Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

no greater love: edith stein

Sufferings endured with the Lord are his sufferings, and bear great fruit in the context of his great work of redemption.

- Edith Stein

Edith Stein was born on October 12, 1891, in Breslau, Germany, to working-class Jewish parents. She was the youngest of eleven children of Siegried and Auguste Stein. Her father died before Edith's second birthday, and her mother struggled to raise the seven surviving children by herself.

Even as a child, Edith earned a reputation for her intelligence and wit. She quickly rose to the top of her class in school, and devoured books in her free time.

She underwent a crisis of faith at age thirteen, and began to doubt the existence of God. But the experience only deepened her desire to seek truth wherever it might be found.

In 1911, Edith entered the local university, where she studied philosophy. She developed an interest in phenomenology, a school of thought then being developed by Edmund Husserl at Göttingen University. After graduation Edith Stein enrolled at Göttingen for postgraduate work, in order to study with Husserl. It was at Göttingen that she first showed an interest in Christianity.

In 1916, Husserl took a professorship at the University of Freiburg, and invited Edith to join him as a graduate assistant. At Freiburg, she completed her doctoral degree. She remained there as a teaching assistant until 1922.

During a holiday in 1921 she read the autobiography of St. Teresa of Ávila, and found the Truth she had been seeking all her life. She promptly converted to Christianity, and was baptized into the Catholic Church on New Year's Day, 1922. She understood Christianity as a fulfillment, not a rejection, of her Jewish heritage.

O my God, fill my soul with holy joy, courage and strength to serve You. Enkindle Your love in me and then walk with me along the next stretch of road before me. I do not see very far ahead, but when I have arrived where the horizon now closes down, a new prospect will prospect will open before me, and I shall meet it with peace.

- Edith Stein

After her baptism, she resigned from Freiburg and took a position teaching at a Dominican girls' school. Though she enjoyed teaching, she missed the intellectual stimulation of university life. On the advice of Jesuit priest and philosopher Erich Przywara, she began translating the works of Thomas Aquinas to German. Her translations, as well as her own original writings, captured the attention of the academic world, and in 1932 she was offered a teaching position at the Educational Institute at Münster.

Her university job did not last long. In the following year, Adolf Hitler came to power, and one of his first acts was to forbid Jews from teaching.

Edith had been attracted to monastic life for several years, and now that she was not able to teach, she entered the Discalced (Barefoot) Carmelite monastery at Cologne. Believing that she could help bridge the gap between Christians and Jews, she wrote Life in a Jewish Family in an attempt to show that the similarities between human beings are greater than the differences that divide us.

She also requested a meeting with the Pope, to implore him to speak out against the Nazi atrocities, but her request got lost somewhere in the bureaucracy of the Vatican.

In November of 1938, German diplomat Ernst vom Rath was assasinated by Herschel Grynszpan, a German-born Polish Jew. The Nazis retaliated with an anti-Jewish pogrom that has come to be known as Kristallnacht, or Night of the Broken Glass. Nazi stormtroopers, armed with sledgehammers and axes, went through Jewish communities, shattering the storefronts of more than 7,000 businesses and burning more than 1,000 synagogues. The following day, more than 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

After this, the Carmelites feared for Edith's safety, and transferred her to a monastery in Echt in the Netherlands. Her safety did not last long even there. Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1942. They first began rounding up unbaptized Jews, but when the Dutch Bishops' Conference published a statement condemning the racism of the Nazi regime, the Nazis began arresting Jewish converts as well. Believing it was better to give herself up rather than bring possible repercussions on her Sisters, Edith surrendered on August 2, 1942, and was placed on a cattle train to be transported to Auschwitz. Seven days later she was sent to the gas chambers.

Once can only learn the science of the Cross by feeling the Cross in one’s own person.

- Edith Stein



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