Saint Edith Stein’s flower of peace

Saint Edith Stein’s flower of peace

Sullivan, John

THE GROWTH IN FAITH OF THE CONVERT Edith Stein occurred during decades noted for energetic German leadership of this century’s liturgical movement. Names of significant liturgists, like Romano Guardini, Odo Casel, and Burkhard Neunheuser, were familiar to her.’ Guardini called the efforts to enliven the Catholic Church in the celebration of the divine mysteries a rebirth of the “Springtime of the Church.” Stein benefitted from this ferment and, in her own way, contributed to the thrust for renewal among those she knew.

Edith Stein went beyond drawing strength for herself in liturgical prayer; she also wrote about it. She published a reflection entitled The Prayer of the Church in 1937 .2 In this work she clearly states the importance of active participation in the liturgy for an overall healthy Christian life. Her intent was to blend her love for the liturgy with her daily experience as a contemplative nun who spent several hours a day in silent, meditative prayer. The following quotation from her identified the liturgy as the fountainhead of her spiritual life, with repercussions for daily life:

The “monks resembling angels” surround the altar of sacrifice and make sure that the praise of God does not cease, as in heaven so on earth. The solemn prayers they recite as the resonant mouth of the church frame the holy sacrifice. They also frame, permeate, and consecrate all other “daily work” so that prayer and work become a single opus Dei, a single “liturgy.”‘

Sister Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) did more for the liturgy than merely comment on it, however. She devised texts for actual worship. One such text occupies a place in a hymn book, used to this day, and is the object of this article. This hymn incorporates a devotion dear to her monastic community in Cologne, namely one to Mary Queen of Peace.

A Previously Unknown Stanza

Today at Cologne Carmel, the nuns still sing an additional stanza devised by Sister Teresa Benedicta for the traditional Carmelite sequence called Flos Carmeli. Some brief background remarks about the Marian sequence will help situate the textual setting in which Stein’s creation now lies.

The Flos Carmeli Sequence

Flos Carmeli is a venerable Carmelite hymn in praise of Mary, full of symbolism suited to the Holy Land origins of this Marian order. The Mother of God is described as a flower: clear allusion to the reference of Isaiah 35:1-2 to the mountain of Carmel; an ever-blossoming vine: a traditional interpretation of the name “Carmel” in the Order, though one no longer admitted by scholars;4 all pure: a possible hint at the white color stripes alternating with the brown stripes of the Carmelite hermits’ mantles ;5 and star of the sea: an obvious allusion to the location of the Carmelites’ first house close to where the via maris (sea road) passes by Mount Carmel.

In its original medieval form, this hymn was comprised of just one Latin stanza. The Discalced Carmelite Mass Lectionary now uses it at Mass as a chant sung during the Liturgy of the Word on the Solemnity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel-July 16th.’ Over time other stanzas joined the primitive text’s single strophe. Two of these extra stanzas have been present for some time in the liturgical books of the Order around the world.

New Stanza from Saint Edith

The text which the saint created as her own stanza has the following English translation (her Latin verses fit the musical notation for the original melody quite smoothly):

Draw your / daughters’ hearts to that sweetest / and gentlest of hearts. We ask for peace: hear us kindly; / we pray you: help us mightily, / our Queen!

Original of Saint Edith

Fifiarum cordi suavissimo / Cor tuarum illi mitissimo / 0 inclina. Pacem rogamus-audi clementer nos, Te obsecramus-juva potenter nos. / 0 Regina!7

Evidence from the Cologne Carmel’s Archives sheds light on the historical setting of Stein’s Cologne years and enables us to grasp the significance of this example of liturgical creativity. Three central images in Stein’s text are easily noticed. They are the heart, peace, and queen.

Key Ideas of Saint Edith’s Stanza

Deducing a date for composition of the extra strophe depends primarily on events in Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross’s religious life. Research found no dated original copy of the Flos Carmeli lines in Stein’s handwriting in the Archives. Just the same, lengthy study proved that the year 1935 emerges as the most likely time for composition.”

Although brief, the symbolism of the new lines reveals interesting insights into Saint Teresa Benedicta’s devotion for Mary, Queen of Carmel and Queen of Peace.

Heart: Draw your daughters’ hearts to that sweetest and gentlest of hearts.

The word “heart” occurs two times and serves Stein as a symbol of contemplation. Line two of her poetic stanza asks Mary to draw the hearts of her “daughters.” From the context we know these daughters are her sister religious in the Carmelite monastery of Cologne, contemplative daughters of St. Teresa of Avila, the great “undaunted daughter of desires” (words of English poet Richard Crashaw, alive at the time the Cologne Carmel was founded in 1637). This was their mother foundress who underwent the mystical grace of the transverberation (piercing) of her heart.

It was thanks to the contemplative description of God’s grace at work in St. Teresa’s Life (her autobiography) that Stein decided to become a Catholic. The kind of “truth” she recognized in the pages of that classic autobiography one night in the summer of 1921 was a holistic truth, the type of truth that included more than just intellectual questing or even satisfaction because of its clarity. It was Christian sapiential truth, the one that acknowledges a world filled with the Creator’s presence. Thus, Stein discovered, and would thereafter seek, a wide-ranging truth that could fill her own heart with trust throughout life’s difficulties. Bishop-theologian Walter Kasper, appearing in “Edith Stein: Stations of an Extraordinary Life,” the 1983 German docudrama, states, Edith Stein does not represent a simply thought-up theology that is then written down but, rather, a theology that has been lived and suffered through.

Stein’s emotions or the movements of her own heart, in other words, were a central part of and influenced all she put into her keen-minded reflections.

The heart, taken as a complement to the intellect and not something in opposition to it, had vocational significance for Stein herself. She chose not to join either of two Orders familiar to her for their intellectual accomplishments, namely, the Dominicans or the Benedictines. She valued greatly their special witness and contribution to Catholic life. Still, she felt convinced that her way would be to develop her gifts along the lines of contemplative, therefore, loving prayer. The passing of time in the cloister eventually gave her scope for cultivating a contemplative approach to intellectual work itself. Hilda Graef, the first one to translate a major work of Stein into English, wrote that Stein “was a contemplative, and she necessarily tended to interpret her contemplative experience not as a theologian but as a phenomenological philosopher which she remained.”‘

Perhaps the best way to summarize what has preceded is through the words of Stein herself. In a speech given at Augsburg, she stressed how very important the heart is to the human person as she explained Mary’s relationship to her Divine Son in the Mystical Body:

The terms body, head, and heart are of course simply metaphors. But their meaning, nevertheless, is somehow absolutely real. There is a distinctive coherence between head and heart, and they certainly play an essential role in the human body; all other organs and limbs are dependent on them for their existence and function.”

It is not a far step to move from such stress laid on the human heart for corporeal human living to the importance Stein placed on the heart as a symbol of human aspirations for a deep, loving relationship with God. Peace : We ask for peace: / hear us kindly;

Historical research now shows that the Nazis were actively preparing a push to conquest in 1935. Hindsight traces the imperious crescendo Hitler and his minions were building in that year toward the application of military might to trumped-up excuses for implementation of their racist and expansionist dreams. In Edith Stein’s correspondence, one can detect the movement toward cataclysm by noticing her discreet yet unmistakable references to discrimination against Jews and to adverse affects on private education.”

The government might be promising to better the social condition of the country, yet Stein could clearly see a stark undercurrent of actions designed to destabilize large segments of national life in order to strengthen the Party’s hand. She knew that this would surely induce great destabilization in Germany, so she turned to Mary, Queen of Peace.

Beyond the usual trust placed by religious in Mary, Queen of Peace, Stein easily looked to her as source and model of peace. Mary was certainly a model for women, and Stein had written an essay in that same decade which considered women in Germany as genuine agents of peace in troubled times. Her words in Woman are,

If it is their vocation to protect life, to keep the family together, they cannot remain indifferent to whether or not federal or national life will be able to assure prosperity for the family and a future for youth. The important international petition of February 6,1932 in Geneva showed that many women today regard the issue of peace and international agreement as their concern. 12

Ever sensitive, she knew she had ample reason to use her poetry as a way to place her concerns for peace under Mary’s protection.

Queen: We pray you: / help us mightily, / Our Queen!

With ever-increasing desires today for greater shared power in the Church, one tries to use the concept of queen with a Christian faith-vision and thus in an analogous way.

Mary was not born a queen. Appealing, indeed, is the expression of the late author Phillip Sharper who called her the “commoner become queen.” Her royal Son carried only fool’s purple at the time his Roman executioners declared him “the King of the Jews.” Stein took this all into consideration as she honored Mary as Queen of Peace.

Her basic attitude would have been similar to another Carmelite who was her contemporary for six brief years, then a saint in her Order-Ther@se of Lisieux. For Therese, Mary was “more mother than queen.” With those four words, Th6r6se coined an ingenious, memorable phrase since she places the attribute of “queen” in tension with Mary’s motherhood. Mary’s status as mother of us all flows from her being mother of the Redeemer. That role included suffering with the Suffering Servant, and thereby consoling all the disciples of Christ who, through all ages, would have to pay the “cost of discipleship.” Mary was destined to be a much different kind of queen than worldly sovereigns, but queen all the same because she stayed by Christ, the King of Kings, in his most needful hour. Stein knew this. Stein had no difficulty calling Mary “queen,” and she thereby added the word queen for the first time ever to the venerable Carmelite chant. One need only recall her words in this other poem-they juxtapose the cross and the heavenly throne of Christ, with Mary at both, so it is obvious why she entrusted herself to Mary the queen-written on Good Friday of 1938:

Juxta Crucem tecum Stare (Standing With You at the Cross) But those whom you have chosen for companions To stand with you around the eternal throne, They here must stand with you beneath the Cross. 13 One easily detects the parallel between Mary who was asked to be our loving mother from the cross, and Mary who in heaven is the queen who welcomes us near the throne of her Son.


To complete this reflection, I must describe the immediate context of my discovery of Edith Stein’s extra verses in the Flos Carmeli. As a guest of the Cologne Carmel community on the Solemnity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, July 16, 1997, 1 went to sing Evening Prayer with the nuns. With the proper liturgical books in hand, I intoned the opening verse. All then began to sing the opening hymn, which was easy for me to recognize-it was the Latin version of Flos Carmeli. Knowing the first three verses by heart, I closed the hymnal and started singing. Quite unexpectedly, the community kept on singing beyond the third verse. I quickly paged through the community hymnal I had closed and found the page. Once we came to the end of the extra stanza, entirely new to me, the Prioress leaned over and said, “Those are lines done by Edith Stein.” My curiosity could not have been greater, and the result was research about what went into her beautiful, new Latin lines.

So, a living prayer-moment had been the setting for my encountering these new lines. Stein wrote the lines as an embellishment to a sung prayer, a sequence, after all. Her intent was not to create something to prove her linguistic prowess or to otherwise impress others. She simply offered her lines as an addition to verses of praise for the patron of her Order and, thereby, enhanced devotion to Mary. Prayer opened the door to discovery of her devotion.

I doubt if I would have come across the new strophe had I not participated in the sung Vespers of her community. The most recently canonized Carmelite saint, then, with her love for prayer and for Mary, would have been gratified to know that it was precisely in praying that someone else came upon the words she chose in 1935 to express her affection for the Queen of Peace and the Queen Beauty of Carmel. There is a certain fittingness to the story, and I can only hope more people will come to appreciate how well Saint Edith applied her training and intellectual gifts to the service of her religious commitment.


1. Olivier Rousseau, “The Liturgical Movement: Dom Gue ranger to Pius XII” in The Church at Prayer, vol. 1, ed. Aimee-Georges Martimort (1963), pp. 57-58 [in German edition].

2. See Edith Stein, “The Prayer of the Church,”The Hidden Life (Washington: ICS Publications, (1992), pp. 7-17. “The Collected Works of Edith Stein,” vol. 4.

3. “Prayer of the Church,”Hidden Life, p. 9. 4. See the new study of the Carmelite Order’s presence in its birthplace, especially the segment by Roberto Fornara, “The Mount of Elijah: The Bible and Carmelite Traditions”in Carmel in the Holy Land: From the Origins to Our Days (Arenzano: Messaggero di Gesu Bambino, 1996; US distributorsICS Publications), pp. 12-18.

5. See John Sullivan, “Mary, the Bees of the ‘Exsultet’ and the Carmelites,” Carmelite Studies 2 (1982), p. 289.

6. The Carmelite Lectionary, Study Text (Worcester, MA: Carmelite Provincials, 1997), p. 40.

7. The following is one vernacular version of the first three stanzas to which Saint Edith added her own lines in praise of Mary, Queen of Peace:

1. Flower of Carmel blossoming, bearing one, light of heaven,

mother of God’s dear Son, vine and virgin.

Gentle parent,

pure beyond human love, bless your children,

star shining far above this world’s ocean.

2. Root of Jesse,

flower in the cradling bud, take us to you,

keep us with you in God, his together.

All chaste lily

rising despite the thorn, strengthen, help us,

so feeble, soon forlorn, great protectress.

3. Be our armor,

valiant for Christ when war rages around us,

hold high the scapular, strong and saving.

In our stumbling

guide us on God’s wise way, in our sorrow,

comfort us as we pray: -rich your mercy.

The English translation of Edith Stein’s verse, by the author, appears here in an American publication for the first time ever. The Latin, too, sees the light of day in the U.S. for the first time.

8. A more extensive study appeared in 1998 in Rome’s journal Teresianum, telling at greater length how archival holdings pertinent to the new Flos Carmeli stanza show its creation process. See John Sullivan, “Li

turgical Creativity from Edith Stein,” Teresianum 49 (1998, 1), pp. 165-85.

9. Hilda Graef, The Scholar and the Cross: The Life and Work of Edith Stein (London: Longmans, 1955), pp. 218-19. Emphasis mine.

10. Edith Stein, Essays on Woman (Washington: ICS Publications, 1996), 2nd rev. ed., p. 240. “The Collected Works of Edith Stein,” vol. 2.

11. See Edith Stein, Letters, for Letter 213, November 17, 1935: “Please pray for my

loved ones at home. Difficulties are constantly increasing for them. Three nephews have already gone to America….” p. 221; and Letter 200, May 13, 1935: “That will require more wisdom and prudence than would be needed in a parochial school…… P. 206.

12. Edith Stein, Woman, p. 154.

13. Trans. by Mary Julian Baird, Edith Stein and the Mother of God (Dayton, OH: Marian Library, 1956), p. 7. “Marian Reprints,” 59.

John Sullivan, O.C.D., STD, lives in Washington, DC, and is publisher of ICS Publications. He directs the Office of Continuing Education for the Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites.

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