Born October 12, 1889 in Florence of German parents, Dietrich von Hildebrand was an original philosopher and religious writer, a brave anti-Nazi activist, an outspoken Christian witness, and a unique representative of Western culture - truly a great figure in twentieth century religious, political, intellectual, and cultural history.
Dietrich von Hildebrand and Alice Jourdain,
Fordham University 1956
As the son of a famous sculptor, von Hildebrand grew up in an unusually rich aesthetic milieu, receiving a formation that allowed him become an eminently cultured man. He was, quite literally, a Renaissance man.
Von Hildebrand studied philosophy under Edmund Husserl, who declared his dissertation to be a work of genius. He was profoundly influenced by his close friend, the brilliant German philosopher Max Scheler, who helped to pave the way for von Hildebrand's conversion to Catholicism in 1914.
When Hitler rose to power in 1933, von Hildebrand was among the first to recognize and denounce the evil of Hitler and Nazism. A persona non grata in Germany, he left everything and went penniless to Vienna where he founded an anti-Nazi newspaper. With the German occupation of Austria in 1938, von Hildebrand became a political fugitive. Fleeing through Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, France, Portugal, and Brazil, he eventually arrived in the United States in 1940 where he taught for many years at Fordham University in New York City.
Throughout his life von Hildebrand wrote many works unfolding the faith and morals of Catholicism. Among these are such classics as Purity and Virginity, Marriage, Liturgy and Personality, and Transformation in Christ. His many writings, particularly those on religious themes, have helped many to embrace the Catholic faith.
Many of von Hildebrand's most important and original philosophical works - among them Ethics, What is Philosophy?, The Nature of Love, and Aesthetics - were written after his arrival in America. Through his many writings, von Hildebrand contributed to the development of a rich Christian personalism, especially by his stress on the transcendence of human persons.
Despite his vocal concern over abuses in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, von Hildebrand's thought had a marked influence on some of the best work of the Council, including, its deepened appreciation of the mystery of marriage and sexuality. Many of the Council Fathers, including then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, had read von Hildebrand's writings on marriage and sexuality and were very much influenced by them.
Von Hildebrand died January 26, 1977 in New Rochelle.