When Kung and Von Hildebrand Came to Loyola

 

In the middle of my junior year (1970-71) at Loyola University of Los Angeles (now Loyola Marymount University), we had two distinguished guest lecturers: Rev. Hans Kung and Professor Dietrich von Hildebrand. The contrasting manner of their reception at Loyola, as well as their personal effect on me, makes for an interesting story.
First, some background — though I do not mean to single out the Jesuits for criticism here; I believe the situation at their colleges was not significantly different from other Catholic colleges of the day. The whole atmosphere of Loyola at the time was one of progressive optimism, the throwing off of the shackles of outdated authority, and freedom-combined-with-sincerity — this was all man needed. Talk of truth and error (except in math and science), good and evil, much less of personal obedience and self-sacrifice, was rarely heard.
My first theology class at Loyola was a combination of leftist revolutionary propaganda and pick-and-choose existentialism. The lecturer eventually outlined seven options for human life, including nihilism and absurdism as courageous possibilities (with no mention of saintliness as the Catholic ideal), and told the students to just choose a perspective and be sincere and steadfast. My first philosophy class was a special topics course in the evolutionary “optimism” of Rev. Teilhard de Chardin, overlooking both original sin and redemption on the way to the omega point. I was a bit shocked, but I interpreted it all positively, giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. I thought perhaps they were trying to strengthen my faith by presenting challenges to it — though I wondered why there was no effort expended to defend the Faith or answer the objections presented by modern thinkers.
Humanae Vitae was never really discussed, just ridiculed. A common line repeated to students at the time was, “Why would you want a 70-year-old celibate in your bedroom with you?” (Of course, Paul VI had no desire to be in anyone’s bedroom; but he did feel bound to remind us that God — the God of life and love — is there.) Once when I went to the head of the theology department to discuss Humanae Vitae, he opened by noting, “Well, of course, we can throw out the idea that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth.”
At one point, a friend and I approached this same chairman to arrange a special topics readings course he had encouraged us to take on “the Humanity of Christ.” We met with him to choose the books and, similarly, he opened with, “What we want to get into here is heresy.” My friend and I chuckled, thinking he was joking. Very soon we realized that he was quite serious. We were somewhat shocked at first, but also, I’m afraid, impressed with both the chairman and ourselves. We felt the thrill of being on the cutting edge, of daring great and forbidden things; we were to be courageous pioneers, ready to defy even the authority of the Church. (That our “daring” might be more akin to that of Judas was at least still a dim worry in the back of our minds — though not a worry encouraged by our environment.)
Another theology professor, who advised my small-group Honors seminar (and who further advised us that he had lost his faith while studying in Rome, and encouraged us to “grow up” and be “realistic and skeptical,” as well) insisted that we read Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange as one of our Honors “classics” and see the newly released movie, condemned by the Church at the time for nudity and violence. (The original Honors Great Books reading list had been thrown out by the Jesuits, by the way; they didn’t want to impose on the poor students. Each seminar group of eight students chose its own “classics” by democratic vote. We read every camp classic of the 1960s, mostly instead of the Great Books.) Our adviser drove us to the theater and promptly produced a bottle of bourbon, passing it around to the students (some underage), saying “This is the kind of movie you have to see drunk.”
Later that year, the Jesuit scholastics put on a musical skit about the changes in the Church titled, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff!” It was rather well done, very funny and enjoyable, but it was also one of the last years they had enough Jesuit scholastics to put on a skit. In 1970 it was not yet evident to many people that the results of many of the changes would be so bad — optimism and forward-thinking ruled, and I was swept along with it. I had declared a psychology major, and therein was also treated to an extremely relativistic view of the human person — a mixture of Freudianism, behaviorism, and humanism — with little to be said for ethics or for God.{mospagebreak}
I mention all this to emphasize that, drifting along with the general atmosphere and the prevailing view of the Church, I was predisposed to view Kung favorably and von Hildebrand unfavorably. Indeed, the Jesuits did all they could to treat the former like a savior and the latter like a pariah. Kung was welcomed with open arms and celebrated; all the Jesuit scholastics were required to go hear his talk, and his arrival was greeted as the biggest event of the year. (This was before he was forbidden to present himself any longer as a Catholic theologian.)
On the other hand, von Hildebrand — author of the carefully reasoned critiques Trojan Horse in the City of God and Celibacy and the Crisis of Faith (The Devastated Vineyard was yet to be written), defender of Humanae Vitae, and devotee of the Latin Mass — was ostracized. Publicity for his talk was discouraged, it was hard to discover the time and place, and the Jesuits called a mandatory house meeting at the scheduled time to make sure none of the young scholastics could hear him. Thus from the general atmosphere I was inclined favorably toward Kung and a bit “on guard” about von Hildebrand.
The one positive thing I knew about von Hildebrand was that, in a class on Love and Friendship taught by his student Dr. Ronda Chervin, I had read his article “The True Meaning of Sex” and found it to be better than anything I had ever read on the topic in my psychology major or in any of my other classes. However, being more influenced by others at the time and afflicted with an inferiority complex about myself and my own opinions, it seemed safer and wiser to follow the prevailing opinions around me.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I happily went to see the great Kung — before whom the red carpet had been unrolled, before whom the Jesuits bowed and scraped, hoping they were making a good impression, hoping that they would be seen as avant-garde as the leading European thinkers — and instead had one of the most negative reactions to any person I have met in my life. The look on his face, the tone of his voice, the way he held himself, the manner of his response to questions, all combined to give me the most powerful impression of someone immensely pleased with himself, actually encouraging those around him to flatter him (and they happily obliged). The main point of his talk seemed to be that everything that ails either the Catholic or the protestant churches would be solved if they would only listen to Hans Kung.
By the end of Kung’s talk, I was extremely suspicious of his view of the Church, and therefore of the prevailing “Jesuit” view at Loyola. I was beginning to think that my own insights might be worth something, compared with those of the crowd. For this important step toward maturity, I shall be forever grateful to Hans Kung.
However, it wasn’t until I went to hear the von Hildebrands — despite Jesuit disapproval — that all of this really fell into place in a positive way. Dietrich, who had been scheduled for the talk, had been ordered by his doctor not to get too excited, so it was decided that Alice would substitute for him. He was in the audience — in my very row, as it turned out. She gave a brilliant talk on the manner in which Kierkegaard dealt with the theological liberals of his day using irony and humor, with evident and telling parallels to the liberal revolution infecting the Catholic Church after Vatican II. I began to understand why the Jesuits had called a house meeting to keep their “young ones” away.
And yet despite the depth and seriousness of what she was saying, Alice never spoke or behaved in such a way as to draw attention to herself — quite different from Kung — but rather focused on the matter at hand. As far as she was concerned, it wasn’t about her but about reality. How refreshing! I was deeply impressed with both her message and her manner. {mospagebreak}
All this time, Dietrich had sat quietly, resting his heart. However, in the question-and-answer session, when questions arose about the state of the Church, he could no longer contain himself. He stood up in the audience and spoke passionately and lovingly of Christ and the Church, using phrases I had not heard since grammar school, like “the Holy Roman Catholic Church.”
I was left several impressions that came together almost immediately.
First, here was someone who really believed, who humbly accepted revelation from God. He was not intent on figuring out how to get around Church teachings but on how to live them. Secondly, here was someone who really loved Christ and the Church with all his heart. He was full of gratitude for the Church, for its authority, its teachings, its sacraments. He was not resentful of the Church or her authority.
Third, here was a true apostle, proclaiming the truth — rather than his own truth — in season and out of season, ready to stand joyfully with Christ and the Church even when human opinion showered him with ridicule. I looked down my row at the white-haired octogenarian, gesturing with his umbrella for emphasis and risking a heart attack in his enthusiasm (also risking a few hats and heads in the row adjacent with the umbrella), and I felt like I had met St. Paul. Finally, here was someone full of joy and hope, despite his deep sorrow over and reasoned critique of what was going on in the Church. I had met someone who fulfilled the admonition to “Rejoice always and again, I say rejoice!”
Such a meeting changed my life. I was confirmed in my suspicion that following the crowd is not the highpoint of wisdom. I changed from a psychology to a philosophy major and discovered my vocation to teach. The von Hildebrands’ visit, together with that of Kung, was pivotal in finding my way in life and in the Church. (The effect, I’m afraid, was not the one intended by the Jesuits.)
Looking back now on those days, my conclusion is a hopeful one. No matter how long a person swims along inundated by doxa — confused opinions, skeptical debunking, up-to-date progressive theories, and cutting-edge speculations — once he comes across the truth, he knows it. As Plato says, truth has a power of its own and can never be swept away by propaganda. One man speaking the truth has tremendous power to break through the fog, reach people, and change lives. Philosophical truth shares with Christianity that compliment given to the latter by C. S. Lewis in a less politically correct age: It challenges the recipient with “the rough, male taste of reality.” Thus the von Hildebrands compared to Kung.
Yet how can I come to a hopeful conclusion when the majority at the time seemed to be going the other way? Because I firmly believe that if God could pull me out of the morass of those days, He can do so with anyone, and God is not limited by majority opinion at any given time. As Kierkegaard loved to say, God doesn’t deal with crowds, He deals with individuals — and He has the lifetime of each of us to do so, including the lifetime of each person at Loyola in 1971. What matters ultimately is not­­ majority opinion at any given time, but the final end of each individual. This is where our hope rests. As it says in the old Spiritual, “What He’s done for others, He’ll do for you . . . .”

Michael J. Healy

By

Michael J. Healy is Professor of Philosophy and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.

  • Paul

  • Julie

    I have read many of Alice Von Hildebrand’s articles as well as her wonderful book, “The Priveledge of Being a Woman”. I feel fortunate to have discovered her, as so many Catholics have not.

  • Jeannine

    I remember when I first read Trojan Horse in the City of God, about 10 or 15 years ago. It was a breath of fresh air. I, too, went to a Catholic college in the seventies, and the atmosphere was very similar to what you describe in your article. (At my high Catholic high school we had listened to Gibran instead of the Gospel at Mass, and the priest who taught my Christology class told us that he did not believe that Jesus was God.) Von Hildebrand was a great discovery for me because I saw that someone in that era had seen through all the nonsense. I hope to be forever grateful.

  • Teri B


    Michael,

    Thank you. This is a beautiful article.

    When I got tired of the Jesuit mush I withdrew from the conversation hoping to come back when the content started to make faith filled sense.
    I got degrees in Business and Communications.

    I rediscovered the Catholic faith in raising children with the assistance of some wonderfully patient Wyoming Catholic priests.

    I heard something in those days that touched me. I think the saying goes like this, “Cor ad cor loquitor.” I think the translation is “Heart speaks to heart.”

    Thank you again.

  • David Burton

    I find this fascinating in general, but also on a merely personal level. My first exposure to Hans Kung, through his books, left me with a very similar impression as the author’s. This was in the late 80’s/early 90’s and a good friend lent me several of Kung’s books to read. I had absolutely no opinion at all about Kung’s theology. I wouldn’t have known heresy from horseradish. But his arrogance! It came through so clearly from the first paragraph on. It would be a couple of years before I would actually have any opinion about his ideas, but I knew immediately that I didn’t care much for his personality. My friend was surprised that I got that impression. For years now I’ve thought it might have been “just me”. Apparently not.

    • veritatiseternum

      I guess you never read Hans Kung´s ”On Being Christian” a beautiful book that is anything but arrogant!, Kung’s Jesús is more powerful, humble, loving and inspiring than the Vaticans Jesús,.

  • Michael Healy

    Thanks for the comments. Cor ad Cor Loquitur is the beautiful motto of John Henry Cardinal Newman, the Venerable and, according to rumor, about to be declared Blessed. Eventually he will be Saint and Doctor of the Church. He is to theology what Von Hildebrand is to philosophy–a new and creative voice responding to modern errors and recovering the glories of the tradition even if in a new way–true renewal.

  • Noah

    I would like to see more of Healy’s recollections from this time period in the Church. I am too young to have experienced it myself, but have read about it with great interest. Apparently back then everybody really was Kung fu fighting.

  • Gabriel Austin

    It would be helpful to have named names among those who disparaged v. Hildebrand and bowed before Kueng. These things are not done by institutions; they are done by people. And even Jesuits are people.

  • Michael Healy

    A couple of points. First, I don’t think it wise to use specific names–the people involved may be offended, may have completly changed their tune, etc. However, you are quite right that they are specific individuals and not just a group. Of the four persons I spoke of, two were Jesuits, one a layman, and one from a different religious order. Certainly, not all Jesuits in those days or now agreed with or approved of the goings-on I described, but unfortunately either the majority or those in power, or both, seemed to.
    It has been pointed out to me, by the way, that although Stanley Kubrick did the movie, it was Anthony Burgess who actually wrote the book A Clockwork Orange.

  • Mauricio Roman

    Dr. Healy,

    Your article highlights the existence of an “atmosphere of resentment” to which both Max Scheler and von Hildebrand refer to, and which is very prevalent not just against the Church or Christ Himself, but against true values and those who try to embody them.

  • Paula Hagan

    Dr Healy,
    What a refreshing article and one much needed the present secular climate. As an avid follower of EWTN here in the UK I am familiar with Franciscan University and the generations of profound Catholics that generate from such gifted professors such as yourself, Dr Scott Hahn and many more teachers of TRUTH. God bless you and thank you for your article. Dietrich and Alice von Hidebrand are part of my life and helping me so much as I study for a Diploma in Family Evangelisation and Ministry.

  • Stephen Rost

    Dear Dr. Healy,
    I am an evangelical Baptist pastor in who is very much appreciative of the rich intellectual and devotional works within the Catholic tradition. I have never read anything by Dietrich von Hildebrand, but intend to. Thank you for an informative article.

    Stephen Rost

  • John Mark Weber

    Thank you for this article. I enjoyed your insight.

  • John Bergin

    Ditto to all the comments above. Very interesting. My experiences in those days are mirrored here. What a clever comment by Noah on everyone really “Kung fu fighting” back in those days.

  • Justin Delsi

    Dear Dr. Healy, Thank you for your article. I have always been taken back by your captivating intellectual insight, which unfolds beautifully in your stories. I was fortunate to have been in several of you classes. It is your lectures that keep me grounded and on the path to truth, goodness and beauty. Never losing my way!

  • Justin Delsi

    Justin Delsi wrote: Dear Dr. Healy, Thank you for your article. I have always been taken back by your captivating intellectual insight, which unfolds beautifully in your stories. I was fortunate to have been in several of your classes. It is your lectures that keep me grounded and on the path to truth, goodness and beauty. Never losing my way!

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