If the Name of God is the faithful presence of God, the revelation of God's very
identity, and at the same time the figure of the whole of creation, we should
not be surprised that early Christianity attributed to Jesus Christ all that
Israel had attributed to the "Name". In an anonymous homily of the
second century we read: "Now the Name of the Father is the Son". And
already in the Gospel of John, all the words of Jesus that begin with "I
am" are an allusion to the Name of God, revealed by Jesus in his different
actions as in the different facets of a prism.
the Letter to the Philippians we have a fundamental passage that will mark
Christian spirituality forever. Paul in chapter 2 is quoting a Christological
hymn that recalls the Resurrection of Christ with the metaphor "give him
the name that is above every other name" (Phil 2:9), which means
"give him the name of God", that is, the identity of God. It is a way
of saying: in the Resurrection the divine identity of Jesus is revealed. But
the text continues (v. 10): "because in the name of...". And here the
reader expects to find the word "God", or "Lord" (which is
precisely the "name above every other name"). Instead, the surprise
is that here we read "...Jesus" (and then the text continues with
"let every knee bend, in heaven, on earth and under the earth"). The
text thus operates a surprising translation of meaning from the name
"Adonai" to the name "Jesus". Everything that the name of
God has always meant and provoked, the name "Jesus" now does.
This name given to Mary's son was already a
common name among the people of Israel. Biblical tradition recalls in
particular Jesus Ben Sirach (the "Sirach"), emblem of Wisdom, and
Joshua, successor of Moses. The two figures converge in Jesus of Nazareth, who
for the New Testament is Wisdom incarnate and the fulfilment of the work of Moses.
It is easy to understand then how in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter says,
"for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we may be
saved" (Acts 4:12). In the use of the verb "to save" there is an
explicit reference to the Hebrew meaning of the name of Jesus (Jeshua) which
means precisely "God-saves". Therefore, the name of Jesus is already
in itself a prayer of invocation and/or thanksgiving. The tradition of the
"Name Prayer", that is, the constant repetition of the name of Jesus,
or of an invocation formula containing it, dates back to the earliest
centuries. The invocation "Lord Jesus, Son of the living God, have mercy
on me, a sinner", and its variants, are called the "prayer of the
esichia", i.e. of "peace of heart".
in the liturgical tradition of the first centuries, it is "in the Name of
Jesus" that catechumens are "baptised" and the mysteries are
celebrated. When the book of Revelation points out that the saved wear
"the name of their God" on their foreheads (cf. Rev 14:1 and 22:4),
it is probably already referring to the liturgical custom of "marking"
the baptised with an "X", the first Greek letter of
"Christos". Straightened out, it also draws a cross. This led to the
frequent identification of the name and the cross, which allowed the liturgical
and artistic tradition (e.g. with the "staurogram") to say that the
true place where Christ reveals his name, i.e. his identity, is the cross.
was in the late Middle Ages that the spirituality of the Name of Jesus
developed in the West. First of all in the Franciscan sphere, thanks to the
preaching of St Bernardine. The saint from Siena chose the three first Greek
letters of the name of Jesus, IHS, to develop devotional objects that were to
replace the heraldic controversy of families. This 'trigram' was already the
abbreviation of 'IHSOUS' in the manuscripts of the New Testament, where the copier
superimposed a tilde or a wavy hyphen, precisely to indicate that 'IHS' was an
abbreviation. When, from the 10th century onwards, Greek manuscripts became
lower case, the hyphen above the ihs intersected the vertical shaft of the
"h", forming a cross. The interlacing of Name and cross is thus
is this type of "trigram-cross", often surrounded by sunrays, that
arrives from central Italy to other parts of Western Europe. And it was in
Paris that Calvin and St Ignatius encountered it. The former made it the coat
of arms of "his" city of Geneva. The latter began to use it to sign
his letters. Later on, the IHS will become the symbol of the Society of Jesus.
In addition to its Greek meaning, it can also be understood as the Latin
abbreviation for "Iesus Hominum Salvator" (Jesus Saviour of Men). In
a single symbol, therefore, a Greek, Latin and Jewish perspective converges
(cf. "Salvator"). The cross on the "H", now also in
capitals, always links Name and Cross, and the three nails often represented
below recall the passion of Christ, but also the three religious vows of
poverty, chastity, and obedience.
If Ignatius and the early Jesuits were able to
identify with this symbol it is because they had chosen to call themselves
companions 'of Jesus' and not 'Ignighists' (after Ignatius) or something else.
It is the very person of Jesus, His "Name," that is, His
"communicated identity," that inflamed Ignatius' heart, that is the
focus of the Exercises, that unites the first companions, and that is meant to
be the only "word" of the Society. It is, as the Formula of the
Institute says, "designated by the Name of Jesus". Hence the IHS is
ubiquitous in Jesuit art, in official documents and still today in many of the
"logos" used by the Society. As the early Jesuits repeated, this Name
"is more beautiful than dawn and light" and "we Jesuits must be
ready to give our blood for this name".