Saturday, February 27, 2010

Notes on The Devastated Vineyard by Dietrich Von Hildebrand [1]

Pope John Paul II called Dietrich von Hildebrand "one of the great ethicists of the twentieth century." Pope Benedict XVI said this 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." Von Hildebrand's philosophy of personalism influenced the thought of both these popes. His writings on marital love impressed John Paul II when he was a young priest and may have had a role in the development of his own defense of marriage and of the Church's ban on contraception in his writings on the theology of the body.

In 1973, Dietrich Von Hildebrand wrote The Devastated Vineyard. He wrote these chilling words in the Preface, "the active work of destruction [of the holy Church] is in high gear." While many in the Church after Vatican II "were deceived by such slogans as 'renewal,' 'aggiornamento,' and 'come out of the ghetto'," Von Hildebrand was encouraged by seeing that many who were initially deceived were returning to orthodoxy. "Various movements have been formed which are taking the offensive against the destruction of the holy Church and the falsification of the Christian spirit..." But by 1973, the errors had gained much ground, and some errors that were being disputed when he starting writing books about them in 1969 (including the book The Trojan Horse in the City of God) had been widely accepted as beyond dispute in 1973.

He wrote, "The purpose of this book is, first of all, to give a short clear presentation of the principal errors which are being presented today .... Secondly, we shall especially try to unmask those hidden, subtle errors which are usually introduced under beautiful, apparently noble titles, and whose danger is often overlooked even by believing Catholics."

Sad to say, from what I've seen and heard, it seems that the battle for mindshare has largely been lost, and the errors that Von Hildebrand wrote of in his books are pretty much accepted by most Catholics, by the clergy (bishops and priests and religious sisters and brothers), and by the laity (university professors, RCIA directors, practically everyone down to the least educated person in the smallest parish in the least cosmopolitan town in the world). It took me years after I returned to the Catholic Church to find anyone who did not believe the errors Von Hildebrand wrote about, even if they had internalized them and would not be able to call the errors by name.

The past two popes have tried to counter most of the errors, but they are not being respected by the mass of Catholics who have been taught to believe (and believe because it suits them) that those old guys in Rome are out of touch and have no right to be telling them what to do.

I first heard about this book over coffee after Sunday Lauds, which are sung weekly by a few St. Ann choir members at Prof. William Mahrt's condominium at Stanford. Sitting with the others around the table in the little dining room drinking coffee out of one of Bill's sets of fine china cups, I remarked that I kept wondering how the Church could have changed so drastically after Vatican II. Just for one example, I told them that when I left the practice of my faith in 1963, sisters (nuns as we incorrectly called them) were leading lives of self-donation. Dressed in black or white habits with veils, sometimes elaborate headdresses and starched white wimples, with a big plain rosaries hanging from a cord at their waists and crucifixes on their breasts, they lived in simple surroundings. They taught children, took care of the sick, and did everything as humble brides of Christ who were not seeking their own way.

When I came back to the Church in the mid 70s, sisters were either dressing for success, clicking down school corridors in their high heels and good suits, wearing polyester pant suits from thrift stores, or they were shlumping around in sweatshirts and jeans and athletic shoes.

For example below are photos from the Sisters of Providence website: Their founder is in the old habit and the present-day sisters are in their mufti. Other contrasts: eyes no longer modestly cast down, big grins on faces


And one of my first indicators of how drastically things had changed from the days when a religious sister taught only approved Church doctrine was when I happened to glimpse the cover of America magazine on the desk of a priest at a Newman Center. It featured a cover story by a Sister so and so, and the title was something like, "Should Divorce Be a Sacrament?" Another indication was the "dress for success" type sister at my daughter's high school who said, "I don't believe in abortion, but I believe we should provide a safe abortion for women who have made that hard decision." I sputtered at her something about how we don't provide similar amenities for women who might make the "hard decision" to kill their babies after birth, so they don't have to do something as difficult as taking the baby out in the back yard and dropping a rock on its head. And I walked off.

When I was done repeating my tales of woe, Professor Mahrt then mentioned that philosopher Dietrich Von Hildebrand had written this book. I asked if I could borrow his copy, and Bill said yes, but then he told me during a later Lauds coffee time that he had looked through his piles of books and couldn't find it.

I finally found it about a month ago in the catalog of Santa Clara University library.

I'll list some of the principal errors mentioned by Von Hildebrand here. As I have time, I will create other blogs with notes from my reading of this book, where I think Von Hildebrand made some good points.

However, I still am looking for the book or books that will explain from a spiritual point of view how almost everyone in the Catholic Church moved from the at least superficial orthodoxy I witnessed in my childhood to acting out a set of beliefs that contradicted traditional doctrines. Von Hildebrand's book lists the errors, but it doesn't explain the values shift that occurred that made it possible for well-meaning Catholics to embrace philosophies that directly contradict what they previously believed, and how they did it without losing their faith in the Church.

I repeat again what I've written elsewhere: I don't understand how someone who believed in the teachings of the pre-Vatican II church could believe that the Church had been wrong for 1960 odd years until some theologians and bible scholars (I use the words theologians and scholars for these debunkers of the faith with a sneer, I am sorry to say) came along and figured out how wrong the Church had been. With that point of view, what's left to believe in? Why do they stay Catholics at all?

According to Von Hildebrand's book and to others I've read, such as Ungodly Rage, many unbelievers stay Catholic either as a fifth column that is consciously trying to destroy the Church from within, or as zealots who think they have the truth and work to "transform the Church into something which completely contradicts her meaning and essence." p. xii.

Von Hildebrand quotes Henri de Lubac, S.J. "in the name of a 'new' Church, a 'post-concilar' Church, some people are atempting to found another Church than that of Jesus Christ: an anthropocentric society, which can be drawn into a movement of general surrender under the cloak of rejuvenation, ecumenism, or adaptation.'" p. xiii.

Some of the Principle Errors

"[T]he theories of the arch-heresiarch, Teillard de Chardin"
"[T]he legend or myth of 'modern' man, and historical relativism"
"[T]he apostasy from the true Faith, which is not conceded to be apostasy by those who proclaim it but is interpreted instead as aggiornamento .... "[This apostasy is evidenced by T]he pluralism of [Karl] Rahner ... Schillebeecks's denial of he imorality of the soul ..."
"[T]he false idea of a middle way between extremes"
"[T]he illusion that our time represents progress in comparisonwith earlier times"
"[T]hat Divine Revelation should be changed to adapt it to the spirit of the age


To be continued.
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