21 October 2014

My Battle Against Hitler

An important book went on sale today: My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich by Dietrich von Hildebrand. It is actually a translation of part of the memoirs he wrote in German during the last decade of his life at the request of his wife, Lady Alice. Amazon says my copy is “In transit” as I pre-ordered it on October 12th, which just happened to be his birthday.

Dietrich von Hildebrand has been a major influence on my life; although, I must admit, I’ve only been able to read a few of his books. I only discovered who he was a few years before I began to have some cognitive difficulties, which has given me great difficulties in reading. However, it was by reading and studying the works of St. John Paul II that led me to Dietrich von Hildebrand as von Hildebrand was the biggest influence on the now canonized pope in the area I was studying.

Although this work of St. John Paul II gained a great deal of popularity, it was often misunderstood. The pope did present a great teaching, but, perhaps, he was not the greatest of teachers. I only mean this in the respect that he is difficult to understand at time. I’ve never found this with Dietrich von Hildebrand. He can take the most complex topic, and explain it in a way that makes it easy and natural. Thus, it was Dietrich von Hildebrand that clarified the areas of difficulty I had with the pope’s work.

Many people are under the impression that Dietrich von Hildebrand may not have been overly influential on St. John Paul II. However, it seems most logical that such an impression is completely false. Dietrich von Hildebrand was the leading Catholic scholar in the school of philosophy (i.e. phenomenology) that St. John Paul II was drawing from. Dietrich von Hildebrand was a student of Edmund Husserl, as was Edith Stein (i.e. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), and a friend of Max Scheler. St. John Paul II would have been extremely negligent if he hadn’t studied the works of the student and friend of these two philosophers, which nobody denies heavily influencing him. Additionally, Dietrich von Hildebrand was teaching what the pope went on to teach before the pope had even entered the seminary. We can be assured that St. John Paul II did study the works of Dietrich von Hildebrand since he told his widow, Lady Alice, that he had read all of her husbands books, some of which were published before Karol Wojtyła (i.e. St. John Paul II) began elementary school, let alone seminary.

Of course, Lady Alice is also a great philosopher and teacher herself (some say she’s even easier to understand than her husband), and it could be said that she is the greatest student of Dietrich von Hildebrand. Not only is it very advantageous to be married to your philosophy teacher, but when the particular area of study is marriage itself, I believe this would give her greater credentials than anyone else. Thus, I was delighted with her biography of her late husband: The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand.

I was disappointed that this book ended just after Dietrich von Hildebrand escaped the Nazis with his family as I wanted to know the rest of the story after his first wife died and he met and married Lady Alice. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the life of the man that had such a great influence on me. It even caused me to do something unusual. (Well, if you know me, perhaps you wouldn’t think it unusual for me.)

I found it very interesting how much Dietrich von Hildebrand appreciated the music of Richard Wagner. Not only that, Eugenio Pacelli also seemed to appreciate his music a great deal. Before Pacelli took the name Pope Pius XII, he and von Hildebrand would listen to recordings of Wagner’s operas as they discussed what to do about Hitler. I believe I was around 11 years old when I first tried to listen to Wagner. Every time I listened to him, I would have to clean my ears out with either Bach, Beethoven or Mozart. I don’t mean to offend any Wagner fans, but to say that I prefer Giuseppe Verdi would be an understatement. But here were two great men, who I admire a great deal, having a great appreciation for a composer that I just couldn’t stand, let alone appreciate.

I decided to buy a Wagner opera and listen to it until I began to appreciate it. I bought a recording of Tristan Und Isolde. I chose this opera and this recording because Plácido Domingo sang the tenor part. This was pretty much the only thing I listened to for around two weeks, but it didn’t make a difference, I did not like it.

Around this time, someone posted her master’s thesis online concerning the problems of a very popular promoter of St. John Paul II’s work. She was receiving a great deal of criticism for it primarily due to this teacher’s popularity and not for the actual content of her thesis. I had been quite impressed with what she had written before and I agreed with her thesis, so I wrote a blog post to support her. I then emailed her a link so she could see what I had written.

I felt quite pleased when I receive her reply thanking me for my blog post. Then I got quite a shock. A day or two later, I received an email from Dr. Alice von Hildebrand thanking me for supporting someone she herself had been helping and encouraging. After recovering from the shock, I decided to write her a “fan email.”

I told her how much I appreciated her work and the work of her husband, and that I am waiting with anticipation for the sequel to the biography she wrote. I also included the story of how I tried with all sincerity to begin to appreciate Wagner. In her reply, among other things, she said that although her husband did appreciate Wagner, he always said that the holy trinity of classical music is Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart.

I am finding it easier to read now. I do have a number of unfinished books sitting around from the past three years, including two by Dietrich von Hildebrand and three by Lady Alice. However, I am waiting with great anticipation for my copy of My Battle Against Hitler to arrive in the mail.

A quote from this book: