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Orthodoxy Requires Orthopathy: Emotions in Theology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 January 2014

Edward Collins Vacek SJ*
Loyola University New Orleans


Those who study, teach, and write about orthodoxy typically omit almost entirely any explicit consideration of human emotions. It is not surprising, then, that theology can seem an abstract activity without much effectiveness either for inspiring ritual and moral practice or for fostering attachment to Christianity. Similarly, church leaders, in their concentration on orthodoxy or orthopraxy, pay insufficient attention to the affective alienation occurring within and among Christians. This article brings to bear on theology the burgeoning philosophical and psychological research on emotions. It develops the cognitive and participative nature of emotions; their role in forming both an existential faith and community; the legitimacy and independence but also the inadequacy of conceptualist theology; the conflicts, tensions, and mutual contributions of intellect and emotion; and, finally, the role of emotion in moving ideas to practice.

Horizons , Volume 40 , Issue 2 , December 2013 , pp. 218 - 241
Copyright © College Theology Society 2013 

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2 Riis, Ole and Woodhead, Linda, A Sociology of Religious Emotion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 172206CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Current liturgical wars, I suggest, are more about different sets of affections (in particular, transcendent versus immanent senses of holiness) than about language or specific gestures.

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6 Libraries of books have been written on how emotions can function badly in our lives. It is well beyond the scope of this article to treat those aberrances. One mistake to avoid, however, is to assume that our intellectual or volitional activities are always in themselves perfect and that therefore whenever they malfunction the cause lies in the emotions.

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10 In this article I am not addressing the “expressive” function of emotions, which is otherwise so important in life and community. See L'Abate, Hurt Feelings, 39–41; De Sousa, Emotional Truth, 33; Riis and Woodhead, Sociology of Religious Emotion; Taylor, Charles, Varieties of Religion Today (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002)Google Scholar, 7; Griffiths, What Emotions Really Are, 137–49; Clark, Margaret and Brissete, Ian, “Relationship Beliefs and Emotion,” in Emotions and Beliefs, ed. Frijda, Nico et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 212–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

11 Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1771.

12 A long line of thinkers, including Thomas Aquinas and William James, seem to restrict emotions to an experience of bodily activity, and many feminists, in their appropriate desire to reclaim the body, also tend to reinforce this limited understanding. See Cates, Diana Fritz, Aquinas on the Emotions (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2009)Google Scholar, 214; Berendsen, Desiree, “Traditions as Paradigm Scenarios,” in Religious Emotions, ed. Lemmens, Willem and Van Herck, Walter (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008), 6669.Google Scholar

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14 The Catechism (§§1763, 1765, 2093) is quite confused on this point. It says that the passions are movements of the “sensitive appetite,” that love is a passion, and that we can love God. Since God is not a sensible object, the passions must also be spiritual. Elsewhere I have tried to describe the enormous difficulties theologians have had in describing what it might mean to love God; see my forthcoming article “Problematic Love for God.”

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16 “Object” is here an epistemological category—namely, the referent of our cognitive acts. It extends to anything that can be known, including persons, and even God.

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25 Deonna and Teroni (Emotions, 91–98) try to distinguish the immediacy of ordinary sense perception from that of emotion by saying that the latter “supervenes” upon the former. Normally, I think, emotion occurs in and not simply upon the perception.

26 Griffiths, What Emotions Really Are, 26–27.

27 Taylor, Varieties of Religion Today, 46–52.

28 Solomon, “Many Dimensions of Religious Emotional Experience,” 232–33.

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60 Doran, Psychic Conversion, 205.

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65 De Sousa, Rationality of Emotion, 249–52, 256; Frijda and Mesquita, “Beliefs through Emotions,” 56–57; Deonna and Teroni, Emotions, 99–100.

66 Clore and Gasper, “Feeling Is Believing,” 28–29. This process carries danger too, since conflation can lead to mistakes; for example, reverence for God and the Church leads, all too frequently, to ecclesiolatry.

67 De Sousa, Rationality of Emotion, 188; De Sousa, Emotional Truth, 216; Solomon, “Many Dimensions of Religious Emotional Experience,” 242; Doran, Psychic Conversion, 157.

68 Deonna and Teroni, Emotions, 54.

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