Monday, March 10, 2014

St. Bernard on the Holy Name of Jesus

"And after eight days were accomplished that the child should be circumcised, his name was called Jesus" (Lk 2:21).

O great and wonderful mystery! The Child was circumcised and called Jesus. What connection does the Evangelist wish to show between these two facts? Circumcision would seem to belong more properly to the saved than to the Savior. It was more befitting Him Who was the great High Priest to perform the rite to others than to submit to it Himself. He allowed it to be administered to Him in order to teach us that He is the Mediator between God and man, Who by His Nativity united His Divinity to our human nature—what is highest to what is lowliest.

He was born of a woman, but of a woman in whom the flower of virginity flourished together with the fruit of fecundity. He was wrapped in swaddling-clothes, but He was honored with the praises of the angelic host. He lay in an obscure manger, but a radiant star from heaven pointed Him out. In like manner, by undergoing the rite of circumcision, He gave further proof of His human nature, but the adorable name of Jesus which He then received is above every other name and declares the glory of His majesty. He was circumcised as a true son of Abraham; as Son of God He is called Jesus. This my Jesus bears not, as others do, an empty name; it is not in Him a shadow of greatness but the reality. Heaven assigned it to Him, for the Evangelist testifies that the angel gave it to Him. And mark the depth of the mystery. It was after His birth that He was called by men Jesus, the name which had been given Him by the angel before His birth. For He is truly the Savior of both angels and men; of men by His Incarnation, of angels from the beginning of creation. Before His birth the angels, who possessed the secrets of God, were allowed to know and utter the sacred name of salvation, but till this day of the Circumcision we knew it not. On this day it was first given me to pronounce confidently the blessed name of my Jesus, the name of my eternal salvation. Can we now doubt or hesitate to proclaim that He Who has condescended to dwell amongst us will work out the salvation of all those who are His own?

Circumcision is necessary for us also, in order that we may receive this name of salvation—a circumcision not according to the letter, but one in spirit and in truth. After the fall of our first parents human nature was wholly infected with the venom of sin. While the human race was yet, as it were, in infancy as to faith and love, man received a commandment suited to his imperfect condition. When he had grown to the age of the more perfect man he received the command of baptism, by which the entire man is circumcised. In like manner our Savior was circumcised in His infancy, and, in His perfect manhood, was pleased to be crucified and to endure a penalty which caused every member of His body and every power of His soul to suffer. What, then, is our moral circumcision if not what the Apostle recommends, "Having food and raiment, with these we are content" (1 Tim 6:8)? [...]

We should, therefore, admit nothing into the soul which we fear would not be acceptable to Him Whose Name is a name of salvation.

Source: St. Bernard, Sermon on the Circumcision, in Sermons of St. Bernard on Advent and Christmas (London: R. & T. Washbourne, Ltd., 1909), 136-138.


No Christian can now ask why Christ willed to be circumcised. For us He was born, for us He was circumcised, for us He suffered and died. Nothing of all this was for Himself, but all for His elect. He was not circumcised for His own sins, but for ours. The name He was called by the angel before His birth was His name from all eternity. This name of Savior was His natural right; it was born with Him, not imposed by either angel or man. The illustrious Prophet Isaias, predicting the birth of this Divine Child, calls Him by many great titles, but he seems to have been silent on this one name which the angel foretold, and to which the Evangelist bears testimony. Isaias, like Abraham, exulted that might see Christ's day; he, too, saw it and was glad. Rejoicing and praising God, he says: "A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace" (Is 9:6). These are indeed great names, but where is the name which is above all names, the name of Jesus at which every knee should bow? Perhaps we may find that one name expressed, or poured out in all, for it is the same that was spoken of by the Spouse in the canticle of love, "Thy name is as oil poured out." Therefore, from and in all these names and titles we have but the one name of Jesus. His office of Savior includes all. If one had been wanting, He could neither have been called nor have been the Savior.

Has not each one of us found by experience that He has been Wonderful in the conversion and change of our wills? For is it not the beginning of salvation when we loathe what we formerly loved, grieve over what we once delighted in, embrace what we had feared, follow after that which we had fled from, desire what we had contemned? He that has wrought such wonders in us is assuredly Wonderful.

Jesus shows Himself to be the Counsellor by directing us in the choice of penance and of a well-ordered life, lest our zeal be without knowledge and our good-will without prudence.

It was likewise necessary that we should experience Him to be God the Mighty. God in the remission of our past sins, for none but God can forgive sin, and Mighty when enabling us to fight victoriously those sinful passions which are ever warring in us, and which are liable to render our last state worse than the first.

Does anything still seem wanting to the office of Savior? Yea, truly, the chief thing would be lacking were He not also the Father of the world to come, so that we who are engendered in this world unto death may by Him be raised up to a glorious immortality.

A further title and quality is required—that of the Prince of peace Who has reconciled us to His Father, to Whom He is to give back the kingdom. Otherwise, as children of perdition, we might have risen again to punishment instead of reward.

The government, which is upon His shoulder, shall be magnified by the number of the saved, that He may be truly called the Savior; that there may be no end of peace; and that we may know our salvation to be a true salvation which leaves no fear of failure.

O blessed Name! O sacred Oil! how widely hast thou been spread, how profusely poured out! Whence did this oil come? It came from heaven to Judea, and thence was diffused over the whole earth, to its uttermost bounds. The Church cries out, "Thy name is oil poured out." Poured out, indeed, to overflowing, since it is spread abroad, not only over the heavens and earth, but its influence reaches even to hell; so that "in the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth; and every tongue shall confess" (Phil 2:10) and say, "Thy name is as oil poured out." Behold the name of Christ and the name of Jesus were both communicated to the angels and poured out upon men. I am, then, made a participator in this salutary and life-giving name. I am a shareholder in His inheritance. I am a Christian. I am a brother of Christ. If a brother, then an heir also of God and co-heir with Christ.

And what wonder that the name of the Divine Spouse is poured out? In His passion He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant. By this pouring out the plenitude of His divinity is diffused or spread abroad upon the earth, and of His plenitude all shall receive; and when refreshed with the life-giving perfume of this mystic oil they will exclaim, "Thy name is as oil poured out."

[This point forward is an excerpt from Sermon 15 on the Canticle of Canticles, "On the Name of Jesus"; full sermon here:]

But why is this name compared to oil? There is undoubtedly a similitude between the name of the Spouse and oil, and not without reason has the Holy Ghost drawn a comparison between them. Oil gives light, nourishes and strengthens the body, and alleviates pain. Hence it is light, food, and medicine. All these qualities may be recognized in the holy name of Jesus. It shines and gives light when preached, it feeds and strengthens by its remembrance, it alleviates sorrow and anoints the wounds of the soul by its invocation. Let us consider these three qualities singly.

How was it that the light of faith shone forth so suddenly over the whole earth, if not by the preaching of the blessed name of Jesus? Is it not by the light of this name that God has called us "into his marvelous light" (1 Pt 2:9), so that, being enlightened by it, we shall see as the Apostle declares, "For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord" (Eph 5:8). The Apostle was commanded to carry this name before kings and nations and the children of Israel. He carried it as a brilliant torch, so that he could exclaim: "The night is past, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light. Let us walk honestly as in the day" (Rom 13:12). He lifted the light on high, and announced everywhere the name of Jesus and Him crucified. How brilliantly, too, did this light shine forth and attract the gaze of all when from the mouth of Peter the sacred name gave strength to the feet of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple! Was he not diffusing this light when he said to this name, "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth arise and walk" (Acts 3:6)? And to how many did he not restore sight, and health, and faith, by the power of this same name?

But the name of Jesus is not only light, it is likewise food. Are you not strengthened and consoled as often as you call it to mind? There is no thought that so replenishes and fills the soul with sweetness and spiritual joy; no exercise so efficaciously recruits and refreshes the wearied spirit, and even the senses; so repairs the inward strength, gives vigor to virtue, and cherishes pure affections, as the frequent invocation of the name of Jesus. All food of the soul is unsavory to me if this oil be not poured upon it; it is insipid to me if not seasoned with this name. If you write, it does not relish if I read not there the name of Jesus. If you dispute or instruct, it does not satisfy me if I hear not the sweet sound of the name of Jesus. Jesus is honey to the mouth, music to the ear, jubilee to the heart.

The name of Jesus is, moreover, a sovereign medicine. If there be anyone overwhelmed with sorrow, let Jesus come into his heart, and thence to his lips, and behold, at the rising light of this sacred name all darkness and clouds will be dispersed, peace and joy will return, and the serenity of his mind will be restored. If there be anyone stained with crime and driven headlong by despair to the pit of destruction, let him call upon this life-giving name, and he will speedily be restored to hope and salvation. Is there anyone amongst you in hardness of heart, in sloth, or tepidity, in bitterness of mind, if he will but invoke the name of Jesus his heart will be softened, and tears of contrition will flow gently and abundantly. In dangers and distress, in fears and anxieties, let him call on this name of power, and his confidence will return, his peace of mind will be restored. Doubts and embarrassments will be dispelled and give place to certainty. There is no ill of life, no adversity or misfortune, in which this adorable name will not bring help and fortitude. It is a remedy whose virtue our dear Savior invites us to test. "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me" (Ps 49:15).

Nothing so efficaciously bridles anger and subdues the fire of all unruly passions as this holy name. When I pronounce the name of Jesus, I represent to myself a man meek and humble of heart, benevolent, chaste, merciful, a man endowed with all sanctity, all graces, all virtues, and I call to mind that this man is Divine, is the Almighty God, Who heals me by His example and strengthens me by His power. All manner of good things come to my mind when the sacred name of Jesus sounds in my ear. I will, therefore, make to myself a sweet and sovereign ointment from the virtues of His humanity and the Omnipotence of His Divinity. It shall be to me a healing balsam, the like to which no physician was ever able to compound. And this electuary, my soul, thou hast laid up in the little vessel of the name of Jesus.

Let, then, this name of power be ever in my heart, that all my thoughts, desires, and actions may be directed by Jesus and unto Jesus. To this He Himself urges me: "Place me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thy arm."

Source: St. Bernard, Sermon on the Holy Name of Jesus, in Sermons of St. Bernard on Advent and Christmas (London: R. & T. Washbourne, Ltd., 1909), 141-147.

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