communion dietrich von hildebrand

Alone in a Crowd

6:30:00 AMMeredith Kuzma

Loneliness is a major problem in the Twentieth Century. Surrounded by machines that claim to make life better, we lose out on real interaction with other people. Fast food, often painted as a villain of the modern era, allows customers to order in their cars, removing as much face-to-face interaction as possible: a disembodied hand reaches out from a window, passing a paper bag into a vehicle. Skype, often hailed as a savior to families split up by long distance, allows only a faint shadow of interaction. When used by soldiers overseas and their wives back home, Skype provides a worthy service. When used as a crutch or even as the sum-total of interaction between two people, there is a fundamental failure of communion.

For Dietrich von Hildebrand in Chapter 5 of The Art of Living, communion is a necessity in the life of man. He says that “sin severed man's relation to God and to other man” (p 57). Christ bridges the gap, devoting the whole work of redemption to mending this rupture. Communion, however, is not a process of becoming less oneself. Von Hildebrand uses an example of two drops of water fusing together. These drops of water do not make communion, because they completely lose themselves in the process. Man, rather, is “fulfilled” through communion.

Another example used by von Hildebrand in the chapter is solitary confinement. Here, von Hildebrand emphasizes that solitary confinement has been a traditional punishment in many countries for centuries. The connection here is that without communion, man suffers. Additionally, artificial communion is always a danger. Instances of artificial communion do not begin with the modern age, though an easy example today is the internet. If von Hildebrand had been alive during the time of the internet he would certainly have something to say on the topic.

“Knowledge and love are the greatest forms of communion” (p 59). Knowledge is the act of spiritually turning towards another person and engaging them, establishing a spiritual contact that is impossible in the impersonal world. This is part of the calling of the saint, and man suffers when he fails to attain it.

Other persons are “mysteries,” in the sense that because of their depth and richness, they are inaccessible to a purely rational penetration in a geometrical fashion. “In this sense the human person is a mystery; love is a mystery; beauty is a mystery” (p 64). Communion, connection another person, is a gift that comes through an attitude of openness. When we relate to other persons properly we do not reduce them.

“It is only when the spirit of charity permeates the respective category of love with its glorious breath of sublime goodness and heroic self-donation that love can be true to its own essence” (p 78).

There is nothing inherently evil about fast food, Skype, or the internet. Yet, when seen in the light of the potential dangers, we have the responsibility to strive to avoid these problems and focus instead on developing real communion with others.  

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