21.8.13

Edith Stein


St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Edith Stein, also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, O.C.D. (Latin: Teresia Benedicta a cruce) (12 October 1891–9 August 1942), was a German Jewish philosopher who became a convert to the Roman Catholic Church and later a Discalced Carmelite nun. She is regarded as a martyr and saint of the Catholic Church.

Wolfgang Bialas
Edith Stein - St Teresia Benedicta a Cruce
marble, 2006
St Peter's, The Vatican

Quote from Jewish-Christian Relations site:

"On October 11th, 2006, Pope Benedikt XVI. consecrated the statue of the Carmelite nun Edith Stein, who was born 1891 in Breslau, Germany, as a Jew and murdered in the concentration camp of Auschwitz on August 9, 1942. The statue fills one of the last free exterior niches at the western facade of St. Peter's cathedral in Rome. She had converted to Christianity and was baptized on January 1, 1942, entered the monastry in Cologne and received the name Teresia Benedicta a Cruce (Teresia, blessed by the cross). This name is also chiseled into the base of the marble statue.
The personal integrity of Edith Stein and her right to convert to Christianity are undisputed, that she was canonized by the church in 1998 was, however, for Jews and Christians equally a very misleading sign — and precarious for the Christian-Jewish relationship. After all, she was not murdered in Auschwitz because she was a Christian but because she was Jewish and not for her Christian faith but in spite of it, in spite of having been baptised.
The new statue adds to the irritation of Christians and Jews that has set the Catholic-Jewish understanding and dialogue back. When the statue was revealed, many of those present at the ceremony were shocked to see her holding a Torah scroll in both hands and behind the scroll she holds a cross and, as an added Christian symbol, a crown of thorns. The cross surmounts the Torah scroll which has the words Shema Jisrael in Hebrew written on it. Thus the statue becomes an unbearable mixture of Jewish and Christian symbolysm and another visible sign to Jews of Christianity's attempt to take possession not only of the Jewish tradition but also of the Holocaust. Here, as in the victorious pose of the Ecclesia above, the cross dominates the Torah and reminds us of almost two millennia of Christian anti-Judaism" (Fritz Voll, JCR).

The above-mentioned site presents the sculpture as an example of "Anti-Judaism in Christian Art" (ie. "anti-Judaic Christian art"), linking it to the medieval Ecclesia et Synagoga phenomenon.

10 Objections

1. It is the complete right of the Catholic church to canonize Edith Stein and this is certainly not a misleading sign inasmuch as St. Teresa Benedict was canonized as a Catholic nun, not as a Jew.

2. That the Christian-Jewish relationship is precarious is a completely different issue here: certainly not one connected to the canonization of Edith Stein.

3. That Edith Stein, in spite of having been baptised, was murdered in Auschwitz because she was of Jewish origin is not the reason of her canonization. For the Catholic church, the nazis have murdered an exemplar Christian nun.

4. "The new statue adds to the irritation of Christians and Jews that has set the Catholic-Jewish understanding and dialogue back." This is pure speculation, for, up to now, there is no Catholic-Jewish full understanding.

5. The combination of the Torah scroll and the Cross, with the crown of thorns, are perfectly understandable in the case of the marble statue in St Peter's. The Jewish Torah has been adopted by the canon of the Catholic church. Moreover, the Christian Bible is made of both that text plus the Gospels. So, there is no reason for being surprised if Edith Stein carries the symbols of the two canonical texts together: this is logical in accordance to her own condition.

6. That the cross surmounts the Torah scroll is not certain, and certainly not something evident in the marble sculpture, which is itself powerful and shows Edith Stein full of faith and determination, plus dignity.

7. If the Torah scroll bears indeed the words "Shema Israel" in Hebrew written on it, this is not only a gracious gesture from the part of the Catholic church, but also a proof that she not anti-Jewish (as Voll so persistently and unconvincingly claims).

8. That the statue becomes an "unbearable mixture of Jewish and Christian symbol[i]sm" sounds judgmental and far-fetched.

9. There is no such a thing as "Christianity's attempt to take possession not only of the Jewish tradition but also of the Holocaust" - Christianity has her own tradition, which, as everyone knows, is rooted in biblical Judaism. Besides, the nazi killings included also quite a number of Christian victims and martyrs.

10. "Here, [...] the cross dominates the Torah and reminds us of almost two millennia of Christian anti-Judaism". Not at all: the Cross coexists with the Torah in Bialas' remarkable sculpture of Edith Stein.

Tradition and Modernization. The above-quoted text suggests Voll ignores that the pair of Ecclesia et Synagoga is different from its medieval predecessor. In Christian iconography, the attributes of Ecclesia et Synagoga have not always been the same, and contemporary images of Ecclesia et Synagoga show that the message pair now conveys has itself changed as well. Medieval crowns for instance are not visible in the contemporary pairs. In medieval art, Synagoga usually holds the Tablets of the Law (depicted upside down); in contemporary art, Synagoga holds not the Tablets but the whole Torah. The figures of the medieval pair are antithetical in discourse. The contemporary ones suggest a much more balanced dialogue.

Medieval segregation
Ecclesia et Synagoga, stone, 1264. St. Seurin, Bordeaux

Contemporary dialogue
Sister Paula Mary Turnbull, Synagoga and Ecclesia, copper, c. 2000

For further analysis, see Has God Only One Blessing?

It could hardly be an exaggeration to think of Bialas' sculpture in the Vatican as an extraordinary synthesis of the antithetical aspects of the old Ecclesia et Synagoga pair. In this sense, the sculpture in the Vatican speaks for both awareness of the Hebrew roots of the Catholic church and also for Integration.

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