Saturday, June 26, 2010

What's Is the Meaning Of "In the Name?"

One of God's Glorious Names: Ancient of Days [Painting by Damian]

We Catholics recite and receive this blessing all the time: "In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." ("In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritu Sancti" in Latin.)

Do you ever wonder as I sometimes do, "What does in the name actually mean?" This post is an exploration of some of the spiritually weighty meanings attached to that simple phrase.

Names Identify the Person as a Member of a Family
When we do anything in the name of God, we are doing it as a member of His family. In that sense, we can regard the name of God as our family name

Through our regeneration by sanctifying grace in Baptism, we are begotten, born of God, and we are brothers and sisters of Christ.

This is from the Catholic Encyclopedia article on supernatural adoption:

He is our Father, but in such wise that we may call ourselves, and truly are, His children, the members of His family, brothers of Jesus Christ with whom we partake of the Divine Nature and claim a share in the heavenly heritage.

St. Paul calls this adoption and the Scriptures speak of our adoption in many places.

In the early Church, the newly baptised were called "infantes," no matter what age they were. They took names that suggested adoption, such as Adeptus, inheritor, and Deigenitus, begotten by God. The Church Fathers wrote extensively about our adoption as children of God, which makes us share in His Divine Nature.

Signed, Sealed, and Delivered

But wait, there's more, much more. Not only are we members of God's family, but His name is engraved at the very deepest level of our being. At baptism the very name of God along with the image of God are inscribed on our souls!

The Church refers to a seal of Baptism, which is an indelible mark. Whatever we do, we will eternally have the name of God and image of God marked on our souls.

Because of this mark, we know we are not only members of His family in His name, we know and the devils know that we belong to Him.

The Church says that the seals imparted to the soul by sacraments are a cause for increased torment if a soul with one or more of those marks dies unrepentant for grave sins and goes to hell. It is horrifying to even think about the fact that the devils' malice is unleashed on baptized Christians and especially on ordained priests if their unrepentant souls end up in the devils' domain.

Canon Michael Wiener, Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, baptises Martha Wilson, a convert

A Name Represents the Reputation of the Person Named
As an essay about God's name at a Jewish education website states, a name represents the reputation of the person named, and a name should be treated with the same respect as the person's reputation.

Orthodox Jews do not allow even the written name of God to be destroyed or defaced, so high is their respect for His Name.
Sidebar: While researching this essay, I found it interesting to see in a few different places that the first of the names used by the Jews for the one God is a plural. ""The first Name used for God in scripture is Elohim. In form, the word is a masculine plural." Some Catholic thinkers believe that the plurality of the name Elohim is a prefiguring of the knowledge that the One God of Israel is actually more than one Person, which was only fully revealed later at the time of Christ.

Like Orthodox Jews, we too are responsible to live in a way that does not defile the reputation of the name of God. And we should show the name itself every respect possible. People who constantly use the name of God casually in exclamations (OMG!), this means you.

God's Name Describes Who He Is
In Exodus 13 there is a fine example of how the name of God describes who He is:

[I]n Ex. 3:13-22: Moses asks God what His "name" is. Moses is not asking "what should I call you;" rather, he is asking 'who are you; what are you like; what have you done.' That is clear from God's response. God replies that He is eternal, that He is the God of our ancestors, that He has seen our affliction and will redeem us from bondage." [Also from]

God’s immediate answer to Moses' request for God's name was: "I am Who am." And then God went on to say He is "He who is" and that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac,, and Jacob, and that will be His name forever.

Exodus 3:13-15 and following (Douay Rheims Bible):

13 If they should say to me: What is his name? what shall I say to them?

14 God said to Moses: I AM WHO AM. He said: Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: HE WHO IS, hath sent me to you.

15 And God said again to Moses: Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me to you: This is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations."

So when we are blessed or bless ourselves in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we are asking that blessing from He Who eternally IS. The eternal nature of God's existence is evoked in the response, "As it was in the beginining is now and ever shall be."

In Greek "In the Name" Means "To the Account of"

From Wikipedia, an article on the Trinitarian formula comes this an explanation of what the phrase seems to have meant in Greek at that time:
The phrase "in the name" is (Greek: εἰς τὸ ὄνομα)...) The formula (εἰς τὸ ὄνομα) seems to have been a tech. term in Hellenistic commerce ("to the account"). In both cases the use of the phrase is understandable, since the account bears the name of the one who owns it, and in baptism the name of Christ is pronounced, invoked and confessed by the one who baptises or the one baptised."

With this meaning, we can see whatever we do "in the name" we do to the account of the person named. This is related to the theme of not besmirching the named person's reputation.

When we sin, shame is cast on this name, which is after all, our family name, and is the very name that is written on our souls.

Aside from the other damage our sinful actions cause to ourselves and others, our sins create scandal for the Church, which causes great additional harm to many. Our malfeasances are laid to the account of many innocent members of our Church Family, and to the Eternal God Almighty Himself.

For a current example see how the horrendous sins of the sexually predatory priests greatly damaged those who were involved and are being used to besmirch the Catholic Church as a whole. People have lost and continue to lose their Faith, and their eternal salvation is in jeopardy from the scandal caused by those individuals' sins.

As St. Joan of Arc said, Christ is the Church and the Church is Christ. When our sins are laid to the account of the Church they are laid to the account of Christ. He and His Church, which is His Body on this earth, are in no way guilty of the sins of those who call themselves by His Name, but the world will naturally blame our wrongdoings on the Church. And the losses to people who lose their faith from that kind of scandal are immeasurable.

We need to think long and hard about these consequences of sin and pray that all of us Christians live up to our family name and not willfully do anything that could foul the Holy Name.


David Clayton said...

Interesting article. According to Theordore the Studite, who is one of the great Fathers that countered iconoclasm, a holy image is made holy by twto things: capturing the characteristics of the person visually; and by the writing the name of the saint on the picture. david

Roseanne Therese Sullivan said...

Thank you! Theodore the Studite's statement resonates with the fact that we are stamped at Baptism with God's name and His image. BTW, I'm starting to think (just starting yesterday) that literal portraiture in sacred art is not appropriate, so I'm more open to the approach taken by the icon writers.