Review: Edith Stein: Scholar, Feminist, Saint

Edith Stein: Scholar, Feminist, SaintEdith Stein: Scholar, Feminist, Saint by Freda Mary Oben
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Picked up this short little book at the interfaith library booksale today – it caught my eye because I recently learned about St Edith’s work on empathy while researching my thesis. It reads a bit, but not too much, like hagiography.

I hadn’t realized what an accomplished philosopher she was – her work in academia seems remarkable to me, given the times.

I find much in this brief discussion of her work that I like, but I just cannot swallow her dual-nature anthropology (ie, men and women have distinctive natures); though I do see how it qualifies as a feminist stance given the times, and the Kinder, Küche, Kirche context in which she was working. I strongly suspect her work significantly influenced JPII’s Theology of the Body (anybody know for sure?).

I confess I have not yet read most of the central chapter which discusses her work on Mary, including her role as co-redemptrix, which is another concept I find difficult to swallow. I expect I’ll read it someday.

The subtitle was a bit premature — Edith Stein was not canonized until 1998; but her story is certainly an inspiration. Her feastday is August 9th.

St. Edith, pray for us!

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10 Responses to Review: Edith Stein: Scholar, Feminist, Saint

  1. shaburtok says:

    I am interested to learn more about co-redemptrix. I know many people find it a troubling concept yet there is something quite compelling about it for me. In the same way that all of us — every single one of us have a role to play in helping Christ to be born, don’t we all have a role to play in the work of redemption, too. We are co-creators with God, co-birthers with Mary, and with Mary, co-redeemers with Jesus.

    Your thoughts?

    • It’s funny – I almost glossed that sentence with a parenthetical “well, except insofar as we are all co-redeemers of the world via our cooperation with grace and our participation as Christians in Christ’s saving work.” It sounds like that’s the kind of common participation that you have in mind, and that doesn’t trouble me overmuch; although I respect the arguments of those who worry that such an approach undermines the significance of Christ’s unique work of redemption, and I do think we have to be a bit careful there.

      But the term co-redemptrix when applied to Mary, for many Catholics of the pre-Vatican 2 generation, doesn’t mean that. As I understand it, when Mary is given the title of co-redemptrix, it is based on the reasoning that without the Incarnation, there could have been no Crucifixion or Resurrection; thus, Mary’s consent/obedience was not only necessary for, but even prior to, Christ’s saving work; thus, Mary is given the title of co-redemptrix on the grounds that her obedience/consent was necessary in order for Jesus to become our Redeemer.

      There may also be an analogous application of Paul’s reasoning when he says “Just as in Adam all died, even so in Christ shall all be made alive”: if Christ’s obedience redeemed Adam’s sin, then it seems reasonable to argue that Mary’s obedience redeemed Eve’s sin. But that line of reasoning can take us to very dubious places in rhetoric, Christology, and anthropology!

      Bestowing the title of co-redemptrix on Mary, and using that title and its reasoning to argue that she ought to be honored together with her Son, has historically been a point of extreme scandal and difficulty between Catholics and Protestants, and remains a source of ecumenical tension today.

      Thanks for your comment!

      • shaburtok says:

        Thanks for this thoughtful reply. It is helpful in understanding the concern.

        I think it was the theologian tissa balasuriya who said that anything that was for Mary is also for us. In that spirit, I do not share the concerns of Mary being accorded the title co redemptrix.

        As st teresa of Avila observed, ‘Christ has no hands but our’s’ , we also play a necessary part in the continuing redemptive work of Christ.

        I guess I am saying I agree with the mystics more than I do with the doctrinal statement makers who try to draw definitive lines in the sand about how Christ manifests in the world,

        Co-redemptrix is for me a beautiful concept. What is for Mary is for us. A beautiful thing about Christianity is our humble God who freely works with us. Christ changed that old way which puts God on the pedestal.

      • shaburtok says:

        I should add, in the same way that I like tissa, I also like Elizabeth Johnson and tin beattie’s work about reclaiming Mary. As she is elevated, so are we. She is truly our sister!

        It’s a pity if my understanding is correct that Canadian seminaries, in their supposed efforts to be modern, no longer feature any focused study of Mary for fear of elevating her. I wonder if they are stuck in left brain thinking?

        Musing here:I wonder if they suffer similar resistance to the eastern Christian concept of theosis — more mystical and real for me than the oft more emphasized Christian default leaning that weighs in more heavily on our sinfulness.

        Thanks for your good work. I enjoy it and it provokes good thought.

        • shaburtok says:

          I want to be stuck in the limitations of pre Vatican 2 thinking. I like the thinking that moves us forward in understanding, growth and both personal and communal journeys.

          • shaburtok says:

            I ‘don’t’ want to be stuck in the limitation of pre-Vatican 2 thinking. I like the thinking that moves us forward in understanding, growth and both personal and communal journeys. The concept of co-redemptrix — applied to us all as we share all that did Mary — is liberating and really lifts people up.

            Shake the old limiting Mary to somewhere between divinity and humanity concept. The ancient eastern Christian concept of theosis says it is where we all are … on a journey of divinization (consistent with our catechism)! If Mary is anything, she is a model of someone who has actualised it.

            • Thanks for all your comments! I too am a big fan of Sr. Dr. Elizabeth Johnson’s work (not only her work on Mary and seeing Mary as our sister, but also on the Trinity (She Who Is). And I have no difficulty with the concept of theosis. But I cannot ignore the ecumenical tensions around this term when it is applied to Mary.

              The only thing I have heard about Marian devotion in seminaries is that, in at least some cases, seminarians have been essentially taught that Mary is the one and only woman with whom they can have any kind of an emotional relationship, which strikes me as a bit creepy, and unhealthy in terms of their psychosexual development, as well as having very negative effects on the status of women in the church (because these men who go on to become priests and bishops and theologians never actually get to know any living women, and so their ideas about “Woman” are based on a romanticized, idealized image of Mary: from which proceeds much bad and harmful theological anthropology). So, if there are seminaries that stopped focusing on Mary, I’d wonder if that might be part of the reason as well.

  2. I’ve heard that St. Edith Stein’s work did influence Pope John Paul’s philosophy (and Theology of the Body) but I don’t know if this has been confirmed.
    I vaguely remember when she was canonized and the controversy surrounding it.. Then I took a class on the Shoah and we talked about her canonization in depth. I’m of two minds about it.
    What specifically about the co-redemptrix concept do you find difficult to swallow?

    • Thanks for your comment re: the Theology of the Body.’

      I talked about some of my difficulties with the co-redemptrix concept above; but more concisely, I suppose, my concern is that it seems to elevate Mary to some status between human and divine, even more so than the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception already can tend to. I perceive it as challenging both Mary’s full humanity, which is essential to orthodox Christology, and the uniqueness of Christ’s once-for-all salvific action.

  3. therese koturbash says:

    ecumenical tensions around Mary: I hear you on this. However I wonder if those issues emerge more in the ecumenical efforts that are being made by male leaders of various christian traditions v ecumenism that is happening naturally among women.

    on a recent pilgrimage to Rome (visiting ancient sites related to women’s leadership in the early Church), I observed that many of the other than Roman Catholic participants were very interested in learning about Mary. Marian devotion is on the rise in other christian communities, for instance, as is exemplified by interest in the rosary in some protestant communities.

    ecumenism among women seems to be facilitated more easily since no matter what faith tradition a woman comes from (variety of christian traditions, and other faith communities, too — islam, judaism, buddism, hinduism …) women have all suffered in the same ways.

    a proper understanding of Mary — which is coming through in new works about her such as those by Johnson and Beattie — is not an obstacle to ecumenism but instead a uniting opportunity.

    seminaries: I speak from a Canadian perspective. I think what’s happened is that among progressives at the time of Vatican 2, there was almost a revolt against Mary for all of the reasons that you enumerate. And that is why she has been taken off the syllabus at canadian seminaries that where seminarians i know have studied.

    perhaps a revolt was necessary to help bring things back into proper perspective. But part of the reason that i love johnson’s and beattie’s work so much is that they say there is nothing wrong with marian devotion, nothing wrong with mary, nothing wrong with keeping her in community, nothing wrong with her being significant (she was after all the mother of jesus) — what needs to happen though is that a proper perspective of her be claimd — as they do.

    we have to separate what’s been wrong with the past from what is possible for the future. it is only the wrong attitudes that need to be thrown out. not the things and people and figures who the wrong attitudes centred around.

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