St. Edith Stein, or St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, has always been a saint I thought I would love. A modern martyr, an extraordinary philosopher, a thoroughly Catholic feminist, a woman of deep compassion and joy and a Carmelite to boot!
Whenever I’ve tried to read her though, or stumbled across quotes from her, she always left me cold and more than a little confused. As much as I loved the idea of Edith, Edith herself remained elusive. So when I saw Embracing Edith Stein: Wisdom for Women from St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, I just knew I had to read it.
What a revelation it’s been!
Embracing Edith Stein is an excellent introduction to the thought of St Teresa Benedicta’s thought on women.
The first chapter is on the life of Edith, truly an amazing story, and the second on her conviction that “what we [women] need to possess is an inherent and soul-deep understanding of our dignity and worth as women in the eyes of God.” Anne Costa does an admirable job of unpacking thought, particularly her characterisation of the feminine soul as “expansive, quiet, empty of self, warm and clear.”
Most of the book is devoted to the four qualities at the heart of femininity: receptivity, generosity, sensitivity and maternity. Here, Anne presents each of these qualities in turn, drawing on the writings of both St Teresa and St John Paul II’s writings. She writes glowingly of the goodness and beauty of femininity. At the same time — and I particularly appreciated this! — she doesn’t shy away from presenting Edith’s words on how these qualities can be distorted and warped.
I’ve always been very wary of normative descriptions of femininity — or indeed masculinity. But given time, more reading and a whole lot of healing for my own feminine soul, I could easily become an Edith addict!
Both secular feminism and strict religious complementarism have made me distrust this deepest reality of my soul. Both implied that being feminine was dangerous. If you embrace your femininity, you’ll lose yourself.
The genius of St Edith Stein’s work is that she says Yes! If you embrace your feminine heart in all its beauty, complexity and grandeur, you will lose yourself — because you were made to lose yourself. But if you lose yourself in the Eucharistic Love of God, you will gain God and yourself a hundred times over.
Author Anne Costa explains:
Why is the Eucharist so important? It has to do with the way that God made us and our deepest longings as women. Edith clarifies this by stating that “the deepest longing of woman’s heart is to give herself lovingly, to belong to another and to possess this other being completely.”
Our desire for that kind of total surrender and self-abandon is uniquely feminine. It is a desire that also must be purified and given to God and not another person… As women, our desire for surrender can best be satisfied through a spiritual connection and relationship with God, through our Eucharistic Lord. He alone will complete us.
This is heady stuff!
Embracing Edith Stein is a clear and often delightful look at this incredible woman.
Perhaps the best praise I can give Anne Costa is that although she is the author and although most of the words are hers, it is the soul and spirit of Edith which fill these pages: “expansive, quiet, empty of self, warm and clear.”