Adrienne Von Speyr: Servant of God

Adrienne_von_Speyr_2

This post is primarily for other lay people who read the religious writings of the Catholic Adrienne von Speyr (1902-1967). Adrienne was a Swiss citizen, a medical doctor by profession, and an adult convert to the Roman Catholic Church. I have read just about everything she wrote that is available in English.

I recently learned that the Church had opened an investigation into Adrienne’s cause for canonization in March of this year.  Specifically, it was opened at the local level in Switzerland, on account of a life of heroic virtue.

There was almost nothing in the media about this, which is why I stumbled across it only by noticing the update to her Wikipedia page. And there was no commentary from religious scholars or theologians in the English-speaking world that I could find.

The title “Servant of God” is applied to someone at the earliest stage of the canonization process. My understanding is that the matter now goes to Rome for a review by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.  If the Church makes a finding of “nihil obstat“, which is Latin for meaning that there is nothing objectionable about the candidate, the process will proceed through formal review by the whole Church.   If the Church finds that the candidate is worthy of recognition for their virtue and worthy of further review, they will be declared “Venerable.”  After that they need to have at least two miracles attributed to their intercession for the cause to advance:the first results in a declaration of “Blessed,” and the second, “Saint.”

The silence is probably quite deliberate. Because I am a layperson with no position in the Church or academia, I am free to write about this (which may be foolish).  Adrienne wrote and had published a large volume of scriptural commentaries and spiritual reflections. Perhaps more than any other non-academic Catholic layperson in the 20th century (I don’t include self-help or advice books in this, no slight intended).  So the Church will have quite a lot to review and consider before providing a Nihil Obstat.  Much of her work remains unpublished, and much remains unavailable in English. I think the delay in publication is because those who could publish have been waiting for this process to commence.

It is no coincidence that an initial review was also opened in March into the Cause of Canonization of her spiritual director and friend, Catholic theologian and Cardinal-Elect Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Von Balthasar personally edited and arranged for the publishing of many of her books, and said on multiple occasions that he drew heavily on her in developing his theological insights, and that his work should not be separated from hers.

There have been some events that, in retrospect, may have pointed to the opening of her cause. There were several conferences about Adrienne’s life and work in the last few years, and Ignatius Press published second editions of a number of her better known works.

This blog would not exist without Adrienne, as I like to think she personally interceded for me three years ago so I could go back to confession after a long hiatus. I have attended mass and receive the sacraments quite regularly since then, and am active in parish ministry.  My poor efforts to take advantage of the gift I have given may not reflect well on my belief of her help, but I usually ask her to help me make a good confession when I go. I am still going regularly, even though I continue to fail quite frequently.

There are certain things in her and Von Balthasar’s writings that some scholars and theologians find to be seriously objectionable, so this may be a very long review process. I will write more about that in a future post.  If she is canonized, I think it will be very consequential for the Church.

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