No, Saint Whoever did not actually say that.

The other day, someone representing a fine Catholic group posted these kindly words on the group’s Facebook page:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, Yours are the eyes through which is to look out Christ’s compassion to the world; Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good; Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now. ~St. Teresa of Avila, Mystic and Doctor of the Church

And that certainly is an inspirational saying. Indeed, it’s our calling to live out the truth that we in the Church are the mystical body of Christ.
However: does it sound like St. Teresa of Avila?
Surely she was too good a writer to put the following convoluted sentence on paper:

Yours are the eyes through which is to look out Christ’s compassion to the world.

Just try to diagram that sentence; go ahead. Whoever wrote this thing is very fond of inverting the order of words. Instead of saying in a straightforward way, “Let Christ’s compassion look out to the world through your eyes,” we have the above version, which is very strained, very arch: the writing of someone who is making a grand effort to impress.
And think about the doctrinal message those words contain: considering that we Catholics hold that the holy Body of Jesus Christ is present here in the world in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, would a Doctor of the Church make such a contradictory statement as “Christ has no body now on earth but yours”? No; nobody gets the title of Doctor of the Church if they write such imperfect expressions of Christian doctrine.
To get to the root of the question, an interested person contacted the Institute of Carmelite Studies in Washington, DC, which translates, edits, and publishes the works of Saint Teresa, and asked them about it. They told her that the passage does not come from the writings of the saint, or from oral tradition of her sayings.
Now, this sort of thing happens all the time on the Internet. There are quotations of inspiring material: sometimes inspiring pious treacle, or inspiring humanistic pep-talk, or even sometimes inspiring heretical new-age nonsense which people pass around and re-quote — even ministers and pastors who should know better — all because it comes attributed to some popular saint. Sometimes it’s perfectly acceptable Catholic material, but just not correctly attributed. Be on guard about this erroneous stuff. I think the most common names used are St. Francis of Assisi, St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. Teresa of Avila.
Did St. Francis say, “Preach, and if necessary, use words”? Probably not.
For someone who preached as much as St. Francis, those words may be out of character. The message of the saying is that we should favor preaching without words over preaching with words. This is the kind of saying that moderns love, ’cause they don’t want to hear Catholic preaching.
It’s someone’s summary of a legend of St. Francis. It may be a modern legend: I don’t know, ’cause I haven’t been able to find it in print. Supposedly, the saint took one of the brothers with him to go and preach in the town; Francis led him through the town as they walked in their habits, and to the brother’s puzzlement he did not stop in a square or at a church or anywhere to address the people; in fact, they spoke to no one. Eventually their course led them back to their home, and Francis thanked the brother for helping him preach, and left it at that, without an explanation.
Now, this could be a legitimate story, expressing the point that the habit itself is a silent reminder of the Gospel message. But so far I haven’t found any reliable source for the legend, let alone the cutesy one-liner that sums it up.
For another matter: did St. Francis write the prayer, “Make me a channel of your peace”?
No, those words first appeared, without attribution, on the back of a holy card, around 1915 in Normandy. Because the holy card was an image of St. Francis, and it expresses St. Francis’ zeal for reconciliation, the prayer has since been erroneously attributed to him.
What’s important about this? The Internet gives people the ability to send the Gospel out to the world in seconds, and also gives the ability to send out half-truths or total rubbish. There’s more good communication going on than ever before, and more spreading of error and confusion.
If you want to participate in sharing the Faith on the net, spreading erroneous material hurts your credibility, and makes you a less effective witness for the Faith. Let’s all learn to be smart Internet users, using reasonable caution: check the sources of material that people send you.


  1. Richard, the quotation is from a French Author, Michel Quoist. It is, if I remember correctly as I read his books years ago when I was in College (read early 80s) on the priesthood. It had to do about the Priest acting in “Persona Christi”… But that is really going into my far memory… Blessings.

  2. One should always refer to members of the Church on earth as “the mystical body of Christ” so as to distinguish it from the actual body of Christ, which was conceived in the womb of the BVM, died on the cross and rose from the dead and is seated at the right hand of God The Father in heaven. This was taught by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical “On the Mystical Body of Christ”. The whole encyclical can readily be seen on the net via at least one Search Engine.
    The error of referring to the church members as “The Body of Christ” has resulted in the bizarre condoning of chattering freely in Church, since “we are the Body of Christ and so equal to the Blessed Sacrament, so no need to observe respectful silence in Church”.(Heaven knows what other conclusions have been drawn from this erroneous referral .

  3. I need to add that Pope Pius XII added ” and is oresent in the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacles of The Church around the world” or very similar words.
    So, yes, it is incorrect to say that Christ has no body on earth except ours…..

  4. I like that quote too, but, now that you mention it, I can’t find any citation for it.
    As it happens, Amy Welborn took up this same theme in a post in 2008: and in her comment box, reader Lawrence King mentioned this:

    One of the stories told by the Desert Fathers of Ethiopia might perhaps be the source of the “skulls of bishops” tale. A young man joins the group of monks on a mountain, but he is lazy and doesn’t say his prayers as he should. He then dies. The elder who leads the monks is shown a vision by God of the young man, who is now in hell:
    [The elder monk] saw his lazy disciple standing at prayer in the midst of the fire, with flames up to his belly button.
    … The elder wept; but his disciple said to him, “Abba, don’t be weeping like that, because I can tell you something really true that will cheer you up: I am standing on a bishop’s shoulders!”
    The full story is here, in William Jurgens, Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. 3, pg. 260, # 2167e. Jurgens says the manuscript is 6th or 7th century, and the stories collected in it are older.

    1. Yes, of course. And I have every confidence that the scholars at the Institute for Carmelite Studies are used to dealing with St. Teresa’s works in the original language.

      At this point, where Michel Quoist has been identified as the author of the words, the question has been pretty much settled.

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