Tuesday 1 January 2013

They died in 1942 -- No.8: Saint Edith Stein

The eighth in the series of personalities whose works fell into the public domain in life-plus-70 countries at the beginning of 2013, brought to 1709 Blog readers by guest contributor Miriam Levenson, is Saint Edith Stein. Explains Miriam:
Saint Edith Stein (1891-1942)

Edith Stein’s was a unique journey. Born into a religious Jewish family in Breslau, Germany, Edith initially admired her mother’s strong faith. Nevertheless, as a teenager she declared herself an atheist and went to study philosophy. Although her work On the Problem of Empathy gained Edith a doctorate and a place on her university’s faculty, the publication of further theses was refused on the grounds of her being a woman. 
During the summer holidays of 1921 Edith read the biography of St Teresa of Avila, and was inspired to convert to Catholicism. Following her baptism early in 1922, Edith left the university and took up a teaching post at the Dominican Nuns’ School in Speyer. She continued to write about philosophy and faith, and also translated Thomas Aquinas's De Veritate into German. In 1933, anti-Semitic legislation passed by the Nazis forced Edith to abandon all teaching posts. She joined the Discalced Carmelite monastery in Cologne, adopting the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. It was there that she wrote her metaphysical book Finite and Eternal Being, which tries to reconcile the philosophies of Aquinas and her former teacher Husserl. As the Nazi threat increased, Edith’s order had her transferred to Holland. While there, she continued to write, but she was not safe. In 1942 the Reichskomissar of the Netherlands ordered the arrest of all Jewish converts, who had previously been spared. Edith and her sister Rosa, also a convert, were transported to Auschwitz where they died in the gas chambers.

Edith was beatified as a martyr by Pope John Paul II in 1987, and canonised 11 years later following the miraculous recovery of an ill young girl called Teresa Benedicta McCarthy. Although Edith died at the hands of the Nazis as a Jew, the Catholic Church concluded that her deportation was a result of the Dutch episcopacy’s public condemnation of Nazism, and that she died to uphold the moral position of the Church. Today, Edith Stein is one of the six patron saints of Europe, and many of her philosophical writings are available in English translation.

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