Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Dietrich von Hildebrand on "religious pluralism"

As we move forward following the Court's decision in Hobby Lobby, it's important to be clear about what we mean if we think, as many still do, that the answer to our day's social problems amounts to no more than a consensus that values pluralism.  Consider, by contrast, the judgment of Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977), whom Ven. Pope Pius XII described as nothing less than "a 20th century doctor of the Church" (Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI had similarly admiring things to say about von Hildebrand's work as a theologian):  

Insofar as cultures are concerned, multiplicity has a value, just as does the pluralism of national characters.  When, however, it comes to metaphysical or ethical truth -- and especially when it comes to religion -- any pluralism is an evil.  Evil, too, are the many fluctuations in the life of religion that occur in history.  Unlike cultural pluralism, religious pluralism is in no way a sign of life, but rather a symptom of human fraility and insufficiency.  Great metaphysical and ethical truths, and the true religion itself, are destined to take root among men.  Here the 'oughtness' of assuming social reality gives to their aliveness a special significance.  It represents a descending of Christ into the soul of the individual person and the erecting of His Kingdom in the interpersonal sphere.  It is the dimension of Christ's victory that He predicted in saying: 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am in the midst of them.'  To supplant truth in its transcendent existence with a merely social reality is to imprison man and history in a desolate immanentism.  On the other hand, the incarnation of transcendent truth in man and history represents the victory of transcendence over the purely immanent.  

Trojan Horse in the City of God: The Catholic Crisis Explained 103-04 (1967; 1993).

John Cardinal O'Connor's Foreword to the 1993 edition of von Hildebrand's book adds the following:  "It is against secularism that von Hildebrand inveighs most strongly and consistently.  It is the invasion of secularism into the life of the Church that he sees as most analogous to the invasion of Troy by the Athenians.  'To be sure,' he says, 'secularization is an evil primarily because it implies an apostasy from Christ, and it is for this reason that we fight it on every page of this book'"  Id. at xi.  The late Cardinal O'Connor's Foreword concludes with these words about what the Church should be doing in every age:  "I hope that [readers] will take special note of Dietrich von Hildebrand's quoting John Henry Cardinal Newman about the Church: 'She holds that unless She can, in Her own way, do good to souls, it is no use Her doing anything.'"  Ibid.


By the way, von Hildebrand was sentenced to death (in absentia) by the Nazis for publishing a weekly opposition newspaper with the assistance of the great Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, who for his part was assassinated by the Nazis in 1934. 



Brennan, Patrick | Permalink