Desperately Wicked: Philosophy, Christianity and the Human Heart, By Patrick Downey
Desperately Wicked
  • Length: 182 pages
  • Published: February 04, 2009
  • Imprint: IVP Academic
  • Item Code: 2894
  • ISBN: 9780830828944

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What is the human heart like? Theologians and philosophers have attempted to address this question, not just in the abstract, but concretely in personal, as well as social and political, dimensions. Patrick Downey explores the biblical writings of Genesis and the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, the Greek tragedies, Plato, Aristotle, and political philosophers--such as Rousseau, Hobbes, Nietzsche and René Girard--to seek answers to this profound question.

Recognizing our resistance to know the truth about our own hearts, Downey calls his readers to join with these thinkers in the search for truth and serious self-reflection. Not for the faint of heart, this book courageously addresses the most foundational question of our existence as individuals in community. What is the nature of the human heart and can we, will we, know it?

"With great literary agility Patrick Downey masterfully explicates the meaning of the prophet's words: 'The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: Who can know it?' (Jer 17:9). Beginning with Plato's ring of Gyges and incorporating threads as diverse as Plato and Aristotle's political philosophy, the Greek tragedies of Sophocles and Aeschylus, and the entire biblical narrative, Downey weaves an intricate tapestry exposing the intractable conflict between our desires to have, to be seen and to know, causing us to cry out with the apostle Paul, 'Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from this body of death?' Downey brilliantly argues that it is only through the miracle of the incarnation, death and resurrection of the God-man, Jesus, that we can be rescued from our desperately wicked heart. I challenge you to read this book and not be profoundly changed by it."

Mark W. Foreman, associate professor of philosophy and religion, Liberty University

"A gifted teacher, widely read in ancient and modern texts, Patrick Downey's book Desperately Wicked will open the minds and hearts of teachers and students to the central questions in the conversation between Jerusalem and Athens, questions that enable us not only to reclaim our intellectual heritage but also to ponder who we are and how we ought to live."

Thomas Hibbs, dean of the Honors College, Baylor University

"It is not easy to characterize this stunning and mesmerizing work. Is it a lens into the darkness of Greek tragedy? A window into the daybreak of classical philosophy? A glimpse into the light of sacred Scripture? It is all of the above, but more than anything else it is a performative path to self-knowledge. Desperately Wicked is an ideal introduction for students to the power of philosophy and theology as well as an exhilarating refresher for seasoned scholars."

Michael P. Foley, associate professor of patristics, Great Texts Program, Baylor University

"This is a fine piece of work, one that makes a unique contribution to Christian philosophical reflection. Professor Downey offers an account of the Christian view of life and meaning that has practical implications for politics and what it means to be a follower of Christ in a fallen world. It is one of the best articulations of Christian political philosophy that I have read in quite some time."

Francis J. Beckwith, associate professor of philosophy church-state studies, Baylor University

"Without hesitation I recommend Desperately Wicked. If you want to know yourself and relate to others better, you need to read this book."

Timothy Lim Teck Ngern, The Pneuma Review, Spring 2011

"Downey demonstrates a firm grasp of Western philosophical writings and draws from them a vivid depiction of the condition of the human heart. In turning to the Scriptures, he carefully and precisely correlates the depiction of the human heart found in it to that found in the philosophical writings. The end result is a work that provides a comprehensive view of the human heart drawn from the complimentary disciplines of philosophy and theology with the solution to the moral quandary being presented by the latter."

Kevin Staley, Christian Apologetics Journal, Fall 2009

"An engaging first introduction to Girard's interpretation of Christ's saving work, and a thought-provoking devotional work for the philosophically-minded Christian. An interesting test case for students who are learning to develop integrated theological and philosophical points of view."

Sonia Waters, Koinonia

"More than intellectually stimulating; it dealt with my heart in a very needful manner. It has been such a tremendous challenge and help to me."

TheoSource (, May 5, 2009


1. The Ring of Truth
2. Just Fears
3. Erotic and Thumotic Desire
4. What We Don't Want to See
5. The Heart and Philosophy
6. The Knowledge of Good and Evil
7. Can We Be Good?
8. The Heart of Christian Faith
9. Being Good
Subject and Name Index
Scripture Index


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Patrick Downey

Patrick Downey received his MA in theology from Harvard University and PhD in theology from Boston College. He taught at Boston College from 1988-1993 and at St. Mary's College of California since 1994. His areas of specialization are ethics, political philosophy, foundational theology, and poetics. He is the author of Serious Comedy: The Philosophical and Theological Significance of Tragic and Comic Writing in the Western Tradition.