Demystifying an overrated figure…
The Errors of Dietrich von Hildebrand
One of the big names that is sometimes brought up in connection with traditionalist Catholic issues is that of Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977). Propped up by the thoroughly-discredited Michael Davies as an ultra-Catholic superhero who opposed many of the changes of Vatican II, von Hildebrand’s name has long been a favorite among Novus Ordo conservatives and traditionalists of a more intellectual bent.
Whether it be Michael Voris, Catholic Answers, The Wanderer, The Remnant, Keep the Faith, or EWTN, somehow everyone likes to have this thinker in their camp, if not for his critique of the post-conciliar debacle, then for his phenomenological and personalist philosophy, which is a big hit in the Novus Ordo Church and was promoted heavily by “Pope” John Paul II. EWTN has even produced a program of 40 episodes just on the life and thought of Dietrich von Hildebrand.
It is certainly true that von Hildebrand was more outspoken than most regarding the changes introduced by the Second Vatican Council — his books Trojan Horse in the City of God, The New Tower of Babel, The Charitable Anathema, and The Devastated Vineyard come to mind — and he was also a staunch opponent of Nazism, for which reason he left Germany in the 1930s and immigrated to the United States. We certainly do not wish to detract from any of his genuine merits. Nevertheless, these facts alone by no means necessitate the conclusion that he did not entertain and put forth dangerous philosophical and theological ideas himself.
In his recently-republished book refuting the errors of Michael Davies, sedevacantist author John S. Daly also included a little section giving a brief overview of the errors and dangers found in the thought of Dietrich von Hildebrand, whose praises Davies was singing. We have received permission from the author to publish the relevant portion of the book on this web site. We will present just a quick preview before giving you the link to the entire excerpt:
…von Hildebrand was one of the many whose adherence to the Church’s direct teaching, at least in its main points, was too strong for him be dragged into the Modernist apostasy precipitated by Vatican II, but whose underlying philosophical thought was too far from the mind of the Church for him to accept the account given by the Church herself of the metaphysics underpinning her doctrines.
Von Hildebrand’s epistemology and ontology were not merely weakened by accidental error, but entirely vitiated. Using experience and intuition to replace our knowledge of essences von Hildebrand raised on the Kantian quicksands an edifice of what he calls “values” in the stead of natural law and the common good. From this he attempted to safeguard the conclusions of Catholic teaching, especially in the field of ethics, by finding what are in reality entirely new reasons for them. In other words he attempted to reach the answers required by the Church, while entirely rejecting the reasoning on which the Church herself bases them. Thus, to take a single instance, we find him in the vanguard of those who reprobate fornication and contraception, not because they violate the natural law by frustrating the finality of a faculty, but because they fail in an alleged, but indefinable, duty of self-giving, allegedly discovered via experience and depending on the heart for its verification. It is hardly astonishing that these forlorn voluntaristic attempts to “save the appearances” of Catholic doctrine and morality have massively failed to convince and indeed have merely exacerbated the tidal wave of unnatural practices within and without marriage which has engulfed the masses of those who mistakenly still think of themselves as Catholic. Nor is it astonishing to find them enthusiastically endorsed by von Hildebrand’s intellectual fellow-traveller Karol Wojtyła [“Pope” John Paul II].
What is much harder to explain is why so many traditional Catholics, instead of blaming anti-scholastic intellectuals like von Hildebrand for leaving the Church defenceless against her enemies by unilaterally abandoning the Thomistic arsenal, should instead uncritically hail them as allies and shower them with unmerited eulogies whenever they dissent from any of the consequences of the Revolution they made possible. Nor is it reassuring to be informed ad nauseam that Pope Pius XII described von Hildebrand as a doctor of the Church when we discover that the only verifiable source for the claim is von Hildebrand himself!
You can access the entire excerpt of John Daly on Dietrich von Hildebrand here:
- “The Phenomenon of Dietrich von Hildebrand” by John S. Daly
From Chapter 1 of Michael Davies – An Evaluation (2015 ed.)
For anyone interested in reading Daly’s entire book, Michael Davies – An Evaluation, the author has kindly made it available for free as a PDF download, or you can purchase a paperback version directly from the publisher. Our review of the book has links to the download and how to purchase:
- Michael Davies – An Evaluation (new edition, 2015)
Download free PDF or purchase here
Dietrich von Hildebrand is survived by his second wife, Alice, now aged 93. (His first wife had died in 1957.) Like him, she too is a philosopher in the same mold and has appeared on EWTN and in other media productions.
Another one of von Hildebrand’s disciples is Josef Seifert (b. 1945), who recently made some waves by being openly critical of “Pope” Francis’ abominable exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the document that effectively allows access to the Novus Ordo “sacraments” for unrepentant adulterers. Seifert is the former head of the International Academy of Philosophy in the United States, Liechtenstein, and Chile.
For a more in-depth, yet eminently readable, philosophical critique of von Hildebrand’s erroneous phenomenology and the Kantian philosophical paradigm which engendered it, please see Dr. Francisco Romero-Carrasquillo’s post, “Von Hildebrand… What do We Make of Him?”
We would like to extend our special thanks to both author John Daly and philosopher Dr. Romero for demystifying this much-overrated figure.