Pope John Paul II greatly admired the work of von Hildebrand, remarking once to von Hildebrand's widow, Alice von Hildebrand, "Your husband is one of the great ethicists of the twentieth century." Pope Benedict XVI has a particular admiration and regard for Dietrich von Hildebrand, whom he already knew as a young priest in Munich. In fact, as young Fr. Ratzinger, he even served as an assistant pastor in the church of St. Georg in Munich, which von Hildebrand frequented in the 1950s and 1960s. It was also in St. Georg that Dietrich and Alice von Hildebrand were married. The degree of Pope Benedict's esteem is expressed in one of his statements about von Hildebrand, "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."
Born and raised in Florence in a secular Protestant household, the son of sculptor Adolf von Hildebrand, Hildebrand converted to Catholicism in 1914. He was a vocal opponent of Adolf Hitler and Nazism, fleeing from Germany to Vienna, Austria in 1933 upon Hitler's rise to power. There with the support of Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss he founded and edited an anti-Nazi weekly paper, Der Christliche Ständestaat (The Christian Corporative state). For this, he was sentenced to death in absentia by the Nazis.
When Hitler annexed Austria in 1938, Hildebrand was once again forced to flee. He spent eleven Months in Switzerland, near Fribourg. He then moved to Fiac in France, near Toulouse, where he taught at the Catholic University of Toulouse. When the Nazis invaded France in 1940, he went into hiding, until after many hardships, and the heroic assistance of Frenchmen, including Edmond Michelet, he was able to escape with his wife, son (Franz von Hildebrand), and daughter-in-law to Portugal. From there they traveled by ship to Brazil and then to New York in 1940. There he taught philosophy at the Jesuit Fordham on Rose Hill, The Bronx, New York.
Hildebrand retired from teaching in 1960 and spent the remaining years of his life writing. He is the author of dozens of books, both in German and English. He was a founder of Una Voce America. He died on January 26, 1977 after a long struggle with a heart condition. He was married to Margaret Denck (died 1957), and then, in 1959, to Alice von Hildebrand (born 1923), also a philosopher and theologian.
He died in New Rochelle, New York, in 1977.
- The Soul of A Lion, a biography by Alice von Hildebrand, Ignatius Press, 2000, ISBN 0-89870-801-X
- Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project
- Dietrich von Hildebrand Institute
- The International Academy of Philosophy
- Autobiography on CatholicAuthors.com
- Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love (1929)
- Metaphysics of Community (1930)
- In Defense of Purity; an Analysis of the Catholic Ideals of Purity and Virginity (Longmans, Green and Co., 1931)
- Transformation in Christ (Longmans, 1948)
- Liturgy and Personality (Longmans, 1943)
- Actual Questions in the Light of Eternity (1931)
- The Essence of Philosophical Research and Knowledge (1934)
- Fundamental Moral Attitudes (Longmans, 1950)
- Christian Ethics (McKay, 1952)
- The New Tower of Babel (P. J. Kenedy, 1953)
- Ethics (Franciscan Herald Press, 1953)
- True Morality and Its Counterfeits, with Alice M. Jourdain (McKay, 1955)
- Graven Images: Substitutes for True Morality, with Alice M. Jourdain (McKay, 1957)
- Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert (J. Habbel, 1961)
- Not as the World Gives; St. Francis' Message to Laymen Today" (Franciscan Herald Press, 1963)
- The art of living, with Alice von Hildebrand (Franciscan Herald Press, 1965)
- Man and Woman: Love & the Meaning of Intimacy, (Franciscan Herald Press, 1966)
- Morality and Situation Ethics, (Franciscan Herald Press, 1966)
- The encyclical Humanae vitae, a sign of contradiction; an essay on birth control and Catholic conscience, (Franciscan Herald Press, 1969)
- Love, Marriage, and the Catholic Conscience: Understanding the Church's Teachings on Birth Control
- The Trojan Horse in the City of God: The Catholic Crisis Explained (Franciscan Herald Press, 1967)
- Celibacy and the crisis of faith, (Franciscan Herald Press, 1971)
- What is Philosophy? (Franciscan Herald Press, 1973)
- The Devastated Vineyard (1973)
- Jaws of Death: Gate of Heaven (1976)
- The Heart: an Analysis of Human and Divine Affectivity, (Franciscan Herald Press, 1977)
- Making Christ's Peace a Part of Your Life
- Humility: Wellspring of Virtuecs:Dietrich von Hildebrand
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