A Review of Remnant of Paradise by Alice von Hildebrand

And an inheritance of women offered through von Hildebrand

Cover of Remnant of Paradise by Alice von Hildebrand

There are voices that helped form us, for good or ill, into the people we are today. You can hear them in the nostalgic stories of the past, in an older generation’s lament about the newer generation, in how a mother firmly but lovingly scolds her child, and in a graduating senior’s speech about what living in a small town means to her.

How good it is for us to know the sources of those voices, the ones who shaped the way we see the world and the way we see ourselves.

Alice von Hildebrand is one of those voices for me.

I do not know who first introduced me to her through her book The Privilege of Being a Woman. Likely, it happened sometime in high school.

Cover of The Privilege of Being a Woman by Alice von Hildebrand

Von Hildebrand was, in a way, always in the background of my life. Her ideas echoed in youth group ceremonies upholding the dignity of womanhood, crowning us ladies as daughters of a king.

And then there she was, eloquently, lucidly, lovingly explaining what it is that makes being female not only tolerable but a good thing. There she was, explaining that the fall in Genesis turned our perception upside down so that weakness was directly marked as something negative, and power was directly marked as something good.

On Femininity

All this happened back before feminism seemed to target children and teenagers. We girls received the trickle-down message from our short-haired mothers that being a woman wasn’t about being girly, that there was no right way to be a girl, and that you didn’t have to be a boy to be cool, athletic, or adventurous.

Femininity had little to do with skirts, long hair and a sashay of the hips but had everything to do with how we were born and grew. Von Hildebrand gave a theological root to this idea, and it would shape me forever. Prudence Allen later offered a scientific and philosophical explanation. John Paul II elucidated the theological and scriptural roots. Still, it was von Hildebrand’s voice that taught me, woman to woman, how to be a woman in a world full of confusion and why no matter how hard the going got, it was worth it, and it was good.

Then last year, she died.

The death opened the door for those who longed to present an even greater body of her work to the world, explore her writings and papers, compile them, and promote her legacy as she did for her husband, Dietrich von Hildebrand.

And so, this year, Hildebrand Press published Remnant of Paradise: Selected Essays by Alice von Hildebrand, edited by John Henry Crosby.

Cover of Remnant of Paradise by Alice von Hildebrand

The first set of essays gives the reader an excellent sample of her teaching on that femaleness I spoke of and the privilege of being a woman with wit and wisdom. These are controversial terms these days, no doubt.

She referenced Augustine’s “warmheartedness.” Indeed, here is a woman who understands that to feel and express emotion is a valuable power of the human person, so long as it is ordered rightly. She writes about friendship, an essay I could revisit again and again. She writes about widowhood and old age, under-appreciated topics in our society.

Sample of chapter titles from Remnant of Paradise by Alice von Hildebrand

The final essay selections feel like the essays were collected for me, reassuring me like the lessons or stories an old aunt chooses to tell. She writes about truth and charity, how the first exists and how the two are bound together. Von Hildebrand explains the true meaning behind sacramentals, that it is a betrayal of truth and love to be unwilling to care about a loved one’s moral state, or that an ancient sacred liturgy should not be forbidden.

She gives a voice to the ideas that swirl around my mind and reminds me what we believe and why we believe it.  Reading her words, I feel seen, known and loved. And as always, von Hildebrand does this in an effortless, approachable, conversational style.

In addition to von Hildebrand’s essays, Remnant of Paradise contains remembrances of those who knew her or were influenced by her during her almost 99 years of living. It comes as a paperback book with an unassuming minimal yet feminine design reminiscent of von Hildebrand’s writing style.

This book reminds me of the debt I owe her. It gives me an eager appetite for more. I hope the Hildebrand Project will not let me down.

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