Stein, Edith (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), St.
STEIN, EDITH (TERESA BENEDICTA OF THE CROSS), ST.
Martyr; Carmelite nun; philosopher and pedagogue;b. Wrocław (Breslau in Prussian Silesia), Poland, Oct. 12, 1891; d. Birkenau section of Auschwitz concentration camp, Aug. 9, 1942. Born of devout Jewish parents, Edith gave up her faith as a teenager and became interested in philosophy after dissatisfaction with her studies in psychology. She read the important philosophical treatise Logical Investigations of Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, and went to Göttingen University to study with him. Her acquaintance with Catholicism began there with the Munich phenomenologist Max scheler. After several years of searching, and after reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, she asked to enter the church and was baptized on Jan. 1, 1922. She accepted a teaching post at a girls' school run by Dominican teaching sisters in the cathedral city of Speyer. Along with her teaching duties, she acquainted herself with Catholic philosophy and translated the treatise On Truth by St. Thomas Aquinas.
Stein traveled to several German–speaking countries to address Catholic audiences, especially on women's and educational topics. Her growing reputation led her to leave the school at Speyer to teach at a more specialized institution of higher learning. In 1932 she became a lecturer at the German Institute for Scientific Pedagogy in Münster, but in the next calendar year she had to leave this post because of anti–Semitic legislation introduced by the Nazi Party. Convincing her spiritual director the time had come, she now acted on a long–cherished wish and entered the Carmel of Cologne, taking the name of Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. After her initial training at Cologne her monastic superiors invited her to
resume writing. She transformed an earlier philosophical essay, developed in an unsuccessful effort to obtain a university position a few years previously, into her major opus Finite and Eternal Being, in which she attempted to synthesize the philosophy of St. Thomas with modern thought, especially with phenomenology. From her monastery she remained a faithful correspondent with former colleagues, among them the Polish phenomenologist Roman Ingarden.
Soon after the Nazi persecution of the Jews turned violent in the nationwide Kristallnacht pogrom of November 9–10, 1938, she left Germany for exile in the Dutch Carmel of Echt on the last day of the year. Here she wrote another important work, The Science of the Cross, a presentation of the life and teaching of St. John of the Cross. This contains several passages that incorporate the phenomenological method. Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940 and both Sr. Teresa Benedicta and her sister Rosa Stein, now living at the Echt Carmel as a lay assistant, had to comply with anti–Semitic regulations. SS agents arrested them both on a day she was putting the finishing touches on her John of the Cross manuscript (which was published posthumously). That round–up on Sunday, Aug. 2, 1942, led to deportation of several hundred priests and religious and Catholic laity of Jewish origin as a reprisal for an outspoken pastoral letter written by Dutch bishops condemning the anti–Semitic measures of the German occupation forces. One week later they arrived at the Auschwitz concentration camp, where she and her sister died in the gas chamber.
Official introduction of her cause for canonization took place in 1962, leading to her beatification at Cologne by Pope John Paul II on May 1, 1987. He canonized her at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican on Oct. 11, 1998. In the same week he recommended reading her works in his encyclical Fides et Ratio. The following year the pope declared her copatron of Europe, the only 20th–century saint to be so honored.
Bibliography: Works by Edith Stein: Life in a Jewish Family (Washington 1986); Essays on Woman, rev. ed. (Washington 1997); On the Problem of Empathy, 3d ed. (Washington 1989); The Hidden Life (Washington 1992); Self–Portrait in Letters, 1916–1942 (Washington 1993); Knowledge and Faith (Washington 2000); Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities (Washington 2000); Edith Stein: Selected Writings, tr. s. batzdorff (Springfield, Ill. 1990); Edith Stein: Day Book, tr. s. batzdorff (Springfield, Ill. 1994); The Science of the Cross, tr. h. graef (Chicago 1960). Works about Edith Stein: s. batzdorff, Aunt Edith: The Jewish Heritage of a Catholic Saint (Springfield, Ill. 1998). Never Forget: Christian and Jewish Perspectives on Edith Stein, tr. s. batzdorff (Washington 1998). c. baseheart, Person in the World: Introduction to the Philosophy of Edith Stein (Dordrecht 1997). Holiness Befits Your House, ed. j. sullivan (Washington 2000).