While reading Abraham Heschel and doing some research on the reception of his thought today I came across a forthcoming book that compares Heschel's doctrine of divine pathos with Edith Stein's philosophy of empathy. Edith Stein was brought up in a Jewish family and converted to Catholicism after a period of overt intellectual atheism. One of her theological and philosophical gifts was a capacity to refuse the temptation of intellectual polarity. The important truths of existence are seldom either or, but more often both and. She was a spiritual ecumenist, and never lost her gratitude for, her respect for, or her supportive interest in, the Jewish people and the Faith out of which Christianity was born. She was a student of Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, and so gifted as a philosopher she was Husserl's assistant for a couple of years. The relationship between philosophy and theology was one where she was called to be a bridge between two intellectual continents, a conduit through whom philosophical theology and theological metaphysics passed creating in her a spirituality and devotional depth that remains a rich reservoir of faith.
Following her conversion she taught for a while, before becoming a Carmelite nun in 1932, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She died in Auschwitz in 1942, ironically as a Catholic nun comforting distressed Jewish children. In 1998 she was canonised by her Church.
I'm currently reading a selection of her writings, and am left wondering why it has taken so long to get to someone whose grasp of the eternally significant, and of the connection between contemplatiuve prayer and redemptive activity in the world was well ahead of its time. At the time of her canonisation Pope John Paul II described her:
"Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross says to us all: Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. And do not accept anything as love that lacks truth. One without the other becomes a destructive lie....May her witness constantly strengthen the bridge of mutual understanding between Jews and Christians."
Part of the excitement of the rich and varied Christian tradition, is that it is really a river system of tributaries flowing together into the mighty river which reaches the ocean in a rich confluence from diverse sources, which sprung in hills and mountains, merging and separating then coming together in a flowing triumph of life-giving water. That's why to discover new thinkers and new thought, is no threat to the integrity of my tributary, but is a contribution to the onward flow of wisdom, understanding, prayer and worship of the God who is beyond our circumscribing habits of thought, and whose wine of glory and gladness can't be contained in the old wineskins of our intellectual and spiritual comfort zones.