9 August – St. Edith Stein – Her dialogue between Ambrose and Augustine

Today is the feast of St. Edith Stein, co-patroness of Europe.  Ethnically Jewish, she converted and entered Carmel as Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.  In 1942 she was rounded up by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz, where she was killed in a gas chamber on this day.

She was beatified as a martyr by St John Paul II in 1987 and canonized in 1998.   There was some controversy over here beatification as a martyr.  Some say she was killed because she was Jewish, rather than for hatred of the Faith or of some virtue or teaching necessary for the Faith.  However, the cause took the position that because the Dutch Church stood against the racist Nazi policies, the convent was included in the round up.  Hence she died because of the Church’s moral teaching and was, therefore, martyred.

In any event, a miracle was authenticated for her cause for canonization.  The daughter of a Melkite Catholic priest attempted suicide by ingesting a massive quantity of acetaminophen, which pretty much kills your liver and you.  Her father invoked Edith Stein and got everyone to pray for her intercession.  The girl had a sudden, complete and lasting healing that was inexplicable by natural causes and was considered miraculous.

This philosopher gave us a beautiful dialogue between two mighty Doctors of the Church, St. Ambrose and St. Augustine.

Here it is for you to savor:


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.)

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. The Masked Chicken says:

    “In any event, a miracle was authenticated for her cause for canonization. The daughter of a Melkite Catholic priest attempted suicide by ingesting a massive quantity of acetaminophen, which pretty much kills your liver and you.”

    Just to clarify, the little girl, Benedicta McCarthy, was 2 1/2 years old and thought the acetaminophen was candy (the individual pills were wrapped in colorful containers). She ingested 16x -19x the lethal amount, which destroyed her liver. She was a teenager (14 years old) when Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) was canonized and was at the canonization ceremony.

    Here is a picture and article:


    It is interesting that the readings at Mass, today were Matthew 16: 24-28:

    [Jesus said to his disciples,
    “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
    take up his cross, and follow me.
    For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
    but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
    What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
    and forfeit his life?
    Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
    For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory,
    and then he will repay each according to his conduct.
    Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here
    who will not taste death
    until they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.”]

    They are both fitting for St. Edith Stein as martyr, but also because she wrote a famous book with the title: The Science of the Cross, which is a study of the writings of St. John of the Cross. It is interesting, by the way, that Matthew 16 starts with the Pharisees asking for a sign from Heaven (which Jesus denies), but ends with the requirement to take up one’s cross and the statement that,

    “there are some standing here
    who will not taste death
    until they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom,”

    because, immediately after this, at the start of Matthew 17, is the transfiguration, which is the sign the Pharisees longed to see, but didn’t and is likely the fulfillment of the statement, “some standing who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.” The Transfiguration is a revelation that Christ is in His Kingdom even while on Earth. By this statement that some will not taste death, Jesus did not mean to imply that He would return within a generation (although some people may have taken it that way) or that some people would live without dying until the Second Coming at the end of time (as Peter might have thought of St. John).

    If one wants to read about authentic Catholic feminism, one can do know better than to read Edith Stein’s essays of womanhood, which are collected in the book, Essays on Women. For her, feminism begins and ends with the Blessed Virgin Mary. After the Blessed Mother’s example, what really is there left to say?

    The Chicken

  2. APX says:

    Can someone please explain to me why we venerate her not under her religious name, but by her given name?

  3. Alice says:

    APX, my liturgical calendar has her as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). I think she wrote a lot before she entered Carmel, so she is known by both names. Sort of like some of my professors would use a maiden name professionally and a married name outside of the university.

  4. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Most religious sisters canonized in modern times have really, really long religious names.

    What was it… Sr. Therese of the Holy Face and the Child Jesus? Something like that. A lot shorter to say “Therese.”

  5. abdiesus says:

    There is a wonderful piece by Arvo Part commissioned by the city of Milan to mark the 1600th anniversary of the death of St. Ambrose that is based on this event. It is called “Dopo la vittoria ( definitiva sugli Ariani)”:



  6. abdiesus says:

    Just as an aid for those who, like myself, do not read Italian fluently here is the English translation of the text:

    After the Victory

    After the complete victory over the Arians
    Saint Ambrose created the solemn praise:
    “We praise you, Lord.”

    This hymn is being performed until today
    on every festive Thanksgiving and Praising
    of the Lord.

    It was two years later when all faithful were
    assembled in Milano to witness the baptism
    of Saint Augustine, that this hymn of Praise
    was sung to the Baptised and Baptising
    and from this time on formed part of the
    great body of church chants.

    An unknown early biograph of Augustine
    writes: “On the occasion of Augustine’s
    conversion the blessed Ambrose praised
    the Holy Trinity with joyful singing and
    encouraged Augustine to confess his faith
    in honour of God.”

    Ambrose blessed and praised the Lord and
    said: “We praise you, my Lord, we confess
    in you, oh Lord.”

    Augustine added: “You, Eternal Father, the
    whole world praises. All angels, heavens
    and powers (in Heaven) praise you forever.”

    Thus, in constant interplay, they sang the
    Hymn in honor of the Holy Trinity. Ambrose
    sang the first verse, Augustine the next.
    And Ambrose concluded the last verse
    thus: “In you, my Lord, I set my hope, so
    that I will be eternally saved. Amen.”

    … This hymn is being performed until today
    on every festive Thanksgiving and Praising
    of the Lord.

  7. Akita says:

    Thank you Father Zuhlsdorf for this beautiful post.

    I am in awe of St Edith Stein. I was thrilled to learn on Ancestry.com that I am part Jewish (Ashkenazy). Brings me a little bit closer to this great saint. Perhaps we share a cousin!

    St Edith Stein, pray for the conversion of the Jews to Christ Our King!

  8. Charles E Flynn says:

    The publishing arm of her order shows books by and about her this way:

    Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross)

  9. Semper Gumby says:

    Classic Dialogue, thanks Fr. Z.

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