Theology of the Head and Heart, Part I

For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love (Casti Cannubii, 27).

This is the first of two posts that I want to write on the topic of head and heart, which reflect the traditional view that the man is the head of the home and the woman its heart. My point, however, is not sociological, but theological. Nor is my point of departure the question of authority, but the question of the way in which the head and heart are mutually dependent and complementary. I chose to title these posts Theology of Head and Heart, not because my comments are academic, nor principally because I want to provide an apologetic for the differentiation of the sexes, but because the head and heart need to be harmonized in the spiritual life and not polarized as is so often the case with the “theologies”and “movements” of modern Christianity.

Theology of the Head

Of course “head” of the family does denote authority, but it also equally denotes intellect. The head and heart complementarity relates mind and will, knowledge and love as much as it does authority and obedience.

In our culture of extremes the faith is often reduced to one or the other pole of the head and heart complementarity. Rationalist academics reduce revelation to a heartless scientific analysis based on skepticism with a penchant for “demythologizing” anything that appears supernatural. We have all heard the cynical homilies about the Virgin Birth, the Magi and the angels in Bethlehem. We have all heard the doctrines of the church parsed and distinguished until all we have left are the meatless bones of political correctness. This is the head without the heart, though even in terms of thought it is only pseudo-scientific.

On the other hand, one can expect that when the academics believe nothing, the sentimentalists will believe anything. In fact, sometimes it’s one and the same Catholic who will deny that scripture teaches Christ established one Church, and then will run off and believe whatever the latest self-proclaimed mystic says. This is heart without head, touchy-feely religiosity.

I hold the conviction that one of the reasons why so many men (males) opt out of religion is because they find what is presented to them so intellectually un-challenging, or worse, insulting.

Those who have so intellectualized the faith so as not to believe anything have made religion a hobby, something to talk and argue about, but nothing to live and die for. Most men, I think, find better uses of their time.

On the other hand, sentimentalists present religious experience without intellectual conviction. The appeal of the New Age movement and misguided pentecostalism, is that it offers consolations and highs apart from the need to conform to the deposit of faith and morals and imperative to perseverance in a real life of prayer. I think most men find their recreation in other ways.

The great contemplative tradition of the Church integrates the head and heart in such a way the truth sets us free from falsehood and sin so as to open us up to union with God. Hence, authentic mental prayer begins in a discursive manner, that is, through spiritual reading, especially the reading of the scriptures. As the one who prays becomes more grounded in the truth and stabilized intellectually in supernatural revelation the movement of grace leads him to assimilate what he knows into how he lives and loves. Hence the second movement of prayer is an affective one, relating to the exercise of the will in the act of love. Women tend to intuitively grasp the faith and find themselves frequently in an affective state, but I think most men will lose interest unless their mind is challenged on a continual basis.

Discursive and affective prayer are ordered to culminate in contemplation, a kind of prayer that more or less simplifies the intellectual and affective faculties. Unfortunately so many modern methods of meditation and “spiritualities” are an effort to bypass the head and go directly to the heart. Yes, we should “pray from the heart,” but that does not mean, as I have heard it said, that we “should get out of our heads and into our hearts.” That kind of sentimentalized religion, especially as it impresses itself upon men, is effeminate and self-indulgent. The rest and joy of contemplation is the fruit of hard work (discursive and affective) inspired and elevated by grace. There are no real shortcuts.

It is important to note the happy resurgence of apologetics over the last 20 years or so. It represents a virile movement within the Church to intellectually grasp and articulately express the truths of the faith. This has been good for all of us, and particularly so for men. One of my main contentions regarding the importance of a more virile approach to the faith is that, in order for their spiritual life to thrive, men need to translate their faith and prayer into action. Apologetics has provided men both with the intellectual challenge they need and the opportunity to be defenders of the faith.

Even so, I think we need to take this “intellectual movement” a step higher. My experience has shown me that often (not always, but often) Catholics have not moved far beyond apologetics. Let me explain.

Apologetics in the modern context is the defense of the Catholic faith to those who do not believe. In the United States it is most often the defense of the faith against the contentions of Protestants. One of the fundamental skills that an apologist must learn is how to formulate the faith in such a way that the hearer will easily be able to understand and find it attractive. This is especially important because usually the hearer has erroneous preconceived notions about what Catholics really believe. Hence the formulation of the faith by an apologist will measure itself by what he thinks his listener is capable of understanding.

For instance, we might explain Our Lady’s intercession by saying she is our “prayer partner,” a concept which a Protestant will understand; however, while the analogy is apt in as far as it goes, it does not go far enough. So, for example, if along with presenting the idea of “prayer partner” we said that we do not pray “to” Our Lady but “with” our Lady, this would be a very weak and erroneous way of presenting the faith. Apologists have to make judgment calls about their explanations, as to whether, as a starting point for presenting the faith, their explanations are adequate. The problem is that many Catholics have not been properly catechized; their religious education has been primarily apologetics.

I remember when I defended the Virgin Birth in my review of The Nativity Story, I took a lot of flack for expressing what was called an “inessential” point of Catholic doctrine in such a way that would scare away the Protestants. But the point of an intellectual grasp of the faith is not primarily an evangelical one. Rather it is contemplative. We need to assimilate to the fullness of the faith in order to live it, not assimilate the faith in a Protestant way in order to defend it. If we live it, then we will be able to properly defend it. In other words, our discursive efforts should be directed primarily toward prayer and an increase of faith. It is that kind of intellectual and prayerful effort that will lead to virile action.

Interestingly, I have never heard a good Catholic argument against a manly and tender devotion to Our Lady. Every argument I have ever heard is essentially a Protestant one: “She takes away from Jesus,” “There is only One Mediator,” “She is just a creature,” etc. The most rational and intellectually consistent arguments when it comes to Our Lady, those which are consistent with Catholic Theology, are maximalistic. They lead us to love Her the way Jesus did. And so here once again, in the Catholic way of life the head is brought into unity with the heart. Love for the truth brings us to the Heart of Our Lady, and in Her school we learn how to contemplate the face of Christ.

More on the heart in the next post.

Update:

Theology of the Head and Heart, Part II, now up.

12 thoughts on “Theology of the Head and Heart, Part I

  1. Fr. Angelo,

    Can you men ever become archbishops? Cardinals? We need men like you Franciscan priests to become archdiocesan leaders. Truly. How can we get discussions such as this to reach more people than those who frequent your blog or AirMaria? I often ask fellow Catholics, “Aren’t you sick of eating green jello? Aren’t you ready for some serious MEAT? Do people think so little of us that they feel we aren’t capable of digesting anything more than jello?” People always agree that they’re dying for meat … DYING for meat. Now granted, I think life’s overwhelming demands exhaust many from taking the time to do this discursive, affective and contemplative study. Yet, I think this is actually a whole new concept to many people. They’d maybe do it if someone actually enlightened them to it!

    Father Angelo, have you ever thought of becoming ‘syndocated’ so articles such as this could be published in people’s local Catholic Transcripts? It wouldn’t take you anymore work since you’ve already written many of these things but then the average Catholic who would never bother to dive into blogs or an AirMaria site might be enlightened. Just a thought. I know many of the homilies are being uploaded to lots of sites and this is great … but some of these written and very cerebral works I fear may never reach anyone but the already converted.

    Well, thanks for the very hearty stew. I’ll be awaiting the 2nd course. (The only meat I can eat on Friday.)
    +Jen

  2. Father Angelo,

    As an aside, while quickly glancing through some of the dialogue about *The Nativity* on Jimmy Akin’s blog that you directed us to, I read how you said there were only two people born without sin, Mary and Jesus. This is how I always understood it. However, as someone mentioned on another thread here, some contend that St. John the Baptist was also born without sin. In fact, I read this in Fr. Peyton’s guided book on the mysteries of the Rosary. It must have been on one of his thoughts from the Luminous Mystery of the Baptism, I’m guessing. I was totally confused. You didn’t answer this from the other thread. What are your thoughts on this?

  3. Jen,

    Thanks for the kind words. I am happy to publish in any way I can.

    As an aside, while quickly glancing through some of the dialogue about *The Nativity* on Jimmy Akin’s blog that you directed us to, I read how you said there were only two people born without sin, Mary and Jesus. This is how I always understood it. However, as someone mentioned on another thread here, some contend that St. John the Baptist was also born without sin.

    I don’t know if this is the text you are referring to:

    My comments on Our Lady’s Queenship need to be taken in the context of my review and of my other statements in this string. Of all the people who ever lived, only two were completely without sin.” Only two were completely heroic.

    At least in this particular text I was careful to qualify myself by saying “completely without sin,” which is the case only in the persons of Jesus and Mary. St. John was born, but not conceived without sin.

    If there is another text that states otherwise, it is probably due to an awkward formulation.

  4. Ahhh … born but not conceived without sin. I see. I never knew this. Are there others who we say were born without sin as well? Just curious. I feel so ignorant.

  5. This is perfect. I’ve been in transition for the past several weeks, and have not been able to keep up with your blog–but see how Our Lady works! I’ve been thinking more about how men can be better engaged by Catholcism, and the conversation you have started here is indeed the answer to the question.

    I have some inklings about adding a mystical component to this, regarding those who are to image male and female-I’ll post that on my blog. Looking forward to the heart, and sharing this with many of my Catholic Male friends! God bless you Father!

  6. Really excellent discourse Father!

    There is a tradition that Saint Joseph was born (not conceived) without Original Sin also, as being second in dignity after Our Blessed Mother and St. John the baptist.

  7. Pingback: Theology of the Head and Heart, Part II « Mary Victrix

  8. T Crosthwaite,

    You have a curious website dedicated to the removal of the ignorance separating people from the truth. There seems to be much of what you would consider ignorance, but little of what you would consider truth. That focus is significant, I believe.

    I would suggest that if you intend to use Mr. Wixted’s arguments, you would be well advised to understand the Catholic position somewhat better than he. To this end you might study the relationship between scripture and tradition and the role the Pope and the bishops have in maintaining the purity of the faith (See the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation). You might also take time to read Cardinal John Henry Newman’s “An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.” This latter might help to illustrate in a way directed to the modern mind what Catholics understand to be the relationship between faith and reason. I don’t expect you to agree with any of it, but it might be helpful for you to understand better what we actually believe.

    I have learned to pay attention more to a man’s subjects than predicates, so again, I find it curious that of all the subjects Mr. Wixted could have covered, he has dedicated so much time to refuting the Virgin Birth.

    I will say that I thought Mr. Wixted’s piece on interjector’s techinques is incisive and very helpful for perfecting the art and science of debate. One nearly always has to deal with someone with an axe to grind.

    In that regard, your contention that Matthew and Luke in no way assert anything remotely approximating a virginal conception belies your own freedom from prejudice:

    The virgin birth story is founded on the verse in Matthew’s gospel which quotes Isaiah’s prophecy. The churches claim Matthew did not quote from the original Hebrew Old Testament, but rather from a Greek translation of the Hebrew (which mistranslated the “young woman” in Isaiah’s prophecy as “virgin”). If this claim is correct, it would mean that Matthew saw the birth of Jesus as the fulfilment of a prophecy that does not exist in the Old Testament!

    Further, it is claimed that Luke’s gospel describes the virginal conception of Jesus. This claim relies on giving selective interpretations to certain words when they are applied to Jesus. However where these same or similar words are applied to others in the Bible, no one suggests there is a virginal conception in those instances.

    Matthew and Luke had a good reason to record the circumstances relating to Jesus’ birth, but it had nothing to do with a so-called virgin birth.

    Both Luke’s narration of the Annunciation (1:26-38, esp. vv. 35-37) and the verse 18 of the second chapter of Matthew which immediately precedes his quotation from Isaiah, make it clear that that the New Testament does, in fact, assert a virginal conception. Your reference to the Catholic admissions that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew does not seem to support your argument, because the reference to that prophecy, as an authoritative text worthy to be quoted to Matthew’s Hebrew readers, makes no sense at all unless he is doing so in support of his contention that Mary was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Regardless of what either the Hebrew or Greek said, it is clear what Matthew believed it meant. Furthermore, in Luke the dialogue between the angel and the Virgin, with the latter’s one well-placed question and the answer She receives, make no sense at all unless the evangelist is making a point of asserting a virginal conception.

    In fact, this is how the Church from the beginning has understood the scriptures. (See again, please, the relationship between scripture and tradition.) For example, St. Justin (+ 165) gives testimony of this in Dialogus cum Tryphone (100) when he states became man by the Virgin. St. Irenaeus (+ c. 200) also asserts it as an article of Faith in Adversus haereses (I, 10, 2), stating that the Church spread throughout the world has received the faith from the apostles, including the truth that in accordance with the prophecies of the Old Testament His birth was “from a virgin.” Many more examples from the early Church can be marshaled, but I think this is sufficient to show that your contention the New Testament does not assert the Virginal Conception is false.

    I would be less curious about your focus on the removal of ignorance, rather than the promotion of truth, if you did not take your argument against the Virgin Birth all the way back to the infancy narratives, which clearly does not serve your argument.

  9. What you call the “focus” of my website (virgin birth story)is an attempt to do away with the misrepresentation of Jesus, and therefore avoid old wine being put in new bottles.

    In fact there is other material on the website that is much broader in scope, and coincidentally some articles will be added shortly that deal with secular and ecclesiatical history and prophecy.

    I think your points about biblical texts have been dealt with comprehensively in the articles in the “Doctrine of virgin birth” section on the website.

    Incidentally, if you use the “search” facility on the website, you will see Cardinal Newman is quoted there, and Irenaeus and Monsignor Knox have some prominence.

  10. T Crosthwaite,

    Actually, I did a search and there was one entry for Newman, but he is not quoted at all and no reference was made there to Newman’s The Development of Doctrine of Christian Doctrine. I only point this out because I believe you might find it quite useful, as I stated, in order to better understand the Catholic view of the relationship of faith and reason.

    As for the “comprehensive” treatment of scriptural evidence regarding the virginity of Mary on your website, it does not, in fact, deal with the issue I have raised, namely that the infancy narratives confirm each other and that Matthew clearly teaches the virginal conception, regardless of any philological discussions of his quotation of Isaiah.

    Futhermore, in Wixted’s discussion of the “Virgin Birth” he is tellingly silent in regard to external evidence. He imposes his own interpretation on texts using an analysis that only would have plausibility if that was the way the communities who first read the scriptures received them, and if, further, the Church had in some sense retained that belief; however, detached from historical context and from the clear tradition of exegesis, Wixted gives only an artificial impression of plausibility.

    Catholics are not Protestants. I really think you should read Newman.

    Furthermore, Wixted, plays word games, basing his arguments almost entirely upon a contrived use of philology, gathering evidence where it helps his case, and ignoring it where it does not. For instance, when he talks about the use of ginosko in Luke 1:34 he attempts to reduce Luke’s usage to purely intellectual understanding, even though Luke prefaces the whole account with the fact that Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but had yet begun to live with him, and even though there is a clear linguistic tradition within scripture regarding the use of “knowledge” to describe sexual relations (all of which he conveniently fails to mention). In fact, the same Greek verb is used in Matthew 1:25, also in reference to Mary and Joseph that indubitably refers to the absence of carnal knowledge:And he knew (eginosken) her not till she brought forth her first born son (also, conveniently remaining unmentioned by Wixted).

    This is only one example of his specious reasoning; I could address many more. Quite honestly, I would only do that if it was helpful to you personally. From an intellectual point of view, I don’t find Wixted’s arguments the least bit compelling.

    I particularly dislike his attempt to sell us a bill of goods on St. Joseph’s dream. He wants us to believe that the angel told Joseph to take Mary as his wife because the alleged adulterous conception was part of God’s plan, all based on his narrow and isolated philological considerations. And then he suggests that those doubtful of his brilliance become free of prejudice.

    Ain’t that a peach!

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