Marian Coredemption in the Light of Saint Therese of Lisieux

In his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, Pope John Paul II invites us to penetrate into the depth of the Mystery of Jesus by uniting to “theological investigation” recourse to “that great heritage which is the ‘lived theology’ of the saints” (#27). This is immediately illustrated by citing two women Doctors of the Church, Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux whose “lived theology” sheds notable light on the face of Jesus in his Passion: “blissful and afflicted” (ibid).

In this way, John Paul II indicates a new path for the theology of the third millennium, a path of reflection and of contemplation uniting inseparably the understanding of the Mystery of the faith (fides et ratio) and the loving experience of this same Mystery (fides et amor). (1)

From Francis of Assisi to Thérèse of Lisieux, the mystics are the great representatives of this lived theology of the saints. They transmit to the whole Church their profound knowledge of the Mystery of God the Trinity, of the God known and loved in Jesus Christ by means of the great work of his Love which is the Redemption of man.

Immersed in the Infinite Love of Jesus, they are the best “knowers” (connaisseurs) they are authentically “theologians,” that is to say “knowers (connaisseurs) of God.” In fact, according to the words of the Apostle John, “he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is Love” (cf. I Jn. 4:7-8).

This theology of the saints is like a beacon which sheds light on the whole Mystery of Jesus, from the first moment of the Incarnation in the virginal womb of Mary until his exaltation in the glory of the Resurrection, through all of the mysteries of his earthly life, and especially his Redemptive Passion. In this same light it is also possible to contemplate the countenance of Mary and to understand better her place in the Mystery of Christ and of the Church (cf. Lumen Gentium, VIII).

In the course of this brief article, we are going to utilize the “lived theology” of Thérèse of Lisieux in order to shed light on a delicate and important question, that of the cooperation of Mary and of the Church in the Mystery of the Redemption, which could also be called “coredemption.”

In order to better interpret the theology of Thérèse, we need to recall in the light of Vatican II the intimate and indissoluble bond which unites Jesus with Mary and the entire Church. Jesus is the New Adam, the God-Man, the Creator and the only Savior of all men, the Eternal Son of the Father who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, became in a completely virginal manner the Child and the Spouse of his creature, to the point that his creature became truly his Mother and his Spouse. Such is the Mystery of the New Eve in her ineffable communion with the New Adam: she is inseparably Mary and the Church, as Mother of God (theotókos) and Spouse of God (theonúmphos), Virgin-Mother and Virgin-Spouse. (2) Remaining always a mere creature, she is raised to an unparalleled dignity by this communion with the only Savior, an active and dynamic communion which is a true cooperation in the Economy of Salvation. (3)

As a consecrated virgin, Thérèse lived profoundly with Mary and in the Church, in this “Heart burning with Love” which is inseparably that of Mary and of the Church, (4) the heart of a Spouse given to Jesus alone and the heart of a Mother given to Jesus and open to all the men created and saved by Him. (5) It is in her Love as Spouse and as Mother that Thérèse sheds light on the Mystery of the cooperation of Mary and of the Church in the Redemption. All of her writings are characterized by a profound Marian and ecclesial spirit, whether explicitly or implicitly.

In this perspective, our article will be developed in three points: