Tuesday, 3 January 2012

First week of 2012: on the road with Rahner

The past few days have been spent ( when I can)  reading the icon through the perspective of the Jesuit tradition.   Of  course, the devotion to the Sacred Heart was very influenced by the Jesuits from the time of St. Claude de la Colombiere S.J., if not before this.  As a Jesuit Teilhard believed that the Sacred Heart was indeed the summary of the Catholic faith, but also that as a devotion it needed to evolve if it were to remain relevant to the Church of the future: that is to the church of today.  Many Jesuits have written extensively on the Sacred Heart, but perhaps the most notable of the commentators in the modern era was the theologian Karl Rahner, S.J.  And thus in the first week of this new year I have been reading what he had to say. 

However, the first thing to note is that Rahner acknowledges the contribution of Pius XII’s  encyclical Haurietis aquas of  1956.   He notes  in ‘The theological meaning of  devotion to the Heart of Jesus’ that it is a ‘comprehensive treatise on everything connected with this devotion’.  His own thoughts on the Sacred Heart are offered as ‘subjective’ and  ‘marginal observations’  to this definitive statement.  And as the way of things on this blog, before I could get down to reading Rahner, I thought it best to proceed by re-reading the ‘comprehensive treatise’ itself.  

In many ways the icon may be read as an image which is inspired by this document.  Indeed, early on in the project Ian noted that his thinking was being shaped by reading the encyclical and Benedict’s comments on the 50th anniversary of its publication.   Having re-read the encyclical myself  I am now minded to read the icon as a visual representation of what is said in Haurietis aquas and by Benedict in 2006.   I was asked a while ago if I though the icon needed a ‘guide book’ and I said that I would think about it!  And now, on refection, I am inclined to say that Haurietis aquas is most probably an excellent guide to the icon, as it is to the devotion.  And furthermore, that  Rahner's 'marginal observations' complement much of what the both the encyclical and Teilhard say about the Sacred Heart. 

Reading about Rahner I came across I fascinating observation by a Jesuit scholar, Fr.  Philip Endean, in his book Karl Rahner and Ignatian Sprituality.  (See here.)  As this blog is about the role of images in our religious life,  Fr. Endean's observation is of special relevance.

Mosaic in Jesuit Chapel, Innsbruck*
"In the chapel of the house in Innsbruck where Rahner lived during his most productive years, a visitor is confronted by a large wall mosaic. At the centre stands Christ, dressed in priestly vestments and carrying the cross, with his heart openly displayed. On the right is Thomas Aquinas, holding the Summa theologiae; on the left we find Ignatius, with his Constitutions leaning against his cloak. Rahner was not the sort of theologian who took works of art as a starting-point, but this mosaic can nevertheless stand as an illustration of Rahner's approach to Christianity. Rahner's writings on the Sacred Heart depend relatively little on the idea of reparation so strongly emphasized in the mainstream devotional tradition. For Rahner, the term 'heart' points, rather, to a metaphysical truth about human identity, about being a 'spirit in world'. Our access to our own 'hearts', our self-presence, comes only in and through our interactions, through our presence to others. When devotion to Christ centres on the symbol of his heart, this reminds us that Christ's revelation occurs only in and through his relationships with us. The Jesus we read of in the gospel must become the cosmic Christ who incorporates us. Thus Christian tradition remains permanently to be continued. Thomas Aquinas and Ignatius have their place in the picture, because both developed articulations of Christianity particularly respectful of this fundamental principle. If the word of God is proclaimed in terms of Thomas's austere scholasticism or of Ignatius's terse requests 'to reflect and draw profit', then the event is completed only when the hearer responds, participating in the mystery in ways that we cannot predict in advance .."pp 259-60 

The mosaic in the chapel of the Jesuit College, Innsbruck (HERE)  thus provides us with a fascinating visual link between our icon and the central role of the Sacred Heart in Rahner's ( and Ignatian) theology and spirituality. 

* Image found on Fr. Joe Koczera's blog,'The City and the World'.  Go HERE.

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