When this devotion was first revealed to St Margaret Mary in 17th century France, she was met with much skepticism and opposition to those within the Church. While her own convent was very welcoming to the devotion, which had much to do with St Margaret’s perceived sanctity, those in the Church at large were not quite as welcoming. Ultimately, the Sacred Heart triumphed and became one of the most important devotions of the Catholic Church, with Our Lady of Fatima emphasizing reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Therefore, I need not go over objections within the Catholic Church to the devotion, but would like to look East at some objections poised by our separated Orthodox brethren. I will do my best to lay out some of the objections I have come across online, and try to answer them in defense of Our Lord’s Most Adorable Heart.
“Catholic devotions are just weird”
This is one that I came across on a forum, the individual was citing the wider range of Catholic devotions aside from the Sacred Heart, like to the Blessed Sacrament, or Holy Wounds, or Immaculate Heart of Mary, etc. I can see why someone outside of the Catholic faith would see these as strange, and it is often cited that we could just worship Christ as a whole, but then they miss the point entirely of specific devotions like the Holy Wounds or Sacred Heart. And that point is rooted in God’s lowering Himself to our level, in taking on our nature in order to commune directly with us. Specific devotions to certain instruments or aspects of Christ exist to account for the variance of devotees within the Church. While all are called to worship God in Christ, some find a deeper spirituality and closeness to Christ by fixating on one aspect of His being. Therefore, to be a devotee to the Sacred Heart is to seek to be engulfed in the flames of divine love, to unite oneself to that supreme compassion which lead to God’s condescension and humiliation by taking on human flesh. And the same could be said of someone devoted to the Divine Mercy (of which I am not a fan), where fixation on the infinitude of God’s mercy brings a deeper appreciation to certain Catholics that they could not find in just being devoted to Christ as a whole. This wide array of devotions are there to speak to certain individuals of the elect, so while they may not appeal to some, there are those who draw deeply on a focused aspect of Christ than they would in just straight worship of the Person of Christ.
“Catholic prayers are too long and complicated, Orthodoxy is simple.”
This criticism could be expanded to encompass most Catholic prayers, but in this instance prayers to the Sacred Heart were cited. In this particular example, the length of the prayers to the Sacred Heart, like the Consecration to the Sacred Heart, were noted. The simplicity of Orthodox prayer and specifically the Jesus Prayer were pointed to as better alternatives than the lengthy prayers often found in Catholic devotions. And honestly, I can agree with this one. As often as I recite prayers to the Sacred Heart, I can get a little winded with just how long and wordy some of these prayers are. But they’re not meant to be prayers which are said repeatedly, rather they are acts of reparation or consecration that are to be performed at certain times. You can still have a devotion to the Sacred Heart and eliminate all of the lengthy prayers, if you so desire. For me specifically, I love the Jesus Prayer, so I’ve modified it to suit my devotion to the Heart of Jesus. I will often recite on a rosary: “Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us” just like I would the Jesus Prayer, and I still receive the graces I request while still spending time kindling my own sinful heart with the Heart of Jesus.
Concerns with Reparation Theology
Another objection I came across was that of Orthodox concerns with the “reparation theology” surrounding both the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart. It was noted that Christ’s Passion and death were sufficient reparation for the sins of mankind, therefore why would it be necessary to devote oneself to reparations? Well, it’s apparent to me that this individual is missing the entire point of being a Christian. Reparation to God is not a phenomenon exclusive to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary. It is an act that we as Christians must undertake for the offenses that we continue to commit daily. It is rooted in the understanding that our sins offend God’s justice and therefore must be punished. While our sins are transfixed to Christ’s sacrifice in eternity, it is the Catholic belief that there is still temporal punishment due for sin. Therefore, to pray fervently to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary for our own sins or the sins of others helps to satisfy what is owed to God’s justice. And again, this is a practice not just limited to this devotion; to pick on the Jesus Prayer once more, what does it say? Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Is this not a form of reparation to Christ for sins and offenses committed?
“The Sacred Heart is semi-Nestorian.”
Alright, for this objection, let’s first define what the heresy of Nestorianism is and then go from there:
A fifth-century Christian heresy that held there were two distinct persons in the Incarnate Christ, one human and the other divine, as against the orthodox teaching that Christ was a divine person who assumed a human nature. Its name was taken from Nestorius (died c. 451), a native of Germanicia in Syria, and later Bishop of Constantinople. Nestorianism was condemned by the ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431.https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=35102
Postulating two separate persons in Christ, when Nestorius came to describe their union, he could not have them joined ontologically (in their being) or hypostatically (constituting one person), but only morally or psychologically. They would be united only by a perfect agreement of two wills in Christ, and by a harmonious communication of their respective activities. This harmony of wills (eudoxia) and the communion of action to which it gives rise are what forms the composite personality (henosia) of Christ.
In the Nestorian system we cannot speak of a true communication of idioms, i.e., that while the two natures of Christ are distinct the attributes of one may be predicated of the other in view of their union in the one person of Christ. Accordingly it could not be said that God was born, that he was crucified or died; Mary is not the Mother of God, except in the broad sense of giving birth to a man whose human personality was conjoined to the Word of God.
Given the definition of Nestorianism, we can see where Orthodox objectors are getting this notion of “semi-Nestorianism” when looking at the Sacred Heart. From just a cursory, outward glance, the Sacred Heart legitimately appears to as though Catholics are worshiping a mere part of Christ rather than Christ Himself. I held this view for a while before really diving into the devotion, yet we need to understand one thing about Christ: the hypostatic union. The hypostatic union is the theological term developed to explain that Christ’s human nature and divine nature are combined into one person. With the understanding that what is of Christ the man is also of Christ the Divinity, then we can see that a claim of Nestorianism doesn’t hold a lot of weight. And this is because the Western understanding of one’s heart corresponds directly to their nature. It is a poetic symbol of the core of one’s person, the essence of what makes them them. And it is the same with Christ, His Heart is all that He is distilled into a symbol. We are not devoting ourselves to His Heart the organ, but the Heart of Jesus, the core of His being. Since the core of Christ’s nature is that of both man and God, then to devote oneself to the Sacred Heart is to devote oneself to the hypostatically united Godman. I think what really stops a lot of detractors of the Sacred Heart is that they are too caught up in the accidents (appearances) and not enough in the essence. I can say that I am devoted to Jesus Christ, the Godman, but I can also say that I am devoted to His Sacred Heart as it is still fully divine as it is in the Person of Jesus Christ. It is a symbol of the divine love of men that Christ Jesus has, much like how the cross is a symbol of His Passion and death.
Furthermore, this devotion extends beyond devotion to Christ whole and allows the faithful to foster a more intimate union with Our Redeemer. Think of a relationship between lovers: a truly intimate expression of love for another is not just to see them outwardly as they are, but to steal the heart of that person, to make them completely enraptured in you. And that is what Christ is providing for His Bride, the Church. He is extending His Heart so that we may become fundamentally united with His divine love. We can come to know Jesus the Son of God, but to seek after His Heart is to seek out a closer bond to the God Who became flesh. To pass off this devotion as some sort of idolatry of an organ is to completely miss the intimate expression of God’s love for mankind, not only did He suffer and die for us, but He seeks to unite Himself with us through love. So He offers us His Heart.
This oversight of just how profound this devotion reaches into the abyss of God’s love is expressed in this quote from Orthodox Protopresbyter Michael Pomanzansky:
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.”
Does that last line not illustrate my point? He does not see that to devote oneself to a loved one’s heart is to devote oneself to them as a whole. Because of the symbolic link of the heart to the essence of an individual. To say that I am ‘completely devoted to the heart of my wife’ is not to say that I care only for the bundle of nerves and muscle tissue inside of her chest cavity, but that I have such a profound and intimate devotion to her person.
I will end this post in stating that analyzing a devotion based upon outward appearances is like passing up a diamond in the rough because it’s covered in filth. You are aware that there is something of value beneath the surface, but you are too fixated on what it appears to be that you pass it up entirely. Given that many Eastern Catholics have a devotion to the Sacred Heart tells me that it is simply the taint of “Latinization” which keeps many of our Orthodox brethren from embracing such a powerful devotion. I will keep praying for their conversion, and one day for their reunion with Rome.