God the Son

Introducing the Church Fathers – Isidore of Seville (Part 2)

Isadore of Seville

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting Isidore of Seville and a selection from his massive work called Etymologies on the many names of God the Father. I decided to carry Isidore of Seville forward two more weeks to allow him the space to cover the names of both God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, this week will function as Part 2 and deal with the many names of God the Son. Next week will function as Part 3 and will cover the many names of the God the Holy Spirit.  His work is so fantastically in depth that it would be a tragedy not to release them as a series.  And now with no further adieu, Part 2, the many names of God the Son…

ii. The Son of God (De Filio Dei)

In the divine writings Christ is also found to be named in many ways, for he, the only-begotten Son of God the Father, although he was the equal of the Father, took the form of a slave (Philippians 2:7) for our salvation. Whence some names are given to him with regard to the substance of his divinity, and some with regard to the dispensation of his assumed humanity.

He is named ‘Christ’ (Christus) from ‘chrism’ (chrisma), that is, ‘anointed one,’ for it was a precept among the Jews that they would confect a sacred ointment by which those who were called to the priesthood or the kingship might be anointed. Just as nowadays for kings to be clothed in the purple is the mark of royal dignity, so for them anointing with sacred ointment would confer the royal title and power. Hence they are called ‘anointed ones’ (christus) from chrism, which is unction, for the Greek chrisma is ‘unction’ (unctio) in Latin. When this anointing was done spiritually, it accommodated the name ‘Christ’ to the Lord, because he was anointed by the Spirit from God the Father, as in Acts (4:27): “For there assembled together in this city against thy holy child . . . whom thou hast anointed” – by no means with visible oil, but by the gift of grace, for which visible ointment is a sign. ‘Christ’ is not, however, a proper name of the Savior, but a common-noun designation of his power. When he is called ‘Christ,’ it is a common designation of his importance, but when he is called ‘Jesus Christ’ it is the proper name of the Savior. Further, the name of Christ never occurred at all elsewhere in any nation except in that kingdom alone where Christ was prophesied, and whence he was to come. Again, in Hebrew he is called ‘Messiah’ (Messias), in Greek ‘Christ,’ in Latin ‘the anointed’ (unctus).

The Hebrew ‘Jesus’ is translated σωτήρ in Greek, and “healer” (salutaris) or “savior” (salvator) in Latin, because he has comefor all nations as the ‘bearer of salvation’ (salutifer). The Evangelist renders the etymology of his name, saying (Matthew 1:21), “And thou shalt call his name Savior (salvator ; cf. Vulgate Iesus), for he shall save his people.” Just as ‘Christ’ signifies a king, so ‘Jesus’ signifies a savior. Not every kind of king saves us, but a savior king. The Latin language did not have this word salvator before, but it could have had it, seeing that it was able to when it wanted. The Hebrew Emmanuel in Latin means “God is with us,” undoubtedly because, born of a Virgin, God has appeared to humans in mortal flesh, that he might open the way of salvation to heaven for the inhabitants of earth.

Christ’s names that pertain to the substance of his divinity are as follows: God (Deus), Lord (Dominus). He is called God because of his unity of substance with the Father, and Lord because of the creation subservient to him. And he is God and man, for he is Word and flesh.Whence he is called the Doubly-Begotten (bis genitus), because the Father begot (gignere, ppl. genitus) him without amotherin eternity,andbecause amotherbegot him without a father in the temporal world. But he is called the Only-Begotten (unigenitus) according to the peerless quality of his divinity, for he is without brothers; he is called the First-Begotten (primogenitus) with regard to his assuming of human nature, in which he deigned through the grace of adoption to have brothers, among whom he was the first begotten.

He is called ‘of one substance’ (homousion, i.e. ὁμοούσιος ) with the Father because of their unity of substance, because in Greek substance or essence is called ὄνομα and ὁμο – means “one.” The two joined together therefore denote ‘one substance.’ For this reason he is called Homousion, that is (John 10:30), “I and the Father are one” – that is, of the same substance with the Father. Although this name is not written in Sacred Scripture, nevertheless it is supported in the formal naming of the whole Trinity because an account is offered according to which it is shown to be spoken correctly, just as in those books we never read that the Father is the Unbegotten (Ingenitus), yetwe have no doubt that he should be spoken of and believed to be that.2 Homoeusion (i.e. ὁμοιούσιος ), that is “similar in substance,” because as God is, so also is God’s image. Invisible is God, and invisible his image (i.e. the divinity latent in Jesus).

The Beginning (Principium), because all things are from him, and before him nothing was. The End (Finis), either because he deigned at the end (finis) of time to be born and to die humbly in the flesh and to undertake the Last Judgment, or because whatever we do we refer to him, and when we have come to him we have nothing further to seek. He is the ‘Mouth of God’ (Os Dei) because he is hisWord, for just as we often say ‘this tongue’ and ‘that tongue’ for ‘words,’ which are made by the tongue, so ‘Mouth’ is substituted for the ‘Word of God,’ because words are normally formed by the mouth. Further, he is called the Word (Verbum) because through him the Father established or commanded all things. Truth (Veritas), because he does not deceive, but gave what he promised. Life (Vita) because he created. He is called the Image (Imago) because of his equivalent likeness to the Father. He is the Figure (Figura) because although he took on the formof a slave, he portrayed in himself the Father’s image and immeasurable greatness by his likeness to the Father in his works and powers.

He is the ‘Hand of God’ (Manus Dei) because all things were made through him. Hence also the ‘Right Hand’ (Dextera) because of his accomplishment of the work of all creation, which was formed by him. The Arm (Brachium), because all things are embraced by him. The Power (Virtus), because he contains in himself all the authority of the Father, and governs, holds, and rules thewhole creation of heaven and earth. Wisdom (Sapientia), because he himself reveals the mysteries of knowledge and the secrets of wisdom. But although the Father and the Holy Spirit may be ‘Wisdom’ and ‘Power’ and ‘Lamp’ and ‘Light,’ nevertheless strictly speaking it is the Son who is designated by these names. Again, he is called Clarity (Splendor) because of what he plainly reveals. Lamp (Lumen), because he illuminates (illuminare). Light (Lux), because he unlocks the eyes of the heart for gazing at the truth. Sun (Sol), because he is the illuminator. The Orient (Oriens, i.e. “East,” “Sunrising”) because he is the source of light and the brightener of things, and because he makes us rise (oriri) to eternal life. The Fount (Fons), because he is the origin of things, or because he satisfies those who thirst.

He is also the Α and Ω. He is Alpha because no letter precedes it, for it is the first of the letters, just as the Son of God is first, for he answered the Jews interrogating him that he was the beginning (John 8:25). Whence John in the Apocalypse, properly putting down the letter itself, says (22:13), “I am Α and Ω, first and last.” First, because before him nothing is. Last, because he has undertaken the Last Judgment. Mediator (Mediator), because he has been constituted a mean (medius) between God and humanity, so that he might lead humanity through to God – whence the Greeks also call him μεσίτης (“mediator”). Paraclete, that is, advocate, because he intercedes for us with the Father, as John says of him (I John 2:1), “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just.” For Paraclete (Paracletus) is a Greek word that means “advocate” in Latin. This name is ascribed to both the Son and the Holy Spirit, as the Lord says in the Gospel (John 14:16), “I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete.”

Also the Son is called Intercessor (Intercessor), because he devotes care to remove our sins, and he exerts effort to wash away our crimes. Bridegroom (Sponsus), because descending from heaven he cleaves to the Church, so that by the grace of the New Covenant they might be two in one flesh. He is called an Angel (Angelus, i.e. ‘messenger’) because of his announcing of his Father’s and his own will. Whence it is read in the Prophet (cf. Isaiah 9:6), “Angel of great counsel,” although he is God and Lord of the angels. He is called the ‘One Sent’ (Missus) because he appeared to this world as the Word made flesh, whence also he says (John 16:28), “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world.” He is also called the ‘Human Being’ (Homo)because hewas born. Prophet (Propheta), because he revealed future things. Priest (Sacerdos), because he offered himself as a sacrifice for us. Shepherd (Pastor), because he is a guardian. Teacher (Magister), because he shows the way. Nazarene (Nazarenus) from his region, but Nazarite (Nazareus) is an earned title meaning “holy” or “clean,” because he did no sin.

Further, Christ attracts to himself types of names from other lesser things so that he might more easily be understood. For he is called Bread (Panis) because he is flesh. Vine (Vitis), because we are redeemed by his blood. Flower (Flos), because he was picked. The Way (Via), because by means of him we come to God. The Portal (Ostium), because through him we make our approach to God. Mount (Mons), because he is mighty. Rock (Petra), because he is the strength of believers. Cornerstone (Lapis angularis), because he joins two walls coming from different directions, that is from the circumcised and the uncircumcised, into the one fabric of the Church, or because he makes peace in himself for angels (angelus) and humans. The Stumbling-stone (Lapis offensionis), because when he came in humility unbelievers stumbled (offendere) against him and he became a ‘rock of scandal’ (Romans 9:33), as the Apostle says (I Corinthians 1:23), “Unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block (scandalum).”

Further he is called the Foundation (Fundamentum) because faith on him is most firm, or because the Catholic Church was built upon him. Now Christ is the Lamb (Agnus) for his innocence, and the Sheep (Ovis) for his submissiveness, and the Ram (Aries) for his leadership, and Goat (Haedus) for his likeness to sinful flesh, and the Calf (Vitulus) because he was made a sacrificial victim for us, and Lion (Leo) for his kingdom and strength, and Serpent (Serpens) for his death and his sapience (sapientia), and again Worm (Vermis) because he rose again, Eagle (Aquila) because after his resurrection he returned to the stars.

Nor is it a wonder that he should be figured forth by means of lowly signs, he who is known to have descended even to the indignities of our passions or of the flesh. For although he is coeternal with God the Father before worldly time, when the fullness of time arrived, the Son for our salvation took the form of a slave (Philippians 2:7), and the Son of God became a son of humankind. For this reason some things are said of him in Scripture according to the form of God, some according to the form of a slave. Two of these should be kept in mind for an example, so that particular instances may severally be connected with these particular forms. So, he spoke of himself according to the formof God (John 10:30), “I and the Father are one”; according to the formof a slave (John 14:28), “For the Father is greater than I.”

But people who little understand how one thing may be said for another wish to transfer to the Son’s character as God what has been said with regard to his character as a slave. Again, they want what has been said relating the Persons to one another to be names for God’s nature and substance, and they make an error in their faith. For human nature was so conjoined to the Son of God that one Person was made from two substances. Only the man endured the cross, but because of the unity of Person, the God also is said to have endured it. Hence we find it written (I Corinthians 2:8), “For if they had known it, they never would have crucified the Lord of glory.” Therefore we speak of the Son of God as crucified, not in the power of his divinity but in the weakness of his humanity, not in his persistence in his own nature but in his acceptance of ours.