Tag Archives: Language

Capitalizing “He” for Jesus

When I first read “Lord of the Rings” in high school, I skipped over all the elf and orc songs. I had no intention of ever learning elvish like a total weirdo, so I thought it wasn’t vital to the plotline. A few years later in University, I was doing my undergraduate at Boston College, and Dr. Peter Kreeft pointed out something I had never realized:  For Tolkien, the elvish language was a Tolkienesque way of speaking in tongues. It turns out the Elf and Orc songs are among the most important parts of the entire book, for the songs were to communicate the unspoken essence of the race.

This is because Tolkien saw language as a cultural (but not relativistic) reflection of the Divine Word.  For Tolkien, language was real, but alive. It communicated something to a foreigner, even when a transliteration was not available.  Tolkien perhaps understood language to be something that controlled us, not vice versa (as Mussolini and many liturgical “experts” today do.) Kreeft even told us a strange story of how one night, Tolkien had been in a library of Oxford and found an old Viking or Norse language in a dusty old book.  He was so caught up into the reality of that strange tongue, that Tolkien entered somewhat of a religious ecstasy! If this story is true, we can begin to understand language as a reflection of the Divine Word. Only in the Divine Word do we find all words “to live and move and have their being.”

Consider how there is debate on the term “pregnancy.” Any embryology book traditionally defined pregnancy as fertilization of the egg by sperm into a new 46-chromosomed individual. But in 1982, Planned Parenthood took on a global linguistic battle to re-define pregnancy as “implantation” of the zygote into the uterine lining. Science was trumped by man who thought he could redefine language for his own political ends (much like Saruman.)

But another thing that I heard from my professor Dr. Peter Kreeft was his strange aversion to people who never use capital letters. He compared the use of all-small-letters-users to communism! Before you write this off as too extreme, consider this argument:  To refrain from capitalizing, say, “He” for Jesus or God—this can easily become an attempt to make everything and everyone the exact same in a world of created hierarchy.

He instead of he might seem unattractive to a “down-up Christology” but Jesus as “he” actually fails to meet the desire of the human heart to worship God as totally transcendent. For Tolkien, hierarchy in creation does not lead to suppression but freedom and solemnity (which Kreeft is quick to point out has nothing to do with sadness.)  Hierarchy (even in minuscule letters versus capitalized ones—try to open randomly Lord of the Rings to see how many strange non-proper nouns are capitalized) serves as a diverse glorification of the creatures of both earth and Middle Earth.  This is why we have elves and humans and dwarves who are all necessary to the restoration of Middle-Earth.

Catholics had universally capitalized “He” for Jesus in almost every language. Now, it is almost extinct. For example, before I switched to the Latin Divine Office (the Psalms and Patristic readings that we priests must pray every day) I would try to keep up Romance Languages by praying my Divine Office in French, Spanish and Portuguese.  Of all of these, I believe that it is only the Portuguese translation that kept He (Ele) capitalized in the Divine Office established after Vatican II. The English Divine Office definitely refers to Christ as “he.”  Or, for another example:  The otherwise-excellent book, 33 Days to Morning Glory, by Fr. Michael Gaitley does not capitalize Jesus as “He” unless beginning a sentence with that pronoun. (Perhaps this was edited “down” this way, as Fr. Michael is a very holy and very wise priest.)

But as for Fr. Michael’s book referring to Jesus as “he,” some people might argue for this notion: “Saying he highlights the humanity of Jesus more than the divinity, and we must come to his humanity before [H]is divinity!”  This is true, but the hypostatic union of Christ’s divinity and humanity exists without blending, change, division or separation.  Jesus is God and man and this can’t be separated.  Perhaps this is why non-denominational Christians are now picking up the old Catholic tradition of always captilizing “He” in any reference to Jesus Christ.  For example, the non-denominational Christian named Sarah Young has written a book called Jesus Calling that has over 16 million in sales. Every reference she has to Jesus in the pronoun is always capitalized as “He,” or more likely a “Him” in reference to Jesus at the end of a sentence.

Where we Catholics are forgetting our tradition, other Christians are picking it up.

This might seem a silly blog post to write about capitalizing “He” for Jesus, but it comes down to the very question of Satan versus Mary: Am I a creature or am I the Creator? Do I want to be God or do I want to bow down and worship God? My answer is this:  Worship might only physically look like a small letter bowing before a capital letter, but this reflects a physical and spiritual universe that God created and then entered into as a zygote.  In a world focused solely on me (iPod, iPad, iPhone), I choose to bow before Him.