The theme for Pope Benedict XVI’s 2010 visit to the UK is Cor ad cor loquitur – Heart speaks unto heart. Cardinal John Henry Newman chose the words as the motto to go on his coat of arms. Heart speaks unto heart is a fitting choice for this papal visit as, on the final day of his Apostolic Journey, the Holy Father will beatify Cardinal Newman – the much-loved Victorian theologian.
When Newman became a Cardinal in 1879, he had to choose a motto to go on his coat of arms. He chose the Latin words Cor ad Cor loquitur – heart speaks unto heart. Where did these words come from? At the time, Newman thought they came from the Imitation of Christ (written in the 1400s), but in fact he was mistaken – they’re from St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) a French Bishop and great spiritual writer whom Newman revered. In fact, Newman chose to put a painting of St Francis above the altar in his own Chapel at the Birmingham Oratory.
The phrase has different levels, which together tell us a lot about Newman, his understanding of what it is to be human, and his vision of a humanity redeemed by Christ. Newman thought that true communication between us speaks from our heart to the heart of others around us – much more than just clever talking. He wrote in an Anglican sermon: ‘Eloquence and wit, shrewdness and dexterity, these plead a cause well and propagate it quickly, but it dies with them. It has no root in the hearts of men, and lives not out a generation.’ Truth speaks from the centre of the person, from their heart: ‘By a heart awake from the dead, and by affections set on heaven, we can… truly and without figure witness that Christ liveth.’ In the age of the Internet, Newman tells us that however we communicate, what we say should come from the heart, the fruits of a moral life lived in communion with Christ.
In fact, Christ speaks to us from his own Heart. ‘Thou art the living Flame, and ever burnest with love of man’ – he is ‘the Word, the Light, the Life, the Truth, Wisdom, the Divine Glory.’ So, in the end, it’s the Heart of God himself which speaks to us – in prayer, in the Mass, through the Scriptures. But also through other faithful Christians, and in the teachings of the Church. As Newman says, ‘when the Church speaks Thou dost speak.’ The Church has no other heart than the Heart of Christ himself.