Neumann, Theresa

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Mystic and stigmatic; b. Konnersreuth, Bavaria, April 9, 1898; d. there, Sept. 18, 1962. Her parents were simple country folk, who gave their daughter a thoroughly Christian education. Father Naber, the pastor of Konnersreuth and her spiritual guide, noticed nothing remarkable about her in childhood. In her early years she suffered an illness that left her somewhat irritable and nervous, and she was, moreover, subject to frequent attacks of vertigo. After completing her elementary schooling, she was employed in 1912 as a servant by a neighbor, Max Neumann. On March 10, 1918, a fire broke out on the adjacent farm. This terrified Theresa, but she was capable of taking part in the activity organized by Neumann to keep the flames away from his home. For two hours she handed up pail after pail of water to dampen the buildings. Then a pail suddenly slipped from her hand. She could "do no more." Her legs became numb; in her

back she felt a pain as if something had pinched her. This condition continued so that she was able to undertake only lighter tasks on the farm. However, in April she was compelled by her employer to resume heavier work. While she was mounting the stairs of a cellar, carrying a sack of potatoes, her legs suddenly gave way and she fell backward, striking her head against a stone ledge. Unfit for strenuous labor, she returned to her mother's home, where she helped with the housework.

Her sufferings, however, did not cease, and at this time her character underwent transformation, and she became melancholy and irritable. Everything seemed to annoy her, and she was frequently provoked to such fits of temper that she became unbearable to her family. In April 1918 she entered the hospital at Waldsassen, but she left after a stay of seven weeks without showing any improvement. On the contrary, her symptoms were noticeably aggravated; her violent spasms became stronger and more frequent. Her sight weakened until May 17, 1919, when she found upon emerging from a severe convulsive attack that she was "blind." About this time Theresa also suffered anaesthesia of the entire left side of her body, and was deaf in her left ear. For three months she was subject to paralytic attacks in her left arm. Toward Christmas 1922 she experienced a violent pain in her throat that made it impossible for her to swallow solid food. After October 1918, when she became bedridden, her body was often covered with sores and abscesses. In November 1925, she had appendicitis, and a year later, pneumonia. From all these illnesses she was cured without medical help, a circumstance that she and her friends attributed to the miraculous help of God.

Phenomena. The Lent of 1926 marked a new stage in Theresa's life. At that time she began to have "Friday ecstasies" in which she saw in vision the Passion of Christ, with many details not mentioned in the Gospel. This vision did not constitute a continuous spectacle, but was broken down into about 50 separate episodes (stations). The duration of these varied from two to 15 minutes. In the intervals between particular stations she would fall first into a state of "absorption," in which her mind resembled that of an infant and the simplest notions were unintelligible to her. This was regularly followed by a state of "exalted repose," in which Theresa might speak, perhaps using unaccustomed turns of phrase, or she might communicate Christ's counsels and orders to others or announce future events. The Friday ecstasies were associated with the stigmata on her hands and feet and left side.

Interpretation. The cause of the strange phenomena in Theresa's life can be discussed without calling into question the possibility of her sanctity, and there has, in fact, been a long and heated controversy on the subject.

Theresa's marvelous recoveries from her various illnesses could have been miraculous, but the certain judgment that they were seems unwarranted, especially if they are considered in the light of the principles followed by the Congregation of Rites in examining miracles. There is insufficient evidence either that alleged organic illnesses existed or that their cure could not have been effected by natural forces. Regarding her Friday ecstasies, their supernatural character cannot be confidently affirmed according to the rules laid down by Benedict XIV and by mystical authorities such as SS. teresa of avila and john of the cross. It is for this reason that a number of ascetical theologians, such as Professor Westermayr, Dom Mager, OSB, Father Bruno, OCD, and others, have vigorously opposed what they called the mysticism of Konnersreuth.

Again, stigmatization carries with it no guarantee of its miraculous origin. It could well have been, it seems, a natural effect of her "ecstatic emotion." The first appearance of her stigmata, their gradual slow evolution, their changing shape, their strict dependence upon the emotion, the manner in which Theresa treated them, etc., all seem to favor this theory. Moreover, an impressive number of modern theologians believe that stigmatization as such can be explained without a direct miraculous intervention on the part of God. Her visions also are susceptible of a natural psychological explanation, and indeed there are elements in their content that give rise to theological objections to attributing a divine origin to them.

Her prolonged fasting provides a greater difficulty. It is claimed that from September 1927 until her death she took no nourishment. Unfortunately, Theresa's family never allowed the thorough examination of this point that the Catholic hierarchy insistently demanded. The refusal to cooperate with the Church on this decisive point created serious suspicions. The observation of Theresa's fasting by four Franciscan nuns for a two-week period during July 1927 was accomplished in conditions that make it impossible to regard it as a guarantee that Theresa's fast was absolute.

Bibliography: r. biot, L'Énigme des stigmatisés (Paris 1955). j. deutsch, Ärzliche Kritik an Konnersreuth: Wunder oder Hysterie? (Lippstadt 1938). h. heermann, "Um Konnersreuth," Theologie und Glaube 24 (1932) 215228. h. c. graef, The Case of Therese Neumann (Westminster, Md. 1951). f. von lama, Therese Neumann: A Stigmatist of Our Days, tr. a. p. schimberg (Milwaukee 1929). p. mansion, "Thérèse Neumann et autres stigmatisés," Saint-Luc médical (1933) 387ff. n. g. mccluskey, "Darkness and Light over Konnersreuth," Priest 10 (1954) 764774. b. poray-madeyski, Le Cas de la visionnaire stigmatisée Thérèse Neumann (Paris 1940). f. l. schleyer, Die Stigmatisation mit den Blutmalen (Hannover 1950). p. siwek, The Riddle of Konnersreuth, tr. i. mccormick (Milwaukee 1953); "Why Write Theresa Neumann?" Priest 12 (1956) 725733; "Konnersreuth Again," ibid. 13 (1957) 506511; "Some Mystical Phenomena," ibid. 14 (1958) 488493, 590598, 664672; "The Two Stigmatists Padre Pio and Theresa Neumann," Revue de l'Université d'Ottawa 28 (1958) 105129. j. teodorowicz, Mystical Phenomena in the Life of Theresa Neumann, tr. r. kraus (St. Louis 1940). l. witt, Konnersreuth in Lichte der Religion und Wissenschaft (Waldsassen 1927). f. gerlich, Die stigmatisierte Therese Neumann von Konnersreuth, 2 v. (Munich 1929).

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Neumann, Theresa

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