The Personalist Project

October 12 is a big day for personalists of our stripe.  It is the birthday of both Edith Stein (1891) and Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889).

To mark the happy occasion, a characterically personalist passage from each:

In order to understand the nature of the heart, we must realize that in many respects the heart is more the real self of the person than his intellect or will.  

In the moral sphere it is the will which has the character of a last, valid word.  Here the voice of our free spiritual center counts above all.

We find the true self primarily in the will.  In many other domains, however, it is the heart which is the most intimate part of the person, the core, the real self, rather than the will or the intellect.  This is so in the realm of human love: conjugal love, friendship, filial love, parental love.  The heart is here not only the true self insofar a love aims at the heart of the beloved in a specfic way.  The lover wants to pour his love into the heart of the beloved, he wants to affect his heart, to fill it with happiness, and only then will he feel that he has really reached the beloved, his very self.

We were attempting to show that in all genuine knowledge of God it is God himself who draw near the knower, although his presence may not always be felt as it is in experiential knowledge.  In natural knowledge he draws near in images, works, and manifold effects; in faith by making himself known personally through the Word.

But in the case of any knowledge of persons, rather than disclosing oneself, one may close oneself—even withdraw behind one's own work.  In this case the work still means something, retains an objective significance, but it no longer opens up access to the person, it no longer provides the contact of one mind with another.

God wishes to let himself be found by those who seek him.  Hence he wishes first to be sought.  So we can see why natural revelation is not absolutely clear and unambiguous, but is rather an incentive to seek.

Comments (8)

Jules van Schaijik

#1, Oct 12, 2012 2:33pm

Thanks for the quote from Edith Stein. I don't think I have ever seen it before.

Her last thought—viz. that God wishes to be sought, and that that is one reason why his existence and presence in the world is not absolutely clear and unambiguous—reminds me of something we discussed during our last Newman class. Like Stein, Newman thinks that a generous faith, even one that from time to time slips into superstition

is far better than that cold, sceptical, critical tone of mind, which has no inward sense of an overruling, ever-present Providence, no desire to approach its God, but sits at home waiting for the fearful clearness of His visible coming... (from his sermon on the nature of faith in relation to reason)

Those who seek will find, not only because they are looking, but because they see more than those who sit at home waiting to be shown.

Emily Embrey

#2, Oct 14, 2012 3:53pm

Thank you for posting these writings and the photographs.  The first Catholic writer I was exposed to was Edith Stein and I was not able to finish or read much of her book and I am able to take in this short passage.   So interesting about someone withdrawing behind their work...  I think I have seen this though I don't fully understand what she means when she writes, " no longer provides the contact of one mind to another."  Thank you

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Oct 15, 2012 12:39pm

I understand her to be drawing a distinction between knowing someone and knowing someone.  We can know a lot about God from His works and His Words given in Scripture and through the doctrines of our Faith.  But, unless we open our hearts to Him, inwardly, sincerely, reverently, we won't know him personally.  No one can know a person personally, unless that person chooses to disclose himself or herself.  And even human persons don't (generally) disclose our inner self to people we don't like or don't trust, or who come across as rude and egotistical...

Does that make any sense?


#4, Oct 15, 2012 6:08pm

In my own experience, I find that the people who I meet who I truly get to know (their hearts and minds) - the people who risk authentic vulnerability - are the people who become the faces of God in my life.  It's as if I am actually experiencing a personal God...  By looking into these people's faces, I am seeing God - it's as if I am looking into God's face, heart and mind.  

God's mind being seamlessly and relentlessly bound up with truth, His heart a heart of infinite compassion.  In knowing someone in this way, in the moment I truly know them, it seems that everyone and everything is loved unconditionally, that truth is finally immanent.  

These people are not hiding behind their work, they are the faces of God in the world.  Their "secret" is that they risk vulnerability, they risk being hurt.  These are the people we fall in love with...  It's not hard to see why we do, we were made to.  They touch us on deep levels.  They move us.  They show us what we are supposed to be doing, what the truth really is.  Can you think of such a person?

Katie van Schaijik

#5, Oct 15, 2012 7:05pm

Pete, I see a crucial difference between "withdrawing" and "hiding", don't you?

I agree with you that we cannot have authentic intimacy except with those persons who are willing to be vlunerable.  But it's also true—and this is what I take Edith Stein to be saying—we can't understand a person unless we are reverently open to them, as a person.

If we are rude and irreverent and dishonest and demanding, then—partly out self respect and out of respect for the real grounds of communion—the other will "withdraw." 

Compare, maybe, with sexual modesty.  We are not hiding ourselves in shame and rejection when we clother ourselves in front of everyone but our spouse.  Rather, we are recognizing that that degree of self-disclosure is proper only to the spousal union of total, covenanted love.


#6, Oct 15, 2012 9:07pm

Katie, I was corroborating Edith Stein's quote with my personal experience of people who had be reverently open to me, as persons.  These people were the ones who were not hiding (not in the strictest sense of the word) or withdrawing (as you say) behind their work, who had been the faces of God in my life, and who had provided the contact of one mind to another for me.  To me this was God's face, heart and mind...  A heart and mind that sought understanding of me.  This is what I interpret Edith Stein to be saying, as I think you do too, only in the converse:  that I myself must be reverently open to others in order to understand them.  For me, the process towards knowing a personal God was reversed.  These people were being reverently open with me and I saw the face of God in them.   I have sought to know others in this way before too, and I try to always be sincere and reverent towards others I choose to know, but I have not made a conscious effort to make it a policy.  Is this what you are saying Edith Stein is saying?

Emily Embrey

#7, Oct 17, 2012 1:11am

Thank you, Katie- what you write does make sense and is helpful....too tired to post a response plus brain fog, but I understand what I read better than I am able to write something understandable (like my Spanish).  I always enjoy getting on this website and reading or listening.  

richard sherlock

#8, Oct 21, 2012 10:28pm

Katie and others,

I haven't been on as much as I should but am going to. To love, as Hildebrand says is to love a person, not just fill his needs. That is why social programs, no matter how much they meet needs, cannot take the place of persons. Someone I know, say, needs food. A functionary they have never seen can deliver groceries. But when I do it, it it is not just food it is I who journey to him or her with more than food. I journey with me. In the mass Christ gives his person to me. 

Simone Weil wrote that a single piece of bread given in the proper way is enough to feed a hungry soul. 

All here might like to see my conversion story in First Things on line Aug. 30 and the importance of the Hildebrand Conf in Rome for that At the end of September I got to meet Cardinal Burke at the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars meeting in DC ( got to sit with him at lunch).

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