Adoring the Sacred Heart of Jesus

(In these last few days of the month of June, dedicated to the Sacred Heart, this insightful meditation on devotion to the heart of Christ is a propos.  Editor)

As part of the humanity of the Incarnate Word, the Sacred Heart is a creature.  Should, then, Jesus’s Sacred Heart be accorded the adoration of latria which is reserved for God alone?  The answer is, yes.  And this adoration involves no idolatry whatsoever.

In his profound and beautiful encyclical, Haurietis aquas (published in 1956), Pope Pius XII assigns two principal and timeless reasons why the adoration of latria ought to be given to our Lord’s Sacred Heart.  The first reason, which applies just as well to any  member of Christ’s body, has its basis in the Hypostatic Union.  Here it is essential to recall that when God the Son took a human nature to Himself, the result was neither one divine Person subsisting in one nature (as the Monophysites claim), nor two persons (one divine and one human) subsisting in two natures (as the Nestorians hold), but rather one divine Person subsisting in two natures (one of them divine and one of them human).

The Athanasian Creed puts it this way: “…just as the rational soul and the body form one man, so God and man form one Christ.”  According to St. Thomas Aquinas, this line from the Creed means that just as a human person subsists in his soul and body, so too the Incarnate Son of God subsists in His divine and human natures (Summa theologiae, III, q. 2, a. 1 ad 2um).   Further, just as each human person acts through his body as through a kind of tool or instrument joined to his soul, similarly, the Incarnate Word acts through His human nature as through a kind of tool or instrument joined to His very Person.

It is on this basis that the Second Council of Constantinople taught dogmatically, in 553, that by one and the same act of adoration we adore both the human nature of Christ and God the Son Himself.  The words of the Council are as follows: “If anyone says that Christ is to be worshipped in his two natures, and by that wishes to introduce two adorations, a separate one for God the Word and another for the man; or if anyone, so as to remove the human flesh or to mix up the divinity and the humanity, monstrously invents one nature or substance brought together from the two, and so worships Christ, but not by a single adoration God the Word in human flesh along with his human flesh, as has been the tradition of the church from the beginning: let him be anathema.”  From this conciliar text, then, we should understand not only that it is not idolatrous to worship our Lord’s Sacred Heart, but also that to adore any part of our Lord’s flesh is nothing other than to adore the divine Word Himself subsisting in that part of His human flesh.  We can think here of an analogy: whenever someone kisses another’s hand, the act of love or reverence manifested by the kiss is principally referred to the person to whom the hand belongs as a part.  In an analogous way, when we give the adoration of latria to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, this act of adoration is principally referred to the Incarnate Word to Whom the Sacred Heart belongs as one of His parts.

The second reason which Pope Pius XII gives bears more particularly on our Lord’s Sacred Heart.  This reason, he says, “arises from the fact that His Heart, more than all the other members of His body, is the natural sign and symbol of His boundless love for the human race” (paragraph, #22).  To understand this text, we must distinguish three different loves in Jesus.  First, He has the love which is an emotion and which, like all of His other emotions, exists in His body as in a subject.  Second, our Lord has the love which is the theological virtue of charity.  Like the emotion of love, the virtue of charity is something created.  Unlike the emotion of love, this theological virtue is a supernatural gift of God’s grace and has the will, not the body, as its proper subject.  Third, in Jesus there is the infinite and uncreated divine love which He shares with the other two Persons of the Blessed Trinity.

Referring to these loves, Pope Pius XII writes: “…the Heart of Jesus Christ, hypostatically united to the divine Person of the Word, certainly beat with love and with the other emotions — but these, joined to a human will full of divine charity and to the infinite love itself which the Son shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit, were in such complete unity and agreement that never among these three loves was there any contradiction or disharmony” (paragraph #41).

So, when we adore the Sacred Heart, we worship the Incarnate Word Himself and we also worship the Incarnate Word’s uncreated love.  Further, because of the perfect harmony existing among the three loves of Jesus, our contemplation of Jesus’s Sacred Heart may naturally lead us from a consideration of His lower loves to a consideration of the infinite and uncreated love of the Blessed Trinity.  And our consideration of these perfectly ordered loves in Jesus may well inspire us to beg Him to make our sinful hearts like unto His.  For the two reasons given by Pope Pius XII, then, let us readily and heartily offer to our Lord’s Sacred Heart the adoration of latria which is reserved for God alone.




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  • ignoramus

    A beautiful observation, indeed, and a well-structured one. I have questions, however, on the first of the two points. I understand that the theological basis of the “Hypostatic Union” is used here. The implication, then, is that Christ’s human body is also assumed by the divine nature, or in St. Thomas’ words, the human nature is attracted to the divine like accidents attracted to the character of the substance. This is understood. What I don’t yet understand is how this leads to the position that any part of Christ’s body is worthy of latria.

    You wrote that “to adore any part of our Lord’s flesh is nothing other than to adore the divine Word Himself subsisting in that part of His human flesh.” However, St. Thomas clearly argues (e.g. in Compendium Theologiae 211) that a part is not a suppositum or hypostasis (“Non enim potest dici quod manus aut caro aut quaecumque aliarum partium sit persona vel hypostasis aut suppositum”). Per the words of the Council of Constantinople quoted in the article, we worship Christ as one suppositum, not just his flesh, or soul, or Godhead. How, I wonder, can we be said to have latria to, let’s say, Christ’s finger? Is one’s devotion to Christ’s finger the same to one’s devotion to Christ in toto? You mentioned the example of kissing of hands, but is our act of kissing hands an act of devotion different from our reverence to the subject, simpliciter? Should we say that our veneration of a part of Christ’s body has only analogical relation to our veneration of Christ Himself? It seems to me that we could hold our devotion to be singular towards Christ’s singular suppositum (not divided) only if our devotion to a specific part of His body a representation of the true latria (like kissing being a representation of one’s true veneration, with both not being equal).

    What would you suggest? Please enlighten me on this! Thank you.

    • David Arias

      Thanks for your question, Ignoramus. I agree with you, and St. Thomas, that no physical part of Christ’s human nature is a suppositum or person. But the main point that I was trying to make was simply that when we adore any part of God the Son’s human nature, we are referring the adoration of latria to Him, that is, to the Person of the Word Who subsists in that human nature. It would be wrong for us to adore our Lord’s human nature without referring that adoration to the Person to Whom it is truly due. Does this help out at all?

      • ignoramus

        Dr. David Arias,

        Thank you for your reply! First, I commend you for responding so promptly.

        It is now clear to me how, by virtue of the truth of Hypostatic Union, we cannot in fact adore His human nature apart from His Godhead, to whom latria is due. I’m still wondering though, if an adoration of the part can always be equivalent to an adoration of the whole.

        For instance, you mentioned the act of kissing one’s hand. As I wrote previously, it seems to me that honoring a part of a person is not equivalent to honoring the person in toto; that is, the former is only analogous, or “referring” to the latter.

        Au contraire, the adoration of the Eucharist is not one that refers to the part, for the Eucharist is “body, blood, soul, and divinity” of Christ, referring to the whole.

        So, I wonder: is our adoration of the Sacred Heart equivalent to that of the Lord Himself, or the Eucharist? Does the Sacred Heart represent also the “body, blood, soul, and divinity” of Christ? Or, must we say that, because the Sacred Heart is divine (the two are not separate), we render latria to God more directly by adoring the Sacred Heart, even though the two are not strictly equivalent?

        Thank you, again!

        • David Arias

          Ignoramus, you asked whether “adoration of the part can always be equivalent to an adoration of the whole”. I’m not sure that it can be. It seems plausible to me that one might adore, show reverence for, or love a part of something without referring this act to the whole or to the substance, hypostasis, or person to which the part belongs. St. Thomas himself seems to imply this when he says that “the adoration of latria is not shown to the humanity of Christ by reason of itself, but by reason of the divinity to which it is united, according to which Christ is not less than the Father” (ST III, q. 25, a. 2, ad 2um et 3um). In the above article, I was trying to make the point that when we adore the Sacred Heart of Jesus (at least, when we do so as the Church teaches us), we can offer our Lord’s Sacred Heart the adoration of latria precisely because “of the divinity to which it is united”. Hopefully, this clarifies my position a bit and is a decent response to your query. God bless you!