I am personally convinced that, when, some time in the future, the intellectual history of the Catholic Church in the twentieth century is written, the name of Dietrich von Hildebrand will be most prominent among the figures of our time. // Pope Benedict XVI
My favorite college course was an ethics class taught by Dr. Maria Seifert Wolter that I took when I studied at Franciscan University’s Kartause. Sadly, it was one of the first times I had taken a philosophy course in my entire life! Those weeks of studying ethics encouraged me to think in ways I never had before, or never had pushed myself to think before. It was challenging, exciting, new, and filled my soul in a unique way that no other class had.
During the last few weeks of the course she taught us about one of her favorite philosophers, Dietrich von Hildebrand. I left the semester with a desire to learn more about him. During that Christmas break I read his biography The Soul of a Lion along with his writings too, like, The Heart and Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love.
The Power of Philosophy
He came to mind again a few months ago and I ordered his memoir My Battle Against Hitler. There is something so special about this man, something to be respected. Not just his intellect, but also his virtue. Named Hitler’s Enemy Number One, Dietrich Von Hildebrand stood for and proclaimed truth in season and out of season. The fact that a philosopher was labeled the primary enemy of National Socialism shows the power of philosophy, the power of the love of wisdom.
My Battle Against Hitler reads like a thrilling movie and I hope it is made into one soon, mostly because I want people to know more about this great man and his incredible life. Reading his memoirs that were written during such a pivotal time in history made me realize how few people know about this great philosopher!
Someone I Could Follow
John H. Crosby, the founder of Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Legacy Project, writes of him:
Dietrich von Hildebrand was a philosopher I could follow. His heroic struggle against Nazism fired my imagination; his single-minded love and pursuit of truth presented me with a vivid embodiment of the true philosopher; and his passion for music, literature, and art taught me that life without beauty is impoverished and inhuman.
I couldn’t agree more! Dietrich von Hildebrand teaches us truth through the way of beauty. He fully lived out the goodness and virtue that he taught. I am always left inspired and yearning for more after reading his writings.
Born Into Beauty
A devoted Catholic convert, Dietrich von Hildebrand was born in Florence in 1889. With a sculptor father, Dietrich was born into beauty and surrounded by it during his childhood. That love and reverence for beauty continued throughout his entire life.
Von Hildebrand began studying philosophy at the University of Munich in 1906. Influenced by philosophers Edmund Husserl and Max Scheler, von Hildebrand became a leading philosopher in ethics, phenomenology, epistemology, and aesthetics. One of the most pivotal hallmarks of von Hildebrand is that he sought to answer, “the crucial questions of human existence by looking first to the nature and dignity of the human person” (source).
Dietrich von Hildebrand converted to Catholicism in 1914 and remained a devoted Catholic. He said that the beauty of Christ and the Saints are what attracted him to our great faith. Catholicism influenced not only his writings but his way of life. He lived out the truth, beauty, and goodness that he so powerfully proclaimed.
The truths that Dietrich found and taught in both philosophy and Catholicism allowed him to combat National Socialism during the Second World War through his strong voice and writings. Von Hildebrand opposed anti-Semitism and National Socialism so vehemently that he had to flee Europe for safety.
Leaving A Legacy
By 1940, von Hildebrand was settled in New York City and began teaching at Fordham University. It is there that he met his second wife, Alice von Hildebrand. He is the author of many books and writing and his ideas on marriage influenced the Second Vatican Council’s teaching.
Philosophy can be intimidating. Yet don’t dismiss it for that reason! Delve in! Ask questions, research, work through it, and challenge yourself! As Catholics, we are blessed to boast that we have the heritage and beauty of Dietrich von Hildebrand, a great philosopher who championed the dignity of every human person.
In every age it is important that we continue to be seekers and lovers of wisdom, that we become philosophers. Start with this great philosopher, Dietrich von Hildebrand. Read his books and his other writings. Check out The Hildebrand Project! I promise you that your life will be deeply enriched if you do!
Have you ever read von Hildebrand? What is your favorite of his works?
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