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Beit Emunah Congregation

IHS Chi-Rho and the Name of Jesus

© By John of AllFaith

A friend asks:


I have a quick question that I'm sure you can help me with. You know the "IHS" symbols you might see in some churches. Well, I'm pretty sure the "I" stands for Ishtar and the "H" stands for Horus, but I'm uncertain about the "S". I think it is Shamash, but I'm not sure. Can you help or correct me?

My reply:

Hi James,

This common belief is, in my opinion, completely unfounded, but yes, those who hold it to be true do use Shamash for the "S" usually. As you know, Shamash was the Akkadian Sun God and the God of Justice in Babylonia and Assyria as well as the Sumerian Utu (which opens several interesting possibilities that I wont delve into here).

The truth is however that "IHS" is one of the oldest Nicene Christian symbols there is (this and the Maranatha fish), demonstratively dating back to the third century and probably even before.

During the pre-Catholic period of Jewish Way sect persecution it was necessary for sect members to hide their reformed Jewish beliefs and practices and yet be able to communicate with each other. This gave birth to "IC" and "XC" and "IHS" and "XPS" being used as monograms for Iesous Christos (ie "Iesous [Jesus] the Anointed"). These letters and emblems were scrawled onto walls etc. as secret symbols directing people to places of worship, safety and so on, just as the Maranatha fish was used.

Emperor Constantine, who founded Christianity, worshiped Sol Invictus, the Roman Mithraic Sun God, until the day he died. On his death bed he ordered coins with his image on one side and Sol Invictus on the other, then he took Catholic communion for the first time in his life, and then died.

The continuing presence of Sol Invictus symbolism within Catholicism is seen in the sun that enlightens the IHS monogram as shown above. As Rome co-opted the Way movement, he incorporated these earlier symbols as charms (essentially). Catholicism also took what came to be known, in the 4th century, as the Chi-Rho, the (Gnostic) cross that supposedly led Constantine to his (mock) conversion. Hence, the Chi-Rho, the Maranatha fish and the IHS monogram (which often has a tiny Chi-Rho above and little fishes or three nails below it) became official Church emblems.

Interestingly enough, once Rome sanctioned its New Religion of Christianity and banned all others, the true meaning of the monograms were largely forgotten. The charms evoked powerful emotions and were popular with the mostly uneducated masses and soon gave rise to the name "Jhesus" or Jesus which is still generally used today (the letter "h" was not coined until the 1600s). While the Church called him Jesus, that was never his name, however "Jesus" stuck. The name of the historic man from the Galil was Yeshua which translates into English as Joshua. But, what's in a name? (Philippians 2:10).

As initials, any combination of letters can mean anything. For instance, "IRS" (Infernal Revenue Service) could just as easily stand for the International Religious Society (a wonderful group that does not abbreviate their name for some strange reason hehe.

There are lots of people who bash the Roman Catholic Church at every opportunity. I am not among them. Like all organizations, the Catholicsm and its history contains both positive and negatives.

I have deep respect for much of what the Church has accomplished over the past 1500 years. Much of its present and past leadership have contributed enormously to the betterment of the world and to the quest for God. Some of the holiest and most saintly people I have ever had the honor of knowing have been Catholic priests, nuns, monks, brothers and lay people. Saint Francis of Assisi remains one of the people I most admire.

Having said that, I also think it's important to correctly understand the history of the Christian faith, both the negatives and the positives). Catholicism, both Roman and Eastern, has played vital roles.

Hope this helps,

    ~ John of AllFaith

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* By John of AllFaith, © February 19, 2008, updated November 08, 2023

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