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The Heart of the Matter

The University of Dallas has the best faculty in the country and perhaps the smallest library. That means research requires interlibrary loans and frequent trips across town to Southern Methodist University (which has, ironically, a world-class theological library that seems to get precious little use there, where Fr. Charles Curran teaches).

The upside of UD’s small library, however, is that, unlike most libraries these days, nearly all the books in it are worth reading, having been selected with care by said faculty. So it was that while doing research there I stumbled across a volume by Dietrich von Hildebrand with the intriguing title The Sacred Heart: An Analysis of Human and Divine Affectivity.

In it, von Hildebrand offers a middle way between two unsatisfactory (and false) opposites. The first might best be illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince, who says “One sees rightly only with the heart.” The other would say that the emotions must be suppressed lest they cloud reason. Von Hildebrand shows that a full human life is not just will and intellect, but will, intellect, and emotions. He shows that the emotions, if rightly formed, give genuine and vital information. The path to truth, therefore, requires that the emotions be trained along with the intellect and the will.

I devoured the book, told everyone I knew about it, read everything else I could find by von Hildebrand, and made his work a regular part of my spiritual reading. I did not know at the time that Pope Pius XII called him “a twentieth-century doctor of the Church.” Nor did I know that a certain Cardinal Ratzinger also held him in great esteem.

I little imagined when I discovered that well-worn book in the basement of UD’s library that one day I would get a phone call from von Hildebrand’s widow—but that’s the sort of thing that happens when you work at Catholic Answers. People who have been the stuff of legend your entire life are suddenly chatting with you on the phone. And so every couple of months I have the delight of hearing Dr. Alice von Hildebrand’s refined and charmingly accented voice on the other end of the line, saying she has a new article for me or commenting about something she’s read in the magazine.

During one conversation I confided to her that I had been looking for years for a copy of The Sacred Heart, and I asked if she could help. No, she replied sadly, it has been out of print for many years.

Happily, that is soon to be remedied. The book, now titled The Heart, will be published this spring by St. Augustine’s Press. To whet your appetite, with the kind permission of John Henry Crosby, director of the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project, we include excerpts from the upcoming book on page 12, followed by an article from Alice von Hildebrand.

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