By Alice von Hildebrand
Alice von Hildebrand is a lecturer and author whose works include The Privilege of Being a Woman (2002) and The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand (2000), a biography of her husband. In 2014 she published her autobiography, Memoirs of a Happy Failure, which recounted her escape from Nazi Europe and her teaching career at Hunter College in New York.
In 1927, Julien Benda published a book whose title attracted attention: La Trahison des Clercs (The Treason of the Clerics). Even though in a different context, I allow myself to use it for my own purpose. We live in a world in crisis and this crisis is of such gravity that it menaces the very foundation of our world: religiously, intellectually, affectively, and humanly. The Cassandras seem to be justified.
But as Christians we are not allowed to lose hope — this blessed word, which inevitably refers to God — for it is in Him and Him alone that salvation will come; the condition being, on our part, to humbly acknowledge our guilt in the tragic situation in which we find ourselves, but moreover to hear His call to go on our knees and beg for both His forgiveness and His help.
What are the main sins that we have committed, that account for the punishment of living in a world where lying has priority over truth? When a building is collapsing, any engineer hoping to save it will look at its foundation. When the latter is systematically and willfully undermined, we should not be surprised that the building’s very existence is threatened. Any careful reading of history will tell us that the very foundation of any sound society is found in marriage, the family and the philosophy taught in its schools. Once the sacred bond that should exist between man and woman — as explicitly formulated in Genesis — is ruptured, once the sacred link existing between the love uniting the sexes and procreation is systematically severed, once education is poisoned by relativism and subjectivism, then neither money, nor technology, nor military power will save society from imminent destruction.
Why do some powerful politicians, refusing to open their own eyes, keep lulling the public into sleep by speaking of constant progress, of the miracles of scientific discoveries, of a new world in which there will be justice and harmony — fruits of human efforts? Lies and misinformation purposely lead the public into somnolence to prevent them from realizing the gravity of the danger. Even though the clock is ticking, we might still have some time left, and should try to redress the course that the Ship has taken — whether religiously or politically — and realize that a holy reform alone can save the world from willful self-destruction.
A reverent reading of the Bible (Kierkegaard reminds us that it should be read on our knees) gives us precious guidelines that are trampled upon today. One thing is luminous: the key role that God assigned to women in creation. Not only is she the only one whose body is taken from the flesh of a person —Adam — but she is the one gloriously proclaimed the Mother of the Living — a title not granted to her husband — and she should therefore be keenly aware that she is called upon to collaborate with the Creator in bringing new persons into the world.
After having given birth to Cain, she joyfully and proudly exclaims: “With God’s help, I have brought a man into the world.” She knows perfectly well that Adam played a key role in the conception of a living body, but God and God alone could give it a soul — which made him a being made to God’s image and likeness. That women play a key role in human life (and not only in giving life) should be obvious to anyone whose eyesight has not been distorted by the poison of feminism — one of the worst fruits of secularism. Once again we only need read the New Testament on our knees to realize that it is God Himself who has chosen to “place salvation in the hands of a woman” (The Liturgical Year, Dom Gueranger, September).
St. Luke is the one who has made us realize, in fear and trembling, that Mary’s words in declaring herself to be the “handmaid of the Lord” have helped reopen the locked doors of Paradise. Her holy “fiat” is a luminous refutation of Aristotle’s regrettable claim that the female is inferior to the male because he is “active” and she is “passive.” It makes us realize that man’s greatness and mission is to be “receptive” — abysmally different from mere passivity — and implying a joyful acceptance of the gifts that God Himself is always willing to grant his creatures provided that they open their heart and gratefully accept what, in His infinite goodness, He gives us.
This “fiat,” which was a sine qua non [“without which nothing”] for the Incarnation, opens up the glorious mission of women, called not only “mothers of the living,” but declared by God Himself to be the Serpent’s main enemy: “I shall put enmity between you and the woman.” That she is “enemy number one” of the Evil One sheds light on the laughable stupidity of the feminist claim that she is not a person, only a becoming, that she “produces nothing,” “that she is disgusted by her own body” (to quote some of the senseless assertions that the Mother of French feminism, Simone de Beauvoir, has so “generously” shared with us).
The woman stands for life. He alone who willfully blinds himself to this truth, will deny that the key danger today in the family, in society and in the world at large, is the vicious attack that the Serpent is waging against the sex whose beautiful mission it is to give life. This is why I do not hesitate to claim that the legalization of abortion — a fruit of secularism — has been and is the greatest victory of Satan over Eve since original sin: that is, he won her over to accept being co-murderer of the innocent.
Until recently, men had the doubtful “glory” of being from the beginning the great killers: they were the hunters, they were soldiers. Women were the champions of life by giving birth. Now, not only have feminists claimed the same doubtful glory of joining the army, but moreover, by freely choosing to kill the fruit of their wombs — thereby collaborating in millions and millions of murders — they now became “soldiers” in the Satanic army. How cleverly diabolical to win over the mother of the living by enrolling her in the camp of the murderers! Once Eve becomes a traitor, marriage collapses, the family collapses, society collapses and the Holy Church is rocked by an earthquake.
The woman’s role is the cornerstone. Inevitably, because she betrayed her mission, the male sex is now denied the gift of complementarity which she owes him; he can no longer find in her the “companion” he desperately needed, for she now refuses to be a wife to him, and having entered the secular work force, becomes his rival. Am I wrong in intimating that this may have opened a new door to homosexuality? Men now try to find in other men the “feminine” element that rebellious women now flatly refuse to give them.
Sad to say, many “modern” nuns have played a disastrous role in this devastation of the Lord’s vineyard. For to respond to a religious vocation and joyfully embrace virginity, far from renouncing motherhood, gives it a special seal of sacredness. In the very many shows that the beloved — now deceased — Father Benedict Groeschel regaled us with at EWTN, it is worth recalling how often he gratefully acknowledged the key role played by the nuns in his education and religious formation. Consecrated virgins are mothers par excellence: i.e., those whose mission is to serve, to love, to suffer without ever exacting an earthly reward. They do not give birth to new human beings but they collaborate with God in bringing souls to heaven.
In fact, their vocation properly understood means: “I love children so much that to have 25 of them, like Lapa — mother of St. Catherine of Siena — does not satisfy me. I want, as far as God permits, to ‘give birth’ to innumerable children to my Divine Spouse.” Alas, today, how many have left their monasteries, betrayed their vows and vocation, for the sake of “entering into the work force” and thereby giving up what they now view as a meaningless “passivity” for the sake of “progress.” Worse than Esau who sold his birthright for a mess of pottage, these victims of the current Zeitgeist have given up the glorious mission of spiritual maternity for the sake of having their name in print.
How easily we forget that — at the end of time — all the works of men — admirable as they might have been — (let us think of great works of art) will be reduced to dust and ashes. But every single child to whom a mother has given life, whether biological or spiritual, blessed by immortality, will sing God’s praise forever.
When Jacqueline Wexler — an ex-nun —became president of Hunter College of CUNY and declared publicly — a typical captatio benevolentiae — that she had not prayed a rosary for five years, or when she told me that upon discovering “that everything is relative,” she became a “better person,” the angels must have cried in heaven. When Betty McCormack — a graduate of the Mothers of the Sacred Heart, became president, and declared upon accepting this dignity, that “from now on, all ideas will be welcome at Manhattanville,” once again, tears were called for: to quote Virgil, “sunt lacrymae rerum.”
Corruptio optimi pessima [“the corruption of the best is the worst”]. Let us score the results of this treason: having deserted schools and hospitals, nuns have left these to be taken over by “open-minded” teachers who opened doors to all views, all opinions, carefully avoiding use of the word “truth” — said to be the source of totalitarianism and conflicts. The ignorance today of children graduating from Catholic schools is abysmal. Families are breaking down; marriages, whether contracted recently or after some 30, 40 or 50 years, end in divorce. Children at times do not know who their father is, or have several stepfathers, and — this deserves to be underlined — the noble arch-Christian word “chivalry” has been murdered: why should men offer their help and service to “ladies” when the latter reject their help?
Men and women are so made for each other that once this sacred bond is ruptured, inevitably there is an abyss created between them: when women want to sing the roles assigned to a bass, or when the latter sings a soprano, one has cacophony.
St. Augustine writes that our sins lead to our own punishment: it is high time that we turn back and realize that it is only in understanding and joyfully accepting the sex that God has Himself chosen for us, that we receive a key to the mystery of the other sex.
This is why the most beautiful loves — like those between St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare, St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantal, and St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila — were between saints.