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.cont.
Others venerated in a similar manner the Sacred Heart of Our Lord, notably St. Bonaventure, St. Elzear, Ludolphus of Saxony, Henry Suso, B. Peter Canisius, St. Aloysius Gonzaga. 1
The nearer one approaches to the seventeenth century the more frequently are adorers of the Sacred Heart met with, the clearer and more definite is their knowledge of its virtues, the reverence wherewith they regard it; but as yet their devotions are practised for themselves alone, forming part of their private prayers and meditations. In the commencement of the seventeenth century two figures stand out prominently who are remarkable for the surprising extent of their knowledge of the Heart of Jesus and the profound reverence they entertain for it. The Ven. John Eudes, the founder of the Eudist Fathers, in his writings and devotional exercises invariably spoke of the Heart of Jesus and that of Mary conjointly, giving perhaps greater prominence to the heart of Mary. St. Francis of Sales was in this as in other matters the instrument chosen by Providence to execute the divine designs; he was to be the pioneer to prepare the way for the public recognition of this devotion. He did not, it is true, attain to a full knowledge of it himself; he must, how ever, have had a vague, a dim presentiment that some development of a new and special nature was shortly to take place in the Church of God. He gave the Order of the Visitation which he founded a heart encircled with a crown of thorns and surmounted by a cross as their armorial bearings and official seal; and he impressed on his spiritual daughters as their principal task to imitate the favorite virtues of the Sacred Heart, meekness and humility; above all to take the hidden life of Our Lord as their example. Moreover, he thought the name of Daughters of the Holy Gospel or Daughters of the Heart of Jesus would be a suitable one for them to take; but neither of these was formally adopted. This Order was founded expressly for the purpose of furthering the devotion to the Sacred Heart; in it, as a grain of mustard-seed in a fertile soil, the germ of that devotion, destined to attain vast proportions and spread far and wide, was to be initially planted and carefully tended; this design, how ever, never took actual shape in the saint's mind, although his letters and his whole life show plainly how intimately he was acquainted with the secrets of Our Lord's Heart, and how fervently he adored it; and in that school, the school of Christ, he acquired the perfection which raised him to the rank of a saint.
Consequently, when the time was come which the Most High in His eternal counsels had ap pointed for the introduction and propagation of this devotion, everything was prepared for it, prepared for it to expand in the full beauty of its bloom, like a rose from the unfolding bud. Before all else it remained to be seen whom it would please God to make choice of to be instrumental in executing His designs, and again it was apparent that He prefers to employ the weakest, most insignificant individuals to bring to pass great things in His Church. Just as in the thirteenth century He chose a poor, obscure nun in a convent at Liege, named Juliana, to be the means of inaugurating the celebration of the festival of Corpus Christi, rather than the saintly Louis IX., king of France, or the erudite theologians St. Thomas of Aquin and St. Bonaventure, so for the institution and diffusion of the devotion to the Heart of Jesus He did not make use of the holy Doctor of the Church, St. Francis of Sales, but the poorest and humblest of his spiritual daughters in the Order of the Visitation, Margaret Mary Alacoque.
1 The dates in the life of B. Margaret Mary given in this and in the following chapter are taken from her autobiography and from the Life of the Ven. Sister M. M. Alacoque, by the Rev. M. Strom, Cologne and Neuss, 1875. For the facts relating to the history of the devotion and of the feast the author is indebted to Father Hattler's " History of the Feast and the Devotion of the Heart of Jesus," and to the well-known work: De ratio nib us festorum 5.5. Cordis Jesu et pur. Cordis Maria;, by N. Nilles.