By Rev. Joseph J. C. Petrovits, J.C.B., S.T.L.
BASIS OF THE DEVOTION
In different periods of history mankind frequently experienced certain spiritual and material needs. To alleviate the burden of these needs God selected certain exceptional men and assigned them to a specified calling. One of the most noble missions with which God vouchsafed to favor the children of men, was that of St. John the Baptist. St. John the Evangelist describes it in simple, but very graphic language. " This man," he says, " came for a witness, to give testimony of the light . . . which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. This Light of the World, of whose fullness we have all received, became the Life of the World; not only by the part He played in the act of creation and redemption, but also in having diffused the light of true knowledge. True knowledge, especially since the New Testament, is the moral life of the soul. It is in this sense that we are to explain the words of St. Paul directed to the Ephesians, " For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk then as children of light."
The Light of the World, through His death, accomplished our Redemption. Therefore, He has the right to expect a reasonable service. A reasonable service, referred to a determined cult, implies three things, vis., a sufficient warrant for the worship, a familiarity with the nature and reasons of the devotion, and a proper use of the means whereby it is to be rendered. No devotion is officially approved by the Church without the first. To familiarize ourselves with the motives which ought to actuate us in a cult which we practise, is a duty incumbent on all. The practice and discipline of the Church, combined with good judgment, will guard us against going astray as to the third.
In the following chapters we shall attempt to apply these three characteristics to the Devotion to the Sacred Heart. We shall prove its legitimacy by presenting those christological and soteriological principles which underlie it, and on which it rests as a superstructure. We shall, furthermore, describe its nature by pointing out its material and its formal object. Ever and anon we shall likewise hint at the means which the Church has approved and reserved for this particular worship.
Christ must be conceived as a divine Person subsisting in a human nature. He possesses a true human soul and a true human body, joined inseparably to His divine Person. Hence the tessera of orthodoxy: " Godhead and Manhood are hypostatically united in Him." In consonance with Sacred Scripture, revelation, tradition, and the teaching of the Church, we attribute to Him two natures and two wills, viz., a divine and a human nature, a divine and a human will. According to the theory called in theological terminology the Communication of Idioms, it is legitimate to transfer predicates and attributes from one nature to the other, with due limitation, but only in the concrete.
However, in order not to make a false step in applying this doctrine, we must not lose sight of the fact that the human body and soul of Christ are created; hence God's intrinsic essence is incommunicable to them. However, they may partake of the objective sanctity of God, such as the divinity, majesty, and adorableness of the Logos, which immediately affect the moral grandeur of the Man Jesus, for they receive their excellence by participation from the divine Person subsisting in the human nature. Since the divine nature of Christ does not derive anything from his human nature, those other attributes which belong essentially to the former, cannot be communicated to the latter. The human nature of Christ has a certain infinite dignity, not because He endowed it with His intrinsic divine Essence, but, because He concealed under it the plenitude of His infinite sublimity, and bestowed on it the effects of His divine operations. On this hypostatic union of the divine Person with the human nature is based the adorableness of Christ's humanity as well as the infinite meritoriousness of all His acts. It is the infinite divine Person that performs the act (principium quod), through the instrumentality of His finite nature (principium quo). Thus, through the hypostatic union, the physically finite act becomes endowed with a morally infinite value.
It is not our intention to enter into a discussion of the reality of Christ's corporal existence. In the early part of the second century St. Ignatius of Antioch, in his anti-Docetic letters, whose genuineness is admitted even by such eminent non-Catholic critics as Harnack, Zahn, and Lightfoot, expounded and ably defended the true Incarnation of the Son of God. The Sacred Scripture and the condemnation of Docetism make the teaching of the Church unmistakably clear in this respect. The passion and human affections of Christ are the necessary postulates of His passibility and true human body.
The body of Christ is inseparably united to His divine Person. Whatever belongs to the Person substantially is to be honored with the self-same specific veneration as the Person Himself. The adorableness of Christ's human body rests solely on the hypostatic union. We do not adore it for its own sake; that would be blasphemous and idolatrous, for essentially the body is a creature. It is, however, the immediate terminus or object of divine worship, i. e., we adore it in itself on account of the dignity and nobility to which it is elevated by the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Sophronius in the sixth plenary Council (680) gives expression to this teaching by stating that the animated and intellectual body of Christ is immutably deified. The worship paid to the divine Logos does not differ, therefore, from the one offered to His sacred body. It must needs be one and the same, for it concerns one and the same Person, viz., latreutic.
But the divine Person is united hypostatically not only to the Humanity of Christ taken in its totality, but also as conceived in its several parts. Such constituent parts are e. g., His sacred feet, His hands, His precious blood, His five wounds, His Heart, etc. Consequently, every one of these organic parts is deserving of adoration; not as considered separately by itself, but as viewed united to the Godhead. This teaching was upheld by Pius VI (1775-1799), who condemned the proposition of the pseudo-Synod of Pistoja, which maintained that a direct adoration of the Humanity of Christ, or, what is still less, a part of the same, is equivalent to rendering divine honor to a creature. This doctrine was qualified as false, captious, injurious and detracting from that due cult which is exhibited and is to be rendered by the faithful to the Humanity of Christ.
Thus we have arrived at the desired inference, viz., the Sacred Heart of Christ, being the most noble organ of His body, is worthy of the same worship as His Divinity; provided, when adored, it is not considered abstracted from, but conjointly with, His Person. It is in this sense that the Sacred Heart is proposed to our worship in the devotion of which we are treating. Christology thus gives us an idea of the nobleness of the organ which forms the material object of our devotion. If we wish to inquire into the origin of its formal object, viz., love, we have to call to our aid the leading principle of Soteriology.