"AS SOON as you hear the words 'I confess,' you beat upon your
chest," said St Augustine of Hippo in one of his sermons. Since the
days of the Early Church, Christians have struck their breast as an
outward sign of penitence: "Strike the chest three times with the
right hand," the Roman Missal enjoins the priest, and the people
often followed suit.
By beating the chest, Augustine went on to say, the penitent
Christian "shows what lies hidden within the heart". On Wednesday
of last week, news websites around the world featured a video clip
of Jeb Bush, one of the Republican contenders for the United
States' presidency, likewise bringing his hand to his chest, but
not to confess sin - rather to deny it. This was no
outward demonstration of his wrongdoing, but an exoneration from
it. The contrast is striking.
Mr Bush was talking about climate change, which has been placed
firmly back on the agenda by Pope Francis and his encyclical
Laudato Si'. Francis may be "an extraordinary leader", but
in Mr Bush's eyes, he has overstepped his remit: "Religion ought to
be about making us better as people, less about things that end up
getting into the political realm."
This is where Mr Bush brings his hand to his chest. Recounting
it with gestures, like a liturgical text with a rubric, it would go
like this: "Religion ought to be about making us [here he touches
his breast -pectus manu percutit] better as people, less
about things that end up getting into the political realm."
Much could be said in criticism of this sentence, not least that
any such separation of religion, being better as people, and
politics uses those words in ways that ought to be unrecognisable
to the Christian religion.
The visual cue, with Mr Bush's hand brought to his chest,
suggests that the central question is about the role of the
His contrast is between the heart, which lies within us and is
supposedly the true realm for religion, and all those external
matters - melting icecaps, species on the verge of extinction,
displaced people - with which the Pope has overreached his
CERTAINLY, the heart has an honoured place in Jewish and
Christian thinking. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your
heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength," we read
in Deuteronomy, and Jesus took up those words as the first part of
his summary of the Law. The Hebrew word lev ("heart")
eludes precise translation, but ever since it was rendered into
Greek as kardia, we have turned to the idea of the heart
to express the innermost reality of a person.
Unfortunately for Mr Bush, neither Deuteronomy nor Jesus leaves
the matter there. Loving God, for them, also involves the soul and
strength. The first of those Hebrew words is nephesh, and
it refers to the whole of the person.
In a seemingly bizarre conjunction, the word is also used to
refer to the neck. The association, it seems, is that the neck, or
throat, marks the outer extremity of the person, the boundary
between a person and the world. The soul, nephesh, is not
some ethereal part of us, but the whole of what we amount to, to
our outermost edges. Aristotle, with his psuchē, and
Aquinas, with his anima, endorsed a similar vision.
After heart and soul comes strength: "You shall love the Lord
your God . . . with all your strength." This presents us
with even odder Hebrew usage. The word that we translate as
strength or might is meod, and it means "very", or
"muchness", "force", or "abundance". Alongside heart and soul,
then, the call is to love God with our "very" or "muchness".
To understand what is going on, consider that the Hebrew picture
is not like that of a philosopher who might describe the elements
of a human being as parts that add up to a whole (as Augustine
listed memory, intellect, and will, for instance). Rather, the
Hebrew vision is of concentric rings: the heart at the centre of
the person, the soul reaching out to her upmost periphery, and
meod spilling further out still: into her ambit, into the
world and as her influence on it.
Rather than a pie-chart division like memory, intellect, and
will, we have circles: heart, soul, and all that comes within the
reach of our strength. Money and livelihood are obviously in play
with meod, and the Aramaic Targums translate it as
MR BUSH would have us subscribe to an inward religion of the
heart. His words say so, and his gesture - see it for yourself
online - does so even more clearly. But neither Moses nor Jesus
would have religion end with the inward heart. For them, religion
takes in the soul, or nephesh: the whole of what we
Further still, the business of loving God involves our strength,
or meod. It extends to our ambit, to the world around us,
and to the influence we have upon it.
Mark's Gospel, and Luke's, record that Jesus also threw in "with
all your mind" for good measure: a point that those who dismiss the
science of climate change would do well to remember.
Slowly, since the Industrial Revolution, the behaviour of the
Earth's atmosphere has come to dance to the sound of a human drum:
the climate now bears human fingerprints. In this epoch, our
influence has become global, as Pope Francis reminds us in
Laudato Si'. And yet, his message is not without hope. We
have strength - meod - and if that strength can be
reconnected with heart and soul, and with mind, then it can be
power to heal, not only to harm.
As Pope Francis has shown again with his latest encyclical, an
integrated and healthy vision of the human being, and an integrated
and healthy vision of the wider human community, go together.
The Revd Dr Andrew Davison is the Starbridge Lecturer in
Theology and Natural Sciences at Cambridge University, Fellow in
Theology at Corpus Christi College, and Canon Philosopher of St