Saturday, February 3, 2007

The Indebtedness of the Theology of the Body to Dietrich Von Hildebrand (7/4/06)

One hundred and twenty-nine of Pope John Paul II's general audiences (9/5/79 to 11/28/84) have become known to us as his Theology of the Body. In spreading the good news about the late Holy Father's teachings, Christopher West explains: "The Holy Father presents a vision of Marriage and sexuality never before articulated." Clarification may be in order. It takes nothing away from the Theology of the Body to look at some of its influences.

In 1929, German philosopher Dietrich Von Hildebrand published "Marriage," which was excitedly received by his country's papal nuncio (who later became Pope Pius XII). On its web site, EWTN explains that Marriage constituted the "earliest orthodox presentation of the personalistic approach to matrimony which would find its way into Vatican II's Guadium et Spes, Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae and...the writings of Pope John Paul II....Pope Pius XII called von Hildebrand `the 20th century Doctor of the Church.'" Published just one year before Pope Pius XI's Casti Connubii, "Marriage" is a wonderful little book, which reads as fluidly and beautifully as a Christopher West presentation of the Theology of the Body (My quotes are from Sophia Institute's 1997 paperback edition.):

"there is no greater mystery in the natural order of things than the fact that
this closest of all unions procreates a human being with an immortal soul
(although the soul, in each case, is a direct creation of God), and that this
act brings a new being into existence destined to love God and to adore Him, a
new being made after His image" (p. 26). "How terrible to think of man wanting
to destroy this unity which God has established so mysteriously, deeming those
united in the highest earthly union of love worthy to take part in His creative
power" (p. 28). "He alone can understand the horror of the sin of promiscuity
who has grasped the grandeur and sublimity of bodily union as the full
realization of conjugal love, and who realizes that besides the primary end of
procreation, the primary meaning of bodily union lies in the fulfillment of
conjugal love" (pp. 30, 31). "Jesus has invested marriage with a dignity which
represents something quite new....He raised it to the rank of a Sacrament. He
made of this sacred bond a specific source of grace. He transformed marriage -
already sacred in itself - into something sanctifying" (p. 53).

Despite its freshness and seeming newness, Marriage was based on notes from one of von Hildebrand's own 1923 talks! As per Dr. Thomas Howard (A Portrait of Dietrich von Hildebrand, 2000), "It is inconceivable that the writings of von Hildebrand will ever be dated, no matter what tortuous metamorphoses the coming centuries may bring."

Von Hildebrand's life seems to have been packed with sanctity, romance, heroism, and intrigue. An outspoken opponent of Hitler, he became targeted for assassination. Hunted throughout Europe, he arrived in New York City in 1940, where he taught at Jesuit-run Fordham University until 1960. Widowed in 1957, he remarried in 1959, to a woman 34 years his junior (Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand is familiar to many from EWTN.). Just two years before Pope Paul VI's Humane Vitae, Von Hildebrand published Man and Woman: Love and the Meaning of Intimacy (My quotes are from Sophia Institute's 1992 edition.):

"Although we hear that sex is overemphasized today, this is not correct. Rather,
we live in a time in which sexuality is no longer understood in its true nature.
People today are generally as blind to its true meaning as are persons who
completely lack sensuality....Today's blatant sexuality conceals a pathetic
sensual emptiness" (p. 3). "It was said that Christians are to be recognized by
the fact that they love one another. I would add: Christians should also be
recognized by the fact that they who have received the festival clothes in
Baptism shun any superficial, mediocre approach to the great goods of creation,
that they understand more profoundly than others `how admirable are they works,
O God'" (p. 45). "As long as conception and birth are seen exclusively as mere
physiological processes, we cannot understand the impact and seriousness of the
making of a new human being" (p. 61). "Every active intervention on the part of
the spouses, which eliminates the possibility of conception through the conjugal
act, is incompatible with the holy mystery of the superabundant relation in the
incredible gift offered by God....To make use of natural family planning is not
to imply the slightest irreverence or rebellion against God's institution and
the wonderful link between the love union and procreation" (pp. 68 - 69).

As reported by Dr. Thomas Howard (A Portrait of Dietrich von Hildebrand, 2000), "John Paul II forthrightly acknowledged his own intellectual debt to von Hildebrand, especially in the matter of marriage." Alice von Hildebrand's 2000 biography of her late husband (i.e., The Soul of a Lion) features a forward by then Cardinal Ratzinger:

"Dietrich von Hildebrand was exceptional in many ways. His extensive writings on Christian philosophy, spiritual theology, and in defense of the Church's teaching, place him among the great thinkers of the twentieth century. His steadfast and determined opposition to totalitarianism, whether in the form of National Socialism or Marxist Leninism, a conviction that would cost him greatly during his life, illustrates the profound clarity of his moral vision and his willingness to suffer for what he knew was true."

Click to see this review on Amazon.com.




A Twentieth Century Theological Giant
It was just two years before Pope Paul VI's Humane Vitae that Dietrich Von Hildebrand published his brilliant "Man and Woman: Love and the Meaning of Intimacy" (My quotes are from Sophia Institute's 1992 edition.):

"Although we hear that sex is overemphasized today, this is not correct. Rather,
we live in a time in which sexuality is no longer understood in its true nature.
People today are generally as blind to its true meaning as are persons who
completely lack sensuality....Today's blatant sexuality conceals a pathetic
sensual emptiness" (p. 3). "It was said that Christians are to be recognized by
the fact that they love one another. I would add: Christians should also be
recognized by the fact that they who have received the festival clothes in
Baptism shun any superficial, mediocre approach to the great goods of creation,
that they understand more profoundly than others `how admirable are they works,
O God'" (p. 45). "As long as conception and birth are seen exclusively as mere
physiological processes, we cannot understand the impact and seriousness of the
making of a new human being" (p. 61). "Every active intervention on the part of
the spouses, which eliminates the possibility of conception through the conjugal
act, is incompatible with the holy mystery of the superabundant relation in the
incredible gift offered by God....To make use of natural family planning is not
to imply the slightest irreverence or rebellion against God's institution and
the wonderful link between the love union and procreation" (pp. 68 - 69).

Just last month, Pope Benedict XVI welcomed the establisment of the "Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project" in Steubenville, Ohio(Zenit New Agency, 10/25/07).


Click to see this review on
Amazon.com.



Von Hildebrand was a Fabulous Defender of the Faith!

This incredible, 2000 book features a forward by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who subsequently changed jobs!!! Dietrich Von Hildebrand was anything but a dull, boring academic. As described by his widow, his life was filled with sanctity, romance, heroism, and intrigue. An outspoken opponent of Hitler, he became targeted for assassination. Hunted throughout Europe, he arrived in New York City in 1940, where he taught at Jesuit-run Fordham University until 1960. Even after retirement, Von Hildebrand maintained ties to Fordham through his protege, the late Dr. William Marra - my own teacher! I am deeply disappointed that I never took the opportunity to hear one of Von Hildebrand's presentations.

Click to see this review on
Amazon.com.









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I am an enormously blessed husband and dad. In regard to my Catholic theological background, I have a certificate in social ministry & a master's degree (moral theology concentration), as well as a catechetical diploma from the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Clergy (Nope, I am not now - nor have I have ever been - a seminarian, deacon, or priest.). I feel particularly proud to have a mandatum. I also have a doctorate in Christian counseling psychology.

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