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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A modern spiritual masterpiece by Von Hildebrand as valuable as John Cassian's Conferences, 1 Jan. 2010
Aquinas "summa" (celestial heights, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Transformation in Christ: On the Christian Attitude (Paperback)
Von Hildebrand ("Von H") is both a spiritual diagnostician and surgeon, knowing when to take the knife to counterfeit spirituality. This is the greatness of the work - how he distinguishes naturalistic impulses and effects from their spiritual counterparts. Do I real have the peace that surpasses all understanding or do I simply have a phlegmatic and complacent temperament? Von H combines razor sharp logic with real heart and passion - a kind of combination of St Thomas Aquinas and St Augustine. He also brilliantly shows how the Christian life requires that we hold opposites within ourselves - we must be zealous and passionate about our transformation in Christ and yet we must be sweetness itself, drinking deeply of Divine patience. Make no mistake, this is a difficult book - each of the 18 Chapters is challenging and , like all spiritual classics, we are likely to squirm as we face uncomfortable disclosures about ourselves - we begin to see that Von H has indeed diagnosed our sham spirituality as being the mere manifestation of naturalistic impulses. To give an idea what this book is about, I will make some short observations on each Chapter, but these are only initial thoughts and reflections - there is immense depth in this book (500 pages) - Von H, like Cassian, has a wonderful insight into the manifold varieties of the human person - he knows us through and through. How wonderful it is that the Church has had such a great philosopher and lay man, a husband and a father, to serve Christ and his Church. Dietrich Von Hildebrand pray for me!

The readiness to Change

In this Chapter, Von H puts before us the stark choice we are given: do we really want to be transformed in Christ - all of us who seek to answer this question know that there are all sorts of resistances we put up against the inflow of God's grace - we wish to retain our own areas of sovereignty but Von H urges us to be like wax ready to receive the stamp of Christ. But, God does not wish to annihilate our personality and freedom - the paradox is that we only become our true selves so that our unique personality shines when we become transformed in Christ. And this is where Von H brilliantly shows us true personality versus the kind of conventional personality into which we have grown, petrified by prejudices and conventions. Readiness to change and be moved towards Christ: this is the key.


In contrition, Man finds his greatness, he humbles himself and submits to God, knowing that he has done wrong.

Self knowledge

Von H contrasts the real desire to know thyself with a mere neutral observer type attitude, typical of the psychological approach. The former can only be realised though a radical confrontation with God. "We ought to feel a boundless gratitude to those who rudely destroy our illusions concerning our person". "We mistake our enthusiasm for a virtue for its real presence in us". We need the help of other so are illusions about ourselves can be shattered.

True Consciousness

Her Von H excessive self consciousness with true consciousness, the latter involving a kind of loss of oneself in response to value. We should not pry into our psychic entrails and become self obsessed - we must not go around self consciously doing good - in fact by doing so, we destroy the good we are doing. "A truly conscious person has so far advance over his nature that he no longer agrees implicitly to all its suggestions". "Unconscious man gives himself entirely to the moment's experiences". We must become truly awake and simple.

True simplicity

Complexity is not profundity. Von H shows us what it true simplicity and what is sham simplicity. He notes that the reductionist who "walks through life with a boastful smile, proud of being past all obscure and grave difficulties" is not simple but merely engaging in platitude, levelling all depth and value with his reductionist approach. "The basic error of all simplicity lies in the assumption that it is a simple thing to have true simplicity" and "No deficiency of natural dispositions can prevent us from transformation in Christ". Simplicity is "the unity of a life anchored in God". Simplicity is linked with continuity. "The truly simple man always preserves his basic identity". Von H warns us of the draw to shallowness and the movement to the periphery which conflicts with the desire to be simple such as indulging in magazines, visiting fashionable beaches, going to music halls, shows, cinemas etc. He is supremely practical here. These things "dishabituate the mind from the unum necessarium and so interfere with the progress towards simplicity". We must expressly offer everything to God and always and everywhere give thanks. We must have a "permanent attitude of sursum corda, of eagerness to be let ourselves be borne aloft to God". But to attain simplicity, we need the contemplated attitude of Mary: "Martha, Martha, thou art careful , and art troubled about many things; but one thing alone is necessary"

Recollection and contemplation

"In recollecting ourselves, we empty our soul of all current concerns, and are no longer possessed by the things which fill our life". When we are dispersed, we are not really and truly alive. Even in activity (even intellectual activity) "our awareness of God continues to resound in our soul like and unending melody". But to achieve this "we must bring ourselves to a full and exclusive awareness of God" from time to time. And this is where the "heart" comes in, showing Von H's personalism: "Many of our emotional acts have a contemplative character". We must dwell in the present. "In contemplation, I abandon myself to an object as a majestic entity which reposes in itself and does not me in order to exist". The key here is receptivity and a restful attitude . But contemplation is not mere relaxation as it involves intense spiritual activity. And this is where Von H himself seems to soar, one becomes acutely aware that a kind of mystical experience must have informed some of his insights. He cites the wonderful passage from St Augustine in the City of God: "There we shall rest and we shall see; we shall see and we shall love; we shall love and we shall praise. Behold what shall in the end without end". To come to this inner stillness, we must have times of silence and solitude. Von H never loses site of practical considerations and warns us that contemplation requires a degree of mental alertness which is not consistent with the exhausted state where we react impulsively and lose control of our reactions. We need rest! And again, the practical man comes to the fore: "Since e are psycho-pysical beings, we cannot invariably live with the same spiritual intensity". We need recreation and rest- this is the result of our fallen state and we must not in pride resist their call. He ends this Chapter with a stream of beautifully recollected thoughts.


"Humility involves the full knowledge of our status as creatures, a clear consciousness of having receiving everything we have from God". As St Catherine of Siena puts it: "That Thous shalt be, and that I shall not be". "Humility calls upon us to allow our hearts to be wounded by the glory of God, to fall on our knees in loving adoration, and to deliver ourselves over to God entirely". Thus we can "blissfully assent to our creaturely status". Let us be filled with a holy longing for God. The humble man "finds the cause of his joy in the magnolia Dei, the glory of God, as mirrored and signified by the cosmos and its wealth of values, including, in particular, the values he discerns in human beings other than himself". "Humility prescribes all contemplation of one's own values, the humble man will never direct his glance to one of his own virtues, lest he should lapse into pride" . "The humbles one has divested himself of all hardness; he faces his fellow men, not mailed and armoured, but in the luminous attire of invincible charity. Even his foes - and this is the test of meekness - he confronts unarmed." "he is past all self-assertion". "He who speaks the word of total assent to his finiteness and limitation will thereby illuminate his nature with an aura which in some way images the unlimited breadth of God".

Confidence in God

Von H again alerts us to spiritual counterfeits - confidence in God is not about optimisim, "smugness masquerading as religiosity". Our trust in God must be absolute. "We must never say that God has rejected our prayer". We must see suffering against the backdrop of the Cross but remembering that "death really and objectively is a terrible thing". Von H never stops looking into the depths and glossing over the metaphysical reality of all things, including death. We must confront all our anxieties and fears with God.

Striving for perfection

"The vision of the beautiful, as Plato says (Phaedrus 249d) causes the soul "to grow wings". "Whenever a true value affects us, whenever a ray of beauty, goodness or holiness wounds our heart...a certain actual change is produced in our being which...will leave permanent traces far outlasting our actual experience. By this spiritual nourishment our very essence will be changed and ,as it were, leavened." " love-relationship rooted in Jesus is certain to transform us and to bring us nearer to God". And Von H, having discussed things in depth, never sidesteps practicality: "We must avoid contact with everything that has an air of avoid certain unnecessary conversations, to do without the entertainment provided by shallow readings, to shun everything that panders to out delight in sensations, in general, to steer clear of whatever is calculated to draw us away from God". Von H reminds us of the importance of work: "the absence of regular activity and effort - cannot but demoralise us and hamper our inward progress".

True freedom

"The true Christian must see everything in conspectus Dei." But Von H is always practical and sensitive to the impact our person may have on others: "There are situations in which charity requires me to exercise particular discretions lest I should perplex or repel others". Von H again brilliantly shows us what is true freedom in Christ and what may have a satanic source, whilst producing similar effects tot true freedom. Thus he says: "It is utterly unreasonable to shy at the idea of receiving any intellectual help or guidance from others, to insist on working out one's ideas all by oneself and to remain uninfluenced throughout". The true Christian understands his dependence on others and the interdependence of community. We must not be a slave to whatever is "in the air" or to conventionalism. "The true Christian is of necessity unconventional". "He is untrammelled by any prejudice". He notes how we can drift away from contemplating the value of a thing and be caught up in mental associations: "For instance, we find a place unlovely and depressing because on some earlier occasion we were all there. A melody seems to us devoid of beauty because it remind us of a gloomy period of life". Von H is spot on here and I have seen such things being operative in my own life until I brought such experience to Christ, the healer of memory - one is then free to contemplate things as they are, not as they have appear by association! Von H goes through all the various attitudes we may have and bring us up short by saying: ""He who is truly free knows - with a living knowledge - that everything is an unmerited gift of the merciful goodness of Go, that before him we are beggars devoid of any claim whatsoever"

Hunger for justice

Von H contrast the hunger for justice with indifference and a hunger rooted in pride, the hunger for self-gratification. He makes the illuminating insight that "He who is dominated by his thirst for happiness bars himself from access to true and deep happiness". He contrasts respect for justice with hunger and thirst after justice. "Day and night we must be swayed by the burning desire that God be glorified in all things". Again he contrasts thirst for justice with an aggressive destructive natural zeal for God, a zealotry devoid of all kindness, a fanaticism sinning against charity. Again, our natural urges are counterfeits for real thirst for justice - we squeeze everything into the shape of our own personality to bring about justice by the force of our own dynamism. Our zeal must instead have the quality of soaring tranquillity.

Holy Patience

It is not stoic indifference or a Buddhist placidity. Impatience is a non-acceptance of our creaturliness, that things do not come within our sovereignty - we must wait and we must undergo an interval of inner maturing and organic development. As Pascal notes "Christ wills us to fight with Him, not to conquer with Him".

Blessed are the peacemakers

We must be wary of the natural pulls of our nature. We should not "implicitly trust its reactions and unquestioningly interpret moods as the index of an objective fact". "We must not be seduced into enjoying the wrangle or the blows we manage to inflict on our antagonist". But beware again of spiritual counterfeits of peace. "Sated contentment or a peace of mind due to thoughtlessness or illusion, is not a good but an evil - no matter how pleasant it may subjectively feel" . Again Von H is always aware of our metaphysical position that we are wayfarers in a valley of tears and have to accept all that means for us here and now: "It is utterly false that we ought not to sorrow over a real misfortune. Any attempt to evade the cross, be it by a mental technique or illusion that we are, essentially, no longer in the valley of tears but in the realm of eternal happiness is hopelessly mistaken". But we must not cleave to grief - a thing we may be tempted to do when faced with the death of a beloved, so much so that we become comfortable with our grief and fall into a vortex of sorrow.

Holy Meekness

The meek man "would enforce nothing; he accords everything the time required by its inward law of unfolding. Despite all its fervour and intensity, his effort retains a quality of graciousness, unhardened mellowness". And yet with this must be zealous - we must hold in our being two apparently opposite spiritual dispositions - zeal and patience - a kind of hypostatic union. "The aspect of which meekness embodies a specific expression is that of a serene mellowness inherent in the perfect attitude of love". Von H warns us about sulking, which is linked to pride and concupiscence! "Meekness, just as patience, implies one's abstinence from assuming a false position of sovereignty above the universe"

Holy Mercy

"Mercy, then, responds to misery" and is a bending down in love. Again Von H shows us some counterfeit forms of mercy such as indiscriminate generosity and pliability, where the motivating factor is not the good of the recipient of the act of generosity but the enhancement of the subjective feelings of the giver.
Holy Sorrow
Von H again insists on the "coincidentia oppositorium" - that union of apparently irreconcilable opposites. Von H brings to our attention the duality inherent in man's metaphysical state. We are already children of God but we are still in a valley of tears. We are still living in hope and expectation, we do not yet see God face to face. We must remain aware of this situation and not skip over this state and act as if we are already in paradise. So, we must hold in our hears two opposite positions: "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matt 5:5) and "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice" (Phil 4:4). Although Von H does not mention this, it seems as if all heresies and errors constitute a refusal to juggle what appears to be in contradiction - thus the person with a sorrowful inward pull may opt for Matt whereas the jovial type of guy may feel Paul warrants a continuous air of joy but we must have both. Specifically we must accept the cross; "To evade the cross is to evade Christ" but "all our sufferings are transfigured by a ray of light". However, "joy is the superior and consummate reality" as we view everything in the light of eternity.

Holy Sobriety

Von H warns us about taking an overly optimistic view of human nature and not respecting certain metaphysical truths: we die and it is a truly dreadful thing. Again he warns us about spiritual counterfeits.

True Surrender

"In the measure that man submerges himself in his adoration of God, his personality becomes ampler and richer, and adorned with higher values". Again Von H reminds us of counterfeits: "the difference between purity and lack of sensuality" and "the peaceful serenity of a saint and the emotional obtuseness of a Stoic". "True surrender on the contrary implies that we are entirely centred upon the object in which we lose ourselves". True surrender is a "sanctioned act, ratified by the free and conscious centre of our personality" in contrast to being swept off one's feet
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ever tried to express a spiritual thought and realised that you have to qualify it by an opposite?, 12 July 2013
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This review is from: Transformation in Christ: On the Christian Attitude (Paperback)
von Hildebrand has given me the phrase 'coincidentia oppositorum'. This is an excellent book, to be chewed and mulled over. It is long, and sometimes there are passages I skip through fast but I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone wishing to deepen their everyday spiritual life.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book: such a clear and deep perception of ..., 24 Aug. 2014
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Excellent book: such a clear and deep perception of the truth about the human condition.

A must read: EVERYONE should read this book!
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5.0 out of 5 stars It was exactly as described and came in good time. It's excellent, 11 Feb. 2014
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This review is from: Transformation in Christ: On the Christian Attitude (Paperback)
This is an amazing book, a life changing book which is easy to read and will always be needed for reference.
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Transformation in Christ: On the Christian Attitude
Transformation in Christ: On the Christian Attitude by Dietrich Von Hildebrand (Paperback - 1 Sept. 2001)
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