The Sacred Heart and the Political Order

06-25-2023Weekly Reflection

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to which the entire month of June is consecrated, carries with it undoubtedly socio-political meanings which, although everything possible has been done in the last half century to condemn them to oblivion, are indelibly part of the history of this worship and are rooted in it. The worship of the Sacred Heart is a worship of adoration of the Lord Jesus with particular emphasis on his holy and true humanity, hence the hostility with which the Jansenists opposed it in the eighteenth century, considering it not very "spiritual" and even idolatrous.

This clash between the Church and the Jansenist-heresy,* the worship of the Sacred Heart, promoted or rejected, makes clear what is at stake: the Jansenist-transformation of Christianity into a spirituality disinterested in the body, in temporal realities, in social life ... or the Catholic full awareness of the truth of the Incarnation, with all that it entails, in relation to the incarnation of the Gospel in the concrete life (family, economic, social, political) of men.

*NOTE: Jansenism had a number of heretical deviations from the Catholic Faith; but in terms of the Sacred Heart, Pope Pius XI stated: the Jansenist heresy, the most crafty of them all, hostile to love and piety towards God, was creeping in and preaching that God was not to be loved as a father but rather to be feared as an implacable judge; then the most benign Jesus showed his own most Sacred Heart to the nations lifted up as a standard of peace and charity portending no doubtful victory in the combat…Pius XI, Miserentissimus Deus, Encyclical Letter. Catholic truth won and, albeit with difficulty, the Church managed to eradicate the Jansenist heresy, a victory certainly attributable also, to the diffusion and success of devotion to the Sacred Heart.

…The religious choice that characterizes, more or less evidently, post-conciliar (after Vatican II) Catholicism with the renunciation of the res publica Christiana (the Catholic confessional state)** in favor of the liberal pluralist secular society, inevitably leads to underscoring the individual and psychological dimension of faith …forgetting more and more the community and political dimension of Christianity. This almost always leads to a process of dis-incarnation of Christianity, with faith increasingly confined to the interior psychological sphere of believers. …

**NOTE: The renunciation is not official doctrine but practical. Very few in the Church defend the confessional State or the social reign of Jesus Christ. Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom states: it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ and weakly allows for a confessional State: If, in view of peculiar circumstances obtaining among peoples, special civil recognition is given to one religious community in the constitutional order of society, it is at the same time imperative that the right of all citizens and religious communities to religious freedom should be recognized and made effective in practice.

The issue is really not simply about “peculiar circumstances” but the teaching about the social-reign of Christ the King and the true Church. The Scriptures tell us Christ must reign (!) until all enemies are put under His feet.1Cor 5:25. The social-reign of Christ the King means the teaching that there is no sphere where Christ is not Lord or from which He can be excluded as a matter of principle. Pope Pius XI teaches it: all, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ. In him is salvation of the individual, in him is the salvation of society. Pius XI Quas Primas , On the Kingship of Christ

The worship of the Sacred Heart … indicates …placing at the center, the Heart of Christ's flesh, the organ in which body, soul and Divinity are "joined", that is, celebrating the indissoluble unity in Jesus Christ of His humanity and Divinity, of bodily and of spiritual, biological life, affective psychic life and Eternal Life. The mystery of the Incarnation is celebrated in worship and devotion to the Sacred Heart. The religion of the Incarnation cannot exclude anything human from the call to perfect communion with God and therefore nothing human is excluded from the work of evangelization which, indeed, must convert everything to Christ. In the logic of the Incarnation there is no room for secularization or for laïcité, indeed the logic of the Incarnation carries with it the yearning to consecrate everything to God….

With this spirit of "total" evangelization and with the intention of winning back the whole of society to Christ, devotion to the Sacred Heart was tirelessly promoted starting at least from the seventeenth century. Devotion already widespread in Germany in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, in the seventeenth it found its center of radiation in France. Great apostles of devotion to the Sacred Heart were the Jesuits, the same Jesuits who in the 17th and 18th centuries (until their dissolution in 1773) waged a heroic battle to preserve and increase the societas christiana,(a Christian Society) preserving it from the poison of "modern" ideas, rationalist first, and then the so called enlightenment. The cult of the Sacred Heart is closely connected with the Kingship of Christ, it is in fact the cult of the fleshly heart of the King of kings, it is a royal cult.

It is no coincidence, therefore, that on June 17, 1689, Christ himself, through Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, addressed a precise request to the French king Louis XIV: to consecrate France to the Sacred Heart and to portray the Sacred Heart on all the banners of the kingdom. It would have meant the explicit recognition of the Lordship of Christ, against every modern idea of sovereignty, and equally it would have meant the most solemn repudiation of Jansenism and Calvinism as well as rationalism and the incipient Enlightenment. (emphasis added) France would have solemnly declared itself sacred to Christ, to his Royal Heart. She would proclaim herself as the Kingdom of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Louis XIV refused the request, France was not consecrated; in a few years France would become the center of rationalism and then of the philosophical and political Enlightenment. On 17 June 1789, exactly one hundred years later, the Third Estate proclaimed itself the National Assembly, and claimed constituent power. The France of tradition, (elder daughter of the Church) the most Christian Kingdom, the France of Clovis, Charlemagne and Louis IX was overwhelmed by the Revolution.

NOTE: Rationalism is the doctrine that human reason alone is the ultimate authority even in religion. The Enlightenment (late 1700’s to 1815) main ideas: reason, individualism and skepticism. One person who espoused all three of these values was the anti-Catholic French philosopher, Voltaire.

After the French Revolution, the cult of the Sacred Heart was even better understood by Catholics as a royal and anti-revolutionary cult, so, not only in France, the opposition to the "modern" ideas brought by the revolutionary armies relied on the Sacred Heart. The effigy of the Sacred Heart became the hallmark of all counter-revolutionaries, insurgents and Catholic patriots, from the Vendée (Martyrs of the French Revolution) to the Kingdom of Naples via Tyrol (Tyrol was consecrated to the Sacred Heart in 1796) … and then the whole Hispanic world. Pius XI and Pius XII also devoted great importance to the cult of the Sacred Heart and made it the supernatural means for restoring Christian civilization.

NOTE: The notion that devotion to the Sacred Heart is a royal cult does not mean necessarily human kings, although for a long time especially in France the two were joined together: the Sacred Heart and the French monarchy. The only real and eternal kingship is that of Jesus Christ the King. Msgr. Pope points out: Since the modern democratic republics common today were largely unknown in biblical times, and due to the hierarchical structure of the Church and the biblical teaching on families, some today favor monarchy (or a modified version of it) as the “best fit” for Catholic teaching, especially if the monarch is of the Faith. But this is probably going too far and is more specific than Catholic teaching prefers. While some systems are better than others, all of them have shortcomings that require the voice of the Church, and of faith and natural law, to set limits and occasionally voice opposition. Atheistic forms of government that seek to silence the voice of faith are excluded since they deny a natural right of man. Secular or nonsectarian forms of government are permissible as long as they do not deny the influence of faith altogether or limit the religious liberty of citizens.

…Celebrating the Sacred Heart of Jesus, has for centuries been a sign of a counter-revolutionary spirit, and a commitment to the restoration of a Christian society….(T)he logic of the Incarnation implies the public, social, cultural and political dimension of the Faith. The Social Doctrine of the Church, as conceived by Leo XIII, if, philosophically, it presupposes the metaphysical realism of Thomas Aquinas, it is spiritually nourished by the cult of the Sacred Heart because it has its summit and synthesis-point the social Kingship of Christ.

NOTE: Metaphysical realism is the view that most of the objects that populate the world exist independently of our thought and have their natures independently of how, if at all, we conceive of them. (This essay was adapted and edited from an essay in Italian by Fr. Samuel Cecotti