Late one evening in the winter of 1813, Father Limberg returned tired and worn out after a whole day spent in sickcalls.
As he sat down in Sister Emmerich's room, breviary in hand, the thought occurred to him: " I am so tired and I have so many prayers to say — if it were no sin, I would let them go."
Hardly had he conceived the thought, seated at some distance from her, than she cried out: "O do say your prayers!'
He asked: "What prayers do you mean?"
"Your breviary," she answered — "Why do you ask?"
"This was the first time," remarked the Father, "that I was struck by anything extraordinary in her. "
On July 25th, 1821, Sister Emmerich spoke as follows to the Pilgrim : "The Pilgrim has no devotion, he prays nervously, mixing things up quickly.
I often see all kinds of bad thoughts chasing one another through his head.
They peer around like strange, ugly, wild beasts ! He checks them not, he does not drive them away promptly ; it is as if he were used to them, they run about as over a beaten path."
The Pilgrim remarked: "It is, unhappily, only too true!"
From the lips of those that pray I see a chain of words issuing like a fiery stream and mounting up to God, and in them I see the disposition of the one who prays, I read everything.
The writing is as varied as the individuals themselves.
Some of the currents are all aglow, others are dull ; some of the characters are round and full, some running, just like different styles of handwriting."
When Sister Emmerich characterized her contemplations as "not seen with the eyes but with the soul, the heart being, so to say, the organ of sight," she intended to indicate not only its beginning and development, but also its supernatural and meritorious character.
Every good work originates in the heart ; there it is that the faithful soul receives the impulse of grace to produce meritorious acts, either interior or exterior.
It is in the heart that the Holy Spirit dwells ; there He pours out His gifts ; there is formed that bond of charity which unites the faithful together, and binds them to their invisible Head, Jesus Christ, as the branches to the vine. Man's value before God is estimated by the dispositions of his heart, its uprightness, its good-will, its charity, and not by keenness of intellect or extent of knowledge.
Thus it was that Sister Emmerich saw in her heart the visions vouchsafed her by her God; there it was that she heard her angel's voice and her confessor's commands, whether expressed in words or only mentally and at a distance.
She obeyed instantaneously in either case, returning promptly from ecstasy to consciousness.
In her heart also did she hear the distressed cries of those whom she was appointed to succor, even though seas and continents lay between her and them ; there too did she feel the agony of the dying whom she was to assist in their last moments by her own sufferings and prayers.
It was her heart that warned her of impending danger either to the Church or individuals. She often endured distress of mind long before she clearly understood the cause.
In her heart she saw the thoughts, the dispositions, the whole moral character of those with whom she either actually or in spirit ; there she heard impious words, blasphemy, etc., for the expiation of which God was pleased to accept the torments of His innocent creature ; finally, it was in her heart that she heard the voice that called her to ecstasy.
She promptly obeyed the call, and collected together all the powers of her soul to accomplish whatever was demanded of her.
She had never known an attachment to perishable goods.
Apart from God and His service, she desired nothing, knew nothing.
Her soul, delighted by heavenly visions, sought no earthly gratification. Faith and the Commandments were her only measure of created things.
"When by the mysterious order established by the Supreme Creator, the body is quickened in the mother's womb, the soul like a fiery globe bearing no resemblance to the human form, takes possession of the heart, mounts to the brain, and animates all the members It takes possession of the heart, because glowing with the light of its deep knowledge, it distinguishes different things in the sphere of its comprehension (that is, recognizes the objects that fall under the senses).
It takes not the form of the body, because it is incorporeal and immortal.
It gives strength to the heart which as the fundamental part governs the whole body, and like the firmament of heaven it holds together what is below it, hides what is above.
It mounts to the brain, because in the wisdom of God it has the power to understand not only what is earthly, but also what is heavenly.
It diffuses itself through all the members, because it communicates vital strength to the whole body, to the marrow, the veins, to all the different parts just as a tree transmits sap from its roots to its branches that they may clothe themselves with leaves."
"The soul dwells in the fortress of the heart, as in a corner of the house, just as the father of a family takes a position whence he can overlook and direct affairs for the good of his household.
He turns toward the east and raises his right arm to give his orders.
The soul does the same, looking toward the rising of the sun through the ways (the senses) of the whole body."
The soul itself is of a fiery nature. It penetrates the entire body in which it dwells, the veins with their blood, the bones with their marrow, the flesh with its juices ; it is inextinguishable.
Were the soul not of a fiery nature, it could not vivify the cold mass with its heat nor build up the body with its venous streams.
St. Hildegarde's explanation of visions is the same as Sister Emmerich's ; they bear testimony to each other: —
"The way in which contemplation is carried on is hard for a man subject to the senses to understand.
I have my visions not in dreams nor sleep, not in the delirium of fever nor through the instrumentality of the external senses, and not in secret places.
I receive them by God's will, in my waking moments, in the untroubled splendor of an unclouded spirit, with the eyes and ears of the inner man, and in places open to all. . . .
God works where He will for the glorification of His name, not for that of earthly man.
I am in constant dread, because I recognize in myself nothing to assure me ; but I raise my hands to God to be borne by Him like a feather wafted about by the wind.
What I see I cannot perfectly comprehend when I am occupied with outward things and my soul not wholly absorbed in contemplation, for then both states are imperfect.
From my infancy, when my bones, my nerves, my veins were yet without strength, I have had in my soul this light of contemplation, and I am now seventy years old. In vision, as God wills it, my soul soars above the firmament through regions of space, and beholds the far, far distant nations.
And, as in this way, I see all these things in my soul, I see also the various strata of clouds and other true creatures.
That is to say, this spiritual contemplation is not an empty imagination, but an extension of the soul through the farthest space, and nothing that I meet escapes my observation.
I see it not with my outward senses ; I hear not with my ears; I create it not from the thoughts of my mind, nor by any co-operation of the five senses, but only through the soul, the eyes of the body being open.
The latter never failed me in consequence of ecstasy, for I am in contemplation whilst awake by day, as well as by night.
The light that I see is not material light circumscribed by place.
It is much brighter than the clouds around the sun ; in it I can discover neither length nor breadth, height nor depth.
I call it the shadow of the living light.
As the sun, moon, and stars are reflected in water, so in this light the writings, the words, the dispositions, the works of men shine out in pictures.
What I discover in contemplation I remember long.
I see, hear, and know all at once ; I comprehend instantaneously all that I ought to know.
What I do not see in contemplation I do not understand, for I have not received a learned education.
As for what I have to write in vision, I can trace the words only just as I have seen them, nor can I put them into elegant Latin.
I hear them not as flowing from the lips of men; but they are like a lambent flame, a luminous cloud floating in a clear atmosphere.
I can no more recognize a form in this light than I can look steadily at the sun's disc."
In this light I sometimes see another which is named to me as the living light, but I do not see it as often as I do the first and still less can I describe it.
When I receive it all sadness and sorrow vanish from my mind, so that I am more like a simple child than an old woman.
The first light, the shadow of the living light, never departs from my soul.
I see it just as I should see a luminous cloud through the starless firmament, and in it I see that which, out of the splendor of the living light, I say."
Whatever may be the effect of this divine light upon the soul, the practice of faith can never be superfluous ; the former never substitutes anything more meritorious than the latter.
On the contrary, the prophetic light like that of infused knowledge, serves but to strengthen faith, and confers clearer intelligence upon the points proposed for its exercise.
For the mind of man there can be no more elevated, no more perfect acts than those of the infused theological virtues.
God has opened for him no other way to eternal happiness than that of faith.
The simple faithful, though destitute of the light of contemplation, can by instruction, prayer, and meditation, by the practice of the precepts of faith, penetrate its mysteries and appreciate its inestimable value.
He who has been raised to contemplation, looks not upon faith as inferior to this extraordinary gift ; the clearer and more comprehensive his visions, the stronger does it become.
St. Catherine of Sienna is a proof of this.
Treating of the relation of faith to contemplation, she says in her Dialogues, dictated during ecstasy, that the gift of prophecy can be recognized as true only by the light of faith : —
"O Eternal Trinity, abyss of love, dissolve the cloud of my body!
Thou art the fire that dispels all cold!
With Thy light Thou enlightenest the mind and teachest all truth !
Thou art the light above all light ! From Thy light, Thou givest light to the understanding ; namely, the supernatural light, in such plenitude and perfection that thereby the light of faith is increased, faith by which I know that my soul lives and that in its light I have received Thy light.
In the light of faith I acquire wisdom in the wisdom of the Word, Thy Son ; in the light of faith, I am strong, constant, and persevering ; in the light of faith, I trust that Thou wilt never suffer me to stray from the right path.
The light of faith teaches me the way that I should follow ; without its light I should wander in darkness, therefore have I prayed Thee, Eternal Father, to enlighten me with the light of most holy faith !
O Most Holy Trinity, in the light (of contemplation) which Thou hast given me, which I have received through the workings of the light of most holy faith, I have known by many admirable explanations the way of true perfection, that I may serve Thee in light and not in darkness !
Why did I not see Thee by the light of most holy, most praiseworthy faith? Because the clouds of self-love obscured the eye of my understanding.
But Thou, Most Holy Trinity, Thou hast dissipated this darkness by Thy light! How can I thank Thee for this immense benefit, for the knowledge of the truth Thou hast given me ?
This instruction (which I have received from Thee by the light of prophecy) is a special grace (granted only to me) over and above the general one which Thou dost accord to other creatures."
Sister Emmerich also was, like Hildegarde, taught by her angel in infancy how to practise faith as the foundation of the spiritual life.
" When in my sixth year, I meditated on the First Article of the Catholic Creed : 'I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth' pictures of the creation passed before my soul.
I saw the fall of the angels, the creation of earth and Paradise, of Adam and Eve, and theFall of man. I thought everybody saw them just as we see other things around us.
I spoke of them freely to my parents, my brothers and sisters, and to my playmates, until I found that they laughed at me, asking if I had a book in which all these things were written.
Then I began to be more reserved on such subjects, thinking I ought not to mention them, though why I could not tell.
I had these visions by day and by night, in the fields, and going about my different occupations.
One day at school I spoke with childish simplicity of the Resurrection, using other terms than those taught us.
I thought every one knew the same, I never suspected that I was saying anything strange.
The children wondered and told the master, who gravely warned me not to indulge such imaginations.
I still had visions, but I kept silence concerning them.
I was like a child looking at pictures, explaining them in its own way, without thinking much upon their meaning.
These visions represented the saints or scenes from Sacred History, sometimes in one way, sometimes in another.
They produced no change in my faith ; I thought them my picture-book.
I gazed at them calmly and always with the good thought: 'All to the greater glory of God!' I have never believed anything in spiritual things but what God, the Lord, has revealed and proposed through the Catholic Church for our belief, whether written or not ; never have I believed so firmly what I saw in vision.
I looked upon them as I devoutly regard, here and there, the various cribs at Christmas, without annoyance at their different style.
In each I adore only the same dear little Infant Jesus, and it is the same with these pictures of the creation of heaven, of earth, and of man.
I adore in them God, the Lord, the Almighty Creator.
I never studied anything from the Gospels, or the Old Testament, for I have myself seen all in the course of my life.
I see them every year; sometimes they are alike, or again they are attended by new scenes. I have often been present with the spectators, assisting as a contemporary, even taking part in the scene, though I did not always remain in the same place.
I was often borne up into the air and I beheld the scene from on high. Other things, mysteries especially, I saw interiorly.
I had an inward consciousness of them, pictures apart from the outward scene.
In all cases I saw through and through, one body never hid another, and yet there was no confusion.
Whilst a child, before I entered the convent, I had many visions principally from the Old Testament, but afterward they became rare and the life of Our Lord took their place.
I knew the whole life of Jesus and Mary from their very birth.
I often contemplated the Blessed Virgin in her childhood and saw what she did when alone in her little chamber ; I even knew what she wore.
I saw that the people of Our Lord's time had sunk lower, were even more wicked than those of our day ; still, there were a few more simple, more pious than now.
They differed as much from one another as tigers do from lambs.
Now reign general tepidity and torpor.
The persecution of the just in those days consisted in delivering them to the executioner, in tearing them to pieces ; now it is exercised by injury, disdain, raillery, patient and constant efforts to corrupt and destroy.
Martyrdom is now an endless torment."