The Greek word "Christos" (χριστός) means "anointed", and is a literal translation of the Hebrew word "Messiah". Thus, when the Christian scriptures (New Testament) were formulated in Greek, the word was apparently translated directly (hence "Jesus Christ" = "Jesus the anointed"). However when formulated (or translated) in Latin, it was rendered literally as "Christus", as if it were a proper (sur)name, rather than some appropriate translation – perhaps "Unctus" (from uncio). Why was that? Are there any attested early Christian Latin writing which refer to Jesus using some such descriptive adjective?


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Why did St. Jerome use the word Christus in his translation of the New Testament? And why did Roman churches use the word Christus after Constantine converted the Romane empire to Christianity? These are good questions. One explanation is this. The New Testament is sacred, and the name that the New Testament chose to give Jesus is Ἰησοῦς Χρῑστός. Constantine, Jerome, and Roman churches of antiquity, all chose to adopt the name that was written down in the New Testament.

The church of England made the same decision, transliterating the Greek name Ἰησοῦς Χρῑστός as Jesus Christ. In many languages we see that the Greek name was transliterated, as opposed to translated. One advantage of this is that the name Jesus Christ is recognizable to speakers of all languages. This was particularly useful in the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries AD, when Greek and Latin were both spoken in the Roman empire, and Christianity was the national religion.

So one reason for the choice is that it uses the name that was written down in the New Testament. Another reason for the choice is that the name was recognizable to Greek speakers and Latin speakers in the Roman and Byzantime empires.

Remember that Constantine moved the capital of Rome to a city called Byzantium, and renamed the city Nova Roma (New Rome) and renamed the city a second time to Constantinople, after himself. At this point of history, there were services in Greek and services in Latin. By using the name Iesus Christus, speakers of Greek and Latin were able to recognize the name.

Constantine grew up in the Christian faith, because his mother Helena is a Greek-speaking Christian. The choice of transliteration, Iesus Christus, was influenced by Popes, Roman emperors, Byzantine emperors, Roman churches, and Byzantine churches. They probably wanted to have one name for Jesus. And they probably wanted to use the name that was written in the Greek New Testament.

You could say that Constantine converted to Christianity, but he may have just been Christian his whole life, since his mother Helena is Christian. It might be that Constantine became vocal about his Christian faith upon ascending to the position of emperor in the 4th century AD. It might be that he thought about, or planned to, convert the Roman empire for a long time before doing so.

A third explanation would be this. There is a lot of power in a name. The Popes of Rome, and all the Christian queens, kings, and emperors, put a lot of thought into what name to use in services. There is one name that is consistent across all of history, and that is Ἰησοῦς Χρῑστός, Iesus Christus, Jesus Christ, recognizable to people of all cultures, languages, and times.

It was actually common to have one name for an emperor or a capital city. Consider the name Constantine, which is Constantinus in Latin and Κωνσταντῖνος in Greek. Also, consider the city Constantinople, which is Constantinopolis in Latin and Κωνσταντινούπολις in Greek. We can see that the names are consistent across the Greek and Latin languages. So it's not surprising that one name for Jesus was used throughout the Roman empire. The decision to transliterate Greek names into Latin, and vice versa, made the names standard and well-known throughout a Greek-speaking, Latin-speaking, Christian Roman empire.

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