Edith Stein: for an authentic and purposeful human existence 

Theology research studies life of philosopher who became saint and dedicated her life to search for truth

05/06/2020 - 14h03

Photo: Pexels

“Research, before being an academic act, is a stimulus for the qualification of people and, consequently, of society”. So, the student in the School of Humanities’ Graduate Program in TheologySr. Elis Machado defends the relevance of research in the most different areas – especially in times of crisis. A religious with a background in Education and Philosophy, she has been studying Edith Stein, philosopher canonized as Santa Teresa Benedita da Cruz, since 2017.  

At the beginning of the 19th century, Edith Stein delved into the sciences in search for plausible answers to questions that still moved us: who is the human and what is the purpose of their existence? According to Sr. Elis, she was a determined woman, whose actions were always geared towards the truth. And that was precisely the reason why she decided to study her.  

The doctoral student began to study Edith Stein’s life when she returned from a pastoral mission in the United States with undocumented Brazilians. “To some people, we, religious women, look naive, submissive and distant from the real world. Huge mistake! Due to the many circumstances of pain, suffering and moral and ethical limitations that I have witnessed when I lived abroad, I began looking at human beings and their capacity for God from a different perspective”, she reports. And it was at that moment that the she got into the Christian philosopher, which resulted in a “meeting of sisters”, as defined by Sr. Elis.  

Edith Stein: from agnostic to saint  

Before being canonized as a saint in 1998, by then Pope John Paul II, Edith Stein lived for the quest of truth and humanization. Born in 1891 in Poland to a Jewish family, she became agnostic in her teens. She first came into contact with Catholicism in college, as she studied Philosophy. She then decided to be baptized in 1922.  

Twenty years later, she was in exile in the Netherlands, due to the advance of German Nazism. However, she did not escape the troops and, in August, was killed in Auschwitz. The way Sr. Elis sees it, understanding her life is important for thinking about anthropology and theology from different perspectives, as paths for understanding and experiencing a contemporary mystique.  

“Edith Stein gives us a number of possibilities to look at the ultimate purpose of our finite existence, of a life that is marching towards an end. However, she believes and envisions an end with purpose, goal and vocation”, the student adds.  

Research contributes to coping with crises  


Edith Stein / Photo: Vatican News

Edith Stein believed that there is no human growth or progress without adversity  these are things that happen only when people relate with others and with the world. For Sr. Elis, research in the area is relevant in times of crisis because it helps to understand if we are authentically dealing the situations that we are faced with. “Stein gets us to rethink our not merely animal existence filled with sense. A sense that is capable to contribute to warmth, discernment and acceptance of everything that life gives us: dilemmas, adversities, deprivations and constraints”, she explains.  

The doctoral student notes that, in this period of social distancing, many people feel unable to be with themselves, as they miss their place in the world, a goal, a sense of life. Also in this aspect, she realizes how research can contribute: “I have kept my confinement days busy with the study of the journey of the exceptional Edith Stein, as she was a source of hope and inspirational support”.  

For the coordinator of the Graduate Program in Theology and advisor of Sr. Elis, Dom Leomar Antônio Brustolin, doing theology, in the face of a limited and finite experience, means being interested in people’s joys, hopes, sadness and anguish – especially of those who suffer. He believes that faith refers to an ultimate horizon, which gives meaning to life. “However, every believer must be essentially committed to denouncing idolatry, strengthening empathy and promoting solidarity as indispensable means to reach God”, he points out.  

The professor also reinforces the relevance of research in the area in times of crises: “Theology must collaborate so that human beings reject both despair and presumption. Only then will you be able to interpret the present time with realism and confidence”.  

A humanizing activity  

Sr. Elis considers research to be an activity that humanizes, as it develops people’s thinking in a way that is not only interpretive, but contemplative and transformative – something that she considers essential for a healthy, comprehensive and lifting nation. She points out that it is a challenge in the elaboration of purposes, especially when we have difficulty in finding them.  

Facing challenges is part of everyone’s lives – and anyone who is dedicated to research knows this very well. However, that is not a problem for Elis. “It is these challenges, pleasant storms that affect the sea in which we sail, that will reveal what we came for”, she concludes.  

Apply for the Graduate Program in Theology  

Registrations for Master’s and Doctorate degrees are now open in the Graduate Program in Theology. With a concentration in Systematic Theology, it covers the lines of research Theology, religious and pastoral experience and Theology and contemporary thought. The deadline is Jun 19. All documents must be submitted online.