Edith Stein: The Hidden Life of Wisdom
Taken from CrisisMagazine.org
by Christopher O. Blum
Edith Stein was an unlikely saint. A former Jewish-atheist bluestocking who died for the Faith as a Carmelite nun in the gas chamber at Auschwitz, Stein was impelled by a quenchless thirst for truth. God in His Mercy placed in her life friends who were themselves, in one way or another, “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3), and who helped her draw near to the source of wisdom.
Although raised in a large, devout Jewish family, Stein strayed from God during her youth. She later said that she “consciously decided” to stop praying. As a university student, she passed through a phase of being—again, in her words—a “radical suffragette.” Soon, however, she began the arduous work of pursuing the truth, moving to the university at Göttingen to sit at the feet of Edmund Husserl. Stein’s life as the student and then as the graduate assistant of Husserl, with her consequent membership in the circle of ardent young philosophers Husserl had collected around himself, has been admirably told by Alasdair MacIntyre, whose Edith Stein: A Philosophical Prologue, 1913-1922 is a penetrating investigation of character as it relates to the search for truth.
At the heart of MacIntyre’s narrative, and, indeed, of Stein’s conversion, is the life, death, and philosophical inquiry of Adolf Reinach (1883-1917). Like other talented young philosophers of his generation—such as Max Scheler and Dietrich von Hildebrand—Reinach came to Göttingen to learn from Husserl, whose reflection upon our experience of ourselves as knowers of the world was then opening up what has since become a philosophical tradition in its own right, phenomenology.