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Heather Webb and Connie Solari on the heart

Heather Webb specializes in the literature and cultural history of medieval and Renaissance Italy. Areas of research include Dante, early Italian lyric poetry, devotional poetry and prose and history of the body. Her book manuscript, entitled The Medieval Heart: Circulation before William Harvey, is currently under review. She has published essays on Giovanni da San […]

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This is KZSU Stanford.
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Welcome to entitled opinions.
My name is Robert Harrison.
And we're coming to you from the Stanford campus.
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Core cordium.
The heart of hearts.
So speaks the poet's headstone in the Protestant cemetery of Rome.
Percy Shelley died at sea off the coast of Italy in 1822.
And after his body washed ashore near Vietejo,
it was cremated on the beach in the presence of his friends,
hunt, trilani, and Byron.
Trilani, it seems, snatched the poet's heart from the funeral pyre.
He later gave it to Mary Shelley, who kept it the rest of her life.
It was eventually buried next to her in St. Peter's Cathedral in Bournemouth.
Meanwhile, Shelley's ashes were taken to Rome by trilani and Byron,
and there they lie, still today, under the ancient pyramid,
that overlooks the chimitero a catoleco of the eternal city.
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Core cordium.
Nothing of him that death fade, but death suffer a sea change into sea.
That's the full epitaph.
The verses come from Shakespeare's The Tempest.
The epitaph proclaims Shelley, the heart of romantic poetry,
which as we know, was a poetry of the heart.
But without the organ there to ground its reference,
the Latin phrase, core cordium hangs on the tombstone as a mere figure of speech.
Does that matter?
After all, who today believes that the heart is in some literal sense,
the seed of our passions, the organ of our soul, the privileged locus of our personhood?
Who among us today would behave in earnest like Bookcatros Hero in Gizmunda,
when she's presented with her lover's extracted heart in a golden chalice by her angry father,
laying kisses on it, speaking to it, pouring tears over it,
we would sooner donate a loved one's heart to medical research than apostrophize it.
It's been a long time since all the biological, spiritual, perceptual,
and relational extensions of the self were centralized in this palpitating organ.
And yet, when Trilani retrieves Shelley's heart from the flames,
when has the impression that he still believed the organ had a singular status,
that it was the vessel of an irreducible principle of identity,
that it was the ultimate source of inspiration for Shelley's poems?
Certainly Mary Shelley cherished its relic as something which, even in its inanimate state,
contained the essence of the one to whom her own heart was sworn.
Some superstitions die hard, you'll say, but it would be complacent of us merely to the
assume that when we talk about heartbreak and valentines and the heart of darkness,
we are speaking figuratively about an organ that, from a literal point of view,
has nothing to do with our emotions, moods, or personality to say nothing of our courage or lack thereof.
What do we really know about the heart's secret chambers?
What do we know about its role in the rhizomatic interconnectedness of life,
not only inside a given body, but between the body and the external world?
We know we depend on its ticking to stay alive.
Indeed, we know a great deal about the ticking mechanism as such.
But is it also true, as the Janssenous Blaze Pascal once wrote,
that the heart has reasons that reason knows nothing about?
Is there in fact something about the organ that remains mysterious that, to this day,
resists analysis and dissection that resists the tyranny of literalization?
These are some of the questions we'll be engaging during the next hour, not in the abstract,
not in a scientific or cardiological vein, but from various historical perspectives
that will help us to appreciate how and why the heart became the sentimentalized metaphor it represents for most of us today.
In the background of this worn out metaphor, there is, in fact, a long medical, theological and cultural history.
That is our topic today, and it's my distinct pleasure to welcome to the program two very special guests,
both of whom have pertinent thoughts to share with us about the history and question.
Joining me in the studio today is Heather Webb, an assistant professor of Italian literature at Ohio State University,
who received her PhD from Stanford in 2004, and who has just finished a book called The Medieval Heart.
My other guest is Connie Solati, who has been an inspired and inspiring teacher of high school students at Sacred Heart Preparatory in Atherton, California.
Connie Solari has recently been researching and giving lectures on the French St. Madeline Sophie Barra, the 19th century founder of the religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and their international network of schools.
Heather and Connie, welcome to the program.
Thank you very much, Robert.
This is the first time I've had two guests on the same show, and I'd like to take you one at a time if you don't mind, starting with you, Heather,
and then moving on to Connie before opening our hour to a discussion between the two of you.
So if you'll stand by a minute, Connie, I'm going to ask Heather about this very fascinating book you've just finished called The Medieval Heart, which deals with how the heart was conceived prior to Harvey's revolutionary contribution to modern cardiology.
And I know this is a rather tall order, but could you tell us in a schematic fashion how the Medieval conception of the heart was very different than the modern post-Harvey conception?
Well, the fundamental difference we have to begin with is the notion of a circulation of blood.
So for Medieval scholars in the West, there was no notion of the circulation of blood.
In short, they thought of the heart as an organ where blood was produced and then pushed into the rest of the body where it was used up by organs and other members.
The blood did not come back to the heart.
So that's the fundamental difference we have to begin with.
But I argue that in fact, the Medieval Heart is profoundly circulatory, not in the way we think of it today, but in any number of other ways.
And to get at what I mean by that, I think we need to look at four dominant conceptions of the heart that existed in the Medieval period.
And dominant conceptions is a term that I'm borrowing from Ludwig Feck, who is a Polish philosopher of science.
And dominant conceptions, I think actually is a very useful way of thinking about the heart in that.
What this means is we're looking at conceptions that permeate the atmosphere, conceptions that pervade culture,
that are not merely discussions between specialists.
It's not the most modern research, it's not the latest thing.
But it's rather those level of conceptions that reach into literature, into religion, and becomes sort of the common ideas.
And so the four dominant conceptions that I'd like to list are first.
The notion that the heart is the sovereign of the body, that it is where all power and control comes from in the body.
Second, that the heart is a gendered and generative organ, that it is the heart that is in fact responsible for procreation and reproduction.
Third, that the heart breathes that it's essentially a respiratory organ, that external air comes directly into the heart when we breathe in.
And also that air comes into the arteries through pores in the skin.
So it's in direct contact to the external world in this way.
And then last, the notion that the heart is the beginning and end of life.
It is the first thing in the body, the first thing that creates life, and it is at the last thing at the end when the heart stops life ends.
So those are the four conceptions that I think are fundamental to medieval thought about the heart, and that have all changed today.
A number of questions I'd like to ask you to try to get them in some kind of order.
First, when you talk about the sovereign heart, do you mean that the medieval's believe that the heart had sovereignty on the base of the analogy of a kingship or something over all the other organs and everything else that took place in the heart?
Is this sovereignty something that was specific to the Middle Ages or did it have roots in Aristotle or ancient physiology?
Well, that's precisely the debate. And I look principally at the 14th century where there's a really interesting moment and that there are two competing visions that go on at this time.
And what we see in the 14th century is a real resurgence of Aristotelian ideas that would put the heart at the center of all things and say, in fact, the heart is the source of all power and motion within the body.
But at the same time, we've got very powerful, glenic ideas at this time that suggests instead that no, the brain is doing a lot of what Aristotle would say the heart is doing, and in fact, the liver is making blood and it's the brain that's in charge of motion and sensation.
And so it's a real battle for medieval to try and deal with these two competing views. They have such great respect both for Aristotelian and for Galen.
So we get a number of really interesting symphancies that come through Avocenna and go through, for example, Albert the Great.
And it's really difficult for them to reconcile these two. I, in fact, I have a quote here from Albert the Great where he talks about the way in which they can make sense of this dispute.
And I'll just read that if I may.
Galen must have been mistaken. We will prove the words the first master, and he means Aristotle there, by setting forth the supposition that the soul is one power in and of itself, from which flow all the powers of the members.
Since it is organic, there will necessarily be one member in which it is located and from which it causes all powers to flow.
And just as it is the principle of the powers, so will that member necessarily be the point of origin of the organs.
Now, it is agreed that the soul with respect to the act and power of life is in the heart.
It is therefore necessary that the heart be the point of origin of all the nerves and the veins through which the soul accomplishes its operations and the members.
That's very interesting. I'd like to go through all those four dominant conceptions you listed, but I'm afraid it might take up too much time.
So let me just ask the dominant question, which is, is there something more at stake in your reconstruction of the medieval heart in all its complexity, its centrality, the fact that it was a generative organ, as well as respiratory organ, and the beginning and end of life and so forth?
Is there something more than just pure historical antiquarian interest for us? Or is there a way in which our more refined knowledge of the physiology of the heart in the medieval conception of it opens up a deeper understanding in a number of other areas outside of physiology.
So, the same way you mentioned a few, like poetry, theology, even politics and the politics of the church as well as the state.
Yes, what opens up a number of worlds both past and present, and I think these are true, these are continue to be tremendously relevant questions today because at the time that I'm looking at the 14th century, what is being discussed here is essentially texts.
And so in this case, we have a number of authorities on the subject to someone like Dante is equally an authority, as for instance an anatomist.
The discussions are very much pervasive and are ways of thinking about questions, for example, how does the soul inhabit the body?
How do we know that life has begun? How do we know that life has ended? And I think these are still questions that have a new kind of relevance today.
We went from this idea that so the heart is what determines death, right? When the heart stops, that's death.
Now we have this concept that we call brain dead, which is now the dominant concept that we use, the heart stops all the time and get restarted.
We know well.
Yes, but brain dead is the concept we've been working with now, but as if you look at the case of Terry Shivo and others, it's not exactly so easily defined.
So how do we say what life is and where it inhabits the body? Where is life and the body? What makes that life my own? That which is proper to me.
We have these same kinds of questions about the beginnings of life. What do we call human life?
And so again, I think that what the medieval, this reconstruction of the medieval heart opens up for us new ways of thinking about these questions in that if we've made the transition from, for instance, death determined by the heart to death, determined by the brain.
And now we may need another way to think about that. Perhaps brain dead is not a very simple concept and maybe it won't continue to work for us. How are we going to find new ways of thinking through these issues?
Well, if we can make this move to look back, perhaps we'll find the material for future dominant conceptions, future conceptions of how these things work.
And you're suggesting that it would be by retrieving the medieval notion of a non-literal kind of circulation where the heart was the central agency for all sorts of activities and events that traffic between body and mind and spirit and soul and external environment and so forth, right?
Well, I think the point about the external environment is crucial here and it shows another way in which this is relevant to us today and a way in which the medieval heart might provide a kind of figure for thinking through what we're learning about the body today.
In that the medieval heart is understood to be in circulation with the external world, not merely within a single body. And in fact, that's the radical idea, I think, that we need to get back to, the sense that the heart is always working in concert with the environment.
And that the heart is very much susceptible. That thing, which we often now tend to think of as the innermost, most hidden, most secret, most sealed part of ourselves, is instead always radically open to the outside world.
These ideas are coming back to you now today. When we look, now when we try to look at the health of an individual body, we're understanding more and more that we have to look outside of that individual body to think about outcomes.
And there have been recent studies, for example, of heart attack survivors to try to find, to look at survival rates and predictions for survival rates, what they've found is the best indicator has nothing to do with the individual, but rather lies in their social networks.
So again, what we're finding is we have to look outside of individual bodies to understand individual bodies. The body is completely working in concert with the environment.
So until we can get back outside of these Harvey and ideas that the heart as being sealed with Ann is being hidden deep within us as sort of a way of understanding the body as infinitely sealed off from the outside world is somehow hermetically closed. If we can get back behind that and then also forward to a notion of a body that is instead radically open to independent upon the external environment.
Great. Do you have an example or two maybe from medieval literature and maybe medieval theology that you can share with us?
Well, I've got a number. We've got, I've brought with me some Dante, some Catherine of Sienna. It depends on those are which way we want to go with this here.
Loved enough for me.
How about starting with Dante and then Catherine of Sienna?
Okay. Well, one crucial, I mean that there are fundamental examples in Dante all over. The heart for Dante is where poetic inspiration takes place.
And when we say inspiration, this is not merely a trope. This is meant very, very literally of a breathing in of the presence of the beloved that then will come forth in the form of poetry.
And you get this from the very first moments when Dante sets out to describe his poetic career if you look at the Vita and Wava and the time that nine-year-old Dante sees Beeth Rijte for the first time. I'll just read from that and we can get a sense of sort of the physiology that's involved in the process of looking at the beloved.
At that moment, I say truly that the spirit of life and this is Lósperito de la Vita, which dwells in the most secret chamber of the heart, began to tremble so strongly that it appeared terrifying in its smallest veins.
And trembling it said these words, "Behold, a god, more powerful than I, who comes to rule over me." At that point, the animal spirit, which dwells in the upper chamber to which all the spirits of the senses carry their perceptions, began to marvel greatly.
And speaking especially to the spirits of sight, it said these words, "Now has appeared your beatitude." At that point, the natural spirit, which dwells in that part that ministers to our nourishment, began to weep.
And weeping said these words, "retched me for often hereafter shall I be impeded."
And this is a lovely example because it gives us, first of all, it shows us how much Dante was aware of the physiology, the way in which the body was understood to work, in that he divides these three spirits that were understood to work within the body, the spirit of life is the one that dwells in the heart.
It's interesting to note that the first receptor of Bheaterite's presence is, in fact, the heart. And that's what then communicates to the rest of the body.
So talking about control and centrality within the body, it's the heart that reacts to her first, then communicates this to the animal spirit, that would be the one in the brain.
And finally to the natural spirit in the liver.
But as you can see, the experience of the beloved, of the vision of the beloved, has tremendous physiological effects.
And in fact, it is the heart that frames the entire comedia. Dante begins the comedia with Paura and Elago del Cor, fear in the lake of the heart.
Fear in the heart itself, right? He understands it in this way. And then it ends. The comedia actually ends with the description of the inspirations.
And the inspiration that then will give rise to the entire poem itself. And I'll just read those last lines from the end of the Padadiza, if I may.
Such is one who dreaming seas and after the dream, the impression of passion remains for nothing more returns to the mind. Such a one am I for my vision all but ceases and still in my heart is distilled a sweetness that is born of that.
So when he sees God, that last moment Padadiza, when he sees God, it's something that doesn't return to the mind. He makes the point. It's not with the mind that he can access this. The vision has ceased, but there is a sweetness distilled within his heart. That's what he's left with. And that's what gives us eventually the comedia.
In fact, my little pun on the word courage in the lead-in was, "Coradjoy" comes from the word heart now, obviously. So lacking courage there in this fear in the heart was intended very literally. But of course, again, it's the question of whether now we are reading him as using a kind of physiology that was just merely mistaken.
The pre-caparineken view of the world was just based on false assumptions or whether there's something actually that can be retrieved as he was suggesting that it can. I tend to agree with you.
But when you're dealing with the phenomenon of life, it's very different than the cosmos insofar as it's animat and there's something very mysterious. Sometimes we can't always be sure we're getting to the bottom of, through objectification.
Now, the heart has had a huge history in Christianity as well, no? Yes. And we can't reconstruct that history by any measure, but you did mention Catherine of Siena and perhaps it would be interesting to talk about her a little bit and the role that the heart plays in her mysticism, especially in relation to Dante in this physiology you're talking about.
Yeah, there are a number of heart stories that we find in the Middle Ages in that the heart is meant to be understood to be the principal place where the divine can inhabit the individual.
So in cases of divine possession of Christ entering the heart, these things can't be understood in very literal kinds of ways.
We even have stories like Quetta of Montefalgo, whose heart is dissected after her death and across a crucifix is found within her heart.
So this is understood in a very literal way. Something that I have looked at, I find very interesting, Catherine of Siena's letters where she talks about some of her mystical visions, including one where she describes a heart exchange and maybe I'll read from that and that it becomes a story that I think ends up being important for the cult of the Sacred Heart that we'll get to.
And this is from one of Catherine's letters written to Pope Urban the Sex, written a few days before she died. And she tells the story of a conversation she had with God and Catherine's quoting herself here.
Oh, eternal God received the sacrifice of my life into the mystical body of the Holy Church. I do not have anything to give except that which you have given to me. Take out my heart then and press it on the face of this spouse.
And so eternal God, turning the eye of his mercifulness, took out my heart and pressed it in the Holy Church. And he took it to himself with such force that if he hadn't immediately, not wishing that the vessel of my body be broken, encircled it with his strength, my life would have been lost.
So here she's describing the way in which the love that she has in her heart and the heat actually, this comes back, this does relate back to some ideas of physiology as well and that she describes the church elsewhere as pale and pleated of blood by those who have been mistreating her by those who have fed from her without giving back to the church.
And so Catherine here describes the heat of her own heart, she describes her strength even speaks of virility and things like this as being able to re-infuse the church with life through the blood from her heart.
It becomes even more interesting at some point in that her confessor rewrites this story later on when he writes his biography of Catherine hoping to help her get on her way to the same hood.
And he adds another little bit in it and I'll maybe I'll read his account of it as well.
Later on one occasion, Catherine prayed fervently like the prophet, create a pure heart in me God and renew a virtuous spirit in my flesh.
The Lord came to her in a vision and he opened her left side, removed her heart so that she remained without a heart inside.
And other day she was surrounded by a light from the sky and in the light appeared the Lord holding in his sacred hands a human heart red and shining.
The Lord opened her left side again. He put his own heart which he held in his hands inside her saying here dearest daughter since I took away your heart before now I be queef to you my heart so that you may live forever.
Raymond locates all of Catherine's apostolic journeys after this event that she is in fact possessed by Christ's heart. She is a vessel for Christ's heart and in her all of her actions which were so unusual for a woman at the time.
She was actually acting as a vessel of Christ.
This is a story that's taken up in a lot of different ways over the centuries.
Well that fascinating is a good transition really to Connie Solari who also joins us here from the Sacred Heart preparatory because now Connie you are teaching at an institution which is called Sacred Heart.
And this network of schools was founded in the 19th century by St. Madeleine Sophie Baha.
And yet although she was not the founder of the Sacred Heart devotion can you before we talk about her and the Sacred Heart school project can you say something about when did the Sacred Heart devotion begin and what connections it might have to this.
I think St. Madeleine Sophie herself said the devotion to the Sacred Heart really began at the moment Christ's side was pierced and blood and water flowed out of it.
The biblical origins of the devotion are in the Gospel of St. John and this captured the imagination of mystics and individuals for many many centuries before the devotion was formed.
It was formalized in any way. Certainly the late middle ages, the period that Heather's dissertation really focuses on was a period when this devotion began to really take off.
And you can consider that many of the devotions over the centuries to the wounds of Christ, the Franciscans and other monastic communities had devotion to the wounds of which certainly the most.
profound and literally central one was the wounded heart.
So you have girdroods and meckthills and all kinds of wonderful mystics and saints from all over Europe.
Having experiences similar to the one that Heather just described, I think the devotion to the Sacred Heart as we sort of come to see it in the more modern world.
Was enabled largely by St. Margaret Mary Alacalk who was a 17th century French visitation nun who experienced a vision that in some ways is profoundly similar to the one that Heather just quoted and I think what I might do is quote what her first major revelation was on the Feast of St. John in 1670.
She claims that Jesus came to her, his heart impassioned with love for her, but at the same time with a certain level of unhappiness because of the way that she and her community and the world in general was not grateful enough for the great sacrifice that he had made.
So after sort of giving her this combined eulogy and sanction, he tells her that he's chosen her as an abyss of unworthiness to accomplish this great work so that everything will be done by me.
Afterwards, he asked for my heart.
I begged him to take it and he did, placing it in his own heart.
He let me see it there like a little atom consumed in a burning furnace.
Then he returned it to me as a burning heart shaped flame and placed it where it had been saying, here is a precious token of my love, my beloved.
This will enclose a tiny spark of living flame within your side, it will serve as your heart and consume you until your last moment.
So this very, very passionate experience was followed by three more, the final one of which I believe delivered something called the 12 promises and among those promises were your home would be particularly blessed if you had an image of the Sacred Heart in your home.
If you had communion for the first Friday of nine consecutive months, that would bring you special blessing and so on.
And through the assistance of her Jesuit confessor and then later after her death to other Jesuits and others, I'm sure the devotion was eventually ratified by the Pope and about 15 years before the birth of Saint Louis.
This became an official devotion with the first Fridays being a commonly followed act with the official Feast of the Sacred Heart, which was not an official Feast of the Church until then, being established and so on.
So it's already a devotion that it's been in the imagination certainly since the death of Christ, but it becomes codified and then continues to grow really until Vatican II when the devotion was more or less repressed, it was discouraged.
And so Sophie Barra was a very exceptional woman in things that you've written, you speak about her as exceptional in three or four different domains.
First she was exceptional intellectual, she was an exceptional entrepreneur, an exceptional mystic and in other respects as well.
Why don't we talk about her education first?
Yes, because I think while she considered herself Margaret Mary's spiritual daughter, she's very different from Margaret Mary and one large reason for that is the extraordinary education that she received as a girl and young woman.
Her brother was a Jesuit, wasn't called a Jesuit at the time because they were repressed, but he eventually did officially join the Jesuit order and she was taught the church fathers in the original languages.
She did read Dante in Italian, in fact she was still carrying him around in translation well into her 60s.
She studied literature, she spoke French, she spoke Spanish, she read Greek and Latin, and she was an extraordinarily gifted student so much so that she was bettering the test scores of her brother's students at the College down the street in Zuan Yi.
I think he made of Sophia, his creature on some level.
He saw in her extraordinary gifts, I think he saw that she was destined for the religious life and when she was just still a teenager he brought her to Paris and when she was 20 years old, she was told that she was going to be the head of a new religious order that was the brainchild of the
her brother working with a couple other French Catholic priests who wanted to found an order of women devoted to the sacred heart who would educate children.
So she is a woman of enormous learning and I think this learning tempered a great deal that mysticism of Margaret Mary.
Can we talk before about the mysticism but the entrepreneur or the aspect in other words very succinctly, what is it that she founded institutionally speaking?
What is the sacred heart school network?
The network of sacred heart schools today is a group of almost 160 schools operating in 28 countries, I believe in the moment.
On every continent there are 3,000 religious of the Sacred Heart working in 40 some odd countries in establishments that are educational but not necessarily sacred heart schools.
She started with a school in Amia, France that was the very first foundation within very few years that number grew to 8 by the time she died there were I believe 80 schools in at least 15 or 20 countries.
It was an organization that grew very rapidly and large part because they were recognized as offering a very extraordinary education.
Unfortunately they were also identified early on with education of the elite, many of the schools did in fact educate aristocrats but Sophie's vision always included the establishment of poor schools as well schools for children who never would have been able to have an education.
That is what I think is the heart of the vision of the social community.
And she was actually committed to the poor in her own way, I believe.
Yes, decidedly.
So in what way is the heart at the heart of the vision, institutional vision of Sophie?
I think I'll maybe just begin with a statement that she made that again resonates with what Heather said.
It is not a question of a heart of flesh.
The heart is the center of the affective movements of the soul and for Sophie to educate a child's intellect without forming that child's heart and by extension soul is a completely empty enterprise.
And I think schools of the Sacred Heart today continue with that notion that we are educating students whose goal is to emerge into the world with a very profound sense of social justice to sort of be the heart of God on earth which was the central vision I think the central object of the adoration of the heart of Jesus,
She asked of her religious, we certainly don't ask that of our late teachers today, but we do ask of our teachers to instill in their students through their instruction through their very being a way of being in the world that exhibits that woundedness and that openness to the woundedness of the world that is so very obvious if you open your eyes.
Which goes back to what Heather was saying about the heart is the opening onto the world from inside the body through a wound I suppose, the wounded heart or the burning heart you mentioned fire and this also reminded me of the Vitaanwava where you read from the moment when he sees Beatrice and all these things happening in him physiologically, but you remember there's that dream.
When he sees her where he, the God of love is holding Beatrice in her his arms and there's a flaming object in the hands of the God of love and he says, Vitaakor, tomb, look at your heart, behold your heart.
And he then forces Beatrice to eat it, consume it and somehow his heart from that moment on seems to have been consigned over to this swing.
So it's definitely an organ, I don't know if that's using too literal a term, but it's definitely a phenomenon.
It is, I think for the Sacred Heart order for the RSCJs, it is and it was always meant to be conceived as something more than an emblem of the majesty of God.
It's an emblem of the compassion of God and that wound in the woundedness.
Interestingly, I think it's very present in old icons of the Sacred Heart and as it continues to be envisioned by artists and one of our religious recently has asked people in every country who are associated with Sacred Heart to send images of the Sacred Heart as it would be operative in the 21st century as it would make sense to us in the 20th century and fire and water and blood.
Our all very much part of that and this essential porosity that you talk about in chapter two, the openness of the heart, the breathing quality of the heart and the general porosity.
And it's interesting how the cult of the Sacred Heart is really so much a product of the same period and that biblical accounts, if I mean I may be mistaken in this, but it's my understanding of the biblical accounts of the wounding of Christ, don't actually indicate that the Lance reached Christ's heart or that the heart was in fact wounded and it's Saint Bernard of Clervo who died in 1153 who is one of the first to make it clear that the Lance wounding Christ's side touched his heart.
And then it's Saint Bonaventure as well and who died in 1274 who really expands on this talking about living within the heart of Christ and envisioning the wound as an entry way.
And so it's interesting to see these 12th and 13th century thinkers opening further that wound as in their thought and really kind of elaborating this notion that you can get into the wound of Christ and that you are meant to do that, but meant to somehow inhabit Christ's wound.
So I think that's interesting connection there.
Well certainly a wound is an opening that has been provoked through interaction with the world.
The fact that it's related to suffering, passion and hence can engender compassion is also part of the association, but the, and an ontological level, the woundedness of the wound,
is something that shows the degree to which the body or the soul is porous as you say in your book on the medieval heart.
So would, would either of you like to say something more about what it would mean in the Christian context to inhabit the heart, to inhabit the world as if
one, not as if one, but as a mode of inhabiting the heart of Christ.
Connie, do you want to take a shot at that?
Sure. I mean this again is what we sort of presume our mission to be.
And I think the, the spirituality of the RSCJs today would rest very much on that notion of not just inhabiting the heart.
Of God, but using that space, I suppose, of inhabitation to then project oneself back onto the world in a way that exhibits that fundamental generosity, which is how I prefer to translate, I guess, the third theological virtue, the, the, the love of God that is completely unrestricted, that is, it's not just the same thing.
That is, it gives of itself unendingly.
And I think you see this in recent spirituality documents that are written that have been very recently written by the RSCJ actually just in the last two or three years.
You see it in their work as an NGO at the UN, which is devoted very much to the Millennium Goals.
And as a Sacred Heart educator again, there is this trickle-down effect that you, you become this compassionate, the operative metaphor for the educator is mother.
You are a mother with all that that term brings with it and it's not a gendered term.
Yeah, I've always taken the wound of Christ on the cross to be more vulnerable than, than heart like.
But I loved a lot of what Heather talked about in that chapter on the gendered heart.
Yeah, in fact, I wanted to ask Heather about the, you spoke about generosity and Heather, you spoke about the generative power of the heart in the, in the medieval conception.
Can you say a little bit more about the heart as a generator?
Yes, well, the notion, and this is primarily for the natural philosophers, there's some disagreement with the, with the physicians on this and the anatomists, but people like Dante, for example, were referencing more natural philosophers and they understood that it was the heart that actually contained the seed of new life.
Dante tells us in Porto Gatorrio 25 that it is perfected blood in the heart that takes on there the power to shape all human members and that is what essentially becomes the seed.
This is in his lengthy discussion of embryology and how new life is created.
So there's that on the one hand, and at the same time there's a notion that it is the heat of the heart that determines the sex of a person.
So the, the hotter the heart, the more masculine the person.
And so it's interesting in that it's not easy binary there.
You know, there are people like Catherine of Sienna have very hot hearts.
You know, she in fact says that hers is capable of sustaining this poor bride of the church, you know, describes herself as one of the nights on the battlefield fighting for that poor bride.
And so it's an interesting way again that it has a lot in common with way we're thinking about sex and gender today again.
Not as what we expect.
It's simply that in the medieval period, if you think about sex as being dependent on the heart rather than on, for instance, the genitals, you have a different way of thinking about it that allows for gradation.
And again, today we're coming back to this notion that it's not specifically the genitals that determine the sex of a person.
So again, there's an interesting consonance in the way in which these ideas allow us to get moved forward beyond what are, what are our current dominant conceptions of how these things work and that have perhaps becoming, are becoming limiting to us in some ways now.
So that engendering power that the heart has, which might have been associated traditionally with the male active principle in Aristotelian terms, if you like.
But there's also, your book suggests in that chapter I believe that the heart is also a womb receptor.
It's not just a giver of life. It's also a receptacle. Can you talk about that aspect of the gender issue?
Yeah, it's very interesting in that on the one hand, the heart sends things forth, it sends forth the seed that creates new life.
And at the same time, it is highly receptive to the outside world and this goes for the male heart as well as the female heart.
And numerous poets are interested in figuring, numerous male poets are interested in figuring the heart as a womb that is receptive to the outside world.
And Dante's poetics of true inspiration dictates that his heart must be open to the outside world and available to the presence that is véa trité,
But then something will be birthed from the heart will come forth from the heart in the form of poetry that is somehow authentic to its source of inspiration.
And it's not just Dante, you get this all over and, you know, Kavalkante, on the other hand takes us back to this discussion of the wound in that for him.
I mean, he's still referencing these notions of the heart being essentially open to the outside world.
Kavalkante was Dante's contemporary, also Koy, no?
Yeah, and for him, he describes the experience of love as always being a kind of wounding.
And describes poetry as something that must take place through the wound in the heart.
And it's always described as a little, as a birthing.
In fact, I have a couple lines from him here.
He says, they turned with their eyes so that they saw how my heart was wounded and how a little spirit born of tears came forth from that wound.
So it is specifically described as a birthing from the wound in the heart.
But it's interesting to note that you don't need to be wounded.
Anyway, the medieval heart was open in this way through the pores, through the mouth, through all of the senses, the senses,
were understood to principally bring material from the outside world into the heart.
So this was always taking place.
Voice comes forth from the heart, bringing forth products that have gone in somehow from that outside world.
So in that gets back to the respiration, which is one of the four dominant conceptions, which is related to inspiration, no?
And of course, that's also interesting in terms of the embryology that you referred to because while the embryo is forming, there's a certain point at which God breathes the soul into the embryo.
Now, Connie, you have read Heather's book and found it very relevant for your reflections on Sophie.
Yes. I always struck in every single chapter about these amazing connections.
In fact, I've shown some of the quotes from her dissertation to a couple of religious who were astounded at how these ideas seem to underscore so much of the
Sophie's belief and by extension the educational philosophy.
And it's not surprising because when you do read about her education and whom she read and whom she loved, many of these figures, Heather mentions are ones that she was very closely connected to.
But there were in this particular chapter that we're talking about right now, the notion of the heart as womb and at the same time, heart as generative, expelling, hot energy.
I mean, that kind of respiration motion again is so reminiscent of what Sophie told her religious directly.
And I think we're being told indirectly that you empty yourself. There's a necessity of emptying yourself completely in order to be filled with that love that comes from adoration, from prayer.
And then what the educator does, much like the poet, is meant then to take that inspiration and throw it back out as educators.
And this was an unusual body of women who were both contemplative and apostolic.
They were the first order ever to have that double designation finished with the contemplative and then move into this apostolic work, which is nothing if not a sort of
projecting outward, outward breathing.
Well, Heather sheets, she talks about your dissertation. It was actually, I read your dissertation with you wrote in 2003, 2004.
And of course, and I also know how the book that you've done is a very expanded, highly elaborated, you know, sort of a version of that.
Because if it's tripping this thing that both of you are talking about, like the heart containing a seed, which then goes on to develop into something full blown and that book the medieval heart has really done that for sure.
And so, it's, is there something in your itinerary and that where you began with, you're thinking about the heart in primarily in your dissertation, it was more the medieval literature and with special emphasis obviously on the Italian poets, no?
All these elaborations that branched out into more and more into, you know, natural philosophy, anatomy, theology, politics with Catherine of Siena and so forth.
How did this develop in that way?
Well, I began with a very simple question, I was reading Dante and when he kept talking about the heart, I thought, well, what does he really think the heart is doing? What does he really mean when he says the heart?
Because there was this moment that I noticed when you get this sort of on the one hand, the very emblematic heart, you know, the burning heart and the Vithanwava that you mentioned doesn't seem to reference the physical organ in any way.
And yet there are these other moments, like that description of the moment when he sees Bayatrice, that seemed to really reference a very specific set of physiological ideas.
And I was really interested with this alternation back and forth between the metaphorical heart and the literal heart.
And that was where, that was where I began.
And as I continued to read and read along, I found that in fact this does open onto a number of other discourses and in fact, since it is, it is such a dominant conception,
these dominant conceptions that run through all different kinds of discourses, you have to move from one to the next.
And so I was sort of of necessity taken through these different ideas and found that there was much to be said in looking back and forth between religious and literary and medical and philosophical texts.
And that's sort of the book that I came to was through that search, moving back and forth between those disciplines that were not so distinct at the time.
And in your case, Connie, you have a narrative about your engagement with Sophie Bata, which is in a different vein, but nevertheless it interweaves a number of motifs, not just the life of Sophie Bata.
And her founding of the order, but your kind of experience, especially as a reader, also of other works of literature in particular Virginia Woolf, and then your own personal existentialist experience as well, that you find that there is some special connection there that you could call it a heart connection perhaps, no?
Yes, I think you could. Yes, I mean, I was asked to give a talk for all the heads of schools in the United States, and it was just supposed to be on my relationship with Madeline Sophie, a name I've heard for 36 years, having worked at the school this long, but never thought about very much.
It was a moment of discernment, one of those gifts where you are able to pay attention and look for connections, and in a sense, in my case, claim a Sophie Bata that had meaning for me beyond any that I ever dreamed.
I mean, it's an exercise I wish many of our educators and students can do as well, but having met Heather serendipitously about halfway through the process of writing the speech, enabled me to begin an understanding of her that, again, it extends through literature, which is my particular passion and theology, which is a growing interest of mine.
And Dante, actually.
And Dante, of course. I mean, when I discovered she had read him in the original as a teenager and was still traveling with him and inflicting him on her traveling mates in the carriage, whether they wanted to hear him or not, I was, you're a whole thing.
You're sold on it.
I was completely sold, completely sold, yes.
That's the one thing among others that we do have in common all three of us, I guess Dante is at the center of our literary preoccupations for sure.
So, we've kind of gotten to the end of our hour.
I'd like to thank both of you for coming on to entitled opinions.
I've been very interesting discussion and one that people will learn a lot from for sure.
I just keep trying to imagine what a cardiologist will think of what we've been talking about in the last hour.
And I think I'm going to circulate our show among people in the medical field to find out if it's something that, you know, a modern,
a modern day contemporary cardiologist can benefit from in terms of thinking about what he or she is doing when dealing directly with this literal organ that keeps us alive in life.
So, thanks again for coming on and for those of you who've been listening, we've been talking with Professor Heather Webb from Ohio State University, Professor of Italian there, visiting Stanford this quarter, and with Connie Solari, who teaches at the Atherton Sacred Heart Preparatory.
Thanks again.
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