Symbols of Transformation

[The constant companion of sanctity is temptation]

We read in the biography of Anna Catherina Emmerich, the hysterical German nun (1774-1824) who received the stigmata, the following account of her heart trouble:

“When only in her novitiate, she received as a Christmas gift from Christ a very painful heart trouble, which lasted for the whole period of her ordained life. But God showed her inwardly its purpose: it was to atone for the decay of the spirit of the Order, and especially for the sins of her fellow sisters.

But what made this trouble most painful to her was the gift which she had possessed from youth, of seeing with her mind’s eye the inner nature of man as he really was. She felt the heart trouble physically, as if her heart were continually pierced by arrows. These arrows-and for her this was a far worse spiritual torment-she recognized as the thoughts, schemings, secret gossipings, misunderstandings, and the uncharitable slanders with which her fellow sisters, wholly without reason and conscience, plotted against her and her God fearing way of life.”

It is difficult to be a saint, because even a patient and long suffering nature will not readily endure such a high degree of differentiation and defends itself in its own way. The constant companion of sanctity is temptation, without which no true saint can live. We know that these temptations can pass off in the form of symptoms. We know, too, that Herz traditionally rhymes with Schmerz.

It is a well-known fact that hysterics substitute a physical pain for a psychic pain which is not felt because repressed. Catherina Emmerich’s biographer has understood this more or less correctly, but her own interpretation of the pain is based, as usual, on a projection: it is always the others who secretly say all sorts of wicked things about her, and this is the cause of her pains. The facts of the matter are rather different: the renunciation of all life’s joys, this fading before the flower, is always painful, and especially painful are the unfulfilled desires and the attempts of nature to break through the barrier of repression, without which no such differentiation would be possible.

The gossip and sarcastic gibes of the sisters very naturally pick on these painful things, so that it must seem to the saint as if her difficulties came from here. She could hardly know that gossip is very apt to take over the role of the unconscious, and, like a skilled adversary, always aims at the chinks in our armor of which we know nothing. ~ Carl Jung, Symbols of Transformation, The Battle for Deliverance from the Mother, Pages 286-287, Paragraphs 435-436.