Heart—or Head? Veritas before Caritas
The Altar is the heart of the Church; it is a symbol of Christ. What does that mean for the Cathedral? The Altar should be at the crossing (where the arms of the transepts meet the nave).
— Rector’s Report, March 16, 2006
. . . liturgy is essentially the concern of the whole Body of Christ, Head and members. . . .
—Cardinal Ratzinger on the Old and the New Mass
The church building is an icon of the Church herself and a witness to the kingdom.
—Fr. Timothy V. Vaverek, The Church Building and the Paschal Mystery
. . . the architecture of early houses was based on the architecture of the human body. In Christ the Father performs this marvelous adaptation in a way that is beyond all possible expectations: we become his dwelling place by taking on the form of his Son's body. This configuration is given visible symbolization in cruciform churches: when the people of God assemble there, they take on the form of the crucified Christ. . . .
—Jean Corbon, The Sacramental Space of the Celebration (from The Wellspring of Worship), in Sacred Architecture, Fall/Winter 2002.
If the altar is a symbol of Christ, then it should be at the head of the Church, since Christ is the head (not the heart) of the church:
And he is the head of the body, the church. . . .
. . .the head, even Christ. . . .
. . . Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
Head and heart are not opposed:
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
The East has a concept of heart-and-mind:
I pointed to my heart as we usually do in Japan to show where kokoro is. She pointed to her head and said, “Kokoro is here.” I was amazed to discover that she was already translating the Japanese word kokoro into the English word “mind.”
Kokoro is a common Japanese word that carries meanings conveyed by the English words “mind” and “heart.”
. . . both xin [Chinese] and kokoro [Japanese] carry the physical and spatial meaning of heart, center, or essence, and the psychological meaning of mind. It is very interesting to see that Sanskrit and English have completely different words to point to heart or mind and have no word that combines both meanings.
—Shohaku Okumura, “Kokoro”, in Buddahdharma: The Practioner’s Quarterly
Even the West, head and heart are connected:
“Appealing to the emotions instead of the reason” is a stupid cliché. All appeals are to ideas. No candidate says: “Let me awaken your angry feelings.” He must stir up the feeling by giving it something to attach it to. Electioneering ideas are familiar ideas ready-charged with strong emotion: Die rather than yield; For God and Country; no more immigrants, soak the rich, more well-paid jobs, my opponent is a crook—these are ideas as truly as the Ten Commandments.
—Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, p. 536.
Yet one need need not be an anatomist or a Roman soldier to recognize the head “physically and spatially.” Our Gothic revival Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is in the form of a cross. Everyone knows the head of the cross. It is where the altar should be. Looking from the pews or the choir loft, the whole structure of the church points to and frames where the altar should be. Christ is the head of the church: where Christ is the altar should be.
An important theological point distinguishes head and heart: the primacy of truth. The point will be emphasized by Pope Benedict XVI, and an unknown Catholic thinker will come to light: Romano Amerio.
Amerio says, in essence, that the most serious ills present within Western thought today, including Catholic thought, are primarily due to a general mental disorder that places “caritas” before “veritas,” without considering that this disorder also turns upside-down the proper understanding that we should have of the Most Holy Trinity.
Before Descartes’ thought asserted itself within its heart, Christianity had always devoutly placed “veritas” before “caritas”, just as we know that it was from the divine mouth of Christ that the breath of the Holy Spirit came, and not the other way around.
—Father Divo Barsotti, “Only after laying down the foundation of truth”.
That “an almost total silence on the part of Catholic public opinion punished Amerio both during his lifetime and after it” (Sandro Magister, ibid.) suggests how little Catholics love truth. Let Christ be the Head, and we the members, of His Body.