(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The study of history shows that religion is a characteristic of humanity and consists of universality and “superhumanity,” or a higher reality. However, asks Baron Friedrich von Hügel, could religion be merely an illusion? Hegelians claim that the human mind can know nothing but itself, whereas von Hügel asserts that the human mind also possesses imagination, will, feeling, and sense; it has the capacity to know other minds and concrete realities distinct from itself. If humans can apprehend realities such as morality and aesthetics, and if these apprehensions point to realities outside the mind, then humans can apprehend a higher reality outside of themselves. Just as objects in the external world reveal themselves to humans, so God makes himself known to humans as revelation in its purest and most perfect form.

In response to a woman who doubts that an all-good God could allow her young daughter to die of a lingering illness, von Hügel explains that God’s reality is obscure, but things of this world are no less real because our perception of them is obscure. Our perceptions are confirmed by actual experience, by others’ similar experiences, and by the vividness of experiences. However, to achieve faith in God, the mind must be prepared to grow; it cannot be self-centered or self-occupied. The firmest faith, however, comes out of the deepest suffering, physical and spiritual. The history of religion teaches such insights. Indeed, Christianity has grown stronger because of centuries of suffering, surviving all temptations, attacks, and persecutions. The suffering and crucifixion of Christ symbolized this truth. Without suffering himself, Christ could not have asked as much of humankind.

In the works of German theologian Ernst Troeltsch, an ardent Protestant, von Hügel finds reinforcement of his own Catholicism. Von Hügel states that critiquing Troeltsch’s works on ethics and the essence of Christianity fortified his sense of the value of religious controversy. This value is heightened when each side shares a deep love and understanding of the fundamentals of Christian faith and each has a mind capable of entertaining...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Barmann, Lawrence F. Baron Friedrich von Hügel and the Modernist Crisis in England. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1972. Examines the role of von Hügel’s ideas in the modernist movement in Western Europe and the movement’s controversial elements.

Kelly, James J. Baron Friedrich von Hügel’s Philosophy of Religion. Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press, 1983. Discusses von Hügel’s life in terms of his growth as a religious philosopher, then summarizes the philosophy that emerged.

Leonard, Ellen M. Creative Tension: The Spiritual Legacy of Friedrich von Hügel. Scranton, Pa.: University of Scranton Press, 1997. Von Hügel’s life gives context to historical, intellectual, and mystical elements that informed his spiritual journey, the fruits of which he shared with important contemporaries.

Lester-Garland, L. V. The Religious Philosophy of Baron F. von Hügel. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1933. Identifies the principal issues of the essays and addresses in von Hügel’s work, the difficult questions they raise, and the sometimes uncertain answers the philosopher provides.

Whelan, Joseph P. The Spirituality of Friedrich von Hügel. London: William Collins Sons, 1971. Analyzes the central concepts of von Hügel’s thought, particularly on Christ, God, the Church, and spirituality.