Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The rediscovery of von Hildebrand's legacy

Sue Ellin Browder, "‘Lost Treasure’: Catholic Colleges Recovering Von Hildebrand’s Philosophy" (National Catholic Register, November 4-10, 2007), writes:
STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — John Henry Crosby is determined to revive interest in the thought of philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand.

First persuaded by von Hildebrand’s reasoned arguments for the necessity of beauty, Crosby soon was caught up by the story of the philosopher’s heroic fight against Nazism and communism and his suspense-filled flight to freedom. The notion of a “brave philosopher” willing to put his life on the line for the truth inspired him.

“I’ll be involved with this until the day I die,” said Crosby, 29.

His enthusiasm for von Hildebrand is shared by none other than Pope Benedict XVI. As a priest in Munich in the 1950s, Father Joseph Ratzinger attended one of the lectures von Hildebrand often gave on his summer visits to Europe. The subject was “beauty.”

“The joy and freshness of [von Hildebrand’s] understanding of Catholic doctrine were contagious,” Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in 2000 in the foreword to The Soul of a Lion, Alice’s von Hildebrand’s biography of her late husband.

Cardinal Ratzinger believed the “transcendent beauty of truth” that had captured von Hildebrand’s heart was the “same love for the beauty of truth” that later led him to embrace and defend the magisterium’s teaching on birth control. He did so in a small volume originally titled The Encyclical “Humanae Vitae:” An Essay on Birth Control and Catholic Conscience, reprinted by Sophia Institute Press as Love, Marriage and the Catholic Conscience (currently out of print).

Characterizing von Hildebrand as “a man captivated by the splendor of truth,” Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “I am personally convinced that, when, at some time in the future, the intellectual history of the Catholic Church is written, the name of Dietrich von Hildebrand will be most prominent among the figures of our time.”

The Legacy Project

To ensure that all the philosopher’s works will be available in English, Crosby has worked with Alice von Hildebrand and others to set up the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project (

Last month, the Legacy Project brought together more than 150 scholars and devotees from around the world for a conference at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. Scholars focused on von Hildebrand’s growing impact on Christian philosophy.
The philosopher’s impact is making itself felt, too, in university courses. At Steubenville the master of arts philosophy program is furthering von Hildebrand scholarship.

In support of the Legacy Project, Pope Benedict put through a $45,000 Papal Foundation grant to help fund the translation, publication and promotion of von Hilde-brand’s work.
That, my friends, is the substantial first half of the sizeable NCR article, which is well worth reading in its entirety. As a presenter at the recent von Hildebrand conference at Franciscan University and one who has discovered only relatively recently the philosophical breadth of the thinker, I heartily commend Mr. Crosby's Legacy Project to you.

[Hat tip to The Legacy Project Staff]

Update: November 24, 2007

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