St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross’s writings display rich and numerous references to the saving instrument of our salvation, the Cross of Christ. Not only did she weave repeated references to the Cross in her final work The Science of the Cross, she devised elsewhere other cogent images of it. Iconography for her helps impress the beneficial image and effect the Cross has on the lives of those who believe in Jesus.
Two imaged instances of her appreciation for the Cross are available to us, one in her autobiographical Life in a Jewish Family and another adorning The Science of the Cross. No lengthy reflections, each represents sensitivity for symbolism. They demonstrate poignantly how deep an imprint the Cross left upon her questing spirit.
Life in a Jewish Family
A passage she leaves us in Life in a Jewish Family (page 242) about student days at the University of Göttingen sounds significant, since it appears in the pre-Christian period of her life before she received Baptism early in 1922 (centenary coming soon).
“The Nicolausbergweg winds its way from the Weender Gate to the east, out of town and up the mountain. When one has left the last houses behind, one can see the charming village of Nicolausberg on the summit. […] To the left of Nikolausberg rose a bare hill crowned with three windswept trees which always reminded me of the three crosses of Golgotha.”
The Science of the Cross
In Echt Carmel she protected the lengthy handwritten manuscript (344 printed pages in the ICS translation) on the theology of St. John of the Cross, The Science of the Cross, with a cover sheet bearing the sketch of a spiritual doodle. A reproduction of it stands in Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh’s Introduction to the ICS Publications edition:
It is striking to see how she has placed a necklace of flames representing probably the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit around the cruciform image of the Cross. They form an indicator of how the Cross is a work of love, especially as she’s describing the saint who left us the beautiful if brief commentary The Living Flame of Love. This also attests to her awareness of the Paschal mystery because the Cross, even though altar for the mortal torture Jesus underwent, is the place where reconciliation between humankind and the Father reached its consummation. It is eminently a positive sign, not a reminder of morose fascination with pain and suffering. Within her volume of The Science of the Cross (page 184) she affirms: “In the passion and death of Christ our sins were consumed by fire.” A Latin proverb helps us appreciate this as it assures us we “go through the Cross to the light” or “Per crucem ad lucem.”
May St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross be for us a guide toward Good Friday and Easter through this year’s observance of the triumph of Good over Evil, of the holy over sin, of God’s burning love over human alienation.
Fr. John Sullivan, ocd