The Holy Name and Christian Living
Lomán MacAodha OFM
Because of the all-embracing significance of the Name of Jesus in the history of salvation Bernardine conceived of the whole Christian life as lived in the light of the name. Starting from the biblical imagery suggested by Zacharias 6,12, John 1,9 and Ephesians 5,8 he represented graphically the primordial role of Christ in salvation history by means of an abbreviation of his Name set within a sun blazing on an azure background, surrounded by 12 large rays and seventy-two smaller ones encircled by the text of Philippians 2,10. The idea of the tablet seems to have been Bernardine’s own although his favourite authors have many references to Christ as the light or the sun of our life. However, the social renewal which was inspired by his desire to sign as many Christians as possible and their daily concerns with the Name of Jesus seems to have been entirely due to his feeling for the spirit of his own times and his understanding of Apoc. 7,3, as related to the process of history.
Jesus is the light which enlightens every man who comes into the world from whose plenitude all must receive pardon, grace and glory (cf. Jn. 1,9.16). Only in his Name are sins forgiven as he continues to be a propitiation for sins before his Father (cf. Mt. 1,21; Acts 4,12; 10,43; 1 Jn. 2,1-2): “the Son intercedes, the Father pardons and the Spirit gladdens the heart of the sinner. Bernardine contrasts rather severely the Old Testament with the New: in the Old the Name of God, he says, was a “nomen terribile, potentiae, vindictae, iustitiae” whereas the Name of Jesus is “Nomen misericordiae”. Under the new dispensation, when sins are forgiven in baptism the Name of Jesus is inscribed on the heart; it is deleted, however, by mortal sin but restored by contrition so that the sinner receives again the “letter of Christ, written on the fleshy tables of the heart” (2 Cor. 3,2-3). Heart-felt invocation of the Name – not just the murmuring of the lips —implies true contrition and in danger of death, ensures salvation without the actual reception of the sacrament of penance: for he who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved (Rom. 10,13; Joel 2,32 ). To ensure, however, that the invocation comes from the heart, the Name must be frequently in the heart and on the lips during life.
The sinner who sincerely invokes the Name must turn resolutely away from the paths of sin after having been forgiven. He is thus renewed in Jesus; he puts on the Lord Jesus (Rom. 13,14) and shows forth this change of heart in Christian living, principally be means of fraternal union and concord; for where two or three are united in his Name, Jesus is there in the midst of them (Mt. 18,20). It is only when the sinner has been engaged in the life of Christian renewal that he finds the promised divine protection against the world, the flesh and the devil.
Such protection, therefore, depends not on magical and irrational practices –as was then only too commonly believed—but on sincere and devout invocation of Jesus the Saviour and the power of his Name. Jesus has won an abiding victory over Satan even from the dawn of creation and his victory assures salvation and protection against the afflictions and infirmities of this world to those who really and humbly believe in Him. This does not mean, however, that natural remedies should be overlooked when they are available.
A man who places his faith in the Name of Jesus shares in His fullness as Son of God (Jn.1,12.16) for with this Name printed on his heart he is made a son of God and heir of eternal glory with Christ (cf.Rom.8,17). There is no greater dignity than this possible for man; witness the words of the angel in Apoc. 19, 10 who would not be adored by one who bore faithful witness to Jesus. The reason for this is due to the eminent dignity conferred on men through the exaltation of Christ to God’s right hand. The angel could say: ‘ideo me ab homine in Christo credente adorari amodo non permitto.’
The deeper the Name of Jesus is rooted in the heart the more abundant fruits of divine sonship it yields. The fruitful preaching of St. Peter and St. Paul shows what the Name of Jesus effects in preachers. Concentration on the riches of Jesus’s Name deepens the spiritual life in so far as it liberates the mind from idle cognitations that dissipate interior vigour. This is especially the case when a particularly striking aspect of the signification of the mystery of the Name is frequently evoked, ex. Gr., the triumphant gift of Christ’s passion and death fixes our gaze on Jesus as the source and perfect embodiment of faith and confidence in overcoming the confusion of suffering (cf. Hebr.12,2)
Contemplation inspired by His Name leads us gradually through the veils of Christ’s humanity into the inner recesses of God’s life. In this sense, His name is the ‘manna avsconditum’ and the ‘Nomen novum quod nemo novit’ spoken of in Apoc. 2, 17. It is that ‘delightful knowledge of God Himself,’ ‘the hidden treasures and the concealed riches of secret places’ (Is.45,3) which the Father gives Christ to share with His members; this is like an ointment which descends from the head to the beard and on to the hem of Christ’s garments (cf. Ps.132,2-3). Based on such an intimate (though mysterious) union with God through Christ, prayer in His Name is infallibly heard (Jn. 16.23).
The Spirit of man in this world dwells in a land of penury and hunger and therefore needs the heavenly food of the Name of Jesus. So it is that strong in hope and patience, ‘we wait in expectancy of the Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who will reform our lowness made like to the body of His glory’ (Phil.3,20-21). It is in hope therefore that we are saved, a hope, however, ‘which entereth in even within the veil’ (Hebr. 6,19) and offers us a delicate though exiguous odour of the fruits of paradise in keeping with our state of pilgrimage.
Such is the divine outpouring which God dispenses to the pilgrim people who contemplate and hope in the Name of the Saviour. It is the sweet manna, the bread which descends from heaven in order to nourish the new people of Israel so that they do not perish in the desert. Such is their rich experience in hope and patience but ‘cum fuerit spes evacuate, perfecte rem nominis tenebimus et fruemur.’ Meanwhile the pilgrims (through faith, hope and love) are refreshed abundantly with the delights of His Name and experience already ‘the present fruit of future glory.’ Because this is only inadequate and inchoate grasp of the ‘res nominis’ (which is the divine Sonship of Jesus), such experience of it as is granted here serves only to increase the thirst and the desire for its fulfilment in fact-to-face encounter with the Beloved.
The ‘notitia nominis’ which Jesus has revealed in his historical existence gradually introduces the Christian to the ‘res nominis.’ From the ‘nomen,’ the Christian penetrates to the ‘numen’ which is the goodness of God, shared through faith, hope and charity in the state of pilgrimage. This participation, however, is a dynamic reality because it reaches out to that glory where the fullness of joy, of which Jesus spoke (cf.Jn. 16.24) will be shared in eternal vision. It was at this, Bernardine says, that the psalmist hinted when he said to Jesus: ‘Thy good spirit shall lead me into the right land for Thy Name’s sake’ (cf. Ps.142,10-11).
Those who are signed in the depth of their being with the Name of Jesus during life—in the sense we have outlined above—will be found following the Lamb in the afterlife, showing forth His Name and that of His Father (cf. Apoc. 14,2). Bernardine says it is the Holy Spirit who imprints the divine Name, common to all Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, that same Spirit who is author of the two Testaments in which God revealed Himself. Thus it is through the ‘notitia nominus Iesu’ that the Christian comes to the ‘res nominis’ and through this he shares in the inner mystery of the Godhead where Jesus communes with the Father and the Holy Spirit. By witnessing to the Holy Name of Jesus in this life, Christians become fellow servants with the angels for they too have witnessed to the saving power of His grace in overcoming the Adversary. If Christians bear witness to Jesus amidst the trials and tribulations of life it can only be by means of the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Of its very nature the configuration of Christians to Jesus by means of the imprint of His Name on their hearts – thereby sharing in the divine numen through the glorious humanity of the Son – reaches forward to its consummation and fulfilment in the kingdom of glory. It is not without significance that although Bernardine did not neglect altogether the active role of Christ’s resurrection in our justification, he laid greater emphasis on His ascension. He thereby situates the centre of gravity of the Christian’s life in the heavenly light of glory where the Head of the Body reigns in majesty at the Father’s right hand. It is to this Christ that Christians are irresistibly drawn. According to Bernardine, the ascension of Christ has more significance for the Christian’s life than the resurrection, the result being that he is more a citizen of heaven than of earth. The last ten sermons of De Christiana Religione treat of the final stage of the economy of salvation as if it were already accomplished: evil is already judged and all the blessed are glorified in the contemplation of Christ’s humanity and divinity. This aspect of Bernardine’s theology of the Name of Jesus had much to recommend it pastorally to a society that seemed to be in the processes of decay and dissolution, tormented by anxiety and distraught by recurrent sufferings. It was a time when it was very hard for the medieval Christian mind to hope in the future or to expect a transformation of the present world in Christ. Bernardine offered in the Name of Jesus a heavenly anchor for the definitive achievement of what the Name signified viz., salvation.