Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What does IHS stand for? The meaning of the Holy Name of Jesus

January 3rd, Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus
In the Extraordinary Form, the feast of the Holy Name is of the “second class” (making it equal to Sundays throughout the year, complete with the recitation of the Gloria and the Credo), but in the Ordinary Form the memorial of the Holy Name was not even included in the calendar after 1970. Happily, the feast was re-instituted as an optional memorial by Bl. John Paul II – we should think that the Name deserves at least this much honor!
In fact, the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus is of comparatively recent origin, not having become popular until the Franciscan St. Bernadine of Siena preached this devotion in the 15th century. It has been celebrated in numerous ways in the Latin rite – at first the feast was kept on the Second Sunday after Epiphany, then it was moved to the Sunday after the Octave of Christmas (the Sunday between January 2nd and 5th). It is desirable that this feast be celebrated closer to the day in which Christ historically received his name, the day of his circumcision (eight days after his birth, January 1st), and thus the feast is kept on January 3rd in the Novus Ordo.
The insignia “IHS" is associated with this feast, but what does IHS mean? Why is IHS a sign for the Name of Jesus?

What IHS really means – Jesus
The name “Jesus”, in Greek, is written ιησους which is transliterated as “ihsous” and pronounced iēsous. This is the Holy Name as it was written in the Gospels.
However, in Hebrew, the name “Jesus” is written ישוע which is transliterated as “yeshu‘a” and pronounced yeshūa.
Finally, in Latin, the Holy Name is written Iesus which gives us the English “Jesus”, since the “j” often replaces the “i” at the beginning of a word (as well as between vowels).
Chi (x) and Rho (p), CHRist
The insignia “IHS” comes from the Latinized version of the Greek ιησους, [UPDATE: In Greek capitals this would be ΙΗΣΟΥΣ or IHSOUS in Latin letters] taking the first three letters in capitals IHS(ous). Much as the popular “chi-rho” symbol (pictured right, X – P) comes from the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ, χριστος (Christos) – XPistos.
This is the true meaning of IHS, it is the first three letters of the Greek spelling of the Holy Name of Jesus. The insignia is nothing more (and nothing less) than the symbol of the Holy Name.
Iesus Hominum Salvator – Jesus the Savior of men
It is popular legend that the IHS stands for the Latin phrase Iesus Hominum Salvator, “Jesus the Savior of (all) Men”. While this is a fine devotion, it is not historically accurate.
The IHS symbol was so popular that it is not uncommon to find the Latin Iesus misspelled as IHeSus (with the “H” added, though in Greek this “h” is equivalent to the Latin “e”).
In fact, the first known use of the IHS abbreviation comes in the 8th century: “DN IHS CHS REX REGNANTIUM”, the first three words being abbreviated from “DomiNus IHeSus CHristuS” – “The Lord Jesus Christ is the King of Kings”. For a further explanation of the history of the IHS, see the Catholic Encyclopedia article [here] and [here].
Still, although historically inaccurate, there is certainly nothing wrong with seeing in this insignia a testimony to the truth that there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Most certainly, Jesus alone is the Savior and without his grace we can neither attain nor even desire everlasting life.
In Hoc Signo vinces – In this sign, you will conquer
After three nails were added under the insignia (together with a cross above), some noticed that the inscription now contained a “V” below the IHS – so that we see IHSV. (see image on the side) In this form it was adopted by St. Ignatius as the symbol of the Jesuits.
IHSV was interpreted to mean In Hoc Signo Vinces, “In this sign, you shall conquer”. It was taken as a reference to the victory which Constantine won against Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge on 28 October 312. Before the battle, the future Emperor saw a sign in the sky (probably the Greek chi-rho X-P, the symbol of “Christ”) and heard the words εν τουτω νικα, which is Greek for “In this [sign], you shall conquer”. The phrase was translated into Latin and it was noticed that the first letters of each word added up to IHSV – thus was born the legend that IHS stood for Constantine’s vision and the Christianization of Rome.
Most certainly, in the Holy Name of Jesus we shall conquer every enemy – and the last enemy to be destroyed is death itself.
Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus
St. Bernardine of Siena
popularized devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus
Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy, Jesus, hear us. Jesus, graciously hear us.
God, the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.
Jesus, Son of the living God, have mercy on us (etc.)
Jesus, Splendor of the Father,
Jesus, Brightness of eternal Light,
Jesus, King of Glory,
Jesus, Sun of Justice,
Jesus, Son of the Virgin Mary,
Jesus, most amiable,
Jesus, most admirable,
Jesus, the mighty God,
Jesus, Father of the world to come,
Jesus, angel of great counsel,
Jesus, most powerful,
Jesus, most patient,
Jesus, most obedient,
Jesus, meek and humble of heart,
Jesus, Lover of Chastity,
Jesus, our Lover,
Jesus, God of Peace,
Jesus, Author of Life,
Jesus, Model of Virtues,
Jesus, zealous for souls,
Jesus, our God,
Jesus, our Refuge,
Jesus, Father of the Poor,
Jesus, Treasure of the Faithful,
Jesus, good Shepherd,
Jesus, true Light,
Jesus, eternal Wisdom,
Jesus, infinite Goodness,
Jesus, our Way and our Life,
Jesus, joy of the Angels,
Jesus, King of the Patriarchs,
Jesus, Master of the Apostles,
Jesus, Teacher of the Evangelists,
Jesus, Strength of Martyrs,
Jesus, Light of Confessors,
Jesus, Purity of Virgins,
Jesus, Crown of all Saints,
Be merciful unto us, spare us, O Jesus!
Be merciful unto us, graciously hear us, O Jesus!
From all evil, deliver us, O Jesus!
From all sin, deliver us, O Jesus!
From Thy wrath, deliver us, O Jesus! (etc.)
From the snares of the devil,
From the spirit of fornication,
From everlasting death,
From the neglect of Thine inspirations,
Through the mystery of Thy holy Incarnation,
Through Thy Nativity,
Through Thine Infancy,
Through Thy most divine Life,
Through Thy Labors,
Through Thy Agony and Passion,
Through Thy Cross and Dereliction,
Through Thy Sufferings,
Through Thy Death and Burial,
Through Thy Resurrection,
Through Thine Ascension,
Through Thine Institution of the Most Holy Eucharist,
Through Thy Joys,
Through Thy Glory,

Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, spare us, O Jesus!
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Jesus!
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us, O Jesus!
Jesus, hear us, Jesus, graciously hear us

Let us pray. O Lord Jesus Christ, Who has said: Ask and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: grant, we beseech Thee, to us who ask the grace of Thy most divine love, that we may love Thee with all our hearts, words and works, and never cease to praise Thee. Make us, O Lord, to have a continual fear and love of Thy holy Name; for Thou never ceasest to rule and govern those whom Thou doest solidly establish in Thy love. Who livest and reignest for ever and ever. (Amen.)


Unknown said...

I tell my students that they shouldn't say "Jeees!" because it is the abbreviated Sacred Name: IHS.


Seth said...

Dear Fr Erlenbush,

If the interpretation of IHS as the first three letters of the Holy Name in Greek is correct, why is the last letter represented as a Roman "S" not as a Greek sigma? Are there examples attested that do use the sigma? Do you happen to know when this symbol is first attested (is it in the catacombs?)?

Just a small (and somewhat trivial) note: "ihsous" is not a transliteration, since "h" is not the transliteration of Greek eta, but merely what the letter looks like. The spelling you give as the pronunciation really is a transliteration.


kelso said...

Wonderful summation. The second letter, eta, in the capital form is H, hence IHS are all capitals and sound out the first half of the Holy Name

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I did the same in my religion classes today (grades 5-8) ... thanks for the tip!

Peace always. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Seth and kelso,
Indeed, there is an oddity in the way that the letters are "transliterated" ... the "sigma" is put into the Latin "S", but the "eta" is rendered with the Latin "H" ... hence, it is not really a transliteration, but neither is it really "what the letters look like" (since the sigma was transliterated).

"iota" is transliterated and "sigma" is transliterated ... but "eta" is rendered as "H".

I would suppose that the fact that the lower-case greek sigma (in one form at least) looks like an "s" is part of the reason that the capital Latin "S" was used replace the capital Greek "sigma" ... though I don't know of any hard evidence to prove this.

Peace. +

Howard said...

I think there's more to Iesus Hominum Salvator than a "popular legend" or "fine devotion". After all, I've been taught that the name Yeshu‘a literally means "Yahweh saves". It may have taken a roundabout way getting back to it, but that is precisely the same meaning as Iesus Hominum Salvator.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I certainly do not mean to dismiss the Iesus Hominum Salvator tradition out of hand ... I think it is a wonderful devotion, though not historically accurate.
Indeed, as I say, there is only one Name by which we must be saved -- and, as you rightly pointed out, the very name Yeshu'a means "YWHW saves".

However, the simple fact is the IHS derives from Greek, not from Latin -- and it was used as short-hand for the Holy Name.
Hence, "Jesus the Savior of Men" (from the Latin) is not the true historical roots of the IHS.

Don't get me wrong -- I think it is great to meditate upon that (as well as the battle of the Milvian bridge), but it is not the literal sense of the IHS.

But it is good to know that the IHS is verily the Holy Name itself -- and this should be the heart of our devotion.

Peace and blessings! +

Anonymous said...

Psalm 8

O Lord, our Lord,
how glorious is your name in all the earth!
You have exalted your majesty
above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of newborn babes
and infants you have brought
forth praise as a bulwark
against your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look up at your heavens
that have been formed by
your fingers,
the moon and the stars
that you have set in place,
what is man that you are
mindful of him,
the son of man that you
care for him?

You have made him a little
less than the angels and
crowned him with glory and honor.

You have given him dominion over
the works of your hands
and placed everything under
his feet:
all sheep and oxen as well as
beast of the field,
the birds of the air,
the fish of the sea, and
whatever swims the paths of the sea.

O Lord, our Lord,
how glorious is your name
in all the earth!

And too...

The Golden Arrow Prayer

{An act of Praise and Reparation dictated by Our Lord to Sister Mary of St. Peter and the Holy Family}

May the Most Holy, Most Sacred, Most Adorable, Most Incomprehensible and Unutterable Name of God be always praised, blessed, loved, adored and glorified, in Heaven, on earth, and under the earth, by all the creatures of God and by the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament of the altar. Amen.

After receiving this prayer, Sister Mary was given a vision in which she saw the Sacred Heart of Jesus delightfully wounded by the "Golden Arrow" as torrents of graces streamed from It for the conversion of sinners.

Peace & Prayers to you, Father, on this glorious feast day of our Dear Lord Jesus!

Cyprian said...

Good post. Another one of my favorites is the ΙΧΘΥΣ (ICHTHUS) acronym. Ichthus means 'fish' in Greek, but it also contains the first letters of the following phrase:

Ιησοῦς χριστὸς θεοῦ υἱὸς σωτήρ
Jesus Christ God's Son Savior!

Father S. said...

It is not uncommon to see this written as "ihc." In this variation, one can see the Latinized lowercase Greek. The lowercase sigma dips below the base line (I am sure that there is a proper name for this line, but I am not sure what it is.) of the written test, much like a cedilla that we often see with the French "c". In art, the part that dips below the base line is sometimes removed. Of course, this preserves and demonstrates that this is a reference to the Holy Name and not an acronym for something else.

If you would like to see an example of this, the altar at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis has this on the front piece in stone. Here is a link: http://www.lifeisaprayer.com/photos/2010/1967

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Albert Nygren said...

The name of Jesus in Hebrew is Jesus real name. The Greek transliteration, the Roman transliteration, and the English transliteration of Jesus real name, Yashua, all hide the real meaning of Jesus Holy Name.Yashua is a compound name made from 2 words. "Ya" Is the short form of the most Holy name of God our Father. The name that God gave to Moses at the burning bush. This Name used to be transliterated as Jehovah but there is no "J" sound in Hebrew so is now transliterated as Yahweh.

No matter the pronunciation, the meaning is, "I Am That I Am". The second part of Jesus name is "shua" which means "savior", so that Jesus real name Yashua means "Yahweh Savior" or "Yahweh's Savior".

I don't know why God's most Holy name of Yahweh is substituted in the Old testament translation as LORD with all Capital letters, but it causes some confuses things because this causes the real meaning of our Savior's name to be hidden also. Just so you know, I am not a Jehovah's Witness, I am just a Christian who cares about the real meaning of God's most Holy name and Jesus Most Holy name and suspect that God cares also.
Albert Nygren

Mrs. O'Riordan said...

Great piece, this is just what the Doctor ordered to catechize the laity. Thanks. Just as an aside look at the Chi Rho page in the Book of Kells - how the ancient monks venerated the holy Name - and also this shows us the origins of the use of Xmas - http://www.oneonta.edu/faculty/farberas/arth/arth212/book_of_kells.html - Blessings - Rene

Father S. said...


The reason why YHWH is substituted with so many other terms often translated to English as "Lord" is based on respect. The Jews use "Adonai," "Elohim," "El Shaddai," etc., in place of the Tetragrammaton in order to never be in danger of blasphemy.

I have often heard people dismiss this practice of the Jews. I think that dismissal is foolish. Even modern Catholics have so little reverence for the Divine Name that they take it in vain as a simple matter of course. To respect the name of Almighty God out of true and virtuous fear of the Lord is a laudable practice.

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Wonderer said...

I really am no scholar but I do buy into Howard's comment. I can understand a deeper devotional origin to IHS by it's relation to the meaning of the most holy Name with the help of the Greek spelling. The roundabout approach explains, to me, the apparent difficulties between the Latin and Greek transliterations which explanations seem to lack without the devotional. - J

Anonymous said...

Isn't 'gosh' actually a euphemism for 'God'?

'Gee Wiz' for 'Jesus'?

'Golly gee' for 'God' and 'Jesus'?

Shouldn't we avoid these and all similar euphemisms as minor encroachments on the 2nd commandment?

I used to know someone that would exclaim 'oh my cookies!' I like that...


Anonymous said...

I H S I was always taught: In His Service

Love to all Mankind Markus...

Anonymous said...

Your transliteration of Iesous is actually incorrect when you put and "h" or "H" in place of the 7th Greek letter, "Eta". Small case or captital, it is the Greek letter for our "e/E" and can in no way be transliterated to an "h/H". There is no letter for H in Greek; only the breathing mark, which is a reverse of our comma, giving us the "rh' in many of our words.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You obviously don't know much about greek ... the letter "eta" in capitalized form is written like this: "H".
I'm not giving a transliteration, I'm writing the letter in Greek form -- "IHS" (the sigma is giving in a modification of the Byzantine form).

Did you even read the article?

Unknown said...

What about "Jesus Salutaris Hostia".
I was taught in the 1950s that IHS means Jesus Saving Victim

I am surprised that no one has mentioned this signification that links so closely to pre- Vatican II conception of the mass as a reenactment of the Sacrifice on Calvary.
I was taught that this was why the letters IHS appeared so often on chalices and chasubles and tabernacles.

Colin Kenworthy

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