Holy Name, Devotion to the
HOLY NAME, DEVOTION TO THE
The early Christians had a special reverence for the name of Jesus. The Holy Name appears in the earliest manuscripts and monuments under the abbreviated form, IH, which are the first two letters, iota and eta, of the Greek ΙΗΣΟϒΣ. In the 2nd century the final sigma was added, thus making it IHΣ or IHS. This custom became universal by the 6th century. The same abbreviation is found inscribed on many liturgical vestments today.
The Fathers. There is also a high esteem for the Holy Name in the writings of the early Christian Fathers. Following the example of St. paul in his Epistle to the Romans, they often concluded their letters and homilies with a doxology in which mention is made of the name of Jesus. Perhaps the earliest example is the Epistle of St. Clement to the Corinthians. The Shepherd of Hermas, dating from the 2nd century, extols the great power of the Savior's Holy Name: "The Name of the Son of God is great and all-powerful: He it is Who sustains the entire world." St. Justin, in his Dialogue with Trypho, declares that while certain people blaspheme the name Jesus, the whole world, Greek and barbarian, offers prayer and thanksgiving to God the Creator in the name of the crucified Jesus. St. peter chrysologus, who was much respected in a later period of Christianity, attributes miraculous powers to the Holy Name.
The Middle Ages. During the Middle Ages there was a steady growth in the devotion to the sacred humanity of Christ, and one of the chief aspects of this form of piety was the reverence for the name of the Savior. St. Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109, wrote a Prayer to the name of Jesus, which became very popular. It is found in many manuscripts, and was included in numerous "books of hours" printed in the 15th and 16th centuries. St. bernard of clairvaux, one of the greatest figures of the 12th century, devoted his Fifteenth Sermon on the Canticle of Canticles to the Holy Name. Commenting on the text: "your name is balm, poured forth," the saint selects three qualities of balm (it illumines, nourishes, and heals) and applies them to the Holy Name. Portions of this sermon form the second lessons of the present Office in honor of the Holy Name. The famous hymn, Jesu dulcis memoria, written by an unknown monk toward the end of the 12th century was inspired by St. Bernard and testifies to the effect his preaching had in spreading the devotion. St. francis of assisi, St. Bonaventure, and the Order of Friars Minor contributed greatly in the extending of the cult. In 1268, St. Louis the King, who was a Franciscan tertiary, sought and obtained from clement iv an indulgence for anyone reciting the prayer: "Blessed forever be the sweet name of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and that of the most glorious Virgin Mary, His Mother, Amen." The Second Council of Lyons, convened by gregory x in 1274, prescribed in canon 25 that the faithful should incline the head at the mention of the Holy Name, as a mark of reverence. Shortly after the council closed, the same pope addressed a letter to John of Vercelli, Master General of the Dominican Order, urging him to help spread the devotion to the Holy Name. The Dominican general acted at once, and informed all his provincials of the pope's wish and instructed them to take steps in fostering the devotion of the faithful by the preaching and teaching of the Friars. In the words of A. Cabassut, "This authoritative intervention only confirmed a devotion practiced in the order from its beginning."
In the 14th century three principal figures emerge as champions of the devotion. Richard Rolle of Hampole, an English hermit who received his theological training at Oxford and Paris, considered devotion to the Holy Name to be the base of the spiritual life, and the cornerstone of all Christian virtue. The results of his efforts were seen in the piety of the English monasteries. Bl. Henry Suso, the great Dominican mystic, drew the attention of the religious in Germany to the power and greatness of the name of Jesus. While these two men concentrated on the piety in the cloister, Bl. John Columbini of Siena preached the devotion to the masses in Italy. He noted with sadness that "the name of Jesus is dying." He urged his followers to correct this. "May your apostolate be directed to the praise of Jesus Christ, and may His Name never be distant from your hearts and mouths, even when you find yourselves occupied with exterior business."
SS. Bernardine and John Capistran. St. bernardine of Siena, a Franciscan of the 15th century, added new momentum to the devotion. He was perhaps the most celebrated orator in Italy during his lifetime. In 1422, during a course of sermons at Venice, he launched a campaign whose aim was to revivify in the hearts of the faithful a love for, and a devotion to, the name of Jesus. At the conclusion of the sermons, the saint displayed before the throng a tablet bearing the Savior's name in letters of gold. The people responded with enthusiasm to St. Bernardine's theme and method. In their processions the faithful began to carry aloft the tablet bearing the inscription of the Holy Name. This form of adoration, however, met with disapproval in certain quarters and was considered to be nothing short of idolatry. Toward the end of the century, for example, the Dominican, Savonarola, fulminated against those who, treated such tablets as some sort of charm. Because of charges such as this, St. Bernardine, in his own lifetime, was summoned to the Papal Court in 1427 to render an explanation of his doctrine. martin v listened to the saint expose his ideas concerning the cult of the Holy Name, and manifested wholehearted approval at once by requesting him to deliver some sermons in the Eternal City. In order to remove the occasion of any further misunderstanding, the pope ordered that in future processions the tablets bearing the inscription of the Savior's name should also carry an image of the crucifix. Hence today we sometimes see the symbol of the Holy Name and the crucifix together. Papal endorsement added to St. Bernardine's personal prestige and authority, and consequently to the growing devotion to the Holy Name.
St. john capistran, a friend and follower of St. Bernardine of Siena, stressed the devotion in many sermons delivered in Italy, France, and Germany. In 1455 the pope asked St. John to help in the preaching of a crusade against the oncoming Turks. The saint complied at once. One day while celebrating Mass, St. John received the assurance that victory for the Christians was inevitable, and that it would come through the power of the Holy Name and the crucifix. As a result, St. John concentrated all the more on this theme in his preaching. The promised victory became a reality on July 14, 1456.
The work of men such as St. Bernardine and St. John had an unmistakable effect on Christian piety during the 15th century. Many Christians had the name of Jesus inscribed over the doorways of their houses. Letters and official documents frequently began with an invocation to the Holy Name. St. joan of arc, for example, headed all her letters in this way, and her standard also bore the names of Jesus and Mary. Her dying words were "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus." Fifteenth century Missals contain a votive Mass to the "most sweet name of Jesus." The official liturgy, however, contained no special feast in honor of the Holy Name. Bernardine of Busti, a noted Franciscan preacher, asked Sixtus IV, and later Innocent VIII, to institute a special feast. He composed an Office and sent it along with his request. Although Bernardine's efforts went unrewarded in his lifetime, Clement VII, in 1530, allowed the Order of Friars Minor to celebrate a feast in honor of the Holy Name each year on January 14. In 1721, Germany's Emperor Charles VI prevailed on inno cent xiii to extend the celebration of the feast to the universal Church. The time was set at first for the second Sunday after Epiphany. pius x moved it to the Sunday between January 1 and Epiphany Sunday, or to January 2, when no Sunday intervenes.
Bibliography: a. cabassut, "La Dévotion au Nom de Jésus dans l'Église d'Occident," La Vie spirituelle 86 (Paris 1952) 46–69.