Connatural Knowledge: John Paul II and Thérèse of Lisieux


In celebration of Blessed Pope John Paull II’s Feast I’m re-reading Novo Millennio Ineuntearguably the programmatic magisterial text of our time. I was struck by the blessed pope’s use of what he calls “the lived theology of the saints.” The mysteries of Christ are our mysteries, as Bl. Columba Marmion repeats again and again, but this means that the experience of the saints, who have realized Christ in their lives to a wonderful degree, is a source of knowledge about Christ. Consider the following:

Theological tradition has not failed to ask how Jesus could possibly experience at one and the same time his profound unity with the Father, by its very nature a source of joy and happiness, and an agony that goes all the way to his final cry of abandonment. The simultaneous presence of these two seemingly irreconcilable aspects is rooted in the fathomless depths of the hypostatic union. Faced with this mystery, we are greatly helped not only by theological investigation but also by that great heritage which is the “lived theology” of the saints. The saints offer us precious insights which enable us to understand more easily the intuition of faith, thanks to the special enlightenment which some of them have received from the Holy Spirit, or even through their personal experience of those terrible states of trial which the mystical tradition describes as the “dark night”. Not infrequently the saints have undergone something akin to Jesus’ experience on the Cross in the paradoxical blending of bliss and pain. In the Dialogue of Divine Providence, God the Father shows Catherine of Siena how joy and suffering can be present together in holy souls: “Thus the soul is blissful and afflicted: afflicted on account of the sins of its neighbour, blissful on account of the union and the affection of charity which it has inwardly received. These souls imitate the spotless Lamb, my Only-begotten Son, who on the Cross was both blissful and afflicted”. In the same way, Thérèse of Lisieux lived her agony in communion with the agony of Jesus, “experiencing” in herself the very paradox of Jesus’s own bliss and anguish: “In the Garden of Olives our Lord was blessed with all the joys of the Trinity, yet his dying was no less harsh. It is a mystery, but I assure you that, on the basis of what I myself am feeling, I can understand something of it”. What an illuminating testimony!

This is what St. Thomas calls “connatural wisdom”:

Wisdom denotes a certain rightness of judgment in accord with divine principles. Now rightness of judgment is twofold: first, in accord with the complete use of reason, second, on account of a certain connaturality with the matter about which one has to judge. Thus, about matters of chastity, a man after inquiring with his reason forms a right judgment, if he has acquired the knowledge of ethics, while the one who has the virtue of chastity judges of such matter by a kind of connaturality. Accordingly it belongs to the wisdom that is an intellectual virtue to pronounce right judgment about divine things after reason has made its inquiry, but it belongs to wisdom as a gift of the Holy Spirit to judge aright about them on account of connaturality with them. Thus Dionysius says (Div. Nom.ii), ‘The man of God is complete in divine things, not only by learning, but also by suffering divine things (patiens divina).’ Suffering with God and connaturality with God (compassio et connaturalitas) is the result of charity, which unites us to God, according to 1 Cor.6:17: Anyone united to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him. Consequently wisdom which is a gift, has its cause in the will, which cause is charity, but it has its essence in the intellect, whose act is to judge aright, as stated above. (Summa Theol., II-II, q.45, a.2).

It is fitting that Bl. John Paull II was the pope to have declared Thérèse of Lisieux a doctor of the Church. Thérèse seems to exemplify this kind of wisdom to an eminent degree (see the text sited by Bl. John Paul above, and also this text).

One thought on “Connatural Knowledge: John Paul II and Thérèse of Lisieux

  1. I’m wondering how this relates to everyday affairs where wisdom is commonly used.

    What is the suffering a mother first undergoes in order to have the wisdom to dress her daughter modestly? With
    modesty understood to be a practical manifestation of the virtue of chastity.

    I can see how understanding that suffering is a good is necessary, but not that actual suffering must be undergone.


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