If you've never read the great, late Catholic thinker, here's why she is considered such an important critic of the relativism that characterizes our society.
To understand the thinking of Alice von Hildebrand, it’s important to know what motivated her. Surely, her primary motivation was her love for Christ and her deep desire that everyone know the Way, the Truth and the Life and be saved.
But a strong secondary motivation was her love for Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977), her teacher and her husband for 18 years. Widely regarded as one of the great Catholic philosophers of the 20th century, von Hildebrand is well-known for his numerous books, including Transformation in Christ, Alice’s own introduction to his philosophy.
In The Soul of a Lion, which Alice von Hildebrand wrote by expanding a very long letter Dietrich had written to her about his experiences, Alice traces his dramatic life, from growing up as the son of a famed Florentine sculptor, to his battle with Hitler and Nazism, to his teaching years in New York.
The foreword was written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who noted that while a number of Dietrich’s books had been translated into English and were still available, “unfortunately not as much is known about his remarkable and inspiring life.”
Soul of a Lion helps answer that need.
Alice von Hildebrand, who devoted her life and career to promulgating the thought of her late husband, died on January 14. She had become a philosopher in her own right, focusing her teaching and writing on subjects such as Christian feminism, art and beauty, love and marriage, and the errors of relativistic thinking.
She and Dietrich had collaborated on several works, such as The Art of Living. But, especially after her 37-year career of teaching philosophy at a secular college in New York, she published many books and articles of her own. Here are some of the highlights of her writing career.
The Privilege of Being a Woman. Von Hildebrand shows that feminism’s attempts to gain equality with men by imitation is unnatural, foolish, destructive, and self-defeating. The Blessed Virgin Mary’s role in the Incarnation points to the true privilege of being a woman. Both virginity and maternity meet in Mary, who exhibits the feminine gifts of purity, receptivity to God’s word, and life-giving nurturance at their highest.
Man & Woman: A Divine Invention. A follow-up to The Privilege of Being a Woman, this book expands the discussion to explore how the fullness of human nature is found in the perfect union between man and woman.
By Love Refined: Letters to a Young Bride. A book of letters to an imaginary young bride reveals the beauty and importance of high ideals in marriage while teaching practical tips to help one live up to those ideals daily.
Memoirs of a Happy Failure. Alice von Hildebrand’s 37 years teaching philosophy at secular Hunter College in New York City takes up the lion’s share of these memoirs. Despite systematic opposition, this Catholic professor left a mark on generations of students through her defense of truth with reason, wit, and love.
Classroom Conversion. In this 1983 article, Alice von Hildebrand relates an anecdote of how a student converted to Catholicism, merely because the professor had defended the notion of objective truth. Contrary to another student’s objection, von Hildebrand never proselytized in the classroom.
Right and Wrong Ways to Influence People. Dr. von Hildebrand considered a number of ways we can influence others, showing the moral superiority of reason, authentic values and love and understanding over things like bragging, slogans and sensitivity training.
Murder of Culture. “Authentic culture is the fruit of wisdom, that is a philosophy of life based on truth,” Dr. von Hildebrand writes in this 2011 article. “It aims not at improving man’s daily life, but at feeding his spirit, by knighting daily life with beauty. For man cannot live on bread alone. His soul longs for spiritual food that visual objects and noble sounds can give him. Through their sheer beauty, they point to a world which, being perfect, will no longer need tools for inventions, but will be an eternal contemplation of Perfect Beauty, that is God.”
Two Souls, One Flesh. After establishing the correct understanding of man as a mysterious union of body and soul, Dr. von Hildebrand asserts that to be a human being, also implies being both man and woman: “persons of different sexes but equal dignity, and clearly called to complement each other.”
The Two Dimensions of Married Love. In which Dr. von Hildebrand takes a fresh look at the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage.
Recalling a Hero. A look at the life of Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty, who fought communistic atheism in his native Hungary.
Reverence: The Mother of All Virtues. “Plato perceived with matchless clarity that respect for the natural moral law is the thermometer that will determine the future of a country,” Dr. von Hildebrand wrote just six years ago. An essay worth re-reading today.
“Plato saw clearly that reverence is a key virtue,” she wrote. She cites Dietrich von Hildebrand, the man who inspired her life’s work, who calls reverence “the mother of all virtues.” Why? “Because none of them can possibly blossom without being animated by a feeling of awe for the greatness of creation—a creation that clearly points to a creator.”