Catholic Cults and Devotions: A Psychological Inquiry

By Michael P. Carroll | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
The Sacred Heart of Jesus

As should be obvious by now, this book owes much to Herbert Thurston. Thurston was a rationalist who spent virtually his entire adult life subjecting pious Catholic beliefs and devotions to critical analysis in an effort to sift historical fact from religious fancy. His arguments were almost always concise, well documented and to my mind convincing. But Thurston was not just a rationalist. He was also a Jesuit priest. One might reasonably wonder how he combined the two roles, especially since his critical approach could so easily be seen as undermining the faith of ordinary Catholics. Actually, Thurston ( 1952, 120) himself addressed this very issue in his final essay on the stigmata: "The role of Devil's advocate is a thankless one and does not make for popularity. Indeed ... I have [often] felt at times, in spite of good intentions, that I was playing a mean and unworthy part. Why, I have asked myself, should a skeptical line of argument be put forward which may possibly trouble the simple faith of many good people much nearer and dearer to God than I can ever hope to be?" But Thurston the rationalist had his answer ready, and he continued:

And yet in these days of widespread education, universal questioning and free discussion, a premature and ill-grounded credulity cannot in the long run be of advantage to the Church ... We have to meet adversaries who of late years have paid a vast amount of attention to the study of psycho-pathology and even a slender acquaintance with the literature of hysteria and other nervous disorders suffices to show how extensive is the vista of possibilities which have opened up, and also how great are the perplexities with which the whole subject is beset.

I have immense admiration for the attitude that Thurston expresses here, and for his willingness to maintain that attitude in essay after essay. His suggestion that the literature of "psychopathology," "hysteria," and "other nervous disorders" might provide insight into many areas of Catholic practice quite

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