Edith Stein, a study in twentieth-century mysticism: a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Philosophy in Religious Studies at Massey University

Thumbnail Image
Open Access Location
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Massey University
The Author
Edith Stein 1891-1942, born Jewish, converted to Catholicism and ten years after her conversion became a Carmelite nun. Nine years later she was killed in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. The intentions of the Nazis at Auschwitz were clear: Edith Stein died because she was born Jewish. For the Catholic church however, the manner of her death has qualified Edith Stein for beatification as a martyr. Catholic tradition gives the name martyr to those who have died expressly for the sake of their faith, and their love of Christ. The church's inclusion of Edith Stein among the ranks of the martyrs has placed her in an extremely controversial position: to whom is she a martyr? Did she die because she was Jewish or because she was a Catholic? This thesis examines the development of Edith Stein's spirituality towards mystical prayer and union with God and claims that she is demonstrably a mystic. It further discussed why she is an atypical mystic in the Catholic tradition. Nonetheless, it will be shown that mystic is a more complete and authentic description of her than controversial and questionable martyr. The thesis has three parts, and eight chapters. The first part of three chapters discusses Edith Stein's search for the truth up until the time of her conversion to Catholicism. Chapter one draws largely on her autobiography for instances of her reflections on God and spirituality. The second chapter analyses the influences on her in her academic life, of others who were or became Christians, and her own experiences of Gof, which cojlminated in read the Life of Teresa of Avila, resulting in her conversion to Catholicism. An indepth analysis of the ongoing influence of Teresa of Avila on Edith Stein is presented in chapter three. The second part of the thesis which comprises chapters four and five contains a comprehensive and critical analysis of Edith Stein's growth in Catholicism and mystical prayer. Chapter five focuses on her major philosophical and theological works in which her understanding of the ascent to the meaning of being and mystical theology as related to her own life, is demonstrated. The final part discusses the place of mysticism in the Catholic church. Six classic Catholic mystics are described in chapter sex and in chapter seven they are compared and contrasted to Edith Stein. Chapter seven argues that on theree essential points Edith Stein is a mystic, if an atypical one. These are, her conversion, her understanding and definition of mysticism itself and her controversial status of being perceived to be a martyr. Chapter eight presents an argument ot show that Edith Stein is demonstrably a mystic but that the political reasons surrounding her sainthood status serve to distort a full focus on her mysticism in favour of presenting her definitively as a martyr.
Stein, Edith, 1891-1942, Carmelite Nuns -- Germany -- Biography, Mysticism -- Catholic Church, History -- 20th century