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Friday, January 3, 2014

JPII, Edith Stein, and Martin Heidegger

 Edith Stein

Germany and Poland gave witness to some outstanding intellectuals in the 20th century. Of these, Joseph Ratzinger has most recently left, and will continue to leave, his mark on the world as Pope Benedict Emeritus. Likewise, I look at his older German “siblings” with even greater wonder as they rank with the likes of Dietrich Von Hildebrand, Edith Stein, Max Scheler, Martin Heidegger, and Edmund Husserl, to name a few.

Edith Stein, in particular, canonized by JPII as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross in 1998, bridges the gap between the Munich school of phenomenology (founded by Edmund Husserl in Germany), and the Lublin school of Philosophy (heavily influenced by Karol Wojtyla) in Poland. Ironically, Edith Stein was never formally a part of either “school”. She was a protégé of Husserl after the Munich School, and was executed at Auschwitz while the Lublin School was underway in Poland. Nevertheless, her contributions to what would become Personalism, from Husserl and Scheler’s phenomenology, stand out from her peers as groundbreaking work for that which she loved most: the Church.

As a non-Christian, Stein studied under Edmund Husserl from approximately 1916-1922, during which time Martin Heidegger was developing his philosophy of "Dasein" in his famous Sein und Zeit. The two, Stein and Heidegger, would take radically divergent paths in the wake of the Nazi party’s establishment of the Third Reich in Germany. They did, more or less, agree on one thing: the importance of Sein or ‘being’ in the light of the human person. The objective difference, of course, was Stein’s baptism, eventual profession of religious vows, and later execution, vs. Heidegger’s successive contributions to Nazism.

Despite Heidegger’s understanding of "Dasein", he could not help conforming to the reigning political party of his day. Even though Dasein rules out the conformity of an individual to a universal without careful deliberation, yet, such was his course of action. Perhaps like Ratzinger’s unwillingness to follow through with the Hitler youth of his day, Heidegger had unspoken reservations about Nazism, but again, the outcome of his and Ratzinger’s lives were very different. Nevertheless, Heidegger’s early work is not without merit, especially when viewed in the light of Husserl’s tutelage; and more specifically, under the lens of saints like Edith Stein, and as we will soon see, St. Augustine.

Heidegger disassociated with Husserl in a similar way to Stein, but as I said, with divergent conclusions. The only things to surface--by way of life events-- from Martin Heidegger, were lectures and writings under Nazi sponsorship. Meanwhile, Stein had much more explicit fruit from her life’s work, namely: her personal sanctification, the sanctification of others by her works, and ultimately, martyrdom for the sake of Christ.

In the end, Heidegger’s life was not without inspiration for others. Craig John Neuman De Paulo, a knight of Malta, published a study in 1998 introducing “Augustinian Phenomenology” as applied to the work of Heidegger, which looked at "Dasein" through the lens of St. Augustine. De Paulo’s work is called, Being and Conversion: A Phenomenological Ontology of Radical Restlessness, and as indicated in the previous sentence, was published the same year as Teresa Benedicta of the Cross’ canonization.

 Being and Conversion--DePaulo

Indeed, Edith Stein corresponded with a Jesuit priest and Augustinian scholar from 1925-1931[1], not long after her initial conversion experience with St. Teresa of Avila’s Autobiography. The said priest was a good friend of Edmund Husserl, Erich Przywara (1889-1972)[2], and may very well have had some undocumented influence on Heidegger as well.

In De Paulo’s Being and Conversion, a view of the human person is proposed as in a state of constant restlessness between “perversio” and “conversio”, Augustinian terms for either “turning in on oneself” or “turning to the Other”. Heidegger's "Dasein" partially describes this restlessness, which would have very nearly met with the agreement of Edith Stein’s Endliches und Ewiges Sein.

But, in her magnum opus, she refutes both Husserl and Heidegger’s failure to address the eternal significance of the human person in their phenomenology. Thus, the dynamic (between ‘perversio’ and ‘conversio’) proposed first by Augustine, and re-proposed by De Paulo, must be viewed in the light of eternity. This importance of perspective and ultimately, relationship with God, is precisely where Edith Stein departs from both Husserl and Heidegger in Endliches und Ewiges Sein, and is seen to be lived out in her own conversion to Catholicism.

The key term Stein uses in Endliches und Ewiges Sein that corresponds nicely with both Augustine and De Paulo’s dynamic is: “individuelles Wesen”[3] or “individual form/essence” as related, or reciprocal, to community. Where Heidegger chose to surround himself with the Nazi party, Stein sought friendships based on virtue and eternal significance. She entered religious life and found the solution to this constant dynamic of restlessness so characteristic of the world, “perversio and conversio”. She knew the importance of surrounding oneself with other individuals who have the same understanding of personal significance in the light of eternity.

It was at the Carmelite convent in Cologne, Germany that she completed Endliches und Ewiges Sein. Not long after, she would be hunted down for having jewish ancestry and taken to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

I can only marvel at how much more impact Edith Stein would have had on the two European schools of philosophy (Munich and Lublin), had she lived as long as Martin Heidegger, Dietrich Von Hildebrand, or even Joseph Ratzinger. Yet, we have the testimony of a life lived in truth, virtue, and oriented towards the Eternal in the midst of so many diverse men of genius who had just as much, if not more, access to the same resources. Edith Stein is a witness to the grace of God in thought, decision, and action.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, ora pro nobis!


[1] Sarah Sharkey. Thine Own Self: Individuality in Edith Stein’s Later Writings, 2010. Reviewed by Dermot Moran.

[2] Erich Przywara, Analogia Entis (Munich, 1932), a translation by John Betz and David Bentley Hart. *My note: Edmund Husserl is more often associated with the philosophy of Aristotle and Aquinas. It follows that although Stein was also influenced by Aquinas, she did not consider herself a ‘neo-Thomist’, and may have been much more acquainted with works of the Carmelites and St. Augustine.

[3] Marianne Sawicki, Ph.D. “Personal Connections: The Phenomenology of Edith Stein”. 1998, Hesburgh Library, ND.


FUSalumn said...

two distinct but inseparable realities, each fulfilling the other and both ordained to an ultimate unity that we cannot as yet envisage…it is dual, without multiplying the unity by two; it is simply two poles of a single reality, two diverse presences of a single being, two entia in a single esse, one existence in two lives; but by no means two different fragments of a whole, to be fitted together like a puzzle.
As quoted in Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory. II: Dramatis Personae: Man in God, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), 365-366

FUSalumn said...

What Edith Stein means by "man's essence is a certain 'expression' of existence: as man or woman"
JPII TB,p.45=
Their unity denotes above all the identity of human nature; their duality, on the other hand, manifests what, on the basis of this identity, constitutes the masculinity and femininity of created man.”

FUSalumn said...

Grabowski on Scola:
As a means to further elaborate on the concept of “dual unity,” Scola has coined a new term: “asymmetrical reciprocity.” By “reciprocal” he means to say that “there exists another modality other than my own for embodying the total identity (corpore et anima unus) of the human person, namely, that of the woman.”259 The other, in this case, the woman, “is presented to me as identical in her own being as a person but, at the same time, because of sexual difference, she reveals to me a radical difference that distinguishes her from me at all levels.

VanHove said...


overview of Phenomenology and Social Encyclicals

Paulo said...

TMiY on Stein:

Phenom said...


On Stein and Hildebrand