*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***It is the 18th of September 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Oh boy. What a story. Yowza. I'm not sure where to start, so…
On the 18th of September in 1962, Therese Neumann died at the age of 64. Therese had been a local celebrity in Konnersreuth, Germany, as she claimed to have received the Stigmata in 1926 and claimed to have lived only on Holy Communion until her death in 62. And my first reaction was: “that’s fake.” And then I saw an image of her experiencing the stigmata and thought, “that’s gross.” But I suppose a historian should have a better take than “fake and gross.” So let’s break it down.
The Stigmata is the “appearance of marks or actual wounds paralleling those Christ received during crucifixion.” The most famous case is that of Francis of Assisi, who is said to have received the Stigmata in the year 1224. There are no recorded cases earlier than this, and it seems to be a purely Western and Roman Catholic phenomenon. Nevertheless, we should understand it in the context of St. Francis and his particular piety. For Francis, the human body of Christ and his genuine sufferings were to be contemplated as a spur to personal holiness. The development of the crucifix, the Corpus Christi celebrations, and a new devotion to Christ as a suffering servant help center the stigmata in its theological and cultural context.
And that the Stigmata was associated with St. Francis (one of the most popular saints) made it likely that we would see imitations in the future.
Therese Neumann is said to have undergone severe shock as the result of fire when she was 20 years old. She would claim blindness and paralysis and claimed she was divinely healed on the day that Therese of Lisieux was beatified. She claimed more divine healing on the day that Therese of Lisieux was canonized (remember that she was one of 4 women granted the title of Universal Doctor). In 1926 she claims to have first received the marks of Christ and then some. A blood-like serum began to ooze from her eyes and she claims that after this she never ate food, apart from communion, again. The Stigmata and other apparitions are said to have continued every Friday until her death.
The church sent officials to observe and they came back stating that they had no conclusive evidence. Some were more skeptical than that and suggested that her father was behind what they thought was an elaborate hoax. Her father did nothing to dispel this when he refused any more examinations and continued to encourage pilgrimage to his holy daughter.
And pilgrimages were made. The “holy woman” of Konnersreuth saw an uptick of visitors after World War II ended and she had visitors until the 18th of September in 1962, the day of her death.
So… uh, what do we do with this? Let’s lay down some possible historical rules:
1. Just because it is supernatural doesn’t make it untrue, but it does put the burden of proof on the people making the supernatural claim.
2. Just because it is not as it appears, does not necessarily make it a hoax. Psycho-somatic illness is real and the appearance of the Stigmata has been shown, in some occasions, to be the result of unconscious self-harm.
3. Even if it is true, the church from whence it comes claims that the faithful need not accept the veracity of the claims as dogma. The Catholic Church recognizes that there are private revelations and you are free to believe or disbelieve them. And if you aren’t Catholic then you are even freer!
My primary concern with claims to receiving the Stigmata has to do with the very small circumscribed groups of people who claim to have received it. Nothing in the first 1200 years of the church and since then, only in western Catholic traditions that tie themselves directly to the legacy of St. Francis. Furthermore, the Stigmata tends to conform to pictures of the Crucifixion and not the actual practices from the 1st century.
Christians are supernatural people. It’s baked into the whole “Jesus-is-God-died-and-was-resurrected” thing. Some of us tend to stick close to the line of modern rational thought and others abandon that for a robust supernaturalism. One party might overdo their rationalism while the one-party might overdo their zeal for a questionable spectacle. I think Therese Neumann fits the latter category but I admit to sometimes being in the former.
Therese Neumann died on this, the 18th of September in 1962. She was 64 years old.
The last word for today is from Galatians 6- a verse sometimes used in defense of the Stigmata- you decide for yourself.
14 May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! 16 As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
17 From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.
18 May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 18th of September 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who once thought he had received the stigmata, turns out it was just a rash. He is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man diagnosed with astigmatism, but that just means my eyeballs are a funny shape. I am Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.