Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Holy Name of Jesus

El Greco, Adoration of the Holy Name of Jesus
Greco-Spanish, Late 1570s
London, National Gallery
This is either a preparatory sketch or a reduced copy of the painting which was
commisioned by Philip II for the Escorial.  It shows the Name of Jesus adored
by the angels in heaven, the faithful on earth, the souls in Purgatory and those
in Hell.  It may also be a reference to the Holy League of Spain, Venice and the
Papal States, which defeated the Turkish Fleet at Lepanto in 1571.
In his letter to the Philippians Saint Paul includes what is generally accepted to be a very early Christian hymn in praise of Jesus:

“Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”

Philippians 2:6-11

In this hymn we are given an insight into what the earliest Christians, those who became Christians within the first 20-30 years following the Resurrection, believed about Jesus.  For His humility in accepting human form and human suffering in dying on the cross He was given “the name that is above every name” and on hearing this name the proper response of every knee “of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth” shall bend in homage.

That the name of Jesus is holy is, therefore, one of the very earliest Christian concepts.  Once upon a time, not so long ago, Catholics would quickly bow their heads when they heard the name of Jesus.  That little bit of reverence was blown away by the winds of change that hit the church following Vatican Council II and scarcely anyone does this anymore, not even among the older folks.

Looking at the artistic record, it seems that, in spite of the hymn quoted by Paul, it was not the name “Jesus” that first appeared in art, but symbolic representations of it.  The first, and probably best known, was the fish, since the first letters of the Greek word for fish are the same as the initials for the words “Jesus Christ”. 

Tombstone with Fish and Anchor Symbols
Stele of Licinia Amias
Roman Early Christian, 3rd Century
Rome, Epigraphical Museum. Terme di Diocleziano

The second seems to have been the Chi Rho, a combination of the first two letters of the word “Christ” and, presumably, the sign which Constantine appears to have seen in his dream the night before his climactic battle with Maxentius.  It is often referred to as the “Christogram” and has had a very long run in Christian iconography, being still much used in church decoration.

Chi Rho
Central Panel of Sarcophgus of Anastasis
Roman Early Christian, c.350
Vatican City, Pio-Christiano Museum

Bowl Base with Saints Peter and Paul Flanking a Column with the Cristogram
Early Byzantine, Late 4th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Chi Rho, Fragment of a Lintel
Possibly Syrian, 400-550
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Paten with Christogram and Repousse Border
Byzantine, c. 550
Washington, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection

However, there is another symbol which is more specifically related to the name “Jesus”, this sign also combined the first letter of the name with the first and last of the title “Christ” or Iesous Christos.  It could be written as IHC or IHS.  This is often called the Monogram of Jesus.  Over time the spelling IHS began to be more frequently used than the (probably) more correct IHC.  Frequently, a cross stroke was added to the up stroke of the letter "h" or the crossbar of the letter "H", depending on which form of the letter was used.

Monogram of Jesus
from Commentary and Prose Paraphrase on the Metamorphoses of Ovid
Italian (Milan), 1446
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 938, fol.177r

Monogram of Jesus
from a Prayer Roll
English (Northwest), 1475-1499
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 486, recto section 2

Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia, Saint Bernardino of Siena
Italian, c.1450
Trequanda, Confraternity of the Holy Trinity and Saint Bernardino

Its popularity began to increase, especially among the general European population in the latter years of the Middle Ages, especially through the preaching of the Franciscan friar, Saint Bernardino of Siena.  1

Saint Bernardino, who died in 1444 and was canonized in 1450, preached using an image of the monogram of the holy name surrounded by rays of light, as though the monogram is the sun, with the intention of promoting devotion to the Holy Name.  Suspicious of this seemingly new devotion and image, Bernardino was investigated by the Vatican.  After the examination not only was his preaching declared to be orthodox, but the pope, Pope Martin V, invited Bernardino to preach about this new devotion in Rome.   

Sano di Pietro, Saint Bernardino of Siena
Italian, c. 1450-1460
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lehman Collection

Andrea Mantegna, Monogram of Christ with Saints Anthony of Padua and Bernardino of Siena
Italian, 1452
Padua, Museo Antoniano
The inscription surrounding the Monogram of the Name of Jesus is the text from St. Paul "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven, on earth and under the earth".

The devotion to the name of Jesus became very popular all over Europe and the image promoted by Saint Bernardino became very popular as decoration.  It was used in all sorts of ways, even to the extent of decorating pottery and making jewelry. 

Dish with IHS Monogram and Floral Pattern
Spanish (Valencia), c. 1430-1440
New  York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cloisters Collection

Dish with IHS Monogram
Italian, (Faenza). c.1500
London, Victoria and Albert Museum

Raphael, Faith from a series of pictures of the Theological Virtues
Italian, 1507
Vatican City, Pinacoteca
The Monogram is held by the angel at the right.

Simon Bening, Border with Adoration of the Name of Jesus
from Prayer Book of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1525-1530
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS Ludwig IX 19, fol. 32
This image shows the Monogram being venerated by the three divisions of the world mentioned by St. Paul; "in heaven and on earth and under the earth".

Philippe Galle, Adoration of the Name of Jesus
Belgian, c. 1557-1612
Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de Espana
This engraving also shows the three divisions of the world offering adoration to the Holy Name.  It also includes the words from St. Paul's Letter.

Pendant with Monogram of Jesus
South German, Late 16th Century
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Daniel Mytens, Aletheia Talbot, Countess of Arundel
Anglo-Dutch, c. 1618
London, National Portrait Gallery

I've included this portrait to show how such a jewel as the pendant above might be worn.  The Countess is wearing a diamond studded pendant in the form of the Monogram just below the pendant cross she wears.  

The Countess of Arundel and her husband the Earl of Arundel were recusant English Catholics at the time of King James I (that's the King James who authorized the most famous Protestant English translation of the Bible).  That the Countess wore a jewel with the Monogram of the Name of Jesus is a demonstration of her Catholic faith in the midst of a Protestant country.

El Greco, Adoration of the Name of Jesus
Greco-Spanish, c. 1578-1579
El Escorial, Monastery of San Lorenzo, Chapter House
Here, as in the smaller version which begins this essay, El Greco maintains adherence to the text of St. Paul's Epistle by including the three states of being which kneel to do homage to the name of Jesus:  those "in heaven and on earth and under the earth".  We see the Monogram of the Name of Jesus adored by the angels in heaven, by the Pope, the Doge of Venice and King Philip of Spain and other of the faithful on earth, by the souls in Purgatory, seen in the middle background on the right and by those held in the open mouth of Hell at the right. Some scholars see in this painting, both the Adoration of the Holy Name and a celebration of the victory of the Holy League formed by Spain, Venice and the Holy See over the Turks at Lepanto a few years before this was painted.

One hundred years later Saint Ignatius Loyola chose this image as the base for the symbol of his newly founded religious order, the Company of Jesus or Jesuits.  He added the three nails from the Crucifixion below the symbol, but it is basically the same monogram of the Holy Name that was preached by Saint Bernardino of Siena.  2

Juan Valdes de Leal, St. Ignatius Loyola Receiving
the Name of Jesus
Spanish, 1676
Seville, Museo de Bellas Artes

Juan de las Roelas, Adoration of the Name of Jesus
Spanish, c. 1604-1605
Seville, University Chapel
This visionary painting combines the Monogram with the Biblical event of the Circumcision, when Jesus officially received His name, with the Adoration of the angels and saints.

Guido Reni, Four Saints and Six Angels Adoring the Name of Jesus
Italian, 1st quarter of 17th Century
Paris, Musédu Louvre

Antoine Sallaert, Glorification of the Name of Jesus
Flemish, c. 1650
Private Collection

Baciccio, Adoration of the Name of Jesus
Italian, c. 1676-1679
Rome, Church of Il Gesu
Perhaps the grandest presentation of the Adoration of the Name of Jesus ever painted.  Done for the mother church of the Jesuit order.

Also included in this particular image of the Holy Name is often a reference to the Eucharist, the true Body of Christ under the form of bread that is the center of every Catholic Mass.  Because Saint Bernardino’s image of the Holy Name is similar to an image of the Holy Eucharist when exposed in a monstrance for Benediction or Eucharistic Adoration, the Hosts prepared for the celebration of the Eucharist and the altars on which the Hosts are offered are often also marked with the image of the Holy Name.  

Giovanni Maria Morlaiter, Altar with Adoration of the Holy Name of Jesus
Italian, 1735
Fratta Polesine (Veneto), Church of Saints Peter and Paul

A popular image from the end of the nineteenth century makes this relationship explicit.

Anonymous, Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament
 Printed by Pellerin & Cie. Printers, Paris
French, Fourth Quarter of 19th Century
Epinal, Muséde l'Image

The feast of the Holy Name of Jesus is celebrated on January 3rd by the Roman Catholic Church, and on other dates in early January by other Christian groups.

© M. Duffy, 2017
  1. Maere, René. "IHS." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 2 Jan. 2017 .
  2. Pollen, John Hungerford. "St. Ignatius Loyola." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 2 Jan. 2017 .

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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