Eastern Spirituality Emphasizes the 'Heart'

Author: John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Angelus, September 29, 1996

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. A certain trend in humanistic culture has led many men and women of our time to turn away from God. But with the decline of the great ideologies it has become dramatically clear that when man becomes "bereft of God", he loses the meaning of his own life and in some way becomes "bereft" of himself.

Who is man? Christianity, in its twofold tradition of East and West has always taken this question seriously. It has given rise to a profound, harmonious anthropology based on the principle that the ultimate truth of the human being is to be sought in the One who created him.

Eastern spirituality makes a specific contribution to authentic knowledge of man by insisting on the perspective of the "heart". Christians of the East love to distinguish three types of knowledge. The first is limited to man in his bio-psychic structure. The second remains in the realm of moral life. The highest degree of self-knowledge is obtained, however, in "contemplation", by which man returns deeply into himself, recognizes himself as the divine image and, purifying himself of sin, meets the living God to the point of becoming "divine" himself by the gift of grace.

2. This is knowledge of the heart. Here, the "heart" means much more than a human faculty, such as affectivity, for example. It is rather the principle of personal unity, a sort of "interior space" in which the person recollects his whole self so as to live in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Eastern authors are referring to this principle when they invite us to "come down from the head to the heart". It is not enough to know things, to think about them; they must become 1ife".

It is an important message, which applies not only to specifically religious experience but to human life in its totality. Today's prevailing scientific culture puts an enormous quantity of information at our disposal; but every day it is apparent that this is not enough for an authentic process of humanization. We have greater need than ever to rediscover the dimensions of the "heart", we need more heart. A renewed encounter with Christian perspectives, in their particular Eastern and Western riches, offers a very valuable contribution in this regard.

3. Dear brothers and sisters, let us be guided by Mary most holy to discover ourselves in ever greater depth. In order to stress the Virgin's meditative attitude towards the events of her life, the Gospel says that Mary "kept all these things in her heart" (Lk 2:51).

May the Mother of God teach us the way that leads from the fringes of our existence to our inner depths, in the mysterious sanctuary where we can talk intimately with that God who welcomes us and loves us.

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