May 18, 2004
Tuesday
vol 15, no. 137





    Continuing alphabetically in our presentation of the Crimson Cross - the posthumous arena for 7 of the 15 charter recipients of the Tower of Trent Trophy, we present today a tribute to Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand and enshrine him in the Hall of Honor. He was a man of the ages for he was born in the heart of the Renaissance in Florence, Italy in the 19th century in 1889 on October 12, the feast of Our Lady of Pilar commemorating the Blessed Mother's miraculous appearance to the Apostle James in Zaragossa which is today Spain in 45 A.D. to summon him back to the Council of Jerusalem. God summoned forth a young German aristocrat to bring the truth of the Faith to the world as an outstanding philosopher, whom Pope Pius XII praised as the greatest of the 20th Century.

    The youngest of six children, his parents were well respected by the aristocracy of Firenze for his father was the famous German sculptor Adolf von Hildebrand. The family lived the good life in a former convent on the outskirts above Florence. Dietrich had the abundant love of his mother Irene Schaueffelen and his five sisters, all older than he. Though they had no Christian faith, he was still imbued with a love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at the tender age of five.

    From the earliest years he had private tutors and moved to Munich where he realized at fifteen his vocation was philosophy. Two years later he attended the University of Munich where he was exposed to many of the philosphers of the time who became adherents of Phenomenology, something which the present Pope John Paul II has embraced quite possibly too much in following a man who greatly influenced him - Max Scheler who actually brought Dietrich closer to Catholicism and was a dear friend until 1924 when Scheler fell away from the Faith.

    In 1912, he met and married his lifelong sweetheart Margaret Denck who passed away in July 1957. Two years later young Dietrich, then 25, and his wife were converted to Catholicism during the First Holy Communion Mass of one of his sisters. They were received into the Church by a Franciscan Friar. The two years prior he studied at Goettingen in Germany and received his Ph.D. in 1912. He wrote his first philosophical work in 1916 during the First World War and after the war an associate professor chair at the University of Munich.

    During the war he served as a surgeon's assistant since there were so few doctors so in many aspects, Dietrich was a doctor in more ways than intellectually as he went on to perform assist in operations not only in military hospitals, but also the hospitals of Munich.

    After the war in contributing to helping German recover from the devastation, he became friends with Friedrich Wilhelm Foerster who was, as Dietrich said, "an untiring fighter against German nationalism." Through Foerster, Dietrich could see the blighted curse on the horizon with the build-up of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party. During this time he wrote in German 'In Defense of Purity, Metaphysics of Community', 'Actual Questions in the Light of Eternity', 'The Essence of Philosophical Research and Knowledge', and his magnificent ;Fundamental Moral Attitudes.

    It was also during this time that he met and became close friends with the Papal Nuncio to Germany Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli who would go on to become Pius XII. As Dietrich describes in his autobiography,

    "I had the opportunity of discussing several questions with him, either in his palace or in taking walks with him. He also came to our home once. His personality emanated an intense spiritual life, which impressed everyone who came in contact with him. He was one of those personalities who in their sublime spirituality seem to be free from the weight of matter. On the other hand, he had a keen interest in the most varied problems, approaching every question in an unconventional way, which was extremely inspiring. I still remember with joy our discussion when I was preparing my first lecture on marriage."

    His testimony for Pius stand as a stark contradiction to the accusations heaped on the last Traditional Pontiff that he did not do enough for the Jews during World War II. Dietrich verified that Pius knew well the mind and heart of the man and that he also considered carefully the countless German Catholics who would be put in harm's way by any openness to aiding the Jews. Hopefully the diatribe against Pius will die down in the face of so much evidence as to the holiness of His Holiness in helping those in need, and doing so wisely and secretly.

    The war was also particularly harrowing for Dietrich and his family for the doctor was particularly singled out as a hateful one by Hitler himself. This stemmed from his stating publicly that the invasion of Belgium by Germany was wrong. As Dietrich said, "which declaration aroused fury in Germany and made me guilty of high treason in the eyes of the German nationalists. The newly founded Nazi party put me on their black list."

    Because of this Dietrich and his family were forced to flee Munich in 1933 with only fifteen dollars in his pocket. Arriving in Italy, he soon migrated to Vienna, Austria for the Chancellor was resisting National Socialism there. He founded the anti-totalitarian Catholic Weekly Der Christliche Staendestaat in which he wrote more than 70 articles railing against the Swastika. He became professor of philosophy at the University of Vienna in 1935 where he stayed until March 11, 1938 when he and his wife, in the same manner as Saint Joseph quickly escorted Mary and Joseph to safety toward Egypt just ahead of Herod's henchmen, managed by five hours to avoid the Gestapo. Crossing into Hungary and then Italy as one very high on the Nazis' hit list, he eluded his pursuers and made it to Fribourg, Switzerland where from there he moved to the Catholic University of Toulouse in France as a professor. Here he had hoped he and his family would be safe, but the Germans advanced on Bayonne and he had to escape though the borders and roads were covered. Thanks to a French Dominican who was serving as a lieutenant in the French Army, they were smuggled out of the occupied zone under cover of a Red Cross car.

    It was on Our Lady's birthday in September 1940 that he realized he had been one of the European scholars invited to teach in the United States through funds provided by the Rockefeller Foundation. Not able to travel directly, covertly he and his family were ferried to Brazil and finally made it to New York on December 23, 1940. Quite a Christmas present for the family to see Lady Liberty. There he accepted the offer in 1941 to become a professor at the Graduate School of Fordham University where he taught for 19 years until his retirement in 1960.

    It was during this time that he wrote 'Christian Ethics', 'The New Tower of Babel', 'True Morality and Its Counterfeits', and 'Graven Images'. Some of these were written in collaboration with a good friend Dr. Alice M. Jourdain, a philosophy professor at Hunter College at the time. Alice, a good friend of the entire family stood by Dietrich during his most trying time when his wife Gretchen passed away in July of 1957. Two years later, he remarried Alice who had translated many of his works into English and today remains his strongest advocate and compiled his biography 'The Soul of a Lion' and released it in 2000. A year after their marriage, he retired from teaching and went on the lecture circuit part time when not writing. It was during this time that he either wrote or translated, with the help of his good friend Robert C. Pollock 'Liturgy and Personality', 'The Essence of Love', 'Confidence in God', 'The Image of Christ', 'Master of the Latin Tongue', 'Satan at Work', 'Celibacy & the Crisis of Faith', 'Charitable Anathema', and of course, 'The Devastated Vineyard'.

    He founded in New York City the Roman Forum where Catholic scholars and others could not only go to congregate and study but also for Holy Mass where a Tridentine chapel was established and remains to this day. Also founded, after his death on January 26, 1977 at the age of 88 in his home in New Rochelle, New York, was the Dietrich von Hildebrand Institute. To this giant of our times, to this the 20th Century's greatest philosopher, molded in the land of Michelangelo, and able to escape by the mercy of God the menacing shadow of the swastika, and who emerged victorious as an eminent professor at Fordham, a friend of several popes who through faith and forum - per fidem et forum - chiseled out his own niche in Catholic history and contributed to the betterment of all in increasing the Faith in countless souls, we honor with a Crimson Cross Tower of Trent Trophy and declare this day Dietrich von Hildebrand Day in all of Christendom.


For other charter members honored in this inaugural presentation of the Tower of Trent, see Charter Recipients of the Tower of Trent Trophy

    Tower of Trent Tribute to Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand