The metaphorical heart – part 2

Witness of the archaic consciousness

Author: Dr. Annette Blühdorn
Category: Philosophy
Issue No: 91

In the second part of her article around the metaphorical heart, the author takes us further through the cultural history of the heart and exposes parallels between Christianity and the early Indian scriptures of the Vedas and Upanishads around the heart. At the same time, she goes a step further and introduces the concept of the body and the islands of the body. The place where the soul and sensations meet with the bodily stirrings and which leads man back to his original wholeness.

Augustine as an interface between antiquity and Christianity

Augustine occupies a mediating position in the transition from Greco-Roman antiquity to the newly emerging Christianity and the writings of the New Testament. According to Høystad, Augustine embodies a synthesis of these two traditions from which European culture ultimately emerged (74). Raised in the society of a late Roman province, Augustine led a life of pleasure and sensuality in his youth. For many years he was a follower of Manichaeism, a strictly dualistic religion, before he discovered Plotinus and Neoplatonism, increasingly irritated by the numerous rules and rituals of Manichaeism.






Plotinus’ philosophy, in turn, offered many points of connection to Christianity, to which Augustine finally turned at the age of 32, bidding farewell to his sensual life and eventually becoming a priest and bishop. Plotinus’ teaching was so attractive to Augustine because it meant the end of duality, which was replaced not only by the idea of unity, a “unity of the universe from the One from whom everything flows” (Bernhart, 964), but also by the certainty that this One is pure spirit, that is, immaterial.

Man’s highest goal and bliss is to reunite his soul with the Divine from which it emerged.

This happens in a perfect immersion in one’s self, namely in the Divine that is in man. Clear parallels to the philosophy of India can be seen here, especially to the philosophy of yoga, and it can be assumed that Plotinus had interest in and also knowledge of Indian thought (cf. Störig, 205).

Plotinus’ philosophical model of unity is reflected in Augustine’s concept of the heart, because the place of immersion, union and unity with God is for him the heart.

The heart forms a core point of Augustine’s philosophy and consequently is also at the center of his autobiography Confessiones (Confessions). Here it covers a semantic range that includes the fields of meaning soul, spirit, mind, insight, and reason (cf. Høystad, 72), which, according to Ilknur Özen, combines into the meaning of a personal unity as the center of personal existence “in which everything supposedly opposed can be found together” (25). For the heart in the Confessiones is a restless heart, torn between love of life in the world with all its pleasures and love of God.

Only in God can the heart find rest-this is the central statement of this book, which Augustine emphasizes at the very beginning of the first chapter: “Toward you you have created us, and restless is our heart until it finds rest, God, in you.” Rest in God means the end of brokenness, the end of division, the end of duality. Man reaches this when he frees himself from all desires and completely engages with God.

This experience of unity becomes possible only in the heart, “the organ of religious experience.”
(ibid., 27f).

Thus Augustine follows Plato’s approach of the internalization of feelings, which he, however, expands and deepens. With him the concept of inwardness takes its beginning, which lives on in German mysticism, and with him the heart becomes the seat of a soul that strives for God as the All-One, for the connection with Him, for the transcendent and the beyond. With this agenda, Augustine perfectly corresponds to the requirements of modern yoga, whose goal is also to unite one’s self with the higher God principle. A corresponding article by Christian Schmidt (‘Diving to the bottom of the soul with yoga’), which further elaborates the parallels between the Christian church father and yoga, can be found in the Sonntagsblatt – Evangelische Sonntagszeitung für Bayern.





New Testament and Christianity

With his ideology of the heart, Augustine, as a professing Christian, naturally also moves on the foundations of the New Testament. As already in the Old Testament, the heart is here a clearly defined quantity and not, as with the Greeks, a vaguely defined region that has to be described with different words. It is true that in the New Testament the term “heart” is mentioned only about 160 times, but here too the heart forms the identifying center of man.

About the author: Dr. Annette Blühdorn

Unsere Autorin Dr. Annette Blühdorn

Dr. Annette Blühdorn, studied classical philology, Slavic studies, German studies; doctorate on contemporary German poetry; many years of teaching as a university lecturer in England; yoga practitioner for over 35 years; certified Iyengar Yoga teacher, since 2014 with her own yoga studio in Millstatt, Carinthia; member of the editorial team of the association magazine of “Iyengar-Yoga Deutschland e.V.”; various publications.

This article has also been published on the German Website: Das metaphorische Herz Teil 2

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