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"A Long Road Towards the Doctorate," Section 1 of the joint pastoral letter written by the Carmelite Superiors General when St. Therese was named a Doctor of the Church in 1997 - September 9, 2017


St, Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. Catherine of Siena, the first three women doctors of the Church, Stained glass window in St. Therese of Lisieux Parish, Montauk, New York

Section I of Therese, A Doctor for the Third Millennium, the joint pastoral letter written by the Superior Generals of the two branches of the Carmelite Order, Fr. Camilo Maccise, O.C.D. and Fr. Joseph Chalmers, O. Carm., details the enthusiasm for Therese's doctorate that culminated with a formal request to the Vatican in 1932.  It was turned down because Therese was a woman.  Further movement occurred only after 1970, when Pope Paul VI named St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena Doctors of the Church.  


First Steps

4. Already from the time of her canonization, there was no lack of bishops, preachers, theologians, and faithful from different countries who sought to have our sister Thérèse of Lisieux declared a Doctor of the Church. This flow of petitions in favor of the doctorate became official in 1932 on the occasion of the inauguration of the crypt of the Basilica at Lisieux, which was accompanied by a congress at which five cardinals, fifty bishops, and a great number of faithful participated. On June 30, Fr. Gustave Desbuquois, SJ, with clear and precise theological argument, spoke of Thérèse of Lisieux as Doctor of the Church. Surprisingly, his proposal had the support of many of the participants, bishops, and theologians. This positive reaction to the suggestion of Fr. Desbuquois spread universally. Mons. Clouthier, Bishop of Trois Rivières, Canada, wrote to all the bishops of the world in order to prepare a petition to the Holy See. By 1933 he had already received 342 positive replies from bishops who supported the proposal to have Thérèse of Lisieux declared a Doctor of the Church.

The Obstacle of Being a Woman

5 The petition of Fr. Desbuquois was presented to Pope Pius XI, along with a letter of Mother Agnes of Jesus, sister of Therese and prioress of the Lisieux Carmel. She informed the Pope about the great success of the Theresian Congress. On 31 August 1932, Cardinal Pacelli, Secretary of State, replied to Mother Agnes' letter on behalf of the Pope. He was very pleased about the positive results of the congress, but added that it would be better not to speak of Thérèse's doctorate yet, even though, "Her doctrine never ceased to be for him a sure light for souls searching to know the spirit of the Gospel."

However, the time was not yet ripe for a woman to be declared a Doctor of the Church. In fact, Pope Pius XI had already replied negatively to the Carmelites' petition to have St. Teresa of Jesus, "Mother of Spiritual People" declared doctor. The petition was turned down because she was a woman. "Obstat sexus" ("Her sex stands in the way"), the Pope replied, adding that he would leave the decision to his successor. After the Vatican's negative response, and by its order, the gathering of signatures in favor of Thérèse of Lisieux's doctorate was interrupted.

Circumstances Change

6. Teresa of Jesus and Catherine of Siena's declaration as Doctors of the Church in 1970 eliminated completely any obstacle to naming a woman doctor. As a result, the proposal for the doctorate of Thérèse of Lisieux was taken up again.

In 1973, the centenary of her birth, Mgr. Garrone stated the question anew: "Could St. Thérèse of Lisieux become some day a Doctor of the Church? I respond affirmatively, without hesitation, encouraged by what has happened to the great St. Teresa and St. Catherine of Siena." On subsequent occasions, the Carmelites proposed the possibility of the doctorate. In 1981, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, following up a petition from the Teresian Carmel and after consulting the permanent council of the French Episcopate, sent an official letter to Pope John Paul II asking him to declare Thérèse of Lisieux Doctor of the Church. On different occasions the Discalced postulator general and the bishop of Lisieux, Mgr. Pierre Pican, wrote official letters to this effect. The general chapters of the Teresian Carmel in 1991 and the Carmelites of the Ancient Observance in 1995 also sent petitions. In addition, more than thirty episcopal conferences and thousands of Christians, priests, religious, and lay people of 107 countries pronounced themselves in favor of the doctorate.

Examination and Approval of the Positio

7. In the first months of this year 1997, the Teresian Carmel was asked to prepare the "Positio," i.e. the presentation of proof required by the church to demonstrate a person's suitability to be declared Doctor of the Church. Because the time allowed was limited, collaboration was necessary. At the beginning of May, a 965-page volume was printed. It was divided into 4 parts and 13 chapters that presented the facts of the life and doctrine of St. Therese and the prominence, influence, and present-day impact of her message. It contains a brief history of the causes for her beatification and canonization (ch. 1) and the process for the doctorate (ch. 2), followed by a small but compact biography of Thérèse of Lisieux (ch. 3), an analysis of her personality (ch. 4), a chronology (ch. 5), and a presentation of her writings (ch. 6). From the doctrinal point of view, it offers a general view of Thérèse's doctrine (ch. 7), a synthesis of her theology (ch. 8), and a study of the sources of her teachings (ch. 9). The impact of Thérèse of Lisieux is examined from three different perspectives: the acceptance and presentation of her doctrine by the magisterium of the church (ch. 10), its spread and influence (ch. 11), and finally the importance of her doctrine for the Church and world of today (ch. 12). The final chapter of the Positio highlilghts the "eminence"of the doctrine of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face (ch. 13). It concludes with the transcripts of the letters proposing the doctorate from episcopal conferences and ecclesiastical and lay personages. A selected bibliography (130 pages) is also included, as well as the opinions of the five theologians chosen by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the two by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. There is also an iconographic appendix that shows Thérèse as teacher and doctor.

After studying the Positio, the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and for the Causes of Saints, along with the Consistory of Cardinals, gave their approval that our sister could be declared Doctor of the Church. Pope John Paul II, as we said, agreed to the proposal, announcing it to the Universal Church at the end of the International Gathering of Youth in Paris.

Posted on Saturday, September 9, 2017 at 10:57PM by Registered CommenterMaureen O'Riordan | CommentsPost a Comment

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