St. Theresé, First Things, and Accuracy

My recent conversations with UpstateLutheran (UL) reminded me of a past issue raised by UL in a TheologyWeb discussion we had months ago on a thread entitled Catholic ‘Salvation’. I won’t focus on the the thread itself, but one particular point repeatedly pushed by UL in the thread – that of St. Theresé Lisieux’s supposed ‘Lutheran’ sentiments, which were supressed by her fellow nuns.

Now, I can’t give UL credit for the claim. He came by it the honest way – by relying upon a source which should be fairly trustworthy: the online journal First Things. The title of the article used by UL is “Are Protestants Heretics?” by Fr. Edward T. Oakes, S.J., a professor of theology at the University of St. Mary of the Lake. I should point out that First Things seemingly has corrected the mistakes in Fr. Oakes’ article. Perhaps I had something to do with that.

The original article had these two paragraphs, which are now missing:

Sometimes, when I’m in an impish mood with the seminarians in my class, I like to quote something out of character from someone famous and have the students guess who said it. When I read these quotes from Thérèse, they’ll take a stab and say it’s from Martin Luther in one of his more pious moods, or John Calvin, or maybe Karl Barth. Imagine the shock when I tell them it came from that “Lutheran Carmelite,” the Little Flower!

Not surprisingly, these passages were suppressed from the first edition of her writings (edited by her fellow nuns at the Carmel in Lisieux) but were restored by more scientifically inclined scholars in the 1950s. These restored passages brought about a revolution in the interpretation of Thérèse, showing her to be a theologian of remarkable depth and uncanny insight, though unschooled in every way except in the crucible of her own experience. In fact, it was these very passages that led Pope John Paul II to declare her a Doctor of the Church.

After dealing with UL’s repeated claims on the thread at TheologyWeb, I decided to make sure for myself. This is a portion of the letter I sent to First Things:

I was surprised to read this, especially in light of recently downloading a facsimile copy of an English translation of “A Story of a Soul” published in 1912. This can be downloaded here: http://www.archive.org/details/saintthaeraeseof00thaeuoft . Also, Project Gutenberg has the same text available. In both versions, St. Therese is translated thusly:

I am happy at the thought of going to Heaven, but when I reflect on these words of Our Lord: ‘I come quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to his works,’ I think that He will find my case a puzzle: I have no works. . . . Well, He will render unto me according to His own works!”

and

When comes the evening of life, I shall stand before Thee with empty hands, because I do not ask Thee, my God, to take account of my works. All our works of justice are blemished in Thine Eyes. I wish therefore to be robed with Thine own Justice, and to receive from Thy Love the everlasting gift of Thyself. I desire no other Throne, no other Crown but Thee, O my Beloved!

I believe, that when compared to the two quotes provided by Edward T. Oakes, it will be clear that he is wrong in attributing these two quotes from the version published in the 1950’s, supposedly containing, “suppressed” passages.

I am grateful that First Things decided to alter the article to eliminate the two misleading paragraphs. I am not, however, pleased that they didn’t issue a formal correction (as best I can tell), or include a notation in the article acknowledging the change. The Lutheran websites that latched onto the charge of suppression of Lutheran thought in St. Theresé most likely won’t bother doing the research I did, nor will they be aware of the editing of the article by First Things.

I say all of this, and relate it to UL, only because of the recent hullabaloo on the Internet by people like James Swan and James White over some supposedly problematic quotes used by Catholic apologist Steve Ray (see here for background). UL has ‘taken up the cause’ so to speak, and has been a vociferous supporter of Swan’s accusations. Of course, wouldn’t you know it, UL relied upon a Catholic priest – a seemingly reliable source – for his information concerning St. Theresé’s writings. He used the article as a source in an argument both on TheologyWeb and his own blog. I hope the irony sets in soon.

UPDATE: Fr. Al Kimel pointed me to the blog at First Things where Fr. Oakes did indeed acknowledge the error. Here is the link. Thank you, Fr. Kimel.

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5 thoughts on “St. Theresé, First Things, and Accuracy

  1. Rusty,

    There is no “irony” to set in. The problem with Ray’s Luther quote is not that he relied on a secondary source, but that it has been shown to be misleading. Swan has done some more work, and the Latin quote may be an translation from the original German. If this is true, then the idea Luther thought we should rely on councils because of so many interpretations of Scripture, which Ray claims in his book, is simply wrong.

    http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2007/12/chasing-goosecontinued.html

    In any case, I supplied tyhe correection regarding the supression of St. Theres’s works. I did htis because it is the right thing to do.

    Now the irony shoe is on Ray Swan’s foot, isn’t it. :-)

  2. it has been shown to be misleading

    Not maybe, but definitely. If this is so, then . . . why . . .

    the Latin quote may be an translation
    and . . .

    If this is true, then

    Swan should accuse less and prove his point with difinity. He’s yet to do this.

  3. I distinctly remember Fr Oakes’s original article and the original reference to Therese of Lisieux. I also remember (at least I think I do) a subsequent comment by Oakes on the First Things blog acknowledging his error, but heck if I can find it. Perhaps it too has been deleted.

  4. I’m still rather miffed at Fr. Oakes for his blog entry on the Immaculate conception, in which he went from the fathers, touched on Aquinas’ rejection, and then rushed on claiming that it took centuries of reflection after Aquinas before the IC was accepted…yet the most famous defender of the IC was born while Thomas was still alive, Bl. Duns scotus.

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