St. Edith Stein’s dialogue between Ambrose and Augustine

Today is the feast of St. Edith Stein, co-patroness of Europe. This philosopher gave us a beautiful dialogue between two mighty Doctors of the Church, St. Ambrose and St. Augustine. Here it is:


For December 7, 1940, Feast of St. Ambrose:

Ambrose (kneeling in his room before the opened Holy Scriptures):

Now the last one is gone. I thank you, O Lord,
For this quiet hour in the night.
You know how much I like to serve your flock;
I want to be a good shepherd to your lambs,
That’s why this door is open day and night,
And anyone can enter unannounced.
Oh, how much suffering and bitter need is brought in here
The burden becomes almost too great for this father’s heart.
But you, my God, you surely know our weakness
And at the right time remove the yoke from our shoulders.
You give me rest, and from this book,
The holy book, you speak to me
And pour new strength into my soul.
(He opens it, makes a great sign of the cross, and begins to read silently.)

Augustine (appears in the door and remains standing, hesitant):
He is alone I could go to him
And let him know the struggles of my heart.
But he is speaking with his God,
Seeking rest and refreshment in the Scriptures
After a long day’s work and care.
Oh no, I’ll not disturb him.
I’ll kneel down a little here;
Then I’ll surely take something of his peace with me.
(He kneels.)

Ambrose (looks up):
What was that? Didn’t I hear a rustling at the door?
(He gets up.)
Come closer, friend, you who come at night.
In the dark I cannot see who you are.
(He goes to the door with the lamp.)
Is it possible? Augustine? Peace be with you!
You dear, infrequent guest, please do come in.
(He takes him by the hand, leads him in, shows him a seat, and sits down facing him.)

Oh, how your goodness shames me, holy man!
I really have not earned such a welcome.

Don’t you remember how happily I greeted you
When you stood here before me for the first time?
You, the star of oratory
That stirred Carthage to amazement,
That did not even find its match in Rome,
I was happy to see
Within the confines of my Milan.

Oh, if you had only seen into my heart!
I wasn’t worthy to be seen by you.

I saw you often when I spoke to the people.
Your burning eye hung on my lips.

Your mouth overflowed with heavenly wisdom.
But I was not interested in wisdom.
I did not come for wisdom.
I only heard how you put together the words;
Only an orator’s magic power attracted me.
That, what you spoke Christ’s holy doctrine
I wasn’t eager to know, it seemed like vanity to me,
Already refuted by my teachers long ago.
But while I listened to the words alone,
I was drawn I hardly noticed it into the meaning.
One word of Scripture oft repeated
Deeply affected me and gave me much to think about:
“The letter deadens,” you said, “The spirit gives life.”
When the Manichæans laughed over the Word of Christ,
Was not this because those fools
Only understood what they were reading literally,
While the spirit remained sealed to them?

But the Holy Spirit’s ray fell on you.
Thank him who freed you from error’s chains,
And thank her, too, who interceded for you.
O Augustine, thank God for your mother.
She is your angel before the eternal throne;
Her commerce is in heaven, and her petitions
Fall, like steady drops, heavily into the bowl
Of compassion.

Yes, I surely know what would I have become without her?
Oh, how many hot tears did I cost her,
I, her unfaithful son, who really don’t deserve it!

Therefore, she now weeps sweet tears of joy,
And she is richly rewarded for all her suffering.

She already wept tears of joy when she perceived
That I had escaped the Manichæan net.
I was still deep in night, tormented by doubts.
But she assured me optimistically
That the day of peace was now no longer far away.
While still alive, she was to see me entirely safe.

The Lord himself probably gave her certainty.
Her firm faith did not mislead her.

But I still had a long way to go.
My teaching post had become unbearable for me.
The frivolous game of the orator’s art rankled me.
I sought truth, and I no longer desired to waste
The spirit of my youth in colorful pretense.
From Milan I fled into isolation.
My spirit brooded in unrest.

I waited here for you how much I wanted
With God’s help to guide you to the harbor!

Oh, how often I stood here on this threshold!
You did not see. There came crowds of people
Who sought help from the good shepherd.
I looked on for a little while and then silently went away.
At times I also came upon you alone, like today,
Immersed in the study of your beloved books.
Then I did not risk shortening your meager rest.
I knelt here a little near you
And discreetly slipped away. Today, too,
It would have happened thus if you had not discovered me.

Thank my angel who led my eye to you.
But tell me now what brought you here.

I already wrote you that God’s ray lit on me.
Before my eyes stood all the misery of my life.
It choked me, clamped my chest,
I could no longer breathe at home
And fled out into the open.
In the garden I sought a quiet place,
Fled into the presence of the faithful friend himself.
Finally, a stream of tears burst forth.
Then from a neighbor’s house there urged itself on me
A child’s voice singing clearly.
I heard the words, “Take and read.”
Again and again it rang in my ears
As children endlessly repeat.
But to me it comes from another world:
It is the call of the Lord! I leap up
And rush to Alypius who is still sitting and thinking.
The book lies beside him where I was reading it.
I open it. There stands for me the instruction;
I found it clear in the Apostle’s word:
“Give up feasting and carousing at last,
Arise from the bed of soft sensory lust.
Renounce all the contention of frivolous ambition.
Look instead at Jesus Christ, the Lord.”
Then the night receded, and day began
I took to the road in the presence of the Lord,
My friend Alypius hand in hand with me.

Thank God, who had mercy on you!
How wonderful are your ways, Lord!

I wrote to you and asked for your advice.
You recommended to me a good teacher.
In the prophecy of Isaiah I found
The servant of God, the lamb, that suffered for us.
And things grew brighter and brighter in my eyes.
We did not rush, yet let us now speak to you
In longing and in humility:
Lead us to the baptismal font and wash us clean.

Oh, bless you, my beloved son!
There is no one whom I have led with greater joy
To the holy bath that gives new life.
Come soon and bring me your faithful friend.

There is yet a third person whom we are leading to you:
Adeodatus, my beloved child.
No doubt a child of sin through my fault;
But now the child of grace through God’s goodness.
He is a youth, almost still a boy in years,
But with more wisdom than his father.
He brings the Lord an undefiled heart,
And it is pure hearts who see God.

So soon a thrice-blessed day will beam for us.
O Augustine, don’t look back into the dark anymore.
Before me now radiant lies your path.
The light that God ignited in your heart,
Will shine brightly into the farthest times,
The whole church will be filled with it.
And countless hearts will be inflamed
By the love consuming your great heart.
Oh look with me up to the throne
Of the thrice Holy One!
Don’t you hear the choir of holy spirits?
They sing their holy songs of praise
Full of thanks in inexpressibly great joy,
Because the lost son has found his way to the Father.
(Both stand listening; then Ambrose intones:)

Te Deum

Augustine (sings the second half-verse, then alternately together with the invisible choirs.)

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17 Responses to St. Edith Stein’s dialogue between Ambrose and Augustine

  1. lsclerkin says:

    I’m just smiling. And smiling and smiling.

  2. tcreek says:

    My favorite saint is Edith Stein. This philosopher, mystic, and Carmelite was one of the truly remarkable women of the 20th century. Her capacity for abstract speculation was deep and brilliant in a field historically dominated by men. Many believe that she should be named a Doctor of the Church.

    Excerpt of the homily by Pope John Paul II at the canonization of Edith Stein.

    Dear brothers and sisters! The love of Christ was the fire that inflamed the life of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Long before she realized it, she was caught by this fire. At the beginning she devoted herself to freedom. 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. Then she discovered that truth had a name: Jesus Christ. From that moment on, the incarnate Word was her One and All. Looking back as a Carmelite on this period of her life, she wrote to a Benedictine nun: “Whoever seeks the truth is seeking God, whether consciously or unconsciously”. Although Edith Stein had been brought up religiously by her Jewish mother, at the age of 14 she “had consciously and deliberately stopped praying”. She wanted to rely exclusively on herself and was concerned to assert her freedom in making decisions about her life. At the end of a long journey, she came to the surprising realization: only those who commit themselves to the love of Christ become truly free. This woman had to face the challenges of such a radically changing century as our own. Her experience is an example to us. The modern world boasts of the enticing door which says: everything is permitted. It ignores the narrow gate of discernment and renunciation. I am speaking especially to you, young Christians, particularly to the many altar servers who have come to Rome these days on pilgrimage: Pay attention! Your life is not an endless series of open doors! Listen to your heart! Do not stay on the surface, but go to the heart of things! And when the time is right, have the courage to decide! The Lord is waiting for you to put your freedom in his good hands. St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was able to understand that the love of Christ and human freedom are intertwined, because love and truth have an intrinsic relationship.

  3. Sissy says:

    Thank you for posting this. St. Edith Stein is my patron saint; I choose her name as my confirmation name. I hope she’ll be named a Doctor of the Church someday. Her prayers have greatly aided me in my conversion.

  4. Jean Marie says:

    As a 3rd Order Lay Carmelite I too am waiting for the day when St. Edith Stein will be declared a Doctor of the Church. She’d be the third Carmelite along with St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux.

  5. Jean Marie says:

    I meant to say the third female Carmelite. St. John of the Cross is also a Doctor of the Church.

  6. The Masked Chicken says:

    she is a martyr. already higher than doctor. sorry, sent from phone.

  7. tcreek says:

    The title, “Doctor of the Church” is a singular honor given to a saint whose contribution to theology or doctrine is of particular importance. There are only 35 and none from the 20th century. I suspect Edith Stein will fill that vacancy.

  8. tcreek says:

    This is the first part of a circular from the Priors General, Fr. Camilo Maccise, OCD and Fr. Joseph Chalmers, O. Carm. on the occasion of the canonization of Edith Stein, Rome 1998.

    Losing to Win – The journey of Bl Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

    Dear brothers and sisters in Carmel,
    1. Our sister, Blessed Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), will be canonized at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome on 11th October 1998. Her canonization marks the end of a long journey in search of the truth, accompanied by suffering and evangelical unselfishness that led her into the twofold dimension of the paschal mystery: death and resurrection; losing her life for Christ in order to find it (cf. Mt 10.39). The words she uttered on leaving Echt Carmel in Holland, as she took her sister Rosa by the hand, illustrate the commitment of her life: “Come, let us go for our people.” When the bishops in Holland protested in a pastoral letter against the deportations of Jews by the National Socialists, the latter, who had at first left baptised Jews alone, took vengeance by exterminating all the Catholic Jews, too. Edith Stein died a follower of Jesus Christ, offering her martyrdom for her fellow Jews.

  9. marcpuckett says:

    12. 29. Dicebam haec et flebam amarissima contritione cordis mei. Et ecce audio vocem de vicina domo cum cantu dicentis et crebro repetentis quasi pueri an puellae, nescio: “Tolle lege, tolle lege”. Statimque mutato vultu intentissimus cogitare coepi, utrumnam solerent pueri in aliquo genere ludendi cantitare tale aliquid, nec occurrebat omnino audisse me uspiam repressoque impetu lacrimarum surrexi nihil aliud interpretans divinitus mihi iuberi, nisi ut aperirem codicem et legerem quod primum caput invenissem…. Itaque concitus redii in eum locum, ubi sedebat Alypius; ibi enim posueram codicem Apostoli, cum inde surrexeram. Arripui, aperui et legi in silentio capitulum, quo primum coniecti sunt oculi mei: Non in comessationibus et ebrietatibus, non in cubilibus et impudicitiis, non in contentione et aemulatione, sed induite Dominum Iesum Christum et carnis providentiam ne feceritis in concupiscentiis 107. Nec ultra volui legere nec opus erat. Statim quippe cum fine huiusce sententiae quasi luce securitatis infusa cordi meo omnes dubitationis tenebrae diffugerunt.

    Thanks for this!

  10. Gregg the Obscure says:

    The Te Deum played a part in my conversion. I know there is a dispute as to whether it is truly St. Ambrose’s work. The conclusion – starting with “Salvum fac populum Tuum” – is what most interests me. Where might one learn more about its provenance?

  11. albinus1 says:

    Is she officially designated as “St. Edith Stein” or “St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross”? Just curious.

  12. tcreek says:

    Edith Stein was canonized with the name Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross so that would be her ‘official’ saints name. (She took the name after St. Teresa of Avila)

    A short bio:
    Edith Stein was born on October 12, 1891.

    After majoring in philosophy at the University of Breslau, the city of her birth, she pursued doctoral studies under Edmund Husserl, the German philosopher who developed phenomenology. Edith was so brilliant in this endeavor that she was appointed Husserl’s leading assistant. Still, there was something missing in Husserl’s philosophy, which Edith’s searching mind found at last in the work of Max Scheler who was also to greatly influence Pope John Paul II.

    On 1 January 1922 Edith Stein was baptized in the Catholic faith.

    Edith Stein joined the Carmelite Convent of Cologne and her investiture took place on 15 April, 1934. She took the name of Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

    Edith and her sister Rosa were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942.

    Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was canonized by Pope John Paul II on May 1, 1987.

    More info

  13. mpolo says:

    In Latin, she is Sancta Teresia Benedicta a Cruce. In German, Hl. Theresia Benedicta a Cruce (Edith Stein). Her feast day is August 9, though, not December 7, as suggested in the post above (at least in the Latin “Textus Inserendi”).

  14. amrc says:

    I love St. Edith Stein. Thanks for posting the dialogue. Her feast day is August 9. One of the poem’s protagonists, St. Ambrose, is celebrated on Dec. 7. Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception for all tomorrow!

  15. mrthomaskeep says:

    Her name is Theresa Benedicta, Edith Stein is her name by birth, whereas her real saintly name was hers in holy religion. Please insist on this fact.

  16. Imrahil says:

    Hm, there are so many St. Theresas… which is great (and they are, indeed, particularly lovely, if it be licit to favor saints), but referring does not get easier.

    I think St. Theresia Benedicta of the Cross won’t mind if we call her St. (!) Edith Stein, just as St. Bernadette Soubiroux apparently does not mind that almost noone calls her St. Marie-Bernard, and just as our former Pope, the Holy Father Benedict, went to Barcelona and said that “it is not without importance, thus, that the Church is now consecrated by a Pope named Joseph”. (Gaudì had said that St. Joseph would see to it that it will be finished.)

    But, to answer the dear @albinus1’s questions, Church calendars in Germany usually indicate (I translate) “St. Theresia Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), Patroness of Europe, Feast, red”. So, the former is the official, the latter the popular form.

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