Edith Stein

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein

(1891-1942)

Born to a Jewish family in Germany, Edith Stein was the youngest of her eleven siblings. By the time she was thirteen she had lost interest and faith in Judaism. Stein was a natural academic, studying German and history at the university level. She became fascinated with phenomenology, receiving her PhD in philosophy from the University of Freiburg under Edmund Husserl. 

Although she had fallen away from her faith, Stein actively sought something else and found it in the Catholic Church. Stein was baptized in 1922 after reading and being profoundly moved by the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. Twelve years later, she received approval to enter the cloistered community at Cologne-Lindenthal as a Carmelite nun. She made her Profession of Vows on April 21, 1935 and became “Teresia Benedicta a Cruce” (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross).

Teresa realized she brought a potential threat to her community as anti-Semitic tension grew in Germany. The prioress of the Cologne Carmel had Teresa smuggled across the border into the Netherlands in December 1938 where she was received by the Carmel of Echt. When the Dutch Roman Catholic Bishops denounced the pogroms and deportations of Jews, the Gestapo arrested all Catholics of Jewish descent in retaliation. Teresa and her sister, Rosa, were deported to Auschwitz where they died in the gas chambers on August 9, 1942.

The writings of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross fill 17 volumes, including translations of Cardinal Newman’s diaries and letters as well as Thomas Aquinas’ Quaestiones Disputatae de Veritate.

Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was beatified in 1987 and canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 11, 1998. She is honored as a “daughter of Israel who, as a Catholic during the Nazi persecution, remained faithful to the Crucified Lord Jesus Christ and, as a Jew, to her people in loving faithfulness.”

Saint Edith Stein Martyr, Doctor of the Church
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Text of Letter to the Pope from Edith Stein


 Holy Father!

As a child of the Jewish people who, by the grace of God, for the past eleven years has also been a child of the Catholic Church, I dare to speak to the Father of Christianity about that which oppresses millions of Germans. For weeks we have seen deeds perpetrated in Germany which mock any sense of justice and humanity, not to mention love of neighbor. For years the leaders of National Socialism have been preaching hatred of the Jews. Now that they have seized the power of government and armed their followers, among them proven criminal elements, this seed of hatred has germinated. The government has only recently admitted that ex- cesses have occurred. To what extent, we cannot tell, because public opinion is being gagged. However, judging by what I have learned from personal relations, it is in no way a matter of singular exceptional cases. Under pressure from reactions abroad, the government has turned to "milder" methods. It has issued the watchword "no Jew shall have even one hair on his head harmed." But through boycott measures--by robbing people of their livelihood, civic honor and fatherland--it drives many to desperation; within the last week, through private reports I was informed of five cases of suicide as a consequence of these hostilities. I am convinced that this is a general condition which will claim many more victims. One may regret that these unhappy people do not have greater inner strength to bear their misfortune. But the responsibility must fall, after all, on those who brought them to this point and it also falls on those who keep silent in the face of such happenings.

Everything that happened and continues to happen on a daily basis originates with a government that calls itself "Christian." For weeks not only Jews but also thousands of faithful Catholics in Germany, and, I believe, all over the world, have been waiting and hoping for the Church of Christ to raise its voice to put a stop to this abuse of Christ’s name. Is not this idolization of race and governmental power which is being pounded into the public consciousness by the radio open heresy? Isn't the effort to destroy Jewish blood an abuse of the holiest humanity of our Savior, of the most blessed Virgin and the apostles? Is not all this diametrically opposed to the conduct of our Lord and Savior, who, even on the cross, still prayed for his persecutors? And isn't this a black mark on the record of this Holy Year which was intended to be a year of peace and reconciliation?

We all, who are faithful children of the Church and who see the conditions in Germany with open eyes, fear the worst for the prestige of the Church, if the silence continues any longer. We are convinced that this silence will not be able in the long run to purchase peace with the present German government. For the time being, the fight against Catholicism will be conducted quietly and less brutally than against Jewry, but no less systematically. It won't take long before no Catholic will be able to hold office in Germany unless he dedicates himself unconditionally to the new course of action.

At the feet of your Holiness, requesting your apostolic blessing,


(Signed) Dr. Edith Stein, Instructor at the German Institute for Scientific Pedagogy, Münster in Westphalia, Collegium Marianum.

The Hidden Life and Epiphany by Saint Edith Stein

The Hidden Life and Epiphany

When the gentle light of the advent candles begins to shine in the dark days of December a
mysterious light in a mysterious darkness it awakens in us the consoling thought that the divine
light, the Holy Spirit, has never ceased to illumine the darkness of the fallen world. He has
remained faithful to his creation, regardless of all the infidelity of creatures. And if the darkness
would not allow itself to be penetrated by the heavenly light, there were nevertheless some
places always predisposed for it to blaze.

A ray from this light fell into the hearts of our original parents even during the judgment to
which they were subjected. This was an illuminating ray that awakened in them the knowledge
of their guilt, an enkindling ray that made them burn with fiery remorse, purifying and cleansing,
and made them sensitive to the gentle light of the star of hope, which shone for them in the
words of promise of the "protoevangelium," the original gospel.

As were the hearts of the first human beings, so down through the ages again and again human
hearts have been struck by the divine ray. Hidden from the whole world, it illuminated and
irradiated them, let the hard, encrusted, misshapen matter of these hearts soften, and then with
the tender hand of an artist formed them anew into the image of God. Seen by no human eye, this
is how living building blocks were and are formed and brought together into a Church first of all
invisible. However, the visible Church grows out of this invisible one in ever new, divine
deeds and revelations which shed their light ever new epiphanies. The silent working of the
Holy Spirit in the depths of the soul made the patriarchs into friends of God. However, when
they came to the point of allowing themselves to be used as his pliant instruments, he established
them in an external visible efficacy as bearers of historical development, and awakened from
among them his chosen people. Therefore, Moses, too, was educated quietly and then sent as the
leader and lawgiver.

Not everyone whom God uses as an instrument must be prepared in this way. People may also be
instruments of God without their knowledge and even against their will, possibly even
people who neither externally nor interiorly belong to the church. They would then be used
like the hammer or chisel of the artist, or like a knife with which the vine-dresser prunes the
vines. For those who belong to the church, outer membership can also temporally precede
interior, in fact can be materially significant for it (as when someone without faith is baptized
and then comes to faith through the public life in the church). But it finally comes down to the
interior life; formation moves from the inner to the outer. The deeper a soul is bound to God, the
more completely surrendered to grace, the stronger will be its influence on the form of the
church. Conversely, the more an era is engulfed in the night of sin and estrangement from God
the more it needs souls united to God. And God does not permit a deficiency. The greatest

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figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night. But for the most part the
formative stream of the mystical life remains invisible. Certainly the decisive turning points in
world history are substantially co-determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions.
And we will only find out about those souls to whom we owe the decisive turning points in our
personal lives on the day when all that is hidden is revealed.

Because hidden souls do not live in isolation, but are a part of the living nexus and have a
position in a great divine order, we speak of an invisible church. Their impact and affinity can
remain hidden from themselves and others for their entire earthly lives. But it is also possible for
some of this to become visible in the external world. This is how it was with the persons and
events intertwined in the mystery of the Incarnation. Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth,
the shepherds and the kings, Simeon and Anna all of these had behind them a solitary life with
God and were prepared for their special tasks before they found themselves together in those
awesome encounters and events and, in retrospect, could understand how the paths left behind
led to this climax. Their astounded adoration in the presence of these great deeds of God is
expressed in the songs of praise that have come down to us.

In the people who are gathered around the manger, we have a analogy for the church and its
development. Representatives of the old royal dynasties to whom the savior of the world was
promised and representatives of faithful people constitute the relationship between the Old and
the New Covenants. The kings from the far-away East indicate the Gentiles for whom salvation
is to come from Judea. So here there is already "the Church made up of Jews and Gentiles." The
kings at the manger represent seekers from all lands and peoples. Grace led them before
they ever belonged to the external church. There lived in them a pure longing for truth that
did not stop at the boundaries of native doctrines and traditions. Because God is truth and
because he wants to be found by those who seek him with their whole hearts, sooner or later the
star had to appear to show these wise men the way to truth. And so they now stand before the
Incarnate Truth, bow down and worship it, and place their crowns at its feet, because all
the treasures of the world are but a little dust compared to it.

And the kings have a special meaning for us, too. Even though we already belonged to the
external church, an interior impulse nevertheless drove us out of the circle of inherited
viewpoints and conventions. We knew God, but we felt that he desired to be sought and found by
us in a new way. Therefore we wanted to open ourselves and sought for a star to show us the
right way. And it arose for us in the grace of vocation. We followed it and found the divine
infant. He stretched out his hands for our gifts. He wanted the pure gold of a heart detached from
all earthly goods; the myrrh of a renunciation of all the happiness of this world in exchange for
participation in the life and suffering of Jesus; the frankincense of a will that surrenders itself and
strains upward to lose itself in the divine will. In return for these gifts, the divine Child gave us
himself.

But this admirable exchange was not a one-time event. It fills our entire lives. After the solemn
hour of bridal surrender, there followed the everyday life of observance in the Order. We had to
"return to our own country," but "taking another way" and escorted by the new light that had
blazed up for us at those solemn places. The new light commands us to search anew. "God lets
himself be sought," says St. Augustine, "to let himself be found. He lets himself be found to be

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sought again." After each great hour of grace, it is as if we were but beginning now to understand
our vocation. Therefore an interior need prompts us to renew our vows repeatedly. That we do so
on the feast of the three kings whose pilgrimage and affirmation are for us a symbol for our lives
has a deep meaning. To each authentic, heartfelt renewal of vows, the divine Child responds with
renewed acceptance and a deeper union. And this means a new, hidden operation of grace in our
souls. Perhaps it is revealed in an epiphany, the work of God becoming visible in our external
behavior and activity noticed by those around us. But perhaps it also bears fruit that, though
observed, conceals from all eyes the mysterious source from which its vital juices pour.

Today we live again in a time that urgently needs to be renewed at the hidden springs of God-
fearing souls. Many people, too, place their last hope in these hidden springs of salvation. This is
a serious warning cry: Surrender without reservation to the Lord who has called us. This is
required of us so that the face of the earth may be renewed. In faithful trust, we must abandon
our souls to the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. It is not necessary that we experience the
epiphany in our lives. We may live in the confident certainty that what the Spirit of God secretly
effects in us bears its fruits in the kingdom of God. We will see them in eternity.

So this is how we want to bring our gifts to the Lord: We lay them in the hands of the Mother of
God. The first Saturday is particularly dedicated to her honor, and nothing can give her most
pure heart greater joy than an ever deeper surrender to the Divine Heart. Furthermore, she will
certainly have no more urgent petition for the Child in the manger than the one for holy priests
and a richly blessed priestly ministry. And this is the petition today's Saturday for priests bids us
make and which our Holy
Mother has enjoined on us so compellingly as an essential constituent
of our vocation to Carmel.


On the history and spirit of Carmel
 
Until a few years ago, very little from our silent monasteries penetrated into the world. It is different today. People talk a lot about Carmel and want to hear something about life behind the high walls. This is chiefly attributable to the great saints of our time who have captivated the entire Catholic world with amazing speed, for instance, St Thérèse of the Child Jesus. Gertrud von le Fort’s novel about Carmel has vigorously directed German intellectual circles to our Order as has her beautiful foreword to the letters of Marie Antoinette de Geuser.

What does the average Catholic know about Carmel? That it is a very strict, perhaps the strictest penitential Order, and that from it comes the holy habit of the Mother of God, the brown scapular, which unites many of the faithful in the world to us. The whole church celebrates with us the patronal feast of our Order, the feast of the scapular, on July 16. Most people also recognize at least the names of “little” Thérèse and “great” Teresa, whom we call our Holy Mother. She is generally seen as the founder of the Discalced Carmelites. The person who is a little more familiar with the history of the church and monasteries certainly knows that we revere the prophet Elijah as our leader and father. But people consider this a “legend” that does not mean very much. We who live in Carmel and who daily call on our Holy Father Elijah in prayer know that for us he is not a shadowy figure out of the dim past. His spirit is active among us in a vital tradition and determines how we live. Our Holy Mother strenuously denied that she was founding a new Order. She wanted nothing except to reawaken the original spirit of the old Rule [of St Albert].

Our Holy Father Elijah succinctly says what is most important in the first words of his that the Scriptures give us. He says to King Ahab who worshiped idols (1 Kgs 17:1), “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”

To stand before the face of the living God that is our vocation. The holy prophet set us an example. He stood before God’s face because this was the eternal treasure for whose sake he gave up all earthly goods. He had no house; he lived wherever the Lord directed him from moment to moment: in loneliness beside the brook of Carith, in the little house of the poor widow of Zarephath of Sidon, or in the caves of Mount Carmel. His clothing was an animal hide like that of that other great penitent and prophet, the Baptist. The hide of a dead animal reminds us that the human body is also subject to death. Elijah is not concerned about his daily bread. He lives trusting in the solicitude of the heavenly Father and is marvelously sustained. A raven brings him his daily food while he is in solitude. The miraculously increased provisions of the pious widow nourish him in Zarephath. Prior to the long trek to the holy mountain where the Lord was to appear to him, an angel with heavenly bread strengthens him. So he is for us an example of the gospel poverty that we have vowed, an authentic prototype of the Savior.

Elijah stands before God’s face because all of his love belongs to the Lord. He lives outside of all natural human relationships. We hear nothing of his father and mother, nothing of a wife or child. His “relatives” are those who do the will of the Father as he does: Elisha, whom God has designated as his successor, and the “sons of the prophets,” who follow him as their leader. Glorifying God is his joy. His zeal to serve him tears him apart: “I am filled with jealous zeal for the Lord, the God of hosts” (1 Kgs 19:10, 14; these words were used as a motto on the shield of the Order). By living penitentially, he atones for the sins of his time. The offense that the misguided people give to the Lord by their manner of worship hurts him so much that he wants to die. And the Lord consoles him only as he consoles his especially chosen ones: He appears to him himself on a lonely mountain, reveals himself in soft rustling after a thunderstorm, and announces his will to him in clear words.

The prophet, who serves the Lord in complete purity of heart and completely stripped of everything earthly, is also a model of obedience. He stands before God’s face like the angels before the eternal throne, awaiting his sign, always ready to serve. He has no other will than the will of his Lord. When God bids, he goes before the king and fearlessly risks giving him bad news that must arouse his hatred. When God wills it, he leaves the country at the threat of violence; but he also returns at God’s command, though the danger has not disappeared.

Anyone who is so unconditionally faithful to God can also be certain of God’s faithfulness. He is permitted to speak “as someone who has power,” may open and close heaven, may command the waters to let him walk through and remain dry, may call down fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice, to execute punishment on God’s enemies, and may breathe new life into a dead person. We see the Savior’s predecessor provided with all the graces that he has promised to his own. And the greatest crown is still in reserve for him: Before the eyes of his true disciple, Elisha, he is carried off in a fiery carriage to a secret place far from all human abodes. According to the testimony of Revelation, he will return near the end of the world to suffer a martyr’s death for his Lord in the battle against the Antichrist.

On his feast, which we celebrate on July 20, the priest goes to the altar in red vestments. On this day the monastery of our friars on Mount Carmel, the site of Elijah’s grotto, is the goal of mighty bands of pilgrims. Jews, Moslems, and Christians of all denominations vie in honoring the great prophet. We remember him in the liturgy on still another day, in the epistle and preface of the Feast of Mount Carmel, as we usually call the feast of the scapular. On this day we give thanks that our dear Lady has clothed us with the “garment of salvation.” The events providing the occasion for this feast did not occur until much later in the Western world. In the year 1251 the Blessed Virgin appeared to the general of the Order, Simon Stock, an Englishman, and gave him the scapular. But the preface reminds us that it was our dear Lady of Mount Carmel who bestowed this visible sign of her motherly protection on her children far from the original home of the Order. It was she who manifested herself to the Prophet Elijah in the form of a little rain cloud and for whom the sons of the prophets built the first shrine on Mount Carmel. The legend of the Order tells us that the Mother of God would have liked to remain with the hermit brothers on Mount Carmel. We can certainly understand that she felt drawn to the place where she had been venerated through the ages and where the holy prophet had lived in the same spirit that also filled her from the time her earthly sojourn began. Released from everything earthly, to stand in worship in the presence of God, to love him with her whole heart, to beseech his grace for sinful people, and in atonement to substitute herself for these people, as the maidservant of the Lord to await his beckoning this was her life.

 

Edith Stein

Love of the cross
 
Some Thoughts For the Feast of St John of the Cross

We hear repeatedly that St. John of the Cross desired nothing for himself but to suffer and be despised. We want to know the reason for this love of suffering. Is it merely the loving remembrance of the path of suffering of our Lord on earth, a tender impulse to be humanly close to him by a life resembling his? This does not seem to correspond to the lofty and strict spirituality of the mystical teacher. And in relation to the Man of Sorrows, it would almost seem that the victoriously enthroned king, the divine conqueror of sin, death, and hell is forgotten. Did not Christ lead captivity captive? Has he not transported us into a kingdom of light and called us to be happy children of our heavenly Father?

The sight of the world in which we live, the need and misery, and an abyss of human malice, again and again dampens jubilation over the victory of light. The world is still deluged by mire, and still but a small flock has escaped from it to the highest mountain peaks. The battle between Christ and the Antichrist is not yet over. The followers of Christ have their place in this battle, and their chief weapon is the cross.

What does this mean? The burden of the cross that Christ assumed is that of corrupted human nature, with all its consequences in sin and suffering to which fallen humanity is subject. The meaning of the way of the cross is to carry this burden out of the world. The restoration of freed humanity to the heart of the heavenly Father, taking on the status of a child, is the free gift of grace, of merciful love. But this may not occur at the expense of divine holiness and justice. The entire sum of human failures from the first Fall up to the Day of Judgment must be blotted out by a corresponding measure of expiation. The way of the cross is this expiation. The triple collapse under the burden of the cross corresponds to the triple fall of humanity: the first sin, the rejection of the Savior by his chosen people, the falling away of those who bear the name of Christian. The Savior is not alone on the way of the cross. Not only are there adversaries around him who oppress him, but also people who succor him. The archetype of followers of the cross for all time is the Mother of God. Typical of those who submit to the suffering inflicted on them and experience his blessing by bearing it is Simon of Cyrene. Representative of those who love him and yearn to serve the Lord is Veronica. Everyone who, in the course of time, has borne an onerous destiny in remembrance of the suffering Savior or who has freely taken up works of expiation has by doing so canceled some of the mighty load of human sin and has helped the Lord carry his burden. Or rather, Christ the head effects expiation in these members of his Mystical Body who put themselves, body and soul, at his disposal for carrying out his work of salvation. We can assume that the prospect of the faithful who would follow him on his way of the cross strengthened the Savior during his night on the Mount of Olives. And the strength of these cross-bearers helps him after each of his falls. The righteous under the Old Covenant accompany him on the stretch of the way from the first to the second collapse. The disciples, both men and women, who surrounded him during his earthly life, assist him on the second stretch. The lovers of the cross, whom he has awakened and will always continue to awaken anew in the changeable history of the struggling church, these are his allies at the end of time. We, too, are called for that purpose.

Thus, when someone desires to suffer, it is not merely a pious reminder of the suffering of the Lord. Voluntary expiatory suffering is what truly and really unites one to the Lord intimately. When it arises, it comes from an already existing relationship with Christ. For, by nature, a person flees from suffering. And the mania for suffering caused by a perverse lust for pain differs completely from the desire to suffer in expiation. Such lust is not a spiritual striving, but a sensory longing, no better than other sensory desires, in fact worse, because it is contrary to nature. Only someone whose spiritual eyes have been opened to the supernatural correlations of worldly events can desire suffering in expiation, and this is only possible for people in whom the spirit of Christ dwells, who as members are given life by the Head, receive his power, his meaning, and his direction. Conversely, works of expiation bind one closer to Christ, as every community that works together on one task becomes more and more closely knit and as the limbs of a body, working together organically, continually become more strongly one.

But because being one with Christ is our sanctity, and progressively becoming one with him our happiness on earth, the love of the cross in no way contradicts being a joyful child of God. Helping Christ carry his cross fills one with a strong and pure joy, and those who may and can do so, the builders of God’s kingdom, are the most authentic children of God. And so those who have a predilection for the way of the cross by no means deny that Good Friday is past and that the work of salvation has been accomplished. Only those who are saved, only children of grace, can in fact be bearers of Christ’s cross. Only in union with the divine Head does human suffering take on expiatory power. To suffer and to be happy although suffering, to have one’s feet on the earth, to walk on the dirty and rough paths of this earth and yet to be enthroned with Christ at the Father’s right hand, to laugh and cry with the children of this world and ceaselessly to sing the praises of God with the choirs of angels this is the life of the Christian until the morning of eternity breaks forth.


Copyright ICS Publications. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, if this copyright notice is included. Maintained by the Austrian Province of the Teresian Carmel.
 
(1934)


Edith Stein

Feminine vocations
 
What formation does woman’s soul yearn for? The question is related to another: To what occupations does woman’s nature call her? It is not our concern here to compile statistical data to demonstrate the vocations in which contemporary woman is engaged. (She is engaged in nearly all of them.) Rather, our intent is to discover woman’s genuine inclinations. In doing so, statistics are of little help. A presentation of numbers involved in particular vocations does grade the inclinations and talents concerned; even so, it can inform only clumsily regarding the success of the various activities. Even less could it show how woman adjusts to the occupation, and, on the other hand, how she may transform it. We must here limit ourselves to that which nature and destiny demand in true feminine vocations. But it is necessary to cite concrete examples. Therefore, we shall attempt to show how woman can function in marriage, in religious life, and in various professions in conformity with her nature.

According to Genesis, woman was placed by man’s side so that he would not be alone but would have a helpmate who suits him; she will primarily fulfill her vocation as spouse in making his concerns her own. Normally, we understand “his concerns” to mean his profession. The woman’s participation in her husband’s profession can be performed in various ways. In the first place, it will be her duty to shape their home life so that it does not hinder, but rather furthers, his professional work. If his work is in the home, she must see to it that disturbances are kept as far away from him as possible; if his work is away from the home, she must be sure that the home affords appropriate relaxation and recovery when he returns to it. There can be immediate participation in the performance of direct help; indeed, this happens frequently in modern marriages between people of similar or related professional training, or at least with those of congenial interests. In former times this was the case to a large extent, generally in country life but also frequently in business enterprise (especially in those on a small scale), in doctor’s households, and also very prominently in those of Protestant pastors.

“Man’s concerns,” however, does not only refer to the purely objective content of his work but also to the procurement of his family’s livelihood—the “battle for existence.” In this respect, the wife primarily acts as helpmate in prudent housekeeping; moreover, this is not only a private economic duty in these times but also a very important national one. But possibly more nowadays than in former times, both husband and wife will work. Therein arises the difficult problem of the double vocation: there is danger that her work outside of the home will so take over that finally it can make it impossible for her to be the heart of the family and the soul of the home, which must always remain her essential duty.

But the woman who “suits” man as helpmate does not only participate in his work; she complements him, counteracting the dangers of his specifically masculine nature. It is her business to ensure to the best of her ability that he is not totally absorbed in his professional work, that he does not permit his humanity to become stunted, and that he does not neglect his family duties as father. She will be better able to do so the more she herself is mature as a personality; and it is vital here that she does not lose herself in association with her husband but, on the contrary, cultivates her own gifts and powers. Her mission as mother relates closely to her mission as spouse, only here she must primarily care for the children and bring them to development. She must guide and then gradually withdraw to attain, in face of the mature human being, the role of a companion. This demands, on the one hand, an even more refined gift of sympathy because it is necessary to comprehend the dispositions and faculties of which the young people themselves are as yet unaware; she has to feel her way towards that which wishes to become, but which as yet does not exist. On the other hand, the possibility of influence is greater. The youthful soul is still in the formative stage and declares itself more easily and openly because it does not offer resistance to extraneous influences. However, all this increases the mother’s responsibility.

In order to develop to the highest level the humanity specific to husband and children, woman requires the attitude of selfless service. She cannot consider others as her property nor as means for her own purposes; on the contrary, she must consider others as gifts entrusted to her, and she can only do so when she also sees them as God’s creatures towards whom she has a holy duty to fulfill. Surely, the development of their God-given nature is a holy task. Of even higher degree is their spiritual development, and we have seen that it is woman’s supernatural vocation to enkindle, in the hearts of husband and children, the sparks of love for God or, once enkindled, to fan them into greater brightness. This will come about only if she considers and prepares herself as God’s instrument. How this can be will be considered at a later time.

It would not be difficult to mention women in the most diverse professions who have achieved excellence, but this would not prove that their occupations were specifically feminine ones. Not every woman is a pure embodiment of feminine nature. Individualities are not simply variations of feminine nature but are often approximations of masculine nature and qualify, thereby, for an occupation not regarded as specifically feminine. If the care and development of human life and humanity are women’s specific duty, so the specifically feminine vocations will be those in which such efforts are possible outside of marriage as well. I do not wish to enter here into the question of domestic service because here it is not a question of specifically feminine work, and in many respects it produces tasks other than those which the woman of the house must fulfill. It is more important to clarify the significance of occupations outside of the household, occupations which were denied women for some time and have only become available for women gradually through the struggles of the feminist movement.

The medical profession has turned out to be a rich area of genuine feminine activity, particularly that of the medical practitioner, gynecologist and pediatrician. There have been severe objections to the admission of women into this profession: a young lady may encounter many things in her medical studies which would otherwise be kept away from her; a serious objection has been that the studies make extraordinary demands of bodily strength and nervous energy, and professional practice even more. Indeed, professional practice requires a particular physical and spiritual constitution, as well as the professional zeal necessary for the assumption of the difficulties unique to that profession. Such misgivings are dispelled when these stipulations are respected. Of course, one will always be grateful to encounter the untroubled, innocent beauty which moves us, and which is completely unaware of the seamy side of human nature. Today it is hardly possible, but in former times how many women who were so protected in their innocence until marriage were suddenly robbed of all their ideals, in the cruelest manner, in marriage itself! In this respect, could one not say that the matter-of-fact and objective, scientific approach is still one of the most accepted methods, if not the absolutely best one, to become acquainted with natural data? Since most women are obliged to come to grips with these data, should not individual women who have the calling and opportunity make all sacrifices in order to fulfill this calling and stand by their sisters’ side?

Experience indicates that this has happened in large degree. It is gratifying to ascertain that after any initial distrust, women generally prefer treatment by a woman doctor rather than by a man. I believe that this is conditioned not only by the patient’s modesty but even more so by the specifically feminine manner of empathy which has beneficial effects. The human being, especially the invalid, needs sympathy in his total condition. The widespread method of modern specialization does not satisfy this need in treating a limb or organ while disregarding the rest of the person, even though the specific treatment is pertinent. (Also, in many cases, specialization is not the best method because most illnesses are illnesses of the total human being even if they are manifested in only one organ; the patient needs treatment in his individual peculiarity as a whole organism.) Counteracting this abstract procedure, the specifically feminine attitude is oriented towards the concrete and whole person. The woman doctor has only to exercise courage in following her natural inspiration and liberating herself whenever necessary from methods learned and practiced according to rule. (Of course, it must not be denied that it often happens as well with masculine specialists, although not generally—in earlier times the house doctor typified this total approach.) It is not only a question of summoning up the patience to listen to much which is absolutely irrelevant to the subject. The intent must be to understand correctly the whole human situation, the spiritual need which is often greater than the corporal one, and perhaps to intervene helpfully not only by medical means but also as a mother or a sister.

So conceived, the medical profession is a truly charitable one and belongs together with other social professions. These professions have been developed for the most part only in recent years, and they are specifically feminine vocations as rightfully as the housewife’s. In all such vocations, it is a matter of actions which are truly maternal in the care of a large “family”: parishioners, the poor or sick of a rural parish or of a municipal precinct, the inmates of a prison, endangered or neglected youth. There is always the potentiality, and basically the necessity, of understanding and helping the whole person whether one initially encounters these human beings to care for them in bodily sickness or to assist them financially, or to give them legal counsel. Demands here on the power of love are even greater than in one’s own family: the natural bond is lacking, the number of people in need is greater, and preponderantly there are people who repel rather than attract by their disposition and frame of mind. In this type of work more than others, it will be shown that normal psychic power does not suffice in carrying out the tasks noted above. It must be sustained by Christ’s power and love. And where it is so supported it will never stop at mere attendance to natural humanity; but, on the contrary, it will always aim at the same time towards the supernatural goal of winning these human beings for God.


Edith Stein

Woman’s formation
 
The particular spiritual disposition of which we have been speaking is the substance which must be formed: the basic faculties which exist originally are unique in degree and in kind to each human soul. It is not inanimate material which must be entirely developed or formed in an exterior way, as is clay by the artist’s hand or stone by the weather’s elemental forces; it is rather a living formative root which possesses within itself the driving power (inner form) toward development in a particular direction; the seed must grow and ripen into the perfect gestalt, perfect creation. Thus envisaged, formation of the spirit is a developmental process similar to that of the plant. However, the plant’s organic growth and development do not come about wholly from within: there are also exterior influences which work together to determine its formation, such as climate, soil, etc.; just so, in the soul’s formation, exterior factors as well as interior ones, play a role. We have seen that the soul can be developed only through activation of its faculties; and the faculties depend on material to be activated (and, indeed, on material which is suitable to them): the senses, through impressions which they receive and process, the intellect through mental performance, the will through achievements which are characteristic to it, the emotions through the variety of feelings, moods, and attitudes. Definite motives which place the faculties into motion are needed for all of this.

Simple contact with other people and with one’s surroundings is often sufficient to stimulate certain responses. Ordinary daily existence conditions the formation of the spirit. However, instruction and guidance are needed for other responses, especially those involving the higher faculties. Allowance should be made for spontaneity as well as planned work and instruction. Formation requires the creation of educational subject matters which will place duties before intellect and will, stir the emotions, and fulfill the soul. But here we enter into the realm of values—the good, the beautiful, the noble, the sacred—the specific values which are unique to each soul and to its individual quality.

Cognitive work and achievements of the will are free actions; so, too, surrender to or rejection of original, involuntary, self-governing emotional stimulations is a matter of freedom. Thus, the human being awakened to freedom is not simply delivered to exterior formative influences; but, on the contrary, he can yield himself to them or reject them as he searches for or avoids possible formative influences. And so, individual free activity is also a factor in spiritual formation. All of the exterior educational factors—everyday existence, planned as well as free, self-developmental work—are bound in their efficacy to the first factor, the natural predisposition; they cannot endow the person with qualities which are not in him by nature. All human education can only provide subject matter and render it “palatable”; it can lead the way and “demonstrate” in order to stimulate activity, but it cannot force acceptance or imitation. Nature sets the limits of personal formative work. Nature and the subject’s freedom of will impose limits on spiritual formation. But there is one Educator for whom these limits do not exist: God, who has given nature, can transform it in a manner which turns it from its natural course of development (just as He can intervene by His miracles in the normal course of external natural occurrences). And even though He has excluded also a mechanically necessary rule of the human will by His gift of freedom, He can bring the will’s interior inclination toward a decision to execute that which is presented to it.

Thus we have attained a certain insight into the nature of education: the process of shaping the natural spiritual predisposition. In customary usage, the term “education” also signifies the result of these processes—the gestalt which the soul assumes thereby, perhaps also the soul thus formed, and even the spiritual matters which it receives.

In trying to formulate a proper educational program for women, the stress is often laid on questions of method. Whoever is concerned with the spiritual formation of woman must first of all be aware of the material with which he is dealing, that is, the predisposition of the human being whom he is supposed to educate. He must especially understand the unique quality of feminine spirituality and the individual nature of his pupils. He must also be aware of earlier influences, such as home environment, which have already affected and still affect his students.

He must know whether they are in harmony or not with his own aims and purposes or whether, if they are not, an effort should be made to eliminate them. The educator must be fully conscious of the objectives he has set for himself and for others, which, of course, depend on his total vision of the world. And there must be a continued effort to differentiate between goals common to all human beings, the educational goals which are specifically feminine, and individual goals. These cannot be set up arbitrarily but are determined by God Himself. Holy Scripture counsels us on the destiny of the human being in general and that of woman in particular. Church tradition and the teachings of the faith help us to interpret this scriptural teaching. The parable of the talents refers to the unique gift given to each individual; the Apostle’s word describes the multiplicity of gifts afforded in the Mystical Body of Christ. The individual must discover his own unique gift.

God has given each human being a threefold destiny: to grow into the likeness of God through the development of his faculties, to procreate descendants, and to hold dominion over the earth. In addition, it is promised that a life of faith and personal union with the Redeemer will be rewarded by eternal contemplation of God. These destinies, natural and supernatural, are identical for both man and woman. But in the realm of duties, differences determined by sex exist. Lordship over the earth is the primary occupation of man: for this, the woman is placed at his side as helpmate. The primary calling of woman is the procreation and raising of children; for this, the man is given to her as protector. Thus it is suitable that the same gifts occur in both, but in different proportions and relation. In the case of the man, gifts for struggle, conquest, and dominion are especially necessary: bodily force for taking possession of that exterior to him, intellect for a cognitive type of penetration of the world, the powers of will and action for works of creative nature. With the woman there are capabilities of caring, protecting, and promoting that which is becoming and growing. She has the gift thereby to live in an intimately bound physical compass and to collect her forces in silence; on the other hand, she is created to endure pain, to adapt and abnegate herself. She is psychically directed to the concrete, the individual, and the personal: she has the ability to grasp the concrete in its individuality and to adapt herself to it, and she has the longing to help this peculiarity to its development. An equipment equal to the man’s is included in the adaptive ability, as well as the possibility of performing the same work as he does, either in common with him or in his place.

In the Old Testament, those testimonies from the Fall on, i.e., those which reckon with fallen nature, marriage and maternity are presented with a certain exclusiveness as the destiny of woman. These are even the means for fulfilling her supernatural goal: she is to bear children and raise them in faith in the Redeemer so that one day she will behold her salvation in them. (This interpretation is also voiced from time to time in the Pauline epistles.) Next to this, the New Testament places the ideal of virginity. In place of the marriage bond, there is offered the most intimate, personal communion with the Savior, the development of all faculties in His service, and spiritual maternity—i.e., the winning of souls and their formation for God. One should not interpret this differentiation of vocation as if in one case it were only the natural goal being considered, and, in the other case, only the supernatural one. The woman who fulfills her natural destiny as wife and mother also has her duties for God’s kingdom—initially, the propagation of human beings destined for this kingdom, but then, also works for the salvation of souls; only for her, this lies first within the family circle. On the other hand, even in the life which is wholly consecrated to God, there is also need for the development of natural forces, except that now they can be more exclusively dedicated to problems pertaining to the kingdom of God and can thereby even benefit for a wider circle of people.

These works for God’s kingdom are not foreign to feminine nature but, on the contrary, are its highest fulfillment and also the highest conceivable enhancement of the human being. This is true as long as the action of personal relationship is born out of love for God and neighbor, works through love of God and neighbor, and leads to love of God and neighbor.

Thus the education of the Christian woman has a dual goal: to lead her to that which makes her capable of either fulfilling her duties as wife and mother in the natural and supernatural sense or of consecrating all her powers to the kingdom of God in a God-dedicated virginity. (Marriage and the religious life should not be set up as alternatives. Signs indicate that our time needs people who will lead a God dedicated life “in the world”; this is certainly not to say, however, that conventual life is “outmoded.”)

What can we do to aim towards this goal? We have already indicated that woman was created for this purpose; in fallen nature, however, there are drives working at the same time in opposition to it. So it will be a question of supplying the educational subject matters which are necessary and conducive to the soul’s pure development and qualified to impede unwholesome drives. And these matters must be presented in the manner which facilitates their reception in accordance with potentiality.

The emotions have been seen as the center of woman’s soul. For that reason, emotional formation will have to be centrally placed in woman’s formation. Emotion exists in sentiments such as joy and sorrow, moods such as cheerfulness and gloom, attitudes such as enthusiasm and indignation, and dispositions such as love and hate. Such emotional responses demonstrate the conflict of the individual with the world and also with himself. It is only the person who is deeply involved with life whose emotions are stirred. Whoever is aiming to arouse emotion must bring it into contact with something which will hasten this involvement. Above all, these are human destinies and human actions as history and literature present them to the young—naturally, this will be contemporary events as well. It is beauty in all its ramifications and the rest of the aesthetic categories. It is truth which prompts the searching human spirit into endless pursuit. It is everything which works in this world with the mysterious force and pull of another world. The subjects which are especially affective in emotional training are religion, history, German, and possibly other languages if the student succeeds in overcoming the external linguistic difficulties and is able to penetrate to the spiritual content.

But, generally speaking, it is not enough only to stir the emotions. An evaluating factor exists in all emotional response. What the emotions have grasped are viewed as being either positively or negatively significant, either for the concerned individual himself or, independent of him, viewed in the significance of the object in itself. It is thereby possible for the emotional responses themselves to be judged as being “right” or “wrong,” “appropriate” or “inappropriate.” It is a matter of awakening joyful emotion for authentic beauty and goodness and disgust for that which is base and vulgar. It is important to guide the young person to perceive beauty and goodness, but this is not sufficient. Often the child is first awakened to the value of things by his awareness of the adult’s responses—above all, that of the teacher—enthusiasm inspires enthusiasm. The guidance of attitudes is simultaneously a method of training the ability to discriminate. One cannot introduce him only to the good and the beautiful: life will also bring him into contact with ugliness, and by then the child should have already learned to differentiate between the positive and the negative, the noble and the base, and to learn to adapt himself in suitable ways.

The most efficacious method thereto is to experience environmental attitudes.

The attitude of the developing individual towards the world depends greatly on environmental influences which are both arbitrary and instinctive. And thus it is of extraordinary significance that the child’s education be placed in the hands of people who themselves have received proper emotional formation. However, this most essential, even indispensable, method of emotional formation through value judgments is accompanied by a certain danger as well: feelings and emotional attitudes are “contagious”; they are easily picked up by one person from another. These attitudes are, indeed, but pure predispositions in the affected soul. In the first place, the mind is not open to the values presented; and these sentiments, moreover, are neither momentarily or generally vital. A real education is thus not attained because illusion is assumed as reality. Hence there is need for education relevant to the authenticity of sentiments, the differentiation of appearance from reality both in the environment and in one’s own soul. This is not possible without sufficient intellectual training. Intellect and emotion must cooperate in a particular way in order to transmute the purely emotional attitudes into one cognizant of values. (It is not our concern here to demonstrate this method of cooperation.) Whoever knows exactly why something is good or beautiful will not simply assume the attitudes of another. And then the exercise of this intellectual critique develops the ability to distinguish between spiritual truth and falsehood. Emotional reactions invoke action. The authentic art lover will gladly sacrifice comfort for the sake of artistic enjoyment. Those who truly love their neighbor will not be unsympathetic and apathetic to their neighbor’s need. Words should inspire action; otherwise, words are mere rhetoric camouflaging nothingness, concealing merely empty or illusory feelings and opinions.

In earlier decades, the subjects which trained the emotions constituted the principal aim of the education of young women. Such formation corresponded to feminine nature. But there was a neglect of the indispensable complement, the practical training and activation of the intellect. This kind of education produced a type of woman who lives on illusion, a woman who either denies realistic duties or surrenders herself helplessly to fluctuating sentiments and moods, who constantly seeks excitement. Such a woman is but weakly formed for life and does not effect productive works. The modern school seeks to remedy such deficiencies. It has introduced more subjects designed to train the mind—mathematics, natural sciences, and the classics. In order that the thematic content be grasped by the intellect, mere memorization is de-emphasized and spontaneity is encouraged. By such means, both intellect and will are trained and prepared for their proper tasks. Modern education also stresses community life and practical participation in it by such means as school clubs, walking tours, celebrations, and team activities. Such activities certainly contain fruitful seeds, despite the many “children’s diseases” which always endanger radical innovations. The great danger is that the reform may not take sufficiently into account the unique nature of woman and the type of education it needs, while being only too narrowly confined to the model of educational institutions for males. The changing demands of practical life make this danger obvious.

Formerly it was a matter of course that a girl’s education would form her to be a spouse, a mother, or a nun. For centuries, hardly any other feminine vocation was known. Girls were expected to be initiated into domestic activity and religious practices either in family or convent life, and thereby prepared for their later vocation. The nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution revolutionized average domestic life so that it ceased to be a realm sufficient to engage all of woman’s potentialities. At the same time, the diminishing life of faith excluded convent life as a serious consideration for most people. In passive natures, this climate has led to an immersion into an overly sensual life or empty dreams and flirtations. In strongly active natures, there has resulted a turning away from the house towards professional activity. So the feminist movement came into being.

Vocations other than domestic had been exercised for centuries almost exclusively by men. It was natural, therefore, that these vocations assumed a masculine stamp and that training for them was adapted to the masculine nature. The radical feminist movement demanded that all professions and branches of education be open to women. In the face of severe opposition, the movement was able to advance only very gradually until, almost suddenly, it obtained nearly all its demands after the revolution. In the beginning of the movement, the women who entered into professional life were predominantly those whose individual aptitude and inclination went in this direction; and they were able, comparatively speaking, to acclimate themselves easily. The economic crisis of recent years has forced against their will many women into professional life. Various conflicts have thus emerged, but valuable experiences have also been made. And we have reached the point where we may ask questions which, according to right reason, should have been cleared up before the movement began. Are there specifically feminine professions? What are they? Do women require education different from that given to men? If so, how should such education be organized?

Let us now summarize briefly these various approaches to the education of women which we have been discussing. The nature and destiny of woman require an education which can inspire works of effective love. Thus, emotional training is the most important factor required in the formation of woman; however, such authentic formation is related to intellectual clarity and energy as well as to practical competence. This education forms a proper disposition of the soul in accordance with objective values, and it enables a practical execution of this disposition. To place supernatural values above all earthly ones complies with an objective hierarchy of values. The initiation of this attitude presents as well an analogy with the future vocation of forming human beings for the kingdom of God. That is why the essence of all feminine education (as of education in general) must be religious education, one which can forcefully convey the truths of the faith in a manner which appeals to the emotions and inspires actions. Such formation is designed to exercise simultaneously the practical activities by the life of faith. The individual will be concerned with these activities through his entire life: the development of the life of faith and of prayer with the Church through the liturgy, as well as with creating a new personal relationship to the Lord, especially through an understanding of the Holy Eucharist and a truly Eucharistic life. Of course, such religious education can only be imparted by those personalities who are themselves filled with the spirit of faith and whose lives are fashioned by it.

Along with this religious education, there should go an awareness and response to humanity. Subjects which can contribute to such awareness are history, literature, biology, psychology, and pedagogy; of course, these subjects should be presented in a simplified form to meet the student’s potential. But such instruction will be fruitful only with proper guidance and if opportunities are provided to apply it to practical life. Necessary for intellectual development are the predominantly formal educational subjects—mathematics, the natural sciences, linguistics, and grammar. But they should not be overstressed at the expense of the student’s capacity or the more essential elements of feminine education.

Instructional methods should be free and flexible in order to take into account not only the specifically gifted but also to provide opportunity for all to study theoretical subjects and cultivate technical and artistic talents. The individual’s later choice of a profession must be kept in mind. Obviously, in doing all this, the teachers themselves must be thoroughly trained in their respective fields. And, of course, for women to be shaped in accordance with their authentic nature and destiny, they must be educated by authentic women.

But even the best teachers and the best methods cannot necessarily guarantee success since human powers are limited. However, formal education is only one part of the integral educational process. Formal education must reckon with the capacities of the student and with the outside influences to which the student is subjected; but it has neither the possibility to identify all these factors nor to deal effectively with them. Moreover, formal education ends long before the total educational process is completed. The instructor may even consider the education successful if the pupil has been prepared to continue her education independently in the initiated direction. But the circumstances of daily life often intervene and make it possible for the purely natural drives to prevail.

Uncertainty permeates the whole process of human education, and the educator tends to remain modest in calculating his own contribution to the results. Yet he must not yield to skepticism or despair. The educator should be convinced that his efforts are important, even though he cannot always measure the results of his efforts, even though sometimes he can never be aware of them at all. He must never forget that, above all, the primary and most essential Educator is not the human being but God Himself. He gives nature as He does life’s circumstances under which it comes to development; He also has the power to transform nature from within and to intervene with His works where human powers fail. If religious education succeeds in breaking down resistance to divine instruction, then one can be certain about everything else. We should also be convinced that, in the divine economy of salvation, no sincere effort remains fruitless even when human eyes can perceive nothing but failures.


Copyright ICS Publications. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, if this copyright notice is included. Maintained by the Austrian Province of the Teresian Carm

 

Edith Stein

Woman’s soul
 
Can we speak in general terms of the soul of woman? Every human soul is unique, no one soul is the same as any other. How can we then speak of the soul in general? But speculation concerning the soul usually considers the soul of the human being in general, not this one or that one. It establishes universal traits and laws; and, even when, as in Differential Psychology, it aims at differences, it is general types which it depicts rather than individual ones: the soul of the child, of the adolescent, of the adult, the soul of the worker, the artist, etc.; so it is with the soul of man and of woman. And to those who have reflected on the potentiality of science, the understanding of the individual appears ever more problematic than that of the general species.

But even if we intend to disregard individualities, is there then one type of woman? Is there something in common to be discovered in the prototype of woman as seen in Schiller’s Glocke or Chamisso’s Frauenliebe und-leben, and in the images which Zola, Strindberg and Wedekind paint for us? Can the complete multiplicity which we meet with in life be reduced to a single unity, and can this unity be distinguished from man’s soul? This is not the place to provide philosophical proof that there is something in the range of the existent which we can denote as species, woman’s soul, and that there is a specific cognitive function which is able to perceive it. Therefore, it will perhaps be more intelligible if we do not begin by outlining this general image of the species but rather sketch a series of types as different as possible one from the other, and then attempt to discover if we can find a general species in them. Since it is through poetry that the soul is most adequately described, I shall now analyze types taken from literary works to which I ascribe a particular symbolic value.

Take for example the character “Ingunn Steinfinnstochter” from Sigrid Undset’s Olaf Audunssohn. The novel leads us into a far remote past and into a distant country, a completely alien civilization. Ingunn grows up free and unshackled in a medieval Nordic manor. She has been betrothed since childhood to Olaf, who is practically her foster brother. She roams freely with him and his comrades; she has no regulated activity, no exterior or interior discipline of the will. The children look to each other for support because they have no other. Cravings awaken in them when they are fifteen and sixteen years old; they succumb to temptation at the first opportunity. From that time on, Ingunn’s entire life is one of insatiable longing. She and Olaf consider themselves insolubly bound to each other according to ecclesiastical law. But the family opposes the marriage, and they become separated for years. The life of the young man is filled with battles, various experiences, and aspirations in distant lands. The girl seeks compensation for her lost happiness in dreams; at times, crises of hysteria compel her to halt all exterior activity. She yields to a seducer although she yearns only for Olaf. However, realization of her fall breaks into this somber psychic existence like a supernatural light; and she rouses herself with astounding strength and severs the sinful relationship. Olaf, returned home, is unwilling to break the sacred bond which unites them simply because of her confessed guilt. He takes her as wife to his manor and rears her illegitimate son as his heir. But the desired happiness does not come as yet. Ingunn is depressed through the consciousness of her guilt, and she gives birth to one dead child after another. But the more she considers herself to be a source of misfortune for her husband, the more she clings to him; and the more vehemently does she crave further proofs of his love. And although she wastes away in this life, consuming his strength as well, Olaf yields as he has always yielded to her. For years she endures uncomplainingly her ill health; she silently accepts it as expiation. Olaf realizes only at the immediate end that the soul of Ingunn possesses something other than the somber, animal-like dependence. He realizes that it possesses a divine spark which lacked only support and a conception of a higher world; this world had not attained sufficient clarity to be of influence on her life. All too literally he has complied with the word of the Apostle: “Husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies” (Eph. 5:28). And because of this, two lives have been ruined.

As in other works of Sigrid Undset, the two worlds, or actually prehistoric worlds, stand in firm opposition: the gloomy, instinctive world of primordial chaos, and that of God’s spirit hovering over creation. The soul of Ingunn, this child of nature, is like land untouched by the plough. There are potent seeds of germinating power therein, and life in them is stirred into tremulous motion through the ray of light which comes from the other side of the clouds. But it would be necessary that the gross clods be cultivated in order for the light to penetrate to the seeds.

Ibsen’s “Nora” is no child of nature; she has grown up rather in the milieu of modern culture. Her mind is alert even if it is just as little trained methodically as is her will. She was the darling doll of her father, and now she is her husband’s darling doll just as her children are her dolls. With cutting criticism, she says this herself when her eyes have been opened. The spoiled child is faced with decisions for which she is in no way prepared. Her husband becomes severely ill, and means are lacking for the trip which can save him. She cannot ask her father for help because he is also ill. So she endorses a note herself with his name as co-signer. Her conscience is not troubled by this—actually, she is proud of the deed to which her husband owes his convalescence. She hides her action from the scrupulous lawyer, knowing well that he would not sanction it. But when the creditor is driven to extremes by his own need and threatens exposure, it is not fear of her husband’s censure which causes her despairing decision to flee. She both fears and hopes that now the “miracle” will occur—her husband will take her guilt upon himself in his great love. But it happens quite differently. Robert Helmer has only condemnation for his wife; he considers that she is no longer worthy of raising his children. Nora recognizes herself and him for what they are in the disillusionment of this moment, that the hollowness of their life together does not deserve the name of marriage. And when the danger of social scandal is removed, when he graciously would like to forgive everything and re-establish their life again, she cannot accept his pardon. She knows that before she is able to try again to be wife and mother, she must first become a person. Certainly, Robert Helmer would also have to develop from the social figure into a human being in order that their joint life might become a marriage.

In Goethe’s Iphigenie, a bizarre decree tore Iphigenie in early youth from the circle of her beloved family and led her to a strange, barbarian people. The hand of the gods delivered her from certain death for holy service in the quiet of the temple. The mysterious priestess is honored like a saint. But she is unhappy here. She yearns always for return to her home. She firmly declines the king’s courtship in order not to cut herself off from this return. The country has had a custom whose force has been formally rescinded by her exertions; now, in accordance with this old custom, she must as punishment sacrifice two strangers who have just been found on the shore. They are Greeks, one of them her brother. Her longing to see one of her own once again is fulfilled. But he is defiled by matricide, agonized by remorse to the point of madness. He is destined for death at her hand. The old curse of her house, from which she appeared until now to be free, threatens to be fulfilled in her also. Faced with the choice whether to save her brother, his friend, and herself through lies and deceit or to abandon all of them to ruin, she first believes that she must choose the “lesser evil.” But her pure soul is not able to bear untruthfulness and breach of trust; she defends herself against these as does a healthy nature against germs of fatal disease. Trusting in the veracity of the gods and the nobility of the king, she reveals her plan of flight to him and receives as reward the lives of those endangered and her return home. Her brother is already healed through her prayer. Now she will carry joy and reconciliation with the gods into the ancient noble house. Before we proceed to look for a common species in all three different types of women, it might be useful to discuss briefly the relation of these types to reality. Are we not dealing here with pure creatures of poetic imagination? With what right, then, are we able to use them to gain insight into real psychic existence? For a solution of this difficulty, we will first try to clarify what the poetic spirit has intended to convey in each of these types.

Hardly anyone could conceive of Sigrid Undset’s work as L’art pour l’art [Art for art’s sake]. Her creativity is reckless confession. Indeed, one has the impression that she is compelled to express that which presses upon her as brutal reality. And I believe that whoever gazes into life as sincerely and soberly as she did will not be able to deny that the types she represents are real, even if they are chosen with a certain bias. There is obviously a method in this one-sidedness: she wishes to emphasize the animal-instinct to better reveal the inadequacies of a mendacious idealism or an exaggerated intellectualism in dealing with earthy reality.

The figure of Nora was created by a man who wishes to adopt entirely the woman’s perspective, a man who has made the cause of woman and the feminist movement his own. His heroine is chosen from this point of view—but she is precisely chosen and depicted with keenest analysis; she is not invented arbitrarily nor constructed rationalistically. The strength and consequence of her thought and action may be surprising in contrast to what has previously transpired; she may be unusual, yet her action is not an improbable or a completely impossible one.

The classical lineaments, the simple grandeur and exalted simplicity of Goethe’s most noble female character may appear at first glance to the modern person as most nearly removed from reality. And idealism is certainly under consideration here; but again, this is no construction of fantasy but rather an idealized image which is envisioned, experienced, and empathized from life itself. From his inner depths and free of all biased perspective, the great artist has presented in almost sculptural form a vision which embraces both reine Menschlichkeit [pure humanity] and Ewig-Weibliches [the eternal feminine]. And we are gripped, as only total purity and eternal truth can grip us.

So much for the “reality” of these types. Do these three women have anything in common? They come from different worlds in the writings themselves; also, they are the creation of very different writers. No traditional discipline shaped the soul of Ingunn, a child of nature; Nora, the doll of The Doll’s House, inhibited by artificial social conventions, asserts nevertheless her healthy instinct to cast off these fetters in order to take her life into her own hands and refashion it freely. Iphigenie, the priestess in the sacred temple, has surpassed nature through union with the godhead and has entered into supernatural clarity. These three women share one common characteristic: a longing to give love and to receive love, and in this respect a yearning to be raised above a narrow, day-to-day existence into the realm of a higher being.

Ingunn’s dream is to live at Olaf’s side in a manor and to have many children. In her torpor, she is unable to imagine any other pattern of existence and consciously to choose another. And when the exterior union with her spouse finally comes as the only fulfillment, it is the physical side of the relationship to which she clings with all her life energy. In so doing, she does not find the longed-for happiness; but she knows no other way to find it or even to look for it, and she remains with what she does have.

Nora’s real life, concealed behind her “doll’s” existence of which she is at first scarcely aware, consists in waiting for the miraculous, which is nothing else but the end of her puppet existence, the breaking forth of great love which will reveal the true being of her spouse and of herself. And as there is no response from her husband, as she becomes aware that nothing exists behind his mask of social convention, she is determined to make the effort alone to break through to her true being, to its very core.

With Iphigenie, it is no longer a question of the breakthrough to true being; she has already achieved true being, in having reached the highest level of human perfection; she has only to put it to the test and to allow it to have its effect. She longs that the level of being she has reached will serve as an instrument of that redeeming love which is her true destiny.

Do these examples suitably illustrate the essence of woman’s soul? We could, of course, provide here just as many types of women as you like; however, I believe, just as long as they are types of women, we will always find fundamentally the compulsion to become what the soul should be, the drive to allow the latent humanity, set in her precisely in its individual stamp, to ripen to the greatest possible perfect development. The deepest feminine yearning is to achieve a loving union which, in its development, validates this maturation and simultaneously stimulates and furthers the desire for perfection in others; this yearning can express itself in the most diverse forms, and some of these forms may appear distorted, even degenerate. As we shall show, such yearning is an essential aspect of the eternal destiny of woman. It is not simply a human longing but is specifically feminine and opposed to the specifically masculine nature. Man’s essential desires reveal themselves in action, work, and objective achievements. He is less concerned with problems of being, whether his own or of others. Certainly being and doing cannot be wholly separated. The human soul is not a complete, static, unchanging, monolithic existence. It is being in the state of becoming and in the process of becoming; the soul must bring to fruition those predispositions with which it was endowed when coming into the world; however, it can develop them only through activation. Thus woman can achieve perfect development of her personality only by activating her spiritual powers. So do men, even without envisaging it as a goal, work in the same way when they endeavor to perform anything objectively. In both instances the structure of the soul is fundamentally the same. The soul is housed in a body on whose vigor and health its own vigor and health depend—even if not exclusively nor simply. On the other hand, the body receives its nature as body—life, motion, form, gestalt, and spiritual significance—through the soul. The world of the spirit is founded on sensuousness which is spiritual as much as physical: the intellect, knowing its activity to be rational, reveals a world; the will intervenes creatively and formatively in this world; the emotion receives this world inwardly and puts it to the test. But the extent and relationship of these powers vary from one individual to another, and particularly from man to woman.

I would also like to believe that even the relationship of soul and body is not completely similar in man and woman; with woman, the soul’s union with the body is naturally more intimately emphasized. (I would like to underline the term “naturally,” for there is—as I have at one time intimated—the possibility of an extensive emancipation of the soul from the body, which now, oddly enough, seems to be more easily accomplished normally in the case of woman.) Woman’s soul is present and lives more intensely in all parts of the body, and it is inwardly affected by that which happens to the body; whereas, with men, the body has more pronouncedly the character of an instrument which serves them in their work and which is accompanied by a certain detachment. This is closely related to the vocation of motherhood. The task of assimilating in oneself a living being which is evolving and growing, of containing and nourishing it, signifies a definite end in itself. Moreover, the mysterious process of the formation of a new creature in the maternal organism represents such an intimate unity of the physical and spiritual that one is well able to understand that this unity imposes itself on the entire nature of woman. But a certain danger is involved here. If the correct, natural order is to exist between soul and body (i.e., the order as it corresponds to unfallen nature), then the necessary nourishment, care, and exercise must be provided for the healthy organism’s smooth function. As soon as more physical satisfaction is given to the body, and it corresponds to its corrupted nature to demand more, then it results in a decline of spiritual existence. Instead of controlling and spiritualizing the body, the soul is controlled by it; and the body loses accordingly in its character as a human body. The more intimate the relationship of the soul and body is, just so will the danger of the spiritual decline be greater. (On the other hand, certainly, there is also the greater possibility here that the soul will spiritualize the body.)

Now, after considering the relationship of soul and body, let us turn to the interrelationship of the spiritual faculties. We see that they are in a state of interdependence—one cannot exist without the other. Intellectual cognition of reality is the necessary point of departure for emotional response. The incitements of the emotions are the mainsprings of the will; on the other hand, the concern of the will is to regulate intellectual activity and emotional life. But the faculties are in no manner equally dispensed and developed. Man’s endeavor is exerted to be effective in cognitive and creative action. The strength of woman lies in the emotional life. This is in accord with her attitude toward personal being itself. For the soul perceives its own being in the stirrings of the emotions. Through the emotions, it comes to know what it is and how it is; it also grasps through them the relationship of another being to itself, and then, consequently, the significance of the inherent value of exterior things; of unfamiliar people and impersonal things. The emotions, the essential organ for comprehension of the existent in its totality and in its peculiarity, occupy the center of her being. They condition that struggle to develop herself to a wholeness and to help others to a corresponding development, which we have found earlier to be characteristic of woman’s soul. Therein, she is better protected by nature against a one-sided activation and development of her faculties than man is. On the other hand, she is less qualified for outstanding achievements in an objective field, achievements which are always purchased by a one-sided concentration of all spiritual faculties; and this characteristic struggle for development also exposes her more intensely to the danger of fragmentation. Then, too, the one-sidedness, to which by nature she inclines, is particularly dangerous: unilateral emotional development.

We have attributed much importance to emotion in the total organismus of spiritual being. It has an essential cognitive function: it is the central pivot by which reception of the existent is transmuted into personal opinion and action. But it cannot execute its function without the cooperation of intellect and will, nor can it attain cognitive performance without the preparation of the intellect. Intellect is the light which illuminates its path, and without this light, emotion changes back and forth. In fact, if emotion prevails over the intellect, it is able to obscure the light and distort the picture of the entire world just as of individual things and events and drive the will into erroneous practice. Emotional stirrings need the control of reason and the direction of the will. The will does not reach any absolute power for invoking or suppressing emotional reactions, but it does adhere to its freedom to permit or to restrict the development of mounting agitations. Where discipline of mind and will are lacking, emotional life becomes a compulsion without secure direction. And because it always needs some stimulation for its activity, it becomes addicted to sensuality, lacking the guidance of the higher spiritual faculties. Thus given the intimate union of body and soul, it results in the decline of spiritual life to that of the sensuous-animalistic one.

Consequently, only if its faculties are correspondingly trained will the feminine soul be able to mature to that state conformable to its true nature. The concrete feminine types which we have cited represent to us not only diverse natural predispositions but also diverse formative levels of the soul of woman. We have seen in Ingunn a woman’s soul which was nearly like unformed matter but which still permitted intuitions of its capacities. Another, Nora, through the influences of chance and social conventions, had found a certain formation but not that proper to her. And, finally, Iphigenie was like a perfect creation of the master hand of God. This presents us with the task of investigating what the formative powers are through which woman’s soul can be led to the nature for which it is intended and can be protected from the degeneration with which it is threatened.


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The hermits of Carmel lived as sons of the great prophet and as “brothers of the Blessed Virgin.” St Berthold organized them as cenobites, and at the instigation of St Brocard, the spirit which they had received from their predecessors was laid down in our holy Rule. Around 1200, it was given to the Order by St Albert, the patriarch of Jerusalem, and authorized by Pope Innocent IV in 1247. It also condenses the entire meaning of our life in a short statement: “All are to remain in their own cells…, meditating on the Law of the Lord day and night and watching in prayer, unless otherwise justly employed.” “To watch in prayer” this is to say the same thing that Elijah said with the words, “to stand before the face of God.” Prayer is looking up into the face of the Eternal. We can do this only when the spirit is awake in its innermost depths, freed from all earthly occupations and pleasures that benumb it. Being awake in body does not guarantee this consciousness, nor does rest required by nature interfere. “To meditate on the Law of the Lord” this can be a form of prayer when we take prayer in its usual broad sense. But if we think of “watching in prayer” as being immersed in God, which is characteristic of contemplation, then meditation on the Law is only a means to contemplation.

What is meant by “the Law of the Lord”? Psalm 118 which we pray every Sunday and on solemnities at Prime, is entirely filled with the command to know the Law and to be led by it through life. The Psalmist was certainly thinking of the Law of the Old Covenant. Knowing it actually did require life-long study and fulfilling it, life-long exertion of the will. But the Lord has freed us from the yoke of this Law. We can consider the Savior’s great commandment of love, which he says includes the whole Law and the Prophets, as the Law of the New Covenant. Perfect love of God and of neighbor can certainly be a subject worthy of an entire lifetime of meditation. But we understand the Law of the New Covenant, even better, to be the Lord himself, since he has in fact lived as an example for us of the life we should live. We thus fulfill our Rule when we hold the image of the Lord continually before our eyes in order to make ourselves like him. We can never finish studying the Gospels.

But we have the Savior not only in the form of reports of witnesses to his life. He is present to us in the most Blessed Sacrament. The hours of adoration before the Highest Good and the listening for the voice of the eucharistic God are simultaneously “meditation on the Law of the Lord” and “watching in prayer.” But the highest level is reached “when the Law is deep within our hearts” (Ps 40:8), when we are so united with the triune God whose temple we are, that his Spirit rules all we do or do not do. Then it does not mean we are forsaking the Lord when we do the work that obedience requires of us. Work is unavoidable as long as we are subject to nature’s laws and to the necessities of life. And, following the word and example of the apostle Paul, our holy Rule commands us to earn our bread by the work of our hands. But for us this work is always merely a means and must never be an end in itself. To stand before the face of God continues to be the real content of our lives.

Islam’s conquest of the Holy Land drove the hermit brothers from Carmel. Only for the past 300 years has our Order again had a shrine of the Mother of God on the holy mountain. The transition from solitude into the everyday life of Western culture led to a falsification of the original spirit of the Order. The protective walls of separation, of rigorous penance and of silence fell, and the pleasures and cares of the world pressed through the opened gates. The monastery of the Incarnation in Avila, which our Holy Mother entered in the year 1535, was such a monastery of the mitigated Rule. For decades she endured the conflict between the snares of worldly relationships and the pull of undivided surrender to God. But the Lord allowed her no rest until she let go of everything that bound her and really became serious about recognizing that God alone suffices.

The great schism of faith that was tearing Europe apart during her time, the loss of so many souls, aroused in her the passionate desire to stop the harm and to offer the Lord recompense. Whereupon God gave her the idea of taking a little flock of selected souls and founding a monastery according to the original Rule and of serving him there with the greatest perfection. After innumerable battles and difficulties, she was able to found the monastery of St Joseph in Avila. Her great work of reform grew from there. At her death she left behind 36 monasteries of women and men of the strict observance, the new branch of the Order, the “Discalced” Carmelites. The monasteries of the reform were to be places where the spirit of the ancient Carmel was to live again. The re-established original Rule and the Constitutions drawn up by the saint herself form the fence by means of which she intended to protect her vineyards against the dangers from without. Her writings on prayer, the most complete and most animated presentation of the inner life, are the precious legacy through which her spirit continues to work among us. (I have published a very concise presentation of her life in the collection “Kleine Lebensbilder” [Freiburg (Switzerland): Kanisiuswerkes, 1934].) It is the ancient spirit of Carmel. However, influenced by the battles over faith raging in her time, she gave stronger emphasis than did the primitive Carmel to the thought of reparation and of supporting the servants of the church who withstood the enemy in the front lines.

As our second father and leader, we revere the first male Discalced Carmelite of the reform, St John of the Cross. We find in him the ancient eremitical spirit in its purest form. His life gives an impression as though he had no inner struggles. Just as from his earliest childhood he was under the special protection of the Mother of God, so from the time he reached the age of reason, he was drawn to rigorous penance, solitude, to letting go of everything earthly, and to union with God. He was the instrument chosen to be an example and to teach the reformed Carmel the spirit of Holy Father Elijah. Together with Mother Teresa, he spiritually formed the first generation of male and female Discalced Carmelites, and through his writings, he also illumines for us the way on the “Ascent of Mount Carmel.”

The daughters of St Teresa, personally trained by her and Father John, founded the first monasteries of the reform in France and Belgium. From there the Order also soon advanced into the Rhineland. The great French Revolution and the Kulturkampf in Germany tried to suppress it by force. But as soon as the pressure abated, it sprang to life again. It was in this garden that the “little white flower” [i.e., St. Thérèse of Lisieux] bloomed, so quickly captivating hearts far beyond the boundaries of the Order, not only as a worker of miracles for those in need, but also as a director of “little souls” on the path of “spiritual childhood.” Many people came to know of this path through her, but very few know that it is not really a new discovery, but the path onto which life in Carmel pushes us. The greatness of the young saint was that she recognized this path with ingenious deduction and that she followed it with heroic decisiveness to the end. The walls of our monasteries enclose a narrow space. To erect the structure of holiness in it, one must dig deep and build high, must descend into the depths of the dark night of one’s own nothingness in order to be raised up high into the sunlight of divine love and compassion.

Not every century produces a work of reform as powerful as that of our Holy Mother. Nor does every age give us a reign of terror during which we have the opportunity to lay our heads on the executioner’s block for our faith and for the ideal of our Order as did the 16 Carmelites of Compiegne. But all who enter Carmel must give themselves wholly to the Lord. Only one who values her little place in the choir before the tabernacle more highly than all the splendor of the world can live here, can then truly find a joy that no worldly splendor has to offer.

Our daily schedule ensures us of hours for solitary dialogue with the Lord, and these are the foundation of our life. Together with priests and other ancient Orders of the church, we pray the Liturgy of the Hours, and this Divine Office is for us as for them our first and most sacred duty. But it is not for us the supporting ground. No human eye can see what God does in the soul during hours of inner prayer. It is grace upon grace. And all of life’s other hours are our thanks for them.

Carmelites can repay God’s love by their everyday lives in no other way than by carrying out their daily duties faithfully in every respect all the little sacrifices that a regimen structured day after day in all its details demands of an active spirit; all the self-control that living in close proximity with different kinds of people continually requires and that is achieved with a loving smile; letting no opportunity go by for serving others in love. Finally, crowning this is the personal sacrifice that the Lord may impose on the individual soul. This is the “little way,” a bouquet of insignificant little blossoms which are daily placed before the Almighty perhaps a silent, life-long martyrdom that no one suspects and that is at the same time a source of deep peace and hearty joyousness and a fountain of grace that bubbles over everything we do not know where it goes, and the people whom it reaches do not know from where it comes.