This volume, the original version of which was published in 1988, brings to a close the autobiographical writings of a modern Christian philosopher who lived through the two World Wars and the ecclesiastical upheaval in the Catholic Church in the context of the Second Vatican Council. What stamps this philosopher throughout the course of his life – with all its social and political uncertainties – is his constant dedication to truth and his manifest unswerving integrity.
Themes with which the reader of his previous works would be well acquainted recur in this volume. The dedicated Catholic philosopher, who preferred his independence as a trainer of teachers to the less independent role of a professor in a Catholic university, was quite prepared to criticize developments in the Church which resulted from Vatican II. In his defense of the sacred, which he deemed threatened by popularizing trends in the Church, he criticized what he saw as the watered down language in modern German translations of Church liturgical texts; the growing preference for secular garb; and the compromising developments which saw the sacramental signs – surrounding baptism, for instance – being reduced to such an extent that they no longer had the power to signify their sacred meaning even to a well-intentioned congregation.
A great lover of the philosophy of Plato, Augustine, and Aquinas – among many others –, Pieper highlighted the need for living a life of truth. He did not consider truth to be merely something abstract but as something to be lived existentially. While he could explain his philosophy in clear rational terms, something which especially stood to him in his post-war lectures to eager students who were hungry for intellectual guidance and leadership, the great interest of his philosophy was, possibly, his preoccupation with mystery – that which impinges on our inner lives but frustrates all our attempts to account for it in purely rational terms.
As a philosopher – one might say a Christian philosopher – Pieper seems to have observed the traditional boundaries drawn between philosophy and theology. His generation was exposed to the modernist debates in the Church. It would have been deemed heretical to say that the Divine could be grasped by our purely human thought processes – access to the Divine being only possible through faith and grace. Pieper was no heretic. But he was also not altogether conservative. In fact, his philosophy, closely allied to existentialism – despite his care, for instance, to distance himself from the negative existentialism of Sartre – focused on the individual’s inner existential grasp of the most profound reality. Truth is to be found within us, even if it remains a mystery. What lies beyond death is, for the individual, the ultimate mystery.