P. T. Rohrbach

New Catholic Encyclopaedia


A state of awareness of God’s fatherhood and a consequent filial dependence on Him. Although the term has long been employed in the history of Christian spirituality, it was given a new articulation and dimension by St. Therese of Lisieux and is now commonly associated with her.

Pius XI in the bull of canonization for St. Therese stated that her spiritual program “consists in feeling and acting under the discipline of virtue as a child feels and acts by nature. Spiritual childhood is, therefore, more than a devotion or a simple pious practice; it is an attitude of spirit, the basis of an entire relationship with God, rooted deeply in the fundamental themes of authentic Christianity. St. Paul wrote: “God sent his son... that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father’” (Gal 4.4-6). Christ outlined the basis of man’s relationship with the Father: absolute confidence (Mt 7.7-8; Lk 11.9), absence of debilitating self-preoccupation (Mt 6.25-34; Lk 12.22-34), a love of preference for the Father (Mk 12.29-30; Mt 22.37; Lk 10.27), a love that proves itself by obedience (Mt 7.21; 21.28-32), and a concern for the Father’s glory (Mt 6.9-10; 5.16; Lk 11.2). These are the elements of spiritual childhood.

St. Therese, in reply to an inquiry about spiritual childhood, said:

“It is to recognize one’s own nothingness, to expect everything from the good God as a child expects everything from its father. It is to be concerned about nothing, not even about making one’s fortune…. I remain a child with no other occupation than gathering flowers, the flowers of love and sacrifice, and offering them to the good God for his pleasure. Being a child means not attributing to yourself the virtues you practice or believing yourself capable of anything at all; it means recognizing that the good God places the treasure of virtue in the hands of his child to be used when there is need of it – but it is still God’s treasure. Finally, it means never being discouraged by your faults, because children fall frequently but are too small to hurt themselves much.”

St. Therese’s phraseology, a product of the Victorian era in which she wrote, might convey the incorrect impression that she was advocating a sentimentality in religion. Nevertheless, her program is one of Christian maturity, outlining the basic structure of the Christian personality: the child of God, who loves the Father, trusts him, obeys him, and is concerned with his good. Benedict XV wrote: “There is a call to the faithful of every nation, no matter what be their age, sex, or state of life, to enter wholeheartedly upon this way which led Sister Therese of the Child Jesus to the summit of heroic virtue.” And Pius XI stated: “If this way of spiritual childhood were practiced everywhere, it would bring about the reform of human society."