Thursday, 22 November 2012

“Spiritual infancy” and Thérèse’s sisters

Paul Chandler O.Carm. writes today:
Thérèse of Lisieux is almost always associated with the idea of "spiritual childhood" and the Gospel texts which speak of becoming like a little child. It's rarely said -- though a glance at the concordance to her works will prove it -- that in her writings she never used this phrase and never quoted these Gospel texts. Nevertheless, even some of the best books on her are organised around this idea; e.g., Conrad De Meester, The Power of Confidence: Genesis and Structure of the "Way of Spiritual Childhood" of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (1998). Gianni Gennari has recently published a new study of Thérèse documenting how the idea of spiritual childhood came to be so closely associated with her and clearing the way for a re-examination of her spirituality:
A documented volume by Italian theologian and writer, Gianni Gennari, shows how the saint's sisters gave a reductive image of her and her "doctrine" and even managed to mislead four Popes

It is a story of true holiness and manipulated documents that is told by Gianni Gennari in his new book Teresa di Lisieux, il fascino della santità. I segreti di una “dottrina” ritrovata (Thérèse of Lisieux, The appeal of Sainthood. The secrets of a rediscovered “doctrine” – Lindau publishers, 616 pages, 38 Euros). And one recounted in meticulous detail and inspired by documents that remained unpublished until now. The volume reconstructs the life of an extraordinary woman. Saint Thérèse of the Child of Jesus is remembered by faithful as the “little saint” and is identified with the “spiritual infancy” described in Matthew’s Gospel: “If you do not change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

And yet Thérèse Françoise Marie Martin who died in the Carmel of Lisieux at the tender age of 24 in September 1897 and was canonised by Pius XI in 1925, never used the expression “spiritual infancy” in her original writings.

The book demonstrates very clearly that the doctrine of “spiritual infancy” was the brainchild of Thérèse’s sisters who were disciples of the Jesuit, Almire Pichon. Gennari writes that for fifty years, the sisters led everyone, including the Popes, to see in her the perfect embodiment of the teachings of their spiritual director. And they managed this on their own.” They did so by spreading their faith, by presenting Thérèse’s writings, which were often altered and manipulated, and also through their testimonies and the correspondence they exchanged with the Holy See when Popes needed to prepare speeches on the saint.

The book’s author was able to meet with a key figure who was involved in all of this: Fr. André Combes. In 1946, Fr. Combes went to Lisieux to study Thérèse’s texts. After four years of work, he discovered as many as seven thousand alterations and asked for these to be amended so that faithful could be presented with what the saint really wrote. But when he suggested a comprehensive publication of the manuscripts, he was shown the door.

It is this initial manipulation of an image that did not correspond to reality that Pius XI was presented with. In 1932 the Pope reacted negatively to the proposal of proclaiming Thérèse as doctor of the Church. It was not until 1997 that she was proclaimed as such by John Paul II, thus becoming the Church’s third female doctor. On 6 April 2011 Benedict XVI said that the saint was “a guide, especially for theologians.”

Gennari explains that Thérèse’s true doctrine is not “spiritual infancy” in a minimalist sense: according to her thinking, “Enfant de Dieu”, the Son of God, is the only model, which by divine grace, “deifies” humans by invading them with the love of his Spirit, transforming them into himself, just as Thérèse had explicitly written in a letter to her sister Celine: “we are called to become divine ourselves.”
This message was first placed on the Google Groups "Carmelite Librarians' Association" group.

1 comment:

  1. I am doing some translation myself of writings of Therese and I too note that the Carmelite version of things is often lacking in theological or philosophical depth.
    Edith Stein made a fine rebuttal to Heidegger, in writing, and as she was the favorite student of Husserl, one would think that something would be made of this !!
    St Elizabeth of the Trinity read Ruusbroec (though 2nd or 3rd-hand) and R. is considered among the very greatest of mystics, by Evelyn Undernill, for example, yet nothing is made of her superiority doctrinally.