A letter to Edith Stein

By: Olga Sánchez Guevara

Edith Stein
Edith Stein

Edith, our sister:

Since the Lord called you into eternal light, the world has not changed much. Still some doubt that a woman may think, and qualities such as decision, energy, daring, logical thinking capacity and other similar virtues, are preferably attributed to man-man. I speak of man-man because in the Spanish language the human being, male or female, is defined as “man”, in the first act of discrimination; and so, in several Spanish translations we read in Genesis: “And God created man in his image”. But God wisely adds: “In the image of God he created them, male and female created them.” So that it is not doubted that the woman was also created in the image of God. Even if there are always blind people who don’t want to see.
A 19th-century Spanish academic, to praise the Cuban poet Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, came up with the idea of commenting that he was “a lot of man that woman”. But the one thus praised was not much man, but much woman, and so much so, that the academic lord could not calibrate his wife.

And how can anyone claim that the woman doesn’t think! As examples of thinking women, I will only mention, among your compatriots, Roswitha von Gandersheim, that x-century Benedictine, who wrote lives of saints, poetry and dramatic pieces in which she imitated Latin classics, and Hildegard von Bingen, the 12th-century abbess saint, whose acclaimed mysticism did not prevent her from dealing with her writings on political and social issues of her time. And among those on this side of the Atlantic is Juana Inés de la Cruz, the humanist and great Mexican poet whose erudition and lyrical height earned her the nickname “the tenth Muse”. “If Aristotle had stewed, much more than written,” Sr. Juana said since her 17th century, I do not know whether naively or in great irony, because guiding, washing and caring for children, strangers or their own, have been secular burdens of women, except for some favored by luck or stubbornness.

Brazilian filmmaker Suzana Amaral, interviewed receiving the top prize from the Havana Film Festival for her film The Hour of the Star (1985), was asked the reason for her late access to the world of filming. He replied more or less: “When my male colleagues were doing their first works, between the age of twenty and thirty, I was washing diapers.”
Excuse me, Edith, my long digression: I’m only telling you about this because for years you were a militant feminist. And on top of that you dared not only to think, but to think big and deep: philosophizing, a woman! It must have seemed a little unheard of to the academic lords. But if you received Catholic baptism at thirty, five years after graduating with honors from the University of Freiburg, you must have found it crazy. And worse, your entrance into Carmel. What have those who claim that a cultivated intellect and religious faith are unconcilable, forgetting, among many others, Albert Einstein, to name just one case.

Saint Teresa Benedicta de la Cruz, Edith Stein, you have much to do in this world of ours where even women continue to seek their place, where being an intellectual of faith is almost an impossible task, where a dialogue in sincerity and from the truth becomes so arduous, where so many have already proclaimed the death of God and so many others join the choir , where tiredness can be as dangerous as surrender.

“Whoever seeks the truth, seek God, ” you said. In these times of relativism, many prefer half-truths or lying, which may be more comfortable. The search for truth is the narrow path the gospel speaks of. Your commitment to that quest was sealed with martyrdom on August 9, 1942.
Pray that we may at least try to live in the truth and walk upright, that we may not fall into the temptation to believe our effort useless, that the immovable hope in Jesus Christ may save us from discouragement.

Walk with us, Edith. You have a lot to do in our world.

Edith Stein, Teresa Benedicta de la Cruz (1891-1942), a barefoot Carmelite saint, philosopher, mystique and German martyr of Jewish origin, whose feast is celebrated on 9 August, was canonized in 1998 by St John Paul II, who in 1999 proclaimed her co-country of Europe, together with St Catherine of Siena and St Brigid of Sweden.

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