“Story of a Soul” – by Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

L’Histoire D’Une Âme
The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
With Additional Writings and Sayings of Saint Thérèse

The Story of a Soul, the autobiography of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, is a spiritual classic and is one of the most beautiful autobiographies ever written.  Sister Thérèse wrote this autobiography out of obedience to Mother Agnes of Jesus (her religious superior who was also her sister, Pauline).  Her autobiography reveals her deep love of God and draws the reader into the beautiful workings of grace within her soul.

This free version of the Story of a Soul is in the public domain and may be used and copied without restriction thanks to the Gutenberg Project.

Additionally, you may want to read Lessons from Saint Thérèse: The Wisdom of God’s Little Flower as a companion to this spiritual masterpiece from Saint Thérèse.


CONTENTS

Dedication

Preface by H.E. Cardinal Bourne

Prologue: Parentage and Birth

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Chapter I. Earliest Memories

Chapter II. A Catholic Household

Chapter III. Pauline Enters the Carmel

Chapter IV. First Communion and Confirmation

Chapter V. Vocation of Thérèse

Chapter VI. A Pilgrimage to Rome

Chapter VII. The Little Flower Enters the Carmel

Chapter VIII. Profession of Soeur Thérèse

Chapter IX. The Night of the Soul

Chapter X. The New Commandment

Chapter XI. A Canticle of Love

Epilogue: A Victim of Divine Love

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COUNSELS AND REMINISCENCES

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LETTERS OF SOEUR THÉRÈSE
To Céline
To Mother Agnes of Jesus
To Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart
To Sister Frances Teresa
To Marie Guérin
To Jeanne Guérin
To Missionaries

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PRAYERS OF SOEUR THÉRÈSE
Her Act of Oblation
A Morning Prayer
Act of Consecration to the Holy Face
Prayer in Honour of the Holy Child
Prayer to the Holy Child
Prayer to the Holy Face
Prayer in Honour of St. Joan of Arc
Prayer to Obtain Humility

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DAYS OF GRACE

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SELECTED POEMS
My Song of To-day
Memories
I Thirst for Love
To Scatter Flowers
Why I Love Thee, Mary

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Audio Version Online

 


NOTE TO THIS ELECTRONIC EDITION

This electronic edition of the autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (The Story of a Soul) includes much, but not all, of the content of Soeur Thérèse of Lisieux (London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, 1912; 8th ed., 1922), edited by Rev. T.N. Taylor. All the translated writings and sayings of St. Thérèse contained in that book are in this electronic edition, including the autobiography as well as “Counsels and Reminiscences,” letters, and selected poems. Also included are the preface by Cardinal Bourne, the prologue relating Thérèse’s parentage and birth, and the epilogue describing her final illness, her death, and related events. Not included are the illustrations, the list of illustrations, accounts of favors attributed to the intercession of St. Thérèse, documents related to her beatification, and some other material not written by her.

Footnotes have been re-numbered sequentially in each chapter. They are presented at the end of each chapter, and some have been slightly modified for ease of reference. A few footnotes, referring to page numbers in the original, have been modified or omitted. Citations to the Psalms, many of which were numbered differently in Catholic Bibles of St. Thérèse’s time than they commonly are today, have the “new” number in brackets next to the “old” number from the original—e.g., “Psalm 22[23]:1-4.” Footnote numbers are shown in brackets, e.g., “[1].”

The original page headers, page numbering, disclaimer of any intention to anticipate the judgment of the Church in calling St. Thérèse a “saint” before her canonization, and other extraneous matter, which were deemed suitable for a printed book in 1922 but not for an e-book in 2005, are not here. The French “oe” ligature, in words such as “soeur,” is not available in the standard ISO-8859-1 character set, and obviously is represented here by the two-letter combination “oe.” Italics are represented by underscores at the beginning and end, like this. The first word of each chapter is not set in all caps as it was in the printed book. A few obvious typographical errors have been corrected, with the changes in brackets, e.g., “[s]he” for “the” in Chapter IX. All else, including capitalization, punctuation, grammar, and British spelling, is intended to reflect the content of the eighth edition of Soeur Thérèse of Lisieux. If it does not, the fault is that of the transcriber (me, David McClamrock).


SOEUR THÉRÈSE OF LISIEUX, THE LITTLE FLOWER OF JESUS
A NEW AND COMPLETE TRANSLATION OF L’HISTOIRE D’UNE ÂME, WITH AN ACCOUNT OF SOME FAVOURS ATTRIBUTED TO THE INTERCESSION OF SOEUR THÉRÈSE
EDITED BY T. N. TAYLOR: PRIEST OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF GLASGOW: WITNESS BEFORE THE TRIBUNAL OF THE BEATIFICATION

BURNS, OATES & WASHBOURNE LD.

TWENTY-EIGHT ORCHARD STREET, LONDON, W., AND EIGHT TO TEN PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON, E.C.

NIHIL OBSTAT JOANNES N. STRASSMAIER, S.J. Censor Deputatus

IMPRIMATUR EDMUNDUS Canonicus SURMONT Vicarius Generalis

WESTMONASTERII, die nonâ Decembris, 1912.


THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO THE SERVANT OF GOD, SOEUR THÉRÈSE, IN THANKSGIVING FOR GRACES OBTAINED, AND TO HER “PETITE MÈRE,” MOTHER AGNES OF JESUS, IN GRATEFUL MEMORY OF INNUMERABLE KINDNESSES EXTENDING OVER MANY YEARS

PREFACE

As we become acquainted with the histories of those in whom, in long succession, God has been pleased to show forth examples of holiness of life, it seems as if every phase of human existence had in the history of the Church received its consecration as a power to bring men nearer to their Maker. But there is no limit to the types of sanctity which the Creator is pleased to unfold before His Creatures. To many, on reading for the first time the story of Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, it came almost as a shock to find a very youthful member of an austere Order, strictly retired from the world, engaged in hidden prayer and mortification, appearing before us to reveal to the whole world the wonders of the close intimacy of friendship to which her Divine Spouse had been pleased to call her. Certainly the way by which Soeur Thérèse was led is not the normal life of Carmel, nor hers the manner whereby most Carmelites are called to accomplish the wondrous apostolate of intercession to which their lives are given. But no less certain is it that, in her particular case, her work for God and her apostolate were not to be confined between the walls of her religious home, or to be limited by her few years on earth.

In the first place, we know that it was by obedience that the record of God’s dealings with her soul were set down in writing. And again, the long tale of graces granted in such strange profusion through her intercession is proof sufficient that it was not without Divine permission and guidance that the history of her special and peculiar vocation has become the property of all Catholics in every land. It is for God to keep, and for Him to make known the secrets of His Love for men. And in the case of Soeur Thérèse it has been His Will to divulge His secrets in most generous consideration for our needs.

What are the hidden treasures which Our Divine Master thus reveals to us through His chosen little servant?

It is the old story of simplicity in God’s service, of the perfect accomplishment of small recurring duties, of trustful confidence in Him who made and has redeemed and sanctified us. Humility, self-effacement, obedience, hiddenness, unfaltering charity, with all the self-control and constant effort that they imply, are written on every page of the history of this little Saint. And, as we turn its pages, the lesson is borne in upon our souls that there is no surer nor safer way of pleasing Our Father Who is in Heaven than by remaining ever as little children in His sight. Doubtless for many of her clients whose hearts are kindled as they read this book, Soeur Thérèse will obtain, as she has done so often in the past, wonderful gifts for health of soul and body. But may she win for all of us without exception a deep and fruitful conviction of the unchanging truth, that unless we become as little children in the doing of our Heavenly Father’s Will, we cannot enter into our Eternal Home.

FRANCIS CARDINAL BOURNE, Archbishop of Westminster.

Feast of the Presentation of Our Blessed Lady, 1912.


PROLOGUE: THE PARENTAGE & BIRTH OF MARIE FRANÇOISE THÉRÈSE MARTIN

In the month of September, 1843, a young man of twenty climbed the mountain of the Great St. Bernard. His eyes shone with a holy enthusiasm as the splendour of the Alps stirred to the depths his responsive nature. Presently, accustomed as they were to discern God’s beauty in the beauty of His handiwork, they glistened with tears. He paused for a space, then, continuing his journey, soon reached the celebrated monastery that like a beacon on those heights darts afar its beams of faith and magnificent charity.

The Prior, struck by the frank and open countenance of his guest, welcomed him with more than wonted hospitality. Louis Joseph Stanislaus Martin was the pilgrim’s name. He was born on August 22, 1823, at Bordeaux, while his father, a brave and devout soldier, was captain in the garrison there. “God has predestined this little one for Himself,” said the saintly Bishop of Bordeaux on the occasion of his baptism, and events have proved the truth of his words. From this town, by the banks of the Garonne, his parents went to Alençon in lower Normandy, and there in their new home, as in their old one, Louis was the cherished Benjamin.

It was not the loveliness of Swiss lakes and mountains and skies that had drawn the traveller from distant Alençon. He came to the monastery—and his journey was chiefly on foot—to consecrate his days to God. On learning his purpose the Prior questioned him upon his knowledge of Latin, only to discover that the young aspirant had not completed his course of studies in that language. “I am indeed sorry, my child,” said the venerable monk, “since this is an essential condition, but you must not be disheartened. Go back to your own country, apply yourself diligently, and when you have ended your studies we shall receive you with open arms.”

Louis was disappointed. He set out for home—for exile he would have said—but ere long he saw clearly that his life was to be dedicated to God in another and equally fruitful way, and that the Alpine monastery was to be nothing more to him than a sweet memory.

* * * * * *

A few years after the vain quest of Louis Martin, a similar scene was enacted in Alençon itself. Accompanied by her mother, Zélie Guérin—an attractive and pious girl—presented herself at the Convent of the Sisters of Charity in the hope of gaining admission. For years it had been her desire to share the Sisters’ work, but this was not to be. In the interview that followed, the Superioress—guided by the Holy Ghost—decided unhesitatingly that Zélie’s vocation was not for the religious life. God wanted her in the world, and so she returned to her parents, and to the companionship of her elder sister and her younger brother. Shortly afterwards the gates of the Visitation Convent at Le Mans closed upon her beloved sister, and Zélie’s thoughts turned to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. “O my God”—she repeated constantly— “since I am unworthy to be Thy Spouse, like my dear sister, I shall enter the married state to fulfill Thy Holy Will, and I beseech Thee to make me the mother of many children, and to grant that all of them may be dedicated to Thee.”

God gave ear to her prayer, and His Finger was visible in the circumstances which led to her becoming the wife of Louis Martin, on July 12, 1858, in Alençon’s lovely Church of Notre Dame. Like the chaste Tobias, they were joined together in matrimony—”solely for the love of children, in whom God’s Name might be blessed for ever and ever.” Nine white flowers bloomed in this sacred garden. Of the nine, four were transplanted to Paradise ere their buds had quite unfolded, while five were gathered in God’s walled gardens upon earth, one entering the Visitation Convent at Caen, the others the Carmel of Lisieux.

From the cradle all were dedicated to Mary Immaculate, and all
received her name: Marie Louise, Marie Pauline, Marie Léonie,
Marie Hélène, who died at the age of four and a half, Marie Joseph
Louis, Marie Joseph Jean Baptiste, Marie Céline, Marie Mélanie
Therèse, who died when three months old, and lastly, Marie
Françoise Thérèse.

The two boys were the fruit of prayers and tears. After the birth of the four elder girls, their parents entreated St. Joseph to obtain for them the favour of a son who should become a priest and a missionary. Marie Joseph soon was given them, and his pretty ways appealed to all hearts, but only five months had run their course when Heaven demanded what it had lent. Then followed more urgent novenas.

The grandeur of the Priesthood, glorious upon earth, ineffable in eternity, was so well understood by those Christian parents, that their hearts coveted it most dearly. At all costs the family must have a Priest of the Lord, one who would be an apostle, peradventure a martyr. But, “the thoughts of the Lord are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways.” Another little Joseph was born, and with him hope once again grew strong. Alas! Nine months had scarcely passed when he, too, fled from this world and joined his angel brother.

They did not ask again. Yet, could the veil of the future have been lifted, their heavy hearts would, of a surety, have been comforted. A child was to be vouchsafed them who would be a herald of Divine love, not to China alone, but to all the ends of the earth.

Nay, they themselves were destined to shine as apostles, and we read on one of the first pages of the Portuguese edition of the Autobiography, these significant words of an eminent Jesuit:

“To the Sacred Memory of Louis Joseph Stanislaus Martin and of
Zélie Guérin, the blessed parents of Sister Teresa of the Child
Jesus, for an example to all Christian parents.”

They little dreamed of this future apostolate, nevertheless they made ready their souls day by day to be God’s own instruments in God’s good time. With most loving resignation they greeted the many crosses which the Lord laid upon them—the Lord whose tender name of Father is truest in the dark hour of trial.

Every morning saw them at Mass; together they knelt at the Holy Table. They strictly observed the fasts and abstinences of the Church, kept Sunday as a day of complete rest from work in spite of the remonstrance of friends, and found in pious reading their most delightful recreation. They prayed in common—after the touching example of Captain Martin, whose devout way of repeating the Our Father brought tears to all eyes. Thus the great Christian virtues flourished in their home. Wealth did not bring luxury in its train, and a strict simplicity was invariably observed.

“How mistaken are the great majority of men!” Madame Martin used often to say. “If they are rich, they at once desire honours; and if these are obtained, they are still unhappy; for never can that heart be satisfied which seeks anything but God.”

Her whole ambition as a mother was directed to Heaven. “Four of my children are already well settled in life,” she once wrote; “and the others will go likewise to that Heavenly Kingdom—enriched with greater merit because the combat will have been more prolonged.”

Charity in all its forms was a natural outlet to the piety of these simple hearts. Husband and wife set aside each year a considerable portion of their earnings for the Propagation of the Faith; they relieved poor persons in distress, and ministered to them with their own hands. On one occasion Monsieur Martin, like a good Samaritan, was seen to raise a drunken man from the ground in a busy thoroughfare, take his bag of tools, support him on his arm, and lead him home. Another time when he saw, in a railway station, a poor and starving epileptic without the means to return to his distant home, he was so touched with pity that he took off his hat and, placing in it an alms, proceeded to beg from the passengers on behalf of the sufferer. Money poured in, and it was with a heart brimming over with gratitude that the sick man blessed his benefactor.

Never did he allow the meannesses of human respect to degrade his Christian dignity. In whatever company he might be, he always saluted the Blessed Sacrament when passing a Church; and he never met a priest without paying him a mark of respect. A word from his lips sufficed to silence whosoever dared blaspheme in his presence.

In reward for his virtues, God showered even temporal blessings on His faithful servant. In 1871 he was able to give up his business as a jeweller, and retire to a house in the Rue St. Blaise. The making of point-lace, however, begun by Madame Martin, was still carried on.

In that house the “Little Flower of Jesus” first saw the sunshine. Again and again, in the pages of her Autobiography, she calls herself by this modest name of the Little Flower, emblematic of her humility, her purity, her simplicity, and it may be added, of the poetry of her soul. The reader will learn in the Epilogue how it was also used by one of her favourite martyr-saints—the now Blessed Théophane Vénard. On the manuscript of her Autobiography she set the title: “The Story of the Springtime of a little white Flower,” and in truth such it was, for long ere the rigours of life’s winter came round, the Flower was blossoming in Paradise.

It was, however, in mid-winter, January 2, 1873, that this ninth child of Louis Martin and Zélie Guérin was born. Marie and Pauline were at home for the Christmas holidays from the Visitation Convent at Le Mans, and though there was, it is true, a slight disappointment that the future priest was still denied them, it quickly passed, and the little one was regarded as a special gift from Heaven. Later on, her beloved Father delighted in calling her his “Little Queen,” adding at times the high-sounding titles—”Of France and Navarre.”

The Little Queen was indeed well received that winter’s morning, and in the course of the day a poor waif rang timidly at the door of the happy home, and presented a paper bearing the following simple stanza:

“Smile and swiftly grow; All beckons thee to joy, Sweet love, and tenderest care. Smile gladly at the dawn, Bud of an hour!—for thou Shalt be a stately rose.”

It was a charming prophecy, for the bud unfolded its petals and became a rose—a rose of love—but not for long, “for the space of a morn!”

* * * * * *

On January 4, she was carried to the Church of Notre Dame to receive the Sacrament of Baptism; her eldest sister, Marie, was her godmother, and she was given the name of Marie Françoise Thérèse.[1]

All was joy at first, but soon the tender bud drooped on its delicate stem: little hope was held out—it must wither and die. “You must pray to St. Francis de Sales,” wrote her aunt from the convent at Le Mans, “and you must promise, if the child recovers, to call her by her second name, Frances.” This was a sword-thrust for the Mother. Leaning over the cradle of her Thérèse, she awaited the coming of the end, saying: “Only when the last hope has gone, will I promise to call her Frances.”

The gentle St. Francis waived his claim in favour of the great Reformer of the Carmelite Order: the child recovered, and so retained her sweet name of Thérèse. Sorrow, however, was mixed with the Mother’s joy, when it became necessary to send the babe to a foster-mother in the country. There the “little rose-bud” grew in beauty, and after some months had gained strength sufficient to allow of her being brought back to Alençon. Her memory of this short but happy time spent with her sainted Mother in the Rue St. Blaise was extraordinarily vivid. To-day a tablet on the balcony of No. 42 informs the passers-by that here was born a certain Carmelite, by name, Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. Fifteen years have gone since the meeting in Heaven of Madame Martin and her Carmelite child, and if the pilgrimage to where the Little Flower first saw the light of day, be not so large as that to the grave where her remains await their glorious resurrection, it may nevertheless be numbered in thousands. And to the English-speaking pilgrim there is an added pleasure in the fact that her most notable convert, the first minister of the United Free Church of Scotland to enter the True Fold, performs, with his convert wife, the courteous duties of host.

* * * * * *

It will not be amiss to say a brief word here on the brother and sister of Madame Martin. Her sister—in religion, Sister Marie Dosithea—led a life so holy at Le Mans that she was cited by Dom Guéranger, perhaps the most distinguished Benedictine of the nineteenth century, as the model of a perfect nun. By her own confession, she had never been guilty from earliest childhood of the smallest deliberate fault. She died on February 24, 1877. It was in the convent made fragrant by such holiness that her niece Pauline Martin, elder sister and “little mother” of Thérèse, and for five years her Prioress at the Carmel, received her education. And if the Little Flower may have imbibed the liturgical spirit from her teachers, the daughters of St. Benedict in Lisieux, so that she could say before her death: “I do not think it is possible for anyone to have desired more than I to assist properly at choir and to recite perfectly the Divine Office”—may it not be to the influences from Le Mans that may be traced something of the honey-sweet spirit of St. Francis de Sales which pervades the pages of the Autobiography?

With the brother of Zélie Guérin the reader will make acquaintance in the narrative of Thérèse. He was a chemist in Lisieux, and it was there his daughter Jeanne Guérin married Dr. La Néele and his younger child Marie entered the Carmel. Our foreign missionaries had a warm friend in the uncle of Thérèse—for his charities he was made godfather to an African King; and to the Catholic Press—that home missionary—he was ever most devoted. Founder, at Lisieux, of the Nocturnal Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and a zealous member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, he was called to his abundant reward on September 28, 1909. Verily the lamp of faith is not extinct in the land of the Norman.

The Father of Thérèse, after the death of his wife, likewise made his home in the delightful town which lies amid the beautiful apple orchards of the valley of the Touques. Lisieux is deeply interesting by reason of its fine old churches of St. Jacques and St. Pierre, and its wonderful specimens of quaint houses, some of which date from the twelfth century. In matters of faith it is neither fervent nor hostile, and in 1877 its inhabitants little thought that through their new citizen, Marie Françoise Thérèse Martin, their town would be rendered immortal.

* * * * * *

“The cell at Lisieux reminds us of the cell of the Blessed Gabriel at Isola. There is the same even tenor of way, the same magnificant fidelity in little things, the same flames of divine charity, consuming but concealed. Nazareth, with the simplicity of its Child, and the calm abysmal love of Mary and Joseph—Nazareth, adorable but imitable, gives the key to her spirit, and her Autobiography does but repeat the lessons of the thirty hidden years.”[2]

And it repeats them with an unrivalled charm. “This master of asceticism,” writes a biographer[3] of St. Ignatius Loyola, “loved the garden and loved the flowers. In the balcony of his study he sat gazing on the stars: it was then Lainez heard him say: ‘Oh, how earth grows base to me when I look on Heaven!’ . . . The like imaginative strain, so scorned of our petty day, inhered in all the lofty souls of that age. Even the Saints of our day speak a less radiant language: and sanctity shows ‘shorn of its rays’ through the black fog of universal utilitarianism, the materiality which men have drawn into the very lungs of their souls.”

This is not true of the sainted authoress of the chapters that follow—”less radiant,” in the medium of a translation. In her own inimitable pages, as in those of a Campion or an Ignatius, a Teresa of Avila, or a John of the Cross—the Spirit of Poetry is the handmaiden of Holiness. This new lover of flowers and student of the stars, this “strewer of roses,” has uplifted a million hearts from the “base earth” and “black fog” to the very throne of God, and her mission is as yet but begun.

The pen of Soeur Thérèse herself must now take up the narrative. It will do so in words that do not merely tell of love but set the heart on fire, and at the same time lay bare the workings of God in a soul that “since the age of three never refused the Good God anything.” The writing of this Autobiography was an act of obedience, and the Prioress who imposed the task sought, in all simplicity, her own personal edification. But the fragrance of its pages was such that she was advised to publish them to the world. She did so in 1899 under the title of L’Histoire d’une Âme. An English version by M. H. Dziewicki appeared in 1901.

This new translation relates more fully the story of the childhood, girlhood, and brief convent days of Soeur Thérèse. It tells of her “Roses,” and sets forth again, in our world-wide tongue, her world-wide embassy—the ever ancient message of God’s Merciful Love, the ever new way to Him of “confidence and self-surrender.”

The Editor. ______________________________

[1] The baptismal entry, with its numerous signatures, is shown to visitors, and a tablet in the baptistry of the beautiful Gothic church tells the pilgrim that here the “Little Queen” was made a child of God. [Ed.]

[2] “As Little Children”: the abridged life of Soeur Thérèse. Published at the Orphans’ Press, Rochdale.

[3] Francis Thompson.


Table of Contents for Story of a Soul

Table of Contents for Lessons of Saint Thérèse: The Wisdom of God’s Little Flower