Exploring the riches of femininity, the mission of
In a time when people have been discussing the Christian roots of
Europe and a European Constitution with no mention of its indestructible
Christian roots, we meet the figure of Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of
the Cross). She was an eminent European personality in her life, her
thought and her work.
More than five years have passed since 1 October 1999, when John Paul
II, just one year after her canonization, proclaimed Edith Stein
"Co-Patroness of Europe", together with St Catherine of Siena and St
Bridget of Sweden, in his Apostolic Letter Spes Aedificandi in
the form of a Motu Proprio.
This is what the Pope wrote concerning Edith Stein: "Teresa Benedicta
of the Cross... not only lived in various countries of Europe, but by
her entire life as thinker, mystic and martyr, built a kind of bridge
between her Jewish roots and her commitment to Christ, taking part in
the dialogue with contemporary philosophical thought with sound
intuition, and in the end forcefully proclaiming by her martyrdom the
ways of God and man.... She has thus become the symbol of a human,
cultural and religious pilgrimage which embodies the deepest
tragedy and the deepest hopes of the Continent of Europe....
"Today's proclamation of Edith Stein as a Co-Patroness of Europe is
intended to raise on this Continent a banner of respect, tolerance and
acceptance which invites all men and women to understand and appreciate
each other, transcending their ethnic, cultural and religious
differences in order to form a truly fraternal society. Thus may Europe
grow! May it grow as a Europe of the spirit, in continuity with the best
of its history, of which holiness is the highest expression" (Apostolic
Letter Spes Aedificandi, 1 October 1999, nn. 3, 9, 10;
L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 6 October 1999, pp. 8, 10).
'In love with the truth'
St Edith Stein was an intellectual in love with the truth who sought
new paths for philosophy and theology, so that she said: "The thirst for
the truth is my one prayer: God is truth. Anyone who seeks the truth
seeks God, whether or not he is aware of it".
St Edith Stein was a Jewish woman, an eminent daughter of Israel, the
St Edith Stein was a woman convert to Carmel, who in the solitude, of
the monastery sought the secret of perfection, conformity to and
uniformity with the Cross, that was to make her cry: "Ave, Crux, spes
St Edith Stein was a woman martyr who died for Christ and for his
people in the gas chambers of the extermination camp at Auschwitz.
We are obviously speaking of a great figure of our time.
Edith Stein was born in Breslau on 12 October 1891, the Jewish Day of
Atonement, the youngest of seven children born to Siegfried and Augusta
Courant, wood merchants. Her father died when she was very young so that
all the burden of responsibility fell on the shoulders of her mother,
Augusta, who dedicated herself entirely to raising her children.
Life in the Stein family was always very simple. Little Edith grew up
with an exceptional intelligence, always eager to learn, especially
Having completed her secondary schooling, she enrolled at the
University of Breslau where she specialized in philosophy. Later, on 17
April 1913, having been deeply impressed by Logische Untersuchungen
(Logical Investigations), one of the first works by the German
philosopher Edmund Husserl, she went to Göttingen
to pursue her studies and take the courses of her teacher Husserl,
founder of the school of phenomenology. It was with him that she
discussed the dissertation for her degree, "Zum Problem der Einführung"
(The Problem of Empathy).
'Stepping stones to faith'
Meeting the widow of Adolf Reinach, a friend and colleague, and
reading the life of St Teresa of Avila, especially her work, The
Interior Castle, were important stepping stones to faith and to her
conversion to Catholicism.
She was baptized on 1 January 1922, and on 14 October 1933, entered the
Carmelite Convent in Cologne, taking the names of Teresa and Benedicta
of the Cross: Teresa in memory of the "holy mother" of Avila, who
brought about her conversion to Christianity;
Benedicta, because she felt chosen by Jesus among Jewish women to follow
him by embracing the Cross.
The persecution of the Jews forced her to seek refuge in the Carmelite
convent of Echt in The Netherlands, but even there she was not out of
reach of human folly.
On 2 August 1942 the Gestapo arrested her, together with her sister
Rosa, and she was deported to the concentration camp at Auschwitz.
She died in the gas chamber on 9 August 1942.
In a note left to the Mother Prioress of the Carmelite Convent in
Cologne, Edith Stein wrote: "One can only gain a scientia crucis if one
has thoroughly experienced the Cross. I have been convinced of this from
the first moment onwards and have said with all my heart: 'Ave, Crux, spes unica!"'.
On 1 May 1987 she was beatified, on 11 October 1998 she was canonized,
and on 1 October 1999 she was declared Co-Patroness of Europe. Pope
John Paul II was responsible for these three acts.
St Edith Stein
The thought of St
Teresa Benedicta of
the Cross helps men
and women of the
third millennium in
many ways to interpret the implications
of social, intellectual
and religious life.
St Edith Stein's
was her ability to
sum up the history of
Indeed, her philosophy is like a great intellectual framework
that enlightens people and helps them
find their way, on
condition that they allow all the dimensions of reality
— to exist
claiming to replace
Her reflections on
the role of women were especially important and she gave lectures on
this topic throughout Europe. Truly penetrating are the pages in which
she explores the human and religious aspects of the riches of femininity
and the mission of women.
She was a great expert in Medieval thought, especially of Augustine and
Thomas, who laid the foundations for reflection on the transcendence of
God and for theological development.
Her theological works are outstanding, including her comment on "The
Dark Night" of St John of the Cross in her book Scientia Crucis.
The Pope said of her: "As a bride of the Cross, Sr Teresa Benedicta did
not only write profound passages on 'the Science of the Cross', but
followed the way of the school of the Cross to its very end".
St Edith Stein is a splendid example of a woman of faith and European
and world culture. It is only right that her witness of life, her
message and her thought continue to be spread around the world.