Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Teilhard's litany of the Sacred Heart: (1) The Golden Glow

Let us begin our exploration  ( for a general account go HERE ) of the actual image of the Sacred Heart by focusing on an idea that comes to my mind every time I see the icon.  So it feels like the right place to start.  The gold on the icon has an amazing effect of changing with different light conditions and at different times of day and night.  I particularly like looking at it when the light is quite poor because it seems to glow in a very special way then.  On a card of the Sacred Heart found on his desk in New York in 1955 Teilhard had written a list - what has been termed a litany - which tries to sum-up in his terms what he understood by the Sacred Heart.    In his litany (SEE HERE) Teilhard refers to the Sacred Heart (in English) as 'The Golden Glow'.  I believe that  our icon captures this perfectly.  Firstly we have the gold of the icon which was applied as a background at an  early stage which conveys the light of God filling all creation.   We also have gold in the halos (  or nimbus or  aureole ) around Christ, the Blessed Virgin and Saint John the Baptist and St Mary Magdalene and the angels.  That is normal convention.   But in this icon the Sacred Heart itself has its own golden aureole ( the word prefered by Teilhard) as well as golden flames inside  coming from the heart and  golden flames in the nimbus surrounding Christ.

In a letter to Jeanne-Marie Mortier in 1948 he refers to 'The Heart of Christ at the heart of matter.  The 'Golden Glow' as I like to say in English'. In another letter to Claude Cuenot the same year he writes of the ' The Golden Glow: the glimmer of fire - love (attraction) and evolution of  love - the all, centered and non-diffused (expansion). 

 For Teilhard the Sacred Heart was a Golden Glow which signified Christ's divinity as a luminous energy of love.  It is the symbol of the presence of the divine centre of the universe.  It is God's love as a fire - which energises all life.  In a letter to Leontine Zanta in 1917 he refers to  the :

'vision of the mysterious  Diaphany (I prefer that word to Epiphany ) by which the universal Christ  illumines the unique  and higher substance of things, so as to act on us through them and so draw us to their common summit! 

Teilhard in front of the 'golden glow' in 1917
The year before this letter he had written his 'Three stories in the style of Benson' (1916) in which (in 'The Picture') he describes a vision of the Sacred Heart  in which the 'vibrant atmosphere' which surrounded Christ like an 'aureole' was  no longer 'confined to the narrow space around him, but radiated  towards infinity'.   He describes it as a kind of 'phosphorescence'  emanating from the heart of Christ  like ' a blood stream or nervous system running through the totality of life'. In his  essay 'The Priest' (1918) he says this:
In a very real sense, Lord Jesus, you are the full assemblage of all beings who shelter and meet and are for ever united, within the mystical bonds of your body.  In your breast, my God, better than in any embrace, I possess all those whom I love and are illuminated by your beauty and in turn illumine you with the rays of light (so powerful in their effect upon our hearts) which they receive from you and send back to you. ( ‘The Priest’, Prayer of the Universe, p 163)
What he later terms the Golden Glow is therefore the 'rays of light' which have a powerful effect on our hearts.   We must be open to this light and 'send it back' to God.  

In 1941 he gives his friend Lucile Swan a holy picture of the Sacred Heart. His letter describes it as: 

Lucile Swan

..a copy of the only “pious” object left, since years, on my working table. Hope you will not think it too “roman-catholic”. For me this quite simple illustration is a vague representation of the universal “foyer” of attraction which we are aiming for...

A few years before his death Teilhard wrote the most complete statement on the Sacred Heart ( The Heart of Matter, 1950) .  In it he notes that 'the moment I saw a mysterious patch of crimson and gold delineated in the Saviour's breast, I found what I as looking for  - a way of finally escaping from everything that so distressed me in the complicated, fragile and individual organization of the Body of Jesus.  It was an astounding release!' (p43).   This way of seeing the Sacred Heart as 'crimson and gold' radiating light was a profound and defining event in his life.   In our icon the Sacred Heart  is  crimson and gold and well  captures this idea we find in the Heart of Matter.  I think that if we want to see the Sacred Heart anew - or in a different way - we have to see it in terms of this golden glow. 

OF COURSE, any  image of the Sacred Sacred Heart can  only ever be a 'vague representation'  of what he calls a 'foyer' of crimson and gold  attraction towards which mankind are being drawn and towards which we should aim.   'Foyer'  on the face of it a strange word to use.  Does he mean that it is  a  lobby  or  a waiting room?  I don't think so.   It is more likely that he is using it in a very different sense: the word 'foyer' comes from the latin FOCUS, which means  a hearth or fireplace.  The image therefore vaguely represents a universal fireplace or focal point of attraction.  What he likes about the card is that it captures this sense of the Sacred Heart as a 'foyer' : it is a representation of the universal glow of divine love which is a universal focal point - foyer or hearth of the cosmos.  The Sacred Heart is indeed a sacred hearth!   The Golden Glow is the glowing light generated by that foyer.   Thus, on the 27th August  1941 he writes to  describing it as the ' light and the hearth of God' which is at the  'at the deep centre of everything'.  The Golden Glow is the light 'of  beauty and truth'.  

The Golden Glow in the icon  may therefore be  understood as the diaphanous light which illuminates and draws us  - attracts us -  to the divine centre of the cosmos.   As Sion Cowell expresses it in his utterly  indispensable guide to Teilhard : the Golden Glow is is the ' luminous fringe revealing the divinity of Christ (epiphany and transfiguration. ) and the active presence of the divine milieu'. ( Sion Cowell, The Teilhard Lexicon, p 86)  That is what the icon captures so beautifully.  It is filled with a diaphanous golden glow which evokes the  Golden Glow which we know better as the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  

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