The Heart of Christ as symbol: A psychological and theological study of its implications and relevance

Francis John Blee, Fordham University


Within the Catholic tradition, there has been a long, deep and widespread devotion to the Heart of Christ, dating back to early Christianity and culminating in a worldwide spirituality, based primarily on the visions of St. Margaret Mary in the seventeenth century. After Vatican II, there was a general decline in emphasis on this devotion. In this dissertation, the reasons for the decline are examined and suggestions are made for a revitalization and renewed emphasis on the Heart of Christ as representing a primordial, powerful and reconciling symbol, if presented in terms of modern psychological and theological principles. The Heart of Christ is considered within the context of religious symbol, sacramental theology, a modern Christological framework, and theories pertaining to the cycle by which symbols become powerful, and also decline for a variety of reasons. Drawing on the work of Ignace de La Potterie, the Heart of Christ as symbol is considered within a framework of the human consciousness of Jesus and the power by which the love between the Father and Jesus reflects the Spirit in the world. The work of Karl Rahner is drawn upon in describing heart as a primordial word and symbol. The research of Frederick W. Dillistone, Arthur Koestler and Anthony Bridge is utilized in analyzing the life and death of symbols and how these principles applied to devotion to the Heart of Christ. A psychological analysis of the Heart of Christ was made, drawing on the archetypal constructs of Carl Jung, including the Hero, the Self, the Persona and the Shadow, and within the eight stages of psycho-social development, as described by Erik Erikson. The theories of atonement were considered and compared with a theology of grace drawing on the atonement analysis of Norbert Hoffman, and the theories of grace as described by Karl Rahner and Peter Fransen. A survey was completed by approximately two hundred respondents in order to develop empirical data to test the theoretical approach in the first four chapters. The theoretical constructs were supported by the survey, and indicated that the Heart of Christ, if recast in a modern, sound, theological framework, offers to the contemporary Christian a powerful reconciling symbol of God's intimate invitation to humankind to participate in the compelling love relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Subject Area

Theology|Psychology|Art History

Recommended Citation

Blee, Francis John, "The Heart of Christ as symbol: A psychological and theological study of its implications and relevance" (1993). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9324607.