Thursday, March 06, 2008

IHS Discussion

Go to Tankard of Tea for a fascinating discussion of the origins of IHS. Interesting from the perspectives of theology, linguistics, and art history.

E concludes with:
"It started as a clerical mistake. (Get it "clerical", as in, cleric, clergy, monks? haha) But it was perpetuated, I think, because of bad theology run amok. The middle ages were, shall we say, strong in venerating the holy and awesome side of God; in cultivating a fear of God and respect of our position as sinners. But we all know they went a bit overboard. I think they forgot that God Himself invites, nay, tells us to call Him father and brother, co-heir. He prepares a place for us in His eternal home, writes us in His book of life, invites us to dine with Him weekly, and made The Greatest Sacrifice for us. Surely we can speak His holy and most beautiful name, and must not confine ourselves to abbreviations. We know we are unworthy and unfaithful sinners, but it is the story of salvation that He says "Call me by my real name, anyway". Just like it is not our choice to exclude ourselves from His table when He calls us to come, it is not our choice, with mock humility, to call Him something other than what He wishes. Particularly when that something other is, to modern culture, so impersonal: an abbreviation or acrostic."

This is particularly noteworthy since it has become vogue to write G-d or some variation thereof for God. This not only is a corruption akin to the IHS controversy you describe, its lineage can more directly be traced to the Jewish tradition of dropping letters when writing God's name. Your discussion of why theologically, in the light of Christ's coming those traditions or fashions are not valid means of expression. Christ himself has removed the barrier, and we are adopted sons... to call our father, "Father". To do otherwise is to begin down the path of creating your own traditions that seem wiser to you than God's own demands.


WondrousPilgrim said...

I agree with you completely about G-d, which is exactly as you describe. But I can't agree with E's conclusion.

IHS is not a corruption, it is a symbol, that is, a physical form invested with new (spiritual) meaning. Symbols do not replace that to which they refer. The Catholic Encyclopedia documents it's history pretty clearly as a early christian abbreviation of the name of Christ (IHS=Iota Eta Sigma=JES, for Jesus)--and like all early Christian symbols, it was necessary due to the precarious situation the Christians were in in pre-Constantine Rome.

Obviously, it has taken on new meaning in it's 1700 year history, including its most common use today in the Catholic Church as the seal for the Jesuit Order. But St. Ignatius picked this symbol for his seal to signify that a realtionship with CHRIST is at the heart of everything we must do.

Now, at least for Roman Catholics, IHS is primarily an iconographic symbol. That brings up another set of problems for Protestants, I understand, but it's not the same as the G-d problem.

I've never seen, for example, Catholic theological treatises, or spritual writings, that use IHS as a substitute for the name of Jesus Christ. But that is exactly what is happening with G-d, especially on interfaith websites, like "".

WondrousPilgrim said...

She does mention several erroneous interpretations of the IHS, like "In His Service" and "Jesus Hominum Salvator"--and she's write about their falsehood. The Catholic encyclopedia also points out are incorrect (see below).

I think that is primarily a matter of bad catechises, not bad theology.

elrj said...

Would it be bad theology if we preserved the WWJD for 1700 years?