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Edith Stein on the Universal Human Vocation

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Excerpt from Donald Wallenfang, “Awaken, O Spirit: The Vocation of Becoming in the Work of Edith Stein,” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, 15:4 (2012), 57–74.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock;

if any one hears my voice and opens the door,

I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Revelation 3:20 (RSV)


For Edith Stein (1891-1942), human vocation is comprised of a call and a response.  The call is issued from the divine and the human response is enabled by divine assistance.  Human vocation is not simply a matter concerning choice of occupation, but rather concerns the ultimate Gestalt, or ‘shape,’ of one’s life.  She writes the following to a former student of hers, Rose Magold, in a letter dated August 30, 1931: “The question of vocation cannot be solved merely through self-examination plus a scrutiny of the various possibilities.  One must pray for the answer – you know that – and, in many cases, it must be sought by way of obedience.  I have given this same advice several times, and those involved have arrived at peace and clarity by following it.”[i]  Stein argues that to be shaped within demands pliability at the sway of sources from without.  As will be further demonstrated, human vocation is a matter of intersubjective existence – a living in community – that awakens one to possibility and development.  To awaken from vocational slumber is to heed the personal divine summons to travel eastward toward the Son of glory.[ii] This short essay will trace the contours of Stein’s understanding of universal human vocation.  

1. The Revelatory Dialectic of Potency-Act

Edith Stein embarks on her philosophical project confident that she draws from the immutable riches of philosophia perennis, i.e. ‘perennial philosophy’: “above and beyond the limitations of historical epochs and peoples there is something in which all those share who honestly search for truth.”[iii]  As it was with her forebearers, so it remains for Stein: the question of being lies at the core of philosophical inquiry.  Stein’s life-long philosophical project is marked by the struggle to understand, as fully as possible, the meaning and constitution of being (Sein).  She finds Aristotle to be a helpful guide as he broaches the question within the heart of his Metaphysics:

And we think we know each thing most fully, when we know what it is, e.g. what man is or what fire is, rather than when we know its quality, its quantity, or where it is; since we know each of these things also, only when we know what the quantity or quality is.  And indeed the question which, both now and of old, has always been raised, and always been the subject of doubt, viz. what being is, is just the question, what is substance (ousia)?[iv]

Stein suggests that her culminating work, Finite and Eternal Being, “may have grown out of this question as out of a living seed.”[v]  Likewise, Stein finds Aristotle’s hermeneutic for being, viz. potency and act, as the primary way to understand the mystery of being.[vi]  As human beings, we are able to fathom the being of existents as a perpetual process of becoming on all levels of existence.  Biologically speaking, we know that the cellular processes of animal species rely on the continuous citric acid cycle for the production of energy; likewise we know that the life of plant species relies on the photosynthetic process for the production of energy and for growth, development and reproduction.  In these fundamental processes of energy production, organisms exhibit a host of potentialities that become actualized.  Underlying such biological processes are the potent molecular polarities that make possible the series of chemical reactions which produce energy for the organism and allow it to attain other possibilities of its being, e.g. movement, mating and nurturing its offspring.  In contemplating the question of being according to the dialectic potency-act, one is led to the conclusion that there must be a pure and absolute actuality that is prior to all potentiality.  For we observe that nothing that is potential becomes actual on its own accord but rather relies on an anterior actuality to stir its potentiality into actuality.  While the potency-act relationship can be cast in terms of causality (whether formal, material, efficient or final causality), this relationship runs deeper than an interpretation based on mere causality would admit.  Even though “a universal causal connection between all real things” can be surmised, by penetrating into the nature of things a “unity of a totality of meaningful existence [Sinn-Ganzes]” is disclosed.[vii]  Stein suggests that all existents stand together in the Logos and therein comprise a ‘totality of meaning’ [Sinn-Ganzes], and from God’s point of view, “a perfect coherence of meaning [Sinnzusammenhang]” obtains for the sum total of existents and their being.[viii]  Further, behind “the divine plan of creation [Schöpfungsplan]” stands “the eternal plentitude of divine being and divine life.”[ix]  Stein’s confession of God’s existence does involve an act of belief in which she reaches for “the absolute hold [Halt]” and by it feels herself upheld.[x]  Yet she insists that there can be a universal recognition of ‘God’ insofar as there can be a universal recognition of the necessity of pure and absolute actuality and being as such, in a word, eternal being.[xi]    

For Stein, all existents are composed of a conglomerate of being and nonbeing, actuality and potentiality[xii], whereas God is construed as unbounded being and pure act.  For creatures, actuality and potentiality are ‘modes of being,’ while pure actuality is the divine mode of being.  From the dialectic of potency-act, Stein arrives at a definition of substance: “something whose being stretches over a duration and which activates what it is in certain effects.”[xiii]  For Stein, substance is not something static but dynamic – that which unfolds over the course of an evolving temporality.  Stein goes so far as to say that “the basis for an argument for God’s existence is given [gegeben ist] in the sheer fact of being.”[xiv]  That is to say that if being must be construed in terms of substance, and substance is a conglomeration of actuality and potentiality that unfolds over the course of time, God then appears as the primordial and eternal actuality that gives act to all potency.  Aristotle sums up this principle well: “it is clear that actuality is prior to potentiality.”[xv]  Further, Stein says that “every earthly reality, the entire visible creation, is in the realm of becoming [Reich des Werdens].  Every formed thing bears within itself possibilities of future actualization.”[xvi]  This is to say that every existent dwells in the realm of movement and change, and depends entirely on an anterior actuality for its actualization, for actuality does not emerge from potentiality, but from Actuality itself: “It may be assumed, moreover, that according to the original order of creation, the movements and interactions of material elements were to aid them in forming and unfolding themselves, so that they might manifest in their entire external appearance their anchorage in the eternal.”[xvii]  For Stein, the potency-act hermeneutic is that which unveils the fundamental structure of being – a structure whose genius proceeds from eternity: “God’s potency is but one and His act is but one, and His potency is brought to effect completely in this act.”[xviii]  Creatures, in their being at once composed of potency and act, analogously reflect the eternal divine being.

Breaking company with those who would bracket the question of God by either labeling it as a question of unreachable transcendence or an obstacle for conducting a purely neutral philosophical enquiry, Stein locates the divine at the locus of her philosophical investigation.  In fact, she posits the divine Logos as the meaning-principle driving the entire evolutionary process and the ensuing task of meaning-making.[xix]  Not only is the Christ-Logos the driving force of the evolutionary process, he is its goal:

"This ever fragmentary, often misinterpreted, and sometimes completely misunderstood experience [of human commonality, unity and solidarity] receives firm support and a clear meaning from the doctrine of creation and redemption, which derives the origin of all people from one ancestor and which envisages the goal of the entire evolution of the human race its union under one divine-human head, in the one 'Mystical Body' of Christ."[xx]

Here is an instance of where Stein’s critical philosophic thinking is extended by imaginative theological thinking.  Whereas Husserl’s and Heidegger’s philosophical projects stop short of divinity, Stein’s project rests on, and culminates in, the Logos-principle, which is synonymous with actus purus (‘pure act’) and esse in actu (‘being in act’).  The question of human vocation, for Stein, is bound up in the question of being and therefore in the revelatory consequences of the potency-act hermeneutic.  The universal human vocation will be conceivable only as a shaping from without, viz. a divine and anthropological shaping in the form of community.

 2. Creaturely Existence as Intersubjective Becoming

Whereas God is construed as pure act for Stein, creatures are ever in a state of becoming.[xxi]  Yet within this constant state of becoming, creatures become co-creators with God:

"The individual is a ministering instrument of the creator in actualizing specific forms, not merely in the manner in which dead material structures are tools, but a creative instrument in producing itself (in the process of growth) and in generating progeny (by means of reproduction).  But the individual remains creature even in these creative activities.  Its 'creative power' (or what H. Conrad-Martius calls 'creative potency') is borrowed and measured.  By serving – in self-formation and reproduction – the formation, preservation, and propagation of the species and by consuming itself in these processes, the individual becomes, as it were, a 'victim' of its vital task [Lebensaufgabe]."[xxii]

In this poetic passage, Stein points to the kenotic ‘circle of life,’ wherein creatures give themselves over through their ‘vital task’ to the point of abandonment.[xxiii]  In such a manner “the being of the form is life, and life is the forming of matter in the three stages of transformation of the structural material elements, self-formation, and reproduction.[xxiv]  In such a scheme, life generates life by becoming a willful victim of itself; life begets life and to live is to evolve, to become.[xxv]  Yet regarding the original appearing of living creatures, Stein prefers to leave open the question of their initial emergence:

"Therefore, regardless of whether we envisage the genesis of things as a progressive evolution from chaos to cosmos or as a continuous transformation of a primordial cosmos, we are dealing with a sequence of formations and it must remain undecided whether these formations are to be conceived as temporally separated works of creation or as merged in one creative Fiat!"[xxvi]

Again, as a critical phenomenologist, Stein wishes to leave open the question of origins from a precise scientific, factual standpoint.  For Stein it is enough to reflect upon the givenness (Gegebenheit) of finitude, creatureliness, and the process of becoming.

In recognizing the creaturely process of becoming, Stein extends the potency-act hermeneutic to its full existential potential.  This is not merely wishful thinking, but a radical acknowledgement of that clarion metaphysical reality that Aristotle recognized and poignantly articulated ages ago: “it is clear that actuality is prior to potentiality.”[xxvii]  Stein puts it this way: “Actual being emerges from a potential being and passes into a potential being, but all potentiality is phenomenally upheld [halten] by actuality and it cannot uphold [Halt geben] actuality.”[xxviii]  Logically, according to the analogia entis, this assertion leads us to the threshold of eternity – a personal eternity that appears as necessarily anterior to finite, personal, self-reflexive and co-creating creatures.[xxix]  The potency-act hermeneutic, while it may seem old-fashioned to some, when construed according to a phenomenological tonality, offers compelling insight into the question of being and the personal creator-creature relationship.  Yet Stein goes one step farther.  She elucidates the phenomenon of human, personal evolution in community life – a community based on a fundamental openness to the other and openness to grace:

"Experience tells of…an unfolding and development over time that makes possible, yet presupposes, a progressive opening to one another.  And in such an order of becoming, we cannot imagine an entelechy unfolding in isolation from others like it unless in place of this connection with other men there were an analogous relationship with higher spirits or directly with God Himself, Who out of the infinite fullness of His being could place in the interior of each soul whatever it needs to unfold."[xxx]

In these words Stein reveals the phenomenal becoming of the self vis-à-vis other selves, in community.  The communal phenomenon is a prerequisite for ‘a progressive opening to one another.’  Words to describe such an opening would be ‘love’ and ‘empathy.’[xxxi]  Love and empathy refer to human activities that transpire between others and have the net effect of building one another up.  Authentic and healthy personal unfolding happens for oneself according to the measure of affirming responsiveness of others.  If one experiences a lack of care and nurture, such a person’s development would be arrested or even undergo a kind of personal degeneration.  On a rudimentary level, it is safe to say that an infant would die if responsibility for her care is not assumed by another.  What Stein means by ‘a progressive opening to one another’ is essentially a series of decisions for vulnerability – a willingness to hazard oneself before the sway of another inside the hope that this interaction will in the end be nurturing rather than destructive.  The infant is exemplar in her radical vulnerability and dependence on others for her care.  It can even be said that the very nature of the infant is to be in a state of constant openness to others.  Likewise, Stein suggests that throughout a human being’s lifespan her unfolding and development are achieved to the degree of her openness.  This decision to be open to others is free and voluntary inasmuch as the affirmative response of care by another is free and voluntary.  It is in light of the ‘order of becoming’ that human vocation assumes a universal constellation: intersubjective communion.   

3. Universal Human Vocation: Awakening to Eternal Being

For Stein, intersubjective communion ultimately refers to the communion of saints which participates eternally in the innermost life of God.[xxxii]  Undoubtedly this language is theologically charged, but this reality can also be framed in terms of the potecy-act hermeneutic developed by Stein:  if eternal actuality is disclosed in personal spiritual beings as eternal love, and the actuality of love is performed only in its consummated “union of a plurality of persons in love,” then the notion ‘communion of saints’ is the teleological consequence of eternal actuality as eternal love.[xxxiii]  Moreover, Stein identifies God as “the plentitude of love” who “may have chosen to create for himself a special abode in each human soul, so that the plentitude of divine love might find in the manifold of differently constituted souls a wider range for its self-communication.”[xxxiv]  Stein contends that God “affirms Himself in His being Who is from eternity and has never first been placed in existence.  His is not only a being conscious of itself but a being approving itself [zustimmen] in the highest form of approval [Zustimmung]: love; His being is blessed self-love.”[xxxv]  Eternal actuality as eternal love only makes sense in its trinitarian configuration which bespeaks a simultaneous oneness of substance and fecund plurality of persons.[xxxvi]

While divine love, as eternal actuality, is constant in relation to its object, viz. personal spiritual beings, it is to be recognized as such only by an act of awakening on the part of its recipient.  In other words, a human being – as a living admixture of potency and act – must awaken to eternal being in order to partake of its life, resulting in an elevation of spiritual being in the life of the human person.  This awakening is the most fundamental act of freedom (though executed in an intersubjective context) of which a human person is capable and is characteristic of life of the spirit.  Stein’s portrayal of this process is worth quoting at length: 

"Man’s spirit awakens to his freedom and openness; more precisely, man awakens as free and open.  He does not awaken by himself, nor is he originally free and open by himself.  But once awakened, once having his original freedom and openness, it is up to him to keep himself free and open.  At the same time, it is possible for him to lose both.  If he does not 'keep himself on high,' he can fall back into the being of nature from which he has awakened to personally spiritual being.  A specific action of the will is by no means the only way to 'keep himself on high.'  The person 'keeps himself' on the higher level – by his own power and by what he is open to – to a large extent by merely 'letting it happen,' by not deliberately [willensmäßig] stopping it, and to this extent it is voluntary [freiwillig].  Only when his power fails, possibly when a strong pull from below leads it down into an activity of nature withdrawing it from higher activity, need he deliberately withstand the pull and keep himself on the higher level…[A life of grace] is possible simply because of his original openness, and it may come to his share by his merely 'allowing' it, indeed even if he does not actively allow it but just fails to resist it."[xxxvii]

What Stein describes here is the life of grace in which “the innermost being of the soul is like a vessel into which flows the spirit of God (i.e., the life of grace) if the soul by virtue of its freedom opens itself to this vital influx.”[xxxviii]  It is important to observe that this is not a Pelagian understanding, as if human persons achieved a level of spiritual perfection on their own initiative.  Rather, Stein insists that human beings are not capable of this self-surrender to divine love (which “is simultaneously a surrender of one’s own self – a self which God loves – to the entire created world, and in particular to all created beings united with God”) by themselves.[xxxix]  It is precisely eternal actuality and love which accomplishes the personal openness of being in each and every personal spiritual being since it is ultimately “a matter of divine freedom.”[xl]  Yet human cooperation is necessary for divine life to enter into the human soul and remain within.  The cooperation necessary can be described by the Latin word fiat, i.e. ‘let it be done, so be it, amen.’  Fiat is precisely the openness of freedom that elevates one to the divine life of love and self-surrender to the point of abandonment.  Mary of Nazareth is the paradigmatic figure of this docility and obedience which listens for the word from the other and responds with the life-giving fiat of faith.[xli]  Just as a plant’s shoot ‘strives upwards to the light,’ grace is essentially the justifying “negation of the negation in freely turning toward” God, demanding a personal receptive response and resulting in “the heightening in being.”[xlii]  The ‘negation of the negation’ refers to the willful resistance to annihilation – the resolute ‘no’ to the degenerative process of unbecoming and the threat of nonbeing.  The ‘heightening of being’ is none other than a lifting of the human soul to the heights of actualized being through the process of becoming – a stretching of creaturely being into the transcendent realm, an elevation wrought by the love that knows no fear.[xliii]

In sum, authentic human personhood is realized in and through the opening to another – a letting of another’s being come over oneself.[xliv]  Is this way of life not precisely the ‘way of the cross’?  In her book that reflects upon the life and work of St. John of the Cross, The Science of the Cross, Stein writes:

"For Christ accomplished his greatest work, the reconciliation and union of mankind with God, in the utmost humiliation and annihilation on the Cross.  When the soul realizes this it will begin to understand that it, too, must be led to union with God through annihilation, a 'living crucifixion, in the sensual as well as in the spiritual part.'  As, in the desolation of his death, Jesus surrendered himself into the hands of the invisible and incomprehensible God, so the soul must enter the midnight darkness of faith, which is the only way to this God."[xlv] 

Insofar as one surrenders oneself to the dark night of the paradoxical phenomenon of the cross, one opens to the unfolding movement of God’s grace through a responsive fiat that simply ‘lets it happen.’  Just as human beings retain the possibility of opening to one another to realize their full created and creative potential, so do human beings retain the possibility of opening to God, who transgresses the limits of created finitude, inviting mortal creatures to partake of immortality, of life eternal – actuality eternal, fullness of being, fullness of life: “openness is the ‘open gate that God’s spirit can freely pass through.’”[xlvi]  Thus, for Stein, the response and disposition of openness is that which allows a personal creature to become its fully actualized self – realizing its maximum potential.  The vision of the fully actualized self attests to an eschatological rendezvous between the host of personal spiritual beings and the eternal Triad of love: an eternal communal life wherein every personal soul who opens to divine life “is to be inserted as a flower in an eternally imperishable wreath.”[xlvii]

In closing, Edith Stein offers the ‘freshness’ of scholastic thought through its phenomenological uptake.  She readily engages evolutionary thought in the line of perennial philosophy that claims to be based not on bias, presupposition or opinion, but on critical inquiry and truth as it gives itself.  Through her faithful adherence to critical thought, Stein is able to construe the creature-creator relationship in terms that are accessible and plausible to reason, while pointing to the necessity of a doctrine of revelation in which the whole of reality becomes a living pathway for contemplating a personal, acting, living eternity.  Through the potency-act hermeneutic, recognition of the created order of becoming, and attention to the testimony of divine grace, Stein effectively argues for a configuration of human vocation that is universal – a universal yet particular Gestalt in which a personal spiritual being opens to the unfolding of the divine life within.  One is awakened to a life of radical self-donation in which gives oneself to the point of abandonment.

[i] Edith Stein, Self-portrait in Letters: 1916-1942, trans. Josephine Koeppel, ed. L. Gelber and Romaeus Leuven (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1993), p. 104.

[ii] Ibid., p. 353: “From the transport as it stopped in the Schifferstadt railway station, early on August 7, a woman in ‘dark clothing’ identified herself as Edith Stein (she had acquaintances in that city) and left a message either orally or perhaps in writing: ‘We are travelling east.’”  This was one of the final recounted communications of Stein before her execution in a gas chamber at the Auschwitz concentration camp on August 9, 1942.

[iii] Edith Stein, Finite and Eternal Being: An Attempt at an Ascent to the Meaning of Being, trans. Kurt F. Reinhardt (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 2002), p. xxviii; cf. Edith Stein, Knowledge and Faith, trans. Walter Redmond (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 2000), pp. 7-8: “But philosophia perennis also means something else: the spirit of genuine philosophy alive in every true philosopher, in anyone who cannot resist the inner need to search out the logos of this world, its ratio (as Thomas translated the word).  The born philosopher brings this spirit with him into the world – as potency, in Thomistic terminology.  The potency becomes actualized when he meets a mature philosopher, a ‘teacher.’  This is the way true philosophers reach out to one another over the bounds of time and space.”

[iv] Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1028ᵇ1, in The Complete Works of Aristotle, Vol. 2, ed. Jonathan Barnes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), p. 1624; cf. Edith Stein, Potency and Act: Studies Toward a Philosophy of Being, trans. Walter Redmond (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 2009), p. 9: “…as long as we do not understand being we understand nothing.  Hence we should call what we are going to do here ‘ontology.’”

[v] Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, p. 3.

[vi] Ibid., p. 2: “With his doctrine of act and potency St. Thomas stands firmly on the ground of Aristotelian philosophy.”  This quotation, while directly referring to Thomas, reveals Stein’s confidence in the pathways of Aristotelian thought.  Also, cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1049ᵇ1-1052ᵃ10.

[vii] Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, p. 112.

[viii] Ibid., p. 113.

[ix] Ibid., p. 114.

[x] Stein, Potency and Act, p. 21.

[xi] Cf. ibid., p. 10: “We ought not to separate from temporality the being that I am aware of as of my own being.  As actual being it involves discrete points: a ‘now’ between a ‘no longer’ and a ‘not yet.’  But since its flowing character is split into being and nonbeing, the idea of pure being unveils itself to us, a being which in itself has nothing of nonbeing, in which there is no ‘no longer,’ no ‘not yet,’ and which is not temporal but eternal”; ibid., pp. 20-21: “…the being of finite substances is such that it has not come to full effect.  It is destined to unfold in successive activities and ever retains in itself some unfulfilledness and frailty – a ‘not yet’ and a ‘no longer.’  Its potentiality points ahead to the actuality wherein it is to fulfill itself, but it also points back beyond itself to a being that no longer unfolds in an alternating flow of actuality and potentiality but in the eternal unchangeableness of actual being.  Can anything uphold [Halt geben] my frail [hinfällig] being, which touches upon genuine existence [Existenz] only from one instant to another, save true being wherein nothing of nonbeing is found and which stands changeless by itself alone, unable to have, nor needing, any other upholding [Halt]?  And does not the very frailty of my own being lend certainty – not only to the idea but to the reality [Realität] of the pure, true, ‘absolute [absolut]’ being?”; ibid., p. 52: “Our – purely formal – conclusion, then, is that only a perfectly simple whole can be absolutely actual.  This can only be an individual whose being is no longer separate from what it is, an individual wherein all basic forms coincide, the be-ing absolutely.  There cannot be more than one individual that satisfies this formal definition, since otherwise the ‘what’ and the ‘instances’ that the what occurs in would be separate.”

[xii] It is important to note here that ‘potentiality’ is not synonymous with ‘nonbeing’; see Stein, Potency and Act, p. 14: “We should not say, however, that insofar as they are potential they are not, for even potential being retains something of being in itself.”

[xiii] Stein, Potency and Act, p. 18.

[xiv] Ibid., p. 21.

[xv] Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1049ᵇ1; cf. 1049ᵇ25: “For from the potential the actual is always produced by an actual thing,” and 1050ᵃ15: “Further, matter exists in a potential state, just because it may attain to its form; and when it exists actually, then it is in its form,” and 1050ᵇ5: “But actuality is prior in a higher sense also; for eternal things are  prior in substance to perishable things, and no eternal thing exists potentially”; cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, I.16; cf. Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, p. 225, on three meanings of actuality: “Actuality denotes: 1) the imperfectly actual (i.e., the actual in the process of evolution); 2) the not yet attained end; and 3) the attained end.”

[xvi] Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, p. 247; cf. Stein, Potency and Act, p. 294: “The being of a living thing, as we described it when considering an individual plant, is not the persistence of something unchanged but a becoming in the sense of something shaping itself over time, and the word ‘evolution, development [Entwicklung]’ implies this.”

[xvii] Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, p. 248.  Cf. Stein, Potency and Act, p. 20: “Actual being emerges from a potential being and passes into a potential being, but all potentiality is phenomenally upheld [halten] by actuality and it cannot uphold [Halt geben] actuality.”

[xviii] Stein, Potency and Act, p. 7.

[xix] Cf. Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, trans. F. Kersten (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1983), p. 134: “What concerns us here, after merely indicating different groups of such rational grounds for <believing in> the existence of an extra-worldly ‘divine’ being is that this being would obviously transcend not merely the world but ‘absolute’ consciousness.  It would therefore be an ‘absolute’ in the sense totally different from that in which consciousness is an absolute, just as it would be something transcendent in a sense totally different from that in which the world is something transcendent.  Naturally we extend the phenomenological reduction to include the ‘absolute’ and ‘transcendent’ being.  It shall remain excluded from the new field of research which is to be provided, since this shall be a field of pure consciousness”; Stein, Potency and Act, p. 331: “Thus the individual peculiarity and the typical variations of the species are accidental outcomes from the standpoint of the entelechy [i.e. the inner forming, shaping and unfolding principle of an organism], but from the standpoint of the Logos they are foreseen as possibility founded on the ordered interplay of the forces”; Stein, Knowledge and Faith, p. 9: “Both Husserl and Thomas were convinced that a logos is the force behind all that is, and that our understanding can uncover step by step first one aspect of this logos, then another, and so on, as long as it moves ahead in accordance with the principle of the most stringent intellectual honor.  They differed, of course, on how far this procedure of uncovering logos could take them.”

[xx] Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, p. 510.  It is important to notice Stein’s footnote 54 from this quotation – a footnote she would later experience first-hand, to the point of death at the hands of the Nazi regime: “These misinterpretations account for the one-sided exaggerations of nationalist and internationalist ideologies.”  In other words, the premier fault of truth is its pretension to totality in the sic et nunc – a pretension exhibited in both the phenomena of political totalitarianism and ecclesiastical clericalism.  See Paul Ricoeur’s essay, “Truth and Falsehood,” in his book History and Truth, trans. Charles A. Kelbley (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1965), pp. 165-191.

[xxi] Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, p. 249: “The ‘process of becoming’ [Werdegang] of the plant structure is an evolution toward a definite end, namely, the fully unfolded Gestalt with everything that belongs to it, including the ripened fruit.  And this process of becoming has itself a very definite Gestalt.  It has a ‘temporal’ rather than a spatial structure, because it involves a definite kind of progression”; cf. ibid., pp. 223, 310, and Stein, Potency and Act, p. 283, on the teleology of evolution.

[xxii] Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, pp. 264-265.

[xxiii] Cf. Jn 12:24-25: “‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life’” (NAB).

[xxiv] Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, p. 268.

[xxv] Cf. Jn 1:14: “And the Word [logos] became flesh and made his dwelling among us…” (emphasis added).  It is this temporal process of becoming into which the divine was able to enter into complete solidarity with humanity, according to the Christian proclamation.

[xxvi] Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, pp. 484-485.

[xxvii] Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1049ᵇ1.

[xxviii] Stein, Potency and Act, p. 20.

[xxix] Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1.2.3, in St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, Vol. I, trans. by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1948), p. 13: “Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity.  This all men speak of as God.”  For the distinction Stein makes between eternal and finite being, see Finite and Eternal Being, p. 353: “To the ‘order’ of the created world belongs time.  It is that whereby the finite is in the strictest sense distinguished from the eternal.  For though we have encountered a meaning of finitude which does not signify a beginning and ending in time, viz., the limitation of the diverse units of meaning with respect to their content, the demarcation of finitude from the unity of divine being must nonetheless be understood as a being-ordained toward temporal actualization.”

[xxx] Stein, Potency and Act, p. 404.

[xxxi] See Edith Stein, On the Problem of Empathy, trans. Waltraut Stien (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1989).  Cf. Stein, Potency and Act, p. 168: “And to understand the human spirit we must ask how it is shaped as a soul in human love”; and Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, p. 454: “But to be love in the true sense, it must always be a self-giving [Hingabe].”

[xxxii] See Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, p. 504: “The vocation to union with God is a vocation to eternal life.  As a purely spiritual form, the human soul is immortal by virtue of its very nature [natürlicherweise].  As a spiritual personal substance, moreover, the soul is capable of a supernatural augmentation and elevation of its life, and faith tells us that God wills to give the soul eternal life, i.e., an eternal participation in his life.”

[xxxiii] Ibid., p. 514.  See further ibid., pp. 513-514: “God created Adam and Eve in his image as spiritual personal beings.  And this is why it was ‘not good’ that such a creature be alone, since the most sublime meaning of all spiritual-personal being is mutual love and the union of a plurality of persons in love.”  Cf. Song of Songs 8:6-7: “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; / for love is strong as death, jealously is cruel as the grave. / It flashes of fire, a most vehement flame. / Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. / If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned” (RSV).

[xxxiv] Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, p. 506.

[xxxv] Stein, Potency and Act, p. 172.

[xxxvi] Cf. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-logic: Theological Logical Theory, Vol. II: Truth of God, trans. Adrian J. Walker (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), pp. 35, 62: “In the real, difference, the ‘other than myself’, is always already overtaken by a third within which I am able to apprehend its otherness in the first place…fecundity is the law, not only of organisms, but…also of the life of the spirit…every I-Thou relationship between spirits can be fulfilled only in an objective third (as Hegel never tires of stressing) or in the fact that genuine paideia (according to Plato) is a ‘begetting in the beautiful’ and thus the generation of a fruit.”

[xxxvii] Stein, Potency and Act,  pp. 409-411.

[xxxviii] Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, p. 445; cf. ibid., pp. 504-505: “…the soul is destined for eternal being…To say that the soul receives God means rather that it opens itself and gives itself freely to him to bring about a union that is possible only between spiritual persons.  It is a union of love: God is love, and the participation in divine being which is granted in this union must be a participation in divine love [ein Mitlieben].”

[xxxix] Ibid., p. 457.

[xl] Stein, Potency and Act, p. 410.

[xli] Cf. Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, p. 516: “Just as the mutual self-giving of the parents and their common generative will prepare the existence of the child and the endowments of its future life, so the growth of the child and the forming of its body and soul demand the loving self-giving of the mother and the dedication to the task of motherhood.  The paradigm of this is the Fiat! (“Be it done unto me”) of the Mother of God (Lk 1:38).  This Fiat! enunciates her loving self-surrender to God and to the divine will and simultaneously her own generative will and her readiness to dedicate her body and her soul to the service of motherhood.”

[xlii] Stein, Potency and Act, p. 217, and further cf. pp. 216-217: “For this liberation a free turning toward absolute being is needed…And just as on the part of absolute being annihilating may respond to the negation or turning away [Abwendung], so a heightening in being, a raising to a higher mode of being that we call ‘grace,’ may respond to the turning toward.  The negation of the negation in freely turning toward and the heightening in being together yield justification”; and Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, pp. 399-400: “Grace calls for a ‘personal’ receptive response.  It is a call or a knocking of God, and the person who is thus called is to listen and to open: to open the door of his or her own self so that God may enter.  The ready capacity to receive or the potentia oboedientialisin the more restricted and authentic sense, therefore, is a capacity to obey, to listen to God and to freely surrender oneself to him.  The person-to-person relationship makes possible that being-one [Eins-sein] which can come to pass only among persons.  And in the relationship between God and the free creature, being one results from the communication and communion of grace”; cf. Stein, Potency and Act, p. 289.

[xliii] See 1 Jn 4:18-19: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.  We love, because he first loved us” (RSV).

[xliv] Cf. Mt 5:38-42: “‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.  When someone strikes you on your [right] cheek, turn the other one to him as well.  If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.  Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.  Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on the one who wants to borrow’” (NAB).

[xlv] Edith Stein, The Science of the Cross: A Study of St. John of the Cross, ed. L. Gelber and Romaeus Leuven, trans. Hilda Graef (London: Burns & Oates, 1960), p. 89.  Cf. Phil 2:5-8: “Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (RSV); and Rom 6:5-8: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our former man was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.  For he who has died is freed from sin.  But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (RSV).

[xlvi] Stein, Potency and Act, p. 410.

[xlvii] Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, p. 508.  Cf. ibid., p. 526: “Every individual human being is created to be a member of [the Mystical Body of Christ]…However, it is of the very essence of humankind that every individual as well as the entire human family are to become what, according to their nature, they are destined to be in a process of temporal unfolding, and that this unfolding depends on the cooperation of each individual as well as on the common effort of all.”

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