The heart of Christ at Helfta: The influence of Aristotelian cardiology on the visions of Saint Gertrude the Great and Saint Mechthilde of Hackeborn

Paul Ernest Zarowny, Fordham University

Abstract

Saint Gertrude the Great (1256–1301?) and Saint Mechthilde of Hackeborn (1241?–1298), of a convent in Helfta, Saxony, are credited with being the first to practice a full-fledged private devotion to the Sacred Heart. This historical innovation followed from the numerous visions each nun had of Christ, many of which concern Christ revealing various mysteries of His heart to each. In contrast to previous commentators on the subject, Gertrude and Mechthilde have complex paradigms of how the Sacred Heart operates in the economy of salvation. ^ The rediscovery of the biological writings of Aristotle seems to have acted as a catalyst, inspiring Gertrude's and Mechthilde's new outlook on the Sacred Heart. Aristotle's theories of animal anatomy and physiology were entirely cardiocentric. Aristotle's biological works had been lost to the West until they were translated into Latin by Michael Scot around 1217. ^ The thesis of this study is that both Gertrude and Mechthilde accepted physiological paradigms which are basically Aristotelian for their understandings of how the Sacred Heart operates within the mystical body of Christ. Their visionary cardiocentricism can be shown to be analogous to peripatetic science. Aristotle provided a foundation upon which the two nuns could meditate on the importance of the heart of Jesus in the life of the Christian. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Medieval|Theology|History, Medieval

Recommended Citation

Paul Ernest Zarowny, "The heart of Christ at Helfta: The influence of Aristotelian cardiology on the visions of Saint Gertrude the Great and Saint Mechthilde of Hackeborn" (January 1, 2000). ETD Collection for Fordham University. Paper AAI9955977.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI9955977

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