The Catholic University of America

Final Examination of

Rev. Cyprien Niyitegeka

for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy 


The Metaphor of the Face in Thérèse of Lisieux from the Philosophical Perspective of Emmanuel Lévinas: Creating a Model for Contemporary Mission Spirituality


Director: Raymond Studzinski, O.S.B., Ph.D.

My dissertation evaluates Thérèse’s vision of church mission, inspired by the audacious gesture of St. Veronica, the lady who wiped the face of Jesus on the way to Calvary. She detected in this gesture, resembling in what is historically known as the Veil of Veronica, that mission which is the transmission of faith to another must reveal the true face of God. Such faith acknowledges the presence of the face of neighbor who is also living in the world. Such awareness of the demands of the face took place at her deathbed. She signaled an end of an era when the church felt with certitude that she fully knew the needs of others in mission.

Thérèse expresses herself through metaphors such as the Holy Face. So, I relied on Ricœur’s theory of metaphor in order to expand an understanding of her imaginative missionary spirituality that is essentially Christological. By referring to the phenomenology of the face by Lévinas, I unpacked her metaphor and I argue that through the lens of Lévinas her spirituality shows the importance of dialogue with others in strange but prophetic way. She demonstrates a way of seeing others by keeping her face hidden in the Face of Jesus. She echoes mutatis mutandis what Lévinas says that the face of the Other, in its radical vulnerability, asymmetrically occupies the position of a teacher. This leads to his ethics. Desiring the Others is at the heart of ethics, and Thérèse’s spirituality consisted of receiving others in their vulnerability in a way that reproduced the sense of responsibility she learned from contemplation. In desiring others for Christ, I argue that her mission is to build “heaven here below” as ethical order of responsibility.


The effects of her pregnant metaphor of the Holy Face are undeniable in her spiritual development. As Doctor of the church she teaches what happens when the gospel message influences our relations with others living in contemporary world. It is to wipe and anoint others for Christ contemplated in them, because in her feminine approach God has a human face and is not simply a concept.'



More about Niyitegeka


Father Cyprien Niyitegeka, a native of Rwanda, was ordained for the Diocese of RUHENGERI in RWANDA in July, 2000. He completed a master’s degree in Spirituality at Gonzaga University and served as a spiritual director for the seminarians at Bishop White Seminary in Spokane Diocese and as pastor, also in Spokane Diocese. Before coming to USA for further studies, he was a visiting professor of Scriptures at NYAKIBANDA Theological Major Seminary in RWANDA, and a resident professor at the Preparatory Seminary of RUTONGO, also in RWANDA where he was at the same time dean of studies and spiritual director. While at the Catholic University of America, Father Cyprien was a teaching fellow in the FYE program. At the end of his PhD. program, he is going back to RWANDA to continue his priestly ministry.