Anne Costa’s Embracing Edith Stein doesn’t delve deep enough into the spirituality of the woman who was martyred at Auschwitz. Stein, at left, and her thinking needs much more than the 101 pages of Costa’s book. Register file photo.

Doing no justice to Edith Stein

By  Maria Di Paolo, Catholic Register Special
  • June 11, 2014

Embracing Edith Stein: Wisdom for Women from St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, by Anne Costa (Servant Books, Softcover, 110 pages, $13.99). 

Edith Stein was many things — a Jewish woman from Eastern Europe, a philosopher, an academic, a teacher, a writer, a feminist, a convert to Catholicism, a Carmelite nun, a victim of the Holocaust at Auschwitz, a saint (she was canonized by John Paul II in 1987) and a martyr. Stein was far from a simple person, so it must be said that setting out to write a short compilation (101 pages) of Stein’s thoughts on women and womanhood is a mighty challenge indeed. 

Anne Costa attempts this in her latest book, Embracing Edith Stein: Wisdom for Women from St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Although Stein, and her writings on women in particular, clearly have had an enormously positive influence on Costa’s life, this book fails to do justice to Stein herself. 

The book is just too short to tackle Stein’s thinking in any depth. But there are a number of other problems. Although Costa quotes extensively from Stein’s writings, mainly from her Essays on Women and from John Paul II’s “Letter to Women,” the reader is not able to get a comprehensive sense of Stein’s thinking on women because of the constant interruption of Costa’s own thoughts on the subject. This makes it harder to understand or embrace Stein, not easier. I had to turn to Stein’s own writing to figure things out. 

Many of Costa’s observations seem simplistic. For example, when reflecting on Stein’s understanding of the cross, Costa states: “… we are confronted with mounting evidence that we are on the verge of a complete cutoff from the value of redemptive suffering and self-sacrifice or the offering up of one’s comfort, or very life for another.” Is this true? From my own personal experience I can think of countless examples of people who carry the cross for others on a daily basis. Likewise, I can also think of countless counterexamples to her sweeping generalizations on the role of feminism in the breakdown of the family and on motherhood. 

It is tricky and misleading to try to extrapolate Stein’s early 20th-century thinking on feminist issues to the present day. Stein was a product of her time and place in history, as much as we are of ours. Using phrases such as, “I do believe that Edith would have been pleased …” with the statements on contraception that are expressed on the Edith Stein Foundation web site is not fair to Stein’s legacy, nor is it fair to the reader who is not familiar with Stein’s work. 

Costa has opted to insert a few points for further thought at the end of each chapter. This seems to be a trend with authors these days and I am not sure why it is felt to be helpful. It should not be necessary, and frankly can be irritating. The reader should have found enough to ponder as she or he reads through the pages of the work without needing further guidance in point form on what to think about. 

My suggestion to readers who are interested in finding out more about Edith Stein is to read Stein in her own words. Her writing on women is full of nuance and depth. It takes time to absorb what she is saying. Even if you might not agree with all that she wrote, you do get the feeling that it would have been interesting to have a discussion with her about the points of difference. 

(Di Paolo is a freelance writer in Toronto.) 

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Sorry you didn't like the book Maria. It was written intentionally as a nonacademic approach to Edith and her work, steering away from an intellectual enounter with her and more of a personal one. Many books have been and will be written about...

Sorry you didn't like the book Maria. It was written intentionally as a nonacademic approach to Edith and her work, steering away from an intellectual enounter with her and more of a personal one. Many books have been and will be written about Edith, of acourse ...each one with a different intent

Read More
There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.