Endow Weekly

St. Edith Stein | Seeker of Truth – Week 1

Week One: Why Edith Stein and the Early Years

Consider the Spiritual 

Thank you for accompanying me on this journey of the life and teachings of Edith Stein. I first encountered Edith’s writings while studying at the Phoenix Institute one summer. My interest in the program was in part due to the opportunity to study her thought in a course entitled, “Why do we need others in our life?” Persons and Communities in the Philosophy of John Rawls, Edith Stein, and Dietrich von Hildebrand. However, apart from reading selected writings here and there from her Essays on Women  this Endow Study will be a true journey for me to get to know her on a broader level. My hope is throughout this study we can share our spiritual, emotional, and intellectual transformations with each other despite the limitations technology holds.

The Introduction to the study guide gives us a brief and fascinating biography of Edith: “…a modern saint, a convert from Judaism, a woman, and a martyr. She had been known in religious life as Sister Teresa Benedicta a Cruce (Teresa Blessed by the Cross)…a brilliant German philosopher, teacher, and lecturer, she had completed her years as a cloistered Carmelite with a heart consecrated to Christ Crucified. She died in the death camps of Birkenau-Auschwitz, a living witness to the Truth which had so defined her life’s journey of faith.” (page 2)

John Paul II canonized her on October 11, 1998 and preached: “The spiritual experience of Edith Stein is an eloquent example of this extraordinary interior renewal. A young woman in search of the truth has become a saint and martyr through the silent workings of divine grace…”

I assume this is why our study guide is called “Seeker of Truth.” I look forward to growing in friendship with Edith and with you as we seek truth together and in doing so dispose ourselves to divine grace and “extraordinary interior renewal.”

Consider the Emotional 

Chapter 1 tells the story of the untimely death of Edith’s father when she was barely two years old. When he was leaving for work one day, despite her young age her sensitive nature, “called him back to embrace her once again before he set out.” Later she wrote in her autobiography, “Within me…there was a hidden world.” 

Like many sensitive personalities, Edith experienced a period of depression. Stunningly, it was classical music which led to her healing. She writes, “I was beyond finding enjoyment in anything at all. What cured me of this depression is highly significant. That year the Bach Festival was given in Breslau…” 

Reading this reminded me of a discussion I had recently with a composer friend. I told him that while I prefer the music of Beethoven, I know that there is something I am lacking because of my ignorance of the music of Bach. He told me, “I have never found a mood that doesn’t fit Bach. Beethoven speaks to the human experience, but Bach speaks of something higher. Until you are taught to hear him and ‘get it,’ there is a whole new universe you have yet to discover.” 

While not all forms of depression can be healed through music, it is true that the “wound” of beauty has effects on the soul which lead to integrity. I saw this happen in my high school students when I was a theology teacher. Each week I would play a different piece of concert music for the class. I didn’t do this because I necessarily wanted to “culture” or “relax” them, which is what they often believed. I wanted to communicate to them that beauty is worth encountering for its own sake. At the end of the school year, a student admitted to me that he could no longer listen to certain kinds of pop music because he found them too disruptive interiorly. 

If you are so inclined, I would be curious to hear how the encounter with beauty has been a help to your life. For those who wish to understand more deeply the connection between music and the soul, I highly recommend Dr. Cuddeback’s talk: Music & the Soul: Restoring or Destroying the Inner Man. 

Consider the Intellectual 

Edith and her sister Erna, her “beloved companion,” were two of the first women to attend university! While Erna chose the medical field, Edith had a desire to pursue studies in philosophy and literature “but these subjects were not considered practical, especially for a female in her time.” Despite the controversy, Edith’s mother supported her decision and she was able to continue on her academic path. 

At this point in her life, Edith had long since given up praying, Judaism, and belief in God. Chapter 1 concludes: “As Stein’s intellectual gifts matured she looked for answers to the larger questions of life. What Being controls the universe? What is the underpinning of all human experience? To find these answers she would progress to graduate studies in psychology and philosophy.” 

Next week we will look at Chapter 2 which will delve into the philosophical movement of phenomenology. For those reading who have family and friends who have yet to understand the importance and studying philosophy and theology, I recommend this article by Dr. Peter Kreeft, “Why Study Philosophy and Theology?”