The life and writings of St Therese of Lisieux: Contributions to contemporary understandings of the relationship between Faith and Sin


Quane, Margaret Anne. (2008). The life and writings of St Therese of Lisieux: Contributions to contemporary understandings of the relationship between Faith and Sin [Thesis].
AuthorsQuane, Margaret Anne
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

This dissertation is a result of my being challenged by a phrase that is used by the most recently named Doctor of the Church, St Therese of Lisieux: 'sin against faith ... through the abuse of grace'. What did that phrase mean for Therese and does it have meaning and application for today? Given Therese's publicly acclaimed spiritual transformation, the initial aim was to examine Therese's religious experiences relating to faith and sin and to determine their contribution to her life of holiness. It sought to do this by engaging the hermeneutical triad of understanding, interpretation and application. However, rather than moving around these stages in circular motion in coming to an appreciation of Therese's autobiography, Story of a Soul, a more helpful way was to spiral round them, for the Theresian text seems capable of throwing up endlessly new material to the careful reader. The main goal in my reading, then, was to decide whether this work could be interpreted through the lens of faith and sin - thus providing a new analysis of, and approach to, her work. Having decided early that this was a worthwhile project with contemporary relevance, it was then necessary to understand and interpret her many figures of speech and to determine which of them carry her theological insights relating to faith and sin.The particular hermeneutic of holiness itself seemed a suitable one by which to unify this approach. The subsequent aim was to determine how the dynamic relationship between faith and sin in Therese's writing might be applied to today's world. Her own text 'I am seeking only the truth' provided the answer. It was but a small step from speaking of faith and sin in Therese's life to realizing that this interaction really occurs in the life of all of us when we seek to know the truth, to live it and to do it in social action. The Paschal Mystery is the dissertation's specific religiously theoretical framework.;Key terms and the dissertation's methodology are described in Chapter 1. Because this thesis is undertaken within 'spirituality as an academic discipline', attention is paid to describing that concept. Indeed, this chapter looks at many different understandings of the term 'spirituality', including Sandra Schneiders' definition in terms of 'the ultimate value one perceives'. The latter has been important to consider because the dissertation sought, where the text permitted, to cast its vision beyond the boundaries of Roman Catholicism. Chapter 2 overviews related literature. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 deal with Therese's life through the text of her autobiography, though not exclusively. Her letters, poems and one of her plays have also contributed to the discussion. Chapter 6 suggests that, while not all people have full religious faith and, maybe, no religious faith, still all can live an authentic existence by seeking the truth as Therese did. The final chapter lists twelve conclusions, five of which are summarised here: 1. It was by fully engaging in the dynamic relationship between faith and sin that Therese became holy. 2. This engagement is the path to holiness for all people 3. In exploring the meaning of Atheism for today, we find that Therese's view regarding this attitude to belief requires modification if it is to fit today's understanding of the 'sin against faith'. 4. Still, it remains possible for one to commit the 'sin against faith' today. 5. Therese's statement, 'all is grace', signals her intuitive understanding of the universality of salvation - formally pronounced by the members of Vatican Council II. This last chapter serves as a bridge between post-nineteenth century unbelief and today's postmodernism by contributing an analysis of Atheism.;This thus provides a basis for one of the major conclusions of the thesis: that Therese's statement - 'there were really souls who have no faith, and who, through the abuse of grace, lost this precious treasure, the source of the only real and pure joys' - cannot be applied to today's world without modification. Finally, the dissertation points to the need in the context of today's postmodernism for further study in the areas of faith and sin. It suggests a way of doing this might be for church and maybe, academia, to consider giving serious attention to accepting personal professions of faith and creative images of salvation as part of a broad, valuable and acceptable conceptualisation and understanding of what it means to have faith.

PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research GroupSchool of Theology
Final version
Publication dates01 Dec 2008
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