*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 9th of August 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Today in the Roman Catholic Church is the feast of Edith Stein- a remarkable woman who converted from Judaism to Christianity was a scholar and philosopher in Germany in the early 20th century and was ultimately murdered in Auschwitz by the Nazis.
There are a few things we can break down here- first, she has a feast day because she was sainted by the Catholic Church, and not only sainted, but made a patron saint of Europe.
First, what is a patron saint? Or, in the Catholic tradition, a saint? In the Catholic tradition, one who is set apart as especially holy will be recognized by the Pope as first venerable, then beatified, and then a saint if a miracle is formally recognized.
A patron saint is a guardian or protector of certain persons, vocations, or places.
Edith Stein is recognized by the Catholic Church as one of the 6 Patron Saints of Europe. The other 5 are St. Benedict, St Bridget of Sweden, St. Catherine of Sienna, and the saints Cyril and Methodius (the brothers who helped evangelize the East). So- Stein, who was murdered on this day in 1942, is the most recent- but it’s worth noting that all six patron saints are relatively new in their recognition as patron saints of Europe.
Without getting too deep in the weeds with the making of saints in the Catholic Church, there have been two periods that saw an explosion of saints. One was in the Early Modern era, right after the Reformation and the other was in the second half of the last century. There are various theories as to why these periods saw the rapid expansion of growth in the cult of saints, but they both saw periods of church evangelization in the face of perceived threats. What better way to tie a group of people or a region back to the church than to give them their very own saint- a kind of heavenly concierge?
If you have Protestant skin that is beginning to itch, let me remind you that this whole business of making patron saints and having certain Christians elevated over others is a matter of church tradition. We probably all do this to some extent, but in the Catholic Church, it becomes a matter of dogma. Nevertheless, Edith Stein was a pretty excellent choice (and having three of the six being female seems remarkably modern for an institution not always praised as such).
Stein was born in 1891- on Yom Kippur, in Breslau Germany (now Poland). Her mother was especially devout, and this would give Edith pause when she later renounced her Jewish faith for some kind of agnosticism (her biographers tussle over words here). She went to the University of Göttingen and became interested in the philosophy of Edmund Husserl. Husserl himself was impressed with Edith enough to ask her to be his assistant at the University of Freiburg. She received her doctorate in 1916 and began teaching.
In 1921, while interested in Christianity, she read the autobiography of St. Theresa of Avila - the famous Spanish mystic. She came to faith but expressed it to others as her own “secret.” She was baptized on New Year's day in 1922 and quit her University job to teach at a Catholic girls' school.
In the early 1930s, she was forced to resign from her job as her Jewish background made her ineligible to teach under Nazi law. She decided to join a convent- the same order as Theresa of Avila- the Carmelite order. She would take the name “Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.” With Europe now on the brink of war, she transferred out of Germany to a Carmelite convent in the Netherlands- nevertheless, by 1942, the Nazis controlled Dutch territories and arrested Edith and others at her convent. Stories have been told of her compassion in the camp and her service to others' suffering. It is of note that some of her academic work was on the philosophy and phenomenology of empathy.
Edith Stein, Sister Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, was sent to her death in the gas chamber on this the 9th of August in 1942. She was beatified and then sainted by Pope John Paul II in 1998.
The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from Psalm 11:
The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord is on his heavenly throne.
He observes everyone on earth;
his eyes examine them.
The Lord examines the righteous,
but the wicked, those who love violence,
he hates with a passion.
On the wicked he will rain
fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot.
For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; the upright will see his face.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 9th of August 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by the Patron saint of coffee fearlessly and freshly roasted and delivered to you, he is Christopher Gillespie at Gillespie.coffee.
The show is written and read by the patron saint of pausing the movie and saying “actually….” I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.