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Edith Stein, or Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Updated: August 06, 2012 05:46 AM GMT
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Edith Stein, or Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Edith was the youngest of 11 children born in 1891 to a devout Jewish couple in Wroclaw, Poland, then part of Prussia. Her birthdate was October 12th , the Day of Atonement , “Yom Kippur”, a holy day among Jews, and significant for her in many ways. Edith was a gifted student who distinguished herself in philosophy. As a teenager, she renounced her Jewish faith and declared herself an atheist. As assistant to Edmund Husserl, the founder of the School of Phenomenology, she began a brilliant career as a lecturer and writer. At the same time, she was captivated by the life and writings of the great Spanish mystic, St Teresa of Avila, who led her on a spiritual journey which culminated in her becoming a Catholic. Her baptism took place on another significant date, January 1st 1922, the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Her sister Rosa joined her in her new faith. Ten years later, in 1933, Edith entered the Carmelite cloister at Cologne, and chose the name Teresa “blessed by the cross.” Her sister also became a nun. These were terrifying times in Germany. In 1937, several synagogues in Cologne were burned by the Nazis and frenzied anti-Semitic propaganda persuaded Teresa’s religious superiors to send her and Rose to Holland. At the Carmelite convent in Echt, Holland, Teresa wrote two of her best known books, Finite and Eternal Being, which tried to combine the philosophies of Aquinas and Husserl; and The Science of the Cross, a study of the famous Carmelite mystic, John of the Cross. In 1940 Holland was invaded by the Nazis, and because of the stiff opposition of the Catholic Dutch bishops, the Nazis included in their persecution all Jewish converts to Christianity. Teresa and Rosa were arrested and sent to Auschwitz where they died in the gas chambers on August 9, 1942. Pope John Paul II made Edith a saint of the Church in 1998.

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