St. Thérèse's phenomenological connaturality with St. Joan of Arc
The "little way" of spiritual childhood as a "union of hearts."
In the Introduction to St. Thérèse’s pious recreation RP1, The Mission of Joan of Arc, we find the following commentary which sums up nicely Thérèse’s unique and sublime phenomenology:
“Unconsciously - for the writing in RP1 is of a complete naivete - she projected her own personal history into the true story of Joan of Arc, as it had been handed down in popular tales. By connaturality, more than by acquired knowledge, she rediscovered a more profoundly true Joan than what an erudite approach alone would reveal.”
~ Therese of Lisieux. The Plays of Saint Therese of Lisieux: Pious Recreations (Kindle Locations 569-571). Kindle Edition.
In my previous post, St. Thérèse of Lisieux is the greatest phenomenologist in the history of the Church, I outlined the five points constituting my own simple phenomenological method based on the inspiration of St. Thérèse, St. Joan of Arc, and St. Edith Stein:
· Lines of insight
· Logical inferences
· Holy expressions
I then mentioned that connatural knowledge is the result of this contemplative process – we come to interpret our own lives through an empathic union of hearts with our saintly sisters. We enter into the “experiential current of the community” (Edith Stein, Individual and Community) with them by sharing in their noematic horizon of meaning. This connaturality is precisely the means by which St. Thérèse “naively” projects her own life story into Joan’s and rediscovers “a more profoundly true Joan than what an erudite approach alone would reveal.” Thérèse connaturalized Joan’s horizon of meaning through an empathic union of hearts in the shared stream of French Catholic spiritual experience. This is not to be confused with a Jungian “shared consciousness,” the possibility of which Stein emphatically denies. We can share meaning in the noetic plurality of communal experience, but we cannot share in the “inalienable loneliness” (Stein) of the other’s ego.
Thérèse teaches us the Steinian method of empathic devotion through shared noetic horizons of meaning. She precisely and beautifully displays this “union of hearts” through her plays and poetry about Joan. Thérèse brings us Joan of Arc through her own voice. Thérèse does not speak for Joan; she allows Joan to phenomenologically speak for Thérèse.
The Little Flower followed the same inspiration in the writing of her autobiography. Through the phenomenology of givenness leading to holy expression, Thérèse allows Jesus to speak through her in a connatural orientation whereby the knowledge of her experience informs the formal acquired knowledge of her intellect. She comes to “know” Jesus through a connaturality which then forms her intellect, as opposed to knowing Jesus through an “erudite approach.” In RP1, she does the same with St. Joan of Arc.
St. Thérèse is, in my mind, the greatest phenomenologist in the history of the Church. Her phenomenological approach is a significant aid to our contemplative yearnings. Through Thérèse we learn her “little way” of seeing the possibilities apparent in our own life story, perceiving lines of insight, and drawing logical conclusions. From this we derive holy expressions of universal value. This is one way of understanding Thérèse’s spiritual childhood.
The ”little way” of spiritual childhood means much more to me now than when I first studied Thérèse’s writings. Her way is one of phenomenological insight through lived experience in connaturality with others. A child loves and is loved as a member of a family in a union of hearts. Thérèse teaches us the exact formula for entering into the Kingdom as a child with Jesus and Mary and into her Kingdom of love in particular with St. Joan of Arc.
Thérèse’s plays and poetry about St. Joan became for me what I termed her “Jehannian hermeneutics.” She empathically came to know Joan, and through her lived experience as shared in her autobiography, plays, and poetry, she brings us into the same shared noematic horizon of meaning whereby we join both of them in a union of hearts and as members of the larger Kingdom of God under the reign of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.