The Heart of the Human Person
BOOK PICK: ‘Wisdom of the Heart: The Good, the True and the Beautiful at the Center of Us All’
WISDOM OF THE HEART
The Good, the True and the Beautiful at the Center of Us All
By Peter Kreeft
TAN Books, 2020
282 pages, $27.95
To order: tanbooks.com
As a regular person who operates within the realm of normal English, I find most philosophers and theologians impossible to read. Therefore, I really appreciate the work of professionals in these fields, as well as lay enthusiasts, who can summarize important works of philosophy and theology in a way untrained minds like mine can understand. Of these skilled popularizers, Peter Kreeft is one of the best.
Kreeft’s Wisdom of the Heart is so good I hardly know where to start.
It’s a work of philosophical and theological Christian anthropology, laser-focused on the concept of the “heart.” By delving into and deeply mining this concept, Kreeft explains what human beings are, how and why God made us, and how we ought to go about our lives. He builds the book upon the Three Transcendentals (Goodness, Truth and Beauty) and in terms of the three dimensions of the human person (the will, the mind and the emotions), relating these things to the heart: its “hands,” its “head” and its “heartbeat.”
Professor Kreeft’s distinct style is in full flower throughout, with mic-dropping passages like this:
“St. Stephen was in the ecstasy of joy in the very process of being stoned to death. … He had not just joy but ecstasy because he saw Christ enthroned in glory … and he forgave his murderers from his holy heart, with the very same words of the prayer Christ prayed from the Cross for his murderers: ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ His heart had become a great open canyon wall for Christ’s words to echo off of them. His smile as he said this must have enraged his torturers beyond endurance. … I suspect this is a stunningly accurate image of Hell, where the thing that tortures the damned is the very love and joy of God, which is the thing they hate and reject, but which God cannot turn off any more than the sun can turn off its light, because it is his very essence.”
And there are lovely similes and metaphors like this:
“Outside of mathematics, there are no totally ‘clear and distinct’ ideas, as Descartes believed. All ideas have penumbras around their edges. For instance, faith, though essentially an act of the intellect, has a volitional dimension (choice) and an emotional dimension (trust) too. The primary term of this whole book, the ‘heart,’ has many penumbras, and penumbras within its penumbra, as Mother Teresa’s wrinkles had wrinkles.”
And take awesome one-liners like this: “The stupidest of all thoughts that it is possible to think is the thought that there is no truth to think.”
I especially liked Kreeft’s thought exercise on the Seven Deadly Sins, in which he recrafts the list by substituting timely root causes of sin for the traditional ones. For example, instead of pride at No. 1, Kreeft puts “Autonomy, disguised as Freedom,” because the “demand for autonomy” is the root of pride. Envy occupies the No. 6 slot in the classic list, but Kreeft replaces it with “Equality, disguised as justice,” noting that envy is “the source of the demand for equality.”
Kreeft has managed, once again, to make philosophical and theological concepts not just understandable but inspirational. If I had to offer once criticism of the book, I would say that there’s a little too much going on here, as if Kreeft is trying to say … well, everything.
Maybe that’s the point, though. The human heart can never get enough of God’s love. The more God pours out his love, the more our hearts overflow, and the more we long for more.
And so on — God willing — ad infinitum.
Clare Walker writes from Westmont, Illinois.
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