St.Robert Bellarmine recounts the story of St.Christine the Admirable,advocate of the Holy Souls in Purgatory
Christine was born to a peasant family, the youngest of three daughters. After being orphaned at the age of fifteen, she worked taking the herds to pasture.
She suffered a massive seizure when she was in her early 20’s. Her condition was so severe that witnesses assumed she had died. A funeral was held, but during the service, she arose full of vigor, stupefying with amazement the whole city of Saint-Trond, which had witnessed this wonder.
She levitated up to the rafters, later explaining that she could not bear the smell of the sinful people there.
The learned and devout cardinal, St. Robert Bellarmine, relates the history of St. Christine the Admirable, who lived in Belgium at the close of the twelfth century, and whose body is preserved today in St. Trond, in the church of the Redemptorist Fathers. The Life of this illustrious virgin was, he says, written by Thomas de Cantimpré, a Religious of the Order of St. Dominic, an author worthy of credit and contemporary with the saint. Cardinal James de Vitry, in the preface to the Life of Maria d’Ognies, speaks of a great number of holy women and illustrious virgins; but the one whom he admires above all others is St. Christine, of whom he relates the most wonderful deeds.
Christina renounced all comforts of life, reduced herself to extreme destitution, dressed in rags, lived without home or hearth, and not content with privations she eagerly sought all that could cause her suffering. At first, she fled human contact; and suspected of being possessed, was jailed. Upon her release, she took up the practice of extreme penance.
This servant of God, having passed the first years of her life in humility and patience, died at the age of thirty-two. When she was about to be buried, and the body was already in the church resting in an open coffin, according to the custom of the time, she arose full of vigor, stupefying with amazement the whole city of St. Trond, which had witnessed this wonder. The astonishment increased when they learned from her own mouth what had happened to her after her death. Let us hear her own account of it.
“As soon,” said she, “as my soul was separated from my body, it was received by angels, who conducted it to a very gloomy place, entirely filled with souls. The torments which they there endured appeared to me so excessive, that it is impossible for me to give any idea of their rigor. I saw among them many of my acquaintances, and, deeply touched by their sad condition, I asked what place it was, for I believed it to be Hell. My guide answered me that it was Purgatory, where sinners were punished who, before death, had repented of their faults, but had not made worthy satisfaction to God. From thence I was conducted into Hell, and there also I recognized among the reprobates some whom I had formerly known.
“The angels then transported me into Heaven, even to the throne of the Divine Majesty. The Lord regarded me with a favorable eye, and I experienced an extreme joy, because I thought to obtain the grace of dwelling eternally with Him.
But my Heavenly Father, seeing what passed in my heart, said to me these words: ‘Assuredly, my dear daughter, you will one day be with Me. Now, however, allow you to choose, either to remain with Me henceforth from this time, or to return again to earth to accomplish a mission of charity and suffering. In order to deliver from the flames of Purgatory those souls which have inspired you with so much compassion, you shall suffer for them upon Earth; you shall endure great torments, without, however, dying from their effects. And not only will you relieve the departed, but the example which you will give to the living, and your life of continual suffering, will lead sinners to be converted and to expiate their crimes. After having ended this new life, you shall return here laden with merits.
“At these words, seeing the great advantages offered to me for souls, I replied, without hesitation, that I would return to life, and I arose at that same instant. It is for this sole object, the relief of the departed and the conversion of sinners, that I have returned to this world. There fore be not astonished at the penances that I shall practice, nor at the life that you will see me lead from henceforward. It will be so extraordinary that nothing like to it has ever been seen.”
All this was related by the saint herself; let us now see what the biographer adds in the different chapters of her Life.
“Christine immediately commenced the work for which she had been sent by God. Renouncing all the comforts of life, and reduced to extreme destitution, she lived without house or fire, more miserable than the birds of the air, which have a nest to shelter them. Not content with these privations, she eagerly sought all that could cause her suffering. She threw herself into burning furnaces, and there suffering so great torture that she could no longer bear it, she uttered the most frightful cries. She remained for a long time in the fire, and yet, on coming forth, no sign of burning was found upon her body.
“In winter, when the River Meuse was frozen, she plunged herself into it, staying in that cold river not only hours and days, but for entire weeks, all the while praying to God and imploring His mercy. Sometimes, whilst praying in the icy waters, she allowed herself to be carried by the current down to a mill, the wheel of which whirled her round in a manner frightful to behold, yet without breaking or dislocating one of her bones.
“On other occasions, followed by dogs, which bit and tore her flesh, she ran, enticing them into the thickets and among the thorns, until she was covered with blood; nevertheless, on her return, no wound or scar was to be seen.”
Such are the works of admirable penance described by the author of the Life of St. Christine. “This writer was a Bishop, a suffragan of the Archbishop of Cambray; and we have,” says St. Robert Bellarmine, “reason for believing his testimony, since he has for guarantee another grave author, James de Vitry, Bishop and Cardinal, and because he relates what happened in his own time, and even in the province where he lived.
“Besides, the sufferings of this admirable virgin were not hidden. Every one could see that she was in the midst of the flames without being consumed, and covered with wounds, every trace of which disappeared a few moments afterwards. But more than this was the marvelous life she led for forty-two years after she was raised from the dead, God clearly showing that the wonders wrought in her by virtue from on high. The striking conversions which she effected, and the evident miracles which occurred after her death, manifestly proved the finger of God, and the truth of that which, after her resurrection, she had revealed concerning the other life.”
Therefore, St. Robert Bellarmine argues, “God willed to silence those libertines who make open profession of believing in nothing, and who have the audacity to ask in scorn, Who has returned from the other world? Who has ever seen the torments of Hell or Purgatory? Behold two witnesses! They assure us that they have seen them, and that they are dreadful. What follows, then, if not that the incredulous are inexcusable, and that those who believe and nevertheless neglect to do penance are still more to be condemned?”