The Devil's Advocate in Thérèse of Lisieux's Process of Canonisation

Here are the observations (in latin animadversiones) of the Promoter of Faith Msgr. Verde, who was arguing against the canonisation of Thérèse of Lisieux. These objections were presented prior to the opening of the Cause on April 8th, 1914.

Who is this young lady?

It is first required of the members of the Congregation of Rites to identify the case they are to examine: it concerns a young lady who joined the Carmelites at the age of fifteen, died after nine years of religious life, and whose reputation for holiness has spread rapidly throughout the world. Drawing inspiration from Mgr de Teil’s Articles, Verde summarises Thérèse’s biography in the first two numbered paragraphs, concentrating particularly on events that took place prior to her religious life: her illness and miraculous recovery, her Christmas conversion, at which point Verde becomes somewhat muddled in the chronology, and her request to Pope Leo XIII. Concerning her life in the Carmel, he above all emphasises her role as novice mistress.

1. The case concerns the celestial honours [beatification] to be granted to a young nun who joined the Carmel of Lisieux at barely fifteen years of age, and died there after having lived there for nine years. Following her death, her reputation for holiness was such (particularly after her autobiography was published) that, as state the advocates of her cause [Mr Toeschi and Mr Guidi], “like the famous mustard seed in the Gospel that grew to become the size of a tree, it is spreading rapidly across the whole world. Consequently there is almost no land that does not echo with her praise or where devotion to the Servant of God does not exist, or where her many graces are not manifested.” (Inform. pag. 1 § 1).

She was born in Alençon, in the diocese of Sées, on 2nd January 1873, of pious and honourable parents who were very intent on giving her a Christian education. From a very early age, she revealed an extraordinary character and exceptional religious fervour. Yet, whilst still a small child, she was deprived of her mother and lost all joie de vivre following the misfortune. Her father then moved to Lisieux with the whole family and established his home there.

When the Servant of God reached the age of nine, she began receiving the education expected of girls of her station from Benedictine nuns and easily came top of the class in two subjects: catechism and religious history. At that time, she fell victim to a serious illness that people said had to have been the evil work of the devil. She was eventually cured from it with the help of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, and in May 1884, to her great joy, she was admitted to Holy Communion.

2. Two years later, whilst attending the Holy Sacrifice on Christmas Day, after feeling freed of all the bodily and psychological anguish from which she had suffered ever since three of her four sisters had joined the convent, and after feeling the beginnings of an unaccustomed fervour (which she later called her conversion), she decided she should no longer hesitate in celebrating her betrothal to the heavenly Spouse, to whom she had already given herself a long time since.

This is why she revealed her decision to her father who, despite his great sorrow, granted her permission to join the Carmelites. However, she met with refusal from the ecclesiastical authorities for the reason that she was just fifteen years old. Nonetheless, she did not give up and renewed her attempts. Throwing herself at the feet of His Holiness Leo XIII, she shared her innermost desire with him and begged him to remove all obstacles on her path, which, in his ministerial authority, he had the power to do. In his great wisdom, the Pontiff advised her to defer to her Superiors’ decision for such a serious matter. Once back at home, despite her dashed hopes, she did not lose any of her former fervour.

When the bishop finally granted her request, she was admitted to the Carmelite Convent of Lisieux on 9th April 1888 as a novice and, as she had given visible signs of religious perfection, pronounced her solemn vows on 8th September 1890. Three years later, she was nominated assistant novice mistress. She performed her duty with the utmost care until she was confined to bed, consumed by a lingering illness. She died on 30th September 1897 and her last words spoke of her love for God.

Have there not been any irregularities in the trial proceedings?

Thérèse now identified, the Promoter of the Faith first has to examine the Acts of the Ordinary Process, a trial that was completed in a short time (sixteen months) despite there being fifty witnesses to hear. He first needs to verify whether it took place in accordance with the rules, which it did save a few irregularities. The only irregularity examined here concerns the translations: the rules had been fixed by the popes and recently evoked by the Congregation of Rites. Not only should the translator have been designated by Cardinal Vico, Ponent of the cause and responsible for the case file within the Congregation, and ratified by Verde himself, but the aforesaid cardinal should also have designated a “supervisor” responsible for checking the translation on the spot. The diocesan judges chose the translator themselves . . . and overlooked the supervisor. This information cannot be found in the edition of the ordinary process (1973), which limited itself to publishing the testimonies and ignored everything concerning the process’s procedure.

3. Thirteen years after her death, on 3rd August 1910 [date on which the tribunal was constituted], the Episcopal authority of Bayeux conducted a process of enquiry into her reputation for holiness. Although a significant number of witnesses were summoned (in fact the Postulator of the cause convened no less than forty-five people, plus two officially appointed witnesses, to which were added two officially summoned co-witnesses) the whole investigation ended on 2nd December the following year, 1911.

Now, if we examine the files, it is easy to see that a few irregularities in relation to our legal norms were committed, but I will overlook them for the sake of brevity, particularly as they would not present any serious difficulties in the present judgment. There will be a more suitable moment to discuss them in detail if the validity of certain information is debated one day during a specific hearing [should the procedure continue]. I will only give one example of a procedure that visibly goes against the decrees, both old and new, of our Congregation. As the postulator of the cause had convened two English-speaking witnesses [Taylor and Grant], the most reverend judges designated R.D. Théodore Hébert, a priest and former English professor, as interpreter (Proc. Fol. 1240, verso).

It is undeniably illegitimate to designate an interpreter in this way, since Pope Innocent XI “decreed that in the future, for all trials, the interpreter will be designated by His Eminence the Cardinal Ponent once the Promoter of the Faith has been heard; and as an additional precaution, the interpreter’s translation will be reviewed by an impartial expert who will have been commissioned in complete discretion by the same cardinal ponent.” (Benedict XIV, bk I, chap. 19, n° 10) In 1889, considering there to be too many “serious irregularities in the way ordinary and apostolic processes for the beatification and canonisation of servants of God were being conducted outside of Rome,” the Sacred Congregation issued a decree that included, among others, the following order: “translators and revisers of processes written in the vernacular language must be chosen and nominated by the ponent of the cause and under no circumstances by the judges of the process itself.

All this is just a family affair

Verde now moves on to address the core of the issue. His first reproach concerns the overriding presence of Thérèse’s sisters in the testimonies, and also their excessive preparation. This reproach is justified on account of their correspondence with the vice-postulator. Such conduct drains the statements of all spontaneity, led the aforementioned sisters to quote abundantly, particularly from Thérèse’s writings and, more importantly, led them to reveal a marked partiality, which was unworthy of nuns who had sworn to stick to the strict truth. These biased testimonies are not counterbalanced because the Carmelite Sisters who could have expressed an opposing argument had either died, such as Marie de Gonzague, or were set aside.

4. Among the witnesses convened in this Cause, we note four of the Servant of God’s sisters, three of whom were professed to religious life in the same Carmelite convent of Lisieux, namely witnesses I [Mother Agnes], III [Marie of the Sacred Heart] and IV (Sr Geneviève]. The other, witness VII [Sr Françoise-Thérèse], pronounced her vows in the Visitation Order in Caen. One quickly realises that their testimonies take up a large amount of space in the Summarium; leafing through the trial documents will lead us to the same conclusion. It is very clear that all of them [the sisters] carefully prepared for the examination, enthusiastically organising the testimonies they would present to the judges in their cells. What is more, one of them [Sr Françoise-Thérèse], artlessly admits it: “Reading Story of a Soul also helped me prepare my testimony.” (Sum. p. 7 § 9 [PO, p. 341])

For almost all the questions, regardless of the topic, they provide supporting quotations of the Servant of God’s words, from her writings and letters, either whole or in small fragments. To avoid omitting anything that might involve their sister’s holiness or bring about her glorification, they present, over and over again, extracts from the life story that the Servant of God wrote herself in order to highlight the latter’s virtues. The second witness [Mother Agnes], who heaps even more abundant praise upon her than her other sisters, nevertheless adds, “If I told you everything I observed and everything she said to me, this trial would last forever.” (Ibid. p. 186 §19 [PO p. 158]) We could argue that their excessive affection excuses them, yet such an excuse is not admissible because we must first and foremost remember that the women who made these statements are nuns and should respect the sacrosanctity of oath.

Prioress Mother Marie de Gonzague [who died in 1904] would perhaps have moderated their praise if she had been convened to witness in the process and been listened to attentively. The sisters would also have had a different tone if other nuns, ones who had not formulated a favourable opinion regarding Thérèse’s holiness, had been able to testify after the Prioress. But, as witness XVIII [Sr Marie-Madeleine] notes, “Most of the Sisters who had little esteem for her during her life are dead.” (Sum, p. 502 § 150 [PO, p. 481])

Her confessor is dead and we hear that Thérèse got by on her own

Verde now addresses an essential point. Thérèse’s code of conduct (meaning her specific type of holiness) excluded any manifestation that could be outwardly visible. In this case, her confessor’s testimony would have proved essential but he died at the same time as Thérèse. More generally, the latter considered herself capable of taking the right decisions for her inner life on her own, and seemed recalcitrant to guidance. In fairness, according to one witness, passing confessors gave her contradicting instructions. Verde bases his accusation both on the way in which Thérèse expresses herself in her autobiography (Jesus as her sole director) and on her Carmelite sisters’ testimonies, which unwittingly labour home the point by painting Thérèse to be outside all clerical control. The conclusion is irrevocable; Thérèse presented presumptuous behaviour and, more importantly, a risk of quietism.

5. It would have been very useful and even necessary to have the testimony of one man, the priest who was the confessor in the Servant of God’s convent. This is because the latter drew herself, on her own initiative, a code of conduct that involved nothing extraordinary on a human scale, and nothing visible to exterior eyes. She always stuck to it and could only please God through making inner sacrifices. Therefore only someone who knew her conscience well for having examined it could have provided a valid testimony.

Moreover, we know that Sister Thérèse did not easily or docilely consent to the choice of a director of conscience. According to one witness [Mother Agnes], “God saw fit that she should find revealing her feelings very difficult, and that several years should pass before she was able to find the Director she sought. The first [Fr Pichon] barely saw her before he had to go to Canada, and from there he only wrote a few lines to her once a year. Another [Fr Blinio], astonished ‘by her bold aspirations for an outstanding conduct, told her that it was a sin of pride to want to equal and even surpass Saint Teresa.’ In 1891, another [Fr Alexis] at last assured her that she was not offending God and could safely follow her life of trust and self-surrender. From that moment on, she had peace of mind.” (Summ. p. 238 § 1[PO p. 164])

Even before joining the convent, she was more accustomed to trusting her own judgment than being guided by a director of conscience, witness IV [Sr Geneviève] tells us. “Strictly speaking, she didn’t have a spiritual director; she saw what she had to do so clearly that she didn’t feel the need to ask.” (Proc. fol. 344, verso [PO p. 270]) And two years before she died, in the year 1895, she wrote, “Never have I heard [Jesus] speak, but I feel He is in me. At every moment, He guides me and inspires me as to what I must say and do. Just when I need them, I discover insights I hadn’t yet seen. It is not usually during silent prayer that they are the most abundant, but rather when I’m in the middle of my daily occupations.” (Summ, p. 140, towards the end [according to Mother Agnes, PO p. 152])

Any informed person understands that directing one’s life in such a way can be subject to frequent loss of bearings. They would easily conclude that the Servant of God was not immune to the Quietist error when attentively reading the following: “On the subject of prayer, she said [according to Fr Madelaine], ‘Apart from the Divine Office, I do not have the courage to force myself to search out beautiful prayers in books. Like children who do not know how to read, I say very simply to God what I wish to say, and He always understands me. For me, prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed to heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy; finally, it is something great, supernatural, and which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus.” (Ibid. p. 260 § 73 [PO 520])

To top it all, Thérèse is the main witness in her process

Pursuing his criticism of the testimonies, Verde comes to an argument that is recurrent in the Theresian lawsuit: as a result of the publication of Story of a Soul, the nun is the principal witness in her own trial and such a testimony is void by right, as the conclusion of this article clearly points out. The Promoter of the Faith puts forward two different arguments: the first highlights the literary quality of a book that is intended to win over readers almost despite themselves; the second attacks the core of the lawsuit, insomuch as nothing but Thérèse’s revelation of her inner spirituality allows us to see her life’s holiness, something of which even her Carmelite sisters were unaware, because their correspondence with Léonie during Thérèse’s lifetime was silent on the subject.

6. Coming back to the collection of evidence, we cannot help but notice that much reference is made to her life story, which the Servant of God wrote herself, and that the distribution of this writing is at the origin of her widespread reputation for holiness.

It is because the narrative is charming, drafted and elaborate, to the extent that it seems there was a literary purpose behind it. Not only does it flatter the mind and charm the heart, but it also wins readers’ admiration. Witness V [Fr Elie of the Mother of Mercy] admits it candidly: “It was on reading Sister Thérèse’s admirable and delightful autobiography, or should I say, on devouring it, that I felt an overwhelming enthusiasm for this hitherto unknown little Sister. Ever since, I have had the tenderest devotion for the Servant of God, and been certain that one day very soon she will be beatified by the Church.” (Summ. p. 4, towards the end [PO, p. 320])

If the Servant of God had not, in her writings, related the heavenly elevations that Christ Our Lord had granted to her deep in her heart, and if she had not revealed the treasures within her soul, which she does with great confidence in her affirmations, no one, probably, would ever have thought she was a saint or had heroic virtues. One of her sisters [Sr Françoise-Thérèse, Visitandine] testifies to this: “Studying the book taught me many things about her life I didn’t know. I knew she was very virtuous, but, as I hadn’t been living with her, and moreover had never been particularly privy to her private life, I hadn’t imagined that her heroism had risen to that level.” (Proc., fol 487 [PO p. 349])

Even if the witness had no further opportunity to live with the Servant of God after the latter joined the convent, her three other sisters often sent her news. Those who lived in the same monastery as Thérèse would not have remained silent on her progression along the path of virtue if they had noticed something admirable.

In any case, if anecdotes cannot constitute adequate evidence for a reputation of holiness according to the instructions of Benedict XIV’s doctrine (Book II, chap. 40, n°1), the Servant of God’s biography, which she wrote herself, has even less value in this respect.

A reputation for holiness that dates from only after her death

Verde pursues his demonstration on the importance of Story of a Soul. Two different witnesses make the same observation; whether in English-speaking countries or in Lisieux itself, it was only after the work was published that Thérèse’s reputation for holiness developed. The other testimony put forward appears inappropriate here because it mentions a reception that was hostile at first (a sentimental holiness, like the novels of the same name), and which then became favourable, the reader not being able to resist studying the spiritual doctrine in greater depth.

7. “As soon as a few people had read the life story of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus’, it was like a spark that sets everything ablaze.” (Summ. p. 470 § 50 [Sr Geneviève, PO, p. 313]) “In my country,” according to witness II [Thomas Nimmo Taylor ], “Story of a Soul was translated into the English language in 1901. The book’s publication was the starting point for the Servant of God’s reputation for holiness in English-speaking countries, including America. This reputation developed slowly at first, perhaps due to the relatively high cost of the publication.” (Ibid. p. 462 § 24 [PO, p. 228])

Witness XVII [Marie of the Trinity] reports: “There are even some people who didn’t appreciate Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus at first, disdainfully describing her as “a child”, or a “a sentimental saint”, but after studying her life and her little way of childhood more carefully, they became her warmest admirers and most fervent friends.” (Ibid. pag. 502 § 149 [PO, p. 473])

We owe the first flood of devotees to the Servant of God’s burial place to the book, if we are to understand witness XX [her cousin, Jeanne La Néele]: “This flow of people began at about the time that the publication Story of a Soul made the Servant of God known. It has greatly increased since His Excellency the Bishop of Bayeux released the ordinance for the research of writings by Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus [marking the official opening of the process], and it continues to grow every day.” (Ibid. p. 506 § 163 [PO, p. 498])

Did her book sell through divine intervention or sentimentality?

We now reach the heart of a crucial objection, one so tenacious that Benedict XV would need to refute it again publicly in 1921, and which the advocate of the cause chose to answer preemptively. Thérèse’s reputation for holiness was spreading so quickly, in his opinion, that it could not be explained by “any natural cause”, but instead bore ample witness to providential intervention. While the advocate invokes a demonstration of “divine power”, Verde contents himself with pointing to the efficiency of “human action” and sets out to prove it amply in the following articles.

8. Since the Servant of God’s reputation for holiness spread (much more widely and more resoundingly than anyone could have supposed) subsequent to the distribution of her printed autobiography, the Advocate [of her cause] anticipated the difficulty posed by the circulation having been encouraged. He writes, “No right-minded person would attribute such successful circulation to any natural cause and so early after the Servant of God’s life story had been published. The Prioress of Lisieux merely had the newly-printed work sent to the other Carmelite monasteries instead of the obituary circular that, according to a longstanding tradition in that congregation, is issued after the death of a nun from the Order. Who, after comparing this fact with its astonishing and universal consequences, would not conclude that no natural explicable correlation exists between the latter and their cause?” (Summ. p. 156 § 190)

He goes on to cite the testimonies of a few devout men in order to further persuade the court that one cannot rationally explain the reputation for holiness becoming universal solely on the influence of such a biography. I will not summon in my defence the authority of the director of the Major Seminary of Sées, according to whom people’s avidity to read the aforementioned biography lies, for the most part, “upon the prominent sentimentality that he finds in Story of a Soul.” (Summ. p. 479, at the beginning [Testimony related by Canon Dumaine, PO, p. 336]) One could put forward other arguments which show quite clearly that one must attribute to human action that which the Advocate would prefer to assign to divine intervention.

Is the success of Story of a Soul due to the attached indulgences?

The first argument employed to show the role played by human action in the distribution of Story of a Soul might bring a smile to the reader’s lips, because it refers to the incentive effect produced by the overly liberal fashion in which indulgences were dispensed by Portuguese bishops when Story of a Soul was translated. This was delicate ground. Verde therefore, conversely, emphasises the Archbishop of Westminster’s hesitation to do the same not wishing to endorse the Carmelite convent’s activism. Lastly, although Verde does not say this (and perhaps he is unaware of it) Archbishop Bourne ultimately granted the requested indulgences.

9. In effect, how could the number of readers fail to grow daily since everyone, by reading this narrative, could receive sacred indulgences? Witness XVI [Isabelle of the Sacred Heart] said, “The Portuguese edition [of 1906] written by Father de Santanna, a Jesuit who is very well-known in his country for his knowledge and eloquence, was officially endorsed by thirteen bishops and archbishops.” (Summ, p. 498 § 133 [PO p. 441]) Everyone can see that the Servant of God was looked upon with exaggerated favour.

It is worth listening to witness II [Father Taylor]: “I asked for His Eminence Monsignor Bourne, Archbishop of Westminster, to concede an indulgence to those who read the English translation of Story of a Soul, following the example of several Portuguese dioceses. The priest that was my intermediary brought me a favourable promise at first, but when the Archbishop took a long time in sending me the actual concession, I asked the intermediary priest if he knew the reason for the delay. He replied that the Archbishop had heard that perhaps we were being too hasty in the affair concerning Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus. He had also heard that the role of her family in this affair could compromise its success in Rome. Consequently, the Archbishop thought it would be more sensible to wait.” (Proc. fol. 186, verso [PO, p.229-230])

Isn't her fame due to propaganda rather than to her holiness?

Continuing his demonstration, Verde now assembles several conflicting testimonies from people who criticised the activism that was deployed around Thérèse, particularly by the Carmel. To this he adds, a little deceitfully, the evidence given by ardent propagandists of Thérèse, namely Father Taylor for English-speaking countries, but more importantly Mother Agnes in Lisieux, who brandished the large publications of self-distributed pictures and books like trophies.

10. The Archbishop of Westminster was not the only one to have heard objections about the excessive zeal deployed in this affair. For example, witness VI [Canon Dumaine] says, “On the odd and very rare occasion, I did hear some criticism directed towards the way in which her story and souvenirs were being distributed; some found that “too much fuss” was being made in her memory. The two or three people that I heard say so are decent and recommendable folk.” (Proc. fol. 463 verso [PO, p. 337])

Similarly, witness XXIV [Father Madeleine] says, “Only sometimes have I heard people contest the suitability for a Carmelite convent to publish the autobiography of one of its members. What is particularly condemned, in some Carmelite convents, is the ferocity with which the Carmel of Lisieux created the propaganda.” (Ibid. fol. 1221 verso [PO p. 524]) And again, witness IX [Father Roulland] says, “I’ve heard people remark upon whether or not it was appropriate to print so many publications relating to Sister Thérèse.” (Ibid. fol. 535 [PO, p. 376]) Speaking about himself, witness II (Fr Taylor) asserts the following: “I have devoted my time to making the Servant of God known, mostly in Great Britain, the English Colonies and the United States, either by copying and distributing her pictures, or by distributing the book about her life.” (Ibid. fol. 180 verso [PO, p. 227])

The best proof of this eagerness can be found in the number of stories and pictures of the Servant of God that were printed, figures which are detailed by Mother Agnes: “To give you just a glimpse of the records kept for the books, pictures, keepsakes and letters relating to the Servant of God, I will say that from the time Story of a Soul was published to today, the total number of copies produced of the Life of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus amounts to 62,815 for the complete edition, and 80,000 for the abridged version. The total number of copies sold amounts to 45,715 for the complete edition and 56,405 for the abridged edition. As for the pictures and keepsakes, more and more people are asking us for them. Within 12 months, that is to say between July 1909 and July 1910, we were asked for 183,348 pictures and 36,612 keepsakes.” (Summ. p. 460 § 17 [PO, p. 221])

An ordinary death and an invisible holiness

Verde returns to the crux of his demonstration. Thérèse’s reputation for holiness developed subsequent to her death, as Carmelite friar Elie of the Mother of Mercy attests. Yet more importantly, he puts forward two new arguments. Firstly, there is the matter of her death (moment of truth), when nothing out of the ordinary takes place, unlike with numerous saints. Was he thinking of Saint Benedict Labre, who was little known during his lifetime, but whose glory became apparent at his burial in Rome in 1783? Secondly, at the Carmel of Lisieux, contrasting testimonies showed that, outside the novitiate, her holiness remained at best invisible.

11. In conclusion, it is not at all surprising that the Servant of God’s reputation for holiness has spread far and wide. However, the legitimacy of its origin and method of circulation is more doubtful.

Nothing about the Servant of God’s death can be found to suggest or prove that her holiness was extraordinary, going by general opinion. “She was laid out,” says Witness I [Mother Agnes] “according to the Carmel’s custom, in the nuns’ choir, near the grille. In the evening of Sunday 3rd October, the coffin was closed at the first signs of decomposition. The burial took place on Monday 4th October, without anything extraordinary happening.” (Summ. p. 356 § 25 [PO, p. 180])

Manifestations of deference and veneration, by which homage is paid to those who have a particular reputation for holiness at the moment of their death and burial, would not have been lacking, at least on the part of her fellow nuns, if her heroic virtues and holiness were really the object of a well-established belief.

Witness V [Fr Elie of the Mother of Mercy] clearly states that, “Her reputation is developing spontaneously as more and more people read her life story.” (Ibid p. 477 § 70 [PO, p. 324]) The [same] witness V adds, “Over the past 11 years I’ve known Sister Thérèse, I’ve noticed that all those who attentively read Story of a Soul become admirers of the Servant of God.” (Proc. fol. 446 [PO, p. 325-326]) It is therefore evident that her reputation for holiness did not begin to grow until the self-written autobiographical narrative was printed and copiously divulged.

As for what people thought of her in her convent during her lifetime, this is what one of her fellow nuns, witness XIII [Thérèse of Saint Augustine], says: “While the Servant of God was living in the monastery, I heard varying remarks about her. The nuns who knew her best, and especially the novices she directed, admired her sublime virtue. To others, she went unnoticed, due, I think, to her simplicity. Some nuns did in fact judge her rather unfavourably, accusing her of being cold and proud.” (Proc. fol. 585 verso [PO, p. 403])

Such a diversity of opinions clearly shows that the Servant of God did not acquire her reputation for holiness among those living with her in the convent, which she would have done had the latter been in contact with a practice of virtues so continuous and heroic as to force the admiration of even the most stubborn.

Her heroic virtues were not dazzling

Both Verde and Thérèse’s advocate are focused on the official opening of the cause. The advocate attempts to plead that a reputation for holiness which becomes apparent after death is of more value, even if he clumsily places as much weight on the adversity met by the candidate to sainthood during her lifetime as on the hidden life she chose. Verde stands his ground and contents himself with evoking the principle on which canonisation lies: in other words, the heroic practice of virtue must stand out a mile, or at least command great presence.

12. This embarrassed the Defence who, seeking to wriggle out of it, declared, “A reputation that has taken shape subsequent to death deserves more consideration and is of more value, because often, either as a result of the Servants of God having led a life hidden from the eyes of others, or for reasons of hostility and denigration, a reputation in the eyes of one’s contemporaries is limited in time and space and even dies a suffocating death. Therefore the Commission that has the Sovereign Pontiff’s authority to set the causes of Servants of God in motion has every reason to pay particular attention to a reputation for holiness that develops after a candidate’s death. In fact, an authentic virtue, although it will have been open to the jealousy and slander of contemporaries, will triumph once it escapes scrutiny and is paid universal homage.” (Inform. p. 151 § 185)

I willingly accept this argument. All the same, when we need to uncover the origin of this reputation and ascertain as to whether or not it comes from the manifestation of heroic virtues (it is these virtues alone that constitute the full glory of true sainthood), the reputation of holiness would lose its grounding if those who shared the Servant of God’s life did not notice sufficient enough virtue in her to merit the title of saint.

In another attempt to overcome the objection, the Advocate adds, “At the convent, the same happened to the Servant of God, to our knowledge, as happened to many men and women saints. As they strove to hide their merit in a quest for humility, they did not come across admirers among their fellow companions who could have proclaimed their holiness.” (Ibid p. 152 § 187)

However, it is the specificity of heroic virtue to dazzle by means of its beauty and splendour, to ravish minds, and inspire palpable veneration even among those who would prefer not to see it.

Marie de Gonzague would have been a valuable witness

Verde returns to the Carmelite Sisters’ differing opinions on Thérèse by evoking the case of Marie de Gonzague, who died in 1904. He begins with the crucial testimony of Taylor. The prioress who received Thérèse into the Carmel was rather opposed to her canonisation at first, and, if she later changed her mind, it was less because of a better appreciation of Thérèse’s virtues than because of the miracles with which she was beginning to be attributed. Verde was not unaware that Marie de Gonzague’s character had been described during the trial as changeable and easily influenced. He even cites this unfavourable appraisal while avoiding mentioning the name of the person who had portrayed her as such (Sr Geneviève, PO, p 272-273). But he launches a counter attack by evoking the testimony of Father Madelaine, who knew the prioress well and, on the contrary, testified to her acuity of judgment and the community’s affection for her. The Marie de Gonzague affair had begun, like a trial within the trial, bouncing back and forth during the apostolic process due to Mother Agnes’s testimony.

13. Let us add the fact that no one saw the rich inner workings of Thérèse’s mind more clearly, or was able to evaluate her acts more justly, than the Prioress of the convent [Mother Marie de Gonzague]. As a result of their ongoing relationship, she had the possibility, more so than the others, to observe the Servant of God attentively. Now witness II [Father Taylor] tells us, “When I spoke to the Reverend Mother Prioress of the convent about Sister Thérèse’s life, SHE BEGAN TO LAUGH, and said that we might as well canonise all the nuns in her monastery. This was in about 1904, and in any case prior to the movement of great devotion that has developed since.” (Proc. fol. 184 [PO, p. 229) Of course the witness adds that the aforesaid Prioress thereafter changed her mind, but this change was not the result of remembering her virtues or reconsidering their merit; it was the reports of the heavenly blessings attributed to her intercession.

“The current prioress, who was sub-prioress in about 1904 [which is incorrect], told me of the change herself. It came about when she heard about the graces that had been obtained through the Servant of God’s intercession.” [Continuation of Taylor’s testimony, PO, p.229] One might object that the prioress’s character was apparently changeable and easily influenced. Yet it would not be correct to say that she did not judge the nun correctly, or that she deliberately under-estimated her, for she had had frequent opportunities to test the Servant of God’s worth.

Moreover, on the subject of her character, we must listen to witness XXIV [Fr Madelaine] who, when questioned on what he knew of Prioress Mother Marie de Gonzague’s character, replied, “I knew her very well: I communicated with her frequently [1219r] either through letters or conversations in the visiting room. She seemed to me to have a particularly acute judgment. In governing her community, she wanted what was best. Judging by the conversations I had with her over a long period of time, she seemed to me to have an excellent character . . . Her numerous reelections to the post of prioress have always suggested to me that the Sisters appreciated her way of governing.” (Ibid. fol. 1218 verso [PO, p. 521-522)

A community divided on the subject of Thérèse

Verde continues examining the Carmelite Sisters’ testimonies with reference to Thérèse’s reputation for holiness. Two Sisters, Marie-Madeleine and Marie of the Trinity, who were not equally close to Thérèse but knew her well in the novitiate, both mention the community’s division over Thérèse’s holiness. And Mother Agnes herself anonymously evokes the case of two Sisters who were rather opposed to Thérèse. One had since left the community (no doubt Sr Thérèse of Jesus and the Heart of Mary), and the other, Sr Saint Vincent de Paul, wondered, in the face of such a plain existence, what could possibly be said about her in her obituary notice.

14. The nuns’ opinions were not very different from that of the Prioress. Witness XVIII [Sr Marie-Madeleine] states, “Among the other nuns, about half said that she was a good and very gentle little nun, but that she hadn’t suffered anything and her life was rather insignificant. The rest of the community were given to partisanship, as I’ve already said [PO, p. 478], and proved more opposed, saying that her blood sisters spoilt her but without ever formulating any precise criticism.” (Proc. fol. 1108 [PO, p. 481])

Witness XVII [Marie of the Trinity] says much the same: “During her time in the Carmelite convent, the Servant of God went about in the community almost unnoticed. Only four or five nuns, me being one of them, came to know her more intimately, and realised what perfection was hidden under her humble and simple exterior. In the community, she was considered a very punctual nun, and nobody could find a single reason to reproach her. She had to endure a certain amount of jealousy from a good many nuns who were against the group of four Martin sisters.” (Summ. p. 500 § 144 [PO, p. 471])

Witness I [Mother Agnes] adds, “However, to my knowledge, some nuns thought differently. One of them said it was hardly very difficult to become a saint when, like her, you had everything you could ask for, lived with your family and were given all the honours.” Of course, the witness remarks “that this nun, who had been professed many years previously, didn’t have a very acute judgment, had wanted to leave the monastery, and is now living outside as a civilian.” Yet despite this, we must not flout her opinion on this point, particularly when it is wholly confirmed by other people’s opinions.

According to the same witness [Mother Agnes], “When Thérèse was sick, another Sister said, ‘I wonder what our Mother Prioress could possibly write about Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus. What can you say about someone who was cosseted all the time and didn’t acquire virtue at the cost of struggles and suffering like us? She is gentle and good, but it comes naturally to her.” (Proc. fol. 241 [PO, p. 177])

A superficial piety

Continuing “in the same vein”, which is visibly running dry, the promoter of the faith turns two anecdotes meant to illustrate Thérèse’s humility on their head. When she is shown to have serenely replied to harsh comments directed to her, Verde focuses merely on the grievances uttered. Yet it must be noted that, in the second case, in contrast to what Verde says, Thérèse related the anecdote to the Sister herself, who then included it in her witness statement. As for the third example, contrary to what he would have us believe, the scene took place not in Lisieux but in Canada, and in an active congregation.

15. In the same vein, witness XVII [Marie of the Trinity] states, “There was a Sister who worked in the kitchen [no doubt the same one as earlier] who didn’t like her and talked about her disdainfully (the nun has died). Seeing the Servant of God approach, she would say, ‘Look how she walks; she isn’t hurrying! When is she going to start working? She’s good for nothing!’” (Summ. p. 355 § 65 [PO, p. 480])

Witness XIII [Thérèse of Saint Augustine] says much the same: “I also heard, a few days ago, one Sister say to another, ‘I don’t know why there’s so much talk about Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus. She doesn’t do anything remarkable, and she is never seen to practice virtue. It couldn’t even be said she’s a good nun.’” (Summ. p. 329 § 38 [PO p. 403]) The witness of course warns, “I know the Sister said this in a fit of bad temper,” however we don’t know how she would have responded had she been questioned on the subject during the trial.

Witness X [Fr Pichon], after saying, “One Sister, who is dead today, esteemed that Sister Thérèse’s piety was childish and wholly superficial,” adds, “the Sister, whom I knew well, was completely full of rationalism and human understanding.” (Proc. fol. 551 [PO p. 383]) Yet this nun wasn’t the only person to think this about the Servant of God.

Thérèse was childish and lacked virility

The last testimonies pertaining to Thérèse’s reputation for holiness concern the Carmelite family. First there is the case of two Carmelite convents. Having visited the Carmel of Lourdes, Taylor relates the unfavourable opinion of an Irish Sister. In the Carmel of Trévoux, exiled to Rome, it was Carmelite friar Elie of the Mother of Mercy who heard one prioress (either current or former, he could not remember which) remark that Thérèse was not very virile, no doubt in comparison with the great Saint Teresa. The same witness also states that a Carmelite friar in his own Italian community esteemed Thérèse’s life story too childish. The friar took back his words upon reading about one of Thérèse’s acts of virtue, which was rather an insubstantial a reason according to the promoter of the faith.

16. This is what we learn from witness II [Taylor]: “At the Carmel of Lourdes a few days ago, I spoke to an Irish nun whose name I’ve forgotten but who is the only Irish woman in the monastery. She told me that reading Story of a Soul had left her suspicious.” (Proc. fol 184 [PO, p. 229])

Similarly, witness V [Elie of the Mother of Mercy] declares, “One day, a few years ago now (in about 1905), I was in the visiting room at the Carmel of Trévoux, exiled to Rome, with the whole Community. The Reverend Mother Prioress, who died a pious death a few years ago, or the former prioress, Mother Marie-Louise, I can’t remember whom of the two, said something to me about Story of a Soul that showed she didn’t particularly appreciate the book. I can’t remember her exact words now, only the idea stayed with me that this ‘Story’ was considered by my interlocutor as not very virile.” Fol. 444, verso [PO, p. 325])

The same [witness] tells us, “About a month ago, Fr Franco, aged 43, was reading Story of a Soul, or was hearing it being read, in the refectory with the novitiate of Concesa, near Trezzo d’Adda [between Bergamo and Milan]. Afterwards, at recreation, he criticised the life story for being too childish and found there was nothing very holy about our Sister Thérèse.” [PO p. 325] Yet the same witness adds that shortly afterwards, the Fr Franco in question became an admirer of the Servant of God. Now, examine and consider what caused this turnaround: “A few weeks later, shortly before I left for Lisieux, reading the same life story for himself in the refectory one evening, he came across the passage where the little Saint recounts being in the laundry room and remaining calm and still when one of the Sisters kept splashing dirty water in her face as she was washing the handkerchiefs. Then, afterwards, at recreation, Fr Franco took back his first remark, said that it really required heroic virtue to bear such behaviour silently and patiently, and became a great admirer of Sister Thérèse.” (Ibid. fol 445 verso [PO, p. 326])

An extremely hidden and unjustifiable holiness

Verde opens this important paragraph with a rigorously articulated first conclusion: as it is impossible in this lawsuit dealing with a completely hidden holiness (he had not been convinced by the advocate) to provide legally receivable testimonies, it is not feasible to put forward reasons justifying the continuation of the canonical trial. Thérèse’s holiness is not in question, but the evidence of her heroic virtues crumbles under the omnipresent testimony that Thérèse gives of herself. What is more, as though nothing is amiss, Verde continues his detailed review by proposing a different objection, which is that a few Carmelite convents held a negative view when Story of a Soul was published.

17. It would seem that the differing opinions on the Servant of God (pointed out by the witnesses a number of times) stem from the fact that, from the outside, her behaviour revealed nothing that could have passed for heroic or extraordinary, and all her holiness remained hidden in her heart, invisible to those around her. Let’s admit it.

But as the Church does not pass judgment on the basis of someone’s inner life, it would be vain to launch the enquiry that would set the Cause in motion. Sister Thérèse will of course be a saint in the face of God, but without the clear and legal evidence needed to proclaim her holiness, and particularly without any typically heroic acts of virtue having been observed and related by witnesses, along with any other elements that could give her reputation a solid grounding and origin, the essential discussion material would quite simply be lacking.

Moreover, in my view, the doubts are not due to the shortcomings alone. They also stem from some of the Servant of God’s remarks and actions, which render her holiness ambiguous and weak. According to witness I [Mother Agnes], “When Story of a Soul was first published (1898), most Carmelite convents recognised the exceptional virtue it revealed. Two or three Carmels, however, sent us some observations that I’m able to summarise as follows: ‘Such a young nun should not have asserted her views on perfection in such absolute terms. Age and experience would undoubtedly have altered them. The Reverend Mother Prioress should not have allowed her to express them in this way, let alone publish them herself.’” [PO, p. 222]

The witness [still Mother Agnes] says that these nuns later revised their opinion and adds, “I know this from the letters they write to me.” But the fact that these letters have not been produced leaves us ignorant as to the reason for their change of mind and to its importance. The witness continues, “Another Prioress, who has since died, said that when speaking of her graces, Sister Thérèse might well have expressed herself with simplicity, but that there was also occasion to see pride there.” (Proc. fol. 295, verso [PO, 222])

The future saint esteemed she was saintly

Verde goes one step further in his argument. Not only was Thérèse alone in speaking about her inner virtuousness, but she also had the presumptuousness, towards the end of her life, to declare herself a saint, notably encouraging those around her to preserve relics pertaining to her. In her eagerness to reveal her sister’s extraordinary gifts (in this case her ability to predict her exploits after her death), Mother Agnes unintentionally hands the principle accusations to the promoter of the faith on a platter. And what makes it even worse is that questioning Thérèse’s words risks resulting in discrediting the little way, something Mother of Agnes held particularly dear.

17 [a] Among the numerous examples I could give, I will select a few to prove that the Servant of God openly asserted her great holiness.

Witness I [Mother Agnes] relates the following facts, and they are worth repeating: “Towards the end of her life (the last three months), while my two sisters and I were at her bedside, she had strange premonitions as to what would happen to her after her death and shared them with us in great simplicity. She had us understand that after her death, her relics would be sought after and that she would have a mission to accomplish within souls by spreading ‘her little way of trust and self-surrender’. For instance she advised us to carefully preserve everything, even down to her nail clippings. In the weeks before she died, we brought her roses for her to unpetal over her crucifix. If, once she had touched them, some petals happened to fall on the floor, she would say, ‘Do not lose them, little sisters. They will help you give great pleasure later on.’

“She also said, ‘The manuscript (story of her life) must be published without delay once I’m gone. If you wait, the devil will strew your path with obstacles in order to stop the work from being published, for it is important.’ I said to her, ‘So do you think that through this manuscript, you will do good to souls?’ ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘it is one means by which God will grant my request. It will do good to all types of souls, except to those who follow ‘extraordinary ways’. (Proc. fol. 238 verso [PO, 175-176])

Witness III [Marie of the Sacred Heart] adds, “One day she said to us amiably, “Little sisters, you do realise you’re nursing a little saint!” (Ibid. fol. 324 [PO, p. 255])

Was her certainty of salvation divine or diabolical?

Verde now wishes to hear what Marie of the Sacred Heart has to say regarding the knowledge Thérèse had of her future after death. The passage he cites is particularly significant as the witness reveals the origin of the (already famous) expression on the shower of roses. Yet more importantly, it presents an opportunity to return to the core of the debate. From where did Thérèse derive her “confidence of being granted divine favour and obtaining eternal beatitude”? From God, it must be assumed. Verde retorts that this is all very well, but where is the experienced confessor to prove it was not some devilish temptation luring the young Carmelite nun into pride? Such a witness is ever absent and yet indispensable in the very delicate task of discerning spirits. He continues by enquiring into the whereabouts of the enlightened priest whom the Carmelite Sister must have consulted when envisaging the publication of her writings. Mother Agnes had gotten too ahead of herself on this point and it risked turning against Thérèse.

18. What is more, the same witness [Marie of the Sacred Heart] states, “On 18th July 1897, she said to me, ‘If only you knew what plans I’m making, and all the things I’ll do when I’m in heaven!’ ‘So what plans are you making?’ I asked her. ‘I’ll begin my mission. I’ll go out there to help the missionaries and prevent pagan children from dying before being baptised.” (Summ. p. 425 § 251 [PO, p. 256])

The very same [Marie of the Sacred Heart] also says, “In the refectory, I read [aloud] a passage from the Life of Saint Louis de Gonzague in which a sick man prayed for his recovery and saw a shower of roses fall upon his bed as a sign of the grace he was to be granted. Afterwards, during recreation, she said to me ‘I, too, will let fall a shower of roses after my death.’” (Proc. fol. 314 [PO, p. 248])

I will set aside what is said in the tale of her life concerning the graces of which she thought her Heavenly Spouse judged her worthy. I wonder, however, where she gained the confidence of being granted divine favour and obtaining eternal beatitude. Doubtlessly, it could only have come from a revelation from God. But what could have made her so sure that it really was divine revelation when it we could fear the devil’s trickery? Such a trap is very difficult to avoid, even with the help of very experienced confessors. Did the Servant of God appeal to her spiritual director for advice when she asked her sisters to have the story of her life printed?

How presumptuous!

Verde gives the impression here of returning, for want of a better alternative, to an already closed claim. He goes back over a criticism made by the censor of Thérèse’s writings (6th December 1912), one that was instantly dropped because the writings were endorsed immediately (11th December 1912). In fact he takes over the claim and once more quotes Mother Agnes. This time, the prioress gives a personal opinion on two problematic expressions in the Act of Oblation, evoking two exceptional graces that had already elicited a request for explanation during the diocesan trial by the devil’s advocate, the Sulpician priest, Fr Dubosq. Mother Agnes’s “realist” interpretation was dangerous. Verde has no need to draw a conclusion: the facts spoke for themselves and demonstrated Thérèse’s presumptuousness.

19. The theologian and censor of the Servant of God’s writings noticed her tendency toward elation and transports of devotion, explaining the way in which, for lack of vital knowledge and sound advice, it led her to speak in an erroneous way and make remarks that merited the censor’s observations and criticism. Among other points he highlighted and which, according to him, would merit some explanation, here are two: they are two requests she made [at the end of her Act of Oblation in 1895] for manifest favours, as her sister, witness I [Mother Agnes], explains: “Firstly the favour of preserving within herself the real presence of Our Lord between her Communions (Remain in me as in the tabernacle); secondly the favour of seeing in heaven, shining on His glorified body, the stigmata of His Passion.” [PO, p. 158]

These requests appeared so unusual that the Devil’s Advocate [Canon Dubosq] saw fit to question the witness: did she know whether the terms “real presence between Communions and stigmata on his glorified body had been employed by the Servant of God in speech and writing in a kind of metaphorical extension, or whether they had been meant stricto sensu.” [PO p. 158-159] The witness replied, “She often explained these thoughts to me in conversation and I’m sure they were to be taken literally. In fact, her loving trust in Our Lord would lead her to express her requests with unlimited boldness.” (Proc. fol. 209, verso [PO, p. 159])

Infantile and insignificant words

There is a change of accusation as well as a change in register now as the “childishness” (or even insignificance) of Thérèse’s words is discussed. For his demonstration, Verde needed only to stoop, so to speak, to drawing from either the overly admiring commentaries of Thérèse’s sisters, or directly from “Counsels and Reminiscences” in the 1907 edition of Story of a Soul. The argument concerns Thérèse in her role as sacristan: the words quoted have only the appearance of being childish, since they convey something that was essential for her, that being her relationship to the priesthood. Had Verde realised this when he chose to denounce them? On a more general note, the accusations put forward here show how thin the line is between denouncing childishness and praising simplicity.

20. The following examples show the extent to which the Servant of God revelled in childish things. [According to Sr Geneviève] “She loved contemplating Jesus as a child. She said, ‘It would be lovely if I died on 25th March [Feast of the Annunciation], because that was the day when Jesus was smallest.” (Summ. p. 195 towards the end [PO, p. 279])

At the time she was sacristan, “when preparing for the following day’s Mass, she liked looking at herself in the chalice and paten. It seemed to her that just as the gold had reflected her image, so would the consecrated elements rest on her.” (Ibid p. 151, at the end [same witness, PO, p. 290]) [Mother Agnes’s concurring testimony]: “During her illness, she was brought the chalice of a young priest who had just celebrated his first Mass. She looked at the inside of the holy vessel and said to us, “My image is reflected on the bottom of this chalice, where Jesus’ blood has been poured and will be poured many times. I liked doing this with the chalices when I was sacristan.” (Ibid p. 141 towards the middle [PO, p. 165-166])

Here is another anecdote, related by one of the novices [Marie of the Trinity] whom she was in charge of guiding until their religious vocation was fulfilled: “I bitterly repented a fault I had committed. She said to me, ‘Take your Cross and kiss it.’ I kissed the foot of it. ‘Is that how a child kisses their Father? Quickly, place your hands around Jesus’ neck and kiss His face.’ I obeyed. ‘That’s not all. He must kiss you back.’ And I had to touch the cross to each of my cheeks. Then she said, ‘Good, now everything is forgiven.’” (Storia di un’ Anima, ecc. p. 278 [Original text HA 1907, p. 278])

A lack of moderation

Verde moves from the accusation of insignificance to that of lack of moderation. He evokes at length Thérèse’s behaviour when she complained of stomachaches every day because her novice mistress had told her to report them. The latter having forgotten her advice, Therese was taken for a scrupulous novice, resulting in a long-lived misunderstanding. It may well have been an error of youth, but when Thérèse became novice mistress herself, she used this example to oblige Marie of the Trinity to deal with the consequences of her own complaints, with the aim of inciting her to suffer her daily troubles in silence. Verde did not or chose not to see the outcome of the story.

21. Another trait relating to insignificance is that which witness IV [Sr Geneviève] considers one of Thérèse’s manifest virtues. “She didn’t wipe sweat from her face, because she said it was a way of admitting one was too hot and showing it.” (Summ. p. 287 § 13 [PO, p. 295]) It concerns an outward sign that nobody could fail to notice.

When it came to carrying out orders, she also lacked moderation, without which all radiance of virtue fades. Witness XVII [Marie of the Trinity] said, “One day when I had a violent headache, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus wanted me to go and inform our Mother. When I objected, claiming it would be a way of asking for relief, she said, ‘What would you say if you were imposed with the same obligation I was when I was a postulant and novice? Our Mistress commanded me to tell her every time I had stomachache. I had it every day and her order was torture for me. I would have preferred to be beaten a hundred times with a stick than report to her when I had stomachache; but I told her every time out of obedience.

‘Our Mistress, who could no longer remember the order she had given me, would say to me, ‘My poor child, you’ll never be healthy enough to follow the Holy Rule, you’re not strong enough!’ Otherwise she would ask for some medicine from Mother Marie de Gonzague, who would discontentedly reply, ‘Really, that child is always complaining! We come to the Carmel to suffer; if she can’t stand aches and pains, she should leave!’ I nevertheless continued to confess to having stomachache out of obedience for a long time, at the risk of being sent away.’” (Ibid. p. 306 § 38 [PO p. 465])

She would have done better to remind her Mistress of the order she had given her, so as to avoid being unfairly punished on account of an oversight on the latter’s part.

A hyper-sensitive nature

A new battlefield is introduced, that of Thérèse’s hypersensitivity. The first two testimonies cited refer to Thérèse as a child, and Mother Agnes assures the court that the flaw later disappeared. Verde is not so sure, and relies on the witness statement of Aimée of Jesus to show that at the Carmel, in February 1896, Thérèse was still capable of a lively reaction. Had she not publicly contested a decision made by Marie de Gonzague, who was then novice mistress? It was less a case of understanding this complicated story (Marie de Gonzague had wanted to delay Sr Geneviève’s profession for a few weeks in order to profess her herself, anticipating her likely election as prioress) and more one of wondering what the purpose behind Verde’s remarks was. Was he highlighting a problematic point in order to jeopardise Thérèse’s case, or informing her advocate of the need to provide the desired clarifications?

22. We must also remember the words of witness XXIX [Sr André, a Benedictine nun who relates what Sisters in her community said]: “She was overly sensitive, which led her to worry excessively.” (Proc. Fol. 1289 [PO, p. 544) And her sister [Mother Agnes] says: “She was extremely sensitive. As a child and even older, she could be moved to tears surprisingly easily. This was the only flaw I saw in her.” (Summ p. 285 § 4 [PO, p. 169]

She adds, it is true, that she managed to gain “full control of herself”. [Idem] However, co-witness I [Aimee of Jesus], who was officially appointed to give her testimony, reports an event that is sufficiently important for us to note: “Only once did I see Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus lose a little of her calm. Her sister (Geneviève of St Teresa) was very upset a few weeks before her Profession, and couldn’t hide it. Mother Marie de Gonzague, then Novice Mistress, was the cause of her suffering. I don’t exactly know for what reason Sister Geneviève had been humiliated but, speaking generally, I said to Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, ‘Mother Marie de Gonzague has every right to test Sister Geneviève, so why be surprised?’ At hearing this, the Servant of God replied feelingly, ‘This is the sort of test that should not be given.’ Her reply surprised me and appeared to me to be the result of too human an affection.” Proc. fol. 1116 [PO p. 573]).

So let’s drop this case

The discussion returns once more to Thérèse’s reputation for holiness. In conclusion, the promoter of the faith puts forward two complimentary arguments to persuade the court to reject the case. The first is the divergence of opinion among the Carmelites of Lisieux who knew Thérèse when she was alive, and the second, a reputation for holiness that has taken shape after Thérèse’s death thanks to the publishing of Story of a Soul. Verde says it is no use pointing out the graces that the faithful have received after praying to Thérèse. These can only illustrate God’s desire to use the Carmelite Sister as a channel of graces and therefore cannot in any way replace the incapacity to demonstrate Thérèse’s heroic virtues. Illustrating and demonstrating are two contradictory perspectives that suggest two different ways of interpreting this hostile conclusion. From a judicial point of view, it is important to respect the rules and not let God’s judgment, manifested by graces and miracles, interfere with people’s opinions. It is these opinions that are to be taken into prior consideration when defining the heroic nature of her virtues, that is to say the grounding of her reputation for holiness. From a more theological, and perhaps more spiritual perspective, Verde claims he is convinced of Thérèse’s holiness, even if the most significant testimony is that which has been provided by the Carmelite nun herself. Yet this variety of hidden holiness does not correspond to traditional norms, which rest on the demonstration of heroicity of virtues. Nevertheless, is this type of holiness not topical, as Thérèse’s success shows? It is up to the court to make an informed decision.

23. Given that, as we have clearly seen, the Servant of God had no particular reputation for holiness during her lifetime, and that this reputation began to spread not because her heroic virtues were evident but because of her personally written life’s tale and its circulation; and given that a certain number of nuns, some of whom lived very near to her for a long time, had doubts relating to her holiness without us being able to refute their opinions in the trial, it appears to me that the basis on which the present debate lies is rather weak.

It is pointless replying that those among the Servant of God’s companions who held unfavourable opinions later changed their minds, because if this was the case, then it must be attributed to the blessings they esteem to have received from God through her intercession, as we learn from Rev. M. Marie of the Most Holy Trinity [error in the name, it was Sr Marie-Madeleine]: “Our unanimity is the result of the certainty we now have of her effectual protection and intercession with God.” (Summ. pag. 502 at the end [PO, p. 481]) Everyone in this courtroom is aware that heavenly blessings do not constitute evidence demonstrating holiness. They merely serve to illustrate it subsequent to it having been demonstrated by legally receivable means.

Moreover, among the countless people (men and women) who attest to have benefitted from the Servant of God’s protection, there arises a complaint from one of her cousins [Jeanne Guérin La Néele]. The latter, publicly and before the holy court of Bayeux, declares, “I pray to the Servant of God, but I note that she sends me more crosses than consolations.” (Proc. fol. 1145 verso [PO, p. 492])

8th April 1914

Alexander Verde, advocate of the Sacred Congregation, Promoter of the Holy Faith

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