Hügel, Friedrich von

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HÜGEL, FRIEDRICH VON (18521925), Roman Catholic layman who at the turn of the twentieth century became involved in the modernist crisis and who later became recognized as an outstanding authority on mysticism and religious philosophy. Born in Austria, von Hügel moved with his family to England in 1867. Mainly self-educated, von Hügel became a friend of the French exegete Alfred Loisy (18571940) and of the English Jesuit George Tyrrell (18611909). He immersed himself in the new scriptural criticism and championed Loisy's right to publish when the latter faced church condemnation. He also generally supported Tyrrell, who was expelled from the Society of Jesus in 1906. The official church saw in the ideas of a number of writers at the time, including Loisy and Tyrrell, a denial of the transcendence of God and of church authority. It labeled their ideas "modernism" and condemned them in the encyclical Pascendi in 1907. Von Hügel and others believed that the church's very broad condemnation was unfair and to a degree a misunderstanding. But he gradually cooled to some of Loisy's ideas, although he continued to support the cause of the freedom of the exegete. He showed external respect in every way he could for the church's decrees, but he never essentially changed his position.

Toward the end of the modernist crisis von Hügel published his great work, The Mystical Element of Religion as Studied in St. Catherine of Genoa and Her Friends (1909). Around the biographical core of the book he developed his ideas on religion and mysticism. The chief forces of Western civilization he saw as Hellenism, Christianity, and science. He worked out three elements in all religion: the institutional, the intellectual, and the mystical. The thirst for religion and mysticism is at bottom metaphysical, arising from a keen sense of imprisonment in the contingent. "If man did not somehow have a real experience of objective reality and truth, he could never suffer so much from the very suspicion of a complete imprisonment within purely human apprehensions and values."

In 1912 von Hügel published Eternal Life, a study of the eternal and the absolute in religion. Time, he insisted, is a composite phenomenon containing two elements: clock time, or succession, and duration. In duration, the human being stands open to the infinite and experiences a quasi eternity. In 1921 he published Essays and Addresses on the Philosophy of Religion, in which he underlined the transcendent element in religion and also included a probing essay on the apocalyptic element in Jesus' teaching. Some of his work was published posthumously. Essays and Addresses on the Philosophy of Religion, Second Series (1926) contains discussions on institutional religion, church authority, and suffering in God. Von Hügel's unfinished work on the Gifford Lectures was published as The Reality of God and Religion and Agnosticism (1931).

Von Hügel became an outstanding spiritual director. He was a major influence on Evelyn Underhill, who was later to publish her remarkable works on mysticism. His deep spiritual life is seen in Letters from Baron von Hügel to a Niece (1928) and The Life of Prayer (1929). He received an honorary doctor of law degree from the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland in 1914, and in 1920 he became the first Roman Catholic since the Reformation to be honored with an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Oxford University.


Barmann, Lawrence F. Baron Friedrich von Hügel and the Modernist Crisis in England. Cambridge, U.K., 1972. The most thorough treatment of von Hügel's role in the modernist crisis.

Kelley, James J. Baron Friedrich von Hügel's Philosophy of Religion. Leuven, 1983. A masterly coverage, including both philosophy and biography.

Leonard, Eileen M. Creative Tension: The Spiritual Legacy of Friedrich von Hügel. Scranton, Pa., 1997. A very fine presentation of biography and spirituality.

Whelan, Joseph P. The Spirituality of Friedrich von Hügel. London, 1971. The best introduction to von Hügel's spirituality. With a foreword by Bishop B. C. Butler.

John J. Heaney (1987 and 2005)