Tuesday, June 16, 2009

On the Latin Cultus of the Sacred Heart


Being a Tractarian, ressourcement, patristically-minded, first millennial, conciliarist, philorthodox kind of Anglo-Catholic, I have always inclined toward the Eastern teaching on doxological matters, and this includes an appreciation for the Eastern Orthodox view on the counter-reformation devotion to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord. Anglo-Papalists included this feast in the Anglican and English Missals, but the Sacred Heart tradition is relatively modern and certainly post-Tridentine, originating as it does in the seventeenth and eighteenth century 'southern catholicism' of the mediterranean countries. As such, it is not part of the devotional tradition of the ancient and patristic catholicism of the undivided Church, and hence does not play a part in my own understanding of orthodox theology or in my own devotional experience.

In this respect the Sacred Heart devotion is different from, say, the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a perfectly Western devotion, which I love and to which I am greatly devoted, and which is also part of the Orthodox tradition and that of the Great Church before 1054 - it was prayed continually by the eighteenth-century Russian Saint Seraphim of Sarov and is called 'the Rule of Prayer of the Mother of God' in the Eastern Churches. The Rosary of Our Blessed Lady is still very much part of the devotional lives of Christians Eastern Rite and Western Rite alike and has been used by both in one form or another since the eighth century. The Anglican devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham is likewise shared by East and West, as is, of course, the universal veneration of Holy Mary as the Spotless Ever-Virgin Mother of God. One of the strongest bonds between East and West is our common veneration of our common Mother.

Another example of common doxological practice shared by the Eastern and Western Rites, although expressed in different ways, is that of the adoration of Our Lord Jesus Christ in His true Body and Blood under the sacred species of the Eucharist. Although the East has no Corpus Christi devotion and no tradition of extraliturgical devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, it shares with the Western Rite the practice of adoring Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament within the context of the Liturgy. All orthodox Catholic Christians, East and West, believe in the Real Substantial Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ and adore Our Lord objectively present in the Sacrament of the Altar. This tradition is Apostolic and is found in all of the most ancient Liturgies of the Church.

The Orthodox tradition speaks very clearly to the Sacred Heart devotion and maintains that it is not Christologically sound. With this judgement I am inclined to agree. The position of the Eastern Churches is quite compelling.

The following explanation is provided by a monk of the Eastern Church:

It would be difficult to accuse Roman Catholicism of denying the divinity of Christ, rather they have split the wholeness of Christ, emphasizing His human nature as a separate devotion, sometimes in a crudely biological way. This violates a central principle of the Councils, that devotion should be given to the devotion of Christ, and not to one of His natures, or parts of His body. Thus, by fragmenting the wholeness of the Son of God, a tendency develops to Nestorianize. Parts of the body of Christ should not become parts of isolated objects of adoration, nor should they be pictorially depicted (i.e., a heart on fire, or a heart crowned with thorns surrounding it).


A hieromonk of the Russian Church expresses a similar view:

The form taken by the newly forged devotion to Jesus' humanity as popularised by the Jesuits also strayed outside the bounds of Orthodox doctrine. We know that there have been seven Oecumenical Councils of the Church, from whose dogmatic teaching there can be no appeal. The Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431), responding to the teachings of Nestorius, the heretic Patriarch of Constantinople, taught that the Word, the second Person of the Trinity, was made man -- that He took a human body and a human soul -- that He appeared in the world under the name 'Jesus,' and under the title 'Christ.' Thus there is only one Person of Jesus Christ, and this Person is to be worshipped with a single worship, that of latria, the kind of worship rendered to God almighty. Nestorius, however, attempted to separate the honour paid to Christ's humanity from that offered His Divinity.

St. Athanasius of Alexandria pointed out the wrongness of worshipping Christ's body in a separate way, in these words: 'We do not worship a created thing, but the Master of created things, the Word of God made flesh. Although the flesh itself, considered separately, is a part of created things, yet it has become the body of God. We do not worship this body after having separated it from the Word. Likewise, we do not separate the Word from the body when we wish to worship Him. But knowing that 'the Word was made flesh,' we recognise the Word existing in the flesh as God.' (Ep. ad Adelph., par. 3)

The majority of Roman Catholic bishops issued pastoral letters to establish worship of the Sacred Heart, naming the physical heart as the object of worship. Offices were composed and inserted into the Missals and Breviaries, and prayerbook devotions abounded. Apologists for the devotion tried to exonerate it from charges of Nestorianism. (Nestorius honored Jesus as man in one way and Jesus as God in another; the Faith teaches us that we must worship Jesus Christ as one Person both human and Divine, not as one or the other separately.)

The apologists argued they worshipped the Heart for the sake of its union with the Godhead. What they forgot is that Nestorius himself, when cornered at the Council of Ephesus, also claimed he 'adored what was visible for the sake of that which was hidden.'

The historian Father Rene Francois Guettee remarks that by singling out for worship not only Christ's human body as opposed to His whole Person, but the heart as opposed to the rest of His body, an error even worse than that of Nestorius has been devised.


And finally this respectful and succinct explanation by Father Michael Pomazansky sums up the Eastern Orthodox tradition on the subject:

To the Lord Jesus Christ as to one person, as the God-man it is fitting to give a single inseparable worship, both according to Divinity and according to Humanity, precisely because both natures are inseparably united in Him. The decree of the Fathers of the Fifth Ecumenical Council (the Ninth Canon against Heretics) reads: 'If anyone shall take the expression, Christ ought to be worshipped in His two natures, in the sense that he wishes to introduce thus two adorations, the one in special relation to God the Word and the other as pertaining to the Man . . . and does not venerate, by one adoration, God the Word made man, together with His flesh, as the Holy Church has from the beginning: let him be anathema.'

In connection with this decree of the Council it may be seen how out of harmony with the spirit and practice of the Church is the cult of the 'sacred heart of Jesus' which has been introduced into the Roman Catholic Church. Although the above-cited decree of the Fifth Ecumenical Council touches only on the separate worship of the Divinity and the Humanity of the Saviour, it still indirectly tells us that in general the veneration and worship of Christ should be directed to Him as a whole and not to parts of His Being; it must be one. Even if by 'heart' we should understand the Saviour's love itself, still neither in the Old Testament nor in the New was there ever a custom to worship separately the love of God, or His wisdom, His creative or providential power, or His sanctity. All the more must one say this concerning the parts of His bodily nature. There is something unnatural in the separation of the heart from the general bodily nature of the Lord for the purpose of prayer, contrition and worship before Him. Even in the ordinary relationships of life, no matter how much a man might be attached to another — for example, a mother to a child — he would never refer his attachment to the heart of the beloved person, but will refer it to the given person as a whole.

9 comments:

Fr Jay Scott Newman said...

Thanks for this thoughtful post. I am entirely sympathetic to the project of being a “ressourcement and patristically-minded” Christian, and I believe that the Second Vatican Council clearly and firmly steered the whole Western Church in that direction. In that spirit, some random thoughts:

1. After the Council of Trent, Catholicism on the ground became more and more catechetical and devotional, rather than Scriptural and liturgical. This happened for many reasons (the treatment of which is beyond my purpose here), but it is worth noting that devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus arose in this period of catechetical and devotional Catholicism.

2. Devotion to Our Lady under various titles was present in the Church even in the first millennium. So “Our Lady of Walsingham” was the same Mother of God revered in Rome as “Salus Populi Romani” at Santa Maria Maggiore. This custom of invoking the same person under different titles surely, and almost inevitably, led to the same custom about Our Lord.

3. One of the most popular devotion of post-Tridentine Catholicism was the “Immaculate Heart of Mary.” When that devotion is seen in the light of the point above, a similar devotion to the Sacred Heart of Christ can be seen more easily as the product of popular religion. And notwithstanding the criticisms offered by our Eastern brethren, devotion of the Heart of Christ as the human symbol of the Love Who is God is surely no more a threat to correct doctrine than is the bizarre distinctions in the Godhead introduced by the concept of the energies of God....another concept not found in the first millennium.

Andrew Preslar said...

Referring to Russian Orthodox commentators on Catholic traditions is a bit like asking a Steelers fan to evaluate the customs of Cleveland.... Such is not the path towards understanding.

In any case, the analysis here is entirely prosaic, and misses, dare I say, the heart of the matter, which is mystical and emotive.

As for the attempts to pin some kind of heresy on the Catholic devotion to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ:

The apologists argued they worshipped the Heart for the sake of its union with the Godhead. What they forgot is that Nestorius himself, when cornered at the Council of Ephesus, also claimed he 'adored what was visible for the sake of that which was hidden.'

This criticism involves an equivocation. For the Catholic apologists refer to "union with the Godhead" which does not mean the same thing as "for the sake of that which was hidden."

The historian Father Rene Francois Guettee remarks that by singling out for worship not only Christ's human body as opposed to His whole Person, but the heart as opposed to the rest of His body, an error even worse than that of Nestorius has been devised.

This criticism involves a false dichotomy. We do not worship the Sacred Heart "as opposed to the rest of His body." Devotion to the Heart of Jesus is not opposed to devotion to the whole Jesus--it flows from such devotion.

Fr Jay Scott Newman said...

Mr. Preslar is correct, and we can take it a step further:

Dedicating a church to the mystery of Christ's Incarnation does not dispute or abandon believe in the mystery of His Resurrection, and vice versa. The Church of the Epiphany and the Church of the Most Blessed Sacrament can be in the same city without introducing division in the Body of Christ. In the same way, having a devotion to the Sacred Heart does not imply, let alone require, neglecting the whole Christ.

fathergregory said...

... also the orthodox(mis)information website has always been on the fringes of canonical Orthodoxy and is certainly not mainstream. Neither is Fr. Michael Pomazansky. These authors are fanatically anti-ecumenical and it is precisely that which makes them operate on the fringes ...

I myself - being an Orthodox priest - have no problem whatsoever with the "Sacred Heart" tradition.

Fr. Gregory

BJA said...

The charge of Nestorianism against the Roman Church on the part of these authors is laughable. As an Orthodox Christian I must point out that these voices are not representative of the Orthodox tradition as a whole. Look, for instance, at the writings of St Nicholas Cabasilas on the Heart of Jesus (surely he's an author of far more authority and significance in the Byzantine tradition than these late, polemical voices!).

I find it strange that the Orthodox – of all Christians – would have such a huge problem with the Sacred Heart, when the notion of the heart has such a pivotal significance in Orthodox spirituality. The heart in this spirituality is so much more than a mere body part – it's the spiritual center of the human being, or, using more technical language, the place where the "nous" resides.

According to Archimandrite Zacharias (Zacharou) (in the spiritual lineage of St Silouan of Athos), "The heart is the true ‘temple’ of man’s meeting with the Lord. Man’s search ’seeketh knowledge’ both intellectual and divine, and knows no rest until the Lord of glory comes and abides therein. On His part God, Who is ‘jealous God’, will not settle for a mere portion of the heart. In the Old Testament we hear His voice crying out, ‘My son, give Me thy heart’, and in the New Testament He commands: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.’ He is the one who has fashioned the heart of every man in a unique and unrepeatable way, though no heart can contain Him fully because ‘God is greater than our heart’. Nevertheless, when man succeeds in turning his whole heart to God, then God begets it by the incorruptible seed of His word, seals it with His wondrous Name and makes it shine with His perpetual and charismatic presence. He makes it a temple of His Divinity, a temple not made by hands, able to reflect His ’shape’ and to hearken unto His ‘voice’ and ‘bear’ His Name. In a word, man then fulfils the purpose of his life, the reason for his coming into the transient existence of this world."

Is it so strange to think that the Heart of the God-man himself may have something to do with the hearts of deified Christian men and women? "Quod non assumpsit, non sanavit."

One might also point out that many of the same Orthodox critics of the Sacred Heart (Guettee, for instance) oppose the feast of Corpus Christi with the same strange accusation of Latin Nestorianism. I wonder if this blog (which I admire and follow enthusiastically) would oppose that feast as well?

Joe said...

I guess I agree with the comments. I add that I think there is some ambiguity on the word "devotion". We offer devotion to God alone, and in this way the positive statements of the article are correct: we worship the whole Jesus, not a "part" of him. But "devotion" has another meaning. Catholics can use it to mean practical ways people develop their devotion to and love of God. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is more similar to Orthodox molebens or akathists. And the Protestants can use the word in yet another sense:"particular prayers" like perhaps reading the Bible as a family after supper, without denying the teachings of Ephesus.

ps the maligned Jesuits promoted the Devotion to the Sacred Heart as a way of promoting love of God in a time of increasing anti-Christian rationalism. Their primary devotion is that of St Ignatius, to find God in all things. In neither case did they promote any division in Christ.

Father Chad said...

Thank you all for the excellent comments and the charitable and energetic way in which all have expressed themselves. Please know that by offering particular Eastern perspectives here I am condemning neither the Christology of the Roman Catholic Church nor devotion to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord - for from it! I have merely given another point of view, a critique orientated towards the patristic mind and the conciliar tradition of the Ecumenical Councils. Personally I can accept devotion to the Sacred Heart as a beneficial and helpful form of prayer for those so inclined to use it, but an adiaphoron not binding dogmatically or liturgically.

The average faithful Catholic Christian who uses this devotion is certainly not guilty of Nestorianism or dividing the Person of Our Lord. However, I believe it is salutary and needful to examine more modern devotions in the light of the universal scriptural and liturgical paradosis, and so I have attempted to do here. There is the continual need to re-examine our devotional practices through the lens of the Great Tradition.

I do in fact wholeheartedly love and approve the Corpus Christi devotion as a legitimate expression and development of the faith of the Undivided Church in the Real Objective Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, a development whose origins are to be found in the Eucharistic liturgy and piety of the Western Church long before the thirteenth century. Indeed, devotion to the Eucharistic Lord should be adoration, latria, divine worship given to the total Person of Jesus Christ, God and Man, the Incarnate Lord, Who is fully and completely present under the sacred species.

Thank you again and God bless you!

Fr Jay Scott Newman said...

Today, Friday 19 June, is the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the beginning of the "Year for Priests" decreed by Pope Benedict XVI for the renewal of the interior lives of priests in the service of the Church's mission of preaching the Gospel. It seems a fitting way to observe today's feast by praying the Preface for the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus from the Roman Missal. Please note the Scriptural and sacramental dimensions of this Preface:

Lifted high on the Cross, Christ gave his life for us, so much did He love us. From His wounded side flowed blood and water, the fountain of sacramental life in the Church. To His open heart the Savior invites all men, to draw water in joy from the springs of salvation.

Br. Dominic-Michael said...

O God, who in the Heart of thy Son, wounded by our sins, dost mercifully vouchsafe to bestow upon us the boundless treasure of thy love; Grant, we beseech thee, that we who now render Him the service of our devotion and piety, may likewise fulfil the duty of worthy satisfaction; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Collect for the Sacred Heart of Jesus - Anglican Catholic Church of Canada. Dignified with a First Evensong and the lifting of the regular Friday Abstinence - Red Letter status.