Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

The Vocation of the Soul to Eternal Life

by St. Edith Stein


A short excerpt from Edith Stein's definitive work, "Finite and Eternal Being".

Larger Work


Publisher & Date

Institute on Carmelite Studies, Pending

We have learned to know the innermost being of the soul as the abode of God. By virtue of its pure spirituality, this innermost being is capable of receiving into itself the Spirit of God. And by virtue of its free personal nature, this innermost being is capable of surrendering itself in such a way that this reception can be come efficacious.

The vocation to union with God is a vocation to eternal life. As a purely spiritual form, the human soul is immortal by virtue of its very nature [naturlicherweise]. As a spiritual personal substance, moreover, the soul is capable of a supernatural augmentation and elevation of its life, and faith tells us that God wills to give the soul eternal life, i.e., an eternal participation in his life.

The individual soul with its unique individuality is thus not something transitory, destined merely to impress upon itself for a limited span of time the stamp of its specific particularity, and during this span of time to hand on this specific particularity to its progeny so as to preserve it beyond the duration of the life of the individual. Rather, the soul is destined for eternal being, and this destination explains why the soul is called upon to be an image of God in a wholly personal manner.

Sacred scripture offers much support for such an interpretation. Thus, we may understand the words of the Psalmist, "Qui finxit signillatim corda eorum (He has formed the heart of each of them individually) in the sense that every individual human soul has proceeded from the hands of God and bears a special seal. And when we read in the Apocalypse of St John, "I shall give the victor... a white stone, and on the stone will be inscribed a new name, known only to the one who receives it," are we not to assume that this name signifies a proper name [Eigenname] in the strict and full sense of the term, i.e., a name which enunciates the innermost essence or nature of the recipient and reveals to this recipient the mystery of his or her being that is hidden in God? For God this name is not new but a new name is given to the victorious human being. While on earth, this person bore a different name. For human language, after all, knows of no genuine proper names. It names things as well as persons after some universally apprehensible traits of character. Human beings characterize things and persons by compiling the greatest possible number of such traits. The innermost and most authentic nature of human beings remains hidden most of the time. It is veiled by that stamp or style of character which individual human nature has assumed in the course of the individual human life under the influence of the environment and especially under the influence of social intercourse. Whatever we know or divine of this deeply hidden nature in ourselves and in others remains dark, mysterious, and ineffable. But when our earthly life ends and everything transitory falls away, then every soul will know itself as it is known, i.e., as it is before God: in the what, the why, and the whither which God had in mind when he created this personal soul, and this is essential in the status which it has attained in the orders of nature and grace by virtue of its free choices.

We also have to consider what it means for the soul to receive God into its innermost being. The omnipresent God is, of course, present always and everywhere—in inanimate and irrational creatures which are unable to receive him in the manner the soul receives him, in the outer mansions of the soul where the soul is unaware of his presence, and in the innermost being of the soul, even though the soul may not abide in its own interiority. It is therefore not possible to assume that God enters into a place where he was not present before. To say that the soul receives God means rather that it opens itself and gives itself freely to him to bring about a union that is possible only between spiritual persons. A union of love: God is love, and the participation in divine being which is granted in this union must be a participation in divine love [ein Mitlieben].

God is the plenitude of love. Created spirits, however, are incapable of receiving into themselves and of sharing to the fullest extent the total plenitude of divine love. Their share in divine love is rather determined by the measure of their being, and this implies not only a so much and not more, but also a thus and not thus. In other words, love always bears the stamp of personal individuality. And this explains in turn why God may have chosen to create for himself a special abode in each human soul, of that the plenitude of divine love might find in the manifold of differently constituted souls a wider range for its self-communication.

This excerpt was taken from Edith Stein's definitive work, Finite and Eternal Being, which is not in print. The Institute for Carmelite Studies has plans to make this work available in English sometime in the future.

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