Some of the great churchmen of the twentieth century have held Dietrich von Hildebrand in high regard. One of these was Pope Pius XII, who called von Hildebrand a “twentieth century Doctor of the Church”! Equally impressive are the words of Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger), who wrote of von Hildebrand:
“I am personally convinced that, when, at some time in the future, 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.”
A prominent scholar and philosopher, Dietrich was one of the first to detect and openly oppose Nazi Socialism and Hitler’s regime. Dietrich von Hildebrand campaigned at a time when, to his dismay, many Catholic elites and even religious in Europe and Germany had bought into national socialism. A personal friend of his however,
Eugenio Giovanni Pacelli, supported him in his campaign. That friend later became Pope Pius XII.
Hitler hated Dietrich because of the zeal and audacity with which he fought against his regime. Hitler and Dietrich ended up having a personal encounter. Thereafter, he sent for the assassination of Dietrich. After being hunted across Europe, Dietrich von Hildebrand and his family narrowly managed to escape to the USA where Dietrich continued to write and denounce Hitler and the evils of Nazism.
On 2ndAugust 2011 William Doino Jr. (author of ‘The Pius War: Responses to the Critics of Pius XII’) attempts to set the record straight on the much-maligned Pope Pius XII in a well researched article on ‘First Things’:
“In 1939, on the eve of World War II, Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain published a book stating that anti-Semitism had become a ‘pathological phenomenon.’ Maritain’s warning was welcomed by concerned believers, and even the secular press. The New York Times praised Maritain’s insight that “hatred of Jews and hatred of Christians spring from a common source; and the same men who began persecuting Jews are now persecuting Christians, and more or less for the same reason.” The “common source” Maritain was speaking about, of course, was the biblical heritage Jews and Christians shared, then under furious attack. Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin all wanted to annihilate it, one way or the other…………..
“In his book, The Vatican and the War, Camille Cianfarra testified: “The covering of Vatican and Italian news for The Times gave me the opportunity of being an eyewitness to the struggle that both Pius XI and Pius XII waged against Nazism and Fascism….I heard those two pontiffs condemn time and time again the totalitarian system of government.” Reporting from liberated Rome, McCormick noted how Vatican City had become a sanctuary for Jews and others during the German occupation, crediting Pius XII: “What the Pope did was to create an attitude in favour of the persecuted and hunted that the city was quick to adapt, so that hiding someone ‘on the run’ became the thing to do.” The Times was not alone in its favorable coverage of Pius XII. The Jewish War Veterans of the United States –among the oldest such organizations in the country—and its publication, the Jewish Veteran, took the lead. In its March 1939 issue, just as Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli became Pius XII, the Jewish Veteran welcomed the breaking news with an editorial entitled, “Hail Pope Pius XII!” Its April issue went further:
“The anti-Semitic clique in the Fascist party, headed by Roberto Farinacci, was shocked by the election of Cardinal Pacelli by unanimous vote in the third ballot, as the new Pope. His election is however a source of great satisfaction to Jews. Pope Pius XII is known as a staunch friend of Jews and on several occasions expressed his strong opposition to the persecution of Jews in Germany and Italy. In accordance with his instructions, as Papal Secretary to the late Pope Pius XI, distinguished Jewish visitors to the Vatican were served with kosher food. Known as a vigorous champion of the Vatican’s anti-Nazi policy, the anti-Semitic Fascists tried hard to prevent Cardinal Pacelli’s election. Their failure demonstrates the lack of influence of anti-Semites in the princes of the Catholic Church.
“Pacelli affirmed his Jewish brethren, sharing the same religious vision of Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977), the great anti-Nazi Catholic philosopher (condemned to death by Hitler), whom Pacelli befriended while serving as papal nuncio in Munich and Berlin. As the philosopher’s wife, Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, recently told me: “Pacelli, like my husband Dietrich, abhorred anti-Judaism—not just racial anti-Semitism– recognizing that Old Testament Judaism is the foundation on which Christianity stands, and that the Nazi assault upon Judaism—profoundly evil in itself—was also an attack on the roots of Christianity.” Significantly, she continued, when von Hildebrand travelled to Rome in 1935—by which time Pacelli had become Cardinal Secretary of State to Pius XI—“my husband went with the exclusive purpose to question His Eminence on his views about Nazism and its anti-Semitic philosophy. He requested, and soon obtained, a private audience. Dietrich immediately saw that the Cardinal totally shared his detestation of Nazism animated by a deadly hatred of the chosen people who, according to God’s divine plans, gave us the Saviour of the world.” In fact, in 1966, during the height of the anti-Pius campaign—provoked by Rolf Hochhuth’s notorious play, The Deputy, Dietrich von Hildebrand gave a moving statement to biographer G.M. Tracy, who was trying to set the record straight: “He was an open enemy of National Socialism as early as Hitler’s 1923 Putsch, and I spoke to him often in Munich about National Socialism. During my private audience in Rome with him, after he became a Cardinal, His Eminence told me that Nazism was as opposed to Catholicism ‘as fire and water’ and added ‘they could never be reconciled.’ I am overjoyed that you have undertaken a biography of this great Pope, especially because of the atrocious caricature that Hochhuth created, aided by statements of the very dubious Bishop Hudal [a German collaborator]. Hudal wrote a book in which he tried to prove that National Socialism and Christianity could get along together. This book incurred the disdain of Pius XII and Hudal wanted to avenge himself on Pius by slandering him in a completely false way to Hochhuth. It would be impossible to create a more false depiction of Pius than the one created by Hochhuth.”
“Those who dislike the Church’s stands on abortion, euthanasia and homosexual conduct will use any stick to beat the Church, including dubious claims against Pius XII… The communists started it with ‘The Deputy’, and progressives ever since have kept it alive to use in their attacks on the Church. The “case” against Pius XII has been so thoroughly refuted at this point that anyone who asserts that he was “Hitler’s Pope” immediately identifies themselves as being a fool or a liar.”
(A comment on this article in ‘First Things’.)
Another notable attribute of Dietrich von Hildebrand are his scholarly works on purity, beauty and marriage, with themes that have subsequently influenced men of the likes of Karol Wojtyła – Pope John Paul II.
(For more on von Hildebrand’s struggle against Nazism, and his admiration for Pacelli, see The Soul of a Lion [Ignatius Press, 2000] by his wife, Alice von Hildebrand.)