Kommission "Anna Katharina Emmerick" Munster 1982. (Dulmen: Laumann-Verlagsgesellschaft, 1983).

Anna Katharina Emmerick. Die Mystikerin des Munsterlandes. Symposion 1990 der Bischoflichen Kommission "Anna Katharina Emmerick" Munster. Clemens Engling, Hubert Festring, Hermann Flothkotter (Herausgeber). (Dulmen: Laumann-Verlagsgesellschaft, 1991).

Anna Katharina Emmerick: Passio, Compassio, Mystik, Dokumentation des Emmerick-Symposions an der Papstlichen Universitat Gregoriana in Rom. Michael Bangert (Herausgeber). (Munster, Dialogverlag 2000). For further information on Emmerich, one may contact the Emmerich Association in Germany at: Emmerick-Bund e.V.An der Kreuzkirche 10 Dulmen 48249 Germany To report special favors believed to have been granted at the intercession of Emmerich, or if questions or suggestions related to this process exist, the vice postulator of the beatification process for Anne Catherine Emmerich, Pastor Dr. Clemens Engling of Holy Cross in Dulmen, will gladly accept suggestions and relevant information. The second vice postulator is Msgr. Martin Hulskamp. They can also be contacted at telephone number 02594/2126 or at the Emmerick-Bund's address given above. (Samuel Sinner is completing a doctorate in the modern languages department of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.)

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