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Title: The Life and Thought of
St. Edith Stein
 

Author: Freda Mary Oben, Ph D 
ISBN: 0-8189-0846-7 
Paperback: x + 164 pp., illustrated 
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As a child and adult, Edith Stein made love of family, friends, and the whole human race a priority in her life. As a German during World War I, she wanted to serve and to heal which she did as a Red Cross nurse. As a woman she wanted to fight for women's rights which she did as a very young suffragette and leader of the Catholic Women's Movement in Europe. Her hunger was to learn, to understand truth and to philosophize. Her seminal work as philosopher and theologian wedded phenomenology to scholasticism and brought her wide acclaim as an innovative thinker. As a convert to Catholicism she wanted to be faithful to her Jewish heritage in imitation of Christ's passion, and to expiate for the human sins which caused the Shoah. And she did all three -- to the point of martyrdom. This is the story of her life and thought.
 

Dr. Freda Mary Oben is a noted authority on the life and works of Edith Stein. Like Edith, she is a convert from Judaism. She received a Ph.D. in literature from the Catholic University of America, has taught and lectured widely, and has written for several journals. Her first work for Alba House (1988), Edith Stein: Scholar, Feminist, Saint was highly praised in both Catholic and Jewish circles.

Reviews

          "Oben has written and lectured amply on Stein. Her second book (following Edith Stein: Scholar, Feminist, Saint, New York: Alba House, 1988) seeks to expound Stein's essential contributions in three areas: her life, her thought, and her effect on Jewish-Christian dialogue.
          Oben essentially follows Stein's own autobiography, Life in a Jewish Family, enriched by conversations with living relatives. The extent to which life in Stein's family (devout mother, nonobservant children) was actually Jewish is never adequately addressed, and Stein's conversion is presented as a confluence of circumstances and spiritual more than cultural factors. Oben's treatment of Stein's scholarly career as a disciple of Husserl includes a simple explanation of the phenomenological method and a short summary of Stein's comparative study of Husserl and Aquinas. The period from Stein's religious vocation up until her death at Auschwitz provides the occasion for a presentation of her spirituality through a series of personalized reflections set off against an outline of her magnum opus, Finite and Eternal Being (1952), finished by Stein in a Carmelite convent.
          Oben next presents three foci of Stein's philosophical works: the role and dignity of woman, the centrality of the person, and the relation of the individual to society. A nice, thorough outline of the first stands against the background of the education of young women in pre-war Germany, including Oben's own dramatization of what Stein might have to say to the young women of today. Oben follows with an account of Stein's philosophical thought, initially drawn from Stein's doctoral dissertation, On the Problem of Empathy (Stein's philosophy of the person), and then from later sources: Finite and Eternal Being, various essays, and Science of the Cross (a theological work, written toward the end of Stein's life), to establish Stein's credentials as a Christian philosopher in the Thomist tradition, referring in passing to the contemporary debate surrounding the personhood of the human embryo. Oben then deals briefly with Stein's philosophy of community, extracting from Finite and Eternal Being, On the Problem of Empathy and her essays and poems.
          Finally, Oben details the process leading to the beatification and canonization of Stein, including first-person accounts of the accompanying ceremonies. Recent controversy surrounding Stein's canonization as a Catholic saint essentially turns on whether Stein should be considered a martyr from a Catholic or Jewish perspective; Oben, a Jewish-Catholic convert, makes one particularly salient point, ignored by most other sources: Stein's arrest and subsequent deportation was part of a reprisal against the Catholic Church for protesting the deportation of Jews and the exclusion of Jewish children from Catholic schools (the only schools that they could still attend). Against objections that Stein died only on account of Nazi hatred of her Jewish heritage, Oben explains that Jewish-Protestant converts were released, while Jewish-Catholic converts (Stein included) were deported to Auschwitz. Stein is best seen, as she saw herself, as a Catholic who never stopped being also a Jew. This detail, of interest to philosophers of religion, also renders more intelligible the recent resurgence of interest in Stein among Catholic thinkers engaged in interreligious dialogue with Judaism. If Stein died because of hatred of the Catholic faith, then, by Catholic definition, she is a Cathoic martyr; Stein's own perspective offers an insight into her thought on the different levels of membership in a community: her last will and testament (1939) contains a prescient act of self-offering 'as an expiation for the unbelief of the Jewish people, so that the Lord will be accepted by his own' (p. 55). Oben's philological analysis reveals that Stein's concern as a Catholic was not for Jews to become Catholics, but to be better Jews. In this respect, Oben's work is a valuable contribution to the emerging portrait of a woman held in common veneration by two faiths.
          This book was originally published as an album of taped, popular lectures (Edith Stein: A Saint for Our Times, ICS, n.d.). Philosophers may find its resulting colloquial tone distracting, and its imperfect inclusion of essential scholarly apparatus less than satisfying. Oben does make an honest attempt to approximate Stein's philosophical thought, and her summaries of Stein's writings can be useful for indicating a direction for further study. Her application of Stein's positions to certain contemporary debates permits her to present Stein's thought in a concrete manner and to broaden its presentation by application to a new context. She also attempts to overcome the distressing tendency of recent biographers to deal with Stein strictly from a hagiographical standpoint, to the exclusion of her philosophical works. Within her area of competency (literature), Oben gives an able description of the whole of Stein's works." --Review of Metaphysics, January 2003

"Freda Oben's Edith Stein: Scholar, Feminist, Saint is now in its sixth printing. This new book expands that earlier work. The topics discussed include St. Edith's Jewishness; her life as a Carmelite; her philosophy of women, of the person, and of the person in society; ecumenical problems surrounding her beatification and canonization; the nature of sainthood and her meaning for the third millennium". --Theology Digest, Spring 2002

"One of the book's virtues lies in the author's attempt to avoid the type of writing that portrays a saint as a one-dimensional figure oblivious to evil forces in the world. Oben describes Stein's struggle as a woman who moved in the highest circles of Germany's intelligentsia but who was never fully accepted because of her gender. Even after her death, Stein's life remains difficult to assess. The book includes the perplexed reactions of many Jews to her canonization and the belief expressed by many in the Jewish community that her canonization was an attempt to convert Jews to Christianity. The dismay increased after plans were announced to build a Carmel near Auschwits. After reading this book, one should expect to understand the major forces and events in Stein's life. She was a woman who, after finally managing to unite will and mind, surrendered herself completely to God and so became a tireless messenger of God during a very dark and weary moment in human history." --Matthew Kessler, C.Ss.R. in Liguorian, February 2002

"When the controversy over the canonization of Saint Edith Stein was raging in 1998, a Methodist minister approached me about locating a brief book that would introduce the life and thought of this controversial woman. I have looked since that time and was delighted to find The Life and Thought of Saint Edith Stein by Freda Mary Oben, Ph.D., arrive in the mail because it is exactly what the two of us had been looking for. Freda Mary Oben is a Jewish convert to Catholicism and something of a scholarly expert on Saint Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is her religious name). Her most notable work is Edith Stein: Scholar, Feminist, Saint. This book expands the philosophical treatment of the earlier book and provides new insight into the psychological make-up of the saint. The Life and Thought of Saint Edith Stein can be divided into three sections -- the life and martyrdom, three main philosophical themes of the saint's work, and the canonization process with its attendant controversies. I thought the depiction of the saint's Jewish roots were vivid and I was able to place her philosophical works in the historical context of pre-World War II Germany and the circle around Husserl. As an introduction to this very modern saint, Freda Mary Oben's The Life and Thought of Saint Edith Stein is worth reading and adding to one's library. I do not hesitate to hand it on to my Methodist friend. --Rev. Don Piraro in The Priest, October 2001

"St. Edith Stein is one of the most fascinating--and controversial--saints of modern times. Publications by and about her have multiplied since her beatification in 1987. Two new studies -- Edith Stein, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross by Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda, and The Life and Thought of St. Edith Stein by Freda Mary Oben, reflect growing interest in this remarkable holy woman. Scaperlanda's book... stresses life and context. Oben puts St. Edith's ideas into popular language and applies them to contemporary issues. A key theme for both authors is St. Edith's unswerving commitment to truth. Pope John Paul II -- whom she influenced -- praises her discovery that 'Truth had a name: Jesus Christ.' The arc of this discovery determined St. Edith's life... Scaperlanda calls St. Edith 'passionate, purposeful, faithful and committed.' Oben admires the integration of her personality. Her brilliance was happily joined to empathy -- she learned from people as well as books... Both authors examine her transformation from self-direction to humble surrender in God's hands... St. Edith's drive to learn, her capacity for concentration, tempered by religious obedience, enabled her to complete her philosophical masterwork, 'Finite and Eternal Being,' in only nine months, despite long hours at prayer. Because St. Edith refused to let it be published under a Gentile's name, anti-Jewish laws kept it out of print in her lifetime. Determined to share the sufferings of her persecuted people, St. Edith learned 'the science of the cross' as Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross... The cross that led her to death at Auschwitz was her ultimate truth, but accepted with love, it became her path to ultimate glory." --S.M. in Our Sunday Visitor, November 4, 2001

"Oben's summary of St. Edith Stein's synthesis of scholasticism and phenomenology is extremely helpful for understanding its continuing significance for Catholic thought today. I came away with the conviction that, in addition to being named a martyr of the Church, a very good case can be made that St. Edith Stein also should be named a doctor of the Church, one of very few women to be so honored. Oben is herself a Jewish convert to Catholicism who, like St. Edith Stein, maintains a deep sense of her Jewishness and of the respect Judaism is owed as a religion integral to itself and founded on divine revelation. This gives her a special sensitivity to the positive influence on future generations of Catholics that veneration of St. Edith Stein can have. The saint who died with and for her fellow Jews will always remain a goad to the conscience of Christians. She is a perpetual reminder on the Christian calendar of the utter sinfulness of anti-Semitism and the very real dangers of corruption of the faith when Christians fall -- as they did so often and for so many centuries leading up to the Holocaust -- into the twin heresies of supersessionism (the idea that Christianity has 'taken the place' of Judaism in God's heart) and triumphalism (the idea that Christianity is somehow 'superior' to Judaism, as if God played such petty games of favoritism with the history of salvation). What should emerge from Christian contemplation of St. Edith Stein's life and profound thought is a renewed appreciation of the mystery of salvation itself. It is a mystery in which the Church and the Jewish people are called, together and not in opposition, to witness to the infinite love and mercy of the one God of Israel who has called us both into being in order that we may prepare the way for the coming of God's Kingdom. --Dr. Eugene Fisher, Associate Director of the US conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs

"To devotees of Edith Stein, the name Freda Mary Oben is already familiar: an American authority on the saint, and author of Edith Stein: Scholar, Feminist, Saint (1988) which explains Edith's life, feminism and relationship to the Holocaust. Oben's latest book is likely to become just as popular and even more acclaimed. The Life and Thought of St. Edith Stein is in three parts. Firstly the saint's life-story -- readable, full of verve and detail. Far more than a mere introduction, it conveys an in-depth knowledge of the many areas of her life, as well as containing new information. This is partly owing to the author's forty years of research on Edith, and partly thanks to her having visited the Cologne and Echt Carmels and listened to reminiscences from nuns who knew Edith. They spoke, for example, of the role of the Dutch Resistance and of Edith's repeated refusals to go into hiding;. Also very moving is an interview with the prioress of Echt who described the sadness on Edith's face as the Jewish situation worsened, and which she continually strove to hide with a smile. Oben, herself a Catholic convert from Judaism, writes with real understanding of Edith's family: the mother 'strong in love, courage and industry'; the turmoil both for Edith as a new convert and for her surrounding family; and the genuinely religious disposition of Auguste Stein which enabled her to recognise that 'grace had taken over the entire being of her daughter.' The second and most substantial part is devoted to Edith's philosophy, given as a study of three themes: the woman; the person; the person in society. Oben is a specialist in the first area -- she is actually the translator of Edith's Essays on Woman publised by ICS. Of particular value in this section is the way the author compares Edith's writings with church documents throughout the ages, and situates her against the backdrop of German education in her times -- thus highlighting Edith's uphill task to promote the right education for women in 'both secondary education in general and Catholic education in particular.' In an engaging section, "Edith Stein's Message to the Young Woman," Oben, herself a lecturer, attempts to recreate the atmosphere of Edith's talks, partly in the form of an imaginary lecture that draws together Edith's key ideas on the nature of woman and her advice on how to attain 'totality of being.' Oben then develops the 'person' -- the hallmark of Edith's philosophy -- from Edith's phenomenology based on reason alone, through to her Christian philosophy supported also by grace and revelation. The body, soul and spirit -- as Edith structures the human being -- are seen to unfold from being the three basic elements of the person into a reflection of the Trinity: 'inner word' 'source of life,' and 'selfless flow of spirit.' Oben then gives a short excursus on the human embryo, isolating points from Edith's writings which could serve as potent arguments against legalising abortion. Discussing the person in society, Oben develops, this time, the theme of empathy in Edith's writings: from communication between individuals to life in community and in the state. This is a highly topical section, covering issues of human rights and justice. Edith's many and complex arguments are rendered admirably accessible by Oben's style, where paragraphs open, 'Then she asks...,' or 'One wonders...,' and answers begin, 'Edith writes....' Overall, the author does justice to Edith's thought: the discussion is brief, but it gives the main points in a nutshell. The final part, 'Ecumenism and Edith Stein,' is more strictly concerned with Judaism and Christianity. Present at the ceremonies of beatification and canonisation, the author gives a lively eyewitness account of the proceedings. She then explains the accompanying controversy. The real merit of this section is the level of subtelty: Oben's understanding of both Jewish and Catholic perspectives; and her charting the waxing and waning of the controversy, rather than merely stating stark positions. Inter-faith dialogue in the time between Edith's becoming a 'blessed' and a 'saint' has done much to reduce hostility and fear. The fact remains, however, that Edith Stein technically abandoned Judaism and even represents someone considered as praying for the conversion of the Jews; in this light, she is bound to be a stumbling-block. But, as the author reminds us, Edith was raised up 'not as a convert but as an ideal human being to be emulated by the faithful.' This book has much to offer on all levels: information, interpretation, inspiration. It is, above all, a work on a saint who has touched the author personally. 'For those of us who are followers of Christ,' writes Oben, 'there is no doubt that Edith Stein is a gift from God.' By the end of this book, the readers will not doubt it either." --Joanne Mosley in Mount Carmel, Oct-Dec 2002

"Some perspective: Challenging new work on Edith Stein comes from the pen of educator/writer, Freda Mary Oben, Ph.D. Title: The Life and Thought of St. Edith Stein; this work (following the author's book on Edith Stein published in 1988) can serve as an introduction to the saint's life and complex works as a philosopher and theologian, while making for clear and pleasant writing on its own. The author divides the compact book into three parts -- looking at Stein's approach to personal holiness, to her writings in the area of Christian philosophy, and to the fruits of her beatification and canonization. The eight chapters close with a look at "The Meaning of St. Edith Stein for the Third Millennium." --Crux of the News, August 20, 2001


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