The Personalist Project

One of the students in my courtship class has just brought to my attention a great primer on von Hildebrand's philosophy of love, happiness and sexuality, by his long-time student, colleague, and friend, William Marra, who died in 1998.

Dr. Marra, who taught philosophy at Fordham University for more than 40 years, had a winning warmth and down-to-earth simplicity and humor that are lamentably rare in philosophy professors.

Here are three paragraphs from the article, to give a taste.  But do read the whole thing, which convey the von HIldebrandian essence in an especially lively and accessible way.

Scattered throughout von Hildebrands works are many references to the great errors that always abound concerning the human person. One such error has been dealt with briefly above namely, that which sees all human responses, and therefore love, as means to self-gratification. There is then the more modern error, especially egregious since Freud, which interprets all love as being rooted in sex drives, whether explicitly or not. This latter error becomes at least plausible when spousal love is at stake. For such a love occurs between the sexes and certainly is linked to sexual union in a dramatic way. How natural, then, to say that love is but a sexual drive in the first place or at least to say that on the best analysis love is but a spiritual friendship between two persons, with sex merely superadded.

Von Hildebrand rejects such interpretations of spousal love. He stresses that, in its very quality as a spiritual (thus, intentional) experience, the love in question already differs from parental or filial love or the love between friends. This love involves falling in love and then being in love. It includes the enchantment which the beloved person effects on the lover. Far from being a youthful lunacy, genuine spousal love stirs us in our depths. Our heart cries out for requital. The intentions of union and benevolence, to be found in all real loves, find here their most insistent voice.

The great plays of Shakespeare, the music and operas of Mozart (nay, even the songs of Irving Berlin!) speak of this love, sing of it, and celebrate it in a hundred beautiful ways. This love speaks the language of humble gratitude, of yearning, of tender care for the loved one. It pleads for permanence for eternal union even. It would shower all good things on the loved one, and avert the slightest discomfort. It gives birth to music and to joy even to contemplate the beloved, even to pronounce her name.

Comments (2)

richard sherlock

#1, May 8, 2012 10:35pm


Great quote. This expresses something of the reason that God's love for us is so frequently analogized to marital love in scripture. Sexual intimacy can only truly happen in marriage. But this intimacy is never the core of marriage. We might also note, however that true friendship can be very close to marriage. After all at the end of John Jesus asks Peter if he is his "friend".

richard sherlock

#2, May 8, 2012 10:39pm

Follow up. The reference to Fordham (I was Prof. of Moral Theology there) reminds me that the philosophy dept. there is still first rate but my old dept. has really lost its way. Far too many theologians have a very shallow background in philosophy This is embarrasing

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