Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

The Place of the Heart in Integral Human Formation

Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

The Place of the Heart in Integral Human Formation

Article excerpt

TH E CATHOLIC CHURCH makes the bold claim that about the human person she is an expert; that she alone proposes to the world an authentic understanding of both the essence of man and the destiny determined for him by his Creator: to "be like him and see him as he is" (1 Jn 3:2), and thus to follow an objective path in order to attain to this likeness. (1) The claim follows two thousand years of theological work aimed at understanding the God-man Christ who, in manifesting the perfection of human nature, "fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear." (2) For the Church, thus, to understand Christ is to understand the perfection of man, "made in the image" (Gen 1:27) of God who otherwise "dwells in unapproachable light" (1 Tim 6:16). (3)

To aid the human person, approaches to Catholic education and human formation assume, follow, and concretely propose the Church's long-standing, interdisciplinary interpretation of Christ: incarnate, he possesses a universally shared, though sinless, human nature within which, "[by] virtue of his soul and his spiritual powers of intellect and will, man is endowed with freedom, an 'outstanding manifestation of the divine image.'" (4) Consequently, educative and formative approaches marry the acquisition of intellectual knowledge with the formation of persons' wills exclusively in the imitation of Christ, followed by "the activation of one's practical and creative capacities" in giving shape to reality. (5) Neglected here, however, is clarity with regards to the experientially recognizable center of the person--that interior structure whose unfolding and development frames personal self-knowledge of my I as its own object. (6) This center ultimately--I will argue--can only be understood as the human heart, which oddly holds a long-standing devotional tradition in the Church, without a complete understanding of its role in lived experience of the person. (7) Such a comprehensive philosophy of the heart within the philosophy of human nature bears an existential urgency, as interior experiences at the heart's depth shape personal existence and can either deeply clarify or deeply impair the ability to perceive and adhere to reality.

I assume here a particular but vital relationship between lived experience and a philosophy of human nature: that, if a philosophy is accurate in abstracting and articulating the nature of man, it must necessarily--in its application--encapsulate the entire spectrum of possible human capacities and experiences, including disorder to the nature with which a person begins, and offer the framework by which to understand this spectrum. (8) Capacities, experiences, and actions uncontained by any single philosophy of nature thus demonstrate its insufficiency or incompleteness, insofar as that activity seemingly originates unrooted in nature, absurd wherever nature is assumed. Foregone in most systematic understandings of the human person is his depth, the formation of which demands a more concrete root.

In this context, to assume that the simplicity of the divine existence as spirit (cf. Jn 4:24) excludes the possibility of experience--a cognitive awareness of an act--of a spiritual order. To interpret the image of God as consisting predominantly or solely of intellect and will, to place any affective motion thus within the realm of irrationality or mere sensitivity, and to derive a human anthropology exclusively from this interpretation, is to miss the essential depth of the human person created for the sake of intentional lived encounter with love. (9) As a result, it means a provision of tools inadequate for addressing the manifestations of brokenness, as in atheism, common emotional disorders, the "hookup" culture, and more--lived experiences that incompletely attain to the personal perfection of charity. (10)

This article takes the following structure: First, I will show that the heart, as the interior psychospiritual dynamic of the person whose function it is to receive, contain, and predispose one to further receive love, is the truest center of personality insofar as it is the center of lived experiences of love. …

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