©2019 by the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project.

CLASSROOM CONVERSION

ALICE VON HILDEBRAND

National Catholic Register

March 20, 1983

Not long ago, in my "Introduction to Philosophy" course, I was discussing truth. I gave my students the classical argument against subjectivism and relativism, namely, that whenever one tries to deny objective truth one must simultaneously claim that one’s own statement is itself true, really and objectively.

 

Suddenly, a male student raised his hand, rose (a most unusual occurrence), and said in a strong, clear voice: "I object, Professor, to your spreading Roman Catholicism in this classroom." There followed a moment of great tension and my thoughts rushed to God for help. Then I said quietly: "I’m afraid that you are guilty of an anachronism." Since the student in question did not know what it meant, I explained: "The argument I have been using is taken

from Plato who lived some four centuries before the birth of Christ. He can hardly be called a Roman Catholic. This should answer your objection." I then proceeded with my teaching.

 

Some 16 months later I received a phone call just as I was about to leave for the university, where I was scheduled to proctor exams for the evening. The person who was calling, a former student, said she urgently wanted to see me. I told her that this was not possible since I was to be on duty the whole evening and, furthermore, it was my last day at the university until the fall term. She started to cry over the phone and insisted that she had to see me immediately. Surmising that her problem was truly serious, I contacted a friend of mine who agreed to proctor in my stead.

 

I then rushed to the university. I hardly had time to take off my coat when the girl who had phoned me came in. I immediately recognized her even though she had never spoken to me personally when she was my student. She had a fine, sensitive face and I had been impressed by her attentiveness and eagerness to listen. To my utter amazement, she told me abruptly that she wanted to become a Roman Catholic. I was so surprised that I was speechless, but I then decided to test her. "Why?" I asked. "Your courses convinced me." "But"" I responded, "I didn’t say a word about religion in my classes; my topic is philosophy."

 

"l know," she answered, "but do you recall an incident about 16 months ago when a student got up and objected to your refutation of subjectivism and relativism on the ground that you were spreading Roman Catholicism in the classroom? I had been brought up with strong anti-Catholic prejudices. But just when the student spoke out, the grace of God struck me. I suddenly understood that the Roman Catholic Church does stand for the objectivity of truth and that I had been blinded by prejudices."

 

"Your course helped me very much and I decided to take another one with you," she continued. "I heard through another student that you were the wife of a famous Roman Catholic writer, Dietrich von Hildebrand. I rushed to the library and read a couple of his works. Now I am convinced. Please, help me to find a good priest so that I can take instructions in the faith."

 

This is how L.C. found her way into the Church. I learned a great lesson through her experience: God is so powerful, so great, that He can use anything for the good. Obviously the student who had objected to my teaching (a fallen away Catholic, I fear) wanted to hurt me—to "warn" the other students of the danger of taking a course taught by a "bigoted" person. Since many of my students are Jewish and atheists, the name "Roman Catholic" is taboo. He wanted to say to all his fellow students: "Be on your guard; you are treading on treacherous ground."

 

Yet such an attitude and such words of warning are what God used to draw someone to Himself. St. Augustine indeed was correct when he wrote: "God judged it better and more in accord with His power to bring some greater good out of evil than to permit no evil whatsoever" (City of God, XXII, I).

Indeed, God always has the last word.