Academic journal article Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality

'Heroes of the Heart': Ideal Men in the Sacred Heart Devotion

Academic journal article Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality

'Heroes of the Heart': Ideal Men in the Sacred Heart Devotion

Article excerpt

In 1937, the Jesuit father A. De Pauw published an article in the Bode van het Heilig Hart van Jesus in which he criticized the ease with which the label "hero" was used. "Sometimes", he remarked,

   [O]ne gets the impression that heroism is for sale among the other
   articles in the warehouses and costs almost nothing. Succeed in no
   matter what exploit, win a race, knock someone knock out, and you
   are put on a pedestal. There is no end to the admiration and
   devotion. We have sunk that low. Recklessness and ambition, stupid
   contempt of death and muscle strength incite the enthusiasm of the
   people that no longer know how to value the silent sacrifice and
   invisible dedication for what it is worth. It proves that paganism
   and deification of material have polluted the people of the
   twentieth century. Someone who is able to perform a valiant action
   is not necessarily a hero. (1)

His criticism on the adoration of contemporary "heroes" did not only point at the importance De Pauw attached to values that were (supposed to be) at the core of a heroic personality, but also indicated the changeability and variety of those personifications of "heroic" principles.

This article focuses on this complexity of heroism, and more specifically it analyzes the rhetoric on heroic men in the Belgian Sacred Heart devotion. This Catholic cult became very popular in nineteenth-century Belgium and characterized a sentimental and vivid ultramontane Catholicism. As there were various devotional organizations dedicated to the Sacred Heart, this analysis concentrates primarily on the discourse of one of the most important movements, the Apostolat de la Priere. This organization, which aimed at the restoration of Christ's honor, was introduced in Belgium in the 1860s and developed into the Leagues of the Sacred Heart at the turn of the century. These Leagues presented themselves as part of the Apostolat, but as they were gender exclusive, they clearly differed from the Apostolat de la Priere which was a mixed movement (although the central boards consisted solely of women under direction of a male religious). To gain a clearer view on the historical variability and to take into account possible shifts in the nature of the cult, this analysis concentrates on and compares two time spans. Since it does not cover the years in between, no general conclusions on the evolution of Catholic heroic discourse can be drawn. Yet, by analyzing two time spans, similarities and differences might be detected. The first focus is situated around 1868, i.e. the moment Belgium devoted itself to the Sacred Heart for the first time. These years also witnessed the start of the Belgian Apostolat de la Priere movement and the creation of its periodical Bode van het Heilig Hart van Jesus in 1869 (Gevers, 2004; Rion, 1981; Marx, 2005; Gabriels, 1991; Quaghebeur, 2002). (2) The previous years the French version circulated in Belgium and would continue to do so, therefore both periodicals have been included in the analysis. (3) Other sources for this first period are the devotional books on the cult of the Sacred Heart that were edited in Belgium. The second focus is on the 1930s, one of the heydays of the cult since it was the blooming period of the Leagues of the Sacred Heart. These Leagues have been described as "la formule belge de l'Apostolat de la Priere". (4) Originally, only all-male Leagues were founded, but a women's movement developed as well (Van Osselaer, 2008). Therefore, the sources of this interwar period include, next to the Belgian periodical of the Apostolat de la Priere, the periodicals and books published by these Leagues and other devotional books. (5)

This article focuses on heroic men in the devotional discourse. Some of these heroes were explicitly associated with the cult, for example the martial hero fighting under the banner of the Sacred Heart; others were depicted as an "apostle along the line of Jesus Sacred Heart" but often there was no direct relation between the devotion and these exemplary men. …

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