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Posted October 15, 2009

[Please note: this book contains philosophical thoughts at a very deep level]

Book: Potency and Act
Author: Edith Stein
ICS Publications, Washington DC. 2009. Pp. 518

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Potency and Act is the second of three works in which Edith Stein said she endeavored to fulfill her “proper mission in philosophy, her “life task”: relating the phenomenology of her teacher Edmund Husserl and the scholasticism of St. Thomas Aquinas. But more than “critically comparing” the two ways of thinking, she wished to “fuse” them into her own “philosophical system,” searching for that perennial philosophy lying “beyond ages and peoples, common to all who honestly seek truth.”

Edit Stein was a Jewish phenomenologist who became a Catholic after reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Jesus and entered the order of Discalced Carmelites founded by the saint. Stein died in Auschwitz in 1942 and was herself canonized in 1998 as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

Her philosophical thinking had been formed by Husserl, but she came to find a home in Aquinas’s thought world. In Potency and Act she aimed to get from scholasticism to phenomenology and vice versa and allow the two ways of doing philosophy to come to resolution within herself.

The first of the three works in which she carried out her mission was a play where Husserl and Aquinas appear on stage to discuss their agreements and differences (in Knowledge and Faith, ICS Publications, Edith Stein’s Collected Works, vol. 8). The second, Potency and Act, was written in 1931 but published for the first time in 1998. The third was her major work, Finite and Eternal Being, written around 1935 and also published posthumously.

Potency and Act is complementary to Finite and Eternal Being, for they are quite different in content. The approach to the study of being in Potency and Act is modal as the title implies; her treatment of possible worlds and of form prescribing possibilities relates to phenomenological themes and also to recent developments in logical semantics.

Philosophy of religion, of course, is a central concern. We reach God not only through faith and contemplation, she says, but by thinking, using logical reasoning both from the world without and from the world within; indeed, God’s existence is also a purely formal conclusion.

Her many searching analyses are suggestive in their own right: on human freedom, temporality, self-knowledge, individuality, evolution, atheism, eschatology.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Opening to God

Finally, the person may be called upon to open himself deliberately to the highest good, pure being. The reason is that the elevation of his personally spiritual being above all being of nature finds completion in the fact that his being, as free and open, not bears an analogy to the divine being, an analogy surpassing all other earthly things, but through its openness hs being is open even to divine being itself, yet by its freedom it can actively either open up to divine being or shut itself off therefrom.

This openness makes it possible for the divine spirit to enter directly into the human spirit. In the words that Conrad-Martius applied to the constitution of the I, openness is the “open gate that God’s spirit can freely pass through.” God’s spirt can pass through it, for it is a matter of divine freedom. God’s passing through is not automatically given frm the moment when the I is constituted along with its openness nor when a man freely opens himself — the opening to which this passing through binds itself. Only by God entering and “passing through” — theology calls what enters “grace” — is man “born of the spirit” after having already been created by God as a personally spiritual be-ing [Wesen].

Table of Contents:

1. Issues of act and potency

2. Act and Potency from the perspective of formal ontology

3. Transition from a formal to a material inquiry

4. Attempt to define matter materially

5. Attempt to define spirit

6. Finite things as hierarchy of “formed matter” in contrast to Metaphysische Gesprache by H. Conrad-Martius

7. Excursus on transcendental idealism

8. Conclusion: being and nonbeing, spirit and matter, act and potency