Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Holy Name of Jesus

Acts 4:8-12 / Luke 2:21

For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved.

Would a God who is good and just, who endowed all sons and daughters of Adam and Eve with the power of reason and the moral obligation to use it, require of us for our everlasting happiness anything that is not universally available to all human persons in all places and in all times by reasoned observation? This was the question raised by many skeptics of revealed religion in the eighteenth century, and famously by Matthew Tindal in his work Christianity as Old as the Creation; or, the Gospel a Republication of the Religion of Nature. On Tindal's view, true Christianity was whatever within the Gospel could also be discovered by the impartial application of reason to human life. For this reason, he rejected as essential to the Christian faith anything that depended on specific revelation, such as the belief in the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, the sacraments, and so on. Tindal writes, God designed all Mankind should at all times know, what he wills them to know, believe, profess, and practice; and has given them no other Means for this, but the Use of Reason.

Tindal's views, even if expressed somewhat differently today, still have a kind of purchase, even among the baptized. Many worry that salvation only in Jesus, the affirmation of St Peter that there is no other name under even given to men, whereby we must be saved, presents a kind of exclusivism which, to modern eyes, ought to be repugnant to a loving God. Does not the fixing of salvation to a name, which as something particular, as something which must be announced and told rather than intuited from inward contemplation or derived from universal human experience, restrict and constrain, rather than open wide the gates of mercy and pardon?

Of course, the same could be said, and indeed has been said, about the Incarnation itself. The paradox, indeed for some the scandal, of the mystery of the Word made flesh, is that he who contains all things was contained in the womb of his Virgin Mother, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. The same God and Lord submitted to the Law of one particular people, a small and greatly reduced people, in his circumcision, and given a name, a name shared by others of his people and that, like all names, must be told in order to be known.

Yet, if God aims to redeem the human race precisely as human, if his goal was not to set us free from human limits, but rather without erasing those limits to share with us his unbounded life and love, then it is hard to see that God would approach us in any other way. Certainly, he could have done so. Even so, that God effected the salvation of the whole world by assuming a human nature, and with it all the particularities and limits and irreducible local and time-bound features of human life, gives hope to every one of us that, in being caught up in the mystery of God's Triune life, we will not lose our selves. The exaltation of the holy name of Jesus reminds us and assures us that, not generically, not in some undifferentiated mass of human nature nor in some faceless collective, but as irreducibly distinct persons will we be brought to share everlasting glory with him who deigned to receive a human name at human hands and from human lips.

All hail the power of Jesus name!
Let angels prostrate fall;
bring forth the royal diadem,
and crown him Lord of all. 

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