The Theology of the Heart of Jesus (Full)

I’ve decided to bring together my three sections of Delp’s “Theology of the Heart of Jesus” into one post, so one can better appreciate the gravity of Delp’s theological insights on the devotion to the Heart of the Jesus. This post also entails a cleaner and more accurate translation. Thank you for being patient with me. His Litany to the devotion will follow soon.

[Translated from Alfred Delp: Gesammelte Schriften IV: Aus dem Gefängnis]


Berlin Tegel Prison, late November, 1944

The Theology of the Heart of Jesus

Sacred Heart 4One has to and must regard the emergence, meaning and unique character of the modern Heart of Jesus adoration from various standpoints. There is a theological viewpoint, a historically pious one and a contemporary one which is often completely overlooked 17.

Above all, though, there is a salvific-historical viewpoint and assessment of this inner-church event. This is really a measure of God to save mankind and, indeed, if God’s intentions are heeded, to save mankind from its unusual, present-day distress. In the Heart of Jesus adoration one has to realistically and equitably evaluate that which God has inspired in and through the church and not that which pious ignorance has made out of God’s inspiration. But, as you know, leaving the many decisions, valuations, attitudes, realizations to the ignorant – be they pious or not – has been one of the biggest absurdities we have committed and, in doing so, we have taken away the meaning of the most fruitful spiritual inspirations as well as their historical effectiveness.

One only has to unfold the three above-mentioned assessments and inquire about their inner contents to see the spiritual and religious inspiration and redemption that could and should happen through the Heart of Jesus adoration.

The historically pious treatment will certainly put forth that the devotion to the Heart of Jesus is an ecclesial prayer that has always been said and, moreover, that it is a typical German way to adore the Redeemer and so on. That is all true and then it is not. The Heart of Jesus adoration that took place in the Middle Ages, for instance, can’t be denied but, then again, it is something completely different. Back then it was a manifestation of the “mystical friendship” with the Lord, a gentle association of individual souls with a great affinity for each other and deeply devoted hearts to the Lord such as in the meaning of the last appeal of the litany to the Heart of Jesus. But here it refers to a scream of anguish and forsakenness from the people and an offer of mercy from God to save a threatened mankind. The theological and contemporary viewpoints emphasize this unique character even more.

Sacred Heart contemporary iconThe language, like the theology of this prayer, is the language of love. Many a good theologian who remained a rationalist or something similar shies away from saying the word heart at all. Those who have ever really liked someone don’t need to think twice about the heart as the symbol for the sentiments of a person and so on. They know that they can say to a person: “You have a good heart, you are a dear person” and mean everything good, genuine and loyal and devote that flows to them from the other person. Something very similar applies here: It is a matter of a reconnection of the inner intention and attitude of Christ towards mankind. The God-man Jesus Christ as the personally existing salvation of God for mankind, as the redemptive salvation of God, as the salvation of God that personally calls and searches for mankind: that is indeed the unique character of the picture of salvation of this prayer. The appeal of the personal individual is two-fold: for his salvation and healing and for the inner transformation in the form of Christ which means into the willingness and ability to become an effective and fruitful instrument of the Lord’s redemptive and probing salvation. This is where the notion of atonement, satisfaction and so on comes from. The intentions of Christ repeat and fulfill the intentions of Christ who represents us and makes things new.

Above I spoke about a reconnection of Christ which occurred in this prayer. The meaning is twofold: a rediscovery of the theological Christ as the God-man. In terms of doctrine, no rediscovery is needed but practically speaking and in terms of piety. Not only Christ of the historically good example and so on should appeal to the conscious of religious people. Compare, for example, the image of Christ in Goethe’s “Dichtung und Wahrheit”18 revealed to far-reaching German circles with that which is meant here and the difference can be felt.

But, at the same time, it is about another rediscovery, namely, that of the personal Christ. That the entire theological abundance, the entire healing intention, the entire unique human substance and quality manifest itself in an unheard of rich and manifold world of intention and attitude.

The theological message of this prayer is thus as follows: Salvation for mankind, personified in the person of Jesus Christ – realized in the redemption brought about by Jesus Christ – affirmed, acknowledged and implemented as the desires of Christ for mankind.

Now it becomes apparent here that this double rediscovery of Christ, or better, this double recommunication of the message of God and His relationship to mankind appeals to a very specific person and has a very specific contemporary intention. I stand by the statement above: it may be that these devotions also come from the monastic silence and solitude; its first intention is the salvific historical. It is God’s way to save mankind inside and outside of the church.

The historical emergence of this devotion as a broad movement spanned the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The 20th century should actually be able to understand it and be ready for it. It is just that, at least with a view to the hardship and neediness.

At the same time, the period from the 17th to the 20th century saw the emergence of our present-day world. The respective “new” endeavors and movements of the Enlightenment: of Positivism, Idealism, Classicism, Sociology, Realism, Vitalism, the Natural Sciences and Technology, Capitalism, and Socialism: All of them together put forth a picture of the universe which applies today and, at the same time, it is the secret burden and concern of mankind.19 These ideologies proclaim its own image of God, its own worldview and its own image of humanity.

The image of God throughout these three centuries can be broken down into many unique characteristics and contributions. But that doesn’t help us here. The basic tendencies remain: The evaporation from a fake proximity to an ideological paleness and distance; God as an idea, as a postulate, as an uninvolved spectator; indeed ultimately the breakdown of the image of God and God-consciousness into the nothingness of the atheist negation or of the naturalistic pantheist secularization.

The worldview, on the other hand, is increasingly encircling humankind with distress and demands in an even closer and hopeless way. The development to purely inner secularism, the proclamation of the earth to be the only sense and space of being and the unfolding of mechanical collectivism: This all makes the world a hopeless space of trouble and distress and of total servitude and while at first this appears to be the case judging by today’s result, this circumstance was developing and coming the whole time.

The image of humanity during this time span reveals the ever clearer symptoms of a deadly atrophy and crippling. And here, too, not all of the eras and stations need to be listed. It suffices to list the most significant hardships:

People are becoming lonelier: Breakdown of order, the society and real tiesPeople are becoming powerless: Politically, economically, in history and morally; People are focusing more on exterior life: Escape to sensation, entertainment and so onPeople are becoming stereotyped: Loss of one’s own face, development of the type; People are becoming ruthless: merciless

 This world and its people are to be addressed by the message of the Heart of the Lord, which brings this message mankind:

The image of God, the personality (is) of abundant nearness, loving convictions and a most urgent request; the worldview (is) of a transformed and consecrated destiny, an opened immanence, the transcendence as a stance, intention and probation.

Mankind is addressed most intensively in his own most unique and personal atrophy. Just the images of God and the worldview in the Heart of Jesus message overcame the loneliness and the helplessness of modern mankind. The God of nearness and of salvation is simply the overcoming of powerlessness, cruelty and of helplessness.

Homeless-3_7-e1276201863830Now let Christ, who is the bringer of salvation, atonement, completed deliverance, and of loving and sacrificial and strong intention meet this person.

Will his/her chains fall to the ground? Won’t his/her loneliness be overcome and his/her powerlessness from the most interior point of his/her being be suspended? Won’t this person be pulled out of the massification/commodification of humanity and shown the word of the Lord God? Does not the law of mercilessness of this time in all its arrogance collapse? And doesn’t the eternal Spring start to flow and stream again under the blessing of fac cor meum secundum cor tuum?

It will be like it was in the beginning. Fecit hominem secundum imaginem suam (Gen. 1,27). This person understands the urgency and becomes an image of the Lord or he/she stops being a person and dies.

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2 Responses to The Theology of the Heart of Jesus (Full)

  1. Pingback: The Litany of the Heart of Jesus [Part I] | Alfred Delp: A Self-surrender at the Heart of the World

  2. Pingback: Heart of Jesus: Son of the Living Father [Part 2] | Alfred Delp: A Self-surrender at the Heart of the World

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