Category Archives: Edith Stein General

Two pinnacle questions – Husserl and Edith Stein

There are two pinnacle questions that drove me to study both Edmund Husserl, the father of modern day phenomenology, and his student Edith Stein. It is analogous to walking around a piece of art in amazement, trying to understand what is its essence, or perhaps listening in awe to a pianist elevate and unveil an unseen but very beautiful and very real substance that exists above and beyond us. 

Edmund Husserl developed a model of thought that purposefully, deliberately excluded facts. He loved science but found science’s claim to be a pathway to truth as absurd and circular in its reasoning. His model is, in his mind, the science of all sciences and one without which natural science can never achieve its stated goal. Husserl’s model is one of pure consciousness and apriori reasoning. For Husserl, reason directs science, not the other way around. That was the first of my pinnacle questions. Why?

His student Edith Stein, a Jewish atheist, assisted him in the organization of his work. She was transfixed on Husserl’s work. One day she came across the book St. Teresa of Avila’s Autobiography, who was the founder of the Discalced Carmelite Order. There is reason to believe that Edith read it overnight in one sitting. When she finished the book, she closed it and said, “This is truth.” That was my second pinnacle question. Why?

Why did two well-recognized philosophers believe that truth could be found through pure essence, pure consciousness and reason, such that it could even direct the natural sciences, and why did one of them, Edith Stein, close St. Teresa’s book and posit, “This is truth”?

These are my two questions, the answers to which I seek. Stein later would give me a clue. There is something, she said, that consistently is there, unchanging, in the flow of our life, something higher and toward which we move in space in time, something toward which each artist, each person, strives. Ultimately, she would fulfill her phenomenological mission. She would discover that this something toward which we move, toward which we strive, that we seek to unveil, is a Trinity of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

My Edith Stein Blog

My Edith Stein blog, newly emerging and not at all in full maturity, i.e., it will develop more over time, is devoted to inspiring in others a love of philosophy.

I believe that it is your responsibility to be actively and purposefully in pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. This goes for everyone. Without exception. In particular, this goes for those of us who profess to be Christians. Philosophy deals with natural wisdom, a wisdom alone which cannot bring us to Heaven. However, in order to “accept Christ” in the most full manner, we must be open to his divine wisdom, which is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. That means it is really, really important. Our natural philosophy is the event horizon between the natural and supernatural.

Does this mean being smart? Does this mean that only smart, well-educated people can open themselves up to divine wisdom through the expansion of their natural philosophical understanding? Please. That is painfully naive. We need a better grounding than that.

Many of the greatest saints in history were among the least educated. Yet, their minds were open to receiving divine wisdom. Their event horizon between natural and supernatural thought was well developed, and that is what we are describing as the true philosophical mind. I learned philosophy through a 15th century teenage peasant woman with no education. Her philosophical event horizon was second to none. During her trial, she humiliated the philosophy “experts” from the university of Paris by giving them such wise responses that they knew not how to deal with her. Even the notaries recording the events were dumfounded as we know by their own remarks. True to scripture, the Holy Spirit will guide us in what we need to say, and we can be more open to that divine inspiration with the correct natural philosophical framework.

As Christians, we have responsibilities in the natural world. One cannot excuse being a negligent, lazy husband and father just because he is a Christian. His Christian faith bears down upon him a supernatural responsibility to be a caring, responsible husband and father in the natural realm. Philosophy is one of those responsibilities in the natural realm we all carry.

Most people can explain what they believe, but few can explain why. However, that is only representative of a dearth in critical thinking. The real test is if you can explain what you believe and why without referencing your Christian faith. That is philosophical thinking. The final test is if you can bring together the two and find that they complement and nurture one another. When they do, we have our event horizon well prepared.

Edith Stein, Empathy, and Goodwill

The attached PDF is to a very interesting paper by Kit Apostolacus, a graduate student at Villanova. This is from a public domain academic site. These papers are free by subscribing.

A Hermeneutic of Empathy: On Edith Stein in Relation to Hermeneutical Theology

What caught my attention was Apostolacus’ identification of something I’ve been searching for, namely, a way to express goodwill. We talk and hear much of our “freewill.” But my own work is leading me to the conclusion that what we are missing is more discussion and understanding of “goodwill.” No matter where I turn in my own efforts, I seem to come face to face with the problem of goodwill (more than freewill).

Apostolacus relates:

“a person trying to understand a text is prepared for it to tell him something.”

That seems to me to be a very helpful foundation upon which to integrate goodwill formerly into the model. We must desire to understand before we can be prepared to receive that which the other offers. The desire to receive is the first step in goodwill. This predisposes us to empathy with the “otherness” facing us. Apostolacus continues: “As Stein might say, we must empathize with the text.”

Desire to receive combined with empathy for the other – now I think I am moving this forward to a definition of goodwill I can integrate with the larger model.

The beautiful mind of Edith Stein

In her book The Science of the Cross, Edith Stein wrote the following extraordinary summary of the spiritual life. Edith’s influence on my own thinking is more profound than is the influence of any other philosopher. It was this passage that opened the intellectual door for me to realism in general, the difference between Platonic and Aristotelian realism, and the beauty of Carmelite spirituality when framed in what she calls a “holy realism.” Edith Stein bridged the gaps and unified the individual paradigms and axioms that made up the content of my spirituality, religion, and philosophy. Through Stein’s beautiful and expansive mind, it all became a unified whole, a model to share with others and the inspiration for my next movement from potency to act toward the final vision implanted in my heart many years ago.  

“The example of the saints demonstrates to them how things should actually be: where there is genuine, lively faith, there the doctrine of faith and the ‘tremendous deeds’ of God are the content of life. All else steps aside for it and is determined by it.

This is holy realism: the original inner receptivity of the soul reborn in the Holy Spirit. Whatever the soul encounters is received in an appropriate manner and with corresponding depth, and finds in the soul a living, mobile, docile energy that allows itself to be easily and joyfully led and molded by that which it has received, unhampered by any mistaken inhibitions and rigidity. Such realism, when it leads a holy soul to accept the truths of faith, becomes the science of the saints. If the mystery of the cross becomes its inner form, it turns into a science of the cross.

Holy realism has a certain affinity with the realism of the child who receives and responds to impressions with unimpaired vigor and vitality, and with uninhibited simplicity…

…But the Crucified One demands from the artist more than a mere portrayal of the image. He demands that the artist, just as every other person, follow him: that he both make himself and allow himself to be made into an image of the one who carries the cross and is crucified.

Expressing the image externally can be a hindrance to doing so internally, but by no means must this be so; actually, it can serve the process of interior transformation because only with the production of the external expression will the inner image be fully formed and interiorly adopted.

In this manner, when no obstacle is placed in its path, it becomes an interior representation that urges the artist to effectively reproduce it in action, that is, by way of imitation, externally.

And yes, the external image, one’s own artistic creation, can always serve to spur one on to transform oneself interiorly according to its meaning.”

To understand Stein’s answers we first need to know the questions

“The soul has typical qualities, such as a ‘woman’s soul,’ a ‘child’s soul,’ or souls of whatever other ‘type.’ And as individual the soul is ‘itself’ in its inexpressible peculiarity. These are not all in the soul beside one another as separable parts; they are rather in one another as realiter [really] inseparable species and genus, for the genus can exist only as specified.”

— Potency and Act (The Collected Works of Edith Stein) by Edith Stein

Edith Stein answers the most subtle questions, questions whose subtlety and importance dissipate and are lost in the cacophony of the noise of the world. In the world, irrelevant, competing, and distracting communication drowns out the quiet life-giving voice inside of us. We grow spiritually in quiet contemplation of profound questions, thus the need for solitude and retreat from the world. Edith Stein is our philosophical mentor but can be only in this solitude. She answers questions that we do not even hear in the midst of a vain and noisy world.

We struggle to understand her answers because we rarely retreat in solitude to listen quietly for the question.

Edith Stein’s systems give meaning and purpose to daily living

The attraction of Edith Stein’s philosophy is that it seeks unity and wholeness. We naturally gravitate toward the warm sunlight of the soul that shines across the horizon of our mind through that unity. Her search for truth is systematic, logical, and thorough. She has an inherent understanding of the divine order and searches the intellectual pathways that connect to that order. Truth seems to be, through her philosophical lens, the synchronicity of the heart that knows with the mind that seeks to understand that which the heart knows.

Stein reconciles modern philosophy with medieval, Aristotelian scholasticism, which is her towering achievement. She uniquely among modern philosophers quickens hope in our soul by her particular method. Most importantly, she seeks truth with an end-game in mind. One does not day-dream, lost in spontaneous sophistic musings with Edith Stein. One senses movement toward a goal, a seriousness, an end, the form of which we see on the horizon but cannot fully comprehend.

Her systems, the excitement of a journey, the understanding that there is a reward, gives meaning and purpose to our ordinary daily living.