Edith Stein was a figure most singular and rare. Even within the purview of the illustrious history of the Church’s saints, few can lay claim to so powerful a marriage of faith and intellect. Born into a devout Jewish family in 1891, her intellectual abilities did not long go unnoticed and in 1913 she moved to Göttingen in Germany to study philosophy under Edmund Husserl. There, as destiny would have it, she encountered a work on the life of Saint Teresa of Ávila, which lead her to a profound conversion. Following her baptism in 1922, she continued her scholarly work, teaching at various Catholic schools throughout Germany. Torn between her clear proclivity for the academic life and a deep desire to join the Carmelite Order, Edith’s mind was decided for her when the rise of the Nazi party in Germany put an abrupt end to her academic career. She was able to spend some contented years with the Carmelites, but in the end her Jewish heritage caught up with her, leading to her inevitable arrest by the Gestapo. In due course she was sent to Auschwitz, where she died in 1942.
First published in 1955, Hilda Graef’s The Scholar and the Cross remains the most insightful and accurate biography of this saint. Filled with intimate details of Stein’s conversion, interior life, scholarly endeavors, and eventual martyrdom at the hands of the Nazis, this book stands as an enduring, loving tribute to a great saint and scholar.