Sometimes It’s Good To Be Labeled “Extreme”

In Christian Teaching by eric holmberg12 Comments


Dietrich von Hildebrand, German Roman Catholic Philosopher and Theologian Opposes Hitler

Even to sympathetic friends, Dietrich von Hildebrand was considered extreme in his early opposition to Hitler. Looking in our rear-view mirrors, no one would say that today. Might the same be happening again as Christians who stand up for biblical values on marriage, family and gender are being labeled extreme, homophobic dinosaurs; even becoming something of an embarrassment to their silent friends?

What follows below is an interview conducted by Franciscan Way magazine with John Henry Crosby, the translator and editor of My Battle With Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich. The book is based upon the 1920s–1930s memoirs of Dietrich von Hildebrand, the renowned German Roman Catholic philosopher and theologian, and also includes important essays from the period.

I found the interview fascinating on a number of levels.

von Hildebrand Views Hitler as an anti-Christ

First, here was a man who very early on saw the catastrophic end-game of Hitler and National Socialism when the vast majority of Germans missed it. Why? Because he reasoned biblically, his keen intellect informed by the “new world of grace.” Though he was an intellectual living in a materialistic, anti-supernatural zeitgeist, he wasn’t afraid to give preeminence to the spiritual world. Coupled with his apparent knowledge of scripture, redemptive history and biblical typology, he quickly recognized Hitler as “an anti-Christ.” (Note he used “an” and not “the”–avoiding the common error many make today as they await the coming of the anti-Christ.) As a result, he became one of the preeminent prophets of the 20th century. Also, unfortunately, one of the least well-known. I pray this book helps change that.

Second was Hildebrand’s courage. Let’s be honest. Most professing Christians today are remarkably silent concerning a very similar dark cloud creeping its way into America’s governmental, judicial, educational, economic, and infotainment institutions. They are too busy accommodating themselves to the cloud and having their ears tickled with messages of cheap grace and how to have their best lives now. Among those who do see the darkness rising and are willing to think, pray and even address it from time to time, vanishingly few are willing to do much to practically, boldly and, yes, sacrificially stand against it. Here, again, Hildebrand stands as a light on a hill.

Next was his balanced approach to cultural transformation. Yes, we are called to be “hot”– to confront evil when and where it manifests. But we should also strive to be “cold”–to bring living water to a culture dying of thirst. (Many today are simply lukewarm; not a promising temperature to be. (Rev. 3:16)) And so his passion to foster a counter-culture of life, beauty, grace and truth is exemplary.

Parallels Between Yesterday and Today

Lastly, as I have already alluded to, I was struck by the remarkable similarities to his time and ours. I need to be cautious here. I don’t see anything like a new Hitler on America’s horizon. (So please, no invoking Godwin’s Law on me.) Nor do I foresee a day when any adult people group will be marched into concentration camps and gas chambers. But we have killed–and are killing–the unborn at a rate that makes the Holocaust look like a pre-game show as far as the number of people murdered. (I understand there are other factors associated with the Holocaust that make it unsurpassed in regard to human suffering and the callousness of heart necessary to perpetrate it.) We are in danger of ceding all authority to a centralized government run by elites chorusing “Let us break the (LORD’s and His anointed’s) chains and throw off their shackles. (Psalm 2). Let us do what is right in our own eyes. (Judges 21:25).” Having attacked the fruit of marriage (abortion; untethering sex from marriage and then sex from procreation; turning what children are born over to humanistic schools and pop-culture brainwashing; etc.), we have been continuing to chip away at the root: God’s image in the binary, male/female distinctive and their reunion through marriage and sex. And what happens once the foundation of the biblical family is destroyed; once its position as the center of the target towards which every sojourning soul is called to aim is erased and replaced with a 360º “Do what thou wilt” panorama?

Both the Bible and history–including mid-20th Century history–says it will not be pretty.

(Special note: I’m aware I have readers who are anti-Catholic. Many assume that because I produced Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism, I’m also anti-Catholic. I am not. Today’s RC church is a far cry from the medieval brand that Luther and other reformers rightly, though imperfectly, challenged. And perhaps more to the point, Protestantism–with its multiple tens of thousands of schisms and compromises–is likely as goofy and apostate as the Roman church was six-hundred years ago. I believe Christians are called to recognize and honor the works of the Holy Spirit when and wherever they manifest. Dietrich von Hildebrand was just such a work. And I’m proud to pay tribute to him and bring him to more people’s attention.)

Gestapo Agents Come to Arrest Hildebrand, Leave Empty Handed

Just after midnight, on March 12, 1938, three Gestapo agents pounded on the door to Dietrich von Hildebrand’s home. When no answer came, they broke down the door, only to find the Viennese apartment empty. The German philosopher had fled the apartment (and Vienna) just five hours earlier.

Austrians awoke on March 12 to find their country occupied by the German army. Their political leaders had been arrested while they slept. After the heads of government, von Hildebrand had been next on the Gestapo’s list.

What had the philosopher done to incur the wrath of Hitler’s regime? And what more would von Hildebrand do in the weeks and years ahead?

Franciscan Way magazine interview with author of “My Battle Against Hitler”

Recently, Franciscan Way sat down with John Henry Crosby to discuss von Hildebrand’s campaign against the Nazis. Here’s what we learned.

Franciscan Way: Perhaps you could set the stage for us and explain a little about what von Hildebrand was doing when the Nazis came to power?

John Henry Crosby: By the fall of 1919, von Hildebrand was living and teaching in Munich, which would soon become home base for the fledgling Nazi movement. This proximity gave him the opportunity to see firsthand the movement’s early growth. Already by 1921, more than 10 years before Hitler came to power, von Hildebrand had made his first public statements against National Socialism. I know of no other German figure of prominence who recognized and denounced the Nazi movement earlier than von Hildebrand. From his memoirs, it is not quite clear when he became fully conscious of a mission to fight Nazism, but certainly by 1933, when Hitler seized power, von Hildebrand knew that he had to raise his voice. It is moving to see that von Hildebrand left Germany in March 1933, not because he knew what form his opposition would take, but because he was sure that God would show him the way.

FW: How did von Hildebrand’s Catholic faith influence that decision?

JHC: So much could be said here. I think von Hildebrand’s faith gave his reason a powerful supernatural dimension. He was a convert, received into the Church at Easter 1914. He was gifted with a penetrating mind and the ability to articulate his perceptions. When he converted, his intellectual gifts expanded as he discovered the “new world” of grace, as he often put it. Would he still have grasped the danger Hitler posed had he not converted? I think so. But I don’t know if he would have perceived the demonic evil present in Nazism so clearly. His faith allowed him to see Hitler through a supernatural lens. This explains why he often described Hitler as an “Anti-Christ.” Many friends, even those who shared his anti-Nazism, thought he expressed himself in excessive terms, but looking back on the destruction and genocide propagated by the Nazi regime, it’s hard to deny how accurate von Hildebrand’s perception turned out to be.

FW: What concrete steps did von Hildebrand take to oppose Hitler?

JHC: The single most concrete thing he did was to found and edit the premier German-language intellectual and cultural anti-Nazi publication. From 1933, when Hitler’s takeover of the German government forced von Hildebrand to flee Germany for Austria, until 1938, when the Nazis took over Austria as well, he published his journal on a weekly basis and managed to pen an essay for almost every issue. By bringing together many different voices, from right and left, his paper presented a formidable united front against National Socialism. But just as important was his direct impact on individual people. And that influence was deep and lasting. I can think of no better confirmation of this than the words of one student who credited von Hildebrand for “immunizing” him “against the siren song of National Socialism.”

FW: When the Nazis entered Austria, von Hildebrand was one of the first people they went to arrest? Why? After all, he was a philosopher, not a politician?

JHC: A very good question. It is a little ironic, but it’s also a tribute to the central role of ideas in political and cultural struggles. There are several reasons the SS came straight after von Hildebrand. Certainly von Hildebrand had crossed the line from philosophy into politics and public debate. He was so fearless and uncompromising in his articles that the Nazi regime (before invading Austria in 1938) regularly complained about him to the Austrian government. I like quoting the assessment of FBI founding director, J. Edgar Hoover, who said von Hildebrand was “editor of the most violently anti-Nazi newspaper in Austria.” While Hoover would have welcomed von Hildebrand’s efforts, his words pair well with those of Hitler’s ambassador in Vienna, who thundered: “That Hildebrand is the worst obstacle to Nazism in Austria. No one does more harm!”

FW: At a time when so many other Christians, Catholics included, chose to remain silent, what gave von Hildebrand the courage to speak up?

JHC: The memoirs offer a sort of “anatomy of witness” as exemplified by von Hildebrand. We see, for example, how remark- ably little influence prevailing ideas had on him; we see his sense of responsibility to speak out, both as a philosopher and Christian; and we see how deeply he loved his country. But all of this is just prologue when it comes to the real source of his courage, which was his absolute faith that God had called him and would sustain and protect him no matter what happened, provided that he remained faithful to his calling.

FW: How is von Hildebrand’s witness still relevant to Catholics today?

JHC: I view his memoirs and essays as a handbook for wit- ness. They are packed with illuminating examples and practical wisdom. But this should not overshadow a further deeply personal relevance for Catholics and, indeed, for any readers of the book. Think of a great work of fiction or drama. Just as literature allows us to inhabit the characters and storyline, and thereby to grow in self-knowledge, I think von Hildebrand’s story, which is so intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally rich, can illuminate and nourish each of us as we need it most.

FW: The struggle to end the evil of abortion is probably the clearest parallel to the struggle against National Socialism? Given that, what advice do you think von Hildebrand would have for the pro-life movement?

JHC: Von Hildebrand’s career was just ending as the pro-life movement was beginning. His last public lecture, however, was about abortion, and he spoke in almost prophetic words about what legalized abortion meant for our society. He was always un-compromising when it came to moral evil, and abortion horrified him profoundly.

But if he were alive today, I suspect he would challenge us to not view our pro-life position too exclusively in political terms. He would have resonated with Pope St. John Paul II’s call for a “culture of life,” recognizing that pro-life laws and court rulings are necessary but far from sufficient for creating a public order that truly respects all human life. I think he would have called atten- tion to the many subtle ways in which committed pro-life people undermine their efforts through the indiscriminate consumption of mainstream culture.

Of course, he would not have wanted Catholics to move into a sort of ghetto—he was far too much of a Christian humanist to propose that. But he would have reminded us of St. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians: “Test everything, retain what is good.” I can almost hear him pointing out to his fellow Catholics that a culture of life is as much (if not more) fostered through beauty and things that ennoble the spirit as it is through good public policies. (Franciscan Way, a publication of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Spring 2015, pp. 34, 35. Visit the Hildebrand Project for more information on Dietrich Von Hildebrand.)

Living Outside the Echo Chamber

If you came to this blog through a link, scroll below to see readers’ comments. If you came here by accessing The Apologetics Group site directly, see TAG readers’ comments — posted at the bottom of this dedicated blog page. I personally value living outside an echo chamber; and if I only read things I agreed with and neglected the iron sharpening iron benefit of people providing a different perspective than what I’m used to — I would be the poorer for it. Of course, there’s a balance; comments extremely outside the bounds of what I consider orthodoxy are often not worth my time.


  1. Hi Eric, A very good report.

    I’m a practicing Catholic recently located to southern U.S. I was a Catholic early on in NJ – and the logistics on faith is different. NJ was more liberal based and the south is still the Bible belt. I mention this because the silent Catholics against the faith culture are more conservative. In parishes in the south (and perhaps central & west U.S.) churches are standing up against it through ministries, community meetings and community walk-a-thons. We have blogs, local newspapers and info transmitted through our Knights of Columbus and the diocese filtered down through Pope Francis. We are a voice. We get thwarted from the media, but we continue our ministry. And have made great strides. Our K of C have instituted Ultrasound machines throughout the nation which has decreased the number of abortions made.

    I would like to go into this further but time does not permit right now – I’d like to address Sean’s points of how Catholics show their faith and pray. They are the points that sadly are repeated and not correctly. #1 Catholics are not taught they will have salvation by good works. They teach that believing in Jesus Christ and following him affirms Salvation – Simply put, if you follow Jesus’ teachings and emulate Him, you will automatically do good works. #2 Catholics do not teach 3 destinies after death. They used to call Purgatory what they now call Purification – which is mentioned in Scripture. Many people repeat the old language of the church – stop in one day and see how different they teach. #3 People don’t pray to Mary or the Saints to answer prayers. Some people pray for their intercession in asking God believing that Mary, whom Jesus performed his first miracle for – at the wedding in Cana – will not be refused a request from His mother. I never have prayed to Mary. I pray to Jesus through the Our Father and have a close communicative relationship with Him and God. Many of my prayers are answered praise God and those that weren’t materialized that there were good reasons. Oh, and we don’t pray to statues any more than we pray to photos on the mantel. Another misconception.

    I mean all this in fellowship – I love the Lord and I love the Catholic Church. They don’t put extra words in Scripture; they don’t change their laws and traditions to follow the world. We do not have false doctrines. Are we perfect? No. Is any religion? No.

    In conclusion, Jesus is Jesus is Jesus. I would not point out that a church has false doctrines with the false pride that says I am right about all things and you are not. Christians may have different ways of communicating their faith, but falsely accusing them of having false doctrines is your opinion, not a fact, and not very love inspired in that Jesus taught us – Love one another.

    In sincere fellowship of Jesus, Lee Cleveland

  2. Thanks Eric I was enriched and learned a great deal from this post…and I thought I was pretty extreme! Good to learn from pillars of the faith from the not so distant past.

  3. I hope the controversy over Roman Catholicism doesn’t distract from this post’s big point… that the life of Dietrich von Hildebrand is instructive regarding our need to stand against evil with courage.

    Especially instructive is the point that von Hildebrand acquired his courage through an absolute faith that God called him and would be with him as long as he remained faithful to his calling.

    We sure need more of that kind of faith today!

    May God give us all a sense of calling that goes beyond merely surviving in our apostate society, and may He give us the courage we need to answer that calling faithfully.

    Thanks for the post, Eric.

  4. Dear Eric,

    I agree with you on this subject. In 1974, I was at my Aunt’s house, and my cousin and I listened to David Wilkerson’s: The Coming Persecution. It is now on You Tube. He said the same thing, but, more along the lines that Charismatic Catholics will be pushed out. People need to really search for truth before they dismiss one of better Apologists of our time (you). God bless, and thank you for what you have taught over the past few years.


  5. Personally, I think God Himself will judge people’s actions and beleifs. My suspicion, based on how Jesus treated people and how He treated the religous, is He won’t be nearly as dogmatic and petty as those, who through their own interpretation of Scripture, seek to divine who is in and who is out. What a colossal waste of time. I think the Sheep and Goats parable should be reexamined. There could be alot of goats on the internet pontificating. Maybe, just maybe.

  6. I agree it would be good to post/discuss the differences in doctrines between Protestant and Roman Catholicism. Especially with many movements happening such as Evangelicals and Catholic Together, and other such ecumenical movements (like when Tony Palmer visited Ken Copeland’s church with a message from the Pope.)
    Regarding your 4 points, I will have to research each of those further.
    Thank you.

  7. When Jewish repentant abortionist Bernard Nathanson was given the gift of faith, like Noma McCovey (Jane Roe), he joined the Catholic church. His sponsor at his baptism was the Baptist, Chuck Colson.

  8. Facebook gives far too many a platform they are not qualified to hold. It seem as though the majority of them anymore believe they were appointed as church council. I find that most Catholics don’t even know what a Catholic is and especially don’t know their dogma. Not to take a rabbit trail here but really, it is not. Eric, I have on DVD most of what you’ve done. I purchase your “AMAZING GRACE” and send it all over the world. I keep a few to lend when I’m teaching the doctrines of grace. I have a question. Before I ask, allow me this preface. In your Hell’s Bells documentary, you were standing beside a guy in a hospital bed and was speaking of his condition (severely injured) and need of salvation. In Amazing Grace, you were standing beside a guy in a casket (dead) and speaking of the same. Here’s the question: Were you born again at the time of the Hell’s Bells scenario or were you a false convert and didn’t become saved until you knew and understood the doctrines of grace? I was born again radically and instantaneously in 1983 in a Wesleyan church. I didn’t come to know the doctrines of grace until 10 years later. With the miracles that took place in me on that cold January morning in 1983, there is no way it was the work of the devil or just the “effectual call”. It was truly and authentically the saving work of Christ. What say you?

  9. Quote from your posting: “Today’s RC church is a far cry from the medieval brand that Luther and other reformers rightly, though imperfectly, challenged. And perhaps more to the point, Protestantism–with its multiple tens of thousands of schisms and compromises–is likely as goofy and apostate as the Roman church was six-hundred years ago. I believe Christians are called to recognize and honor the works of the Holy Spirit when and wherever they manifest. Dietrich von Hildebrand was just such a work.”

    I exhort you to obey God’s Word of 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, test your opinions and understanding of Roman Catholic doctrine to determine how it aligns with Scripture as shown in Acts 17:11. Examples:

    * Roman Catholic doctrine teaches there are co-mediators (example Mary)
    But Scripture teaches:
    For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5)
    And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:15)

    * Roman Catholic doctrine teaches salvation can be earned by doing works (the sacraments, attending mass, obtaining an indulgence, …)
    But Scripture teaches:
    For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
    So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. (Romans 9:16)
    But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. (Acts 15:11)
    Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. (Romans 4:4-5)

    * Roman Catholic doctrine teaches there are three destinies in the afterlife
    But Scripture teaches:
    And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew 25:46)
    Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. (John 5:24-30)

    * Roman Catholic doctrine teaches to pray to saints, angels, Mary, …
    But Scripture teaches:
    But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. (Matthew 6:6)
    And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. (John 16:23)
    And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. (Luke 11:2)

    Conclusion: Roman Catholic doctrine teaches a totally different way of salvation than what Scripture teaches. The above is a very short list of serious false doctrines the Roman Catholic church teaches of which its followers adhere to, and a renowned German Roman Catholic philosopher and theologian like Dietrich von Hildebrand, believed and taught others to likewise believe.

    More info worth taking the time to watch:

    Scripture teaches us to take heed to Jesus’ warning in John 14:6 “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” because it is not by Mary, the Mass, your own works, will your sins be forgiven.

    Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19)

    1. Author

      Sean, I read this after your email about unsubscribing. I see you have given a thoughtful and detailed explanation. I am familiar with many of the points you’ve raised and some of them concern me as well. However, four points worth considering: 1) to what extent are you representing Catholic dogma rather than common views that, while believed by many professing RCs, are skewed representations of actual church teaching 2) consider that Roman Catholicism is the largest of Christian tents and there are many people, including doctors of the church, who don’t believe what you’ve enumerated and have actively sought to push back against these teachings, yet without splitting the church 3) there has been a lot of movement within the RC Church away from these distinctives; having worked with a lot of devout Roman Catholics in the prolife movement, I can tell you that many of them are more evangelical and Protestant in their beliefs than many of the Protestants, and 4) at the end of the day, the only thing a Catholic is required to believe to be in good standing with the church are the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds; the very things you and I embrace. I may incorporate some of your comments in a future article/video/other Internet posting because I think it’s a discussion the church needs to have. So thank you for writing.

  10. Eric,
    Where/When have you become so learned and knowledgeable? I especially appreciate your articles and insight. I have a M.Div. and M.A. (Communication Arts) and come nowhere near your breadth of knowledge. Please keep writing.

    1. Author

      I appreciate the encouragement, Jay. Like you what I see is the breadth of knowledge out there that I want to take in and learn instead of what I have learned. Sounds like we’re both on an interesting journey. Blessings!

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