The writer of Hebrews warns, “Do not be carried about with
various and strange doctrines” (Hebrews 13:9).
With the help of a movie star, a reclusive 19th-century nun has
become table talk for 21st-century Hollywood and the new poster
girl for spirituality. Anne Catherine Emmerich has been rediscovered,
thanks to Mel Gibson and his movie, The Passion of the
Christ. Gibson reveres her and carries a relic (purportedly a patch
of her robe) which he has displayed on national television. Gibson
based some of the details of his film on Emmerich’s extrabiblical
visions.2 There is a joke that if Gibson receives an award for his
film, his acceptance speech will include, “I want to thank my writers:
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Anne.” While only a handful
of Emmerich’s visions made it to the screen, his wholesale
endorsement of her book bothers some apologists.
Emmerich exemplified a Roman Catholic tradition called “passion
mysticism,” which dates back to the Middle Ages. Passion
mystics believed that sanctification and growth in grace were
attained, not by Scripture study, service, and ministry to others in
the Church, but by obsessing on the literal bloody wounds of Jesus
and the agonies of His scourging, passion, and death. This was
more than a recognition of those truths; it was an attempt to
re-create them mentally and actually enter into them physically and
spiritually through trances...