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Saint Therese of Lisieux: Doctor of the Universal Church

Item Number: 62842

Catalog Code: 0-8189-0923-43

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Therese of Lisieux; Doctor of the Universal Church

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On World Mission Sunday, October 19, 1997, Pope John Paul II declared St. Thérèse of Lisieux a "Doctor of the Universal Church." This event marked not only the culmination of an unprecedented series of honors bestowed on "the greatest saint of modern times," as St. Pius X called her, but it also represented a watershed in the evolution of the understanding of this ecclesiastical title bestowed on only 33 saints in the history of the Church. Certainly, at the time of her death in 1897, no one would have guessed that this 24-year-old Carmelite nun, with such a limited education and imperfect literary style, who never wrote a treatise or published an article and who died virtually unknown in an obscure French Carmel, would one day come to be ranked alongside such eminent personalities as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, as a doctor ecclesiae. Her selection did not come about in a vacuum, nor did it happen easily. The story behind the title and her reception of it as documented in these pages makes for truly fascinating and thought-provoking reading.

Steven Payne, OCD, is a priest of the Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite friars. He is past editor of Spiritual Life magazine and ICS Publications and the author of numerous works in philosophy of religion, theology, and Carmelite spirituality. He has taught at the Weston School of Theology in Boston, at the De Sales School of Theology and Washington Theological Union in Washington, D.C., and most recently at Tangaza College and the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. He is the current president of the Carmelite Institute in Washington D.C.



Many reasons have been adduced for the public's lavish response to the popularity of St. Thérèse of Lisieux: her physical beauty (photographs show a pleasing, full-cheeked face with brooding eyes); her romantic death; her floral imagery; her native energy and kindness; her dazzling promise to spend eternity saving earthly souls, confirmed in the eyes of many by the bumper crop of reported miracles connected to her intercession; her doctrine of the Little Way, which laid out a path of sanctity in the midst of ordinary life. In any event, it is the last that led John Paul II in 1997, the centenary of her death, to proclaim Thérèse a doctor of the Church, only the third woman (after Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena) and thirty-third saint to be so honored. To understand why and how this happened, and, in the process, to help explain Thérèse's universal appeal, is the aim of Steven Payne's Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: Doctor of the Universal Church.
          Payne's work lacks a certain intimacy and simplicity... His manner is formal and understated. Nonetheless, Payne's book draws one in, in part because its topic has generated some controversy: after all, Thérèse was neither a scholar nor a theologian; her schooling was limited; she published nothing during her life; her writings suffer from surface naivete and a penchant for overblown metaphors. Why, then, should she rank alongside Augustine, Aquinas, and Anselm as a doctor ecclesiae?
          Payne begins, in workmanlike fashion, by recounting the etymological history of the title. The term "doctor" emerges in the Pauline letters of the Vulgate, as a translation for the Greek "teacher." A doctor is one who transmits the gospel, teaching by word and example. During the patristic era, it became an honorific attached to those outstanding in evangelical skill and zeal. During the eighth century, the Venerable Bede crowned four men -- Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory, and Jerome -- with the title, a choice officially ratified, a half-millennium later, by Boniface VIII's bull of 1298. This handful of doctors soon became a multitude, as Aquinas, Bonaventure, John Chrysostom, Basil, Gregory Nazianzen, and others joined the ranks. The list, now thirty-three strong, ranges from the famous (Bernard of Clairvaux, John of the Cross) to the obscure (Ephraim the Syrian, Lawrence of Brindisi). All satisfy the three defining criteria of outstanding holiness, eminence of doctrine, and an official proclamation by pope or general Church Council.
          Does the Little Flower meet these qualifications? From the very beginning, she had her advocates: the abbot of Gethsemane Abbey in Louisville, Kentucky, seems to have been the first to propose her for the doctorate, just three years after her canonization. The first worldwide petition circulated in 1932 and gathered, within a year, the signatures of 342 bishops. Prominent theologians such as Erich Przywara, Yves Congar, and Hans Urs von Balthasar championed Thérèse's mission and detailed her contributions to theology and spirituality. Nonetheless, the drive stalled, the reason, as Pius XI tersely remarked, being "obstat sexus." But in 1970 Paul VI named as doctors two women, Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena, and the wheels began to turn for Thérèse....
          The experts had no difficulty dealing with the first doctoral criterion of outstanding sanctity. To a man (and one woman) they praised Thérèse's radiant holiness, agreeing that her humility, her goodness, her integrity, her radical submission to God's will, set upon her unmistakably the seal of sanctity.... Far more vexing was the second criterion, that of "eminence of doctrine." According to precedent, the candidate must bring to the theological table a teaching that is original, profound, faithful to tradition, and of strong and lasting influence. But did Thérèse have any doctrine at all to offer the Church?
          A consensus developed that Thérèse did fulfill the requirement -- but only with a caveat. One must first acknowledge that a new kind of doctor has emerged in the Church, a master of spirituality rather than theology, and that the definition of doctor ecclesiae must evolve to keep pace. The cases of Francis de Sales (proclaimed doctor in 1877) and Anthony of Padua (1946) initiated this new understanding; Thérèse confirmed it.This granted, her preeminence becomes apparent. Her Little Way, with its radical insistence upon childlikeness and absolute love, constitutes an original and profound elaboration of gospel principles. The influence of her doctrine is enormous and seems likely to last Austria's Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the most distinguished of the seven theologians to examine the case, argued in the Positio that Thérèse's mission came directly from God and that it has "changed the climate of the Church" through its definitive rejection of Jansenism in favor of the "Mystery of God who is Love." That Thérèse accomplished this largely through the example of her personal sanctity constitutes her particular "charism of wisdom." John Paul II, during his homily for the October 19, 1997 Mass proclaiming her a doctor, confirmed this perspective by observing that "it is precisely this convergence of doctrine and concrete experience, of truth and life, which shines with particular brightness in this saint."
          In Divini Amoris Scientia, his apostolic letter announcing the doctorate, the Pope goes even further, Thérèse was a master


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St. Therese Of Lisieux

St. Therese Of Lisieux Feast Day:
Roman Rite Calendar - 10/01
Tridentine Calendar - 10/03

Patron Of: Aviators, Tuberculosis, Florists, Missionaries, Missions, Domestic, France, Loss of Parents, African Missions, AIDS Sufferers, Air Crews, Aircraft Pilots, Flower Growers, Illness

Also known as
Teresa of the Infant Jesus; Therese of the Child Jesus; the Little Flower; the Little Flower of Jesus

    Born to a middle-class French family. Her father, Louis, was a watchmaker, her mother, who died of cancer when Therese was 4, was a lace maker, and both have been declared Venerable by the Church. Cured from an illness at age eight when a statue of the Blessed Virgin smiled at her. Carmelite nun at age 15. Defined her path to God and holiness as "The Little Way," which consisted of love and trust in God. At the direction of her spiritual director, and against her wishes, she dictated her famed autobiography Story of a Soul. Many miracles attributed to her. Declared a Doctor of the Church in 1997 by Pope John Paul II.

    "For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy." - Saint Therese of Lisieux

    2 January 1873 at Alcon, Normandy, France

    7pm Thursday 30 September 1897 at Lisieux, France of tuberculosis

    14 August 1921 by Pope Benedict XV

    29 April 1923 by Pope Pius XI

    17 May 1925 by Pope Pius XI

All information used with permission of the Patron Saint Index.

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