Edith Stein: St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
By: Steve Taranovich, T.O.Carm
She was born to a well-off Jewish family in Breslau, Germany. Her father died when she was very young, and her mother was a very devout Jew and powerful woman. As a youth, Edith exhibited exceptional intelligence and at a time when few women pursued higher education, enrolled at the university. In time she lost her childhood Jewish faith, but her studies were to lead her to a very unexpected rediscovery of God.
Edith Stein was very curious about so many things. Primarily she sensed that the human mind and spirit could not be explained by psychological methods. She felt something deeper in herself and wanted to know more about it. She was greatly influenced by a philosopher named Edmund Husserl, whose ideas embraced the idea: ‘When we think about the world, we have to be aware of all the phenomena, all the things that present themselves to us.’ This philosophy was called Phenomenology and it allowed Edith Stein to see beyond the philosophy of the time. I was here that she found that God was a possibility again.
She later read a copy of St. Teresa of Avila’s Autobiography and ultimately became a Catholic. Edith taught for a while and lectured all over Germany, particularly on the role of Catholic women. This was in a time when Nazism had taken over and she immediately felt that it would mean a terrible trial for Jews and for herself personally.
After spending long hours in prayer, she felt that she should pursue a vocation and chose the Carmelites in Cologne, Germany. She was accepted as a novice and her prayer became deeper.
She wrote many books at the request of her superiors and chose the name of Sister Benedicta of the Cross.
The Nazi threats became greater and ultimately was arrested by them because she had a Jewish heritage and died a week later at Auschwitz.
Edith Stein was beatified as a martyr on May 1, 1987 in Cologne, Germany by Pope John Paul II and then canonized by him 11 years later, on October 11, 1998 in Vatican City and he said of her: “As a bride of the Cross, Sister 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 great example of a woman of faith as well as European and world culture. Her witness of life, her message and her thought continue to be spread around the world.
(Images courtesy of Carmenlites.net)August 28, 2018