One of the most important things I have learnt ( or I am learning) from reading an icon is how to read religious art in general. And, in the case of the icon of the Sacred Heart which informs (and inspires) this blog I would say that it has provided me with a window or lens through which to read other works of art. The picture by Phillipe de Champaigne is a good case in point. He was a prolific artist and his paintings – many of which are on religious themes are to be found all over the world. There are a couple in the National Gallery in London, and in many other galleries in other European countries.
|Phillipe de Champaigne|
HERE. Jansenists were extremely hostile to the devotion. By 1640 de Champaigne himself had become a Jansenist – around the same time as the publication of Cornelius Jansen’s (the Catholic bishop of Ypres), infamous book, Augustinus seu doctrina Sancti Augustini de humanae naturae sanitate, aegritudine, medicina adversus Pelagianos et Massilianses - or simply the Augustinus. As the title indicates, the book set out to demonstrate that the Catholic church had to change its ways and acknowledge the importance of what St. Augustine had to say about (inter-alia): Pelagianism, Original Sin and Divine Grace.
The image contained in the Augustinus (right) as published after the death of Jansen himself shows St Augustine - who Jansen believed to be the source and guide for a new reformed Church- holding his flaming heart and looking upwards towards a quotation from Paul's letter to the Romans, 5.5: ' Dei diffusa est in cordibus nostris'. The full quotation is :' spes autem non confundit quia caritas Dei diffusa est in cordibus nostris per Spiritum Sanctum qui datus est nobis.' Which may be translated as ' And hope confoundeth not: because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts, by the Holy Spirit who is given to us.'
For the followers of Jansen, the devotion to the Sacred Heart was a demonstration writ large of what was going wrong with the church. When we look at the painting by de Champaigne and compare it to the image which appears in Augustinus we can see how it is very Jansenist image. So in one sense this is an image which was painted – by a famous artist of the day – to represent the ‘anti-Sacred Heart’ position. Here the heart is not being offered to God, so much as is it being filled by the Holy Spirit. So, my previous blog suggesting that it may be read as a ‘Sacred Heart’ image is to say the least ironic, and actually wrong. As a Jansenist the artist was seeking to lay claim to St. Augustine for the Jansenist cause and to use this image to advance or represent the Jansenist cause!
If the Jansenists were the great enemies of the Sacred Heart, it was the Jesuits who were the most determined critics of the Jansenists. It was also, of course, the Jesuits who were the most fervent supporters and promoters of the Sacred Heart. So....When we return to the Batoni painting of the Sacred Heart, painted for the Jesuits in 1767 and compare it to the Jansenist painting of St Augustine a hundred years earlier we can presume that something is going on here. We should, perhaps, read the most famous picture of the Sacred Heart, and the most famous painting of St Augustine alongside one another. We should perhaps view the painting of St. Augustine through the lens or window of the Botoni picture. De Champaigne’s work must have been well known to Batoni and it is not too fanciful to suggest that Batoni’s painting for the Jesuits was perhaps making use of the Jansenist painting. In the painting /etching of St Augustine the saint is shown holding his heart. It may be that de Champaigne is referencing here the line in the Confessions where Augustine says:
|de Champaigne's Augustine|
In the painting he holds a pen or quill and seeks to hold fast to his heart and translate the divine truth into language: the words the Jansenists believed were necessary to reform the church. The painting does not use the quote from St. Paul, but simply the word 'veritas' - truth shining above the Bible. The Saint's heart is full of God's truth, and it is therefore to his writings, inspired by truth, to which the Church must look for guidance. It is, to reference the quote from the Confessions(11.11), Augustine who has been able to hold fast to the human heart and to translate the truth into language!
However, we are not constrained to read de Champaigne's painting from the distorted Jansenist perspective which its painter undoubtedly intended. Indeed, we can rightly see St Augustine as helping to lay the deep theological foundations of our devotion to the Sacred Heart: the love which is the Alpha and Omega of all creation. Contrary to the Jansenist view that saw God's love and grace as for a select few, the Sacred Heart came to symbolize the universal love of God for all mankind. Hence in 1794 Pope Pius VI issued his Bull, Auctorem Fidei to assert that the devotion to the Sacred Heart was grounded in scripture and Catholic teaching -and that included the writings of Augustine- and not some new invention. In this respect we must, therefore, understand Augustine as a saint of the Sacred Heart: someone who taught that God's love was universal and total. As Teilhard observes:
under the influence of rare passions like those of Paul, Augustine or Teresa (of Avila) the theory and practice of total love have ever since been propagated. So, as a result of the two thousand years of mystical experience that supports us, the contact we can make with the personal centre of the universe has gained as much in manifest riches as our possible contact with the world's natural spheres after two thousand years of science. ( Human Energy, 159-60)
Teilhard read Augustine in terms of his 'contact with the personal centre of the universe'. And that personal centre of the universe is the Heart of Jesus: the home of all restless hearts. Both men saw the world through what Augustine refers to as the 'eye of the heart'. Teilhard was in this respect much closer to the spirituality of Augustine than were the Jansenists.