The Name

We wish all our Friends and Readers abundant blessings of God from the town Stráž pod Ralskem in the northeastern part of the Czech Republic where we are spending a short vacation.

January 1 is not only the New Years’s Day. In the liturgical calendar today is the commemoration of the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus. The circumcision of Jesus has traditionally been seen, as explained in the popular 14th century work the Golden Legend, as the first time the blood of Christ was shed, and thus the beginning of the process of our redemption, and a demonstration that Christ was fully human, and of his obedience to Divine Law.

At the same time it is in the Tradition a day devoted to Mary under her simplest and most popular name, the Mother of God (Theotokos). You can find more reflections on this second aspect of today’s feast in this text we published some time ago. And now we would like to focus on the question what a name is and what meaning does naming have. We found an interesting reflection on this in Journey Into Christ by the Very Rev. Alan Jones, Episcopal theologian whom we often quote on the blog.

The Circumcision of the Lord from the Menologion of Basil II

In principio erat verbum; En arche en ho logos: In principle, at the root of everything, basically, there is the creative Word,
mystery. Theology, as Paul Tillich pointed out long ago, is taking rational trouble (logos) about a mystery (theos). What then is this word? What is it that lies at the heart of being? In Judaism it is the divine name. It is the Tao that cannot be spoken, the Brahman of Hinduism, the Ungrund of Jacob Boehme, the Eternal Thou of Martin Buber. For Bonhoeffer it was “the man for others,” and this “man for others” was Bonhoeffer’s answer to the question “Who is God?” The true name of God cannot be spoken. Moses asked God his name. “I am that I am” (Ex. 3:14) was the reply. The Christian God will not be named, will not be manipulated. Because we are made after the image of the unnameable God no one can finally and irrevocably name us. Our real name is beyond the reach of manipulation and control. Whenever we name our god, we can be sure that we worship an idol. Si comprehendis non est Deus is the great principle of Augustine: if you think you have understood, it is not God.

For the Christian, theos (mystery) resides in the concrete historical revelation of the unity of the whole human race with that mystery (Christos), which in turn is inseparably tied to the person of Jesus. He is God’s word to us in time and space, in whom is revealed the secret of our true identity.

The power of the word, of naming, is not, of course, confined to Christianity or to Judaism. It is present in all religions and the evidence from anthropology points to the fact that it is universal. The names of things, it seems, are intrinsic, and our poverty with regard to meaning is directly related to the impoverishment of language.

In the Kabbalah even the sounds and forms of the letters of the alphabet are regarded as the very elements which constitute reality. Aleph, Beth, Gimmel, Daleth: they contain all the mysteries of the entire universe. It was believed that the Hebrew language itself was the means by which the inwardness of the divine name was revealed.

The title Baal Shem (Master of Name) was given to those who knew the true name of beings and things. It is given only to those who live intimately within the secret of the universe. The task of the Baal Shem is to bring the names of people and things closer to the name and, in this way, to be a means by which all things are united to God. The correct pronunciation of names is very important. Because the sound of the name shapes the reality, we have a strange attitude toward the names of our friends and acquaintances. “His name is Algernon but he doesn’t look like an Algernon; he looks more like a Fred.”

In the Tantric tradition, Sanskrit is a holy language and the correct pronunciation of the name of any god will cause him to appear. The name is the audible form of the god. The supreme word, of which the whole universe, visible and invisible, is a manifestation, is the logos. In the Indian tradition it is the mystic syllable aum or om. Just as that single syllable om is a verbal manifestation of the whole universe, so my name is a verbal revelation of my own inner self and a source of great spiritual strength.

All naming, all language has this mysterious quality. When we perceive the word in its true form we realize that we are in the presence of the holy. Words have a power and life of their own and we are always saying more than we know.

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