I have just finished reading Dietrich von Hildebrand's Trojan Horse in the City of God. I have managed to resist the (frequent) temptation to post various paragraphs on my blog as I read it. But it really was a struggle. Time and again, von Hildebrand hits the nail squarely on the head.
His project is quite simply to expose, dissect and dispose of the false understanding of the Faith which has grown up in recent decades. As he puts it:
'it would be difficult to conceive a greater contrast than that between the official documents of Vatican ll and the superficial, insipid pronouncements of various theologians and laymen that have broken out like an infectious disease.'
He starts by analysing the false alternatives, with which we are repeatedly presented, labeled conservative and progressive. Instead, he puts before us the third choice, 'based on unshakeable faith in Christ and in the infallible magisterium of His Holy Church…. This attitude holds that the Christian morality of holiness… remains for ever the same. It holds that being transformed in Christ, becoming a new creature in Him, is the goal of our existence.'
Thus he launches into his analysis of True and False Renewal, which forms the first section of the book. He examines the meaning of the Council, false reactions to it, and the role of the Christian philosopher today. His analysis is clear and compelling, and one can only wish that many Catholic philosophers and theologians had as clear an understanding.
Part Two addresses the specific dangers of our time. The names of a few of the Chapters gives you a clue: Historical relativism, Evolutionism, progressivism and progress, Science fetishism, Sham honesty… He doesn't pull his punches:
'We have previously referred to the dilettante chatter that passes for thought in the ranks of many lay Catholic theologians who have been irresponsibly appointed to various Catholic colleges. Their insipid discussions about God and the world, about whether God still fits our society, whether we still 'need' Him, are proof not only of the low level of their intelligence, but also of their dishonesty.
When they treat, in the most trivial way and from points of view that are totally unsuitable, questions of ultimate importance which have preoccupied men throughout history, they reveal an adolescent exhibitionism and pride.'
Part III is called The Secularization of Christianity. So you know what that is about. (One of the lesser delights of the book is how well it is sign-posted: every chapter does what it says in its title, and within each chapter, each set of ideas is clearly labelled.)
He starts this section by addressing the fallacy of 'the modern period' and moves on to address the fear of the sacred and immanentist corruptions, explaining how modernism saps the Faith of any truth, and leads to amoralism. But perhaps the most powerful points he makes are in the final chapter, False irenicism, in which he explains precisely why declaring anathemas is an act of charity. He concludes this chapter: 'False irenicism is motivated by a misconceived charity at the service of a meaningless unity. It places unity above truth.'
The final section is called Sacred and Secular, and presents some principles for moving forward, given the crisis currently engulfing the Church. He discusses the purpose and the limitations (and indeed dangers) of dialogue with people outside the Church, and the dangers that secularism poses to genuine ecumenism. He points out the difference between religious vitality - the deepening of Faith - and change, which may pose as progress, but more often is not.
He then goes on (and this may be my favourite chapter) to discuss the role of beauty in religion. Firstly, he disposes of aestheticism as a 'perverse approach to beauty' and then traces the relationship between reverence and the love o f beauty. He also analyses the grave error some fall into, when they suggest that beauty is opposed to evangelical poverty. He then discusses the need for beauty in the Liturgy, explaining how sacred beauty promotes our sanctification. He ends by pointing out the fallacy of those who would make the liturgy 'relevant' by conforming it to 'the style of life of our desacrilised age.'
In a similar way, he treats of the word of the Lord and the problems with modern approaches both to exegesis and translation of the Gospels. Chapters on Tradition and The Saints are in the same inspiring vein.
The final chapter, Epilogue, summarises the argument of the whole book in three sections: the need for transformation in Christ, the teachings of the false prophets, and the profound reasons for hope.
My edition (Sophia Institute Press) then has a biographical note, which is also fascinating. I had not known that he was so quick to see the problems of National Socialism when it arose, and so brave in denouncing them; at great personal risk, he managed to stay just one step ahead of the pursing Nazis. His anti-Nazi newspaper infuriated Himmler and Hitler, and orders were given to have him assassinated. He eventually made it to the USA where he lived and taught for the rest of his life.
There is also an Appendix: Teilhard de Chardin: a false prophet. If you encounter a Teilhard fan, this is essential reading.
So I have enjoyed this enormously, and thoroughly recommend it to anyone wishing to understand the state of the Church. In particular, it offers a robust analysis of the flawed thinking of the liberal modernisers, along with an equally robust and inspirational presentation of the true Catholic counter-argument.
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