Thinking about Edith Stein (III)

I rarely, if ever, talk about my personal struggles in these posts.  But it should be no surprise to anyone who has accompanied me in these “raids on the inarticulate” that I am wrestling with something, not always faceless, that tries to dislocate my hip in the middle of the night.  That wrestling is not without considerable risk.  For in a real and not rhetorical struggle of this nature, you may win and you may lose; and if you lose, you can lose yourself. 

Edith Stein represents, because she embodies, the spirit that I struggle with.  It is the spirit of Tridentine, counter-reformed, infalliblist, exclusivist Catholicism — the “truth” — and I was not only brought up in it, I embraced it with passion and commitment.  It was my world.  It was the world of my people and those local communities that we lived in, but I also made it my own as I matured; it offered membership in a vast community of intelligent seekers and selfless workers whose depth and quality, both modern and going back for thousands of years into the past, no other institution could match.  Where else would you go?

Edith Stein discovered the same Catholicism when she was 30 years old.  After her conversion she brought her formidable intellectual resources to the effort to support it, at first by updating traditional Thomist thinking with contributions from modern philosophy in which she was expert.  But later, she reached beyond the philosophical into regions where few dare — or care — to venture.  She entered a contemplative community of discalced Carmelites and pursued a “truth” that recapitulated everything she had discovered in her odessey.  But now it was “Truth” itself — intensely personal and intimately interior — and she had fallen in love with it.  “Truth” was no longer an abstraction for her; it had a face.  It was the face of “God.” 

Many of us, including myself, are not unfamiliar with this phenomenon.  And we are also not strangers to the serious effort, sustained over many years, to apply the counsels of the mystics in the pursuit of those same goals built on the same vision of the “truth.”  Edith’s endeavors in this regard, for those of us who have passed this way, are more than merely nostalgic.  Like an uncontrol­led “flashback” for one grieving a great loss, her certainty about the facial contours of “living Truth,” reinforced with the irrefutable integrity of her witness, can be immobilizing.   

For many, the refusal to be immobilized means learning to turn your back and walk away, no small accomplishment in itself.  But I believe there was something essential there, and if you don’t struggle to find out what it is and hold on to it, no matter how close to the “edge” it brings you, you lose it.  This sets the terms of the struggle as I see it: the relationship to that “in which we live and move and have our being” comes with birth — it belongs to all of us as Paul clearly acknowledged when he used that phrase; it is not the proprietary domain of a Christian sect that arrogates to itself the possession of “the truth” and insists that its theocratic authority structures are the exclusive conduit for divine energy.  Mystical doctrine as Stein received it had been skewed to support a narrow, ossified, self-exalting Tridentine Catholicism — a Catholicism, by the way, that is far from extinct.  If employed in that form it will suffocate the user; if abandoned altogether, however, the quest itself can atrophy.  In each case something essential to being human is lost.  

Avoiding both Scylla and Charybdis can appear to be a careening ambivalence.  It is not.  It is a struggle that “penetrates to the division of soul and spirit” … it’s a real struggle, it’s not theater, and there’s no guarantee.  This is not an academic exercise.


A third major work of Stein’s, and the one she had just barely finished when she was murdered in 1942, was a book with her interpretation of the work of sixteenth century mystical theologian John of the Cross (+1591) a discalced Carmelite canonized in 1726.  Her book is titled: The Science of the Cross and it attempts to organize John’s “doctrine” — a method for achieving mystical union — by mixing her own running commentary with extensive quotes from his poems and four books.  She also incorporates the writings of Teresa of Avila, another canonized Carmelite mystic, who was, most significantly, from a converso Jewish family.  Stein claims it was reading Teresa’s autobiography that inspired her own conversion in 1921.  The Science of the Cross serves to round out the picture of Edith’s search for truth.

It also helps us understand the vision of reality that her phenomenological Thomism had yielded.  For this book on mysticism represents her personal embrace of what she, as a scientist, had come to understand as the real world — the facts, the truth — guaranteed by Roman Catholicism and rendered rationally intelligible by a Thomism updated by her application of “scientific” Husserlian phenomenology.  Notice: she calls her book The Science of the Cross.  And for my purposes, it provides some of the best material for clearly delineating the difference between the world as Stein and counter-reformation Catholicism[1] saw it, and the world as we are inclined to see it in our times, and from there our respective relationships to the “Sacred.”


Edith, following John’s descriptions, identifies mystical union as a “lover’s tryst”  — a nuptial event between the human “soul” and “God.”  The necessary basis for this belief is the assumed anthropomorphic “personality” of a transcendent “God.”

These two features of the standard concept of “God” — person and transcendence — are intimately linked.

“God,” for Stein’s Science, is an entity, other than me, a rational “person” who thinks, wills, feels and acts the way human persons do.  It is the fundamental assumption of all the “religions of the book.”  ”God” is not me.  We are two persons who do not compenetrate metaphysically; we achieve union through relationship.  We are and always remain separate, independent individual entities.[2]

An essential element of traditional divine transcendence is “spirituality.”  “God” is supposedly “pure spirit” and therefore completely different from everything material.  It makes “God” to be so “other” as to be totally inaccessible to contact or even understanding.  “God” is not part of this world.  (Why an entity that is “pure spirit” should create a vast universe of “matter,” is never explained.)

My contention is that once you conceive of “God” as “transcendent” in this sense, if you want to have a relationship with “him,” you are forced to find mechanisms to overcome “his” inaccessibility.  Mystical union, imagined in the idiom of John of the Cross as a “lover’s tryst” initiated and consummated by “God,” I submit, is such a mechanism.  It is the psychological, affective equivalent of the metaphysical bridge created by the doctrine of the Incarnation, debated, dogmatized and institutionalized at Nicaea, designed to overcome the inaccessibility of “God.”  It is only “mystical union” that finally achieves “divinization:”

“The substance (sustancia) of the soul is not divine substance, since it cannot undergo a conversion in God substantially (sustancialmente), but through the union with God and through being absorbed in him, she is God by participation.”[3]

Mystical union and Incarnation are different expressions of the same device created to recapture the total unity lost by the aban­don­ment of divine immanence.   Divine immanence is the opposite of transcendence; it means that “God” is the existential envelope in which we are immersed — in which “we live and move and have our being.”  Immanence means that, metaphysically speaking, “God” is “not-other” than what we are, that we compenetrate one another totally, that my life is naturally a share in divine energy, that “God” is part of this world because the material universe is the extrusion of divine material energy.

Transcendence, the “otherness” of “God,” in contrast, is grounded in “spirit,” not matter.  “God” is “other” than everything in this world because “he” is pure spirit and we are matter.  This results from and in turn intensifies a schizoid relationship to ourselves as material organisms.  Since we imagine that “God” is “pure spirit,” in this view, we have convinced ourselves we can only come close to “him” by becoming more “spirit” and less “matter.”  The final union is only achievable when the body is totally discarded at death; then we will be all and only spirit.  “… She [the soul] is completely filled with fervent longing and begs to be freed from the veil of mortal life.”[4]

Working off the poetic imagery and original commentary of John of the Cross, Stein’s interpretation of the highest reaches of Christian aspiration concur with all the premises mentioned above.

Divine Being, however, is personal life and can only flow in where one personally admits him. For that precise reason, it is impossible to receive grace without its being freely accepted. It results in a being-within-each other such as is possible only where a genuine interior being, that is, a spiritual one is available. Only in that which lives spiritually can spiritual life be received.[5]

To this corresponds the very distinct view of the relationship of body and soul, which is to be remarked at this point. The soul as spirit is essentially dominant, even though in her condition after the fall — and this even when elevated to the highest degree imaginable on earth — she is burdened by the body, and weighed down by the earthly shell.  And the ordering of grace adapts itself to this original ordering of nature and gives gifts especially and in the first place to the soul, then only in descending order and eventually through the mediation of the soul, to the body.[6]

I contend that the restoration of the primacy of immanence to our understanding of “God” will allow for a naturally integrated appreciation of oneself as a biological organism in intimate contact with that in which we live and move and have our being.  The body, in an immanentist universe, is continuous with the divine, not discrete and different from it, allotted only a “trickle-down” value.  Mysticism becomes a natural phenomenon and while it will require an asceticism that corresponds to the mindfulness and moral engagement that participation in divine energy implies, it does not involve the kind of loathing for the body and the efforts to suppress it that making contact with “Pure Spirit” has traditionally been thought to entail.  Nor does it harbor the fantasy that “God” is “another” person watching every thought and action and providentially steering you through your life.

Miraculous and “supernatural”

A “tryst” with “God,” for Stein and John, is not an ordinary part of human life; it is the extraordinary vehicle that a distant “God” uses to draw near.  It is in the realm of the miraculous and  necessarily “supernatural” according to their worldview.  The initiative is imagined as “God’s.” But one of the first clues that suggest that the experience may be a projection of affective need (generated by deprivation, voluntary or involuntary)[7] is that the conditions for its possibility run counter to the very premises that are adduced to justify it.  For in order to have a lover’s tryst with “God,” you must conceive of “him” in anthropomorphic terms: as a humanoid “person” who relates to the human being psycho-eroti­cally, and that contradicts the notion of a transcendent spiritual “God.”

Imagining “God” as a “person” has been used in Judeo-Christian religious history to justify other roles as well, like “God” as “law-giver.  This is significant.  It established an “obedience relationship” between the Biblical “God” and the Jewish people, prefigured in Adam.  “Obedience” requires a human-like “other person” who issues commands and “wants” them to be obeyed.  “Person” implies an identifiable entity — a singular “someone” — and “wanting” implies a lack.[8]  Neither accords with a transcendent spirit, but they are essential for social control.  You can see the theocratic imperatives lurking behind all these “inconsistencies.”

In sharp contrast, once it is conceded that “God” is immanent, “God” ceases being “other” and I am understood to be part of “God;” my moral responsibilities must be conceived as coming from within me … not from without.  The obedience demand vanishes and becomes metaphorical.  An immanent “God” not only justifies but requires my autonomy, because if I and “God” are fundamentally the same “stuff” — we share the same existential energy — then there is nothing “outside” of us for me to turn to for direction.  Guidance emerges from the “God” potential — the divine energy — constitutive of my human organism on display in synderesis, my sense of justice and my sense of the sacred which I have in common with all other people.[9]  The whole community accepts the responsibility for discerning a morality that works; immanence does not imply an individual solipsist morality which, for example, Dostoyevsky’s “Raskolnikov” claimed for himself in Crime and Punishment.

The transcendence that Stein establishes in Finite and Eternal Being takes on “flesh,” as it were, in The Science of the Cross.  The divine “personality” that transcendence justified is now revealed in all its anthropomorphic untenability as the “lover” who overcomes all distance and consummates the human destiny of being absorbed back into “Pure Spirit.”  With “mystical union” as imagined by John of the Cross it becomes clear that calling “God” a “person” without imagining “him” with humanoid features is impossible.  “God” displays all those characteristics without which humans could never recognize “him” as a person.  “He” “draws near” or “withdraws his favors” as would a lover.  And the “soul” must “withdraw affection” from everything other than the lover … hence the most severe mortifications, separations and self-denial.  Not only is such a “soul” expected to have no other “lover” (therefore celibacy is virtually mandatory) but “she” is expected to have no affection for anyone or anything else but “God.”


We should pause for a moment to allow these equations to sink in.  The logic is straightforward.  If “God” is a “person” the way we are persons, then it follows that to “love” “God” is to activate all those organic factors that are operative in human love and apply them to “God.”  Becoming one with a humanoid “God”-person is virtually the same as becoming one with a human person.  It is marriage — two in one flesh — psycho-erotic, somatic, i.e., implicitly sexual, as human lovers are always in touch with their sexual bond even when engaged in activities that have nothing to do with sex.  Marriage is a joining of “persons” through the joining of bodies.  John imagines his mystical union as a lover’s tryst.  He slips away at night and his lover comes to him, he rests his head on his breast, he runs his fingers through his hair …

From all eternity the soul has been chosen to share the triune life of the Godhead as bride of the Son of God.  In order to lead the bride home, the Eternal Word clothed himself with human nature. God and the soul are to be two in one flesh.[10]

Such intimacy calls for sexual fidelity.  Celibacy has to do very precisely with a lover’s fidelity to “God” as a person.  As a person, “God” relates to us as humans do, in face-to-face communication, and as human lovers do, intimately — what John shamelessly calls “boca a boca.”

All orders of nuns have spiritual betrothals, a ceremony that symbolizes the initiate’s becoming the “bride of Christ.”  But is it only a symbol for John of the Cross?  Stein suggests otherwise:

Here in the [Spiritual] Canticle, it [the bridal relationship] is the focal point for everything. This image is not an allegory. When the soul is called the Bride of God, there is not only a relationship of similarity between two things which permits one to be designated by the other. There is, much more, such an intimate union between the image and the reality that it is almost impossible to speak of them any longer as a duality.  … The relationship of the soul to God as God foresaw it from all eternity as the goal of her creation, simply cannot be more fittingly designated than as a nuptial bond.  … the image and the reality directly exchange their roles: the divine bridal relationship is recognized as the original and actual bridal relationship and all human nuptial relationships appear as imperfect copies of this archetype — just as the Fatherhood of God is the archetype of all fatherhood on earth.[11]

Stein’s insistence on the metaphysical (not metaphorical) nature of this relationship is very revealing.  It is the result of her determination to see John’s descriptions as a “science” that deals with “facts,” instead of what it really is, the poetic response of a human organism culturally organized around the paradigm of marriage as the expression of interpersonal love.

We must understand the depth of the significance of this phenomenon: celibacy in the Catholic tradition at root is not a superficial convenience … it is not merely a juridical expediency to avoid clerical inheritance and keep priests dependent … it is not a filter to keep sexually vigorous people out of the ranks of the clergy … it is not a cloak designed to mystify the ordinary people … it is not a necessary disencumbrance intended to allow the elite total dedication to justice and the advance­ment of the Church.  Even if it has been exploited for all of these purposes, celibacy is grounded in only one thing: the intimate accessibility of a transcendent “God”-person.  Celibacy corresponds to an anthropomorphic concept of “God.”

Celibacy has become central to the Roman Catholic mystique, identified with hierarchical authority — and the celibate priest has become the anchor and centerpiece of the Catholic community — because Roman Catholicism is wedded to a transcendent, personal, paternal “God” who enters actively into the details of our lives, for ordinary Christians with a micro-managing providence, and with mystical intimacy for the spiritual elite.

Married people, by the very fact that their affective lives are focused on one another, according to the dynamics this worldview represents, cannot  — I repeat: cannot — be available to the highest level of intimacy with “God.”  That’s the ultimate reason why married people are denied entrance to the hierarchy: their lives cannot bear the ultimate witness — mystical marriage — to the transcendent “personal” “God.”  And correlatively, once committed celibates become disabused of that assumption about “God,” they can no longer justify remaining celibate, for once the psycho-erotic dimension in the relationship with “God” has been exposed as fantasy, the one necessary component for making the transcendent “God” visible — mystical marriage — disappears, and celibacy becomes meaningless.  It all turns on maintaining belief in a humanoid “God”-person.


An immanent “God” on the other hand, needs no such psycho-erotic correlate, and correspondingly, no one needs to be celibate to be intimately related to this “God.”  Relationship to “God” is a relationship to one’s own organism, moral energies and innate proclivities.  An immanent “God” is authentically visible in our bodies as they are — reproductive functions and all, and female as well as male — even before any of its divine potential is activated morally.  And the moral activation of the divine potential resident in the human gendered organism turns it into an active, energizing force that generates sane and upright individuals, healthy families, loving communities and just societies.  With an immanent “God” the sacred is a communitarian energy grounded in sexual reproduction involving the equal contribution of both sexes.  Sex, in an immanentist universe, is sacred.  How that plays out in practice is a matter of community consensus; but in all cases it reflects your concept of “God.”

Learning what it means to be a surviving, collaborating, reproducing and nurturing, socially responsible human being is to draw on the divine energies resident in the human organism.  With that re-definition the traditional ascetical program re-configures to run 180o in the opposite direction.  Instead of trying to suppress and eradicate the body and its instincts, efforts are now directed toward eliminating all the obstacles to the clear vision of the potential wholeness and creativity  resident in the body and its functions.  Growth becomes a constant clarification illuminating the divinity immanent in humanness and allowing it full passionate play.  “Learning to love” stops being obedience to a commandment, or an attempt to cerebralize (“spiritualize”) relationships in order to remain invulnerable to hurt or desire.

Don’t be fooled.  This is not a highway to libertinism, and it is full of painful struggle.  It demands as much discipline and self-transcen­dence as ever.  The difference is that the goal of the program is one of an accurate self-appraisal and creative self-expression, not self-doubt, self-loathing, self-repres­sion and self-destruction — the symptoms of the autogenic disease.  The vision is centered on fulfilling one’s divine potential: a striving for theosis, “divinization.”  And please note well: none of this can be achieved without abandoning the illusion that we are disembodied spirits.


I would like to demonstrate how the stark contrasts between these two “concepts of God” are illustrated in Stein’s views which she embraced whole cloth from her mediaeval mentors.  Parenthetically, my criticisms in this section are strictly theological.  I am not implying moral or psychological failure on the part of Edith Stein whose faithful compliance with what she was being taught overrode the potential damaging effects that came with Tridentine Catholicism and its scholastic scaffolding.

The following is a single undivided paragraph taken from her chapter 15 called “Death and Resurrection.”  It speaks for itself.

God is love. Therefore, being seized by God is an enkindling in love — when the spirit is ready for it.  For all that is mortal is consumed in the fire of eternal love. And that means all movements that are released in the soul through creatures. If she turns toward the creature, she withdraws herself from the divine love, although she cannot escape it.  Then love becomes a fire that consumes the soul herself.  The human spirit as spirit is destined for immortal being.  This is shown in the immutability that he ascribes to himself in his own circumstances: he thinks that as things are ordered about him, they will forever remain.  That is a deception, for during his mortal existence he is subject to change.  But one hears in this the consciousness that one’s being is not consumed by what is temporal, but is rooted in the eternal. According to his nature, he cannot decay like material forms. But if, in free surrender, the spirit fastens on to what is temporal, it will come to feel the hand of the living God who can destroy it by his almighty power through the avenging fire of rejected divine love or can preserve it as with the fallen angels, in eternal ruin. This second and most actual death would be our common lot if Christ had not stepped between us and divine justice with his Passion and death and opened a way for mercy.[12]

This is an utterly terrifying statement.  It paints a picture of a violent punitive “God” whose demand for exclusivity in a love relationship parallels Augustine’s version of the obedience relationship originally established with Adam and Eve in the garden.  Those who do not rise to the demand in each case are destroyed or kept alive in a state of moral degeneration by the “avenging fire of rejected love.”

Clearly, Stein has accurately perceived the emotionally immature character of the “God” presented by the Augustinian worldview: a petulant inflexible mega-monster who displays the same character traits at all levels of interaction with humans.  Stein has no difficulty ascribing the most horrendous punishments from “God” as “revenge” for unrequited love.  The “God” she imagines is narcissistic and self-cen­tered.  Humans with those characteristics are considered emotionally infantile and morally crippled.  An ordinary decent human being, morally and emotionally speaking, would be far superior to this imaginary “God.”

“Science” and poetry

Following Husserl and Aquinas Stein always thought of philosophy and theology as “science.”   Her reading of the Carmelite mystic as a “scientist,” is reflected in the title of her book.

Stein often quotes or paraphrases John.  The passage quoted above was her own but three chapters later she quotes John directly and extensively; and, whether she intended it or not, it provides a “scientific” corrective to any and all imagery of the “mystical union.”  The following is copied directly from the kindle version of the ICS text; all quotation marks, ellipses and their positioning are Stein’s.  John is speaking in The Living Flame of Love:

“The soul here sees how all creatures of the higher and the lower orders have their life, their power and their existence in him . . . but that the being of God in himself is infinitely eminent and above all these things so that she understands them better in God’s being than in themselves. In this lies the remarkable delight of this awakening. The soul knows creatures through God and no longer God through creatures. . . . How this movement takes place in the soul is a wonderful thing since God is immovable. . . . For, although God does not really move, it seems to the soul that in truth he moves. Namely, in order to perceive that supernatural sight, since she is changed through God and is moved by him, divine life and the being and harmony of every creature, with their movements in God in that life, are revealed to her with such newness that it seems to her that God moves, and the cause assumes the name of the effect it produces”. . . .  So it is also the soul that is moved and awakened from the sleep of natural vision to supernatural vision.

“In my opinion this awakening and view given to the soul is effected in this way: since the soul, like every creature, is in God substantially, he removes some of the many veils and curtains hanging in front of it so that it might get a glimmer of him as he is. And then that countenance of his, full of graces, becomes partially and vaguely discernible, for not all the veils are removed. Because all things are moved by his power, what he is doing is also evident, so he seems to move in them and they in him with continual movement. That is why the soul has the impression that he moves and awakens when, actually, it is she who is moved and awakened. . . . And so human beings ascribe to God what is actually to be found in them. They who are lazy and sleepy say that God raises himself and wakes up, although he never sleeps. . . . But since in truth all good comes from God and human beings of themselves can do nothing good, it is according to truth that one says that our awakening is an awakening of God and our rising is God’s rising. And since the soul was sunk in sleep out of which she could never by herself have awakened, and because only God could now have opened her eyes and effected this awakening, the soul very appropriately calls this an awakening of God. . . . What the soul experiences and feels in this awakening of God’s excellence is entirely beyond words.”[13]

You would think the inclusion of this clarifying passage would indicate that Edith had to be aware of the poetic, “unscientific” nature of all John’s descriptions.  And yet, it is remarkable that she does not include these “scientific” correctives in the descriptions of the experience itself.  It is my opinion that John intended to clarify his expression of the “doctrine of God” perhaps to satisfy the Inquisition which was particularly alert for “pantheistic” vagaries in mystical doctrine.[14]  The clarification was not meant to minimize in any way the intensity of the experience for the human individual or “God’s” intention to have it materialize in the “soul;” John’s point was that “God” was not moved, not that the soul was not moved.

But the fact remains: John admits the descriptions are metaphors, not literal realities.  They are acknowledged as illusions which he believed were evoked (miraculously) by “God” and therefore must be taken “as real” by the soul in her ascent, but they are illusions nonetheless, and his acknowledgement confirms the subjective and culturally conditioned nature of mystical experience.  It opens the door for the consideration of the descriptions of mystical experience found in non-Christian traditions where the sense of the sacred is not based on interactions with a personal “God” — descriptions that may serve as a guide for us as we pursue “contact” with a “God” which we, in our day, are rediscovering as immanent.

Stein goes out of her way in chapter 14 to distinguish “God’s” presence in mystical union from the “normal” presence of “God” in all created things.  Curiously, she does not seem to recognize the mystical potential of natural immanence even though Teresa of Avila, her namesake who led her to the faith, claimed that she herself only learned about it in mystical experience.[15]  Stein insists on the primacy of all those features necessary to support her preferred image of “betrothal.”  To have a mystical marriage, “God” has to be another person.  A “lover’s tryst,” on the other hand, is not the best metaphor for contact with an immanent “God” in whom you “live and move and have your being,” for you are yourself a part of that “God.”  “Finding your real self” may be an apt description of contact with “God” for the post-modern Christian, but not for Stein.

This is not to deny the authenticity of the experience that Stein examines.  It is quite clear that the metaphors her analysis supports have to do with issues of her own personal and intellectual history and ideological priorities which clearly are in sync with both the mindset of the Church in the 1930’s and of John of the Cross in Imperial Spain of the sixteenth century:  for both it was Tridentine Roman Catholicism.   It generates a poetry that resonates with its worldview.  One would expect nothing less.

But by the same token there is also nothing privileged or “canonical” about it either.  John and Edith’s imagery is not a literal portrayal of reality — the “facts.”  It is not “science.”  It is poetry, and John, for his part, as Edith acknowledges, never suggests it is anything else.  It corresponds to their own affective needs, relational values, personal preferences, theological assumptions and literary tastes — all historically and culturally conditioned.  Catholic claims that mystical union is a “supernatural phenomenon,” the exclusive product of “sanctifying grace” which comes only through the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, is disproven by the extent and depth of mystical experience in the non-Christian world.

Mystical experience is, by its very nature “subjective,” for it is the resonance in the human organism of the suffusive presence of that in which “we live and move and have our being.”

[1] “Counter-Reformation Catholicism,” while claiming to institutionalize the Catholic doctrine in its mediaeval form, the Council of Trent actually represented an evolution of it.  It abandoned in pastoral practice the immanence of “God” in favor of a quid pro quo obedience relationship with an exclusively transcendent “God.”

[2] This correlates with Stein’s metaphysical view of “God” in Finite and Eternal Being where she suggests “God” has a “spiritual body” [Geistleib] that makes “him” to be “enclosed” and “interiorly self-possessed,” — what I call an entity.  pp. 360-1

[3] Stein, Edith (2011-03-17). The Science of the Cross (The Collected Works of Edith Stein Vol. 6) ICS Publications. Kindle Edition.Kindle Locations 3499-3500, the quote is from John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love, 2.33-36.

[4] ibid., Kindle Locations 3282-3283.

[5] ibid., Kindle Locations 2947-2950

[6] ibid., Kindle Locations 3443-3444.

[7] Sarah Borden, in Edith Stein, Continuum 2003, p. 7 says:  “Hedwig Conrad-Martius [Edith’s close friend], while not questioning the integrity of Stein’s conversion, suggests that dashed hopes in a relationship played a role in the timing of her decision.”

[8] See footnote #2

[9] It needs to be emphasized that these statements are structural.  That means they are metaphysical, and refer to the ultimate source of responsibility.  They do not take into account the actual presence of immaturity, addictions and other bad habits of mind and behavior that may have so clouded over the moral agent that a serious program of rectification is necessary before such autonomy can be safely trusted, both in thought and action.

[10] Ibid., Kindle Locations 5237-5239

[11] Ibid., Kindle Locations 4791-4794

[12] ibid., Kindle Locations 3186-3196.

[13] ibid., Kindle Locations 3687-3693. Stein provides one global reference for much of this section in footnote #1 of chapter 18 “The Hidden Life of Love.” Kindle Location 6327:  “These last quotations and the paraphrases of the doctrine of St. John are from F.4.1-14. “[“F.” refers to The Living Flame of Love, poem and commentary by John of the Cross.]

[14] ibid., Kindle Location 4671.  This “pantheism,” called “Illuminism” in John’s Spain, represented vestiges of the doctrines surrounding the heresy of the “Brethren of the Free Spirit” in the high middle ages that were connected to immanence.

[15] ibid., Kindle Location 2934-85.  It is significant that already in the 1570’s Teresa of Avila was not even aware of divine immanence from her basic Christian education. It illustrates the universal marginalization of divine immanence in the Roman Catholic worldview 30 years after Trent.  See Interior Castle, fifth dwelling, ch 1.  Edimat Libros edition p. 88:  “I know of a person who had not learned that God was in all things by presence and power and essence; God granted her a favour of this kind, which convinced her of this so firmly that, although one of those half-learned men whom I have been talking about, and whom she asked in what way God was in us (until God granted him an understanding of it he knew as little of it as she), told her that He was in us only by grace, she had the truth so firmly implanted within her that she did not believe him, and asked others, who told her the truth, which was a great consolation to her.”

6 comments on “Thinking about Edith Stein (III)

  1. jorisheise says:

    Current medical issues in the family prevent a thoughtful, detailed and conclusive comment about your thoughts. What I have read–skimmingly, I admit–are similar to my own thoughts and feelings–that the Tridentine outlook and its scholastic parentage do suggest a kind of recurrent Montanist/Gnostic one–that, deep down, the soul, a phantasmagoric entity separable and in that world view, separate from the material world, tries to free itself (sic) from vestiges of “evil materialism.” Influenced by C S Lewis’s Four Loves, I tend to see all affections, fondnesses, erotic pursuits, etc., as part and parcel of divine love.

    My view is that nephesh, the Hebrew word we use for “soul” (“My soul magnifies the LORD”) really is better understood as “lifetime”–my choosings throughout from birth to death–what I do with my time here, the actions I choose to do. It is part of my long-ago “psychology” of the Hebrew person (e.g., “name = person” “blood = life” “ruah = connection to mystery/god” “basar = “flesh” = mortality, weakness, corruptibility, etc.)–Stuff I wrote about and taught but never published.

  2. inigo rey says:

    Thank you, Tony. For the thought provoking commentary on Stein, but even more for the personal remarks which preceded it.


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  4. jorisheise says:

    I agree so evidently with so much of what you write. Your research, your insights and your efforts to appreciate the positive contributions as well as the apparent errors that mislead–are worthwhile readings. I have two additions that come to mind: 1) relationships. I think of the Genesis remark that the two become one flesh, and, with a grasp of the Hebrew word and its implications, I understand that a (marriage) relationship involves a unity that transcends and embraces at the same time some of the problems you notice as to an immanent or transcendent deity. Any relationship that is real can “inter-penetrate”–as an idea or feeling or even experience can be shared personally or through public media into a new “com”-“(m)unity.” An authentic marriage not only involves, but in my mind, includes “God” and that is part of what Jesus means–and part of what I mean. In other words, when we talk of relationships–maybe immanent and transcendent are not opposite & contradictory, but supplementary and {to use some poetry] two rails one which one train moves. 2) Quantum mechanics talks about the subatomic particles in ways that suggest strongly how limited is our logic and our intuition. Quarks no longer exist separately as they did in the Beginning. Schrodinger’s cat has famously reminded us of the need to remember that perception changes (our, my, your) reality. People who see (and believe in–or say they believe in) Tridentine theology are seeing a kind of reality that may be what they need to “keep the cat alive” for their inner peace, their sense of hope, their affirmation (without knowing so) of THEIR contradictions–while you and I and many modern, thoughtful people appreciate a “dead cat” because the world has moved on–and we live with OUR contradictions…
    Respectfully, Joris

  5. Brian Coyne says:

    Tony, thanks for this further extensive essay. I’ve been reading and mulling on it for most of today.

    Over a period of years I’ve slowly come to the conclusion that the institution, if it wants to be serious about re-evangelising the now large hordes that have given up participation in the first world, needs to go back to the “raw canvas” over a lot of our fundamental dogmas and beliefs. I have to say that you take this to a whole new level in this series of essays — to questioning and exploring our very understanding of the nature of God, the Divine and this Spiritual Dimension to our lives. I confess I’ve slowly become agnostic about God even being considered as a “being” — even “The Supernatural Being” (capitalised and singular); the “Super Intelligence that lit the fuse that set off the Big Bang or Evolution”. I haven’t given that belief up entirely as I have this sense that something as majestic and awe-inspiring as this thing we call Life and the way it all “hangs together” and is inter-related, and all the Laws we’re slowly discovering that explains how it all “hangs together”, must have required some “Super Intelligence/Creator Mind”.

    As I’ve written on catholica in recent times, these days I’m more attracted to the Omega- or Destination- appreciation of the Divine. But not necessarily as a “Being” we meet and shake hands with, or who condemns us to an eternity in flames at the end of our life journey; but more in the sense that this One we label as “God” is a projection forward of our hopes and dreams of what “the Perfect Being” might look, think, feel and act like. There’s a parallel in what you are writing about immanence in this in contrast to transcendence: “God” is something internal to us — a product of our individual and collective imagination. Another image that comes to mind is that this one we label as “God” might be imagined as the water within which a fish lives out its life. Or, in this immanence view, “God” might be somehow imagined in comparison to the atmosphere in which we live and which is necessary for our growth and survival.

    I need to mull on what you’ve been writing a whole lot more. My sense already though that this is valuable stuff — albeit that I also suspect it will centuries, possibly even millennia before radical thoughts like this filter down to challenge the dogmas and certitudes of the taliban elements in Christianity or the real Taliban elements in Islam.

  6. Frank Lawlor says:

    Tony, I very much appreciate that you are a very skillful builder. I suspect that you might also enjoy building things in wood or metal. You obviously have a tremendous drive to apply your mind to all kinds of raw materials, You soak up the materials and the structures that formed them, you mull it over, you take various viewpoints and then you construct something new that fits into a radically different context which you have been assembling for a long time. Your new creation explains in a new manner what first inspired you. I appreciate your admiration for Edith Stein. Your understanding illuminates her thinking, her insights, the influences that formed her. Most authors today might try to grasp her in Freudian ideology and miss the whole point of her journey. I look forward to being pleased and enlightened by your restless building and amazing analysis. Keep going and thanks.
    Frank Lawlor

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