The astonishing anthropology of The Catechism (2563)

Even when the new catechism came out I can remember being struck by the definition that it gave of the heart, but now I find it absolutely astonishing:

1.) The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place “to which I withdraw.”
2.) The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others;
3.) Only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully.
4.) The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives.
5.) It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death.
6.) It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation:
7.) It is the place of covenant.

(the numbering of the clauses is my own – ed.)

What account of human beings has ever accounted for that? Every Greek, Medieval, or Modern/Contemporary account I’m aware of either overlooks this or would have to explain it away.  In fact, the passage challenges the adequacy of all rational accounts of human nature and human life: there is an unmistakable critique of psychology in point 4, and of all philosophy in point 2 (especially in conjunction with 3 and 5).   



  1. thenyssan said,

    December 15, 2012 at 10:15 am

    I agree it’s pretty astonishing in concert. Many of them strike me as St. Augustine with an existentialist/personalist twist. I have trouble sensing the unity of the clauses…it feels like a concatenation of all the kinds of sources you list held in irreducible tension (plus Biblical/Hebraic).

    There are definitely places where I think the CCC is just sloppy or pasted together. Sometimes I think this is one of them; other times I think more like you on it.

  2. CJ Wolfe said,

    December 15, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Another part of the Catechism that I find to have astonishing anthropology is the section on intentional acts. It’s astonishingly GOOD anthropology in my opinion, G.E.M. Anscombe could have written it herself! But at the same time, the specificity of how it is written pretty much rules out some non-Thomistic (but still Catholic) approaches to intention such as those put forward by William of Occham.

    Almost all of what the Catechism says on a given philophically-related subject can be found somewhere in Augustine, and that’s definitely the case with Intention. However, Augustine’s corpus is so enormous and his way of writing so very dialectical, that when the Catechism puts some of these things forward as dogma I sometimes question the sense in doing that. It seems to me that the essential aspects of the faith should be in the Catechism, as well as some minimal anthropological information that must be held so that particularly reductivistic philosophical ideas do not interfere with faith. Otherwise I think it should leave philosophically debatable topics to philosophers

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