Edith Stein, a child of Israel,
a martyr for her people

I. FROM JUDAISM TO CATHOLICISM

BORN FOR GLORY

Edith at the age of three.
Edith at the age of three.

Edith Stein was born on October 12, 1891 in Breslau, the capital of Silesia, which is today called Wroclaw and located within Poland. She was the eleventh and last child of a Jewish family, four of whom had died in early childhood. She was not even two years old when her father, a wood merchant, died from sunstroke during a business trip. Her mother Augusta, an independent, proud, energetic and capable woman, took control of the business and made it prosper while raising by herself her seven children, in the strict observance of Jewish Law, with its fasting and feasts, and its rabbinical ceremonial, practiced not only at the synagogue, but also at home (…).

At school Edith, who was remarkably talented, soon surpassed her friends, who were all older than she. Since she in no way took pride in this and was always ready to help those less gifted, everybody liked her. “ From my childhood, I have known that goodness is worth more than intelligence, ” she wrote.

At the age of fourteen, she suddenly interrupted her studies, but she took them up again two years later. In the meantime : “ I lost the faith that I had had in my childhood [...] and I consciously and deliberately stopped praying, ” she confessed.

A PHILOSOPHER THIRSTING FOR TRUTH

Once her secondary studies were over, she entered the University of Breslau and soon specialised in philosophy (...).

Edith as a young philosopher.
Edith as a young philosopher.

So as not to annoy her mother, she accompanied her to the synagogue, with no conviction. She confessed that she remained an atheist until she discovered the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl, according to which “ to know is once again to receive and to deduce one’s law from objects themselves, and not to determine one’s law and impose it on objects ”. Edith then entered philosophy, as one enters into religious life (…).

“ Phenomenology ” is a scholarly word to express a simple idea. This philosophy was for Edith Stein a deliverance from Kantism that was then in vogue in Germany, as it still is today in French universities (…).

Max Scheler’s classes complemented the phenomenology of Husserl, for whom the questions concerning the individual hardly counted, the study of relations that arise from love, hate, repentance, and that lead to knowledge of other people (…).

A doctor in philosophy since 1916, she was brought by her thirst for knowing the real world to study medieval Christian philosophy and ancient wisdom, that is to say, that of Saint Augustine, Duns Scotus, Saint Thomas, Plato and Aristotle (…).

She immediately understood the interest of the research of Heidegger, the existentialist, as “ a reaction against Husserl’s tendency not to make account for existence and all that is concrete and personal ”. Once again, I can hear my philosophy professor (…).

Husserl-Scheler-Reinach-Heidegger