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.