emotion the heart

The Heart of the Matter

11:03:00 PMJoshua Stoner

The heart is a concept we take for granted today. It is typical for us to hear a phrase such as, “I was heartbroken when I heard the news,” or “My heart leapt for joy!” We know that it is not the physical heart that is being referred to when referenced in these expressions, but a reality that lies beyond the physical domain. No one follows such phrases with a clarifying statement, as if to assure the person that they weren’t referring to one of their vital organs.

The heart is not a modern concept though. It can be seen as a consistent idea in the Scriptures, which have been reverenced for thousands of years. It says in 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’” In the letter to the Hebrews, the author quotes Psalm 95 when he says, “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion…” (3:7-8) Finally, in John’s Gospel Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.” (14:1)

What is the heart that is spoken of in the instances mentioned above, both contemporary and ancient? Why is this concept so central to who we are? Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand takes up this question in his book The Heart.

In the opening pages of the text, von Hildebrand describes the heart as, “the most tender, the most inner, the most secret center in man…” (11) Von Hildebrand really begins his discussion of the human heart by using, as its foundation, the Sacred Heart of Jesus where “the plentitude of Divinity dwells.” (11) In this Heart we find “God’s infinite love for us in Christ-which is the source of our joy, our consolation, our hope…” (11) Von Hildebrand continues, stating that when we reflect on this sacred reality, “we are touching on the deepest and noblest mark of human nature: to have a heart capable of love, a heart which can know anxiety and sorrow, which can be afflicted and moved, is the most specific characteristic of the human person.” (11)

Using the Sacred Heart of Christ as the basis for his discussion on the human heart, von Hildebrand proceeds to take a brief look at the heart in the history of philosophy.

According to von Hildebrand, the heart has been largely marginalized in the field of philosophy throughout the centuries.[1] Much time has been spent by philosophers in developing concepts such as the intellect and the will, as well as the subsequent categories of virtues and passions. In his text, von Hildebrand ventures out to give the heart its rightful place in the field.

As Christians, we know we are called to open our hearts and be changed by the love of God, but in order to do this we must come to an understanding of our own hearts. Affirming this reality, von Hildebrand states, “If we are to understand the transformation to which our hearts are called, if we are to seize the full impact of the prayer…we must first discover the meaning and the role of the heart in man.” (18)

In the following posts, we will continue to explore what von Hildebrand observes and concludes about the heart of man.


Direct quotes taken from Dietrich von Hildebrand’s The Heart: An Analysis of Human and Divine Affectivity (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1977).

All Bible verses cited here are taken from the Revised Standard Version-Second Catholic Edition.


[1] See the introduction and first chapter of the text, specifically pages 19 and 25. 

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