XI

RUMOURS AND INVESTIGATIONS

ONE of the sure tests of the saints of God is that they should pass through the searching fires of opposition and persecution, not only from the world and the Devil but more especially from the good and well-meaning. This proof was not wanting to Teresa. In spite of her efforts to remain hidden and unknown, as the rumours of her wonderful life began to get abroad, friends and foes arose and sides were taken both for and against her. The "clamour" of which Father Snow speaks at length reached such a pitch that it came to the ears of the Bishop of Liverpool, Dr. O'Reilly, who expressed the wish that her case should be submitted to the judgment of various learned priests and theologians. This was accordingly done, and the following letter from Father Powell to Father Fisher is of great interest, both as an account of his personal experiences and as showing his own unshaken belief in her.

"Bootle,
"Aug. 17, 1882.

"MY DEAR FATHER FISHER,

"The Bishop desired me to ask you kindly to enquire into the following case, and to give your opinion whether it comes from God or not. I may mention in the first place that Miss Teresa Higginson is one of my teachers in the boys' school, that I have known her for about seven years or more, that she has given me full permission to make use of any information derived in the confessional and that she does not know about her letters having been copied. When first she came under my direction, perhaps nine or ten years since, though perhaps only seven, I found she had the prayer of union, and after some time, I gave her permission to communicate daily. This was the reason why she so loved St. Alexander's. Once I found out she had obtained the church key from my housekeeper, and spent from four a.m to Mass at 8 in the church. At the Quarant ore she stayed there from ten o'clock Mass until 8 p.m. without ever leaving. She had received communion at the 8 Mass.

"I did not at first know about her extraordinary life, as she kept all to herself, thinking, as she said, our b. Lord wished all to be kept secret of His extraordinary favours. I found it most difficult for her to explain anything by word of mouth, so it struck me to put her under obedience to write something I could not understand. I then made her explain other matters in the same way, and though it was a terrible struggle and trial to her to write all about her mortifications etc. Her life has been a most innocent one, very few even venial sins, she mentions most of them in her letters — from when she was four years old Our blessed Lord seems to have called her in an especial manner, and I never read in the lives of the saints of anything equal to her austerities. A wire belt of some instrument used at Neston to clean something or other, which, when ordered to stop any mortification as she was ill, it took her three months to extract from her flesh, boring holes with a hot iron and putting in vinegar and salt. I tried the truth of this once, granting at her request leave to touch the arm just above the wrist with a hot iron, asking next day to see it, and finding a ghastly wound. She did not know I would ask to see it. Eating putrid dripping, rotten eggs and the water in which herrings had been cleaned etc. For three weeks I tried to make her eat and found everything was vomited: at last I asked her, as she was very ill and the doctor could make nothing of her, if she knew what was the matter. She replied when asked but never a word before: 'I think our blessed Lord does not want me to take anything.' I gave her leave to take nothing and next day she was quite well again. I got one to watch her for a week. She — Miss Higginson — pretended to eat, but Ellen Nicholson who lives in the house, watched her closely and noticed she never swallowed anything. She saw she was watched and when urged to eat used to pretend to eat by chewing india rubber, etc. In answer to my enquiries she told me she never eats now, except when at home at Neston, and then very seldom. She never sleeps either, I really believe, but for that I have to take her word. It is now over three years that I began to know of her extraordinary life. I have known her to find out a boy who stole a sovereign in another part of the school and tell him exactly how he took it. Once she was wrong about a person whom I asked her to pray that he might live: she said he would recover but he died. She has often been totally insensible, always unconscious to all else after holy communion. I once sent a pin into her arm, but she evinced no feeling. But whenever in that state she always obeys her confessor. I have known her to be most outrageously abused by a priest here, and others who overheard the abuse told me she never said a word. When I had a chance (in her desire to protect another teacher, believing too readily what others said and speaking unfairly of another — that she gave the dullest boys to her fellow-teacher, etc.) of finding fault with her before the other teachers, she took it most humbly and I found apologised at once. Once when accused of theft in another place, her parents, when they heard of it a year afterwards, wished to prosecute the calumniators, she was miserable until she got them to give it up. She got me to say Mass for this enemy of hers, though I did not know then the accusation.

"For a long time I was in doubt, but her inspirations are not, or very seldom, external appearances. She speaks of them as 'Seeing with the eyes of the soul: knowledge impressed upon the soul: infused into the soul.' I believe there is no instance of deception with such revelations, that such is beyond the power of the Devil. I was told how St. Gertrude had been under delusion for thirty years, that the deception was at length discovered by her confessor forbidding her to have any extraordinary communications with our blessed Lord, yet they continued. I forbade Miss H. to have any communication until I gave her leave. I did not then advert that she was going to Neston that week, where they have not always Mass. On other occasions similar our blessed Lord brought her holy Communion; on this occasion two angels brought it. Thinking this was also forbidden, she refused it, and there was no communication until I withdrew the prohibition. I am sorry to give you so much trouble, yet I think you will find it a pleasure as well. Father Snow of Aughton and Father Bertrand Wilberforce said they never read anything so beautiful as many of her letters. The narration of the Passion will, I think, well repay perusal. It taught me a very great deal indeed.

"If this is all the work of God, our blessed Lord wishes His sacred Head to receive special adoration, and that, as with the devotion to the sacred Heart, He chooses one most insignificant and plain in appearance to make His holy Will known.

"In these days of pride, self-will, rebellion against His Church and intellectual pride, He wishes that sacred Head, treated with such mockery and crowned with thorns, to be publicly and specially adored as the special Seat of Eternal Wisdom, the Shrine of the Will — so tortured (as man sins especially with the will) by His taking upon Himself all the sins of the world, so awful for the will of an all-pure God to do; of the memory clearly cognisant of every sin of every individual; of the understanding grasping iniquity by the full knowledge of God's Justice and Holiness. These powers of the Soul of our blessed Lord being specially dwelt upon complete the devotion to the sacred Heart, thus revealing the springs so to say of His love.

"Lately He has let her participate in the sufferings of His divine Soul. Unspeakable as were the sufferings of His Body, yet they are but like a drop in the ocean compared with what His Soul endured. As man's soul is the seat of guilt, our blessed Lord through all His Passion, but particularly in the Agony in the garden, took upon Himself the punishment due to every sin that would ever be forgiven — in fact equal to an eternity of Hell for each mortal sin. Her letters, I certainly think, give a most wonderful completion to the whole of the Incarnation.

"I send you some prayers composed by her, and my first request is that, if you find nothing objectionable in them, I may get the Bishop's leave to have them printed.

"Finally, if there is anything further you wish to have explained, I shall be most happy to do so. It may give you great trouble, but if it is from God, the promises are that all that aid in promoting this devotion shall receive the choicest blessings m return from our divine Lord,

"Yours very sincerely,                   
"ED. POWELL."

Among those who were asked to examine Teresa's writings was Bishop Ullathorne who refused, saying he was much engaged and did not think a perusal of the letters would be of much avail without a knowledge of the writer, adding a word urging "extremest caution with respect to females who are liable to mistake imagination for revelations!"

Bishop Knight was also cautious. He read the letters and wrote: "The impression they convey to me is first of all that they are the outcome of a mind deeply impressed with religious feeling and sincere in believing what she writes. So much of it is purely subjective that the evidence is intrinsic only, or else dependent on the character of the writer, and while this is known to you, others would be without it in forming a judgment. The devotion she is especially drawn to is of course unexceptionable as being one aspect among the many of the cultus of our Lord's Humanity."

Father Bertrand Wilberforce, OP, was another of those to whom Teresa's case was referred. He was deeply impressed with the devotion to the sacred Head and not only adopted it himself but did all he could to spread it. He sent Father Powell a long memorandum1, including a careful analysis of the devotion and his opinion as to Teresa's own sanctity and reliability, and in a separate letter he says:

"I think much of what she writes is, especially for a person of her education and little reading, very wonderful and that it shows great illumination of mind. Her humility, obedience and mortification are wonderful, and, on reading the letters, my mind seems to feel they are true."

Another of those consulted was Mons. Weld who carried on a long correspondence with Father Powell, bearing chiefly on a little book of prayers to the Sacred Head which they were anxious to publish. Mons. Weld also wrote to the Bishop himself, saying:

"If all the information I have received is correct (a matter which would have to be tested with very great rigour if circumstances, which do not at present present themselves, rendered a juridical examination on the part of your Lordship necessary), she presents a case of extraordinary love of God and zeal for the salvation of souls, profound humility, unhesitating obedience, love of mortification and suffering only to be paralleled by that of some of the greatest saints. This seems to date from her infancy. If all this is true, we should not be surprised if our Lord bestowed upon her some of the favours which He usually bestows on such souls. He seems to have been prodigal to her in this way and what she relates with great reluctance by order of her director to whom she is bound by vows of obedience, is beyond the power of invention of one who has not made a deep study of the writings of the more mystic saints, and at the same time is so varied that only a profound knowledge of theology could enable one who was not exceptionally enlightened by our Lord Himself to vary what she has copied to such an extent as to oblige the reader to admit that all that can be said is that the favours are analogous to those of the saints, but not identical with them. She fulfils faithfully the duties of her state as a teacher, she influences all the other teachers, etc. with whom she is brought in contact, unostentatiously for great good and piety, she strips herself of everything and gives all her earnings away. As far as I have read of her extraordinary favours, I have seen nothing to which I could take exception."

There is one point which seems to have struck most of those interested in Teresa's case as very extraordinary, and that is the absence of any striking supernatural proof. They were in constant expectation of some great sign or miracle which should, as it were, guarantee both Teresa herself and the truth of her revelations. But God's ways are not our ways, and no such proof was given. Mons. Weld wrote to Father Powell: "I am struck by the absence of the more tangible signs by which our Lord generally confirms the truth of a great work when He entrusts it to the charge of a soul." And Father Snow writes: "As to miracles, I have to say that both Father Powell and I quite expected that important miracles would take place and that these would be of great help in furthering the Devotion to the Sacred Head, and at the same time be useful if, hereafter, there was question of her canonisation. But I never mentioned this subject to Teresa, nor did Father Powell to the best of my belief."

Father Hall, OSB, was asked to make a careful study of Teresa's writings and report on them to the Bishop. At first he was apparently very favourably impressed, for he wrote in November, 1882, to Father Powell: "You will be glad to hear that after having read all Miss T. H.'s letters and thought over her case, I shall have to report to our good Bishop that T. H. has been, and is, supernaturally favoured and illuminated. As regards the Devotion to the sacred Head, the arguments pro and contra are similar to those advanced and answered in connection with the Devotion to the sacred Heart."

What happened to change his opinion is not evident, but, in a letter written a week later, he questions her statements regarding her bilocations, which he compares with similar experiences of Ven. M. Agreda. He then adds: "From her letters I had concluded that T. H. was exceedingly clever (seeing that she teaches in your school), had had a good education in a convent, possessed a lively imagination, etc. Our mishap the other evening enabled Father Snow to undeceive me somewhat." (He missed his train and so was able to have a long talk with Father Snow.)

From this time his belief in her began to wane. In December, 1882, he wrote: "We cannot question T.H.'s truthfulness, but it seems clear to me that her vivid and strong imagination accounts, and is accountable for, several statements in her letters." It was not until the following August that he completed his report, which seems to have been unfavourable, to the no small surprise and disappointment of Father Powell, who wrote to him:

"Bootle, Sept., 1883.

"MY DEAR FATHER HALL,

"On Monday last week the Bishop told me he was satisfied I was duped by Miss T. H., that in your report you ascribed something to hysteria, some to delusion; and that "assuming certain things narrated to be true", that there was something supernatural or preternatural. His Lordship further added that in a conversation he had with you, you were stronger against this being the work of God than even in your report.

"I thought this was very different from what you led me to understand. I have not seen your report. I think you often said all rested on her individual testimony. Before I saw the Bishop, three other of my teachers and Miss Flynn with whom they lodge, as well as Miss H. heard such yells, blows, unearthly noises, that they could not sleep at all for three nights; that they sent one of their number to me at Bunter to give orders to Miss H. to tell the Devil — to whom they ascribed these disturbances — that he was not to frighten them any more, or to let them hear anything. The four were really very ill with terror. I send you what they wrote, describing what they each heard. Please return the book to me.2

"I have to thank you for all your trouble in the matter, though, of course, I grieve for your decision.

"Yours very truly,                        
"EDWARD POWELL."

The result of all this was that the Bishop told Father Powell he wished Teresa to change her confessor and that she must write no more. True to herself, she obeyed without a murmur and of course her letters cease. The following, dated at the end of August, 1883, is the last of that wonderful series, written in obedience to Father Powell, and it shows how keenly she was suffering at the time.

"AMDG et in hon BVM et St. J.
"Bootle, Aug. 1883.

[140] "DEAR REV. FATHER,

"In the holy Name of Jesus and in obedience I write of the trial which it pleases our dear divine Lord to give me at present. I have often written of the complete eclipse which from time to time takes place in my poor soul, but I have always felt some mitigation of it when I knelt before Jesus in the most holy Sacrament of His Wisdom and love I have been able at any rate to feel that I could throw myself upon His pity and compassion on account of my helplessness and misery and expect help and victory in His Name and through His most precious Blood. But now I feel to suffer an inexpressible agony when I kneel before Him; I feel and know I am in Him as the fish is in the water and His infinite attributes weigh upon me as it were to crush me out of existence (if it were possible) and after holy Communion I feel as if His precious Blood, which saturated the soul at that time, cried to heaven for vengeance. And oh how heavily does His infinite power press upon me in His justice, and how clearly I understand the wrath which He hurls against the sinner, the hatred He has for sin and how opposed it is to His awful purity and dread sanctity. Oh I cannot express the fear and dread that fills my whole being and I dare not even ask for mercy. I cannot say that all-powerful name of Jesus and Mary, I feel that the good God has cast me off, or rather holds me in His wine press and searches me through and through; and I think it is His dread presence which He makes me feel and understand so forcibly that is the actual cause of this bitter agony of soul, mind and body. I try to fix the eye of the soul upon Him and look at Him as if I existed not, for, if I could hide myself from myself, I feel I could rest on Him. Oh well He knows how to afflict the soul. When I say that I have not experienced this before I mean that it has never before reached such an extreme as now. Then the Devil too is very noisy, and those in the house are very terrified, for the whole house shakes and the windows they say rattle as though they would come out, and I know I am the cause of their sufferings, for they seem to me to be quite ill with it at times. I have tried to do as you told me and be quite indifferent, and I have actually told Miss Flynn what it is, as though it was nothing, and now I think she is worse afraid than ever; and I fear too I had a selfish motive in doing so: I thought she would pass it off, so I think perhaps I did it more to screen myself than to overcome myself. May His holy Will be done in all things. I really will not try to interfere or prevent the accomplishment of His all wise designs whatever they may be. I am sure you are ashamed of my cowardice and disgusted with promises I make so often and the fear I am in all the time that our dear blessed Lord would accept the offering I make Him. He knows though how I wish to do all that I say to Him, and I wonder often how it is that I shrink so fearfully from it. I do not mind what I tell Him people say or think and at the same time I am tempted to run away, and if it were not that I should be disobedient, I would have gone away long since. Of course I am firmly resolved with His help never to do anything without your consent but I have heard so much lately, in fact every day I hear something fresh I think. I really try to be like a dead person who neither notices abuse or praise, and yet oh how I fear and dread. Pray earnestly for me.

"Will you dear rev. Father if you know that soul (so dear to our dear crucified Spouse) ask them to pray for me that I may do the little I can (well) to forward the Devotion in which they are to play so prominent a part.

"Begging God to grant us the grace and help we need and asking your prayers and blessing I remain dear rev. Father

"Your obedient and devoted child                             
"In the sacred Head and loving Heart.
"TERESA HIGGINSON
"Enfant de Marie."

[141] "DEAR REV. FATHER,

"Since I wrote the enclosed, I have been obliged to tell all who it was that was making all the noise. They were really terror-stricken and I am sure you would have stopped it if you had been here, so I stopped it so that they might go to sleep, but I am afraid they could not rest till near six in the morning. Oh they were so frightened and are quite nervous and ill.

"I am just the same as ever; only I think worse of the two."

It must have tried her sorely in the midst of all these trials to find herself cut off from the director who knew her so well and in whose hands she had found such peace. But our Lord had not deserted His faithful Spouse, and if He was depriving her of her trusted advisor, it was only to place her in the hands of another wise and holy director who should guide her soul safely to its journey's end. This was the Rev. Alfred Snow whose words have been so often quoted, and Teresa came in time to praise Almighty God for the wisdom of His choice. She wrote many years later in reply to a letter from Father Powell:

[270] "As you say, 'God does arrange everything beautifully', and He often allows us to see how better able He is to judge for us than we are to judge for ourselves for things that are a great cross, or would be if we had not implicit confidence in His tender care; He lets us presently see how it was the very best thing that could happen to us. May His holy Will be the only aim of our life. In the case you refer to I tried in every way to hide what I felt and I don't think I said more than He knows what is best and in obeying his Lordship we are certainly obeying and pleasing Him. Yet no one but Himself knows what a trial it was for me, His poor weak cowardly child. I remembered at once all the doubts and troubles I had experienced before He, in His infinite Wisdom and love, had given you to me for a director, and I thought no one else could ever be able to understand me because I was so stupid in explaining what I wanted to express."

Father Snow had originally trained for the legal profession and had then become a priest. He had for some time been curate at St. Alexander's, under Father Powell, and was now in charge of the mission of St. Mary's, Aughton.

In September, 1883, he received a letter from Father Powell saying: "The Bishop also wishes Miss T. H. to have another confessor. This I have told her and I certainly wish you to undertake that little responsibility. It is very little because our Lord teaches her. The Bishop does not want her to write any more either. The Bishop did not ask me to change my opinion. He only stated his own conviction. He added, however: 'If it is the work of God, it will prosper in spite of opposition.'"

Father Snow did not give an immediate answer. He notes in his diary:

"September 10, 1883. Letter from Father Ed. Powell saying the Bishop desired Miss Teresa Higginson to have another confessor, asking me to undertake that responsibility.

"September 14, Saw Father Powell and told him I felt great diffidence in accepting it and would not give a positive answer till after my retreat. Stated all my objections and asked him to consider them and then say if I ought to consent. Also saw Miss T. H. and told her I would give certain answer after my retreat, and urged her that the one thing she was to consider in choosing a confessor was the good of her own soul. I afterwards heard her confession for the first time."

He finally agreed to accept the responsibility and from that time to the day of his death he remained her director, and she was under vow of obedience to him. She certainly had no occasion to repent of the decision, for never for a moment did he falter in his belief in her; and for her own part she came to look on him as her true father to whom she could turn for advice and help in all her needs both spiritual and temporal. Having undertaken the direction of one already so far advanced in the ways of God, Father Snow set himself to make a special study of the mystical life, and, when later on he became Chancellor of the diocese, few guessed how saintly and spiritual a soul lay hidden under the calm exterior of this most successful and business-like administrator. It was a revelation even to his closest friends, long years after Teresa's death to find the old man, now nearing his own end, sitting with the tears streaming down his face lost in contemplation of the days when he had been in such fatherly relations with one whom he venerated as among the great saints of God.


1. See Appendix A.

2. These reports have been quoted in Chapter X.