Edith Stein.
Monday, July 27, 2009


Edith Stein on Woman

I should start off by making a couple of disclaimers. First, I think Tim Taylor on Home Improvement got it right when he referred to Betty Friedan’s book as The Feminine Mistake. So I am not a feminist, and I pride myself on being a rip-roaring, fully certified, if not certifiable, male chauvinist pig, or MCP. Second, while I have Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Wagner and others in my music collection, and I once forced my wife and family into total silence one Sunday in May about 30 years ago when NPR played the complete Der Ring des Nibelungen, and despite the fact that I have twelve volumes of Goethe and a bunch of Nietzsche on my book shelves, along with other books by German authors, I am not a big fan of German culture. So it is with some trepidation that I undertake blogging about Edith Stein’s writings on feminism.

As for the German language, Mark Twain got it right when he called it awful.

Edith Stein is a favorite among Carmelites, in large part because of her conversion from Judaism to Catholicism, but I think more Carmelites admire her than read her. I’ve tried reading Life in a Jewish Family, and could not get very far in it, and that is probably her work that is most accessible to the general public. A friend of mine, a Jewish emigre from the Ukraine, also had trouble getting into it.

I read the book Knowledge and Faith, and while I have some knowledge of Aquinas, my knowledge of Husserl and phenomenology is quite limited, so I’m afraid that I didn’t get as much out of it as I could have.

Now having said all of this by way of disclaimer, it may well be that some of the readers of this blog may enjoy the Life, and be more in tune with Husserl than I am. So the links to some of the books published by the Institute for Carmelite Studies (ICS) are over there on the right.

There’s eight essays in the volume, so lets try to do one a day till her feast day (August 9, also Nagasaki day).

The Ethos of Women’s Professions—Ethos is the Greek word from which we get ethics, but to a Greek, such as Aristotle, it means a bit more than that. When Aristotle, in the Rhetoric, talks about the appeal to ethos he means that the orator makes appeal based on the appearance that he is a person of good sense, sound judgment, and other virtues. Modern politicians do this when they send out circulars with their families and their pets, and boast of their church activities. You’ll never see a politician saying, “I like booze, marijuana, cocaine, fast women, and young boys.” That may be where their predilections lay, but they won’t say it.

The appeal to ethos is based on presenting evidence of good sense (phronesis, ϕρονεσις), good character (arete, αρετε), and good will (eunoia, ευνοια). When we speak of the ethos of a profession, it is more often the character of the profession as a whole, so that there is an ethos for drug manufacturers. another for physicians, another for the military, and so on.

Ethos in Stein’s context means not just the ethics involved, but the whole general atmosphere of women’s professions.

Stein begins by defining ethos as an “inner form, a constant spiritual attitude which the scholastics term habitus (41). However, the term professional ethos, is not applicable to all jobs. If I recall my class on criticism from the ‘70s correctly, it was Saussure who made a distinction among labor, work, and play. Stein does not make that distinction, but she does make an apparent binary distinction between work done for money, and work done as a calling. “Whoever regards his work as mere source of income or as a pastime will perform it differently from the person who feels that his profession is an authentic vocation. Strictly speaking, we can only accept the term ‘professional ethos’ in this last instance” (42).

Stein asserts that while women and men share a basic human nature, “her faculties are different from men; therefore, a differing type of soul must exist as well” (43). At this point we can start raising questions about nature/nurture and cultural conditioning. Do little girls, left to their own devices, prefer different things than little boys? My recollection is that I grew up playing cowboys and Indians, and wore a cowboy outfit with toy guns. I don’t think I knew any little girls that played with toy guns. I had sons as a father, so I don’t have any experience with raising daughters, and I had a couple of half sisters that I saw once or twice, so I also have no experience of growing up with young girls.

When Stein says “Woman naturally seek to embrace that which is living, personal, and whole” that seems questionable to me (43). In what way does this happen, and how is it differentiated from what men do? Isn’t Blake’s description of fourfold vision just this attempt to embrace the “living, personal, and whole?”

Stein sees that there is a natural vocation, wife and mother, “Were we to present in contrast the image of the purely developed character of spouse and mother as it should be according to her natural vocation, we must gaze upon the Virgin Mary” (45).

Woman, however, is pulled in conflicting ways by her fallen nature. At this point Stein refers to Cardinal Newman’s The Idea of a University as conveying the image of a perfect gentleman, and of Newman’s ideal as being “a cultivation of personality which somewhat resembles true holiness” (47). I think she is being a bit hard on Newman here.

Wife and mother is not the only feminine profession. Even if professions “are not harmonious with feminine nature” they can be “practised in an authentically feminine way,” if they are accepted “as part of the concrete human condition.” Stein considers factory work, chemistry, and mathematical work as dull and abstract (48). I’m afraid that I think she’s showing her disdain as an intellectual for people who work with their hands, and do not share her intellectual predilections.

She thinks that participation in the various disciplines will be beneficial to society, and cites the Virgin Mary as an example. At the wedding at Cana the Virgin worked behind the scenes. The Virgin should “be the prototype of woman in professional life.” Woman should perform her work “quietly and dutifully, without claiming attention and appreciation.” She also be aware of where situations of need arise, and where she should give help. “Then will she like a good spirit spread blessing everywhere” (49).

When she considers the supernatural vocation of woman, she sees the unity of the monastic order as being expressed in the “diversity of its individual members” (50).

Stein says this of the depths of a woman’s heart:

“The deepest longing of woman's heart is to give herself lovingly, to belong to another, and to possess this other being completely. This longing is reveaied in her outiook, personal and all-embracing, which appears to us as specifically femmine. But this surrender becomes a perverted self-abandon and a form of slavery when it is given to another person and not to God;at the same time, it is an unjustified demand which no human being can fulfill. Only God can welcome a person's total surrender in such a way that one does not lose one's soul in the process but wins it. And only God can bestow Himself upon a person so that He fulfills this being completely and loses nothing of Himself in so doing. That is why total surrender which is the principle of the religious life is simultaneously the only adequate fulfillment possible for woman's yearning (52). Now this is in accord with our fundamental belief, following Augustine, that our hearts are restless till they rest in God, and that all human yearning is ultimately directed towards God, but does it, in the context that Stein uses, in some way denigrate those who choose other vocations?

She anticipates the harried soccer and hockey moms of the late 20th and early 21st centuries when she says:

“Many of the best women are almost overwhelmed by the double burden of family duties and professional life—or often simply of only gainful employment. Always on the go, they are harassed, nervous, and irritable” (53)

She also locates the general decline in morality in women who are forced to work in order to support themselves, and who therefore have neither profession nor ethos. But didn’t the Kitty Foyles of the ‘20s and ‘30s and the Rosies of the airplane assembly lines of the ‘40s grow into the mothers of the greatest generation and of the baby boomers?

“The breakdown of family life and the decline of morals are actually connected with the increase in number of such women and can only be checked by reducing their number; this can be done with the help of a qualified educational system for young giris” (53).

Does this envision a state run system of education specifically for women?

She closes by locating the formative principle of woman in love. I, and I think Dante, who wrote about the love that moves the sun and the other stars, would disagree with the statement below, and say that the innermost principle of the hearts of both men and women is this divine love.

“Every profession in which woman's soul comes into its own and which can be formed by woman's soul is an authentic woman's profession. The innermost formative principle of woman's soul is the love which flows from the divine heart. Woman's soul wins this formative principle through the most intimate union with the divine heart in a Eucharistic and liturgical life” (56).

July 31, 2009 The Separate Vocations of Man and Woman According to Nature and Grace—This essay begins by considering that a vocation is something to which a person is called. Stein then moves on to ask what being called means. Here she engages in a bit of linguistic analysis, and points out that a call is “from someone, to someone, for something in a distinct manner” (57).

A common vocation is assigned to man and woman, to be masters of the earth, as described in Genesis (58). This common vocation is threefold, “to be the image of God, bring forth posterity, and be masters over the earth” (59). Stein observes that while different ways arenot specified for man and woman to fulfill these vocations, it is implied when the Bible specifies the separation of the sexes.

This leads into a trinitarian analogy. Just as the Son proceeds from the Father, and their love gives rise to the Holy Spirit, woman emanates from man, and posterity comes from them both (60). Unlike the Trinity, however, humanity is not perfect. I think that here, and elsewhere, Stein’s position somewhat resembles that of Milton regarding the Fall. Milton depicts nature as falling along with man, and Stein explicitly adopts that view, although she does not attribute it to Milton. (It may not be original with Milton, but he is one of its best known expositors.) She plainly states that “Woman’s labor in childbirth and man’s struggle for existence resulted from the Fall.” The woman suffered additional punishment through her subjugation to the man. That man would “not be a good master can be seen in his attempt to shift responsibility for the sin from himself onto his wife” (61).

The priority of the male is reflected in salvation history: “The distinction of the female sex is that a woman was the person who was permitted to help establish God’s new kingdom; the distinction of the male sex is that redemption came through the Son of Man, the new Adam. And therein, man’s rank of priority is expressed again” (63).

In marriage this priority of husband over wife is supposed to play out through the husband’s role in bringing existing talents to full development for the benefit of all (67).

In speaking of the Faustian desire for a perfection that transcends limits and attempts go beyond those limits, she says:

“It seeks to master them in arbitrary fashion or permits theclarity of its spiritual vision to be clouded by desires and lusts. In the same way the decay of man's dominion is seen when we consider his relationship to the natural riches of the earth: instead of reverential joy in the created world, instead of a desire to preserve and develop it, man seeks to exploit it greedily to the point of destruction or to senseless acquisition without understanding how to profit from it or how to enjoy it. Related to this is the debasement of creative art through the violent distortion and caricature of natural images” (71). At first reading she might be speaking of the whole post-modern movement that is so popular of late, but she is most likely speaking of movements such as Cubism, Surrealism, Futurism, and other artistic movements. I rather suspect that she would dislike the abstract expressionism of Pollock, and she would see de Kooning’s series of paintings of women as violent works of art. She would probably be right about de Kooning.

The relationship of man and woman has degenerated: “But the relationship of the sexes since the Fall has become a brutal relationship of master and slave. Consequently, women's natural gifts and their best possible development are no longer considered; rather, man uses her as a means to achieve his own ends in the exercise of his work or in pacifying his own lust. However, it can easily happen that the despot becomes a slave to his lust and thereby is a slave of thè slave who must satisfy him” (72).

Both man (72) and woman (74) have a perverted relationship to God. The symptoms appear in various forms, including “an unleashed sexual life,” combat between the sexes, and various other ways. This essay was written in the early ‘30s, just as the sexual revolution of the 1920s was dying out due in large part to the Depression. If Kate Millet’s description, in Sexual Politics, of the Nazi regime in the 1930s is correct, it saw the beginning of the repression of the burgeoning feminist movement as well. The unleashed sexual life was soon to be replaced by woman’s role as childbearer for the state and the party.

The role of the husband is to strengthen the spirituality of the wife, and to see that she does not lapse into mere sensuality (76).

She turns to a consideration of the vocation outside the home, and says that the period of “absolute differentiation” between the sexes, that of woman as domestic, and of man as breadwinner is over (78). Whether there ever really was that sharp a distinction may be doubted. While the view of Aretino, in his Dialogues, that woman has three roles, wife, nun, and whore is supposed to be the standard view of the Renaissance and before, the stories and literature of the period are full of clever, smart women. some of whom work for a living, or who manage a business. (Note: I usually post a link for any book, or related item that I mention. In the case of Aretino, I disliked his book immensely, so no link.)

Despite what she has said about woman’s natural vocation being inside the home, she does not believe that work outside of the home violates “the order of nature and grace” (79). Creativity was assigned in the “original order,” andwasnot terminated in the Fall (79).

Given that man has a natural vocation outside the home, and that woman has a domestic vocation, Stein asks whether certain positions should be men only, others women only, and some both. She answers negatively, but contends that the differences between the sexes must be taken into account. Legal barriers should not exist in the choice of occupation. She defines masculine vocations as those that require “bodily strength” or “predominantly abstract thought.” She cites as examples of professions that require physical strength “industry, trade, and agriculture,” and as examples of those requiring abstract thought “mathematics and theoretical physics” (81). She does not consider whether mechanized agriculture, tractors, combines, etc., demasculinizes agriculture. She also writes as if women in science are rare, and while they were not common, Marie Curie had twice won the Nobel prize. (1903 with Pierre, and 1911 by herself.) Feminine qualities are things like “feeling, intuition, empathy, and adaptability” (81). The professions where these qualities come into play are what we would consider to be the caregiving professions. She does not consider the question of women in the military, or women in combat. (Aside from the few historical oddities, such as Joan of Arc, or the legendary Molly Pitcher, women warriors were not frequent occurrences. The female warrior, such as Marfisa, was more likely to appear in literature, such as Orlando Furioso, or The Faerie Queen than in reality.

She then asks whether women should be ordained. She contends that Jesus did not grant the priesthood to women. She also says that there was a “consecrated eccleiastical office,” a diaconate with a “special ordination” for women, but that the Church, historically, had never admitted women to the priesthood.(Stein’s source for the diaconate is a German book from the 1930s. Since I neither speak nor read German, outside of some opera titles, and the book seems to have been untranslated, I cannot verify her statement.) (83).

She concludes by saying that “the vocation of every Christian, not only of a few elect, to belong to God in love’s free surrender and to serve him.” The imitation of Christ leads to ‘the development of our original human vocation which is to present God’s image in ourselves” We transcend “natural limitations” through grace, but this can only be attained by “humble submission to the God-given order (84-85).

August 2, 2009 Spirituality of the Christian Woman—Stein asks whether it is possible to “speak in general terms of the soul of woman?” (87) In answering this question she turns to three women from literature. These are Ingunn Steinfinnstochter, whose full name I’ll not type again for obvious reasons, from a novel by Sigrid Undset, Nora from Ibsen’s Doll House, and Iphigenie from a play by Goethe (88-91).

I’m more familiar with Iphigenia from the plays by Euripides (Iphigenia in Aulis, Iphigenia in Tauris) than I am with the play by Goethe, which I may have read once. I’m also not entirely enamored of either Ibsen or A Doll’s House. (May Shaw and Joyce forgive me. If 18th century drama, such as Steele’s The Conscious Lovers, made me yearn for socialist realism and discussions of sewage and plumbing, Ibsen makes me yearn for The Conscious Lovers.)

Stein describes Ingunn as a child of nature, Nora is seen as being “inhibited by artificial social conventions,” while Iphigenie “has surpassed nature through union with the godhead and has entered into supernatural clarity” (92). Stein then takes Iphigenie as her model for woman, when she says “The deepest feminine yearning is to achieve a loving union which, in its development, validates this maturation and simultaneously stimulate and further the desire for perfection in others” (94).

She differentiates men and women by saying that “Man’s essential desires reveal themselves in action, work, and objective achievements.” Woman is apparently more concerned with problems of being as opposed to doing (94).

In a passage that stands in sharp contrast to the NARALists Stein sees pregnancy as more than carrying around a mass of tissue. “The task of assimilating in oneself a living being which is evolving and growing, of containing and nourishing it, signifies a definite end in itself. Moreover, the mysterious process of the formation of a new creature in the maternal organism represents such an intimate unity of the physical and spiritual that one is well able to understand that this unity imposes itself on the entire nature of woman.” This contradicts the implicit dicta of modern feminism which do not acknowledge that there is any essential unity of physical and spiritual, and relegate the human person to the realm of mere tissue. Stein however, sees that this unity, which is not merely coterminous with the duration of pregnancy, which may be the first impression when reading this passage, that as the body is nourished, it may demandmore at the expense of the spirit (95).

Stein sees each person as having “a three fold destiny: to grow into the likeness of God through the development of his faculties, to procreate descendants, and to hold dominion over the earth” (100) Woman’s supernatural goal is “bear children and raise them in faith in the Redeemer so that one day she will behold her salvation in them” (101).

She mentions that in earlier times a woman’s education was to fit her for a vocation as “a spouse, a mother, or a nun” (105). I mentioned Aretino up above; she joins in him in seeing woman’s vocational choices as having been limited, though she omits the discreditable profession. The Industrial Revolution opened up new opportunities for women. It should be noted, however, that some nineteenth century socialists, such as Shaw, saw the choice between industrial work, in something like a white lead factory, and prostitution, as leaning towards prostitution. Shaw, in Mrs. Warren’s Profession, proposes that conditions in factories drove women to choose prostitution over factory labor. This, however, fails to explain the continuance of the institution in modern, post-industrial societies. Stein, however, does not deal with question of the adverse effects of the Industrial Revolution.

The education of woman should be one that inspires “works of effective love.” She advocates “emotional training,” but it should be related to “intellectual clarity and energy as well as to practical competence” (106). The subjects that she proposes, in addition to religious education are “history, literature, biology, psychology, and pedagogy.” I suppose the last item would be found in the modern schools of education. While I have serious reservations about the usefulness of these schools, we’ll save that for a different blog. She also says that formal subjects, among which she lists “mathematics, the natural sciencess, linguistics, and grammar” (107). So we have a division into more or less soft and hard, feminine and masculine subjects.

It should be noted that Stein appears to regard mathematics as hard both in its rigor, and in its difficulty. This stands in contrast to the feminists who got their knickers in a twist when Mattel’s Barbie said “Math is hard.” As someone who got a 560 on the math portion of their SAT, I can sympathize with that statement. Both Georg Cantor and Kurt Godel are sometimes seen as being driven mad by their study of infinity. Amir Aczel has written a popular book, The Mystery of the Aleph, in which he portrays both Cantor and Godel as being driven mad by their study of the infinite, which symbolized by the Hebrew aleph (ℵ). Whether this view is true or not, math is hard.

Stein then proposes “to show how woman can function in marriage, in religious life, and in conformity with her nature” (109). She later comments that medicine “has turned out to be a rich area of genuine feminine activity, particularly that of the medical practitioner, gynecologist, and pediatrician” (111). These caregivers deal frequently with the less powerful members of society (women and children), so it is problematic whether this represents any advance over woman’s role as nurturer within the domestic sphere. Stein makes reference to woman’s modesty in dealing with medical issues. I can’t speak for other men, but I think there is a certain amount of embarassment involved, particularly for men, when some of the grosser, or more intimate exams are performed on us by women.

She focuses for the rest of the essay on the medical profession, which she conceives of as treating the whole person.

August 3, 2009 Fundamental Principles of Women’s Education—Stein opens by asserting that education, in Germany, needs reform, and that woman’s education, though it is a special case, involves “the whole range of educational reform” (115). This essay derives from a talk that she gave on November 8, 1930. The ascension of Hitler to the Chancellorship was 785 days away, and would crush the hope of any kind of reform during her lifetime.

Stein criticize the old system of education, which she sees as based on rote memorization. While there may be much to be said against memorization, the effort learning to do the times table, for example, does aid in calculating things like tips, doing well on IQ tests, and other things. A ready fund of things that are stored in memory can provide solace, entertainment, and even enjoyment. In contrast to this she proposes that “Education is not an external possession learning but rather the gestalt which the human personality assumes under the influence of manifold external forces” (116). I’m not altogether sure what this means, but I have had a bad experience with something similar. I once tried for a teaching job at an experimental college, and attended a seminar on education they gave their students. One student quoted a philosopher as saying that future oriented goals were necrophiliac. It turned out that this student, who was learning how to learn, or some such thing, had not asked himself how you can have goals that are anything but future oriented, nor did he know what necrophiliac meant. So there is something to be said for the knowledge of hard cold facts, rather than psychologizing.

She considers the qualities that should be found in the soul, such as expansiveness and quiet (119).

Because of the action of grace as a transformative agent Stein considers that “religious education must be the core of all women’s education” (121). Unlike Newman, who in The Idea of a University, puts theology at the center of college studies, without going into detail about its place in earlier studies, Stein is putting it at the center of the entire academic life. That may not be altogether fair to either Newman or Stein, but we’ll let it stand for now.

A goal is “to form people who are intelligent and capable enough to familiarize themselves with any area of knowledge which will become important for them” (124). I immediately thought of what Robert Heinlein called the “encyclopedic generalist,” but Stein seems to be thinking along more conventional academic lines. She advocates limiting the exact sciences, and foreign languages, for those “with little linguistic talent.” Such diagnoses are always dangerous. I think I was supposed to be dyslexic, and the good teachers told my parents that I would never be able to read. Having piled higher and deeper, I can only wonder what the good nuns, looking down from heaven, would say now. In any case she recommends classics and mathematics for “abstract activity” (124). I suppose that she is thinking of learning Latin conjugations and declensions, or Greek tenses as being abstract.

She contends that a reform of education must be linked with a “systematic regulation of the vocational system” (126). I’m not familiar enough with German vocational training to be sure what she’s referring to here. In the US vocational training means things like shop class, or beauty school. In Germany in the 1930s it may have meant something else.

She then asserts that general occupational statistics are needed (127). She seems to be placing a lot of faith here in something that may not be particularly valid. She seems a bit too trusting of bureaucracy here. These things are usually administered by vast, indifferent, moderately competent to totally incompetent bureaucrats, none of whom I’d trust to empty my cat’s litter box.

The common goal of education, for men and women, is perfection, as God the Father is perfect (129).

Towards the close of the essay she gives a description that is more in tune with what most people live in their daily lives. She describes returning home with all the worries and trials of the day. How to overcome all of this? She recommends time in front of the tabernacle, or a “breathing space” in your room.

While I agree that education, particularly public education, is in need of reform, my perspective is more political than religious. This may be because I have failed so dismally to secure a teaching position, except for a brief period as a substitute teacher, i.e., highly paid babysitter, in the DC public schools back in 1970-71. I favor the privatization of public education, the use of the proceeds from the sale of public schools to establish non-governmental trusts that will disburse scholarships based on need, and the destruction of teacher unions, along with the removal of state certification requirements. The market will ultimately determine the winning educational values and system.

August 5, 2009 Problems of Women’s Education—This is a rather long essay, over 90 pages, and my examination of it may not be as thorough as other posts.

She says that “Modern youth has proclaimed its sexual rights” (136). It should be kept in mind that that the sexual revolution, which Time magazine proclaimed in 1964 or so, has its roots at least two, if not more, centuries prior to the 20th. We have tracts like Vindications of the Rights of Women, Shelley’s defiance of convention in the name of love, Byron’s alleged incest (with his half-sister, so maybe it was half-incest), Blake’s poetry and art, all of which were harbingers of the revolt that would culminate in the revolution of the 1960s. Kate Millet, if I recall Sexual Politics correctly, and I haven’t read it in close to 40 years, asserts that there was a first sexual revolution in the 1920s. You can find a portrait of that initial revolution, in Germany, in the musical Cabaret, and in the source material, Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories. You can also find contemporary portraits of this revolution in silent movies such as The Godless Girl, The Ten Commandments, or any of Joan Crawford’s first movies, such as Our Dancing Daughters.

She follows this statement, by asserting that if young people realize that marriage is holy, then they must strive for the establishment of families (136). It is noteworthy that this advice is not being followed at present, and that European fertility, exclusive of the Muslim immigrants, is trending downward. Stein did not foresee the possibility of a demographic collapse, or the massive influx of Islamic guest workers into a postwar Europe. She does see a rise “in the prractice of free unions or absolutely promiscuous intercourse” (136).

When she addresses the role of woman in national and international politics she sees the European continent as having been “plunged into misery” with recovery being possible only through joint effort. While the League of Nations was doing its ineffectual best at this time, I’m not sure if she means this, or if she has something more like the current, and equally disastrous, European Union in mind.

She finds that new religious orders have risen, and that the established ones are attracting new members.

She points out, without mentioning the National Socialist (Nazi) party by name, that it is a romantic ideology. It is perhaps all too common to think of Romanticism in terms of nature poetry, and odes to Greek pottery, and such like things, but Romanticism also had a world view that was revolutionary in its opposition to the established order both in politics and in religion. In Germany the Romantic ideals became entangled with ideas of nationalism.

In addressing the position of women in the Church she says that it has declined since the early days when women served as consecrated deaconesses, but that there is no probability of the priesthood being extended to them.

She sees woman as called on to “carry the spirit of faith and love to souls in the most diverse spheres of activity and to help form with this spirit private as well as public life” (149). She contends that liberalism has collapsed and that it is in Catholicism that a defense against “powerful contemporary currents” is to be found (149). Liberalism, in this context does not necessarily mean political liberalism as we think of it. In England, and much of Europe, the word liberal, throughout the 19th and probably part of the 20th century, meant what we now term conservative politics. It’s not immediately clear to me whether she means liberalism in the older or the more recent sense. The “powerful contemporary currents” is probably a reference to the rising tide of National Socialism.

She says that philosophy asks whether the world was created in time. If the world was not created in time that would mean that it always existed, and was co-temporal with God. That, if I recall correctly, was the position of Avicenna, which Aquinas agued against. In a different form it is also the position of Fred Hoyle, who argued for a “steady state” theory that posited an ongoing, continuous creati of hydrogen atoms. The work of Lemaître and others pointed towards a primeval atom, and a universe with a beginning. This theory, which was ridiculed by Hoyle as the “Big Bang,” ultimately won out. Because of the fact that it accords fairly well with the basic idea of the scriptural account, it has been adopted by many religious people. Stein picks up from the philosophical question of whether the universe had a beginning in time, by recognizing that scripture asserts that it did begin, and that it tells us how it began (174). I don’t think she means that it tells us directly, in scientific terms, how it began, but simply that it began because God willed it into existence. The cosmological question that Stein raises, but does not discuss in any detail, has been the subject of many classics, such as George Gamow’s One, Two, Three&hellip Infinity, as well as more recent books such as Steven Weinberg’s The First Three Minutes, or Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.

She follows up by asserting that Scripture makes no mention as to wheter or not sexual differentiation is a necessity, or is accidental, only that there is a creation of male and female.

Her discussion of philosopy and theolgoy leads her to see them as being complementary.

At 192 she asserts that Mary is the “prototype of pure womanhood,” and that education for girls must aim at the imitation of Mary. Thismight sound to the Protestant like Mariolatry, but she asserts that as Mary was Christ’s perfect disciple that there is no fundamental difference between imitating Mary and imitating Christ, because she is the first disciple of Christ.

What are her concrete proposals for women’s education? The study of languages (210). Art, which evidently includes technical skills (211-2). Religious education (212). Rhetoric (224).

She discusses day schools, boarding schools, and home schooling, and the advantage of educational institutions. The advantage is that these people have chosen education as their life work. Here I have to register a strong dissent from her opinion. In the US, at least, schools of education have lower requirements for graduation than other schools, and boards of education have lower requirements for teaching than some private schools. The requirement that public school teachers be certified by the state means that an MTA with 24 or 30 hours of physics is more qualified to teach physics than Stephen Hawking, and that Kurt Godel could not get job teaching high school math.

Aug 12, 2009 The Church, Woman, and Youth—She starts off by stating the aim of religious training must be to make youth members of the mystical body of Christ. She recognizes ”three levels of spirituality” those of the child, an organ within the Mystical body, and that of symbol of the Church (230). I would demur slightly at the characterization of “organ” of the Mystical Body. Far too many of us, myself included, barely rise to the level of DNA within a cell of the Mystical Body.

Woman, as mother, is called upon to nourish the life of grace in the child. This means protecting it from “loss of faith or sin” (235). In today’s world that might translate into protecting the child from web sites that are too intellectually demanding as well as those that are sexy, and it would certainly mean teaching them that “sexting” and such like things, are liable to result in serious harm, such as incarceration with Big Bertha or Tumultuous Tiny.

She recommends Bible stories, and “beautiful religious customs,” as part of early childhood education. Coupled with this should be religious training that culminates in sacrametal devotion, including daily eucharist (236-7).

She mentions the difficult years of puberty and adolescence (239). I recall my own teenage years as being years of yearning for girls, revolt against parental authority, and all of the usual things, but at the same time I have to wonder how much of this is culturally conditioned. Previous centuries, such as the Renaissance, or just about any time prior to the French Mistake of 1789, did not make a big thing about the teenage years. In classical cultures the age of 10 was thought of as the marriageable age for girls. (See Augustine’s Confessions, or Plutarch’s Life of Thesus for examples.) Young men came of age at 13 in Judaic culture, and in Roman culture, when they assumed the toga virilis. Teenagers, such as Lady Jane Grey, were thought to be capable of reigning, and were certainly, in Lady Jane’s case, capable of being executed as young as sixteen. It is arguable that sometime around the late 18th or early 19th century a process of infantilization set in, and the result has been that structures that formerly helped hold the hormonal tides in check have been lost or destroyed.

She recognizes that adolescence is a time of stress, and that it is difficult for young girls to resist temptations against purity. She assertss that “Only the girl who has understood the grandeur of virginal purity and union with God will fight earnestly for her purity” (242). She frames chastity as something positive, or at least as having positive results, whether young girls in great numbers, or in any numbers at all, would respond to such an appeal may be doubted. I’m afraid that the virtues have a major PR problem in that they are generally presented as negatives that resolve into “You can’t have no fun,” while temptation offers the comforting reassurance that “You ain’t misbehaving.”

Against this she recommends the life of St. Therese of Lisieux as an introduction to “the closed garden of Carmel” (243).

She concludes the essay by saying if the problem of youth work, particularly among girls, were to be solved “We could hope that a generation of mothers would grow up whose children would again have a home and would not have to be treated like orphans. Then, once again, there could arise in Germany a morally wholesome and faithful Christian people” (245). Unfortunately, for Germany and the world, the Hitler-Jugend replaced any kind of Christian youth organization, and the postwar division and eventual recovery and reunion of Germany have not seen that hope fulfilled.

The Significance of Woman’s Intrinsic Value in National Life—She summarizes the differences between the sexes by asserting man is objective, while woman is personal, and that man has a one-sided development, while woman has a drive toward totality and self-containment (248). I am not sure what she means here. While there have no doubt been scrawny, non-athletic intellectual males, as well as overstuffed couch potatoes among males, many men, and probably not a few women, have decent educations that cover sports, music, the arts and sciences. I’ve known two English professors who were intelligence officers in the OSS, and a Classics professor who served in Sicily and Italy, and I doubt that any of those men were one-sided. If she means that men tend to specialize, while women are generalists, I think that is doubtful also.

In order to “extricate the purified valuable feminine character from the raw material of feminine singularity” she recommends “objective work” (250-1). This objective work is characterized as ranging from housework to mathematics. This immersion in the objective world is supposed to help one lose their “hyper-individuality” (251). It is precisely the possibility of objective work that is precluded in post-modern thought. A major scandal in academia, and accordingly a minor scandal in the real world,was the Sokal affair, in which nonsense was passed off as real work on quantum gravity.

Challenges Facing Swiss Catholic Academic Women—She maintains that in order to achieve the greatest individuality one must surrender to that which is greater. She cites in this regard, Goethe, Nietzsche, and Jesus (261). She is careful, however, to distinguish this from “disappearing into Indian nothingness, or being absorbed in a Russian style collectivism.” She maintains that is a “surrender to Being” and that it results in “a union with infinite Being (262).

She considers that there are three types of academic women: married, single, and consecrated religious, and assigns responsibilities and duties to each (262-4).

She reaises a number of political questions, which I will pass over, but in one place she refers to what has come to be known as “the naked public square,” the attempt to drive religion out of public life (267).

Towards the end of the speech she mentions that Pius XI sanctioned the lay apostolate. This is a call for us to get off our lazy duffs, and spread the word through all available means of communication.

I have to close this lengthy post by telling a story, and by making some nitpicking comments.

Back around 1974-78 I was watching a series about WW II. One of the people being interviewed said that he had been with Evelyn Waugh during the German operations in Crete. As the German parachutists dropped in, he turned to Waugh and said, “You know, it really is quite splendid.” Waugh, who was probably thinking of some stretches of Wagner, said, “Yes, but like everything Teutonic it goes on far too long.”

Outside of Nietzsche, and possibly Schopenhauer, whom I have not read in great detail, I’m afraid that most German philosophy, including parts of the current book, go on far too long. This is not to condemn all German writers, Goethe, Nietzsche, and Rilke are great writers, Bach, Beethoven, Strauss, and many others are great musicians, but when it comes to philosophy, brevity and liveliness are to be found in only a few.

Second, the book, which I bought when it first came out, about 1986-7, shows signs of having been produced in the first run of the desktop publishing phenomenon. This means that typography is pretty bad. There are rivers and lakes on almost every page. I doubt that it is economically feasible for the plates to be reset, but it is bothersome to be distracted by the bad typesetting.

August 15, 2009 Next Book—The Talmud. Selections in the Paulist Press Classics of Western Spirituality. Amazon link is on the right.