Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Schools and Centres

Philosophy and Theology

First Supervisor

Rev. Dr. Thomas Ryan SM

Second Supervisor

Matthew Ogilvie


Against the nineteenth century neo-scholastic description of grace as an unfelt state, Thérèse of Lisieux, in an emphasis on affect, offers an understanding of grace as a felt experience. In Story of a Soul, her effort (initially from a Jansenist motive) to demonstrate grace as present in her life, in its transparency reveals a self in formation, and a related developing God-perception. Noting the centrality of affect in human development through L. Alan Sroufe’s model of affective development, and applying D. W.Winnicott’s True Self/False Self paradigm to Thérèse’s thought, the research explores Thérèse’s eventual consonance with Pr 9:4 “Whoever is very little... come to me,” and Isa 66: 12-13, “As a mother caresses her child so shall I caress you,” a filial relationship with a merciful God where one’s very self comes to be protected by an infinitely potent other, through, not despite, limitation. Thérèse heralds an understanding of faith as interiorly sustained affective knowing – originating through early interaction with a significant other – in a capax dei of limitation (where the one needing self-preservation is the one God calls). This has implications for theological anthropology in that Thérèse’s confidence in God’s sustaining presence, mediated by her trust in the valuing other, visibly resembles this trust activity. Thérèse’s experience of grace resembles the parental “holding environment” which enables the child to become a new self. Such an approach allows for a constructive relationship between grace and human development.


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