Like von Hildebrand, whose birthday she shares, Edith Stein studied philosophy in Göttingen under Edmund Husserl and Adolf Reinach. There, too, she met Max Scheler, whose genius influenced her profoundly.
Stein’s philosophical studies encouraged her openness to the possibility of transcendent realities, and her atheism began to crumble under the influence of her friends who had converted to Christianity.
During the summer of 1921, at the age of twenty-nine, Stein was vacationing with friends but found herself alone for the evening. She picked up, seemingly by chance, the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, founder of the Carmelite Order. She read it in one sitting, decided that the Catholic faith was true, and went out the next day to buy a missal and a copy of the Catholic catechism. She was baptized the following January…
Stein eventually became a leading voice in the Catholic Woman’s Movement in Germany, speaking at conferences and helping to formulate the principles behind the movement.
...Most of Edith Stein’s writing on women and women’s vocation stems from the decade of her professional life between her conversion and her entrance into the Carmelite community at Cologne. The importance of these essays cannot be overestimated, both in terms of their originality and level of insight, but also in terms of their wider influence. On a recent visit to the U.S., Cardinal Lustiger of Paris, himself a Jewish convert to Catholicism, called Edith Stein one of the greatest philosophers of our time. “Her best pupil,” he said, “is the Holy Father” [John Paul II]. Anyone who has read the pope’s encyclical on The Dignity and Vocation of Woman, or his more recent Letter to Women, will see immediately how much they owe to Edith Stein’s pioneering work on this subject.
In 1942, Edith died at the hands of the Nazis. Jules and I and several of the faculty and students of IAP were present for her canonization in Rome twelve years ago.
This month’s Magnificat has a litany of quotations from saints. It includes this one from Edith Stein:
Holy realism has a certain affinity with the realism of the child who receives and responds to impressions with unimpaired vigor and vitality, and with uninhibited simplicity.
And here is a beautiful, deeply personalist prayer of hers. Its last lines especially are like Newman.
Whatever did not fit in with my plan did lie within the plan of God. I have an ever deeper and firmer belief that nothing is merely an accident when seen in the light of God, that my whole life down to the smallest details has been marked out for me in the plan of Divine Providence and has a completely coherent meaning in God’s all seeing eyes.
To be a child of God, that means to be led by the Hand of God, to do the Will of God, not one’s own will, to place every care and every Hope in the Hand of God and not to worry about one’s future. On this rests the freedom and the joy of the child of God. But how few of even the truly pious, even of those ready for heroic sacrifices, possess this freedom.
When night comes, and you look back over the day and see how fragmentary everything has been, and how much you planned that has gone undone, and all the reasons you have to be embarrassed and ashamed: just take everything exactly as it is, put it in God’s hands and leave it with Him. Then you will be able to rest in Him—really rest—and start the next day as a new life.