Endow Weekly

St. Edith Stein | Seeker of Truth – Week 6

Week Six: Stein’s Later Philosophy

Consider the Intellectual 

In Chapter 6, we learn that “in humility,” Edith undertakes a deep dive into the study of Thomism—the philosophy and theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. Although as a phenomenologist she had “arrived at Thomas’s view that there is a natural orientation of the human mind toward objective reality;” she didn’t want to ignore the “preeminent teacher” of the Catholic Church and sought to marry the two schools of thought.*

In her book Finite and Eternal Being, she made three distinctions on her discussion on form**: pure, essential, and individual form. The “pure” form is “the idea that God has of it.” I can’t help but immediately think of Pope Benedict here when he preached:  “Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed. Each of us is loved. Each of us is necessary.”

For Edith, each person reflects the pure form (God’s idea of him or her) in both their essential and individual forms. I’m assuming here that by essential form Edith is referring to our rational nature and faculties (man’s ability to think, choose, and feel, very simply put). 

Dr. Mitchell writes, “The tradition maintains that we are only distinct from each other in terms of our physical bodies, but Stein argues that we are also distinguished by our individual form.” The individual form of you or me, for example, is “not who we are but who we ought to be in order to be our true self.” 

*I would be delighted to learn of Endow women who are involved with Edith Stein Online (either the newsletter and/or the webinar series) to undertake an Endow Study of Aquinas for Beginners either Part I or Part II during the summer. (Don’t forget the sale ends on June 30. Discount Code: #SummerSaints2020) 

For those who are looking for something immediately available, I recommend taking the time out to read St. Thomas’s 24 Theses. Dr. Mitchell describes them as “the most concise and authoritative expression of Thomism as understood in the Catholic Church.” I am also a big fan of the articles, lectures and podcasts hosted by The Thomistic Institute.  

**Remember, we believe the soul is the “form” of the body—the “animating” principle.

Consider the Emotional 

This chapter also returns to Edith’s philosophy of beauty. Her view of beauty is paralleled to that of St. Thomas who clarified, “we call beautiful that which pleases when it is seen. Beauty, therefore, is constituted by due proportion. For the senses find joy in things which are duly ordered or proportioned, in things which are, as it were, proportioned in a certain similitude with the senses.” 

There are two things which dramatically awaken man from the distraction and numbness of life—one is suffering and the other is beauty. It is the latter, to use Edith’s words, the “experiential awareness of beauty,” which allowed her to begin again after work and which, as we previously discussed, healed her depressive moods. We see in Edith the drama of what Fyodor Dostoevsky seems to be describing in his novel The Brothers Karamazov: “The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.”

In all our discussions of human nature, forms, the feminine soul, and beauty what can be helpful to remember is that the height of virtue (the perfection of human nature) is not only being in the habit of doing good but also taking pleasure in it. 

Consider the Spiritual

The response we have to the objectively beautiful depends on the extent to which we have formed our spiritual capacity to be seized by it. Edith wrote, “How you enjoy things, how you make yourself happy, how you grieve and how you suffer: that all depends on the quality of your soul.” What determines the “quality” of your soul? Ultimately, the extent to which you have received sanctifying grace. Meaning, not only and exclusively the frequent reception of sacraments but the disposition in which they have been received. Interior disposition, of course, depends on the formation (or deformation) that comes from freely determined choices. 

If we want a society of people formed by truth and goodness, then we must each individually decide to work toward a recovery of the beautiful. I leave you with these inspiring words from Hans Urs Von Balthazar from The Glory of the Lord

Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name, as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past, whether he admits it or not, can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.