Endow Weekly

St. Edith Stein | Seeker of Truth – Week 5

Week Five: The Road to Carmel

Consider the Intellectual 

In Chapter 5 we learn that in 1932, Edith was offered a position by the Association of Catholic Female Teachers in order to be a lecturer for the German Institute of Scientific Pedagogy: “With the acceptance of this new position, Stein relished the opportunity to associate with professional academics” and this “would be the closest Stein ever came to realizing her dream of becoming a university professor.” 

Sadly, she was fired only the next year on April 19, 1933 “along with all the other teachers, writers, and professional people who were even partially of Jewish descent.” However limited her academic career had been in the past, it was certainly over with the rise of National Socialism (Nazism) in Germany. 

Edith wrote to Pius XI asking for help, guidance, and action from the Holy Father (one can’t help but think of the spirit of St. Catherine of Siena here) and in 1937, the Holy Father released an encyclical to the German bishop, Mit Brennender Sorge, (With Burning Regret)  

This is one of my favorite segments from the document: 

Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community – however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things – whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds.

Consider the Emotional 

What absolutely stunned me while reading this chapter is the fact that despite the looming threat of Nazism, the total loss of any future for her academic career, and her family’s disapproval and misunderstanding of her cloistered vocation (her family felt the sting of abandonment during a time of trial) she left for Carmel (the day after her 42nd birthday!) with a “deep sense of peace.” 

She wrote:

I look forward with so much joy to the silence. As much as I love the Divine Office and as loath as I am to be away from the choir even for the shortest of Hours—the basis of our life, after all, is the two hours of meditation provided by our schedule. Only since I’ve been enjoying the privilege do I know how much I missed it by not having it outside.

Consider the Spiritual

Edith’s contemplative spirit as well as artistic sensibility were able to flourish in the cloister. I had no idea that Edith was also a poet and that she was involved with “in-house theatricals!” I wonder if she ever read Paul Claudel’s play The Tidings Brought to Mary. I have to assume she did! The play was written in 1916 and Edith, as we know, frequented the French home of Raissa and Jacques Maritain and it isn’t too far-fetched to think they would have both run in that circle. 

A few years back, a group of my friends decided to take to nature and read the play out loud together. A beautiful and moving cultural initiative and a greatly needed expression of leisure in our utilitarian age. I was able to see this play ten years ago when it was performed at the New York Encounter by the Blackfriars Repertory Theatre. (Basically, Dominicans who do shows!) 

John Paul II, also a poet and actor, wrote about the importance of the arts and cultivating an artistic sensibility. In his Letter to Artists, John Paul II wrote something that, according to Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell, “could have been describing Edith Stein:” 

Every genuine art form in its own way is a path to the inmost reality of man and of the world. It is therefore a wholly valid approach to the realm of faith, which gives human experience its ultimate meaning. That is why the Gospel fullness of truth was bound from the beginning to stir the interest of artists, who by their very nature are alert to every “epiphany” of the inner beauty of things.