Dietrich von Hildebrand

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Dietrich von Hildebrand (October 12, 1889 – January 26, 1977) was a German Roman Catholic philosopher and theologian.

Hildebrand was called "the 20th Century Doctor of the Church" [1] by Pope Pius XII. Pope John Paul II also greatly admired the work of Hildebrand, remarking once to his widow Alice von Hildebrand "Your husband is one of the great ethicists of the twentieth century." Benedict XVI also has a particular admiration and regard for Hildebrand, whom he knew as a young priest in Munich. The degree of Pope Benedict's esteem is expressed in one of his statements about Hildebrand: "When the intellectual history of the Catholic Church in the twentieth century is written, the name of Dietrich von Hildebrand will be most prominent among the figures of our time."

A vocal critic of the changes in the church brought by the Second Vatican Council, Hildebrand especially resented the new liturgy, saying, "Truly, if one of the devils in C. S. Lewis '​s The Screwtape Letters had been entrusted with the ruin of the liturgy, he could not have done it better."[2]


Born and raised in Florence, in the Kingdom of Italy, Hildebrand grew up in a German household, the son of the sculptor Adolf von Hildebrand and Irene Schäuffelen, who lived in a former Minim friary. He received all his early education from private tutors. Although raised in a home without any religion, Hildebrand developed a deep belief in Jesus at a very young age.[3]

Sent to Munich at the age of fifteen for his Abitur, Hildebrand enrolled at the University of Munich two years later, where he entered a circle of students who first followed the philosopher Theodor Lipps but soon were swayed by the teachings of Edmund Husserl. Through this circle, he came to know Max Scheler. Through his writings, Hildebrand would later convert to Catholicism in 1914. In 1909, he attended the University of Göttingen, where he completed his doctorate in philosophy under Husserl and Adolf Reinach, whom he later credited with shaping his own philosophical system.[3]

In 1912, he married Margaret Denck, and with her he had an only son, Franz.

In 1913, Hildebrand went to Rome to attend the First Communion of one of his sisters, in a ceremony held in the Catacombs of Callixtus. The following year, he and his wife, Margaret Denck, were received into the Catholic Church. Upon the outbreak of the First World War, Hildebrand was drafted into service as a physician's assistant in Munich, serving as a kind of surgical nurse.[3]

The publication of Hildebrand's first book, Die Idee der Sittlichen Handlung, occurred in 1916, and two years later, after the war had ended, he was given a teaching position at the University of Munich, eventually gaining an assistant professorship there in 1924. By then, he had published another work, Sittlichkeit und Ethische Werterkenntniss (1921).[3]

A vocal opponent of Hitler and Nazism, in 1933, upon Hitler's rise to power, Hildebrand fled from Germany, first to Italy, and then to Vienna in Austria. There, with the support of the Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, he founded and edited an anti-Nazi weekly paper, Der Christliche Ständestaat ("The Christian Corporative State"). For this, he was sentenced to death in absentia by the Nazis.

When Hitler annexed Austria in 1938, Hildebrand was once again forced to flee. He spent eleven months in Switzerland, near Fribourg. He then moved to Fiac in France, near Toulouse, where he taught at the Catholic University of Toulouse. When the Nazis invaded France in 1940, he went into hiding; after many hardships, and the heroic assistance of Frenchmen, including Edmond Michelet and Varian Fry, he was able to escape to Portugal with his wife, their son Franz von Hildebrand, and their daughter-in-law. From there, they travelled by ship to Brazil and then on to New York City, arriving in 1940. There he taught philosophy at the Jesuit Fordham University on Rose Hill, in the Bronx.

Hildebrand retired from teaching in 1960, spending the remaining years of his life writing dozens of books in both German and English. He was a founder of Una Voce America. In 1957 his wife of forty-five years died, and in 1959 he married the much younger Alice von Hildebrand (born 1923), also a philosopher and theologian.

Hildebrand died in New Rochelle, New York, in 1977, after a long struggle with a heart condition.

Partial bibliography[edit]

  • Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love (1929)
  • Metaphysics of Community (1930)
  • In Defense of Purity; an Analysis of the Catholic Ideals of Purity and Virginity (Longmans, Green and Co., 1931)
  • Actual Questions in the Light of Eternity (1931)
  • The Essence of Philosophical Research and Knowledge (1934)
  • Liturgy and Personality (Longmans, 1943)
  • Transformation in Christ (Longmans, 1948)
  • Fundamental Moral Attitudes (Longmans, 1950)
  • Christian Ethics (McKay, 1952)
  • The New Tower of Babel (P. J. Kenedy, 1953)
  • Ethics (Franciscan Herald Press, 1953)
  • True Morality and Its Counterfeits, with Alice M. Jourdain (McKay, 1955)
  • Graven Images: Substitutes for True Morality, with Alice M. Jourdain (McKay, 1957)
  • Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert (J. Habbel, 1961)
  • Not as the World Gives; St. Francis' Message to Laymen Today" (Franciscan Herald Press, 1963)
  • The art of living, with Alice von Hildebrand (Franciscan Herald Press, 1965)
  • Man and Woman: Love & the Meaning of Intimacy, (Franciscan Herald Press, 1966)
  • Morality and Situation Ethics, (Franciscan Herald Press, 1966)
  • Love, Marriage, and the Catholic Conscience: Understanding the Church's Teachings on Birth Control
  • The Trojan Horse in the City of God: The Catholic Crisis Explained (Franciscan Herald Press, 1967)
  • The encyclical Humanae vitae, a sign of contradiction; an essay on birth control and Catholic conscience, (Franciscan Herald Press, 1969)
  • Celibacy and the crisis of faith, (Franciscan Herald Press, 1971)
  • What is Philosophy? (Franciscan Herald Press, 1973)
  • The Devastated Vineyard (1973)
  • Jaws of Death: Gate of Heaven (1976)
  • The Heart: an Analysis of Human and Divine Affectivity, (Franciscan Herald Press, 1977)
  • Making Christ's Peace a Part of Your Life
  • Humility: Wellspring of Virtue
  • The Nature of Love (St. Augustine´s Press, 2010)


  1. ^ Trojan Horse in the City of God. Sophia Press Institute. 1993. 
  2. ^ Hildebrand, Dietrich von (1973). Der verwüstete Weinberg (in German). Regensburg: Habbel. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977)". Retrieved 26 December 2012. 


  • Alice von Hildebrand, The Soul of a Lion, a biography (Ignatius Press, 2000, ISBN 0-89870-801-X)

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