MAKE THE NAME OF HIS HOLINESS YOUR BOAST; LET THE HEART OF THOSE WHO SEEK THE LORD REJOICE.

29TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR: CHAPTER



MAKE THE NAME OF HIS HOLINESS YOUR BOAST; LET THE HEART OF THOSE WHO SEEK THE LORD REJOICE .(Psalm 105:3). God has given His name to us as a pledge of His love and a promise of our happiness. To know His name enables us to call upon Him with His assurance that He will answer, This verse of Psalm 105 reminds us of this truth and celebrates it. We do well to reflect on this exhortation, to assure ourselves that we appreciate its message. That means first of all, adverting to the language he uses to convey the precise meaning he has in mind.

The opening phrase of the poem makes it clear that this is a psalm of praise of God, who is addressed directly, using the name revealed to Moses at Sinai, Yahwe. The verse cited above struck my attention Saturday morning when we sang it at Vigils. It urges us to follows through on another text in the Hebrew Scriptures where we are encouraged to boast in the Lord. Jeremiah was told by the Lord to deliver this message.

Thus says the Lord: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, nor let the strong boast of his strength, nor the rich boast of his wealth; rather, let the one who boasts boast that he is wise enough to know me, that I am Yahwe, who act with loving kindness, judgment and justice on the earth, and that I take pleasure in these things", says the Lord (9: 23).

In the New Testament St. Paul often speaks of boasting, at times with disapproval, as when he insists "that no flesh might boast before God (1Cor 1: 29)." But, on occasion and seemingly with reference to this text from Jeremiah, he instructs the faithful using the same expression: "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord (1Cor 1:31)." Paul himself gives an example of such boasting , though somewhat apologetically and careful to qualify his speech: "For our part we do not boast beyond measure, but according to the measure of the rule that the God of measure has apportioned... (2Cor 10: 13)". The subject of his boasting here and elsewhere must be carefully measured because it is his mission and the various graces he has received in order to carry it out, and he does not wish, as he tells us elsewhere, to appear better than he is before God.

However, Psalm 105 expresses no such reserves, nor does it speak of measure, for the reason that the subject of its boast is the name of God's holiness, not man. The name, as is commonly the case in the Hebrew Scriptures, clearly stands for God himself as we can see from the first verse of this hymn: "Confess Yahwe, Proclaim his Name; Make known His deeds among the nations." When it is a question of praising God, then, measure is not a concern; no praise is too exalted; His holiness surpasses all man's ability to honor Him.

There evolved a developed theology of the Name quite early in Israel, as is evident from all three traditions represented in the sacred writings, the Law, the Prophets and the so-called Kethubim, that is, the Writings, of which the Psalms are the most prominent part. In this Psalm 105, the Name is used to designate the God who became known to Israel as Yahwe through Moses' mediation. In Old Testament times, the name given to any one had a far greater significance than we in our culture ascribe to a name. Usually in our culture names are assigned to children for reasons quite extraneous to the characteristics of the individual, one of the commonest being to show regard or affection for a relative or friend or even a prominent public figure. Nick-names, on the other hand, are more related to personality or physical features or other personal attributes. In the Biblical world the custom was to bestow a name that derived from some characteristic of the person named or from some circumstance that had a profound impact on his life. There was a tendency for the name to become identified with the person who bore it. It reflected his personality. Indeed, the prominent French anthropologist, Levy-Bruhl, defined man as "a body, a soul and a name."

This Jewish custom was continued in New Testament times. Jesus himself was given a name that came from heaven and which designated his function as Savior. Later, in the course of his ministry, he continued this practice as when he re-named Simon, giving him the name, Peter, when he declared he was to be the foundation of the Church. Saul's name was changed when he was converted, to adduce only the most striking instances. The act of bestowing the name was considered to create a new relationship, conferring a certain power over the thing or person named. The name itself was held to exercise a measure of influence on the character and destiny of its bearer.

With this understanding of the significance of name in Biblical writings, the circumstances surrounding the revelation of God's name become more comprehensible. For a modern reader it seems strange that God would not disclose his name to the leader of his chosen people save with reluctance. But once we understand that the name is in a manner identified with the subject and discloses his essence, the hesitancy of God and the ambiguity of His response to Moses' request to reveal his name is readily comprehensible.. For, although He is present to His chosen people and acts on their behalf, yet God remains transcendent; his nature is beyond the reach of all creatures; it is not comprehensible to the human mind.

The name of God, Yahwe, occurs for the first time in the second chapter of Genesis. Here it is used together with Elohim, the usual word designating God. We are told that it was already used in worship prior to Sinai; indeed, prior to the flood (Gen 4: 26). In fact, the revelation at Sinai rather expresses the meaning of His name than disclosing its actual form, though there is some confusion as to its proper pronunciation, and even its exact meaning. The four letters were written without vowels in Hebrew. The correct pronunciation was transmitted orally. In the Liturgy it was spoken only once a year by the High Priest when he entered the holy of holies on Yom Kippur,. with the result that scholars disagree not only on its sense but even on its proper sound. The formula as reported in the book of Exodus is usually considered to mean: "I will be what I will be." The Septuagint translated it as Ho ON, that is, "the one who is". And, indeed, this is a possible meaning of the Hebrew name. In any case, this interpretation certainly had a broad and profound influence on spirituality and theological discussion concerning the nature of God. Later on, in the Byzantine Church, it was applied to Christ in the icon tradition thus popularizing it widely. Commonly, this name is written prominently, adjacent to the head of Christ, as an indication that he is truly God as well as man.

So great was the reverence showed the proper name of God, Yahwe, that when it occurs in the text it is not pronounced; the practice was to substitute another word for it in reading. Adonai, Lord, or Elohim, God, was the most commonly employed in the liturgy; scholars simply said Hashem, "the name". The Septuagint maintained this tradition, employing regularly Kurios, Lord, rather than Ho ON. Another indication of great reverence for the name as such is the fact that the four consonants that constitute the tetragrammaton, as it is called, were preserved in their archaic form. They were written in characters quite different in shape from the rest of the Hebrew text, as can be observed in two Qumran manuscripts, one a commentary on Habacuc. The name of God has occupied, then, a prominent place in the Jewish liturgy from very early times down to the present.

This reverence for the Name continued into the New Testament where it was transposed by relating it to the person of Jesus. With the Incarnation Jesus himself became the embodiment of the name of God, and so was identified with "the name." That Jesus is identified with the Name is made evident in the Acts of the Apostles where we read that "The apostles came out of the Sanhedran rejoicing that they were deemed worthy to suffer indignity for the Name (5: 41)." In this connection Père Dalmais observes that

The great newness of the New Testament revelation is to recognize that the ineffable name of God is fully revealed in Jesus Christ of Nazareth recognized as Christ and Lord. The very denomination in Greek of Kurios, "Lord", transcribes habitually the Hebrew tetragrammaton, Yahwe (cf Catholicisme, tom 9: 1344, s.v. Nom).

St. Paul reinforces the practice of St. Luke who uses this term Lord in its fullest sense of Jesus with his reference to the fact that Jesus "received a name that is above every other name so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend whether in heaven, on earth or under the earth (Phil 2: 9, 10)." In St. John's Gospel Jesus is reported as declaring that "If you ask anything in my name, I shall do it (14: 13)." Naturally, this does not refer to merely mentioning his name, as if it were a magic word; rather, it implies, as Dupont points out, "praying while confessing Jesus, making reference to him" as to a helper and doing so with faith in him as to the Son of God with all that means.

This same way of viewing our Lord was taken up by the early Christians of the sub-apostolic age as we observe in the Eucharistic liturgy of the Didache. The sacrifice of the Eucharist is a glorification of the Name. Chapter 10 "is a blessing of the Name which the Father causes to dwell in our hearts" (cf. "Dictionaire de Spiritualité" IX: 884-5 for this and the following point). It was St. Irenaeus who, not long after, fused the Name of the Father and the Name of Jesus in the celebration of the Eucharist, closely associating the Name with the concept of Christ as the image of the Father. Since this development took place in the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist, the glorification of the Name took the form chiefly of a thanksgiving sacrifice.

This linkage of devotion to the Name and the Eucharist that is found in the Didache already was presented as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Malachy 1: 11 :"From the rising of the sun to its setting great is my name among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name and a pure offering, for great is my Name among the nations, says the Lord of Hosts." As time went on glorification of the Name was viewed as the very purpose of the liturgy and took on a Trinitarian color as, for example, in the concluding prayer of the Byzantine anaphorae.

And grant that we may glorify with a single voice your most venerable and magnificent Name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit now and always and through ages of ages.

This teaching concerning the significance of the Name of God and, also the Name of Jesus, was not confined to the liturgy of the various Churches; it was widely incorporated by the great Fathers into the spirituality of both the Western and Eastern traditions down to the present time. The use of the name of Jesus was widespread in the early Patristic era and Origen in particular displayed a more personal affection in his manner of speaking of "my Jesus". However, it was only in the 11th century that any considerable elaboration of a spirituality of the Name of Jesus took place, and this development was due to monks. John of Fecamp displays a more personal tone when he speaks of "good Jesus" and in addressing the Lord with a pun on his name "You are Jesus, heal me." But it was St. Anselm who was the first to expand devotion to the name in a spirituality expressive of a more elaborately articulated reflection on the significance of the Name of Jesus (cf. "Dictionaire de Spiritualité" VIII. 1114 "s. v. Nom de Jesus", I. Noye).

From where does salvation come to me? Who is the one who is named the angel of the great council, who is accordingly this Savior who name I cry out? But it is himself, Jesus . It is this judge into whose hands I tremble to fall.... O Jesus! Forget the proud man who has provoked, look upon the unfortunate man who invokes the sweet name, the delightful name, the name that gives comfort to the sinner, the name of happy hope (Meditations 2 PL 158: 724 cited in "Dictionaire de Spiritualité" VIII. 1114)."

St. Anselm was to influence ST. Bernard who brought this devotion to its highest expression in his Sermons on the Canticle where he cited this meditation of Anselm only to give the sentiments found there an even more ample and articulated expression. In a number of his sermons, Bernard speaks in detail of the honor and piety this holy name stimulates in his heart when he reflects on it. There are those who, he explains, are pitiable, St. Bernard

Not that they do not have the name but they do not have it poured out. They have it, but it is stored away; they have it in books, not in their hearts (in codicibus, non in cordibus). They adhere to externals, to the letter; they handle the full vase with their hands, but it is closed, not opened that it might anoint. Within, within is the anointing of the Spirit; open and anoint... What good is it to have oil in your vase if your body never feels the balm (Sermo in Cantica XIV.8 PL 183: 843).

For his part, he tells us, he considers that the Canticle compares the name of the beloved to oil that is poured out for three reasons based on the nature of oil itself.

There is, without any doubt, a likeness between oil and the name of the Spouse, nor is it without reason that the Holy Spirit compares them one with the other. Unless you have a better explanation, I maintain that it is found in the threefold quality of oil: it gives light, it nourishes and it anoints. ...It is light, food and medicine. Now see the same is true for the name of the Spouse. It gives light when preached, it nourishes when reflected upon, and when called upon it removes pain and anoints (Sermo in Cantica XV. 5 PL 183: 846).

Bernard goes on to elaborate these points in one of his most eloquent pages, and concludes with the observation that

You have this sweet tasting remedy in the vase of this word, that is Jesus, o my soul. It is surely health-giving, and never found inefficacious against your disease. Let is always be in your bosom, always in your hand by means of which all your senses and acts might be directed to Jesus (op. cit. 7).

Devotion to the Name of Jesus became prominent in the teaching of many of Bernard's followers, notably the English abbots, ST. Aelred and John of Ford, and so is firmly rooted in our tradition. However, it had become rather neglected over the centuries until, in modern times, it was revived in the West largely through dissemination of the Prayer of Jesus as practiced by the Russian and Byzantine traditions. Under stood as identified with the person of Jesus, his name evokes his loving presence. Ever available to us once it is lodged by faith in our hearts, devotion to the Name of Jesis readily becomes a vehicle of communion with him, and thus contributes importantly to a life of constant prayer. We do well to incorporate this ancient form of Cistercian devotion to the name of Jesus into our daily practice. Used with faith and under standing it calls down God's grace on our efforts. In this way it serves mightily to the attainment of the purpose of our life as monks: unity of Spirit with the Lord Jesus to the glory of God our heavenly Father.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger


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