Edith Stein


Edith Stein

Taken from the works of Edith Stein in the book "The Collected Works of Edith Stein", Volume Two "Essays on Woman", 1987.

Most honored university chaplains,
Most honored guests,
My dear women in academia!

We have come together to clarify the responsibilities of the Catholic academic women of Switzerland, and we do this in order to act more resolutely in the future. My task now is to evaluate the general scope of the present challenge for women.

I shall start by discussing the nature of Catholic academic women. What are the responsibilities they face in their profession and in their society? What are their responsibilities for leadership in a supernatural sense? What are their apostolic duties?

Two Preliminary Observations: Permit me to be candid and dispense with flattery. What we want to do is clarify what has happened in the past and what has not happened in order to find what must happen in the future.

Second Remark: The problems are so immensely varied that I can only glance at them here, reserving a fuller treatment for later conferences. I will single out particular topics in order to deal with the question in greater detail.

The Woman Academic: Simply defined, she is a woman with a university education. She has achieved a harmonious inner development, bringing together a well-schooled intellect and deepened knowledge, which is not limited to one field, together with a strong will. She is capable of purposeful action and is motivated by a broad outlook and lofty goals.

The Catholic Academic Woman: Does this status imply narrowness or inferiority? No! Rather, it confers an advantage! The academic is not destined blindly to favorable living conditions; no, God calls her to a mission in His service, and her duties far surpass her concrete professional obligations. She was either born or raised in a community which derives its highest character from the much used term, very nearly a misused phrase, the Mystical Body of Christ.

We are Catholic academic women: We are! Our first task is to cultivate our being, our individuality. I am not speaking of being formed in a collective sense; no, our personal being must rise to its highest form. But there is a potential danger here, the temptation of a certain rigidity, a cult of personality divorced from external action. Hence the highest, the greatest enhancement of individuality demands the greatest surrender. You know the lines of these most eminent individualists:

And as long as you do not grasp this:
"Die and become"—
You are only an unredeemed sojourner
Upon the gloomy earth.

Nietzsche, the most extreme of individualists, in "Zarathustra,"
You must desire to be consumed in your own flame: how did you intend to become new if you were not ashes first?

Christ, "Being in Himself": The grain of wheat must die, only then does it bring forth fruit. Whoever wants to win his soul must lose it.

The abandonment of self on the part of the Catholic academic woman, in fact of any Christian, does not involve a loss of personhood in the sense of disappearing into Indian nothingness or being absorbed in a Russian style collectivism. No, it is a surrender to Being (God), a sublimation of the person, a bursting of the chains of personality to achieve a union with infinite Being. (Indeed, this is "super-humanity.") This would lead back to the responsibilities involved with our subject (the teaching profession), with people (guidance), and with other souls (our apostolate).

The Woman Academic and Her Vocation: (Vocation as a Calling.) Here it would be well to distinguish three levels of academic women and their calling. The first calling is common to all women in the academic profession: the calling to be the image of God. In the second calling, i.e., in the academic profession itself, there are three different categories:

Category 1: The married academic woman.

Her primary calling is to be the image of God. Her secondary calling is that of wife and mother. Effect of professional activities becomes tertiary.

Category 2: The so-called working woman.

Primary calling: to be the image of God. Secondary calling: devotion to the profession for the sake of the profession.

Category 3: The woman consecrated to God.

Primary calling: to be the image of God. Secondary calling: vocation as the servant of God in the convent and in the world as she functions in almost all professions today.

The problems and duties of the academic woman in these three categories are different. Unfortunately, there is not enough time to give a complete picture of them. I would like to offer a few summary suggestions.

Category 1: The married academic.

Responsibilities: Motherhood and the profession.

Duties: 1. To sacrifice the third calling (professional activity) to the second calling (role of wife and mother) in order to achieve better the primary calling, to be the image of God.

2. To utilize the primary calling (to be the image of God) and the tertiary calling (professional activity) in order to become a better wife and mother.

Category 2: The professional academic.

Group 1

Responsibilities: Professional activity for its own sake considered as a substitute for marriage and as a means of livelihood is positively unsatisfactory if the occupation is not enhanced by typical feminine qualities or if it does not correspond to some extent to personal inclinations.

Duties: Let us disregard all professions which do not fall under the preceding categories! Instead, let us strive for spiritualization, enrichment, and a thorough and more conscious deepening of the teaching profession. Let us create new professions which serve the living and the personal.

Group 2

Responsibilities: A devotion to professional activity for the sake of professional activity, based on personal ability. This is positively unsatisfactory if the ability cannot be utilized suitably because of external obstructions.

Duties: To create the facilities necessary so that each person can make use of his or her personal qualities and gifts in the profession.

Category 3: The consecrated academic.

Group 1: In the convent.

Responsibilities: See Journal for Asceticism and Mysticism 1932 No. 1 and 3. The article which deals with these questions outlines an approximate picture.

Duties: The solution is best left to the academics in the individual convents.

Group 2: In the world.

Responsibilities: The lack of clarity concerning new paths. Particular requirements for candidates of this category: a deepening spirituality, perceptivity, pioneering blood.

Primary duties: To prepare herself to be an instrument of God.

The burning contemporary question of woman and vocation also belongs in this context. Certainly it is born out of necessity, but the approach is instinctive and ill-considered which wishes to solve the problem by suggesting: "Turn out the women from all vocations." Here it is up to the academic woman to distinguish between vocations in which women enrich humanity and those in which they perform their work half-heartedly and obstruct others. But this is a question for the academic to qualify individually. For individual aptitude does not often permit itself to be forced into the pattern of "man-woman." To clarify this issue, to steer the right course is a noteworthy, important task for academically trained, objectively thinking women.

The question of academic women and scholarship is also relevant in this context.

Do possibilities exist today in Switzerland for Catholic academics to work in a scholarly manner and to utilize their abilities for that purpose? Do available funds exist for subsidies to scholarly work so that the academic will not have to dissipate her energy in bread-winning? Unfortunately, they do not exist. Consequently, it is unjust to pass the judgment "scholarly unproductive" on academically trained women as long as the possibility to be scholarly productive is not open to them.

Do the Catholic academics of Switzerland exert themselves in this direction? Do they mutually encourage each other? Do they support and help the young?

Does there exist a Catholic women's training center where bibliographical sources are at hand: books, journals, newspapers, etc.?

Does a center exist where academically trained women can find stimulation and relaxation and contact with other like-minded women, etc.? Should not such a place be created eventually as a part of the so-called women's training center? A place like shining glass which focuses intellectual light and transforms them into sparks of fire. Something positive! And not diabolic fire!

All this does not exist. It remains to be done!

The third area of responsibilities: the most immediate factors of the academic woman's environment involved in her leadership of others. We shall discuss this problem under several aspects.

Academics and the Youth Movement: Do we share the problems of today's youth? Apparently not! So at least we must analyze the problems objectively in order to understand them better. Understanding is, after all, the secret of every form of leadership. Here we might read among other things Gunther Grundel's book "Mission of the Young Generation." Does it reflect a growing revolutionary attitude of our time? Let us read it to get a glimpse of what is inflaming and shaping today's youth.

Are we aware of Russian youth, of its elite "Komsomol," a foreshadowing of the future? Don't think that our youth is so different from them; Russian doctrines are already influencing them. We have an illusion that we are living on an island, an "island of peace," unaware of the universal tumult all about us which is already endangering it. Don't think such tidal waves won't engulf us. We are asleep and like to call our attitude moderation, perhaps even virtue. But is not the uncomprehending life a basically defective one?

Academics and the Women's Movement: Perhaps we are thinking: "Such movements do not concern us. They are for the anonymous masses. We are different!" We feel that we are protected by our knowledge which is perhaps pseudo-knowledge!

Our scholarly existence and our lives would be misspent if our studies had evoked such pride! Academic women who feel that way could be overwhelmed by the very life which they so childishly reject. Are we responsibly trained women or are we children at play? The universities should eliminate the latter. The academic training of women is being challenged again today. Would this be possible to such a degree were it not that the greater part of the academically trained women have failed to assume leadership?

Let's get to the point: Are we Catholic academics in contact with organized workers, the Swiss Women's Movement, the Women's Union, and the Christian Socialists? We are not. Why? Certainly the fault lies on both sides, but it is equally certain it is indeed on both sides.

Academics and Social Consciousness: Do we grasp social problems, the burning problems of today? Do they concern us also? Or are we waiting until others find some solution or until we are submerged by the billows of chaos? Is such an attitude worthy of an academic woman? Must we not try to help in deed as well as in thought? I believe this is a theoretical matter primarily in that we should investigate connections and causes so that we may know what help is needed and how to give it. Concretely, we must proceed through Caritas, that means that our love of God must find practical expression. There are manifold ways to fit manifold needs. Let us not be stuck in a rut. We must get in touch with the social ferment of the masses and understand their physical and spiritual needs. (Examples here are the students of Zurich!)

Academics and Public Life: I have reached the core of a burning question, one on which Swiss academics differ. I do not want to impose my opinion here. Permit me only to pose a question and cite a quotation. Question: Are we familiar with the work of the adversary? In the mine fields of today's society, can we justify looking backwards continuously while our adversary wages war against our views?

A quotation: A prince of the Church can answer this question better than I can. In Cardinal Faulhaber's commentary on the vesper psalms, he explains the middle verse of the "Magnificat." He writes:

Who still dares to say that politics has nothing to do with religion and that souls directed towards God, especially women, should stay far from public life? If the quiet virgin of Nazareth, her soul resting completely in God her savior, could be concerned with the happenings on the world scene (middle verse of the Magnificat), then religious people, including women of course, dare not be indifferent as to whether the arm of God is seen in world events. They must not be unconcerned as to whether the God- willed spiritual, political, and economic order is established. Nor may they be unconcerned when dogmatic intellectuals confuse the people with their knowledge when political leaders strike out God's name from public life, or when capitalistic exploiters are upsetting the economic order. . ." (Munchen, 1929, p. 333).

The example of Mary is relevant here. She is the ideal type of woman who knew how to unite tenderness with power. She stood under the cross. She had previously concerned herself about the human condition, observed it, understood it! In her son's tragic hour she appeared publicly. Perhaps the moment has almost come for the Catholic woman also to stand with Mary and with the Church under the cross! Concretely: I am not asking the Swiss Catholic academic woman to decide today whether or not woman should take part in public life (it would even be childish presumption to ask for this). But I believe there is something that must be promoted in the name of sound human reason, in the interest of our families, our nation, and our Church. It is that you take an interest in the question, reflect on it, and study it objectively in the light of contemporary development.

Academics and the Apostolate: Catherine of Siena writes in a letter to the king of Naples: "Indeed, out of love for the crucified Jesus, we must be zealous, indeed overzealous for the holy Church."

Perhaps through the course of the centuries, our attitude in the Church has been too passive. Perhaps we have left it to exceptional people "to prove the exception to the rule," people like Teresa of Jesus, Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, etc. The twentieth century demands more! I am thinking specifically of the atheistic movement. How can we oppose this phalanx? Pope Pius XI has already sanctioned the lay apostolate; in fact, he has summoned us to it. Should Catholic action stay a catchword and a cliché which resounds through the assemblies but does not ignite?

Do we understand what the so-called Liturgical Movement is all about? It is certainly not about aesthetics. No, it is about a deeper sharing in the life of Christ and witness to it by means of the Church. (I would say much more here, but I am afraid it would take too much time.)

Much has been done, but there is endlessly more yet to be done! "In hoc signo vinces"[1] runs youth's slogan. Could this not also be our slogan? We will not overcome this mountain of difficulties by our own power, but we will do it well through that sign! We will be victorious in the sign of the cross; that is, we will live our lives fully as Catholic academics—successfully or unsuccessfully—as a blessing of our society, our nation, and our Church.


1. "In this sign you will conquer." The slogan of the section of the Youth of the International Union of the Catholic Women's Leagues.

Taken from the works of Edith Stein as published by ICS Publications in the book "The Collected Works of Edith Stein", Volume Two "Essays on Woman", 1987.