Sunday, May 2, 2010

The von Hildebrands: Awe, Reverence, and the Theology of the Body

In his efforts to share Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” Christopher West maintains that the late “Holy Father presents a vision of Marriage and sexuality never before articulated" Well, maybe not so fast….

In 1929, German philosopher Dietrich Von Hildebrand published "Marriage," which has been described as the "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 teaching of Pope John Paul II" As per 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).
One year after "Marriage," Pope Pius XI's published “Casti Connubii,” his profound and beautiful encyclical on marriage.

As per Dr. Thomas Howard, “The name Dietrich von Hildebrand is not, perhaps, as well known as it should be among intelligent and literate Catholics -- or, for that matter, among Christians of any ilk. He is a man whom Pius XII referred to as ‘a 20th-century doctor of the Church.’ Those who remember this pontiff will recall that he was not a man who spoke lightly or extravagantly”

In 1966, Dietrich Von Hildebrand published “Man and Woman: Love & 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).
Two years after “Man and Woman: Love & the Meaning of Intimacy,” Pope Paul VI gave the world "Humanae Vitae," his beautiful encyclical on human life.

From 1979 to 1984, Pope John Paul II gave a series of catechetical addresses, known to us as his “Theology of the Body”:
· "The whole of the catecheses...can be grasped under the title, `Human Love in the Divine Plan," or with greater precision, `the Redemption of the body & the Sacramentality of Marriage'....The first part is devoted to the analysis of the words of Christ....The second part of the catechesis is devoted to the analysis of the sacrament based on Ephesians (Eph 5:22 - 23), which goes back to the biblical beginning of marriage expressed in the words of Genesis, `a man will leave his father and mother and unite with his wife, and the two will be one flesh' (Gen 2:24)" (11/28/84).
As per Dr. Thomas Howard, “John Paul II forthrightly acknowledged his own intellectual debt to von Hildebrand, especially in the matter of marriage.”

The preface to Dr. Alice von Hildebrand’s 2000 biography of her late husband features a forward by then Cardinal Ratzinger (who went on to change jobs!):
· "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."

It is abundantly clear that Dietrich von Hildebrand is not to be taken lightly! The same can be said of his wife! As per Dr. Alice von Hildebrand,
· “Reverence is the key virtue and yet a virtue which is hardly ever mentioned today….From the very cradle on, the child should be taught this virtue, a feeling of respect and awe for whatever is noble, good, true, beautiful….The deepest reverence is due to God’s greatness….How is one to teach reverence? First and foremost by being reverent oneself….
· “A teenager, trained in reverence, knows instinctively that the intimate sphere…is especially related to God. Human beings have been given the amazing privilege – not granted to the angels – of humbling collaborating with God in the creation of new persons made to His image and likeness. Husband and wife make the modest contribution of sharing precious seeds placed in their bodies. God alone creates the soul. Therefore God should always be present in the bedroom….
· “reverence – like a noble armor – is the greatest protection against the poisonous advertisements which proliferate in our society. If a child is properly taught that certain domains have a dignity and a beauty, any abuse will trigger in them a sense of disgust….
· “The task of parents today is overwhelming….out of love for souls, we should not hesitate to proclaim on the rooftops the words of Christ: ‘It would be better for those who scandalize the little ones, to have a millstone put on their necks’” (The Wanderer, March 4, 2010).

You can listen to Marcus Grodi’s wonderful interview with Dr. Alice von Hildebrand at

The Beatitudes from "Jesus of Nazareth"


Use of Emergency So-Called Contraceptives in Catholic Hospitals for Those Reporting Rape

Book & Film Reviews, pt 1

Book & Film Reviews, pt 2

Blog Archive

And yup, that's me!

And yup, that's me!
(from page 1 of the NY Sun, 3/22/04)

Total Pageviews

12/12/08 Interview with Rev. Tad Pacholczyk, Ph.D. of the National Catholic Bioethics Center

March for Life 2010