BY THE REV. H. NOLDIN, S.J.
AUTHORISED TRANSLATION FROM THE GERMAN.
REVISED BY THE REV. W. H. KENT, O.S.C
I. THE HISTORY OF THE DEVOTION.
IN the order of grace as in the order of nature, in the usual course of things no phenomena are seen, no events occur which have not been brought about by a gradual process. In every thing there is an organic connection and continuity, and from the tender germ, the small and feeble beginning, the plant is developed until it reaches perfection in the brilliant blossom or fully matured fruit. In like manner the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus did not appear all of a sudden in the Church, as a meteor in the nightly firmament; during the centuries preceding its introduction and propagation, its rise was long foreseen and the hearts of the faithful were prepared to welcome it.
It may be asserted with perfect justice that the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus dates from the foundation of the Church. For its theological basis rests upon the principal and most well-known truths of our holy faith, and the sacred humanity of Our Lord was from the outset venerated and adored; hence it would be strange if Christian sentiment and love for Christ had never led the faithful in the first centuries to include the cultus of the Sacred Heart of the Redeemer in their practices of piety and devotion. And if in the earliest ages of Christianity little definite evidence is found to substantiate this fact, yet there are unmistakable elementary indications and traces of this devotion both in the writings of St. Paul, 1 and also in those of St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom. 2
In the course of the Middle Ages we meet with a greater number of witnesses; as time goes on more and more devout and saintly souls come into view who know and practise this devotion, preeminently the two holy daughters of St. Benedict, St. Gertrude and St. Mechtilde, both of whom made the Heart of the Redeemer in a special manner the object of their fervent adoration. The work of the former, "The Messenger of Divine Love," and that of the latter nun, "The Book of Spiritual Favors," alike abound in prayers of intense fervor and touching exercises of piety to the Heart of Jesus, which were taught to them by the Holy Spirit. In fact, so useful and so attractive did this devotion appear to St. Gertrude, so fully, so clearly did she know and appreciate the treasures laid up in that divine Heart, that in one of her numerous visions she asked St. John how it was that, since he had been privileged to lean upon Our Lord's breast at the Last Supper, he had spoken so seldom and revealed so little concerning His Sacred Heart. What Mechtilde and Gertrude effected in the Benedictine Order, that Landsberger (♰ 1539) did i n the Carthusian Order. A century and a half before the revelations of B. Margaret Mary, he both knew and practised the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus him self, and spread it diligently. He it was who first drew attention to St. Gertrude's writings, and by having them printed gave publicity to them. Not only did he himself obtain an intimate knowledge of the Heart of his Lord, but he was also untiring in his efforts to acquaint others with the excellency, the beauty of that Heart, and, by the distribution of pictures of the Sacred Heart, to spread and popularize the cultus of it amongst all classes of Christians. By his direction every monk in the Carthusian monastery in Cologne set up a picture of the Heart of Jesus on the door or in the interior of his cell, and offered homage to it. 3
1 "For God is my witness, how I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. " (Phil. i. 8). Here reference is made to the love of Our Lord as represented by its natural symbol. It may not be superfluous to bid the reader observe that in this and in the following chapters we speak of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as it is presented to us by the Church and practised at the present time; for were it only a question of the veneration of the divine and human love of OUR Lord for us, Holy Scripture (cf. i John hi. 4; John xv. 9 seq.; Gal. ii. 20, etc.) and the writings of the Fathers afford abundant proof that for the Christians of the first centuries this was an object of homage and of love.
2 It is true that this devotion in its initial stage was directed rather to the wound in the Saviour's side, and consequently to His pierced Heart, than to the Heart as an emblem of His love. See the treatise: Theses de cultu sacratissimi Cordis Jesus a P.P. A Martorellet J. Castella,S.J. Pars i, thes. i. Barcinone, 1877.
3 Cf. " Landsberger the Carthusian, 'a Precursor of B. M. M. Alacoque in the Sixteenth Century," and the " Devotion to the Divine Heart of Jesus," by Dom Cyprian M. Boutrais. Trans, (into German) by Bernard Hermes. Mayence, 1880.