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Von Hildebrand's Voice of Reason

6/14/2007 - 5:55 AM PST

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Interview With Founder of Legacy Project


ALEXANDRIA, Virginia, JUNE 14, 2007 (Zenit) - Benedict XVI sees in Dietrich von Hildebrand a voice of reason in an age that has largely despaired of reason, says the founder of a project to disseminate the philosopher-theologian's writings.

John Henry Crosby recently spoke with us about the mission of the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project and the influence the German thinker had on the Catholic Church throughout the 20th century.

Crosby works closely with Alice von Hildebrand, the widow of the philosopher. Dietrich von Hildebrand lived from 1889 to 1977.

The Legacy Project recently released a new edition of "The Heart," which can be purchased at the project's Web site.

Q: You and Alice Von Hildebrand recently met with Benedict XVI. What is the Holy Father's interest in this project?

Crosby: This is a challenging question because the Holy Father is interested in the Legacy Project or, more precisely, in Dietrich von Hildebrand, at many levels.

Many people will not know that the Holy Father knew von Hildebrand already as a young priest, when as young Father Ratzinger, he was the assistant pastor at von Hildebrand's parish church in Munich.

From the very start, Father Ratzinger had a deep esteem for Dietrich von Hildebrand, both as a personality and as thinker.

Beyond his personal admiration, however, the Holy Father also sees von Hildebrand as a Catholic figure who left a tremendous mark on the Church -- a mark about which many Catholics are regrettably unaware.

One could hardly attribute a greater historical importance to von Hildebrand than Cardinal Ratzinger did when he wrote about von Hildebrand in the year 2000: "I am firmly convinced that, when at some time in the future, the intellectual history of the Catholic Church in the 20th century is written, the name of Dietrich von Hildebrand will be most prominent among the figures of our time."

These are not idle words, and the Holy Father has gone to great lengths to demonstrate how seriously he meant them.

Soon after the Legacy Project was founded in 2004, he took the rare step of joining as an honorary member, and even after his elevation to the papacy his support has been faithful and concrete.

The Legacy Project just released our first publication in collaboration with St. Augustine's Press, namely a new edition of von Hildebrand's book "The Heart."

The book appeared around the time of our audience with the Holy Father. Alice von Hildebrand and I were able to present the very first copy to him, to which he responded, expressing his gratitude, "Ah, the young people will like this."

Naturally, all of this collaboration only heightens the question of the Holy Father's interest in Dietrich von Hildebrand. Among the many different reasons that come to mind, two in particular, or, perhaps, two ways of explaining his support, stand out.

To begin with, one might say that the Holy Father sees Dietrich von Hildebrand as a voice of reason in an age that has largely despaired of reason.

How often have we not heard it said that there is no objective moral law but only what is right for me; that there is no reality except what I choose to make my reality?

This was hardly the way of von Hildebrand, who was always concerned with conforming himself to reality or, as he often expressed himself, to "listening to the voice of being."

Von Hildebrand has been described as a "knight for truth," and this marvelously expresses the way he not only sought and understood the faith but the manner in which he defended it and gave witness to it through his life.

Too few people know of the great Christian witness of von Hildebrand which, during the 1920s and 1930s, reached a heroic highpoint in his intellectual anti-Nazi resistance.

I am reminded here of some words which Cardinal Christoph Schönborn recently wrote to me in a letter about von Hildebrand, for they drive home the importance of von Hildebrand for today: "I continue to think, as I have in the past, that the work of Dietrich von Hildebrand stands among the very great Catholic contributions to the thought of the 20th century."

"Precisely in our time," Cardinal Schönborn continued, "it is becoming increasingly clear to me how precious it is to have great thinkers formed in the faith through whom we can find orientation and support in the midst of the confusion of the present time."

A second reason for the Holy Father's interest in Dietrich von Hildebrand lies in the fact that he sees the "personalism" of von Hildebrand as a kind of instrument for making the Gospel fully intelligible to the ...

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