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DEEP IS CALLING ON DEEP

A FAITH REFLECTION ON THE SPIRITUALITY OF


ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY

Introduction

The wondering and pondering minds of Greece wanted to find out the single basic
stuff out of which everything comes. Some of the thinkers proposed some basic elements
such as water, fire, air etc. But it was the disciple of Thales, Aneximander, who said that
the basic element of the universe couldn’t be a specific and determinate element. The
determinate and specific elements should be the offshoots of something which is more
primary. According to him the basic element of nature should be something
indeterminate and boundless.1 In this finding of Aneximander we see a paradigmatic leap
in the history of human speculation. It was a leap because it was for the first time human
speculation rose above mere sensory reality. The indeterminate cannot be perceived by
the senses, but it can only be thought about. This new intuition of Aneximander is not
something simple. This shows how man grew up from sense to intellect, from perception
to thinking. It shows a jump from the concrete to the abstract.

What we observe in the life and spirituality of Elisabeth of the Trinity is not an
emotional outburst which comes from a sensible experience. But it was a gradual
unfolding of a spirit which intuitively understood the great mysteries of the Trinity. In her
experience of the Trinity and in her efforts to express it we see that they are not simple
words that signify some concrete truths but abstract words that struggle to express that
which cannot be expressed. That is why to speak about God she uses words like abyss,
limitless, infinite, fathomless, deep, innermost, ocean like etc. These are expressions
which indicate immeasurability, greatness and mystery. How was she able to have such
an experience of God? To understand this we have to analyze the very nature of human
being as a seeker after the truth.

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1. Man is a seeker after the truth

Rationality in a human being gives him a natural tendency to seek after truth. But
the problem is where and how to seek truth. Human consciousness is always
consciousness of something. His object of consciousness can be either objects of the
world or metempirical realities. Thus man can seek truth either in the world or in the soul.
Regarding the how of the search we can say that our search can be either authentic or
inauthentic. Inauthentic striving is a mere chasing after what is striven for. Striving is
then fixed in one direction, thereby consuming itself in this striving and mere self-
abandonment. This self-consuming striving then leads to the destruction of the authentic
self. In the authentic striving the object must at any rate be such that, in returning to it,
the being of the striving human being genuinely comes to itself as existing. Here one
finds oneself not just as a thing or a subject, but in the sense of the soul’s essence, which
is essentially a relationship – thus finding oneself precisely as this striving relationship to
the object.2

1.1. Search in the World

All the five senses of the human being are opened to the objects of the world. In
the world we have different types of beings. These objects can be studied from different
perspectives. When we analyze the world to understand its nature and laws it is resulted
in the advancement of the natural sciences. But when we try to understand the sense of
the world it takes us the divine. Here we are not interested in the former, the latter can
happen in different ways.

Our senses give us knowledge about particular realities. According to Dionysius


the Areopagite, knowledge about the sensible realities can be used as symbols that speak
about the glory, love and beauty of God. This type of theological approach is called
symbolic theology. But this gives only a basic knowledge about God. If the spiritual
journey is an ascent of a mount with this approach we are only in the valley. One has yet
to climb the mountain.

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Analogy of being is a philosophical way to ascend from the finite being to the
Eternal being. In relation to God and creatures analogia entis works in the following
way. If a thingly being is being in a more primordial and authentic sense than the
dependent being of states and properties, it nevertheless refers back to an even more
primordial authentic being, namely, that first being to which all things owe their origin.
Analogy is the use of a term to designate a perfection or analogon found in a similar way
in two or more subjects or analogates, in each of which the perfection is partly the same
and partly different. St. Thomas Aquinas is very particular in saying that nothing can be
predicated in the same way to God and creatures.3

If we extend the example of the existence of substance and accidents to subsistent


being, esse belongs properly to ipsum esse susistens alone, but is predicated of other
things because they receive their esse in dependence on subsistent being itself. While
essence and existence are identical in God, in the creatures they are different. Whenever
we find a difference between being and essence, the existent must have its cause in
another. Thus the being of the finite being is received and participated. The use of
analogia entis in this way allows not only to reach a self-subsistent being from
contingent beings but also allows the subsistent being to be transcendent when compared
with other beings, and at the same time it allows esse to be participated. God thus
reached is an abstract idea and it can be only in the mind. To enter into a personal
relation we need a God who is a person.

Through the analysis of my existence I understand that as a human being my


existence is between nullity and fullness of being. I find myself in the world and in time.
My life is nothing but a movement from one point in time to another. Thus my ego is
temporal and reveals a dual aspect: that of being and that of not-being. Thus the ego is in
constant change and becoming. What I am is a “now” that is between a “no longer” and
a “not yet”. In an existential analysis my ego is manifested as a flow of being and not-
being, as an entity in constant becoming. This existential reality of mine reveals me the
idea of a Pure Being. In pure being there is no longer any admixture of not-being, nor

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any “no longer” and “not yet”. In short, pure being is not temporal but eternal. 4 The
awareness of the distinction and difference between my ego and the Pure Being becomes
the legitimate starting point to consider philosophy as a tool to demonstrate the existence
of God and the understanding of His being. Life being transitory, it is comprised of past,
future and a passing present. Thus I experience a not any more and a not yet. In my
movement to the future I may get lost at any moment. The awareness of the possibility of
my caducity gives me anxiety, fear and trembling. The only way to get rid of anxiety is
to think about a being, who helped me to pass through the last moment, and the one who
is sustaining me in this present moment. Since this is true, I can be sure that God like a
mother carries me in His arms. This loving care of God gives sense to human existence.
St. Augustine and Edith Stein used this way of thinking in the first stages of their life.

1.2. Search in the Soul

St. Augustine, we know first sought truth in the world, but when he was not
satisfied with the truth he encountered there, he tried an inward journey. After beginning
the inward journey he was able to declare, “Truth resides in the heart of man”. Elizabeth
on the other hand understood from the very beginning of her life that no ultimate truth
can be found in the world. Though as a girl being prompted by her mother she was
engaged in social gatherings, dance parties, excursions etc., she sought only the love of
her heart in everything.5 Thus she was always inwardly oriented. In an inward journey
one finds oneself. It is a journey into to the abyss. On the way one finds a lot of locks and
blocks. The most important among these blocks are pride and self.6 There is a contrast
between outward search and inward search. In the former we examine and try to know
everything possible. But in the latter the slogan is “not knowing anything” nescivi: “I
knew not”.7 “1 knew nothing more!” I desire to know nothing more, except one thing:
“to know him, to know him, in the fellowship of his suffering, to know Him in
conformity of his death” (Phil 3: I 0). This was the whole program of Elizabeth, this is
because when one is stripped of everything else one is free to respond to the merest
breath of the Spirit.8

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The same expression , Nescivi, ‘I knew not’, was said by the bride of the
Canticles, after she had been brought into the inner cellar. Elizabeth says the same thing
on the first day of her retreat, when Jesus touched the depth of her soul she said: “I know
nothing, I desire to know nothing, but I want only ‘Him and a fellowship in His
sufferings, to be made conformable to His death”.9 If one desires to know nothing, “there
could be noise and excitement around her: Nescivi! They could accuse her: Nescivi! God
may hide Himself, withdraw His sensible grace; Nescivi. Withdraw into the depths of
itself, in silence and in the unity of its powers, the soul is completely given up to the
praise of His glory.10
Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity thus repeats the doctrine of “knowing nothing,”
which is the basis of the mystical theology of her great spiritual Master, St. John of the
Cross. This “Nothingness” which is sought after by the soul, is the preparatory condition
for possessing the “All,” in which our spiritual life positively consists. This is a
fundamental doctrine of right spirituality. In her inward journey Elizabeth uses this word
again and again because she understood that it is not-knowing anything that leads to
knowing everything. It is being nothing that leads the individual to be everything. Christ
demanded complete self abnegation from those who followed him. To reach this state of
Nescivi or not knowing one has to withdraw into his very depth, in silence and in the
unity of its powers, then the soul is completely given up to the praise of His glory.

2. Struggle to Reach the Centre

Human being is a complex being with internal and external faculties. In order to
reach the mental state of nescivi we have to deprive ourselves of the natural objects of
these faculties and their attractions. To make an inward journey all the faculties are to be
concentrated on only one thing, God. The retuning of these faculties and their tendencies
is a hard job. Elizabeth was arduous in doing it. Elizabeth had inherited all the fire and
spirit of her parents’ military background. She had a quick temper and a will of iron. The
slightest opposition would send her into an outburst, and all her mother could do was to
lock her in a room where she would scream and kick the furniture until it had subsided. 11

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Her first confession wrought a change in Elizabeth’s soul which she later called her
conversion, a shock which caused a complete awakening with respect to the things of
God. From that day forward she resolutely entered upon the struggle against her
predominant faults: anger and over sensitiveness. This hard phase of spiritual warfare
was to last until she was eighteen. The priest who prepared her for her first Communion
and knew her well told an intimate friend of her mother: “With her temperament,
Elizabeth Catez will be either a saint or a demon”.12

Her first contact with Jesus, hidden in the Host, was decisive. “In the depths of
her soul she heard His voice. The Master took possession of her heart so completely that
thenceforth her one desire was to give her life to Him. To the astonishment of those
around her, a sudden and profound change took place in Elizabeth and she began to make
great strides toward that calm self-command which was soon to characterize her.13 During
this period of her life, her generous watchword was “agere contra”. She tried with all her
strength to fight against the predominant fault of anger. She even kept a little notebook in
which, every evening, she marked down her victories and defeats. Elizabeth tried to fast
without her mother’s knowledge, but the watchful Madame Catez discovered the fact in a
few days and scolded her very severely. Then there was only one thing to do offer
whatever sufferings, physical or spiritual, to obtain complete detachment from self. This
was absolutely necessary for her to reach that stage in which she may always, and in all
things, do the contrary of her own will. These arduous undertakings were accomplished
just for two motives, to express her love for Jesus and to become more like Him.

3. Living in the Centre

Now leaving aside all the external struggles and mortifications Elizabeth
undertook, let us concentrate more on her inner journey to discover what it means to live
in the Trinity within us. It is a theological fact that we are constantly in God's presence,
which admits of five distinct types. They are: presence of immensity, Presence by
indwelling, Sacramental presence, Personal or hypostatic presence and Presence by
manifestation. Of these five types of presence, those, which most directly affect the

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practice of the presence of God are the first two, namely, the presence of immensity, and
the presence of indwelling. The first is verified of the soul at all times and under all
conditions, even if the soul should be in the state of mortal sin. The second is found only
in souls in the state of grace.

In our analysis of the spiritual journey of Elizabeth we are concerned mainly


about the second presence, namely the presence by indwelling. Let us remember what
Jesus said. “If any one hears my words and keeps the commandments, We shall come and
make our home with him” (Jn. 17, 24). In her opinion “the One who will one day be
the beatitude of the soul and will fully satisfy her in glory is already giving Himself
to her. He never leaves her, He dwells within her and he is one with her. And
those Three Persons are constantly at work within us. God lives in us to save us, to purify
us and to transform us into Himself, therefore only one constant thought haunted her, “
my likeness to the adored Image might be more perfect each day: “configuratus morti
ejus”.14 The spiritual combat against her faults and the triumph over her natural
temperament led Elizabeth to the first manifestations of those mystical graces which were
to transform her life, at first slowly and by successive touches as though step by step;
then, from the time of her religious profession, by a calm and continuous motion; finally,
in the last phase, the six months spent in the infirmary, by giant strides lifting her to the
loftiest heights of transforming union.15 In 1899 when Elizabeth consulted Fr. Vallée
about the meaning of the movements of grace of which she had been aware for some time
and which gave her the impression of being dwelt in Father Vallée confirmed that she
was inhabited by the Holy Trinity. 16 By the grace of Baptism, the soul becomes the living
temple of the Holy Spirit, and together with the Holy Ghost, the whole Trinity is present
with Its creative and sanctifying power, making Its dwelling in us, coming to abide in the
most secret recesses of the soul, there to receive in an atmosphere of faith and charity the
interior worship of praise and adoration that is Its due.

Later reflecting about this gracious presence of the Trinity, she understood that
the whole mystery of the Incarnation was renewed in her own self. This is because in her
effort to be transformed into the image of Christ, she tried to make her life more divine

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than human. She wanted to be a mirror on which Christ is being reflected, so that the
Father in bending attentively over her can recognize the image of His beloved Son in
whom He has placed all His delight.17 Since the bond between The Father and His Word
is the Holy Spirit, the whole Trinity is present in a person who reflects the image of
Christ. This wonderful experience of the communion with the Three adorable Persons,
and sharing their life demand a fundamental attitude. That attitude she found in the
phrase that Sr. Aimee had shown her in St Paul, ‘God has made us and appointed us to be
a praise of his glorious grace’ (Eph 1:12). The soul that penetrates and dwells in these
depths of God does everything in him, with him, by him and for him. It is rooted more
deeply in him whom it loves. Everything within it pays homage to the thrice-holy God: it
is so to speak a perpetual Sanctus, an unceasing praise of glory. 18 Her response, as a good
Carmelite, would be to live in that praise. It was a praise which would not lie in mere
words. In fact, it would be more in silence than in words, a silence that would be active
and would involve a gathering up of all her faculties, all her attention, all her love, to
desire only to live for God. Silence is the most beautiful praise since it is sung eternally in
the bosom of the tranquil Trinity and it is also the last effort of the soul that overflows
and can say no more.19 In fact, ‘Praise of Glory’ was the name she gave herself, from the
Latin of the scripture text, Laudem gloriae.

4. Becoming Christ

What should be the essence of the Praise of Glory that she must give? There is
only one praise totally worthy of the Father, and that is his Eternal Son. He is the great
Praise of the Father’s Glory, the key to life in the Trinity. So to be praise and glory one
has to study from Christ. In this context we have to analyze Christological dimension in
the life of Elizabeth. In her relation with Christ she had only one motive ‘express Christ
in the eyes of his Father, then she would give him perfect praise’. When we hear these
expressions we should not consider it as mere dreams of a girl, but we have to recall the
little girl with the iron will who wanted everything and was determined to get it at all
cost. She could not be satisfied with half measures. Her logic is perfect. If Christ is the
perfect glory of the Father, by becoming Christ-like she may be able to give maximum
praise to the Father. Christ the God-man is not therefore an abstract reality but a vital and

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active protagonist in Elizabeth’s spiritual growth and development. It is precisely in and
through the incarnate Word that the life of the Trinity given her at baptism can develop.
The ultimate goal for which she strives with all her might is to be made conformable to
the perfect image of Christ.

It is by sharing in the mystery of Christ’s docile obedience to the will of his


Father that Elizabeth becomes a “new creature” (Col. 3:10) and regains the right to God’s
glory (Rm. 3:23). Then, at the end of time, “the Holy One of God will have been glorified
in this soul, for he will have destroyed everything there to ‘clothe it with himself,’ and it
will have loved in reality the words of the Precursor: ‘He must increase and I must
decrease’.20 In other words, Elizabeth was convinced that in the measure that she died to
self, the image of the resurrected Christ would be more clearly manifested in her.
Therefore she tried to strip and set free of self and all else.

This idea expresses the type of relation we should have with Christ. She was not
satisfied with being just ‘Christ-like’. But Elizabeth leads us deeper. Insofar as possible
she wanted to be Christ. This is because Christ says that “I have come to cast fire upon
the earth and how I long to see it burn” (Lk 12:49). Since this is the desire of Christ
nothing can exalt the soul so much as to become in some way the equal of God. 21
Preserving the infinite distance between Christ and herself, she wanted to offer Him her
humanity for him to make it His own. This is possible only when there is perfect identity
of one’s soul with every movements of the soul of Christ. To achieve this she sought not
just to imitate Christ, but to be totally united with him in his inmost being. For this she
wanted to give company to Christ who dwells in the temple of her soul, then she decided
to enter into the soul of Christ who is love itself and is the one crucified for love. The
travel into the heart of Jesus is possible only by consuming herself with love together
with Jesus.22 But to attain this love the soul must first be entirely surrendered, its will
must be calmly lost in God’s will so that its inclinations, its faculties move only in this
love and for the sake of this love. Then “love fills it so completely, absorbs and protects it
that everywhere it finds the secret of growing in love even in its relations with the world;
in the midst of life’s cares it can rightly say: ‘My only occupation is loving’.23 The one
who tries to reflect Christ is completely conquered and transformed. His intellect, will

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and life are replaced by the intellect, will and life of Christ. When this happens one has
no thought of his own, no love of his own and no life of his own. This is the state of
being of which St. Paul said “it is not I who live but Christ lives in me”. In short the
whole spirituality of Elizabeth is essentially Christological. The formula, “in Christ
Jesus”, which often appears in the writings of Elizabeth, is a synthesis of her entire
spiritual doctrine and can be understood as the existential response of the young
Carmelite to the salvific vocation received from God. Hence her life, lived in absolute
and perpetual openness and availability to God, becomes a mystical existence in Jesus
Christ, who leads her by the hand beyond the finite and into the realms of the eternal and
infinite God.24

5. The Infinite, the Abyss

We have said the idea of boundless, or indeterminate reality which was


introduced by Aneximander became a paradigmatic leap in the history of human thought.
The abstract idea of the indeterminate prompted many to shift their investigation from
material reality to spiritual and abstract realities. Elizabeth not only tried to focus her
investigation into the innermost realities of her soul, but also tired to determine that
which is indeterminate. It is here we see her uniqueness. She speaks about two
limitlessness or abyss.25

In her inward journey she experienced limitlessness of her own soul. Those who
tried to understand the human soul have mentioned about its limitlessness. Elizabeth too
considers human soul as an abyss. But for her human soul is an abyss of misery and
nothingness. The limitlessness and misery of human soul becomes all the more clear
when it is being compared with the Divine limitlessness. For her divine limitlessness is
not just an attribute that can be given to God. But it is all the way around. She encounters
Limitlessness and knows that it is God. She sees the edge, the margin, and beyond it the
abyss, and by letting go, she knows: God is here. She does not confuse her experience of
the disappearing boundary with God, she does not faint at this experience. But the
experience points to Something and Someone beyond all limits of earthly life, and this

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Inexpressible One is God. God lives in inaccessible light, since he is eternal and
unbounded. But, in revealing himself, he has crossed the threshold from infinity to time
and thereby opened the door to infinity for the creature.26

To speak about God Elizabeth often uses words like abyss, limitless, infinite,
fathomless, deep, innermost, ocean like etc. these are expressions which indicate
immeasurability, greatness and mystery. For her the feeling of infinity and greatness
came not from the distance that exists between God and creatures. Elizabeth was not
disturbed or surprised by the limitlessness of God. Rather she plunged into the abyss of
God. How can one enter into the abyss of God? She resolves this problem by saying that,
She slid down into the abyss of God on love.27 As she slid down into the abyss of God,
there she experienced a twofold movement. She was completely engulfed, enveloped and
swallowed up by the Divine. Borrowing the imagery used by Thérèse of Lisieux,
Elizabeth explains this experience saying “I lose myself in Him like a drop of water in the
Ocean.28 When she took the jump into the Infinite, she became “a bottomless abyss into
which God can overflow and expand”.29 When one plunges into the abyss of God, God
hollows out abysses in the soul, abysses he alone can fill. 30 Thus by receiving the
boundless into her she was sanctified and deified. By absorbing the indeterminate,
boundless into herself she tried to determine that which is indeterminate. What we see in
the life of Elizabeth is a mutual conpenetration of two abysses or limitlessnesses. In her
the search was not unauthentic in which the searching subject got lost. But it was an
authentic search in which we see the establishment of a deep relation with the object
sought, God, the indeterminate is being determined as a person with whom she made a
personal relationship. Thus her life was nothing but deep calling on deep (ps.41.8).

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1
SAMUEL ENOCH STUPF, Philosophy: History and Problems2, (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1975) 7.
2
MARTIN.HEIDEGGER, The Essence of Truth: On Plato’s Cave Allegory and The Theaetetus, Trans. Ted Sadler. (London:
Continum, 2002) 154. This observation of Heidegger appears to be true when we consider the contemporary discussion on
self. Some do not even consider the self as an entity. If we ask the question “what is self?” to some it may seem something
weird. This is because the substantival phrase “the self” is very unnatural in most speech contexts in most languages, and
some conclude from this that it is an illusion to think that there is such a thing as the self, an illusion that arises from
nothing more than an improper use of language. Some think, “The self is a mythical entity. It is a philosophical muddle to
allow the space which differentiates ‘my self’ from ‘myself’ to generate the illusion of a mysterious entity distinct from the
human being”. Cfr. ALFRED KENNY, The Self (Marquette: Marquette University Press, 1988) 3.
3
THOMAS AQUINAS, De Veritate, q. 2, art. 11.
4
EDITH STEIN, Finite and Eternal Being: An Attempt at an Ascent to the Meaning of Being, Trans. Kurt F. Reinhardt
(Washington.D.C.; ICS Publications) 37. For St. Augustine “the knowledge of our own existence is a most intimate kind of
knowing, and no skeptic can tell us: may be you are asleep without realizing it. The people who have the certitude of their
own existence do not say ‘I know that I am awake’, but ‘I know that I live’, and no matter whether they be asleep or awake,
one thing is certain: They exist. (AUGUSTINE, De Trinitate, XV,12: PL XLII, col. 1073-1074).
5
CONRAD DE MEESTER, An Introduction to Sr. Elizabeth of the Trinity, (Darlington: Darlington Carmel, 1987) 2.
6
ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY, “The Greatness of our Vocation,” The Complete Works Vol. I, Trans. Aletheia Kane.
(Trivandrum:Carmel Publishing Centre, 1996) 125.
7
ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY, “Last Retreat,” The Complete Works Vol. I, Trans. Aletheia Kane. (Trivandrum: Carmel
Publishing Centre, 1996) 141.
8
ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY, Last Retreat, 141.
9
ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY, Last Retreat, 141
10
ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY, Last Retreat, 142.
11
ALAN C. CLARK, Elizabeth of the Trinity:Life and Spirituality, (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1984) 1.
12
MICHAEL GAUGHRAN, The Spirit And Message Of Bl. Elizabeth Of The Trinity, (Darlington: Darlington Carmel, 1987) 2.
13
ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY, The Complete Works Vol. I, 11.
14
ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY, “Letter. 294”, The Complete Works Vol. II. Trans. Aletheia Kane. (Trivandrum: Carmel
Publishing Centre, 1996) 298.
15
ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY, Last Retreat, 150.
16
MARIE MICHEL PHILIPON, The Spiritual Doctrine of Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity, (Westminister, Md. Newman Press,
1947) 10.
17
ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY, “Heaven in Faith,” The Complete Works Vol. I, 98; Letter 298.
18
ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY, Last Retreat, 150.
19
ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY, Last Retreat, 150; Letter, 133.
20
ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY, Last Retreat, 159-160.
21
ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY, Last Retreat, 99.
22
ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY, Letter, 294.
23
ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY, Heaven in Faith, 99.
24
LUIGI BORRIELLO, Spiritual Doctrine of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity: Apostolic Contemplative, Trans. Jordan Aumann
(New York: Alba House, 1986) 49.
25
ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY, Heaven in Faith, 95, 102; The Greatness of our Vocation, 126; Letter, 298;
26
HANS URS VON BALTHASAR, Two Sisters in the Spirit (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992) 421.
27
ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY, Heaven in Faith, 95.
28
ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY, Letters, 110; 190.
29
ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY, Heaven in Faith, 112.
30
ELIZABETH OF THE TRINITY, Letter, 190.

VARGHESE MALIAKKAL. PH.D