Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Tree and the Flower: St. Augustine’s and St. Therese of Lisieux’s Relation with God

Filial Love and the Interior-Alterity of Feminine Interiority 

St. Therese, 1873-1897 A.D.
St. Augustine, 354-430 A.D.

Saint Augustine and Saint Therese of Lisieux seem to be the most different of Saints. On the one hand there is Augustine, considered an intellectual giant, who turned from the lustful pleasures and vanities of the world to a life of public preaching and holy writing. Then there is Therese of the Child Jesus; a simple girl who maintained her baptismal innocence from infancy, and died in the bloom of her youth in hidden obscurity. It would seem justified to think that the relationship of these two Saint’s with God would be of a starkly different nature. However the following paper shall reveal that Therese and Augustine have much more in common with each other in the way they related to God on earth and God to them. This will be demonstrated through an exploration of two major theological themes present in their relationship with God. Firstly the theme of childlike filial love shall be explored; involving characteristics such as confidence, joy and awe. This shall then be followed by the theme of an interiority of alterity involving the encounter of Therese’s and Augustine’s feminine interiority with the masculine exteriority of the Divine Presence dwelling within. The conclusion shall relate how these two themes are interconnected, with both the saints’ filial love the fruit of the spousal-eros love between their feminine interiority and God’s masculine exteriority. Drawing from this it shall be concluded that Augustine and Therese share commonalities in the way in which they related to God on earth and God with them; with nuances of relational difference making each of these saints unique in the way in which they intimately loved God.

Childlike, Filial Love
The term childlike love evokes the sense of a simple love that is powerful in its innocence, rawness, candid-openness and gayety. One imagines that these are the very traits that God desires due to the words of Jesus that speak favourably on children in the Gospels. “Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” says the Lord in Matthew (18:4). And in Mark: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (10:15). If such childlikeness is a prerequisite for entrance into Heaven, then most certainly both Therese and Augustine qualify.        
            Therese is renowned for her childlike love of God, with it being an essential aspect of her spiritual charism. After all her full name was ‘Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face’. She conceived herself as a little child that was infinitely responsible and indebted to her earthly parents and parental figures (including Saints Joseph and Mary) as human icons of her filial devotion to God as Mother and Father.[1] Her childlike love of God manifested itself in her highly passionate and needy characterisation of countless maternal and paternal figures in her life; including her biological sister Pauline, her ‘Pappa’ which she called her ‘dear King’, priests in her life and her mother superiors. All of whom she displayed filial trust and confidence in. Her ardent childhood thirst for parental affection reveals an intensely affectionate and sensitive soul which at first longed for such affection with a human filial love. Therese’s longing for maternal love and approval is expressed in her autobiography, Story of a Soul where she writes:
My little Mamma took me in her arms and brought me to Céline’s bed. I would say: “Was I very good today, Pauline? Will the little angels fly around me?” The answer was invariably “Yes,” otherwise I would have cried the whole night...[2]

And in another passage:
Without Pauline’s consent I didn’t even take a walk, and when Papa told me to come I’d answer: “Pauline doesn’t want it.” Then he’d come and ask your permission and to please him, Pauline would say “Yes,” but little Therese saw by her look that she wasn’t saying it with all her heart, and she’d begin to cry and would not be consoled until Pauline said “Yes” and kissed her with all her heart![3]

Her filial love is also expressed in relation to paternity when speaking of her father she writes: “I cannot say how much I loved Papa; everything in him caused me to admire him”.[4] As Therese grew both physically and spiritually her human filial love became progressively united to a Divine Filial Love which typified her relation with God that intrinsically involved what she saw as familial-others. “I believed, I felt there was a heaven and that this heaven is peopled with souls who actually love me, who consider me their child.”[5] It is in her poetry however that we see most profoundly the magnitude of Therese’s filial love for God. In the poem To My Little Brothers in Heaven she writes “charming little Imps, your childish audacity pleases the Lord. You dare to caress his Adorable Face”.[6] Here she “reveals herself: She is the one who wants to ‘caress the Face of Jesus’ and even ‘kiss’ it”; and this is the “childish daring”, the raw, bold love of a child that Therese embodies.[7] Such filial love speaks of a relationship with God characterised by a deep filial intimacy of passionate joy; and an unshakable trust in God’s infinite parental goodness.

           Augustine’s filial relationship with God is equally as intense as Saint Therese’s. The expression of his filial love is however of quite a different nature. Since drawing from the parable of the prodigal son, it could be said that Therese’s filial relationship with God resembled that of the older brother, not in regards to his jealousy, but in her continual abiding within the shelter of her Father’s House. Her filial gratitude thus takes the form of thanksgiving for not being abandoned by God into mortal sin, and thus remaining by His grace as a “little angel” instead of “a little demon”.[8] However Augustine’s filial relationship with God resembled that of the prodigal son, since he ran away from the Father’s house by fleeing from his mother Monica’s shelter of wisdom (representative of the Virgin Mary, House of the Lord), into the world of lustful pleasure and heresy; only to return in repentance of his ignorant sins, so as to be welcomed by the Father’s merciful embrace. His filial love thus takes the expression of a son who is eager to repay throughout eternity the excessive mercy shown unto him by the Father who he abandoned in the blindness of the exteriority of the world.[9] In his Confessions Augustine tells in a scenario of repentance, similar to that of the return of the prodigal son, of the emergence of a filial love for God that was to remain and grow in him throughout the remainder of his life. Martindale writes on this occasion:
“Behold a vision of the chaste dignity of Continence, serene in cheer...smiling and calling me.” It was the army of the pure, boys and girls, men and women, virgin equally. “What they could do, cannot you?” The words came back and back. Bursting into a storm of tears, Augustine tore himself from Alypius, ran to the farthest part of the garden, flung himself on his face beneath a fig-tree, and sobbed and prayed. A child’s voice reached him, singing from the neighbouring house some trifling rhyme: “Take it, read it! Take it, read it!”...[he] opened his scroll and read: “...Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in its lusts.” In calm and silence, the miracle was worked...he went direct to Monica, and the old life dropped from him like a garment.[10]

The child’s call from the “neighbouring house” speaks of the child Jesus who dwells in the interiority of the Father’s House within, beckoning him to return to the childhood innocence and purity of Eden. He responds by repenting of his sins besides Christ who weeps in the Garden of Gethsemane. His return to his mother symbolises his entrance back into the Father’s House, and manifests an awakened filial love with distinct tones of a childish candour, and filial awe at God’s Mercy; experienced primarily by Augustine in the Maternity of the Divine Paternity. His deep filial love with its childish candour fuels the deeply sorrowful outpouring in his Confessions, and reveals a relationship with God grounded in a profound humility of childlike littleness. The filial awe and gratitude that accompanies his childlike love is resounded perpetually by Augustine, who writes:
When others read of those past sins of mine, or hear about them, their hearts are stirred so that they no longer lie listless in despair, crying ‘I cannot’. Instead their hearts are roused by the love of your mercy and the joy of your grace...for no small good is gained, O Lord my God, if many offer you thanks for me.[11]

This reveals an aspect of Augustine’s filial relationship with God as a young boy in Christ the Child Jesus, who gapes in wondrous Adoration of the Might of His Father, the Creator of the World; while ‘embracing firmly’ the Maternal Spirit in his ardent “love of wisdom”.[12]

An Interiority of Alterity: The Encounter of God through Memory
           Interiority speaks of the inner or interior life of man; involving the realm of the psyche yet going beyond into the infinite universe of his soul.[13] All people are called through prayer to live in varying degrees as ‘inner men’. To live this life of interiority is to live in God’s Presence within the inner temple of one’s being (1 Cor 3:16). Edith Stein explains:
The personal I is most truly at home in the innermost being of the soul. When the I lives its life in this interiority...[it is] closest to the meaning of every event...[furthermore] the soul in its interiority feels what it is and how it is. This is a dark feeling that cannot be expressed in words, but it indicates to the soul the mystery of its being (as mystery), without clearly revealing this mystery.[14]

As Levinas asserts, the essence of one’s being is alterity (or exteriority); and the return to this primordial state of being as otherwise is the purpose of an ethically transcendent spiritual life.[15] This Levenian understanding does not oppose a life of interiority as explained by Stein; since true interiority can be said to be true alterity, for within the self, one encounters God the Other in whom all others abide. Stein also relates how the act of remembering in the light of God’s Wisdom is a primary mode of one’s inner penetration.[16] Within this vein memory must be understood to be “as much or more about the future as it is about the past” and thus “to ‘remember’ is not to list carefully researched facts, but rather to put the story of one’s life...together afresh, for the sake of going forward”.[17] Remembering the events of one’s life in God’s grace is thus an act of interior-alterity since to remember in such an instance is to encounter God the ‘Other’ who is “the meaning of every event”.[18]                
Interior-Alterity as Feminine Interiority
The introspection of remembering is an act of interior-alterity which is itself an act of feminine interiority, since it opens the soul’s womb to the Divine Presence that dwells within. Thus creating through its passivity the space for the encounter between soul and God, the ‘I’ and the ‘Other’, in whom the drama of all other’s is played out. Feminine interiority is inherently receptive, and its giving or alterity consists in its passive-receptivity to the masculine exteriority of the Divine Presence that dwells within and beyond the ‘womb’ or ‘heart’ of the soul.[19] The procreative act is analogous of this, whereby both female and male give to each other and receive from each other in their single act of alterity. The feminine soul through her alterity of passive-interiority encounters the masculine Divine Presence through His alterity of active-exteriority. Without this feminie interiority or interiority of alterity, one remains outside of themself without self-knowledge, thus remaining a prisoner of one’s false-self and ego which causes one to conflate in pride, like an arrogant adolescent who rebels against the rightful authority of their parent.[20] An interiority of alterity is thus essential to developing the humility of a filial love of God.

Augustine and Therese’s Interiority of Alterity: Divine Encounter through Memory
Both Augustine and Therese are deeply introspective individuals, with Augustinian and Carmelite spiritualities indicative of this. Through their interiority of alterity in remembering various events in their lives, both saints hope to plunge deeper into themselves and thus into a deeper encounter with God who is the fullest and incompressible meaning behind every event. Therese naturally does this in her poetry and her autobiography, and likewise does Augustine in Confessions. With Divine Hindsight both saints come to encounter the hidden Presence of God in the events of their past; and in a sense through prayerful introspection they come to relive the often obscure and sometimes imperfect past so that every event in their lives may be atoned for and serve the Glory of God.[21] Scripture speaks of this when it says: “all things work together for those that love God”, thus even the sinful past is redeemed through God’s remembrance of His Mercy (Ps: 25: 6)[22], a remembrance which both Augustine and Therese deeply entered and shared with God. This is indicated in Therese’s account of the intent she has behind her self-reflections in Story of a Soul:
It is to you dear Mother...that I come to confide the story of my seemed to me it would distract my heart by too much concentration of myself, but since then Jesus has made me feel that in obeying simply, I would be pleasing Him; besides, I’m going to be doing only one thing: I shall begin to sing what I must sing eternally: “The Mercies of the Lord.”[23]

           Such introspective remembrance reveals that Therese’s relation with God is characterised by her reception of God’s Mercy, in which through recalling her past she seeks to uncover the infinite array of hidden notes of mercy that lie behind and within the events of her life. Her interiority is thus rightly a feminine interiority of alterity because her search into the abyss of her memory is the journey of her confession to God. It is the means through which she hopes to encounter God through the traces He has left in her past, traces which are stored in the memory and are made present through the act of remembering. Augustine is very similar, for as he relates: “all this I do within myself, in that huge hall of my memory”, for he like Therese, relates to God through the same medium of feminine interiority.[24]To confess, then” for both these saints “is to praise and glorify God” as “an exercise in self-knowledge and true humility in the atmosphere of grace and reconciliation”.[25] This is evidenced within both Therese’s and Augustine’s lives of interior-alterity, since through their narrative-confessions they sing in praise of ‘the Mercies of the Lord’; with their songs remembering in and with the living memorial of the Word; as they sing with the language of the Holy Scriptures in a dialect of their own.[26]               
Augustine and Therese’s Feminine Interiority: Intimacy with God
Augustine and Therese through their feminine interiority of alterity relate to God as the masculine exteriority of the Divine Presence which calls out from within: “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him” (Mt 25:6). The exteriority or alterity of ‘going out’ to meet God for both saints involves the interiority of ‘going in’. This ‘going in’ is thus their interiority of alterity, a ‘going in’ for the sake of the Other who beckons from within. It is rightly described as a feminine interiority because both saints speak with the tongue of a sanctified eros towards the masculine Divine Presence within. This is revealed in Confessions where Augustine writes:
Belatedly I loved thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new, belatedly I loved thee. For see, thou wast within and I was without, and I sought thee out there...Thou wast with me, but I was not with thee....Thou didst call and cry aloud, and didst force open my deafness...Thou didst breathe fragrant odors and I drew in my breath; and now I pant for thee. I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst. Thou didst touch me, and I burned for thy peace.[27]

Therese likewise as a passionate spouse in love with God reveals her feminine interiority with her appropriation of the words of Saint John of the Cross: “In the inner wine cellar I drank of my I occupy my soul”.[28] Writing in another place: “When I love Christ and when I touch him, my heart becomes purer, I am even more chaste. The kiss of his mouth has given me the treasure of virginity”.[29] Common to both saints within the above excerpts of writing is their experience of ‘touch’ with God. This ‘touch’ describes the encounter between their feminine interiority as Bride and the masculine exteriority of the Divine Presence within as Bridegroom. This reveals that both saints had a profoundly intimate relationship with God. Augustine however describes being touched by God (“Thou didst touch me”) whereas Therese describes touching God (“when I touch him”).[30],[31] What this reveals is that Augustine’s relationship with God went to the extent of his feminine interiority ‘meeting’ and ‘receiving’ the Divine Touch of God’s masculine exteriority. A unique nuance to Saint Therese’s relationship with God is that her feminine interiority went beyond the extent of ‘receiving’ the Divine Touch of God’s masculine Love; by touching God with His very own Love through her femininity.           
           The following metaphor can be applied to distinguish Augustine’s and Therese’s relationship with God. Augustine’s feminine interiority was at the point of bridal-femininity in honeymoon intimacy; where God’s masculine exteriority touched his feminine interiority.[32] Therese’s feminine interiority was beyond this point, resembling a maternal-femininity in spousal intimacy; where her feminine interiority touched the masculine exteriority of God. This touch of Therese’s is the touch of her bold and confident filial love through her feminine interiority. For indeed there is no greater gift that a spouse can give her husband than a child. Augustine’s filial love for God could be said to be at the stage of conception. A love equally perfect, yet passive as opposed to active like Therese’s filial love. In her original poem “To the Sacred Heart of Jesus” Therese reveals the extent of her feminine interiority, when with bold and almost shockingly confident filial love exclaims: “You heard me Creator of the world, for my love alone you became man”. [33] It is no wonder that her sisters made her change this verse completely, since the remarkably deep feminine interiority of Therese along with her bold filial love that characterises her ‘Little Way’, marks a new movement of the Spirit and until recently was almost entirely unique to Therese.[34],[35] Indeed both Augustine and Therese give perfect glory to the Lord, since both perfectly cooperated with the graces they were given, yet as different parts in the Mystical Body of Christ they do so in different ways.

Augustine’s relationship with God as the ‘Doctor of Grace’ is one that is marked by a feminine interiority of unique receptiveness to the abundance of God’s Merciful Grace. This is characteristic of the gratuitous filial love of a prodigal son. On the other hand, Therese’s relationship with God as the ‘Doctor of Love’ is one that is marked by a feminine interiority of unique reciprocity to the Merciful Love of God.[36] This is characteristic of a bold and confident filial love of a faithful older son who has dwelled always in the Love of His Father’s House. It is most significant that both Augustine and Therese are Doctors of the Church; and thus they must share a similar place in the role of the Mystical Body of Christ. Perhaps it is the heart of the Mystical Body that the Doctors of the Church can be said to compose; for through them the Lord pumps forth the richness of the teachings of His Word. The heart can be said to be the garden of the Mystical Body, and the Doctors of the Church the plants of which it is composed. Within this garden is Therese the ‘Little Flower’ and Augustine the Mighty Tree. Both flower and tree perfectly extol the praises of God’s Merciful Love. Therese the Little Flower sings of its ineffable joy and innocent beauty; whilst Augustine the Mighty Tree tells of its unfathomable grandeur and excessive generosity.



Astell, Ann W. “Facing Each Other: Saint Therese of Lisieux and Emmanuel Levinas.” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality. (2004): 24-43. Accessed 17 August,   2013. doi: 10.1353/scs.2004.0001.

Augustine. Augustine Confessions. Translated by Albert C. Outler. Fordham University, 1994. http://www.fordham. edu/halsall/basis/confessions-bod.asp.

Augustine. Confessions. Edited by Betty Radice and translated by R.S. Pine-Coffin. London:      Penguin Books, 1961.

Elber, Mark. “Levels of Soul.” Accessed October 29, 2013.

Frohlich, Mary. “Therese of Lisieux and Jeanne d’ Arc: History, Memory, and Interiority in the Experience of Vocation.” Spiritus 6 (2006): 173-195.

Gennari, Giovanni and a discalced Carmelite nun, An Echo of the Heart of God & Studies of the Self-Offering of St. Therese of Lisieux. Nedlands: Carmelite Monastery, 2001.

Levinas, Emmanuel. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Translated by Alphonso            Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969.

Martindale, G. C. “A Sketch of the Life and Character of St. Augustine.” In St. Augustine: His Age, Life and Thoughts. M. C. Darcy, New York: Meridan Books Inc., 1959.           80-101.

Stein, Edith. “The Interiority of the Soul.” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture. 2 (2005): 183-193.Doi: 10.1353/log.2005.0022.

Therese of Lisieux. Story of a Soul, 3rd ed. Translated by John Clarke. Washington, DC: ICS        Publications, 2002.

Therese of Lisieux, The Poetry of Saint Therese of Lisieux. 3rd edition. Translated by Donald        Kinney. Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1996.

Watkin, E. I. “The Mysticism of St. Augustine.” In St. Augustine: His Age, Life and Thought, M. C. D’Arcy, New York: Meridan Books Inc., 1959. 104-119.


[1]Ann W. Astell, “Facing Each Other: Saint Therese of Lisieux and Emmanuel Levinas,” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, 4 (2004): 24, accessed 17 August, 2013, doi: 10.1353/scs.2004.0001.
[2] Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, 3rd ed., trans. John Clarke (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 2002), 23.
[3] Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, 44.
[4] Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, 48.
[5] Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, 191.
[6] Therese of Lisieux, The Poetry of Saint Therese of Lisieux, 3rd ed. Trans., Donald Kinney (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1996), 182.
[7] Therese of Lisieux, The Poetry of Saint Therese of Lisieux, 180.
[8] Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, 83, 149.
[9] Augustine, Confessions, ed. Betty Radice, trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin (London: Penguin Books, 1961), Book VIII, Chapter 7, 169.
[10] G. C. Martindale, “A Sketch of the Life and Character of St. Augustine,” in St. Augustine: His Age, Life and Thoughts, M. C. Darcy,, (New York: Meridan Books Inc., 1959), 95-96.
[11] Augustine, Confessions, Book X, Chapter 3-4, 208-209.
[12] Augustine, Confessions, Book III, Chapter 4, 59.
[13] Mark Elber, “Levels of Soul,” accessed October 29, 2013,
[14] Edith Stein, “The Interiority of the Soul,” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 2 (2005): 187, 190, doi: 10.1353/log.2005.0022.
[15] Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969), 292.
[16] Edith Stein, “The Interiority of the Soul,” 184.
[17] Mary Frohlich, “Therese of Lisieux and Jeanne d’ Arc: History, Memory, and Interiority in the Experience of Vocation,” Spiritus 6 (2006): 174.
[18] Edith Stein, “The Interiority of the Soul,” 187.
[19] The terms feminine and masculine are used here in a spiritual, not a literal sense. And this shall apply for the entirety of this paper.
[20] Edith Stein, “The Interiority of the Soul,” 189-192.
[21] Edith Stein, “The Interiority of the Soul,” 192.
[22] “Remember your mercy O Lord” (Ps 25:6).
[23] Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, 13.
[24] Augustine, Augustine Confessions, trans., Albert C. Outler (Fordham University, 1994), Book X, Chapter 8, http://www.fordham. edu/halsall/basis/confessions-bod.asp.
[25] Augustine, Augustine Confessions, Introduction.
[26] Augustine, Confessions, Book VI, Chapter 16, 131. “Praise and honour be yours, O Fountain of Mercy.”
[27] Augustine, Augustine Confessions, Book X, Chapter 27.
[28] Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, 178.
[29] Therese of Lisieux, The Poetry of Saint Therese of Lisieux, 138.
[30]Augustine, Augustine Confessions, Book X, Chapter 27.
[31] Therese of Lisieux, The Poetry of Saint Therese of Lisieux, 138.
[32] E. I. Watkin, “The Mysticism of St. Augustine,” in St. Augustine: His Age, Life and Thought, M. C. D’Arcy,, (New York: Meridan Books Inc., 1959), 109-110.
[33] Therese of Lisieux, “General Introduction,” in The Poetry of Saint Therese of Lisieux, trans. Donald Kinney, 29.
[34] Giovanni Gennari and a discalced Carmelite nun, An Echo of the Heart of God & Studies of the Self-Offering of St. Therese of Lisieux, (Nedlands: Carmelite Monastery, 2001), 80-81.
[35] Therese of Lisieux, “General Introduction,” in The Poetry of Saint Therese of Lisieux, 29.
[36] Giovanni Gennari and a discalced Carmelite nun, An Echo of the Heart of God & Studies of the Self-Offering of St. Therese of Lisieux, 47-52.

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