Seeker of Truth in a World devoid of Light
Honoring the feast day of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, August 9th
Saint Edith Stein depicted in the Byzantine style of imagery. Note the barbed wire representing the imprisonment of the Nazi concentration camps. Most images depict the saint in her robes as a Carmelite nun while holding a Star of David indicating she was born Jewish.
To resume the story begun in Part I regarding the utterly fascinating, terribly tragic, and blissfully beautiful life of the woman named Edith Stein, after becoming a Catholic in 1922 Edith wanted to immediately entreat upon religious life as a Carmelite nun but was dissuaded to do so by her academic advisors and mentors. For the next eight years she taught Latin at a Dominican school for girls. In 1931, she wrote her book considered by many to be her magnum opus entitled, “Finite and Eternal Being”. In this philosophical undertaking, Stein discussed the key principles behind both Thomism and Phenomenology and concluded the work with her own independent synthesis by joining the two philosophical schools of thought together.
The Feminist Lecturer
Throughout the 1920’s Stein lectured extensively throughout Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and France. Her speaking engagements focused on Women’s Issues, Christianity and the roles both played in European contemporary society. Edith’s favorite lectures came under such titles as “The Separate Vocations of Man and Woman According to God and Nature,” “The Spirituality of Christian Women,” “Problems of Women’s Education,” and “The Significance of Woman’s Intrinsic Value in National Life.”
In 1932 Stein accepted a lectureship position at the Institute for German Studies at the University of Munster but her public life came to a grinding halt less than a year later when the leader of the newly established political party of ultra conservatives known as the National Socialists or “Nazis” became Prime Minister of Germany.
Darkness Descends upon Germany
Upon attaining Germany’s highest political position in 1933, Adolf Hitler enforced his “Aryan Laws” across the entire country. These highly discriminatory statutes stated that anyone not of Aryan heritage was hereby removed from all civil servant and government positions along with stipulating that it was now allowable for any given employer to remove a non-Aryan from their job without having to give any kind of prior notice. Even worse, the employer would not have to worry about any kind of legal repercussions from those they had fired since henceforth it was illegal for a non-Aryan to sue an Aryan in a German court of law. When Edith Stein was informed she had lost her lectureship position, she was told in no uncertain terms that the reason for her removal was her Jewish background.
With no external commitments taking up her schedule such as work or public speaking, Edith decided there was nothing preventing her from entering cloistered life as a Carmelite nun and did so on October 14th, 1933.
The World of the Cloistered Novitiate
Many don’t realize that along with permanently separating themselves from the outside world cloistered and monastic orders of nuns and monks take the most extreme vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience with a good portion of applicants being refused to even become novitiates. Although accepted by the Carmelites, as a middle aged academic Stein had her own crosses of burden to bear as a cloistered novitiate. Since they were the newest additions to the Order, part of being a novitiate was performing the most menial tasks and chores of cooking, cleaning, and upkeep of the convent. Edith may have been used to being at the top of her class all her educational life but as a novitiate she was a disaster. Never quite thorough enough in her cleaning capabilities, Stein’s efforts were nothing short of dreadful in any/all matters dealing with cooking or with any of the seemingly endless upkeep activities in the kitchen at large. The beginning of Edith’s journey towards becoming a fully vested Carmelite nun was rocky at best with each day newly living at the convent being quite the humbling experience for the middle aged intellectual with next to no domestic history.
Many also don’t realize that as the day comes closer for a novitiate to take their full vows, a goodly number of them decide to leave. This almost always occurs due to the novitiate not being able to face the harsh reality that once their final vows are taken, they are permanently cut off from the outside world. Visits to the convent were possible but only by permission of the Prioress with interactions taking place between religious and visiting parties through a door slat with neither party being able to even see each other. Taking final vows was the last step before one was completely removed from their friends, family, and overall Past by joining the cloister, never to return to their old way of life again.
After six arduous months as a novitiate, on April 15th, 1934 at the cloistered Carmelite convent in Cologne, Edith Stein took her final vows and became Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She chose her religious name in honor of the founder of the Carmelites, Saint John of the Cross and in gratitude to the mystical reformer of the Order, Saint Teresa of Avila.
Following her final vows, Sister Teresa Benedicta was given permission to pursue her academic studies and writings once again. It was during this time she began two of her final works, “Life in a Jewish Family”, her memoir about her childhood growing up in a Jewish home to emphasize its similarities to the life she knew as a Christian and “The Science of the Cross”, Sister Teresa’s analysis of the life of Saint John of the Cross written in preparation for the 400th Anniversary of his birth 1542 – 1942.
Both pieces were left unfinished.
It was also during this time that Sister Teresa’s sibling Rosa had come to stay at the convent in Cologne. Like her younger sister, Rosa Stein had also converted to Catholicism and was a part of the Carmelite Order but as an intermediary between the convent and the outside world.
The last known picture taken of Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
dressed in the robes and veil of a fully vested Carmelite nun, 1938
Darkness Occupies the Land
On November 9th, 1938 the world was made fully aware of the Nazis’ intentions towards the Jewish people when SS soldiers throughout Germany vandalized, burned, and destroyed Jewish businesses, homes, and properties all in one evening notoriously known as “Kristallnacht” or “Night of Broken Glass”. The Prioress of the Cologne convent knew from that point on that it was far too dangerous for Sister Teresa and Rosa Stein to stay in Germany, thus she arranged to have the siblings smuggled across the border into Holland on New Year’s Eve, 1938. Once in the Netherlands the two were transferred to the Carmelite cloistered convent in the Dutch town of Echt.
The Stein sisters were safe, but only temporarily. When the Nazis invaded Holland in May of 1940, their situation became dire. Upon seizing control of the Low Countries of Holland and Belgium the Nazis began to round up Jews for deportation where they were told they were being sent to “labor camps in the East”. But even with that happening all around them, Belgian and Dutch Jews who were baptized as Christians or Catholics were overlooked for deportation.
Until the Conference of Dutch Bishops in July of 1942.
On July 20th of that year during Sunday services, a letter was read aloud to all present in every Catholic Church throughout the Netherlands. Holland’s bishops were united in not only daring to question the enforced statutes imposed by their German occupiers, the letter which was signed by every Dutch bishop in the country publicly condemned the Nazi removal of their Jewish countrymen in a tone of defiant moral outrage.
Retaliation came swiftly down upon the Dutch almost immediately there afterward. Making Holland an example for its insolence, the Gestapo rounded up nearly every Dutch citizen who was a Jewish born convert that had hitherto been overlooked for deportation.
On August 2nd, 1942 SS storm troopers barged their way into the convent chapel at Echt, demanding for Sister Teresa Benedicta by name. Villagers watched in horror as Sister Teresa, her sister Rosa and twelve other members of the Carmelite convent were arrested, dragged out into the street and crammed into mobile tanks, never to be seen again.
Numerous eyewitnesses testified that Sister Teresa could be heard calmly saying to her sister, “Come, Rosa, we go for our people.”
Imparting Calm in a Maelstrom of Chaos
In all, 987 Jewish born converts were rounded up that Sunday in early August and by that evening were all imprisoned in segregated barracks with the men being separated from the women at the Dutch transit concentration camp of Westerbork.
From the moment the Jewish converts arrived at Westerbork, it was reported that Sister Teresa Benedicta moved, acted, and spoke in a state of serene calm. Her short stay at the transit camp has been described as “a visit by a compassionate angel“. Many mothers were in total shock and would stare off, unable to look after or even speak to their own children. Sister Teresa not only comforted these women, she also bathed and did her utmost to feed their children, hugging each one after combing their hair.
Sister Teresa was dressed in her Carmelite robes and was fully veiled yet also wore a yellow Star of David stitched onto her outer most clothing which was required for all Jews to be seen wearing whenever in public.
Late that first night in Westerbork, a drunken guard noticed that a fully robed nun was going about tending to others who also wore a Star of David patch, he approached Sister Teresa and loudly asked her what religion she was.
She replied: “I am a Catholic.”
The inebriated guard looked confused at first but then stormed towards her, yelling in the nun’s face, “No you’re not! You’re a damned Jew!” and proceeded to beat Sister Teresa down to the ground, hitting her face repeatedly with the butt of his rifle.
He abruptly stopped upon noticing the nun gave no reaction of pain or fear and the only sound he could hear was his own heavy breathing. With a look of deepest shame, he helped Sister Teresa back up to her feet and quickly walked away.
Even while wearing the full robes and veil of the Carmelite order during the Nazi occupation Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross had to also wear a yellow Star of David on her outer clothes which signified to the public that although she was a Catholic nun, she was born a Jew.
A second prison guard at Westerbork was so impressed with Sister Teresa after watching her tend to the other prisoners and observing her calm bravery while being beaten, he pulled the nun aside and offered to help her escape. Despite putting his own job and life at great risk the guard told the Carmelite he was at her service to personally sneak her out of the camp and was willing to then drive her to wherever she needed to go.
But the nun adamantly refused saying: “If I cannot share the lot of my brothers and sisters, my life, in a certain sense, is destroyed.”
In the process for Sister Teresa Benedicta to become first beatified then canonized, testimonials were collected by the Vatican from those who knew her at various stages of her life. Many of those testimonials came from those who were imprisoned with her at the Westerbork transit camp. One Dutch man said the following after encountering Sister Teresa for just one day:
“She spoke with humble assurance, to the point of moving those who heard her. A conversation with her was like a voyage in another world. At that time, Westerbork no longer existed.”
Another man who at the time of his imprisonment was 14 claimed that observing Sister Teresa’s compassionate sense of nurturing in Westerbork gave him the willpower to keep going since as he put it,
“She had absolutely no fear.”
Martyrdom at Auschwitz
On August 7th, 1942 the segregated barracks of the Jewish born converts at Westerbork were cleared out in their entirety with all parties being loaded into a long line of connecting cattle cars. For nearly 3 full days as they stood crammed together with no toilets, food, or drink the trains made their way East to Poland. In the early morning hours of August 9th the trains’ locomotive stacks finally stopped billowing their thick white clouds of exhaust only to be met by a strange acrid smoke all around them when the cattle car doors were at last sprung open. They had arrived at their final destination – Auschwitz.
The entire transport from Westerbork including Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and her sister, Rosa Stein, were unloaded from the cattle cars and sent directly to the gas chambers. Sister Teresa was 50 years old.
A painting showing the moment when Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross along with the rest of the Jewish born converts from Holland were finally let out of the suffocating cattle cars, only to be taken straight to Auschwitz’s gas chambers. Note the saintly sense of calm on Edith’s face along with her older sister Rosa standing directly behind her.
The bodies of the millions of victims murdered at Auschwitz were taken from the gas chambers to the camp’s massive crematoria. Although there isn’t an exact grave site allotted to Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross at the concentration camp, the Polish government erected a marker honoring her name in Polish on the grounds where the crematoria once stood. Note the Christian cross inlaid with a Jewish Star of David placed directly above the name “Edyta Stein” in English “Edith Stein”.
Sister Teresa was beatified in 1987 and on the day before her 107th birthday, on October 11th, 1998 the woman born as Edith Stein who suffered and ultimately perished for the religions of both her birth and her conversion was canonized a Catholic saint by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.
Henceforth, the seeker of Truth was now to be called Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and the calendar day that was reserved to celebrate her life of example with yearly regularity, otherwise known as her “feast day” is the date when her martyrdom occurred at Auschwitz – August 9th.
The Astrological Edith Stein
Of all the signs of the Zodiac, the one that holds the concept of “Truth” nearest and dearest to them is the Air sign of Libra. It’s not a coincidence that in any given court of law in the United States there stands a statue of the ancient goddess of Justice “Justicia” who more often than not is blindfolded which symbolizes the impartiality of law but is always shown holding Libra’s symbol of the Scales to symbolize Fairness and Truth. As an astrologer, I myself have a running joke, “It’s best not to lie to a Libran, even if it’s of the white variety.”
With that in mind it only makes astrological sense the woman your author calls “the seeker of Truth” was born beneath the sign that views that concept with the utmost of importance, Libra.
Edith Stein’s time of birth is not known and whenever that is the case, the usual procedure is to cast a chart using a standardized birth time of 12 noon.
But not to veer from the Truth, this I did not do.
There are those occasions when I have intuited a birth time when one isn’t known and nearly every time I’ve pursued that intuitive method of casting a natal chart, it has fit the personality in question quite succinctly.
Edith Stein’s chart is no exception to this intuitive rule.
Even with that said, I will clearly state that my astrological interpretation of Edith Stein’s chart is based on an intuitive deduction of a time of birth, not an officially recorded one. Based on the above said, three features stand out in Saint Teresa’s birth chart: the concentration of Libran planets, her Capricorn Ascendant, and her exalted Uranus.
Concentration of Planets Positioned in the sign of Libra
As already stated, Saint Teresa’s Sun, the astrological representation of the overall self, along with her Mercury and Venus were all placed in the Truth seeking sign of Libra at her birth. Since Libra is ruled by the planet named after the goddess of Love, Venus, it can be assumed that planet’s placement in its own sign provided her the motivational inspiration for her life long search and with Mercury the planet of communication and writing it was only natural for Edith Stein to eloquently express her thoughts regarding the Truth as well as anything else she set to pen and paper.
All three planets are in the House associated with Death, the 8th but many forget the 8th House also deals with another life altering concept – Transformational Change. With Saint Teresa’s Sun, Venus, and Mercury placed in the 8th House, one could presume over the course of her lifetime as well as after her death, Edith Stein’s search for Truth would cause a transformation of the overall self, from Jew to Catholic and from nun to saint.
With the Horizon or “Rising Sign” placed in the sign of Capricorn, that sign’s planetary ruler is known as the “chart ruler”. It is quite fitting that the chart ruler, or planet that holds the most influence over Edith Stein’s natal chart is the planet of hardship and restriction that bears the insidious title “The Great Malefic” otherwise known as Saturn.
The ringed planet is often described as the heavenly body that assigns each of us our own cross of burden to carry, based on its glyph:
In my article entitled “The Lord of Karma Returns Home: Saturn Transits Capricorn, Part I” (link directly below) I compared Saturn’s glyph or symbol with that of the planet of blessings and luck, Jupiter.
Whereas Jupiter’s glyph is a reversed cross symbolizing the Heavens taking up the larger portion of Life’s burdens, Saturn’s cross is right side up. Its message being that if a person lives on this plane of existence they will encounter some form of hardship and/or suffering.
People born with Saturn as their chart ruler are intrinsically aware of this sobering fact. Some born with this aspect know that even beyond hardship, Life at its most extreme can quite literally be a cross to bear. Saint Teresa Benedicta inherently understood this by virtue of her Carmelite name. When taking her full vows as a Carmelite nun, she paid homage to Teresa of Avila with her first name but the second half of her name “Benedicta of the Cross” not only references the Order’s founder, Saint John of the Cross but the words actually mean “Blessed by the Cross”. As it became more and more obvious that her life was in danger by the Nazi threat, Saint Teresa’s person in turn became more and more serene, especially so when Death was imminent indicating that she had fully accepted her individual cross to bear and had been aware of this harsh fact all along.
Which leads us to Saint Teresa’s exalted Uranus.
Exalted Uranus in Scorpio
The planet Uranus rules over such earthly things as the force of Change, technology, groups and or the masses as well as the Future itself. Given its association with anything Future related, when a person is born with that planet in its sign of exaltation, or the sign it functions best in, that being Scorpio, that person is blessed with the gift of foresight.
Another historical figure from the Second World War who was also born with this aspect opposingly enough is the Nazi general who was given a name implying his gifts of foresight “The Desert Fox” Erwin Rommel. Born one month after Saint Teresa, Rommel tapped into his sense of foresight so efficiently, the man never lost a single battle. His use of the “surprise attack” was frowned upon by many but Rommel would not exercise that tactic if he didn’t foresee victory as the final outcome. Rommel’s Scorpionic Uranus was the main reason why France was defeated and occupied only a few months after the War had officially begun.
Saint Teresa’s Uranus straddles both the 8th and 9th Houses. With Scorpio naturally ruling over the 8th House of Death, Edith Stein not only foresaw what a danger the Nazis potentially were to the world at large but in particular envisioned their hatred being the cause of her own demise.
As early as 1933, Saint Teresa could see the threat the Nazis carried as their rise in power escalated. So much so during that year she wrote a letter to Pope Pius XI stating the following:
“the responsibility must fall on those who brought them to this point and it also falls on those who keep silent in the face of such happenings.”
Her foresight concludes the letter with the following prediction:
“We who see the conditions in Germany with open eyes, fear the worst for the prestige of the Church, if the silence continues any longer.”
But as her foresight must have sensed, with the ascent of Pius XI’s successor, Pius XII, not only did the Catholic Church remain silent about the Nazis and their atrocities against humanity the Papacy chose to look the other way for the duration of the Second World War.
With Saint Teresa’s exalted Uranus bordering the 8th House of Death, her vision of things to come included her untimely death. When the Second World War began in 1939, she was known to have said on numerous occasions with absolute conviction that she would not survive the war. Saint Teresa’s foresight of her own death is best described in her Wikipedia entry:
“Her fellow sisters would later recount how Stein began quietly training herself for life in a concentration camp, by enduring cold and hunger after the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940.”
Although it borders the 8th House of Death, Saint Teresa’s exalted Uranus also is positioned in the 9th House of organized religion which some call the “House of God”. This would indicate that along with foreseeing her own death, she also fully understood that the end of her life was not a nihilistic finality but rather a gateway to be fully united with that which she sought for during her earthly existence, Truth in its absolute, purest form which is the force of God itself.
The Pontiff of the Catholic Church who canonized Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was a man who lived in the vicinity during the time when St. Teresa’s martyrdom took place, the Polish Pope, John Paul II. His homily given on the day Edith Stein was made a saint aptly sums up this extraordinary woman’s life:
“A woman in search of the truth has become a saint and martyr through the silent workings of divine grace…With her whole being she sought the truth, of which she wrote: “No spiritual work comes into the world without great suffering. It always challenges the whole person”. For a long time Edith Stein was a seeker. Her mind never tired of searching and her heart always yearned for hope. She traveled the arduous path of philosophy with passionate enthusiasm. Eventually she was rewarded: she seized the truth. Or better: she was seized by it. She discovered that Truth had a name: Jesus Christ.”
May each of us, no matter our creed, follow Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross’s example by giving our best to seek and hopefully find our own version of divine Truth.
*With Edith Stein being one of his most admired persons in History, Brad Kronen wrote a book about her life entitled “The Ethics of Auschwitz”. In it Kronen analyzes one of History’s darkest pages during the period of Nazism and the Third Reich through a juxtaposing perspective as seen by one of the death camp’s guards who would later be famously brought to trial for his time spent there named Oskar Groening and also through the perspective of the Jewish born nun who later became a Catholic saint – Edith Stein. Brad Kronen’s book “The Ethics of Auschwitz” can be purchased at amazon.com or at the link listed below: