Philosopher, Mystic, Martyr: Edith Stein, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

EdithStein“More than anything else today, what is needed is the baptism of spirit and fire. This alone can prepare those who shape human life to take their rightful place at the front lines in the great battle between Christ and Lucifer. There is no more urgent task than to be constantly armed and ready for this battle. For, ‘if the salt loses its savor, how can it be restored?'” – St. Edith Stein, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Today is the feast day of Edith Stein, the German-Jewish philosopher who converted to Catholicism through the inspiration of reading St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography, then herself became a Carmelite nun, falling in love with the beautifully contemplative spirituality of Carmel, and who died a martyr in Auschwitz in the gas chambers. This summer I was blessed to read a great biography of Edith Stein, written by a German Carmelite nun — Waltraud Herbstrith — and have felt a greater bond with this heroic modern saint.

One of the things that Edith Stein has taught me, as a doctoral student and someone who will shortly transition into religious life, is that one can use their scholarship to serve God. For Edith this recognition came when she turned to Thomism. “The recognition that God can be served through scholarship first really struck me while studying Saint Thomas [Aquinas]. It was only then that I could decide to take up scholarship seriously again,” she wrote.

Trained philosophically as a phenomenologist — like Dietrich von Hildebrand and Karol Wojtyla (Blessed John Paul II) — Edith eventually combined and attempted to reconcile phenomenology with Thomism, offering a complementary synthesis of two philosophical systems. Alongside her scholarship, her charity, humility, and goodness were remarkable. It has been widely reported that she comforted many of her fellow prisoners in Auschwitz during that horrific experience, offering them compassion, kindness, and solace.

She prayed that God would accept her life and death for the expiation of the sins of unbelievers, for Germany, and for peace.

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Prayer to Saint Edith Stein,

Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, 1891-1942

Dear Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Child of the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur, Daughter of Abraham, Bride of Christ, Seeker of Truth, Scholar of the Church, Handmaid of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Servant of the Suffering Servant, Presence of Mercy, Victim of victimizer, Embracer of the Cross of Christ-like love, Martyr of Auschwitz, Imitator of Jesus, Conqueror of evil, Friend of God, Edith, Please pray for me. Please intercede for this petition of mine. (Here mention your petitions).

Amen.

Saint Edith Stein,

Sister Teresa Benedcita of the Cross,

Pray for us.