Francis Phillips reviews
Teresa Helena Higginson

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Note: Teresa Higginson's Cause was closed by the Holy See in 1938, and the imprimatur allowing devotion to the Sacred Head of Christ, as promoted by her, was revoked by Archbishop Downey of Liverpool in the same year, with this being confirmed by his successor, Cardinal Godfrey, in 1949. Thus this is a subject that should be treated with extreme caution, and inclusion of this review on the Theotokos site is in no way an endorsement of the claims about Higginson.

Teresa Helena Higginson, By Cecil Kerr, Gracewing, £17.99

This biography by Lady Cecil Kerr was first published in 1926. It tells the extraordinary story of an unknown village schoolteacher from the Wirral who achieved the heights of sanctity. Teresa Higginson, 1844-1905, was privileged to receive many visions, favours and private revelations from Our Lord, culminating in his request that his Sacred Head be universally worshipped as the seat of Divine Wisdom.

This devotion is intended to be linked to the popular and widespread devotion to the Sacred Heart. Just as the Sacred Heart revelation was given by Our Lord to St Margaret Mary to combat the coldness of Jansenism, it is argued that this subsequent revelation was given to the Victorian Teresa Higginson as an antidote to the intellectual pride and the increasing dominance of scientific rationalism of her times. This, of course, makes it especially timely today.

There were few outward signs of Miss Higginson’s holiness. Her adult life was spent in teaching and good works, poverty and obscurity; she also tried to hide from her close friends the signs of Our Lord’s many favours to her, though they were all aware, as one commented, that “she seemed to live in the presence of God.” She taught and was loved by, poor village children in Wigan and Clitheroe; for twelve years she lived as a lay helper at the Convent of Mercy in Edinburgh; and finally she died at Chudleigh in Devon, where, invited by Lord Clifford to teach the children of his estate workers, she lived in damp, dilapidated, rat-infested quarters attached to the schoolhouse.

This book is largely composed of her letters, written in obedience to her two faithful spiritual directors, Fr Snow and Fr Powell; and the testimonies of others, such as the nurse who attended her deathbed, who witnessed inexplicable phenomena or heard the sounds of furious satanic attacks which, like the Cure of Ars, Miss Higginson often suffered. There was nothing hysterical in her sufferings; the ecstasies, penances and fasts she underwent were always, according to observers, accompanied by calmness, peace and self-control.

It was in 1879, on the feast of the Sacred Heart, that Our Lord gave her his first vision of the Divine Wisdom “as the guiding power which regulated the motions and affections of the Sacred Heart”. This devotion is not new, as the hymn attributed to St Bernard of Clairvaux and translated by Ronald Knox – “O Sacred Head, ill-used” – demonstrates, but it had not become widely known or practised.

It was to Teresa Higginson’s intense sorrow that during her lifetime there were only a handful of devoted practitioners of the revelation. Her Cause, with abundant proofs of sanctity, was begun soon after her death; then, as so often happens when the founder of a religious order is not involved, it went into abeyance – though it was never cast aside. Surely in our age, where there is widespread contempt for faith and reason being linked together, and the Goddess of Reason reigns supreme, her time has come.

© 2009 Francis Phillips

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