Edith Stein on Mary's Spiritual Maternity and Share in the Cross
St. Edith Stein’s Mariology stands in full support for the fifth Marian dogma now under consideration. She writes amply of Mary as Virgin-Mary, Advocate and Mediatrix, and as Co-redeemer of total humanity.
In the face of today’s skepticism regarding Mary as Virgin Mother, a skepticism which stems from pagan intellectualism and a corrupt lifestyle, the testimony of St. Edith Stein, this pure, holy woman who is considered one of the great intellectuals of the twentieth century, is indeed inspiring.
Purity was her forte in imitation of Mary. And, as we know, impurity is the root of all evils, impurity of mind, soul, spirit, and body.
Mary as Virgin initiated a new form of being—consecrated virginity—which becomes another status in the redemptive order.
Her example is vital to modern womanhood. Promiscuous violations of woman’s sacredness of being bring only misery.
She cites St. Augustine’s belief that Mary was not surprised by the angel’s announcement of the coming virgin birth, for she had already decided to remain a virgin. Her “Fiat” is the strongest act of free will that each Christian is to emulate. The reward is the invasion of a new, powerful higher life—only God fully responds to human self-giving. The more one forgets oneself in this total commitment to God, the more God’s life—the love of the divine heart—fills the soul. This life heals the sick and awakens the dead spirit within others as it cherishes, teaches, and forms.
Mary constitutes the feminine form of the Christian image. Of course, as the first and perfect follower of Christ, she is pertinent to the formation of male Christians as well.
Mary is the symbol of the spiritual maternity of the Church. She leads all humanity to Christ. Our Lady stands with Christ at the crucial point of history. She is the Mother of the living not because posterity comes from her physically, but because the Mystical Body of Christ is embraced by her maternal love. And she is the original cell of this body, the first to be sanctified by Christ and impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Edith Stein writes that before the Son of Man was born of the Virgin, the Son of God conceived this very virgin as one full of grace and God conceived the Church in and with her.
Edith Stein speaks of Mary as Mother of the Church in her writings of the 20s and 30s. In 1965, more than 30 years later, Mary was titled Mater Ecclesiae in the documents of Vatican Council: “In her the Church holds up and admires the most excellent fruit of redemption and joyfully contemplates, as in a faultless model that which she herself wholly desires and hopes to be.”
Edith Stein wrote in 1931:
The Church is that humanity newly created and redeemed through Christ. The original cell of all redeemed mankind is Mary, in whom first took place the purification and sanctification through Christ and impregnation by the Holy Spirit. Before the Son of Man was born of the Virgin, the Son of God conceived of this very virgin as one full of grace, and He created the Church in and with her…. The Church is thus the mother of all the redeemed (Essays on Woman 238-239).
And she refers to Mary as the heart of the church as well as its mother.
Christ is Head of all humanity and redeemer of all creation. Thus all humanity forms the Mystical Body of Christ. Only the Passion of Christ can save the world, St. Edith Stein writes, and she wanted a share in that Passion. She is known to have knelt for many hours before a picture of Our Lady of Sorrows.
She writes that it is Mary who shows us the path of human participation in Christ’s redemptive action. She cites Mary as Co-redemptrix and our entry into the redemptive order. She wrote this many years before John Paul II describes Mary in Redemptor Hominis as “the point of entry into the divine and human dimensions of the mystery of redemption in Christ.”
She writes that Mary replaces Eve as the true Mother of the Living because she is the first fruit of the reversal from fallen to redeemed nature. She is the spiritual Mother of all humanity, co-redeeming and leading all souls to Christ. As the first, perfect Christian, Mary stands as example for all humanity. Especially for the modern woman often confused in her sexuality, our Blessed Mother is the prototype, the ideal for all authentic womanhood by virtue of the essence of spiritual maternity that belongs inherently to the very nature of womanhood.
Frank Sheed writes in an essay “The Com-Passion of Our Lady” that Mary was intended for
suffering in order that all of us should learn from her to unite our sufferings to Christ’s redemptive action.
We believe that redemption was won for us once and for all at Calvary. Yet Catholic theology upholds our Lady as Mediatrix, as does Edith Stein. Moreover, she extends the concept of mediation to all in the Mystical Body of Christ. The more a person is filled with the divine love, the more qualified that person is to intercede for others. In imitation of Mary, the mediator appeals to God to grant the movement of grace and contrition in the heart of the sinner.
Christ alone incarnates the fullness of God’s love and for this reason is the only proxy of all humanity before God. All other members of the Church are imperfect and intercede for each other according to their capabilities. It is just for this reason that we need each other. “One person for all and all for one constitutes the Church.” She describes the redemptive power of Christ in the faithful as “that formative life-giving power which we have calledThe Science of the Cross.”
Dr. Freda Mary Oben is a noted authority on the life and thought of Edith Stein. Like Edith, Oben is a convert from Judaism. She received a Ph.D. in literature from the Catholic University of America, has taught and lectured widely, and has written many articles on St. Edith Stein.
See Edith Stein. Essays on Woman. Washington, D.C.: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1996.