by Dietrich Von Hildebrand
Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.Profiles in Catholicism
One can understand von Hildebrand only up to a point if one does not grasp how radically he lived out of his faith. Indeed, in abandoning Germany, he threw himself into the arms of God. Even as he confidently challenged Nazism on the firm basis of philosophical arguments, the real source of his strength and his amazing peace and joy in those darkest of hours lay in his ever-deepening life of faith,. “I had the consciousness that what I was doing was right before God,” he later wrote, “and this gave me such inner freedom that I was afraid.” His story might have been forever lost had it not been for his wife, Alice von Hildebrand. His first wife of forty-five years, Gretchen, died in 1957. She was with him during his struggle against Nazis, and supported him unreservedly. In 1959, von Hildebrand married Alice Jourdain, with whom he formed a unique intellectual, spiritual and cultural partnership. One day she said to him, “being so much younger, she was over 30 years his junior, “I deeply regret having missed so much of your life.” Then I will write it for you” he answered and he began already the next day. He produced five-thousand handwritten pages recounting his life in vivid detail, beginning with his childhood, his youth, and his life of faith, his education, and finally his battle against Nazism.
Von Hildebrand’s rich contact with the “world of values challenges” us to us to think of his political witness not just in terms of resistance and opposition. He was not merely opposed to Nazism. Or rather, his opposition was rooted in his devotion to the West, which to him above all meant the Judeo-Christian West with its commitment to truth, its respect for the dignity of the individual person and its great cultural inheritance.
This edition features new material never before published. Of greatest importance are new passages taken directly from the hand-written manuscript of the memoirs, as well as extensive passages, featured in the chapter, “Escape from Vienna,” derived from unpublished outlines and sketches by von Hildebrand. One particularly precious source we present is a previously unpublished letter of Michael Braunfels, von Hildebrand’s nephew, to Alice von Hildebrand describing his role in helping his uncle and aunt leave Vienna on the night of March 11, 1938.
The more we grasp the whole greatness and depth of the human being as a spiritual person who is ordered to God and possesses an eternal destiny,, and the more we overcome the great danger of our times, the objectification and effacing of personal being, the more we will be able to bring about the revitalization of the authentic spirit of community. The correct starting point for the victory of the true and Christian idea of corporative community lies here, in a reawakening of the entire fullness of personal being. But the path to this goal is also indicated by the perennial admonition in the words of the Gospel: “F what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”
Dietrich von Hildebrand went on to have a second life in America. He taught at FordhamUniversity in New York until 1960, but even in retirement his philosophical energies never abandoned him. He continued to write voluminously until his death on January 26, 1977. There is a rich vision of individual and communal flourishing that informs his work as a whole; a vision tat is waiting to be discovered by a new generation. The Hildebrand Project is the world’s leading organization dedicated to the presentation and exploration of the thought and witness of Dietrich von Hildebrand. An original philosopher, ardent Christian, fierce foe of Nazism, and fervent champion of beauty, von Hildebrand defends the timeless truths of our Western patrimony while at the same time eagerly receiving and enriching the insights of modernity.