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Katie van Schaijik

Self-possession precedes self-giving

Aug. 9 at 11:25am

Since it's her feast day, I am reading about Edith Stein.  I've learned (unless it's something I'd known and forgotten) that she was born on the Jewish day of Atonement, and that her pious Jewish mother considered this to be of great significance. 

And then I find this line from her memoirs. It comes from a moment in her teen years, when she was having to decide what to do with herself: where to go, what to study. Her family was giving her definite hints, but she was resisting their influence.  Her decision had to be her own.

I could not act unless I had an inner compulsion to do so. My decisions arose out of a depth that was unknown even to myself. 

This captures at least two central insights of personalism as we understand it:

1) The dignity of the person has everything to do with our self-determination through freedom.

2) The roots of our being as persons are hidden in God, so that He is closer to us than we are to ourselves.

That Edith Stein apparently sensed all this even before her conversion, while she was still very young, and at a time when young women especially were under enormous pressure to conform to social expectations, speaks to her greatness as a person.  It partly explains how she was able to make such a thoroughgoing gift-of-self in her martyrdom.  She knew how to listen to that "still, small voice" within.  She had learned to withstand the "undue influences" of others in her life. She knew how to "investigate her feelings," and learn what they had to teach her about herself and God's plan for her.  She had "taken possession" of her own "interior terrain."  So, when the moment came to offer everything, in an oblation, she was ready.

I love and admire her more and more.


 

Cynthia Newcombe

Beautifully said and I love her too!

#1 - Aug. 9 at 12:23pm | quote

 

Rhett Segall

Katie, your reflection on Edith’s teen experience is insightful. Along with you and Cynthia I too love Edith.  Reading her memoirs constantly inspires me.  I particularly enjoy her wartime nursing experience and high school teaching experience. She writes clearly and interestingly. 

I wonder, though, about the motives for her canonization.  Was she really a martyr? I am sure there were many, many Jews who had become Christian and ended up dying in concentration camps. Yet they weren’t canonized.  Was it Edith’s decision to become a nun that was behind her canonization? If so, I find that disturbing. Was it to draw attention that this philosopher, a truth seeker, converted from Judaism to Christianity? I’m uncomfortable with that.

Again, don’t get me wrong. I love Edith and was delighted to reflect on her life Friday in the context of liturgical prayer. But I wonder.

There is a further point of wonder for me. In the Peasant of the Garonne Maritain says the following, apropos of Husserl and Edith:

“…he deserved the gratitude and affection Edith Stein continued to feel for him while freeing herself from his influence.” P. 105  

It causes me to wonder.

                                          

#2 - Aug. 10 at 9:47am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Jules and I were in Rome for Edith Stein's canonization. I remember John Paul pointing to two "items" justifying the case for her martyrdom.

After she had read Teresa of Avila and become convinced that Christianity was true, she went to Husserl to try to convince him in turn.  Husserl, as she knew and admired him, was a man thoroughly dedicated to truth, who had inspired her and countless others to devote their lives to the pursuit of truth.  His intellectual brilliance was beyond question.  And yet, when it came to persuading him to embrace Christianity, neither his great intelligence nor her exceptional powers of reasoning were enough.

She walked away from that encounter and said to a friend something along these lines: "I am now convinced that reason can do nothing.  Only my personal holocaust will avail."  

That statement revealed not only that she understood the limits of reason, but also that she was willing to give herself as a sacrifice, that others may come to faith.

The other item was what she said to her sister when the Nazis arrived to arrest her: "Come, we go for our people."

She didn't just die.  She offered herself.

#3 - Aug. 10 at 10:03am | quote

 

Jules van Schaijik

Rhett, what is it about the Maritain quote that causes you to wonder? The quote seems unproblematic to me.

#4 - Aug. 10 at 12:45pm | quote

 

Rhett Segall

Jules;

The quote is in the context of (what I consider) Maritain's scathing critique of phenomenology. As I read Maritain, here and elsewhere, he is either totally unaware of non-Husserl phenomenology or doesn't accept the distinction.

Maritain's point about Edith then was not what I think Katie was referring to, i.e. that Husserl didn't accept revelation as a source of truth, but rather that she finally recognized that ultimatelyy Husserl's phenomenolgy kept one unable to  have genuine contact with reality because it kept one imprisoned in mental being.

My wonderment, then, was whether Maritain was implying that Edith's conversion opened her to  give weight to Thomism and its fundamental categories of causility and act/potenentiality which safeguards one's acceptance of non-mental being.

#5 - Aug. 10 at 1:15pm | quote

 

Jules van Schaijik

I see wat you mean. (But I don't know enough about all this to shed any light on it.)

#6 - Aug. 10 at 3:32pm | quote

 

Tim Cronin

I agree that self-possession precedes self-gift but also that self-possession is a gift received by God. 

As far as St Edith Stein I haven't read enough to know but perhaps she opened from phenomenology to the aporetic. I haven't finished reading this paper but it discusses some of the limits of phenomenology: 

http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1074&context=masters

to perceive and do phenomenology should lead one to more dependence upon the Divine, the one who gives. To perceive is to receive and to give, to take in and to release. If this is true, then one must conclude that phenomenology cannot simply be an independent enterprise of perceiving but also one which posits a Divine being at the heart of what is being perceived. This is where Milbank enters the conversation, for if we may posit a Divine being into creation as we go about our phenomenological endeavors, then we have an opening up of The dialectic between phenomenology and ontology – an ontology that posits a reserved being into its framework who gives and sustains. The significance of such a consideration should lead to recognition of Divine mystery and the consecration of Divine love.

#7 - Aug. 10 at 9:02pm | quote

 

Tim Cronin

This is what makes phenomenological projects seem so elusive, for in our finite perception, everything begins with what we see, sense or have been given. By our senses we determine how the world is, and though this is true for Milbank, our senses cannot be the final say on all that is. This is because the transcendent God moves in ways unperceivable to the finite – there are things going on in the finite realm which are not able to be perceived by finite beings. So Milbank takes God’s existence for granted and allows his phenomenology to give way for supernatural intervention as all of nature is always being sustained by The Divine.

#8 - Aug. 10 at 9:05pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

I have some disputes with that characterization of phenomenology, Tim, as well as with the claim (which strikes me as fideistic) that phenomenology has to "posit" God.

As to self-possession being a gift received by God, I say yes and no.  It is like the "gift/task" of our individuality. It is both given to us and achieved by us, through our free acting.  

#9 - Aug. 11 at 9:29am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Maritain's point about Edith then was not what I think Katie was referring to, i.e. that Husserl didn't accept revelation as a source of truth,

That doesn't quite capture what I took her to mean.  I took her to be expressing her experience of the limits of reason in persuading a person to come to faith.  It has more to do with the nature of faith as a gift of grace, and the problem of unbelief as bound up with a bad will, than it does with whether a person accepts the authority of Revelation or not.

As Newman said somewhere, the "reasons" for not believing are typically not intellectual.  They boil down to an antipathy to Christianity—an antipathy that can't be overcome by rational arguments.

A bad or imprisoned will can only be changed by love, which is to say, sacrifice.

#10 - Aug. 11 at 9:37am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Rhett Segall, Aug. 10 at 1:15pm

 she finally recognized that ultimatelyy Husserl's phenomenolgy kept one unable to  have genuine contact with reality because it kept one imprisoned in mental being.

My wonderment, then, was whether Maritain was implying that Edith's conversion opened her to  give weight to Thomism and its fundamental categories of causility and act/potenentiality which safeguards one's acceptance of non-mental being.

I lack the scholarly knowledge to address this point as it deserves to be addressed.  But I'll say two things:

1) Husserl, did, it seems, eventually succumb to idealism. This is why our school of phenomenology distinguishes itself from the later Husserl and followers like Heidegger, by calling itself "realist phenomenology."

2) Our notion of phenomenology is very different from the one commonly found among Thomists, who diminish it to a "method" lacking metaphysics.

#11 - Aug. 11 at 9:45am | quote

 

Tim Cronin

Phenomenonology is helpful in understanding our experiences of Divine and human love but it is not however comprehensive of the Mystery of God's love which can be and is beyond phenomenological experience. I don't think this is fideism but an opening to mystery. 

We can be moved by our desire (a grace) to self-gift to God.

#12 - Aug. 11 at 11:59am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Tim Cronin, Aug. 11 at 11:59am

Phenomenonology is helpful in understanding our experiences of Divine and human love but it is not however comprehensive of the Mystery of God's love which can be and is beyond phenomenological experience. 

Well of course.  But this is to say no more than philosophy is not religion, nor can Reason achieve what can only be achieved through faith.

What is fideistic is to hold that reason is incapable of arriving at truth, or that in order to reason rightly about God and/or religious experience, we have to begin by "positing" God and/or adopting on faith the doctrines of Christianity.

#13 - Aug. 11 at 12:55pm | quote

 

Tim Cronin

We don't have to posit God but our reason isn't a secular functioning. As Michael Hanby puts it in his disseration The Doxological Self:

Intentionality is intrinsically erotic, and eros intentional, with our intentional objects being....last in the order of execution and first in the order of intention. Our actions thus vestigally manifest the image of the Father's love for the Son; whether this image passes over into likeness is contigent, not upon a difference of operation, but of object

and

in making desire intrinsic to all inteligibility Augustine invests knowledge with the distance of eros...he essentially makes doxology the form of all human activity, and builds at least the simulacra of faith, hope, and charity into the formal structure of all human knowing.

#14 - Aug. 11 at 9:06pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Tim Cronin, Aug. 11 at 9:06pm

We don't have to posit God but our reason isn't a secular functioning. 

I don't understand what you mean by secular functioning.

Reason is a faculty of persons.  Reasoning is a function of persons.

When we reason upond the articles of Faith, we're doing theology.  When we reason upon our experience, we're doing philosophy.

#15 - Aug. 12 at 9:32am | quote

 

Tim Cronin

You seemed to be indicating that faith is not necessary to properly reason. Yet reasoning itself is a similitude of faith through the erotic distance. I think the age of Enlightenment has showed us what happens to reason when unhitched from faith. Reason is darkened. Phenomenology is a good method for understanding experience but isn't it closed to what is beyond experience? So we can reflect on how God is immanent through phenomenology but what about how He is transcendent of His creation?

#16 - Aug. 12 at 9:51am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Tim Cronin, Aug. 12 at 9:51am

You seemed to be indicating that faith is not necessary to properly reason. 

Well, that depends on what you mean. A person doesn't need to be a religious believer in order to reason well and truly.  (Funnily enough, as well as being intuitively given, this proposition is an article of faith for Catholics.)

Likewise (alas) faith doesn't guarantee right reasoning.

But I agree with you that human reason, like everything human, is affected by sin, and that faith purifies reason.  Reason grounds Faith.

Phenomenology is a good method for understanding experience but isn't it closed to what is beyond experience? 

This is a somewhat misleading (though very common) formulation. Phenomology is not about "understanding experience"; it's about understanding Reality, as we encounter it in experience (as opposed to, say, in the Bible, or other texts).

So, yes, phenomenology, like philosophy generally, is limited in its scope to experience.  I wouldn't say, though, that it's "closed to" what is beyond experience.  Philosophy (in itself) isn't closed to theology or religion.  On the contrary. Reason, rightly exercised, leads to the recognition that there is lots more Reality out there, beyond its reach.

#17 - Aug. 12 at 10:48am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

So we can reflect on how God is immanent through phenomenology but what about how He is transcendent of His creation?

For instance, by reflecting on our experience of the created world, we observe that it is contingent, not absolute. We notice that it is beautiful, that it is composed of orderly patterns, etc. We note the radical difference between living and non-living beings, between spirit and matter, between cause and effect, between persons and non-persons.  We derive from these and like observations and reflections, that there must be an "Uncaused Cause," a First Mover, a Creator.

From the experience of conscience, we discern a personal God, and so forth.

Philosophy alone cannot arrive at the Incarnation, or at the Immaculate Conception.  To know about those great mysteries, we rely on Revelation.

But we shouldn't make the mistake of assuming that "apart from faith" means "in opposition to faith". 

#18 - Aug. 12 at 10:57am | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Rhett, apropos of the point I made earlier about the limits of reason in leading a person to faith, I've just come across a line from Newman that throws more light.

Love of heaven is the only way to heaven. Let us understand that nothing but the love of God can make us believe or obey Him.

I think this is the point Edith intuited when she realized none of her arguments availed to convince Husserl to open himself to Christianity. She was confronting not an intellectual obstacle, but a moral obstacle—a problem of will.

The solution to that sort of problem isn't better arguments, but more love.

#19 - Aug. 12 at 12:42pm | quote

 

Patrick Dunn

Fr. Thomas Dubay wrote well, I thought, of the relationship between faith and reason here.

#20 - Aug. 12 at 2:41pm | quote

 

James Barclay

All of you.  I have been involved with the Catholic Worker Movement in some form for about 35yrs. and I thought I knew a bit about Personalism.  Now I am in Socrates' situation in that I cannot claim I know anything at all, especially about Personalism.  In reading Katie van Schaijik's article it was obvious about the two points of Edith Stein, but also Dorothy Day in her "Selected Writing" (ed. Robert Ellsburg) and meeting with my friend Dr. Micael Boover, formerly of Anna Maria College, Paxton, MA.  A fire almost extinguished has once again been rekindled by Katie and I must devour a great deal more and digest it, now Edith Stein, before I say too much more.  I will have many questions to pester you all with.  Many thanks.

#21 - Aug. 17 at 3:20pm | quote

 

James Barclay

Is Stein simply echoing, in so many words, "Love thy neighbor AS thyself"?  To me one must love oneself quite well in order to love another.  and, is there something called "selfless love"?

#22 - Aug. 17 at 3:24pm | quote

Katie van Schaijik

Pester away, James.  Nothing could please me more.

The member feed has fallen into disuse of late.  We would love to see it revived.  I suggest you raise your questions there.

Also, the essay "What we mean by Personalism" at our "about us" page is a great primer.

#23 - Aug. 17 at 3:27pm | quote

 

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