Joe's Memos

Faithfulness Explained by a Genius Philosopher

For those having a difficult time understanding or experiencing faith, I highly recommend starting with an understanding of faithfulness as defined by Dietrich von Hildebrand, one of the most underrated philosophers of our time. Faithfulness is not quite the same thing as faith, but it is a step towards it.

I won’t add much to the text below because Hildebrand wrote it with such elegance. I doubt I could do any better. However, I added a few notes in parentheses and italics. The rest of the quotes are from Dietrich von Hildebrand’s book, The Art of Living.

Dietrich von Hildebrand on Faithfulness

“How many people there are who are never lastingly influenced by great works of art, or by delight in beautiful landscapes, or by contact with great personalities. The momentary impression may be strong, but it strikes no deep root in them; it is not firmly held in their superactual life but disappears as soon as another impression makes its appearance. These men are like a sieve through which everything runs. Though they can be good, kindly, and honest, they cleave to a childish, unconscious position; they have no depth.”

“Such people are continually in danger of becoming traitors to themselves or to others.”

On the other hand, “the persevering man holds on to everything that has revealed itself to him as a true, genuine value. The advantage of liveliness that the present possesses over the past has no power over his life when compared with the inner weight of deep truths that he has once recognized, and of values that he has once grasped. The importance of the role played by a given thing in his present consciousness is exclusively determined by the height of its value, and in no way by its mere presence.”

“Such men are consequently protected from the tyranny of fashion. A thing never makes a deep impression upon them merely because it is modern, because it is momentarily ‘in the air,’ but only because it has a value, because it is beautiful, good, and true.” (notice Hildebrand’s mention of the transcendentals)

“The lives of these men are meaningfully integrated, and in their course reflect the objective gradation of values.” (this is a beautiful definition of integrity, more elegant and clear than Jung’s definition)

“While the inconstant man is a prey to accidental impressions and situations, the constant man dominates his own impressions.”

“[Men with integrity] understand that an important truth is not less interesting and less worthy of concern because we have known it for a long time. They understand, above all, that the obligation to respond to a good possessing a value is not limited to the moment in which it is grasped.”

“He alone for whom values never lose their efficacy and charm, once they have been revealed to him, and who never lets a truth which he has grasped drop into oblivion, will really do justice to the proper character of the world of truth and values; for he alone is capable of remaining faithful to objects possessing value.”

“This constancy or fidelity in the true sense of the world is, as we see, a fundamental moral attitude of man.”

“He alone will stand firm in trials.”

“It is so because this man lives from the depth, and masters every moment from the depth.” (this is very similar to Jordan Peterson saying one should be guided by an ethic, a way of life)

“He will learn from every situtation of life and will grow in every situation, for in him the measure of genuine values remains alive; while the inconstant man yields now to one, now to another impression, and becomes so entirely a prey of each that in the depth of his soul everything passes on more or less without leaving a trace.”

“The constant man alone will prefer what is more important to what is less so, what is more valuable to the less, while the unstable person will at best respond indiscriminately to all values, recognizing no hierarchy in them. Nothing is, in fact, more important for moral growth, for the very moral life of a person, than consideration for the objective hierarchy of values, and the capacity to give priority to that which is objectively higher.”

“But constancy is also a condition for any confidence on the part of the person himself and above all for heroic faith. The unstable man is not only undeserving of confidence, but he himself will be incapable of a firm, unshakable confidence either in other men, in truth, or in God Himself.” (confidence in God is also known as faith, so Hildebrand is saying integrity/constancy, faithfulness, is a prerequisite to faith) “For such a man lacks the strength to nourish his soul upon a value once discovered. Therefore, when night and obscurity surround him, or when other strong impressions assail him, he loses faith. It is no accident that in Latin the word fides means both fidelity and faith. For constancy is an essential constituent of all capacity to believe, and consequently of all religion.” (in this paragraph, Hildebrand claims that integrity/constancy, faithfulness, is a prerequisite for faith. In other words, a man must abide by a hierarchy of values in order to have faith)

Isn’t Hildebrand brilliant? He offers a very different view — seemingly more in line with the complexities of the individual human being — than modern psychology. Psychology simply says, “the man is high in trait openness,” or “the man is low in neuroticism,” and “he will remain mostly that way for his entire life,” but that is too deterministic. Hildebrand makes the case that one version/trait is better than the other, and it can be developed in any man. Any man can become faithful by learning what things are truly valuable and determining the hierarchy of those things.

Faith is scant in our world. Perhaps it is because we have not learned what is truly valuable, or we have not determined what is most valuable, or we do not value anything enough to follow it all the way to the bitter end. Perhaps being aware of this, we can change, we can become faithful, and we can experience that wonderful virtue called faith.