Who is Edith Stein?

The life and work of Edith Stein are of immense importance to the women’s family planning movement, and to feminism generally. Scholar, mystic, and feminist, at various times in her life she was a devout Jew, atheist, philosopher, Catholic, and Carmelite nun. Finally, more than 50 years after her death in Auschwitz, she became a canonized saint.

As a brilliant feminist scholar she was able to challenge certain assumptions of the day, arguing for greater involvement of women in the liturgical life of the Church, in the professions, and in the workplace. She was an intellectual leader of the fledgling women’s movement in Germany after World War I. It is a remarkable tribute to her persona that she was able to harmonize these feminist aspirations with her abiding belief that at the deepest core of woman’s personality one will find receptivity and motherhood. Not a ”barefoot and pregnant” reductionist view of motherhood, the kind which sees woman as a passive prisoner of her biology, and slave to her tyrant fertility. Rather, she saw receptivity and motherliness as woman’s unique power, a power capable of transforming a home, workplace, professional environment, country, or society in ways that men cannot.

One of the prescient original insights was derived from her exegesis of the Genesis biblical narratives as well as from her intuitive analysis of the lived experience of woman. This insight was that procreation would always be a more consuming and psychologically preoccupying concern for the woman. This prophetic analysis anticipated the work of later experts of the psychology of woman, who recognized the procreation and childbearing can be anxiety-provoking challenges to integration in a woman’s life.

We think that if Edith Stein were alive today she would be a zealous promoter of fertility consciousness and appreciation, and would see this issue as an existential core feminist issue. She would see this alternative as the only authentic and empowering way of satisfying modern woman’s fertility-control needs in a way that fulfills also the deepest needs of her person. She would also see contraception and sterilization as a deeply traumatizing form of rejection of woman’s core self. She would see them as debilitating compromises with fear and therefore contrary to reproductive freedom. She would not view contraception and sterilization as liberating technologies, but rather cruel instruments of woman’s personal degradation and enslavement to the will and desires of others.

We therefore look to Edith Stein as patroness of our Foundation and movement. We believe it most fitting that this great feminist and saint inspire all efforts to empower the world’s women in an authentic way in this new millennium. We think her ideas, articulated within the woman’s movement, will have great power to influence the cultural dialogue concerning woman, sexuality, marriage, and family.

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