Baron von Hügel

BARON FRIEDRICH VON HÜGEL, (1852–1925), Catholic theologian and philosopher. He was born at Florence, the elder son of Carl Alexander Anselm, Baron von Hügel (1795–1870), and of Elizabeth, née Farquharson, a Scottish Presbyterian lady who was a convert to the Catholic Church. After a cosmopolitan education he settled in England in 1867. In 1870 an attack of typhus left him deaf and permanently weakened in health. After a religious crisis he was brought to a firm faith at Vienna through the influence of Raymond Hocking, a Dutch Dominican (1870). He married in 1873 and for the rest of his life lived at Hampstead (1876–1903) and Kensington (1903–25), though he constantly travelled abroad. In 1884 he met for the first time H. Huvelin at Paris, who made a profound spiritual impression on him.

Meanwhile von Hügel had become a keen student of science (esp. geology), philosophy, biblical criticism, and religious history. Having become convinced of the critical view of the OT, he defended it in 1897 in a Congress at Fribourg (Switzerland). He found himself in growing accord with the cultural and liberalizing tendencies in the RC Church and several of the leaders of the Modernist Movement (A. Loisy, G. Tyrrell) became his lifelong friends. In 1904 he founded the London Society for the Study of Religion, which brought him into touch with thinkers and scholars of the most diverse views. In 1908 he published The Mystical Element of Religion as studied in St Catherine of Genoa and her Friends. This was followed in 1911 by an article on St John’s Gospel in the Encyclopaedia Britannica (11th edn.) and in 1912 by his book Eternal Life. In 1921 appeared his Essays and Addresses on the Philosophy of Religion; a second series followed in 1926, after his death. He was appointed Gifford Lecturer at Edinburgh for 1924–6, but owing to ill-health was unable to deliver the course; portions of it were published posthumously in The Reality of God (1931).

Among the problems with which von Hügel constantly wrestled were the relation of Christianity to history (in which field he found a kindred spirit in E. Troeltsch), the place of human culture in the Christian life, the Christian conception of time, and the significance of eschatology for the modern world. He saw the Institutional, the Intellectual, and the Mystical as the three abiding elements in religion. In his earlier life he had much sympathy with the activist philosophy of M. Blondel, but believing that the essence of religion was ‘adoration’, he came in his later years to emphasize the Divine transcendence and the ‘givenness’ of faith. ‘The Baron’ became one of the chief religious influences in cultured circles in England, more so outside the RC Church than within it, though his ‘Modernism’ escaped formal condemnation. The confidence which he inspired as a spiritual counsellor may be clearly discerned in his published correspondence.

Von Hügel’s Selected Letters, 1896–1924, ed. B. Holland (1927), with Memoir by id., pp. 1–68; Letters from Baron Friedrich von Hügel to a Niece, ed. G. Greene (1928), with introd., pp. vii–xlv; The Letters of Baron Friedrich von Hügel and Professor Norman Kemp Smith, ed. L. F. Barmann (New York, 1981). Much of his correspondence with G. Tyrrell is pr. in M. D. Petre, Von Hügel and Tyrrell: The Story of a Friendship (1937). Life by M. de la Bedoyère (London, 1951). Studies by M. Nédoncelle (Paris thesis, 1935; Eng. tr., 1937), J. Steinmann (Paris, 1962), J. J. Heaney (Washington, DC, 1968; London, 1969), J. P. Whelan, SJ (London, 1971), and L. F. Barmann (Cambridge, 1972). P. Neuner, Religiöse Erfahrung und geschichtliche Offenbarung: Friedrich von Hügels Grundlegung der Theologie (Beiträge zur ökumenischen Theologie, 15; 1977); J. J. Kelly, Baron Friedrich von Hügel’s Philosophy of Religion (Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium, 62; 1983). T. M. Loome, Liberal Catholicism, Reform Catholicism, Modernism (Tübingen Theologische Studien, 14; 1979), esp. pp. 123–92 and 209–17. C. C. J. Webb in DNB, 1922–1930, pp. 874–6.

Baron Friedrich von Hügel, the early 20th-century Roman Catholic thinker, wrote of three elements of religion.

[1] In the institutional element, a child, for example, soaks up with delight and few questions all the customs and creeds of the religious institution.

[2] The second intellectual element most typically begins in adolescence, when individuals begin to pose questions to the inherited faith and attempt to make sense of it for themselves.

If they fail in the quest of this second element, they may well abandon their childhood faith and its related institution.

[3] But if they succeed, they move on into the third or mystical element of religion, when - without in any way leaving behind the first and second elements - they are able to live with questions that no one can answer, exploring the connections of thought and feeling which help make belief not a groundless or fruitless activity, and living in an attitude of wonder and ultimate trust in the universe.

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