Thursday, December 6, 2012

On the "Sacred Heart of Jesus"

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.

- Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky
Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, On the Latin cult of the "Heart of Jesus."


  1. The cult of the "immaculate heart" of the Holy Virgin.

    In a way similar to the veneration of the "Sacred Heart" of Jesus, there has been established by the Roman Church the cult of the "immaculate heart of the Most Holy Virgin," which has received a universal dissemination. In essence one can say of it the same thing that was said above about the veneration of the heart of Jesus.

  2. Query:

    When the Father's talk about "Prayer of the Heart" is this understood to be a prayer of some "part" of the person? Is praying with the heart separate from praying with the body, not necessarily exclusive but at least possibly so? Or, as I've been led to believe, prayer of the heart is a synonym for prayer of the whole person?

    Further, we often refer to a person's heart as the "locus" of attachment ("Keep me in your heart," "My heart goes out to you"), at least among English speaker. Perhaps its foreign to the Russian language and thought.

    Admittedly, I ask as a Roman Catholic who does not understand the cult of devotion to the sacred heart of Jesus to be a cult to a "part" of Jesus, but to Him in his totality. Just as prayers to Christ as king is separate from Him as Suffering Servant, or the separation of Victor and Crucified.

    You'll rarely find an image of simply the heart for public veneration. The heart is used on its own typically only as a sign or insignia of the full image. The heart of Jesus being exposed in such images is the symbol of Jesus opening the fullness of Himself, exposed to man for man to unite with.

    Does Protopresbyter Michael cite any sources for the devotion (St. Margaret Mary Alcoque, St. Catherine Laboure, St. John Eudes, et al.) which lead him to believe the problems he discusses are apparent?

    I think this is a little unfair and simply polemics of "See, here's Rome doing something crazy again" without looking at the whole thing, similar to Westerners saying "Their mysticism is just smoke and light, lacking any real connection to concrete reality." Both are false and harmful to any sort of ecumenism or even proselytizing.

    1. No, the Prayer of the Heart makes no explicit reference to the heart. Nor is the heart spoken of the heart of the God-man or even a "heart" as it is a reference to the nous.

      I take your point on polemics. To the Orthodox mind the question would not be "Why not?" but "Why?" Where in Tradition do we see this? The weight of explanation is not on the person who opposes what we see as a possible innovation, but on the person who needs to prove that what he is depicting is not an innovation at all. To borrow from St. John Damascene: “I will say nothing new!”

      So, I'd be more than happy to post a defense of these icons if one were available. As yet no one has done so that I can find nor has there been a response to a post from years back on the same topic.

      I don't see much merit in cherry-picking Catholic eccentricities. You won't find liturgical dancer videos, clown masses, etc. used as straw men here. That said, I find the sacred heart in iconography scandalous and the Latin prayers to the same suspect, but am open to discussion on both.

  3. Forgive me if I have misunderstood Protopresbyter Pomazansky's argument, but when he says "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", it strikes me as being all too similar to one of the major lines of reasoning used by the Iconoclasts...i.e., that to venerate an image which must necessarily only present a part of Christ (namely, his human nature, as the Divine cannot be depicted)is to fall into Nestorianism.

    Moreover, the Roman Catholic response to this criticism has always been similar to that given by the Council Fathers at 2nd Nicaea: that the adoration given to the image (of the Heart) passes over to the prototype, i.e., Christ Jesus.


      Pomasansky’s statement that “veneration and worship of Christ should be directed to Him as a whole and not to parts of His Being” is exactly what the Fathers teach in the theology of icons. The icon does not merely depict the human nature of Christ as many erroneously suppose, but rather the person of Jesus Christ. And the person of Jesus Christ is both perfect God and perfect Man (a union without confusion). His person is never divided, not even in iconography and most certainly not in proper worship. So, when we venerate an icon of Jesus Christ the honour we pay it goes directly to Jesus Christ because the image is an appropriate image of His person (both God and Man) and not merely His human nature.

      Furthermore, it is foolish to believe that worshiping an aspect of the Godhead is a befitting act of veneration of the whole. To worship Christ’s human nature or divine nature separately is a heresy. And so worship of the Sacred Heart (whether it be devotional prayers or honour paid to such images) is not honour paid to the whole. In order for the honour we pay to images to pass on to the prototypes, the image must be an appropriate likeness of the prototype. And since Christ is revealed to be perfect God and perfect Man - never divided - we cannot worship a (divided) aspect of Him and naively believe and claim that honour paid to His "sacred heart" could possibly be fitting worship of the whole, ie. of Christ as He is.

      As an aside, though not entirely unrelated, this is why the theology in Orthodox icons must be correct, because otherwise we may not be worshiping the prototype at all, but rather God in man's perceived reality of Him.

    2. Matushka Constantina,

      Thank you for your reply. I think you may misunderstand what devotion to the Sacred Heart is all about: we are not worshiping an aspect of the Godhead to the exclusion of other aspects, nor are we separating the human from the Divine. I'll refer you to Andrew's comment below, as he did a great job of outlining what is intended in the Sacred Heart devotion.

      Let me put my question to you another way: there are many icons that depict Christ during a particular time of His earthly life, e.g. as an infant in the arms of the Theotokos... these icons highlight a particular part of Salvation history, do they not? Yet we don't suppose that they mean to worship Christ as infant exclusively, or that that somehow separates the Nativity from the rest of the narratives of the Gospels. Likewise, the Sacred Heart devotion highlights the overwhelming love that Christ bears for humanity, but not to the exclusion of other aspects of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.

      So again: I don't see how the argument that Pomansky is making differs all that much from what the Iconoclasts said. No one icon depicts the totality of Christ's life, or adequately captures the reality of the Divinity, yet it is proper nonetheless to venerate icons... so too, the Sacred Heart devotion cannot be dismissed on the grounds that it highlights one particular attribute of Christ's character.

    3. In Matushka's comments she doesn't say that the icon depicts the "totality of Christ's life". She says, "The icon does not merely depict the human nature of Christ as many erroneously suppose, but rather the person of Jesus Christ. And the person of Jesus Christ is both perfect God and perfect Man (a union without confusion). His person is never divided, not even in iconography and most certainly not in proper worship."

      In the same way, if someone depicted Jesus' infant Sacred Heart, his teenage Sacred Heart, and his adult Sacred Heart, they would all still be depictions of His one, undivided, heart (and not merely be "part" of His heart at each stage until all were added together). But that's not the same thing as creating a separation between His heart as an object of veneration, and His entire Person. Forgive me, but the analogy is imprecise, and still does not satisfy Fr. Michael's point, and the canon's prohibition, against developing a form of "adoration" of a "part" of Christ's Person, or a part of one of His natures, rather than of Jesus Christ the God-man Himself.

      It also seems to me that your statement that "no one icon depicts the totality...or adequately captures the reality..." is somewhat mistaken. I agree in one sense, but would phrase it as no icon can fully exhaust the depth of the Person depicted, nor of the Divine Life transmitted to us, but each icon is an encounter with the whole Person being depicted, and never a "partial" or "inadequate" experience of them. In any case, we are not speaking of an encounter of an "attribute" of Christ or of a saint when we venerate them, but of the whole person - even if in a historical situation that also presents didactically some aspect of 'Salvation history'. Furthermore, it's the "personification" of a particular "attribute" of Christ's character that is even more problematic [see my comment to Andrew's post for more on this], and where I think the application of the prohibition of the canon needs to be considered more carefully.

      Fr. Matthew

    4. Fr. Matthew, I wasn't intending to say that Matushka's comment implied that "the totality of Christ's life" should be depicted in an icon...precisely the opposite, in fact. I was attempting to make an analogy: no one would reject an icon for failing to portray the narrative of Christ's life from beginning to end. It's an absurd thought, right? Similarly, the argument that the Iconoclasts made vis-a-vis icons in general leading to Nestorianism is absurd.

      But when the same charge of Nestorianism is laid at the feet of the West for the Sacred Heart devotion, I'm a bit incredulous, because the line of reasoning employed here is strikingly similar to the one used by the Iconoclasts. It is tempting to think, as one comment mentioned above, that this is really about anti-Romanism... that the "reason behind the reason", so to speak, is that it happened in the West post-Schism, ergo it must be bad.

      And again, I think the point of the Sacred Heart devotion has been missed: it is not meant as a way of venerating a part of Christ's physical anatomy to the exclusion of the fullness of the God-man. Nor is it a "personification" of a particular "attribute" (like Sophianism, which you brought up in your reply to Andrew). Rather, it is a celebration and reminder of the love that Jesus Christ has for us...

      As Andrew alludes to below, the devotion began while the West was in the midst of battling the Jansenist heresy. The Jansenists were preaching double-predestination, discouraging people from receiving the Eucharist more than once a year, refusing absolution of grave other words, obscuring the love and mercy of our wonderful Savior. Catholics believe that Jesus gave the vision of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary partly as a rebuttal to the Jansenists, to remind the Western Church that "God is Love," as St. John tells us.

      Ryan M.

  4. Joseph, this being the First Friday and me soon to be on my way to the First Friday Devotions to the Sacred Heart, I'd like to answer you question on why. This devotion did not arise from a vacuum but were inspired by Our Lord Himself thorough revelations to St. Margaret Mary. That's the why. As to the objections, the Catholic Encyclopedia article does discuss them

    The pertinent part being: b) Theological foundations

    The Heart of Jesus, like all else that belongs to His Person, is worthy of adoration, but this would not be so if It were considered as isolated from this Person and as having no connection with It. But it not thus that the Heart is considered, and, in his Bull "Auctorem fidei", 1794, Pius VI authoritatively vindicated the devotion in this respect against the calumnies of the Jansenists. The worship, although paid to the Heart of Jesus, extends further than the Heart of flesh, being directed to the love of which this Heart is the living and expressive symbol. On this point the devotion requires no justification, as it is to the Person of Jesus that it is directed; but to the Person as inseparable from His Divinity. Jesus, the living apparition of the goodness of God and of His paternal love, Jesus infinitely loving and amiable, studied in the principal manifestations of His love, is the object of the devotion to the Sacred Heart, as indeed He is the object of the Christian religion. The difficulty lies in the union of the heart and love, in the relation which the devotion supposes between the one and the other. Is not this an error long since discarded? If so, it remains to examine whether the devotion, considered in this respect, is well founded.

    You can see more there, but the point being that for Catholics who participate in this devotion, and for myself personally, I can testify to you that there's no separation or intended separation between the devotion to various body parts of Our Lord and the Lord Himself. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is the focus of the devotion, the focus on the Love that God bears for us and ultimately on the God who loves. The Sacred Heart is the very Person of Our Lord Himself.

    As a further proof of this, I show the prayer of Consecration to the Sacred Heart below.

    Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart
    O Sacred Heart of Jesus, to Thee I consecrate and offer up my person and my life, my actions, trials, and sufferings, that my entire being may henceforth only be employed in loving, honoring and glorifying Thee. This is my irrevocable will, to belong entirely to Thee, and to do all for Thy love, renouncing with my whole heart all that can displease Thee.

    I take Thee, O Sacred Heart, for the sole object of my love, the protection of my life, the pledge of my salvation, the remedy of my frailty and inconstancy, the reparation for all the defects of my life, and my secure refuge at the hour of my death. Be Thou, O Most Merciful Heart, my justification before God Thy Father, and screen me from His anger which I have so justly merited. I fear all from my own weakness and malice, but placing my entire confidence in Thee, O Heart of Love, I hope all from Thine infinite Goodness. Annihilate in me all that can displease or resist Thee. Imprint Thy pure love so deeply in my heart that I may never forget Thee or be separated from Thee.
    I beseech Thee, through Thine infinite Goodness, grant that my name be engraved upon Thy Heart, for in this I place all my happiness and all my glory, to live and to die as one of Thy devoted servants.


    . -- St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

    from the book
    Devotion To The Sacred Heart
    by Fr. John Croiset, S.J.

    1. Andrew,

      I still don't think what you've quoted takes seriously enough the division in worship created in Christ's person- i.e., whole and undivided, both his Divine Nature and his human nature(a united body and soul)- by the "devotion" of the Sacred Heart. Not only does it divide and offer as an object of worship the human nature of Christ, but it even further divides this in order to only offer a "part" - His heart. It is one thing to claim that one worships the whole while worshiping the part, and another thing to demonstrate it based on the practice of the devotion itself(and its prayers in this case).

      From the prayers you've quoted above, I can clearly see that the worshiper is meant to offer his "entire" person, yet it is not clear that he offers it to anything but a personified "part" of Christ's human nature, rather than to Christ as a whole Person. I fail to see how these prayers avoid falling under the condemnation of the 5th Ecumenical Council referred to by Fr. Michael: "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... let him be anathema" (5th Ec. Council, Canon 9 of -The Capitula of the Council-, Nicene series). Whether there is a conscious intention, I think this division - this introduction of two adorations - is obviously occurring, and I think the greatest evidence of this is simply to re-read the prayers you posted.

      Another problem becomes evident when one also considers this portion of a previous comment: "In order for the honour we pay to images to pass on to the prototypes, the image must be an appropriate likeness of the prototype. And since Christ is revealed to be perfect God and perfect Man - never divided - we cannot worship a (divided) aspect of Him and naively believe and claim that honour paid to His "sacred heart" could possibly be fitting worship of the whole, ie. of Christ as He is." This is another difficulty that makes "devotion" to the Sacred Heart untenable.

      [As an aside, one might consider the possible links between this "devotion" and another, that of Sophianism, which was condemned as a heresy by the Orthodox Church. While there is not a direct parallel maybe, I wonder how related this tendency to take an aspect of Christ and then "personify" it actually is.]

      Fr. Matthew

    2. Bless, Father!

      With respect, this critique *does* misunderstand the nature of the Roman Catholic devotion. The "heart" is taken as a symbol of the whole person, and the whole person of Christ is worshipped under it. It is very similar to the way the term "heart" is used with the phrase "prayer of the heart".

    3. Seraphim,

      I appreciate your point. But what I'm trying to suggest is that just because one claims that the "Sacred Heart" of Jesus - specifically the way the devotion is taught and practiced - does not divide the Person of Christ into "two adorations" doesn't necessarily make it so, nor does it address the concern that there is a possible "over-emphasis" in its personification within the devotional prayers that it employs.
      I'm not personally convinced by what has been said that this devotion by its own practice and prayers lives up to this unity that is being claimed for it.

      Thank you for the response.

      Fr. Matthew

    4. Dear Fr. Matthew,

      In this critique, I have to respectfully say that I hear echoes of the Protestant critiques of Catholicism's devotion to the Theotokos, the saints, icons and statues, etc when they say, to paraphrase you "just because one claims that the *belief X* does not *objection Y* doesn't necessarily make it so"

      At some point, one does have to take the word of those who actually practice this devotion and not to impose one's own (mis)understanding of it. Catholics insist that devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, stemming from the revelations to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in no way, shape or form intends to separate the Person of Christ into His individual body parts or into His human and Divine natures, I think at some point you've just got to accept their word that their devotion is indeed to the person of Christ with the focus on His Divine Heart which burns with love for man.

      Why read more into it then is actually there?

    5. Dear Andrew,

      Thank you for your response. I mean no intentional offense when attempting to consider these questions in a frank manner - though I understand they touch on something very personal to you and to others.

      To your first point, I think the Protestants are justified in making such a claim and it is left to us as Orthodox or Roman Caotholic, etc., to give an account (much like you've been trying to do on this topic). Whether we convince them or not is a separate matter altogether. But that's not entirely the point in these discussions, either.

      To your second point, I agree, and I do take your perspective of the devotion into consideration (both based on your experience of it, and your knowledge of it) as I try to form my own informed opinion of it. That said, if a well-respected dogmatition and clergyman like Fr. Michael believes there is a problem, it gives me pause to consider the devotion and the possible canons that apply to it. Forgive me, I am not just "not" trusting you at your word, rather I'm trying to engage the thought of Fr. Michael as well as your own, by raising possible challenges that arise from the "devotion" and that appear potential problems (hence, why I raised a problem within the Orthodox Church's past to see if there was, or was not, a parallel - which incidentally no one has answered, other than to just tell me there isn't. That's fine though, it would likely take a lot more time and reading by everyone than is warranted in this kind of discussion forum. That said, to ask a satisfying account of a relatively newly-introduced practice {by Church history standards} isn't simply "Roman Catholic-bashing" or something, as some have suggested).

      I am not simply trying to be obstinately ignorant by not accepting "their word(i.e., you and others) that their devotion is indeed to the person of Christ...", but am trying to consider both sides - the devotion in itself, and the devotion as it is perceived by those who practice it (again this division exists within Orthodoxy itself with particular problematic icons that are dogmatically or canonically forbidden because of theological problems, and yet are used with great devotion by the faithful to which I would ascribe no conscious agreement in most cases with the theological error associated.) If the devotion of the Sacred Heart and the people's perception of it are identical in this case, glory to God, and may God bless them. But I don't think raising the question - one that the post itself raises is particularly mean-spirited or inherently offensive.

      Forgive me, if I haven't expressed myself clearly enough in these posts. Ultimately, this is a question for Roman Catholics to struggle with, and not one that effects Orthodox Christians directly - except where it spills over into Orthodox devotion, i.e., in iconic representations being used by Orthodox Christians (which I believe was one reason for the post in the first place).

      Thanks for your time, and may God illumine us all on this topic and others.

      Fr. Matthew

    6. Dear Fr. Matthew, Thank you very much for your kind explanation. And I do understand where you are coming from and I agree that it is our duty as Catholics to explain and familiarize others with devotions that may seem suspect to those from a different environment.

      I would agree, as in the case of Protestant objections, that sometimes, our devotions and the manner we go about it, and the knowledge level of the devotees and the language used, which is sometimes very emotional, can cause confusion and appear totally alien. Our common devotion to the Great and Holy Theotokos for example, when our prayers and our imagery and filial language and complete trust may confound the Bible believing fundamentalist Protestant from the US. But to us who grew up in such an atmosphere, we tend to take these things for granted and may be totally befuddled that others don't see what we see. Their strange behaviours and altar calls and praying in tongues can be similarly alien and befuddling to us.

      With a Protestant, one may go through the entire spectrum of history and theology and devotion to the Mother of God but I think that it's hard for one of that background to fully understand and immerse themselves into something that is as natural as breathing to those from the Apostolic Churches, as as personal as one's relationship to his mother.

      I grew up with the image of the Sacred Heart in my home occupying the place of honour and that old image belonging to my grandparents still stands in our home and my grandmother who is in her late 80s still uses it in prayer today. In the modern Catholic Church in the years after the Council, such devotion and even Marian devotions such as the rosary and novenas were seen to be relics of an ancient past and is used only by the simple and borders on the superstitious.

      Only very recently has devotion to the Mother of God making a comeback generally, where I am from, and also only recently has devotion to the Sacred Heart, once enthroned in every Catholic home but lost for decades, is resurgent.

      For us who have had continuous devotion to the Holy Theotokos and to the Sacred Heart, faithfully through those years, questions regarding the devotions harks us back to those dark and unfaithful times from which we only now begin to emerge.

      I apologize if my language has been intemperate or uncharitable. But unfortunately, I do believe in all the Holy Catholic Church teaches, hook, line and sinker and my devotion to the Holy Theotokos and to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is something which is personal, fresh and real. And for me, the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the real, whole and undivided Person of Jesus Christ Our Lord whose heart burns with the flame of His love for us.

      Thank you once again for your kind response, Father, and God bless you.

  5. "O Sacred Heart of Jesus, to Thee I consecrate and offer up my person and my life, my actions, trials, and sufferings, that my entire being may henceforth only be employed in loving, honoring and glorifying Thee."

    Why not simply say, "O, Jesus..."? The fact that the self-offering is SPECIFICALLY made to the Sacred Heart of Jesus shows that a certain division of the Heart from the whole Person of the Lord is taking place, even if unintended. Otherwise, why not simply consecrate oneself to Jesus? And doesn't baptism already do that?

  6. As a Catholic I have never really thought about the devotion to the Sacred Heart as a focus on Christ's heart, rather it is merely a metaphor for the love of God. In Latin, a secret is told "in pectore" which literally means in the heart, or in the breast. In western literature it is sometimes said that one bears his heart when he reveals his true self. I think the Devotion of the Sacred Heart follows upon these lines. It is a pictorial representation of Christ bearing the truth and love of God, God's inmost reality. I have often heard the Devotion of the Sacred Heart as a modern comparable to devotion to Christ the Angel, depicted in the Icon of the Blessed Silence. This devotion has long passed in the west, but the Sacred Heart seems to have a similar role as a devotion to the true love of God communicated through the incarnation of Christ. The image of the flesh of Christ in his heart ties the devotion to the incarnation. Again my view may be atypical but I have never seen or thought of the devotion to the Sacred Heart as having any literal reference to his heart, or as a devotion to "part of Christ." I've always seen it as a devotion to the totality of God's love communicated in Christ's paschal mystery.

    1. Mitch,

      I think it is interesting that you mention devotion to "Christ the Angel" in the Icon of the Blessed Silence in connection to the Sacred Heart. This icon and that of Christ as Holy Wisdom, are both icons that have generated some opposition within the Orthodox Church, precisely in the ways we are speaking about the Sacred Heart, especially in its connection to Sophiansim, i.e., the personification of one "part" of the Divinity to the extreme, or in how they do and do not appropriately depict the Person of Jesus Christ. There's an interesting thread on this at

      It even mentions three separate councils condemning the Icon of the Holy Wisdom and similar icons (four if you interpret the 6th Ecumencial Council in that way).

      Ultimately, any distortion in our worship and spiritual life will lead to a distorted theology, i.e., a distorted picture of God, and vice versa. And so if this devotion does fall under the condemnation of the canon, then a person will in some way be affected adversely and alienated from the True God.

      Unfortunately, this is easier to evaluate from an Orthodox perspective. For a Catholic these devotions, as having official approval and promotion by the Vatican, are not questionable per-se, except in as much as a Catholic believer chooses to practice them or not.

      Also, we make no mention of the visions that so clearly inspired this devotion. Those are maybe more important to consider in many ways, from a view to spiritual watchfulness, and could shine further light on the question of the acceptability of such a devotion.

      Fr. Matthew

    2. Mitch, I bet that if you're a practicing Catholic and have participated in the First Friday Devotions to the Sacred Heart of have an image of the Sacred Heart, you'd be puzzled by this apparent misunderstanding of your devotion. What's the kerfuffle about, you might be wondering? Because in your devotion, your prayers were always directed to Christ the Lord even when you addressed the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Where did they get the idea that the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the Heart of Jesus only?

      When you prayed "O Most Sacred Heart", it was the Lord you addressed rather than His body part, right?

      Well, this misunderstanding originates from an alien understanding of what comes naturally to use, to see the Sacred Heart in the totality of His Person and not as a disembodied Heart. Therefore, it's our duty to educate our Orthodox friends and enlighten their understanding from an insider's perspective.

  7. I tend to agree with the Orthodox position and always found the Sacred Heart devotion unseemly. However, a contrary thought occurred to me as I read the comments here: is it really that different than venerating relics? We may only have a finger bone of the saint, but no one sees that as finger worship. Is it that the theology of icons and relics are different?

    1. Yes. I would say very different. Even in the remembrance of the Beheading of St. John the Forerunner we do not bring special attention to his head. In hymnody to the saints commemorated with the relics on display we give no special designation to the finger bone or skull of the saint. The relics are tied to the totality of the person and we are linked in a special way through the appearance of those relics.

      This brings to mind 1 Corinthians 12:

      12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many.

      15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?

      20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

    2. I've found this conversation very interesting. Thinking about it more though, I wonder if perhaps taking a step back and asking a more fundamental question is necessary. Now I really don't know if this is the most appropriate place to talk about it all, but as Orthodox I think we need to look at whether or not the visions of the Sacred Heart were in fact demonic deception. I know for Catholics this is not something they will accept, and I understand that. But we know that not every vision that appears to be of God is of God. Papal sanction of such devotions is not authoritative for Orthodox and so we have to evaluate such things based on Tradition and the Holy Fathers.

      Just to clarify, loads of Orthodox (monastics and laypeople) fall into delusion. I am by no means suggesting deception is something only non-Orthodox experience.

  8. I think the Council of Trullo also informs us here. The idea being that we see Christ in His fullness and not through any other symbols. One might answer "What of the icons where Christ's hand is in the corner in the act of Creation?" To that I would say that we see both Scriptural references to that exact thing and an iconographic depiction of a pre-incarnate Christ acting in the world. Additionally, while mankind certainly saw the hands and works of Christ it did not see His heart outside His person (certainly not aflame or surrounded by thorns) and so should not be displayed in contradiction to the injunction against symbolic images of Christ found here and elsewhere in Tradition.


    IN some pictures of the venerable icons, a lamb is painted to which the Precursor points his finger, which is received as a type of grace, indicating beforehand through the Law, our true Lamb, Christ our God. Embracing therefore the ancient types and shadows as symbols of the truth, and patterns given to the Church, we prefer "grace and truth," receiving it as the fulfilment of the Law. In order therefore that "that which is perfect" may be delineated to the eyes of all, at least in coloured expression, we decree that the figure in human form of the Lamb who taketh away the sin of the world, Christ our God, be henceforth exhibited in images, instead of the ancient lamb, so that all may understand by means of it the depths of the humiliation of the Word of God, and that we may recall to our memory his conversation in the flesh, his passion and salutary death, and his redemption which was wrought for the whole world.

    1. Joseph, what if I, in the position of advocatus diaboli, were to apply the analysis of Fr. Matthew and respond as follows:

      Just because one claims that the "icons of the Lamb of God" - does not divide the Person of Christ into "the Lamb which confuses the Divine and Human nature of Christ because it is neither human nor Divine and does not reflect how Christ was incarnate in history" doesn't necessarily make it so. In fact, Our Lord also refers to himself as the Door, the Gate, the Vine and He is not depicted as such. Therefore, the Lamb imagery, which Our Lord in fact does NOT refer to Himself, should not be used.

      So, therefore, icons depicting Christ are suspect.

      What if I then reject all your explanations to the contrary as hiding some subliminal form of heresy and in fact reflect some hidden demonic influence.

      What if, despite what those venerating the icons say, that they do not in the least intend to separate Christ or whatever, but those who have no understanding impose their faulty and alien understanding into a practice and then fault it, would it make the understanding of those who actually practice the devotion wrong?

      The point being, I don't think you will find any knowledgeable Catholic who will tell you that the Devotion to the Sacred Heart is anything other than Devotion to the Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is always depicted with His heart. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is never separated from Our Lord, even in images unless those are decorative rather than devotional and even then, they are understood to signify the entire person of Christ.

      Like I said, at some point, you gotta take the word of those who practice this devotion and not fall into the trap of imposing an alien understanding and meanings which are simply not there.

    2. I see what you are saying. I may even be pressed into accepting the Sacred Heart devotion as a natural continuation of the piety as it has grown in the Latin Church. What will be harder for me to accept is its use in the iconography of the Church. The canons and tradition of the Church, being more strict as relates to icons, do not to my mind allow for this innovation.

    3. Joseph, I can see and accept your viewpoint on the use of iconography in depictions of the Sacred Heart. I understand that it's very alien to the Orthodox iconographical canonical traditions. And even in the Latin tradition of sacred images, it would not be something 'natural' or immediately recognized. But I guess that some people with devotion to the Sacred Heart find more resonance in iconographical depictions rather than the standard images often used in the devotion. I don't find the Sacred Heart icons, as disturbing as icons of the Divine Mercy however. =)

    4. Really? Compared to the Sacred Heart don't find the Divine Mercy depiction disturbing at all.

      FWIW, here's a quasi-Byzantine Divine Mercy:!

  9. I knew there was a reason hardcore traditionalist Catholics think Orthodox are going to hell...

    The Orthodox polemic against the Sacred Heart, like the Orthodox polemic against most forms of Western devotion, is based on a very simple, very flawed, premise: If it's not "Eastern," it's not "good." Wow. Great. That really drives a stake through 1,000 plus years of Western Christian spirituality and devotional practices. And no doubt this is especially powerful coming from a confessional unit which holds that self-starvation, strenuous physical exertion, and limited breathing techniques (i.e., the stuff that makes the human brain malfunction) is the pathway to divine illumination through "uncreate lights." Trust me, both sides of the ecclesial divide can have more than their fair share of fun poking holes from afar at the most (seemingly?) sacred aspects of the other's spiritual practices.

    As has already been pointed out, the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is in no way, shape, or form a diminution of the person of Christ. I doubt for a single second you would find any Orthodox (or Catholic) who would claim that veneration of an "external" to Christ's person -- such as the Holy Cross -- in any way detracts from the full honor due to our Lord. (For, truly, what is the Cross without Christ?) Similarly, the focus upon the Sacred Heart is not taken in isolation from Christ; it is rather a deep devotion -- and, indeed, an act of praise and thanksgiving -- to God's infinite and unmerited love for us, His creation. There is no carnality to it. There is no obsessing over veins and tissue; it is, rather, the centralization of the very thing which Holy Scripture attests to time and again, namely that God is Love. Christ is Love, for Christ is -- unless the Orthodox have played switcharoo with doctrine again -- God. Without His Love, without that Love which the Sacred Heart itself represents, there is no Salvation. There is, indeed, no Hope.

    But, of course, you get a crackpot like old M.P., whose book of "dogmatic theology" is little more than a derivative patchwork of far superior Western manual theology, and all of a sudden the Orthodox think they have "the goods" on the Catholic Church -- as if Protestants, Jansenists, and some of the Orthodox's closest brethren -- radical atheists more in tune with aesthetics than substance -- haven't raised such doubts before. But these doubts, like all doubts concerning the Catholic Faith, fade for those who are within it; who understand and follow its dogmas and its devotions with the inner logic and spiritual breadth which they embody; and who have little time to spend with a wayward (and dying) confession's malcontents, who are joyfully shifting around deck chairs on the Titanic as they ride it out in the fever swamps of what was once a proud beacon of a unified Church.

  10. Thanks to all for your comments on this post. I knew it would draw a lot of discussion and I'm delighted that it remained respectful throughout the back and forth.