Fr. Brian McNeil Interview

October 2011: Interview with Translator of Hildebrand Aesthetics, Fr. Brian McNeil

October 12, 2011

Dear Friend,

Today we celebrate the 122nd birthday of Dietrich von Hildebrand (b. October 12, 1889)! In honor of his legacy, let this day be cause for both rejoicing and reflecting.

I find it astonishing when reading von Hildebrand, whose ideas are always fresh and directly apropos our current needs, to think that this man was born in the 19th century! In a 20th century characterized by the cycle of innovation and obsolescence, von Hildebrand worked to promote and preserve timeless values—some might say he was old fashioned, but the truth is that he was often ahead of his time. This reminds me of something the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus once wrote in a letter to me:

"There are thinkers who are great in their time, and then there are great thinkers whose time comes and goes. It seems that the time of Dietrich von Hildebrand is coming around again. He was a man of enormous intellectual accomplishment and moral courage who can help equip another generation of Catholics to make the contribution that we owe to the world."

Of course, one of the primary ways we at the Legacy Project are working to “equip another generation” is by translating von Hildebrand’s many major writings from German into English. This is an immense undertaking, made possible by the contributions of many generous and hard-working partners.

Today, I’d like to introduce our wonderful friend and translator, Fr. Brian McNeil, who is nearing completion on the monumental project of translating von Hildebrand's two-volume Aesthetics, which has never before been translated into English. We are enormously happy to be working with such a gifted and accomplished translator.

In addition to his work on von Hildebrand, Fr. McNeil has translated works by Pope Benedict XVI, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, and other major theologians, not to mention a couple volumes of Norwegian poetry! A truly international man, Fr. McNeil was born in Scotland, and by way of Norway and Italy, is currently the pastor of St. Michael’s Catholic Church, the largest parish in Munich, Germany. 

We recently had a chance to chat with Fr. McNeil to ask about his work on von Hildebrand. What follows is an excerpt from our exchange, the entirety of which can be found on our website here.

Legacy Project: Fr. McNeil, it is astonishing that you translate German, English, Italian, and Norwegian; can you tell us how you came to be fluent in so many languages?

Fr. McNeil: I learned French at school. When I began work on my doctorate, the Professor said: “You can’t study theology without German.” He then sent me to Göttingen for one semester – but his idea was that I should simply be there and absorb German as a child absorbs a language. I was not to take any courses in the language, just be in Germany. It sounds crazy, but it worked. After three months, I spoke German!

Legacy Project: And how did you come to translation?

Fr. McNeil: I would in fact say it is part of my vocation. God has given me linguistic gifts and the ability to develop them. This means that I can be a kind of “bridge” in the church, whether between the Pope and English-speaking readers or between German/Norwegian/French/Italian theologians and English-speaking readers. We don’t have one common language in the worldwide Church, and that makes it very important to have translators!

To read the complete interview, please visit our website here.

Thank you for all your support in celebrating the life and legacy of Dietrich von Hildebrand.

Let's all raise a glass in honor of his 122nd birthday!


John Henry Crosby
Founder & Director