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PREFACE TO THE FRENCH TRANSLATION.
BY THE ABBÉ DE CAZALÈS.
THE writer of this Preface was travelling in Germany, when he chanced to meet with a book, entitled, The History of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, from, the Meditations of Anne Catherine Emmerich, which appeared to him both interesting and edifying. Its style was unpretending, its ideas simple, its tone unassuming, its sentiments unexaggerated, and its every sentence expressive of the most complete and entire submission to the Church. Yet, at the same time, it would have been difficult anywhere to meet with a more touching and life-like paraphrase of the Gospel narrative. He thought that a book possessing such qualities deserved to be known on this side the Rhine, and that there could be no reason why it should not be valued for its own sake, independent of the somewhat singular source whence it emanated.
Still, the translator has by no means disguised to himself that this work is written, in the first place, for Christians; that is to say, for men who have the right to be very diffident in giving credence to particulars concerning facts which are articles of faith; and although he is aware that St. Bonaventure and many others, in their paraphrases of the Gospel history, have mixed up traditional details with those given in the sacred text, even these examples have not wholly reassured him. St. Bonaventure professed only to give a paraphrase, whereas these revelations appear to be something more. It is certain that the holy maiden herself gave them no higher title than that of dreams, and that the transcriber of her narratives treats as blasphemous the idea of regarding them in any degree as equivalent to a fifth Gospel; still it is evident that the confessors who exhorted Sister Emmerich to relate what she saw, the celebrated poet who passed four years near her couch, eagerly transcribing all he heard her say, and the German Bishops, who encouraged the publication of his book, considered it as something more than a paraphrase. Some explanations are needful on this head.
The writings of many Saints introduce us into a now, and, if I may be allowed the expression, a miraculous world. In all ages there have been revelations about the past, the present, the future, and even concerning things absolutely inaccessible to the human intellect. In the present day men are inclined to regard these revelations as simple hallucinations, or as caused by a sickly condition of body.
The Church, according to the testimony of her most approved writers, recognises three descriptions of ecstasy; of which the first is simply natural, and entirely brought about by certain physical tendencies and a highly imaginative mind; the second divine or angelic, arising from intercourse held with the supernatural world; and the third produced by infernal agency.1 Lest we should here write a book instead of a preface, we will not enter into any development of this doctrine, which appears to us highly philosophical, and without which no satisfactory explanation can be given on the subject of the soul of man and its various states.
The Church directs certain means to be employed to ascertain by what spirit these ecstasies are produced, according to the maxim of St. John: ‘Try the spirits, if they be of God.’ When circumstances or events claiming to be supernatural have been properly examined according to certain rules, the Church has in all ages made a selection from them
Many persons who have been habitually in a state of ecstasy have been canonised, and their books approved. But this approbation has seldom amounted to more than a declaration that these books contained nothing contrary to faith, and that they were likely to promote a spirit of piety among the faithful. For the Church is only founded on the word of Christ and on the revelations made to the Apostles. Whatever may since have been revealed to certain saints possesses purely a relative value, the reality of which may even be disputed—it being one of the admirable characteristics of the Church, that, though inflexibly one in dogma, she allows entire liberty to the human mind in all besides. Thus, we may believe private revelations, above all, when those persons to whom they were made have been raised by the Church to the rank of Saints publicly honoured, invoked, and venerated; but, even in these cases, we may, without ceasing to be perfectly orthodox, dispute their authenticity and divine origin. It is the place of reason to dispute and to select as it sees best.
With regard to the rule for discerning between the good and the evil spirit, it is no other, according to all theologians, than that of the Gospel. A fructibus eorum, cognoscetis eos . By their fruits you shall know them. It must be examined in the first place whether the person who professes to have revelations mistrusts what passes within himself; whether he would prefer a more common path; whether far from boasting of the extraordinary graces which he receives, he seeks to hide them, and only makes them known through obedience; and, finally, whether he is continually advancing in humility, mortification, and charity. Next, the revelations themselves must be very closely examined into; it must be seen whether there is anything in them contrary to faith; whether they are conformable to Scripture and Apostolical tradition; and whether they are related in a headstrong spirit, or in a spirit of entire submission to the Church.
Whoever reads the life of Anne Catherine Emmerich, and her book, will be satisfied that no fault can be found in any of these respects either with herself or with her revelations. Her book resembles in many points the writings of a great number of saints, and her life also bears the most striking similitude to theirs. To be convinced of this fact, we need but study the writings or what is related of Saints Francis of Assissium, Bernard, Bridget, Hildegarde, Catherine of Genoa, Catherine of Sienna, Ignatius, John of the Cross, Teresa, and an immense number of other holy persons who are less known.. So much being conceded, it is clear that in considering Sister Emmerich to have been inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, we are not ascribing more merit to her book than is allowed by the Church to all those of the same class. They are all edifying, and may serve to promote piety, which is their sole object. We must not exaggerate their importance by holding as an absolute fact that they proceed from divine inspiration, a favour so great that its existence in any particular case should not be credited save with the utmost circumspection.
With regard, however, to our present publication, it may be urged that, considering the superior talents of the transcriber of Sister Emmerich’s narrations, the language and expressions which he has made use of may not always have been identical with those which she employed. We have no hesitation whatever in allowing the force of this argument. Most fully do we believe in the entire sincerity of M. Clement Brentano, because we both know and love him, and, besides, his exemplary piety and the retired life which he leads, secluded from a world in which it would depend but on himself to hold the highest place, are guarantees amply sufficient to satisfy any impartial mind of his sincerity. A poem such as he might publish, if he only pleased, would cause him to be ranked at once among the most eminent of the German poets, whereas the office which he has taken upon himself of secretary to a poor visionary has brought him nothing but contemptuous raillery. Nevertheless, we have no intention to assert that in giving the conversations and discourses of Sister Emmerich that order and coherency in which they were greatly wanting, and writing them down in his own way, he may not unwittingly have arranged, explained, and embellished them. But this would not have the effect of destroying the originality of the recital, or impugning either the sincerity of the nun, or that of the writer.
The translator professes to be unable to understand how any man can write for mere writing’s sake, and without considering the probable effects which his work will produce. This book, such as it is, appears to him to be at once unusually edifying, and highly poetical. It is perfectly clear that it has, properly speaking, no literary pretensions whatever. Neither the uneducated maiden whose visions are here related, nor the excellent Christian writer who has published them in so entire a spirit of literary disinterestedness, ever had the remotest idea of such a thing. And yet there are not, in our opinion, many highly worked-up compositions calculated to produce an effect in any degree comparable to that which will be brought about by the perusal of this unpretending little work. It is our hope that it will make a strong impression even upon worldlings, and that in many hearts it will prepare the way for better ideas,—perhaps even for a lasting change of life.
In the next place, we are not sorry to call public attention in some degree to all that class of phenomena which preceded the foundation of the Church, which has since been perpetuated uninterruptedly, and which too many Christians are disposed to reject altogether, either through ignorance and want of reflection, or purely through human respect. This is a field which has hitherto been but little explored historically, psychologically, and physiologically; and it would be well if reflecting minds were to bestow upon it a careful and attentive investigation. To our Christian readers we must remark that this work has received the approval of ecclesiastical authorities. It has been prepared for the press under the superintendence of the two late Bishops of Ratisbonne, Sailer and Wittman. These names are but little known in France; but in Germany they are identical with learning, piety, ardent charity, and a life wholly devoted to the maintenance and propagation of the Catholic faith. Many French priests have given their opinion that the translation of a book of this character could not but tend to nourish piety, without, however, countenancing that weakness of spirit which is disposed to lend more importance in some respects to private than to general revelations, and consequently to substitute matters which we are simply permitted to believe, in the place of those which are of faith.
We feel convinced that no one will take offence at certain details given on the subject of the outrages which were suffered by our divine Lord during the course of his passion. Our readers will remember the words of the psalmist: ‘I am a worm and no man; the reproach of men, and the outcast of the people;’ and those of the apostle: ‘Tempted in all things like as we are, without sin.’ Did we stand in need of a precedent, we should request our readers to remember how plainly and crudely Bossuet describes the same scenes in the most eloquent of his four sermons on the Passion of our Lord. On the other hand, there have been so many grand platonic or rhetorical sentences in the books published of late years, concerning that abstract entity, on which the writers have been pleased to bestow the Christian title of the Word, or Logos, that it may be eminently useful to show the Man-God, the Word made flesh, in all the reality of his life on earth, of his humiliation, and of his sufferings. It must be evident that the cause of truth, and still more that of edification, will not be the losers.