“A Twentieth Century Doctor of the Church”

“A Twentieth Century Doctor of the Church” January 26, 2009

Today marks the death of Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977), philosopher and academic. The son of a prominent sculptor, he grew up in Florence and returned to Germany to study philosophy. In 1912 he received his doctorate from the University of Göttingen. He converted to Catholicism in 1914, and during World War I he served in a military hospital. He later taught at the University of Munich. His opposition to National Socialism was well known, and he left Germany when Hitler came to power. In Austria he founded an anti-Nazi paper, but he fled to France after the German takeover in 1938. He then taught at the Catholic University of Toulouse. When the Germans occupied France he fled to America, where he joined the Fordham University faculty. In addition to his philosophical writings, Hildebrand also wrote theological works like Transformation in Christ (1948) and Christian Ethics (1953). In his later years, he was highly disenchanted with the postconciliar Church, but he remains one of the most important Catholic philosophers in the twentieth century. Pope Pius XII, who knew Hildebrand while he was papal nuncio in Germany, called him a “twentieth century Doctor of the Church.” Pope Benedict XVI has expressed his belief that 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.”

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