Edith Stein

A few years after Therese of Lisieux, a very different woman lived in a Carmel, first in Germany and then in The Netherlands: Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, better known as Edith Stein (1891-1942).

Inspired by Teresa of Avila, Edith Stein entered the Carmel of Cologne in 1933. Before, she studied philosophy and specialized in phenomenology. She wrote a dissertation under Husserl about empathy: Zum Problem der Einfühlung.

At that time such a rich academic education was exceptional in the context of a female Carmelite and maybe it still is an exception. Her sisters didn't always appreciate this academic background and they sometimes made fun of her, especially when she was busy with household work, for example when she was clumsily mopping up. 

In 1939, she had to flee Germany because she was Jewish and she took refuge in the Carmel of Echt in The Netherlands. Unfortunately this was not as safe a place as expected. 

When the situation became worse in The Netherlands her sisters wanted her to go to the Carmel of Le Pâquier in Switzerland. Unfortunately their positive response came too late.

On August 2, 1942, on a Sunday afternoon, Edith Stein was arrested in Echt, together with her sister Rosa. They were transported to Amersfoort, which was a transit camp. After that her death was imminent. She was sent to Westerbork and then to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Edith Stein died there on August 9, 1942. Her last words before leaving Echt were meant for her sister Rosa: "come, let us go for our people" (see painting from the Carmel of Reno, Nevada USA).

Edith Stein leaves us many spiritual and philosophical writings, as well as numerous gripping letters. Her complete works have been recently published in the Edith Stein Gesamtausgabe (ESGA). Many of them have been translated into English. Her major philosophical work is: Endliches und ewiges Sein.

The Kreuzeswissenschaft (Science of the Cross), a study about the spirituality of John of the Cross, is a major work. She was busy writing the last chapter about the last days of John of the Cross, when she was arrested. The chapter has been definitively interrupted.  

Edith Stein has opened a path for women with a strong academic background in Carmel. She has "proved" that a rich intellectual life can get on well with the carmelite spirituality. She was ahead of her time.


Now, we can experience a little bit of what it means to live from the inner of ourself (Edith Stein, Westerbork, letter of August 4, 1942, 5 days before she died).