Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

On Human Power and Temporal Authority


Today is the feast of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Some may know her as Edith Stein. In either case, she is the same individual of gifted intellect who still teaches us much almost sixty years after her execution at Auschwitz. Born in 1891 in a devout Jewish family, she declared herself an atheist during her teen years. But like many other gifted intellects who studied philosophy, her encounter with the fundamental questions of life and the meaning of human existence, along with the influence of the writings of Teresa of Avila, led her from a denial of God into her embrace of Him.

Her short time on this planet of fifty-one years still enabled her to encounter the temptations and the evil of this world with grace that was established on her profound faith in God. Her persecution by National Socialism and her keen mind were sources of confidence and strength that no human power and no temporal authority could overcome. In the face of the human-generated tempests of her day, she saw what she had to do with her life and proclaim time and again her trust in God. Her witness to the faith fortified her to write to Pope Pius XI about the need for Peter to respond to the terrors of the 1930s. Her correspondence was a likely catalyst for the encyclical letter Mit Brennender Sorge, (1937). Fellow philosopher and successor to St. Peter, Blessed John Paul II declared her a saint of the Church in 1998.

What does she have to teach us today? Much.

She lived in turbulent times, but so do we. Her faith and humility before God showed her what she had to do in her troubled times. May that same faith and humbleness we share with her enable us to do the same. Clearly her faith and her reason charted the course for her as she walked toward her death. As we consider laws to address the chaos of the present age, may we be bold enough in our faith and wisely exercise the gift of reason God has given us to craft norms not only for the present moment but for our posterity. The human powers and temporal authorities of the present age may say otherwise and disagree, but Teresa has demonstrated an alternative path that is superior and enduring. She followed the counsel of the Old and New Testaments and was not afraid. With God at our side, we, too, can put aside our anxieties. Let us also pray today for Teresa Benedicta to intercede on our behalf and those others for whom we also pray.


RJA sj



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