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Mark Shea's Blog: So That No Thought of Mine, No Matter How Stupid, Should Ever Go Unpublished Again!
I like the real Therese much better than the de-humanized one presented by her editors and improvers.
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If this can happen to Thérèse of Lisieux, one wonders how many supposed devotions to the saints aren’t, in actuality, devotions to a fiction of the pious imagination. Indeed, a materialist might even ask the same question of the Gospels, pointing out that while the Church guarantees their inerrancy, nothing in them need be false for them to succumb to having been airbrushed testimonies.
In the rear of Stefansdom, the cathedral in Vienna, stands an altar dedicated to St. Thérèse. The backdrop is a portrait photograph of the saint in full face looking out at us. The first time I went to the cathedral, I was struck by the thought that we have photographs of saints; that they are in fact still appearing among us. My second thought was no thought at all. I simply could not tear my gaze away from those eyes; and every time thereafter when I visited Vienna, I spent some time there.
I like the real Therese much better too. It’s reassuring to see that saints were human, struggling with the same things we all do. They remind us that we too (with God’s help) can overcome. This provides great consolation.
I wonder at the kind of subjective measurements the Saints are constantly subjected to. So many improvers, within and outside the Church, insist on whitewashing or grittifying or sexifying. One gets the impression that a Saint is less saintly if they don’t rate well on whatever scales people carry around. “She suffered more! She didn’t suffer enough! I can’t relate to her–is she really as holy as they say she is?” As if a Saint coasted along to sainthood! If they had nothing to struggle with in their Christian lives, why would the Church present them to us as worthy of veneration?
His post is very good. The later translations: e.g. from Carmelite Studies, point out the same issues. Nevertheless it is good the author has compiled his short list and pointed out the deeper character of Therese..
The letters of Therese and especially the testimony for the process of canonization – and not to forget Celine’s accounts, really bring the authentic personality of the saint to the forefront.
That said – it is good to remember that even the edited version of Story of the Soul swept the world and devotion to Therese ignited the hearts of many through her message of humility, confidence and love. Story of a Soul inspired many conversions, vocations as well as great theologians of the time to devote their lives studying the depth of her doctrine. It must be remembered the language and style of the text, as well as the representations in art and retouched photos suited the times, even into the 1950’s and ’60’s. We are much more coarse today.
In short, the doctrine was there even in the carefully edited editions.
Nevertheless – it is a very good post to introduce and help readers get through the flowery language. I hope many will discover the real Therese through the essay.
I’ve read both versions of her autobiography, and while I agree that the unexpurgated version is better, I didn’t find as huge a difference between them as this article suggests. Certainly they both showed the same person; the earlier version omitted some anecdotes but didn’t add any false ones.
Also, one other reason for the expurgation is rarely mentioned: Most of the people mentioned in her autobiography were still alive when it was first published. So whenever Therese mentions, for example, “Dr. so-and-so” or “Father so-and-so”, the version edited by her sister changes this to “a doctor” and “a priest” — not because the stories would have been insulting, but because that was something commonly done for privacy reasons in the era before modern journalism.
It might have worked to present the more saccharine version of Therese to inspire nice young ladies in the 19th century, but it must have had a backlash then as well. (God could never love a floundering wretch like me, when he has such lovely little flowers for brides.)
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