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The Union of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary

In St. Francis de Sales and St. John Eudes

Arthur Burton Calkins

Part I

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The Union of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary

In St. Francis de Sales and St. John Eudes

The last two saints enumerated among the promoters of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Haurietis Aquas, the monumental Sacred Heart encyclical of Pope Pius XII, are Saints Francis de Sales and John Eudes.1 In the course of this paper I would like to survey their teaching on the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, an exposition, which in both cases, may rightly be characterized as a catechesis on the union of these two most holy Hearts.

I.  St. Francis de Sales (1567 - 1622)

In his masterful study on Christian spirituality Pierre Pourrat states that “St. Francis de Sales forms a school of spirituality by himself alone.  He is its beginning, its development, its sum-total.”  While admitting that his disciples are legion, he asserts that “None of them seem to have added anything of importance to the thought of the master.2 The saintly Bishop of Geneva and Doctor of the Church may be quite unique in this regard, but this is not to say that he himself was uninfluenced by many other currents of spirituality as well as by the souls he directed (most notably St. Jane Frances de Chantal). It is to say, however, that to all the currents of thought, which he appropriated, he gave his unique stamp and rendered them components of his own harmonious and homogeneous “Salesiandoctrine.

A.  The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Dom Henry Benedict Mackey, distinguished editor of the works of St. Francis de Sales in French and in English, says in the introduction to the sermons in the Annecy edition:

As always, the holy bishop here directs consequences back to their principle. If he earnestly recommends the practice of virtues, he insists more on the generating cause which brings them about. His great desire is to bring about the soul’s true foundation and rootage in charity, so that from there it may, as if without effort, rise to all devotions and sacrifices. But this charity, as this Doctor of the Church shows it to us in its radiant furnace, is nothing other than the adorable Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It seems that St. Francis de Sales is always trying to direct his hearers’ attention toward, and to cause all their affection to converge upon, this unique Center of all holiness.

  We have said it elsewhere, but one should not fail to mention again here that the glory of this holy founder is to have been one of the prophets of devotion to the Sacred Heart. … It is satisfying to state just how frequently in these sermons our delightful saint returns to this inexhaustible subject and in terms which are as explicit as they are touching. 3

In the brief declaring him a Doctor of the Church, Pius IX likewise noted that the holy Bishop of Geneva had sown the seeds of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 4

St. Francis de Sales had discovered the antecedents for his devotion to the Heart of Jesus in his wide reading in the various mystical schools, especially those of the Rhineland and the Low Countries. 5 But perhaps his own “affective and contemplative” disposition 6 drew him even more readily to the opening in the Savior’s side as illustrated in this beautiful passage in the Treatise on the Love of God:

... the soul cries out … “See how ‘he stands behind the wall’ of our humanity. See how he makes himself be seen through the wounds of his body and the opening in his side, as through windows, and as through ‘a lattice through which he himself looks out’ at us.”

  Yes, truly, Theotimus, God’s love is seated within the Savior’s heart as on a royal throne. He beholds through the cleft of his pierced side all the hearts of the children of men. His heart is king of hearts, and he keeps his eyes fixed on our hearts. Just as those who peer through a lattice see clearly while they themselves are only half seen, so too the divine love, always clearly sees our hearts and looks on them with his eyes of love, while we do not see him, but only half see him ... Oh, if we could hear this divine heart singing with a voice infinitely sweet his canticle of praise to divinity! What joy, Theotimus, what striving within our hearts to spring up to heaven so as to hear it forever! Truly does this dear friend of our souls summon us there! “Arise, make haste,” he says, “leave yourself, take flight to me, my dove, my most beautiful one, into this heavenly abode where all things are in joy and breathe forth only praise and benediction. There all is in flower; all that is there pours forth sweetness and perfume. The turtledoves, saddest of birds, send up their songs. Come, my beloved, my most dear one! To see me more clearly, come to those same windows through which I look at you. Come, look upon my heart in that cleft opening in my side, made when my body, like a house cast down in ruins, was so piteously broken on the tree of the cross!” 7

This rapturous passage surely seems to show us the keen intuition of Francis employing the text of the Song of Songs 2: 8-14 to describe the Heart of Jesus and at the same time “betraying,” as Cardinal Carberry says, “his predilection for a mystical interpretation of the Song of Songs.8

Not only does the gentle Bishop of Geneva bid his readers to gaze upon the cleft opening into the Savior’s side, but also to enter therein:  “O sweet Jesus, draw me always deeper into your heart so that your love may consume me and I may be swallowed up in its sweet joy.9

With his genius for the practical as well as the sublime, he tells his daughters in the Visitation to look upon their sisters and their neighbors in general:


as resting in the Heart of our Savior. Alas! they who regard their neighbor in any other way run the risk of not loving him with purity, constancy, or with impartiality. But beholding him in that divine resting-place, who would not love him, bear with him, and be patient with his imperfections? Who would find him irritating or troublesome? Well, my dear daughters, your neighbor is there, in the Heart of the Savior, there, as so beloved and so lovable that the divine Lover dies of love for him! 10

As Francis finds reference to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the images of the Song of Songs, so also does he find them in the story of Jacob’s ladder (Gen. 28: 10-18)

First of all, God willed with a true will that even after Adams sin all men should be saved, but in a way and by means proper to their natural condition, which is endowed with free will. That is, he willed the salvation of all those who would give consent to the graces and favors he would prepare for them, and offer and distribute for this purpose. Among these favors, he willed that vocation should be the first and that it should be so tempered to our liberty that we could accept or reject it at pleasure. To such as he foresaw would accept it he would furnish the sacred movements of penitence. To those who would respond to those movements he determined to give charity. To those again who were in charity he decided to supply the helps to persevere. And to such as would make use of those divine helps he resolved to grant final perseverance and the glory and happiness of eternal love.

  Hence we can give an account of the order found in the effects of providence as concerned with our salvation. We descend from the first to the last, that is, from the fruit, which is glory, to the root of this fair tree, which is the redemption wrought by our Savior. God’s bounty gives glory in succession to merit, merit in succession to charity, charity in succession to penitence, penitence in succession to obedience, obedience in succession to vocation, vocation in succession to our Savior’s redemption. On this last is based that whole mystical ladder of the greater Jacob, both at its end in heaven, since it rests upon the loving bosom of the eternal Father, in which he receives and glorifies the elect, and at its end on earth, since it is planted in the bosom and pierced side of our Savior, who for this cause died upon Mount Calvary. 11

In a mode reminiscent of the Fathers and with allusions to Romans 8:29-30, de Sales finds the beginnings of salvation precisely “in the bosom and pierced side of our Savior.”

He uses the same image in concluding a letter to St. Jane Frances de Chantal and then by a masterful shift of metaphor concludes with a reference to John 13:23 indicating the Heart of Jesus as a source of consolation.


Lean your spirit against the stone which was represented by the one Jacob had beneath his head when he saw his beautiful ladder, for it is the same stone against which St. John the Evangelist rested on the day of the exceeding great charity of his Master Jesus. May our heart and the Heart of our heart watch lovingly over you. 12

References such as the ones cited above could be multiplied many times over, evocative allusions coined by a master of rhetoric even as of the spiritual life.

B.   In Conjunction with the Heart of Mary

Now of course it must be readily admitted that St. Francis de Sales never set out to write a treatise on the Sacred Heart of Jesus – or for that matter on the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I would describe him along with Blessed Pius IX as a sower of seeds of these devotions.

Yet it is interesting, if not providential for our purposes, that many of the most descriptive references to the Heart of Jesus occur in conjunction with those to Mary and at least implicitly to her Heart.  Here is a classic example:

Compassion derives its great power from the love producing it. Thus the suffering of mothers because of the afflictions of their only children is great, as Scripture often testifies. How great was Hagar’s sorrow over the pains of her son Ishmael as she saw him almost die of thirst in the desert! What commiseration was there in David’s soul over the misery of his son, Absalom! Ah, do you not see the maternal heart of the great Apostle, sick with the sick, burning with zeal for those who were scandalized, filled with continual sorrow for the ruin of the Jews, and dying daily for his beloved spiritual children? Above all, consider how love draws all the pains, all the torments, troubles, sufferings, sorrows, and wounds, the passion, cross, and death itself of our Redeemer into the heart of his most sacred Mother. Alas, the same nails that crucified the body of that divine Child also crucified the soul of his Mother. The same thorns that pierced his head pierced through the soul of that all-sweet Mother. She felt the same miseries as her Son by commiseration, the same dolors by condolence, the same passion by compassion. In brief, the deadly sword that transpierced the body of that most beloved Son pierced through the heart of that most loving Mother. She might well have said that for her he was like a “bundle of myrrh between her breasts,” that is, within her bosom and deep in her heart. 13

In his sermon for Good Friday, 25 March 1622, he continues in the same vein as he ruminates over Jesus three-hour death-agony on the cross:


Now, what did our Lord do there during those three  hours? He employed them in offering sacrifices of praise. It was particularly then that He did what St. Paul wrote: He prayed, He lamented, He complained with loud cries in the days when he was in the flesh; that is to say at this time He complained to His Father, He wept, and cried to stir up everyone to repentance. O God! How many loving tears He shed during those three hours of meditation, how many sighs and sobs! But alas, with how many and with what pains was the Sacred Heart of my Savior transpierced! Oh certainly, no one knows but He who suffered them, and perhaps the sacred Virgin our Lady who was at the foot of the Cross, to whom He communicated them, who pondered over them within herself. 14

For the great Savoyard beyond doubt the sword of sorrow prophesied by Simeon (Lk. 2:35) delivers the coup de grace in Mary during the death-agony of her Son. Here is how he describes it in the retelling of a story he found in the Sermons of St. Bernardine of Siena 15:

At last this devout pilgrim climbs up Mount Calvary, where in spirit he sees the cross laid upon the earth, and our Lord stripped naked, thrown down, and most cruelly nailed hand and foot upon it. He then contemplates how they raised the cross and the Crucified into the air, and he sees the blood that rushes down from all parts of the divine body that hung there. He regards the poor holy Virgin, pierced through and through with the sword of sorrow. Then he turns his eyes on the crucified Savior from whom he hears the seven words with matchless love. At last he sees Christ dying, then dead, then receiving the stroke of the lance and showing through the open wound his divine heart16

Again he describes the stigmatization of the Poverello in terms of the sword “that pierced the sacred breast of the Virgin Mother,” truly the best example he can find of this divine gift of empathy:

When that great servant of God [St. Francis of Assisi], a man completely seraphic, beheld the living picture of his crucified Savior, as represented in a shining seraph who appeared to him on Mount Alverno, he was touched beyond anything we can imagine and was seized by supreme consolation and compassion. When he looked at that bright mirror of love with which even the angels cannot be filled when they behold it, ah! he swooned away out of tenderness and contentment. At the same time, as he beheld that vivid representation of the bruises and wounds of his crucified Savior, he felt within his soul the pitiless sword that pierced the sacred breast of the Virgin Mother on the day of the passion. 17

The fact is that in the preaching and thought of St. Francis de Sales Mary is always completely relative to Christ and subordinate to him. 18  He describes her as “beautiful as the moon [Song of Songs 6:10] which receives its brightness from that of the sun, for she receives her glory from that of her Son.” 19 Mary, says St. Francis, “should be recognized as deserving of special honor – infinitely less than that of her Son, but infinitely greater than that of all other saints.” 20  While literally not on a par with Him, she enjoys a moral union with Him [symbolized by her heart] which far surpasses that of any other creature and reflects His interior dispositions to a far greater degree of perfection:

But this sweet Mother, who loved Him more than all others, was more than all others pierced through and through by the sword of sorrow. Her son’s sorrow at that time was a piercing sword that passed through the Mother's heart, for that Mother’s heart was fastened, joined and united to her Son in so perfect a union that nothing could wound the one without inflicting the keenest torture upon the other. When her maternal bosom was thus wounded with love, Mary not only sought no cure for its wound, but loved that wound more than any cure, and dearly guarded the shafts of sorrow she had received because of the love that had sped them into her heart. 21

By this empathy of Mary with the interior disposition of Christ and the moral union of their wills, in a word, by the love which Mary bears for her Divine Son and – even more – by that which He bears for her, a transformation takes place. Here is how the holy founder of the Visitation explains the process:

To sum up, the pleasure we take in anything is a precursor that places in the lover’s heart the qualities of the thing that pleases. Hence holy complacence transforms us into God, whom we love, and the greater the complacence, the more perfect the transformation. Thus having great love, the saints are very quickly and perfectly transformed, since love transports and translates the manners and dispositions of one heart into another. 22

In Mary the process of transformation is not impeded in any way so that “the manners and dispositions of the Heart of Jesus are perfectly translated into her heart.” The gentle Bishop of Geneva makes a careful compilation of these impediments and shows explicitly how they had no place in the heart of Mary.

Our heart is made for God and He constantly entices it and never ceases to cast before it the allurements of His heavenly love. Yet five things impede the operation of His holy attraction: [1] sin, which removes us from God; [2] affection for riches; [3] sensual pleasures; [4] pride and vanity; [5] self-love, together with the multitude of disordered passions it brings forth, which are like a heavy load weighing it down; None of these hindrances had a place in the heart of the glorious Virgin. She was: [1] forever preserved from all sin; [2] forever most poor in spirit; [3] forever most pure; [4] forever most humble; [5] forever the peaceful mistress of all her passions and completely exempt from the rebellion self-love wages against love of God. 23

C. The Union of Hearts

From the brief exposition of the principles of Salesian theology already made, it is not difficult to deduce a “union of hearts” between Jesus and Mary. Of course, it must be granted that this union is “a moral union,” not a “unity of essence” as in the case of the Trinity, because Jesus and Mary are two separate persons, one divine, the other human. Not surprisingly, this is precisely what de Sales concludes. He does so in the context of speaking about Mary’s passing from this world.

Let us now consider what kind of death she died …

My answer in a word is that Our Lady, Mother of God, died of the death of her Son. The fundamental reason is that Our Lady had only one same life with her Son, and thus could have but only one same death with Him.  She lived only by the life of her Son. How could she die of any other death but His? There were in truth two persons, Our Lord and Our Lady, but of one heart, one soul, one spirit, one life. For if the bond of charity so bound and united the Christians of the early Church that St. Luke assures us that they were of one heart and one mind [Acts 4:32], with how much greater reason may we not say and believe that the Son and the Mother, Our Lord and Our Lady, were only one soul and one life?

  Consider the great Apostle St. Paul. He felt such a union and bond of charity between his Master and him-self that he professed to have no other life but that of the Savior; 'The life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me [Gal. 2:20]. O my people, this union, this fusion and bond of hearts which made St. Paul speak such words was great, but not to be compared with that between the Heart of the Son Jesus and that of the Mother Mary. For the love which Our Lady bore to her Son far surpassed that which St. Paul bore to his Master, inasmuch as the names of mother and son are more excellent in matters of affection than the names of master and servant. If St. Paul lived only of the life of Our Lord, Our Lady also lived only of the same life, but more perfectly, more excellently, more completely. 24

Several years later in his masterwork, the Treatise on the Love of God, he takes up the same theme with equal vehemence, the same Scripture texts, the same basic argumentation, and even more development:

If the first Christians were said to have but “one heart and one soul” because of their perfect mutual dilection, if St. Paul no longer lived himself, but Jesus Christ lived in him because of that most close union of his heart with his Master’s, whereby his soul were as if dead in the heart it animated so as to live in the Savior's heart which it loved – then, O true God! how much truer is it that the sacred Virgin and her Son had but one soul, but one heart, and but one life, so that the Blessed Mother, although living, yet did not live herself, but rather her Son lived in her! Mother most loving and most beloved that could ever be, but loving and beloved with a love incomparably more lofty than that of all orders of angels and of all men, even as the names of unique Son are names above all other names in the world of love! I say unique Mother and unique Son, because all other children of men share acknowledgment of their production between father and mother. But for that Son, just as His entire human birth depended on His Mother alone, for she alone contributed what was required by the power of the Holy Spirit for the conception of that divine Infant, so also to her alone was due and rendered all the love that issued from that production. Hence this Son and this Mother were united in a union so much the more excellent as her name differs in love among all other names. Which of all the seraphim has power to say to the Savior such words as these? “You are my true Son, and I love you as my true Son?” To which among all other creatures was this ever said by the Savior, “You are my true Mother, and I love you as my true Mother. You, my true Mother, are all mine, and I, your true Son, am all yours?” If a loving servant dared to say, and did actually say that he had “no other life than that of his master, ah, how confidently and ardently might this Mother exclaim, “I have no life other than the life of my son. My whole life is in His, and all His life is in mine.” There was no longer a union, but rather a unity of heart, soul, and life between this Mother and this Son. 25

This theme of the “union of hearts” is to become the coat of arms of St. Francis’ spiritual daughters, the Visitation. Here is how he describes “the thought which God sent him during the night” to St. Jane Frances de Chantal:

Our house of the Visitation is, by His grace, noble and important enough to have its own coat of arms, its escutcheon, its device and its battle cry. So I have thought, dear Mother, “if you agree, we should take as our coat of arms a single heart pierced by two arrows, the whole enclosed in a crown of thorns, and with the poor heart serving to hold and support a cross which is to surmount it; and the heart is to be engraved with the sacred names of JESUS AND MARY.

  Dear daughter, the next time we meet, I shall tell you a great many little thoughts which I had on this subject; for indeed, our little congregation is the work of the hearts of Jesus and Mary. Our dying Savior gave birth to us by the wound in His sacred Heart; it is therefore perfectly right that by constant mortification our own heart should always remain surrounded by the crown of thorns which once rested on our Master’s head, while love held him pinned to the throne of His mortal sufferings. 26

Because this letter is not completely explicit about the identification of “the poor heart,” various interpretations have been offered. These are reviewed by Father Jacob Langelaan, O.S.F.S. in his study on Our Lady according to the doctrine of Saint Francis de Sales. J.-V. Bainvel says that “it is not directly the Heart of Jesus, but rather that of the Visitandine.” Msgr. Francis Trochu is of the same opinion. On the other hand, Fr. Langelaan cites Msgr. Francis Vincent who sees in this heart the Heart of Mary intimately associated with the Heart of Jesus. H. Waach sees it as the one single heart of Jesus and Mary. It is to this position that Father Langelaan subscribes, saying that he believes that the holy bishop is speaking of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary intimately associated in a way in which they form only one single heart. 27  Further weight is added to this latter opinion by St. Francis’ remark in the next paragraph that “our little congregation is the work of the hearts of Jesus and Mary.

One also finds in the works of the great Doctor of Savoy a number of subtle developments of this theme. In the dedicatory prayer which begins the Treatise on the Love of God he speaks thus to the Lord:  “Jesus, my Savior, to whom can I dedicate these words concerning your love better than to the most lovable heart of her who is the beloved of your soul?” 28

Mary is the beloved of Jesus’ soul [heart] and it is precisely her heart which is the focal point of this love and the most perfect reflection of it.

Again, Francis preaches on the Feast of the Presentation in 1620 that Jesus is “the Heart of her heart.” 29  In the Treatise he says substantially the same thing and in the process supplies us with his rationale:

We ourselves, Theotimus, as little children of our heavenly Father, can walk with him in two ways. In  the first way, we can walk with the steps of our own will, which we conform to His, holding always with the hand of our obedience the hand of His divine intention and following wherever it leads us. This is what God requires of us by His will as signified to us. Since He wills that I do what He ordains, He wills me to have the will to do it. God has signified that He wills me to keep holy the day of rest. Since He wills that I do this, He then wills that I will to do it and that for this end I have a will of my own by which I follow His by conforming and corresponding to it. But we can also walk with our Lord without having any will of our own. We simply let ourselves be carried by His divine good pleasure, just as a little child is carried in its mothers arms, by a certain kind of admirable consent which may be called the union or rather, the unity of our will with that of God. This is the way in which we should strive to let ourselves be borne forward in the will of Gods good pleasure. 30

It is obviously this second way which St. Francis wishes to propose to his readers and, interestingly, he illustrates this by adducing the example of Jesus as an infant not explicitly willing to go here or there, but simply letting His Mother will for Him. In an imaginary dialogue with an interlocutor, he has the Christ Child say:

Just as my best of Mothers walks for me, so also she wills for me. I leave to her equally the care both to go and to will to go in my behalf wherever she likes best. Just as I walk only by means of her steps, so also I will only by means of her will ... I reflect that my Mother is a tree of life and that I am with her as its fruit, that I am her own heart within her breast, or her soul within her heart. For this reason, just as when she walks it suffices both for her and for me, without exertion of any sort on my part, so also her will suffices both for her and for me without my making any volition either to go or to come. 31

The analogy is complex. In our relationship with the Lord, we ought to be like a child carried by its mother (cf. Ps. 131:2).  As man, Jesus enjoyed a normal relationship with His Mother, but as God, to whose will His Mother had totally bound herself (cf. Lk. 1:38), His will is the reference point for hers, His Heart is the center of hers.

D.  Anthropology

While St. Francis de Sales did not set out to write an ex professo treatise on the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, as did St. John Eudes, or indeed, on “the theology of hearts,” 32 still he leaves us many indications which can help us to understand what he means when he speaks of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and of our hearts. Although his terminology is somewhat fluid, he nonetheless manifests a thoroughly consistent grasp of the interior reality of man.

At his most analytical, he proposes an analogy between the Temple of Solomon and what he describes as “four levels in the soul.” His points of reference are [1] the court of the Gentiles, [2] the court of the Jews, [3] the place for the priests [the holy place] and [4] the Holy of Holies. Here is his exposition of this analogy in a sermon preached on 12 April 1615:

In our souls there is the first level, which is a certain knowledge that we have through our senses, as by our eyes we know that such an object is green, red or yellow. But after this there is a degree or level which is still a little higher, namely, a knowledge that we have by means of consideration. For example, a man who has been ill-treated in a certain place will consider what he will be able to do in order not to return there. The third level is the knowledge we have through faith. The fourth, the Sancta Sanctorum, is the highest point of our soul, which we call spirit, and so long as this highest point is always fixed on God, we need not be troubled in the least. 33

He continues to make reference to this fourth level while developing a new simile, the mariner’s needle or compass, “which always points to the north star.” So also:

it sometimes seems that the soul is going straight for the south, so greatly is it agitated by distractions; nevertheless, the highest point of the spirit always looks toward its God, who is its north. Sometimes people who are the most advanced have such great temptations, even against faith, that it seems to them that their whole soul consents, so greatly is it disturbed. They have only this highest point which resists, and it is this part of ourselves which makes mental prayer, for although all our other faculties and powers may be filled with distractions, the spirit, its fine point, is praying. 34

In the above quoted sermon, the holy Bishop of Geneva is actually synopsizing what he had already treated at greater length in the eleventh and twelfth chapters of Book One of Treatise on the Love of God. In the eleventh chapter, he follows St. Augustine in differentiating between the inferior and superior portions of the soul.

That which reasons and draws conclusions according to what it learns and experiences by the senses is called the inferior part. That which reasons and draws conclusions according to intellectual knowledge, not grounded on sense experience, but on the discernment and judgment of the spirit, is called the superior part. The superior part is usually called spirit and the mental part of the soul, while the inferior part is commonly called sense or feeling, and human reason.

  This superior portion can reason according to two kinds of light. That is, either according to natural light, as did the philosophers and all those who have reasoned by science, or according to supernatural light, as do theologians and Christians, since they base their reasoning upon faith and the revealed word of God. 35

For de Sales, then, the inferior part of the soul is dependent upon the body as the organ which collects sense-data, whereas the superior part can operate discursively, both on the data developed by the human intellect, as well as that which is available through faith.

In terms of the temple analogy as treated both in the sermon of 12 April 1615, and in Book One, Chapter twelve of the Treatise, the first level of the soul or degree of reason corresponds to the inferior part of the soul, the second and third levels correspond to the superior part of the soul and beyond that at the fourth level:

there is a certain eminence or supreme point of reason and the spiritual faculty. This is not guided by the light of discursive thought or of reasoning, but by a simple intuition of intellect and a simple movement of will, whereby spirit acquiesces in and submits itself to the truth and to God’s will.

  This extremity and summit of our soul, this supreme point of our spirit, is aptly symbolized by the sanctuary or holy place. 36

In effect, in speaking of the inferior part of the soul, the superior part of the soul and the summit of the soul, St. Francis is presenting to us the three dimensions of our being described by St. Paul in I Thessalonians 5:23 as body, soul and spirit. 37 The inferior part of the soul deals with sense data that comes from the body 38 and reasons “discursively according to sense experience.” 39  The superior part of the soul, or the soul as such, comprises the intellect, will and emotions, the seat of one’s personality. 40 It can reason discursively, both according to the human sciences” and “according to faith.41  The summit of the soul, or spirit, is the very core of man’s being, which is ordained for communion with God. 42 It does not reason discursively, but acts “by a simple intuition of intellect and a simple movement of will.” 43  It is “a point above all the rest of the soul and independent of every natural disposition.” 44

EKey to the Salesian Doctrine

It is my contention that the primary Salesian meaning of heart, and ultimately the key to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, is to be identified with what the gentle Doctor of the Church describes as the “superior portion of the soul” and its “extremity and summit.” 45 Let us allow the saint himself to illustrate this contention in terms of the Heart of Jesus. First, let us listen as he speaks of the Heart of Jesus as identified with the superior part of Christ’s soul:

When I see my Savior on the Mount of Olives with His ”soul sorrowful even unto death,” I say, Ah, Lord Jesus, what has brought those sorrows of death into the soul of life except love which arouses commiseration and by it draws our miseries into your sovereign heart?How can a devout soul seeing this abyss of weariness and distress in the divine lover be without a sorrow both holy and loving? 46

O Lord Jesus! by your incomparable sadness, by the unequalled desolation which filled your divine heart on Mount Olivet and on the cross, and by the desolation of your dear Mother while deprived of your presence, be the joy, or at least the strength, of this daughter, while your cross and passion are most singularly united to her soul. 47

Thus our divine Savior was afflicted with incomparable woes in civil life: he was condemned as guilty of treason against God and man; he was beaten, scourged, reviled and tortured with most extreme ignominy. In  his natural life, he died in the most cruel and piercing torments we can imagine. In His spiritual life, He suffered sadness, fear, terror, anguish, abandonment, and inner depression such as never had and never shall have an equal. For although the highest portion of His soul supremely rejoiced in eternal glory, love hindered this glory from extending its delights into His feelings, imagination, or lower reason, and thus left His entire heart exposed to sorrow and anguish. Ezechiel saw “the likeness of a hand” which “seized him by a single lock of the hair of his head” and lifted him up between heaven and earth. Our Lord likewise was lifted up on the cross between heaven and earth, and seemed to be held by His Father’s hand only by the highest point of His spirit, as it were by a single hair of His head, which was touched by the gentle hand of the eternal Father and received a supreme affluence of felicity. All the rest was swallowed in grief and sorrow. For this reason He cries out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”

  It is said that in the midst of the tempest the fish called the sea lantern thrusts its tongue above the waves and is so luminous, brilliant, and clear that it serves as a light or beacon for sailors. So too in the sea of sufferings that overwhelmed our Lord, all the faculties of His soul were swallowed up and buried as it were in a maelstrom of fearful pain. The point of His spirit was alone excepted. Left exempt from all suffering, it was bright and resplendent with glory and joy. 48


It is the third and lengthiest of these quotations which best illustrates St. Francis’ reference to the Heart of Jesus as the “superior portion of the soul” which comprises “His feelings, imagination, or lower reason,” and at the same time it further illuminates the first two. The final text also distinguishes between the suffering of “all the faculties of His soul,” and the supreme rejoicing in the summit or “highest portion of His soul.” This distinction made by St. Francis reflects, in effect, the weight of tradition in the Church on the threefold knowledge 49 and threefold love 50 of Christ. It is precisely in “the point of His spirit,” the highest dimension of His Heart, that Christ maintains communion with His Father and love for us by means of His beatific vision. In his great encyclical Mystici Corporis Pius XII taught about this latter point that “in that vision all the members of His Mystical Body were continually and unceasingly present and He embraced them with His

redeeming love.” 51  Three hundred years earlier the great Bishop of Geneva had taught the same doctrine of the Heart of Jesus:

Behold, my Philothea, it is certain that the Heart of our dear Jesus beheld your heart from the tree of the Cross and loved it

  This loving Heart of my God has thought of Philothea, has loved her, and has procured her a thousand means of salvation, even as many as if there had been no other souls in the world to think of …  “He loved me,” says St. Paul, “and delivered Himself for me.” He says “for me alone,” as if He had done nothing for the rest.  O Philothea, this ought to be imprinted upon your soul, in order that you may cherish and nourish your resolution, which has been so precious to our Savior’s Heart. 52

O, Theotimus, the Savior’s soul knew all of us by name and by surname. Above all, on the day of His Passion when He offered His tears, His prayers, His blood, and His life for all men, He sent up for you in particular such thoughts of love as these: “Ah, My eternal Father, I take upon Myself and charge against Myself all the sins of poor Theotimus, to undergo torment and death so that He may be freed from them and may not perish but live. Let Me die, provided that he may live! Let Me be crucified, provided that he may be glorified!” O supreme love of the Heart of Jesus, what heart can ever bless You as devoutly as it ought!

  Thus within Christ’s maternal breast His divine Heart foresaw, disposed, merited, and obtained all our benefits, not only in general for all men, but for each one in particular. His breasts of sweetness prepared for us that milk which is His movements, His attractions, His inspirations, and the dear delights by which He draws, leads, and nourishes our hearts into eternal life. 53

As we find St. Francis de Sales speaking of the Heart of Jesus in terms of the superior portion of His soul, and again of the summit of His soul, so we should not be surprised to find Him speaking of the Heart of Mary in the same terms. It is in the superior portion of her soul that Mary suffers in union with Jesus during His Passion.

It is true that the tenderly loving heart of this Sorrowful Virgin was transpierced by vehement sorrows [Lk. 2:35]. Who could describe the pains and disturbances which then passed through that sacred heart! 54

It is there, even after His glorification, she continues to meditate on the saving events of the Passion.

The phoenix assembles a funeral pyre of aromatical wood, and placing it on the mountain peak, flaps its wings over this pyre so rapidly that a fire is kindled by the rays of the sun. This Virgin, gathering in her heart the Cross, the crown, the lance of Our Lord, placed them at the summit of her thoughts. Over this pyre she made a great movement of continual meditation, and the fire was kindled by the rays of the light of her Son. The phoenix dies in that fire. The Virgin died in this; and it must not be questioned that she had engraven in her heart the instruments of the Passion. Ah, if so many virgins, such as St. Catherine of Siena, St. Claire of Montefalco, had this grace, why not Our Lady, who loved her Son and His death and cross incomparably more than did ever all the saints together? 55

The learned Savoyard speaks also of the highest dimension of Mary’s heart. Unlike the Heart of Jesus, substantially united to the Word of God, Mary’s heart does not share in the beatific vision, but is characterized as manifesting the perfect creaturely response to God, hers is the cor semper vigilans. 56  Let us first consider his treatment of the Song of Songs 5:2 in itself, and then as applied to Mary. We will notice that here de Sales means by heart the “summit of the soul” or “supreme point of the spirit.”

Prayer is called mystical because its conversation is altogether secret. In it nothing is spoken between God and the soul except from heart to heart, by a communication incommunicable to any others but those who make it. The language of lovers is so special in character that no one understands it but themselves. “I sleep,” says the holy spouse, “and my heart watches. See, it is my beloved who speaks to me.” Who could have guessed that even while asleep, this spouse had talked with her beloved?  Where love reigns there is need for neither sound of exterior words nor use of sense to speak to and to be heard by one another. In short, prayer and mystical theology are simply a conversation in which the soul lovingly speaks with God concerning His most loving goodness so as to be united and joined to that goodness. 57

Sometimes the soul not only perceives the presence of God, but hears Him speak by certain inward lights and persuasions which take the place of words. Sometimes it perceives Him to speak and in turn it speaks to Him, but so secretly, so softly, so delicately, that there is no loss of holy peace and quiet.

  Hence without awaking, the soul watches with Him, that is, it watches and speaks with its Beloved, heart to heart, with such sweet tranquility and gracious repose that it is as if the soul slumbered sweetly. 58

This heart to heart communication which takes place between the soul and its God, as St. Francis tells us,

is not guided by the light of discursive thought, or of reasoning, but by a simple intuition of intellect and a simple movement of will, whereby spirit acquiesces in and submits itself to the truth and to God’s will. 59

According to de Sales communication took place in an eminent degree in the Heart of Mary.

Just as the charity of this mother of love excels in perfection that of all the saints in heaven, so also she practiced it more excellently even in this mortal life. ... She never experienced any conflict within the sensual appetite, and the fore her love, like a true Solomon, reigned peaceably in her heart and performed all its acts at will. Her virginity of heart and body was of greater dignity and more honorable than that of the angels. Hence her spirit was neither divided nor separated and was, as St. Paul says, “concerned about the things of the Lord, how she might please God.” [I Cor. 7:32-34] ...

  Ah, sweet Jesus, what dreams must your most holy Mother have had while she slept but her heart kept watch? ...

  Is it not much more probable that the mother of the true Solomon had the use of reason during sleep? That is, just as Solomon himself has her say, her heart was watchful even while she was asleep? Surely it was a far greater marvel for St. John to have the use of reason within his mother’s womb. Why then should we deny a lesser marvel to her from whom and to whom God granted more graces than He either did or ever will do for all other creatures?

  To conclude, just as asbestos, a valuable stone, by virtue of a unique property retains forever the fire which it has conceived, so the heart of the Virgin Mother remained perpetually inflamed with the holy love she received from her Son. Yet there is this difference: the fire in the asbestos cannot be put out, nor can it be increased. Since the Virgin’s sacred flames could neither perish nor diminish, nor remain in the same state, they never ceased to gain incredible increase even as far as heaven, their place of origin. 60

I wish to conclude this first section of my paper with a meditation of St. Francis de Sales on the colloquies which took place between the Heart of the Son and the heart of the Mother from the moment of Gabriel’s message. It serves as a summary of what I have presented about the union of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary according to the gentle Bishop of Geneva and the ineffable communion of love that even now floods the summit of their souls:

I leave it to you to think that this holy Virgin remained in her little home, recollected and ravished in awesome wonder, meditating on this profound and incomprehensible Mystery that had been wrought in her.  O God, what sweetness and delight did she not feel in her heart from the knowledge of this marvel! Oh, how many holy conversations and loving colloquies between the Son and the Mother! 61


1. HA #94.  Cf. Key to Abbreviations pp.

2. Pourrat 272.

3. Quoted in Serms P xxi-xxii [OdS IX:xviii-xix].

4. Williams 96.

5. Cf. Charmot 189-192.

6. Cf. Charmot 189.

7. Treatise I:262-263 [OdS IV:294-95].

8. Introduction to Serms OL xvi; cf . also John A. Abruzzese, The Theology of Hearts in the Writings of St. Francis de Sales (Rome: Institute of Spirituality, Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, 1985) 9.

9. Treatise II:15 [OdS V:8].

10. Spir Conf 230 [OdS VI:219].

11. Treatise I:177-178 [OdS IV:185].

12. Stopp 210 [OdS XVI:50].

13. Treatise 1:243-244 [OdS IV:268-269] (emphasis mine).

14. Sermon of 25 March 1622 (private trans. by Visitation Nuns) [OdS X:382-383]  (emphasis mine).

15. Cf. St. Bernardine of Siena, Sermons on the Ascension in Opera quae extant omnia (Venice, 1591) IV:23.

16. Treatise II:46 [OdS V:47] (emphasis mine).

17. Treatise I:311-312 [OdS IV:358] (emphasis mine).

18. Cf. Lumen Gentium #62.

19. Serms OL 20 [Ods VII:458].

20. Serms OL 19 [OdS VII:458].

21. Treatise II:51 [OdS V:52] (emphasis mine).

22. Treatise II:58-59 [OdS V:61].

23. Treatise II: 54 [OdS V:56] (emphasis mine).

24. Serms OL 5-6 [OdS VII:443-444] (emphasis mine).

25. Treatise II:49-50 [OdS V:50-51] (emphasis mine).

26. Stopp 193 [OdS XV:63-64] (emphasis mine). Nostre petite Congrégation est un ouvrage du cœur de Jésus et de Marie.” St. John Eudes would take up this same terminology. It is very interesting to note that the coat of arms chosen by St. John Eudes for his Congregation of Jesus and Mary is remarkably similar: a heart in which the busts of Jesus and Mary face each other, surmounted by a cross and encircled by the words “Vive Jesus et Marie” and framed by a rose and lily branch; cf. Bremond 506.

27. Jacob Langelaan, O.S.F.S., La Mère La Plus Aimée et La Plus Aimante: La Sainte Vierge selon la Doctrine de Saint François de Sales  (Eichstatt und Wien: Franz-Sales-Verlag, 1965) 18-19.

28. Treatise I:34 [OdS IV:l].

29. Serms OL 91 [OdS lX:257].

30. Treatise II:131-132 [OdS V:152-153].

31. Treatise II:132-133 [OdS V:153-154].

32. Cf. Abruzzese’s entire treatment.

33. Serms P 23-24 [OdS lX:67-68] (emphasis mine).

34. Serms P 24 [OdS lX:68] (emphasis mine).

35. Treatise I:82 [OdS IV:63].

36. Treatise I:85 [OdS IV:67-68] (emphasis mine).

37. Cf. Kallistos Ware, Introduction to The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology (London: Faber & Faber, 1966) 16-28; Wulstan Mork, O.S.B., The Biblical Meaning of Man (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1967); Henri de Lubac, Mistica e Mistero Cristiano, trans. Antonio Sicari (Milan: Jaca Book, 1978) 59-117.

38. Cf. Anscar Vonier, O.S.B., The Human Soul and Its Relations with Other Spirits (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1913) 15.

39. Treatise I:85 [OdS IV:67].

40. Cf. Mork 33-52.

41. Treatise I: 85 [OdS IV:67].

42. Cf. Mork 71-86; 102-116.

43. Treatise I: 85 [OdS IV:67].

44. Treatise II:261 [OdS V:319].

45. Although not stated in the same terms, it seems to me that Fr. Abruzzese’s study basically supports this identification; cf. Abruzzese 70, 82.

46. Treatise I:246 [OdS IV:272] (emphasis mine).

47. d S Letters 96-97 [OdS XV:161] (emphasis mine).

48. Treatise II:108-109 [OdS V:123-124] (emphasis mine).

49. Cf. ST III, q. 10-12; cf. also Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., Christ the Savior: A Commentary on the Third Part of St. Thomas’ Theological Summa, trans. Bede Rose, O.S.B. (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1950) 370-389 and Bertrand de Margerie, S.J., The Human Knowledge of Christ (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1980). The “inferior portion of the soul” which St. Francis does not deal with here would correspond to Christ’s acquired knowledge; the “superior portion of the soul” to His infused knowledge; the “highest portion of His soul” or “point of His spirit” to beatific vision.

50. HA #54-57 [D-S #3924].

51. D-S #3812.

52. Int 281-282 [OdS 111:358-359] (emphasis mine).

53. Treatise II:280 [OdS V:344] (emphasis mine).

54. Serms OL 113 [OdS IX:352-353] (emphasis mine).

55. Serms OL 12 [OdS VII:451] (emphasis mine).

56. Cf. Song of Songs 5:2, a text which de Sales was fond of quoting with reference to the individual soul and to Mary.

57. Treatise I:269 [OdS IV:304] (emphasis mine).

58. Treatise I:297 [OdS IV:339-340] (emphasis mine).

59. Treatise I:85 [OdS IV:67].

60. Treatise I:183-185 [OdS IV:192-195] (emphasis mine).

61. Serms OL 159 [OdS X:65] (emphasis mine).

Copyright ©; Msgr Arthur Calkins 2014

Version 14th February 2014

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