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Portrait: Frederick D. Wilhelmsen: Christendom’s Troubadour

June 12, 2007


From Christendom’s Troubadour: Frederick D. Wilhelmsen James Lehrberger, O. Cist., Intercollegiate Review, Volume 32, Number 2; Spring 1997:

From his youth on, Dr. Wilhelmsen put his luminous talents and unflagging energy at the service of his Catholic faith. The very taproot of his life and the animating center of his thought was dedication to what he often called “the Catholic thing.” This faith synthesized and informed the many threads which he wove into the rich tapestry of his understanding.

The central tenet of Frederick D.Wilhelmsen’s faith proved to be the linchpin of his own thought: that God became man neither losing anything of his divinity nor destroying anything of his humanity. Since God took to himself human nature, human nature was validated in its own right. This was true above all for man’s capacity to know the truth, i.e., for his reason or mind. Dr. Wilhelmsen’s supreme faith in the Incarnation undergirded his unwavering confidence in the mind’s capacity to know the real. Conversely, he found it no accident that philosophers who lacked his religious belief often lacked the conviction that reason could know the world. Philosophic realism found its truest friend in the Christian faith.


He saw a direct relationship between the secularizing of what had been Christendom and the horror of Hitler’s death camps, Stalin’s gulags, and the slaughter of the pre-born. When societies sever their union with the divine, the image of God rapidly dissolves into a beast of prey. For this reason he rejected liberalism in its many different forms. Economic liberalism sacrifices the person on the altar of profits; political liberalism slays community in the name of the autonomous individual; cultural liberalism denigrates the family in favor of sexual “liberation.” The human results of such programs are to be expected: rootless beings without direction from family, tradition, and custom, lacking a developed sense (or perhaps any sense) of virtue, duty, and honor; nomads fully committed only to their own “self-realization.”

From Citizen of Rome:Dr. Frederick D. Wilhelmsen Donald J. D’Elia, Catholic Social

Frederick Wilhelmsen was, first of all, a Thomist philosopher, one of the “premier metaphysicians” of the United States, “and a leading twentieth-century representative of genuine Thomism.” So wrote Dr. Ralph McInerny of Notre Dame; and it was a judgment shared by many others. Because of his Catholic Faith in the Incarnation, Fritz believed that he and all men and women can know the real (realism).


On June 6, 1970 the Society for a Christian Commonwealth, which published Triumph, and the “Sons of Thunder” under the leadership of Wilhelmsen and Bozell, conducted “the Action for Life,” which was probably the first anti-abortion demonstration in the United States. Fritz, students from the University of Dallas, and others appeared on the scene dressed like Spanish Carlists, or requetes, with red berets, khaki shirts with Sacred Heart patches, and rosaries around their necks. Wilhelmsen, brandishing a twelve-inch crucifix, read from Matthew 25 and the Book of Revelation, warning America that it must someday face God and receive judgment for the killing of its children. Five demonstrators were beaten by police and arrested.


“The main political and social theme in Wilhelmsen’s thought,” his daughter Dr. Alexandra Wilhelmsen has written, “was sacral society (instead of secular).” Fritz’s Catholic activism, his social and political apostolate as a Carlist, his Hispanidad, was inspired by the profound conviction he shared with Hilaire Belloc and Henry Cardinal Manning that “all political philosophy at bottom is political theology and that very political problem…is at root theological.” That was why Dr. Wilhelmsen often pointed out that the Carlist Militia wore Sacred Heart patches over their hearts when they liberated Madrid in March of 1939. “The world is hostile to the Church,” he wrote in 1968, “because the world is secularist and the Church must sacramentalize the whole of existence. A sacral world is one with the Faith’s perpetual rejection of Manicheanism and of any dualism that sharpely divorces the sacred from the profane.” Those Catholics gravely mistake Catholic social doctrine, really caricature it, when they try to “adjust Catholicism to the world,” the secularized world. They many mean well; but they are not “Catholic enough” in their apostolate and do not understand that Catholics “are called upon to shape the market place itself in the image of the Faith. The crippled spirit forgets that the Church of God does not stoop to conquer, but elevates to save.”


In the end, Fritz argued, loyal Catholics must and shall “build up a Power for Peter’s authority…we will cling to the essential Thing: the Real Presence on the Altar, Christ, King, Eucharistic Lord.” Our Lord Jesus Christ is the King of Kings, the ultimate authority. He will turn chaos into order. Christus vincit: Christus regnat: Christus imperat—Christ conquers: Christ reigns: Christ rules.

Excerpt from the chapter “Hallowed Be Thy World” in Citizen of Rome: Reflections From The Life of a Roman Catholic Frederick D. Wilhelmsen, LaSalle, IL: Sherwood Sugden & Company, 1980:

Religion means, as the word itself suggests, a binding back of man to the source of his being and a recognition by him of his own contingency. Since this is true, and all sound scholarship on the meaning of natural religion affirms that it is, then we must admit candidly that orthodox Christianity is much more than a religion. The Catholic Faith cannot be fitted into the category “religion” as though it were an instance or a species of some common genus.

The Catholic Faith is unique. While paganism in all its forms manifests an acceptance of contingency and thus binds man back to a divine source identified ultimately with the order of nature, Catholic Christianity is not satisfied with this: it proclaims, through its faith in the Incarnation, a vocation to fashion creation anew and to hallow all things so that they might participate in the Redemption of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is spelled out explicitly in Pauline theology which insists that The Fullness of Time Who is Christ calls upon men to “fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of the Cross.” We thus assume a burden that otherwise would be Christ’s.

In this awful mystery we see God’s infinite graciousness to man in permitting him to lift from God Himself a portion of the burden of Redemption. This is the very meaning of human freedom: I am free to help Christ help me. Any other freedom condemns itself to triviality and vulgarity.

We live now in the Last Age, insists St. Augustine; and an aging world, hurtling like an arrow toward Apocalypse and Judgment, cries out for Redemption. Nature, crippled by sin, cannot come even into the fullness of its own promise unless it be quickened from within by the grace of Christ that pours through the veins of the Mystical Christ, the Church. As St. Thomas Aquinas taught: in no sense shackling or inhibiting creation, grace perfects nature and thus enables nature to be not only what it would have been without the Fall but to be more than itself. This is why the Church can sing on Holy Saturday – felix culpa – “blessed fault that merited for us so glorious a Redemption.”

Christian religion is thus marked by an internal experience which consists of two moments: an initial acceptance of our utter dependence upon the Lord of Being, and our response to His call to sanctify the whole of creation and to lead it back to the Father through the Son and in the Spirit. This means, in technical theological terms, that whereas there are only seven sacraments there are as many potential sacramentals – every one of which conveys actual grace – as there are beings themselves. This sacramentalizing of the real, be it the high act of anointing kings in medieval Christendom or the picturesque blessing of the Portuguese fishing fleet today, is the essence of what I would like to call the civilizing aspect of the Incarnation. We are called upon not only to save our souls but, in so doing, to save the world. Hillaire Belloc exaggerated when he wrote that “Europe is the Faith and the Faith is Europe”, but this famous statement would have been theologically unshakable had Belloc not inverted the terms of the proposition. Europe, in the sense of Christendom, was the historical consequence of the call to Catholic men to incarnate the Truth and the Grace of Christ in a civilization whose lineaments bore the marks of the Faith.

ISI Historical Lecture: Roads to Atheism: Relativism, Secularism, and Materialism

See also:
Glendalough: Frederick Wilhelmsen: Catholic Scholar

  1. Woody Jones permalink

    Just came across this tribute to one of the great men of the XXth Century and wanted to note my appreciation. If you obtain the “Best of Triumph” (or some such title) book, you will rejoice to read the account of the first “rescue”, led by Fritz and others against the George Washington U. clinic in 1970 (i.e. 2 years before Roe). When I met him personally for the only time, in 1990 at Steubenville, I asked him whether the red berets they wore then (as the “Sons of Thunder”) had anything to do with Carlism. he drew himself up to full length and replied: “Of course; I am an honorary Requete, you know.”

    Viva Cristo Rey, Fritz, y Vaya con Dios.

    V. Siervo de Dios Fritz Wilhelmsen,
    R. Ruega por nosotros.

  2. Dr. Michelle Ríos permalink

    May this great Catholic thinker and honorary Requete intercede for us in Heaven!

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