Feast of Friedrich von Hugel (May 5)   3 comments

Above:  Baron Friedrich von Hugel

Image in the Public Domain

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BARON FRIEDRICH MARIA ALOYS FRANZ KARL VON HÜGEL (MAY 5, 1852-JANUARY 27, 1925)

Roman Catholic Independent Scholar and Philosopher

Baron Friedrich von Hügel was a paradox.  He was, on one hand, a theological modernist–not a bad kind of person to be, especially in the light of deepening knowledge of science and the past.  On the other hand, von Hügel was simultaneously a by-the-book Roman Catholic who did not permit himself to express doubts regarding church teachings.  He should have been more critical.

Von Hügel, born at Florence, Tuscany (where his father was an ambassador), on May 5, 1852, grew up in a devout Roman Catholic family.  His father, Karl von Hügel (1795-1870), was an explorer and an Austrian diplomat.  The family relocated to England in 1867.  Three years later, while in Vienna, our saint, due to ill health, had to abandon his program of studying law.  This prompted a spiritual crisis, followed by a conversion experience.

Von Hügel, independently wealthy, worked as an independent scholar and philosopher.  In 1873 he married Lady Mary Herbert (daughter of Sidney Herbert, Lord Herbert of Lea).  The couple resided at London for the rest of their lives.  Our saint, a champion of theological Modernism, met Alfred Loisy (1857-1940) in Paris in 1884.  The two men collaborated and built a network of Roman Catholic Modernists.  Nevertheless, von Hügel was more conservative than the eventually excommunicated Loisy, who lamented that Christ had promised us the Kingdom of God and all we got was the Church.  (Loisy did have something of a valid point.)  Von Hügel, who considered the Roman Catholic Church to be overly centralized, refused to express doubts regarding official teachings.  He was a Modernist in the sense that he shifted emphases, thereby implicitly abandoning the dogmatic tradition of Roman Catholicism.  Pope (now Saint) Pius X’s anti-Modernist encyclical of 1907 devastated von Hügel, who quietly fell in line, sort of.

The variety of Modernism von Hügel embraced post-encyclical was

a permanent, never quite finished, always sooner or later, more or less, re-beginning set of attempts to express the old Faith and its permanent truths and helps–to interpret it according to what appears the best and most abiding elements in the philosophy and the scholarship and the science of the later and latest times.  Such work never ceases for long, and to it I shall try to contribute my little share.

–Quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York, NY:  The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), page 199

After the encyclical of 1907 von Hügel switched his focus of study to mysticism and spirituality.  The masterpiece from the latter portion of his life was The Mystical Element of Religion (two volumes, 1923), focusing on St. Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510).

Our saint, in the realm of his own spirituality, remained devout to the end.  He went to confession weekly, prayed the rosary, and regularly spent hours at a time in devotion before the Blessed Sacrament.

Von Hügel, aged 72 years, died on January 27, 1925.

I have a complicated relationship with Roman Catholicism.  I find much in it that is commendable yet much that I dislike.  The combination of my United Methodist upbringing and my inherent quasi-Catholic predisposition does much to explain this.  I am, simply put, too Protestant to be a Roman Catholic and too Roman Catholic to be a Protestant.  Certainly I reject the propositions that the Bible and Holy Mother Church are infallible.  I, a practicing Episcopalian, am content to remain one while questioning teachings of many denominations, including my own, which, fortunately, lacks a magisterium.

Thus von Hügel interests me.  As much as I respect his piety and intellectual inquiry, his attachment to a centralized authority (the Papacy) in a church he considered to be excessively centralized is alien to my way of thinking and being.  Although I am an orderly person Anglican-style theological diversity appeals to me.  I prefer some degree of chaos to rigid, enforced orthodoxy.  Yes, I understand the difference between the Roman Catholicism of 1870-1965 and that since Vatican II.  Yes, I prefer post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism, folk masses and Marty Haugen‘s schlocky music not withstanding.  Yet Holy Mother Church insists that I, as one of the “separated brethren,” lack the fullness of the faith.  At least that official position is more generous than the one it replaced.

My reservations aside, von Hügel is a fine addition to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.  I wonder how much he would have thrived in the more open intellectual and theological climate to Roman Catholicism since Vatican II.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 21, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHEW THE EVANGELIST, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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O God, you have endowed us with memory, reason, and skill.

We thank you for the faithful legacy of [Friedrich von Hügel and all others]

who have dedicated their lives to you and to the intellectual pursuits.

May we, like them, respect your gift of intelligence fully and to your glory.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Psalm 103

Philippians 4:8-9

Mark 12:28-34

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 6, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CHRODEGANG OF METZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF EDMUND KING, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF LINCOLN

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3 responses to “Feast of Friedrich von Hugel (May 5)

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  1. Pingback: Feast of George Tyrrell (July 16) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

  2. Pingback: Feast of Evelyn Underhill (June 15) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

  3. Pingback: Feast of George Tyrrell (July 15) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

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