Skip to comments.The Adoration of the Name of Jesus (El Greco)
Posted on 01/02/2005 12:52:47 PM PST by Pyro7480
"...God great 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." (Phil. 2: 9-11)
In illustrating this quote from an epistle of Saint Paul, Domenikos Theotokopoulos, popularly known as "El Greco," drew upon his Greek heritage and composed a painting that is both an exaltation of Christ's Name nd a dramatic scene of the Apocalypse. Born in Crete, which in his day was a Venetian possession, and educated in Italy, the artist is said to have executed this painting to gain the royal patronage of King Philip II of Spain.
Earliest Byzantine symbolism depicted scenes of the Apocalypse in which the throne of God was feature with a scroll placed upon it (depicting "the Word") and the name of Jesus in some abbreviated form, signifying His place at God's Right Hand and his role as Judge. Here the throne is replaced by a radiant burst of golden light surmounted by a white trigram composed of three Greek letter: iota, eta, and sigma. They form an abbreviation of the name of Jesus in Greek (IHSUS or IHCUC, with the letters S and C being variant forms in the Greek alphabet). By the fifteenth century, this trigram had evolved with a cross surmounting the middle letter. The Society of Jesus adopted the trigram as its emblem and popularized it throughout the world. In the Latin West, various new interpretations were given as to the meaning of the letters IHS. For instance, "Jesus Hominum Salvator" (Jesus Savior of Mankind) was one, while "In hoc signo (vinces)" was another, harkening back to the tale of Constantine's vision or dream in which he saw Christ's insignia and adopted it in order to conquer his enemies and gain an empire. In the Spanish language, there was yet another interpretation: "Jesus Hijo Sacro," meaning Jesus Divine Son. All in all, the various interpretations remained Christocentric and an exaltation of the Holy Name of Jesus.
In El Greco's painting a number of notable figures are assembled, all bending their knees in homage to the Holy Name. King Philip is the most prominent, dressed typically in black, In front of him, wearing red gloves, gold cope, maniple, and stole is Pope [St.] Pius V. The man wearing military costume and resting his hands on his sword is Don Juan of Austria who was the admiral of the allied fleet at the Battle of Lepanto. Finally, the balding man wearing a gold and ermine cloak with his back to the viewer is the Doge of Venice. The presence of these four figures lead scholars to believe that the artist was paying specific tribute to the Holy League which triumphed at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. In adoring the Holy Name of Jesus these defenders of the faith are engaged in a thanksgiving for their miraculous victory against the superior navy of the Saracens. They are at the forefront of an earthly assembly that extends to the ends of the earth. Yet this is not the only realm of existence depicted in El Greco's painting. In a mystical portal above King Philip's head, souls are judged and either gain admittance to a staircase of light or else they are rejected and thrown into a lake of fire. The devil's maw, with its monstrous gaping jaws, opens wide to reveal cavernous underworld of the damned. Writhing in agony, they witness the glory above them from the hemispherical canopy of the devil's fanged orifice.
The lozenge-like compartments utilized by El Greco to differentiate between earth, heaven, and hell harkens back to the Byzantine murals of his homeland. So too does the angel-filled sector of the divine in the upper register reflect, in a more relaxed and occidential way, the Greek custom of having the throne of God surrounded by cherubim and seraphim. Buoyed by slabs of dull gray clouds, these celestrial beings bend their kness as they surround and absorb the light emanating from the Holy Name, the supreme focus of the entire composition.
El Greco's painting is but one example of an iconography that reflects the deep reverence given to the Name of Jesus. In fact, devotion to the Holy Name spans the entirety of Church history. Following the example of Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans, many of the Church Fathers gave glory to the Name of Jesus in their letters and homilies. Saint Peter Chrysologus even attributed miraculous powers to the Name. In the Middle Ages, Saints Anselm and Bernard were great proponents of it. In the Franciscan Order, three saints sprea the cult of the Holy Name in Europe: King St. Louis of France, St. Bernardine of Siena, and St. John Capistran. The latter attributed the victory of Christian soldiers in battle to the power of the Holy Name and the crucifix. In the Dominican Order, the Rhineland mystic, Blessed Henry Suso, reveled in the spirituality of the cult going so far as to carve the letters of the Holy Name on his chest. As far back as the thirteenth century, the Second Council of Lyons prescribed that at the very mention of the Holy Name, one should incline one's head in reverence. At the same time, Pope Gregory X urged Blessed John of Vercelli, the Master of the Dominican Order, to spread the devotion throughout the entire Church, thus giving birth to the Holy Name Society, a confraternity formed to combat and make reparation for the profanity and blasphemy leveled against the Name, before which Saint Paul says every knee in heaven, earth, and hell should bow.
In the Dominican Order, the Rhineland mystic, Blessed Henry Suso, reveled in the spirituality of the cult going so far as to carve the letters of the Holy Name on his chest.
Devotion to the Holy Name
By Blessed Henry Suso
Blessed Henry Suso
The eternal God asks a favor of his bride: "Hold me close to your hear, close as locket or bracelet fits."
My dear children, I send you this letter so that you will always have something in your souls' mouth which will nourish and encourage your heart and spirit with love for the tender, delightful Eternal Wisdom. This the source of the most perfect occupation we can have in this world, while we await the pure vision, the immediate embrace, and the unending participation of the Godhead. We should often think of God's love, languish for His love, often speak about Him, often meditate on His words, perform all our actions for Him, and think of Him alone.
The eye should look at Him; the ear should listen to His desires; heart, soul, and emotions should tenderly embrace Him. If we have offended Him, we should supplicate Him; if He exercises us, we should bear with Him; if He hides Himself, we should seek our Beloved and not desist until we have found Him; when we have found Him, we should embrace Him tenderly and reverently.
No matter whether we walk or stand still, eat or drink, we should at all times wear the golden locket "Jesus" upon our heart. If we are unable to do anything else, we should press His Image upon our souls with our eyes and revolve this gracious Name in our mouth. We should think of it so often during the day that we will dream of it during the night, We should fervently exclaim with the prophet Jeremias: "Good is the Lord to one who waits for Him, to the soul that seeks Him" (Lam. 3; 25).
Behold, this is the best exercise you can acquire. The crown of all spiritual exercises is fervent prayer, and everything else must be subordinated to it as to the final goal.
Blessed Henry Suso (died 1366) was a German Dominican priest whose mystical writings focus on divine wisdom and love for Christ's Passion.
-Taken from the Meditation for the Day on Monday, the 3rd of January 2005, in the January 2005 issue of Magnificat; originally taken from The Exemplar, Volume Two, Sr. M. Ann Edward, O.P., O.S.A., Tr. 1962, the Priory Press, St. Thomas Aquinas Priory, Dubuque, IO.