Christian Mottos Through the Centuries
Great endeavors call for great mottos. Today we might call them slogans – though this sounds too commercial – but throughout history, they were known as ‘mottos.’ These are phrases with profound depth of meaning, capable of summarizing an entire life or movement, while still inspiring and motivating.
If a motto communicates deep truth while inspiring an individual, then it should be no surprise that many mottos have to do with ultimate truth – Christianity. Indeed, Christians have used mottos throughout history. Not only do these mottos inspire them, but they also give honor to the Lord Jesus.
Not only organizations and movements, but also individuals have selected phrases that stood out to them. Take a few minutes to peruse the mottos below: not only are they challenging, but perhaps you will consider the value of a personal motto yourself. (My motto, for the record: Great is the Truth and It Will Prevail / Magna est Veritas et Praevalebit).
- A Light Shining in the Darkness / Lux Lucet in Tenebris – The Waldensian Motto
The Waldensian movement began in northern Italy around 1175. By 1215 they were declared heretical, and persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church. Existing for hundreds of years before the Reformation, this motto reminds us that God has always had lights shining in dark places.
- Our Lamb has conquered, let us follow Him. / Vicit agnus noster, Eum sequamur. – The Moravian Motto
The Moravians, a pietistic group in Germany, are famous for sending missionaries to such faraway places as St. Thomas in the Caribbean, Greenland, and the Algonquin Indian tribe, in the early 1700s. To accomplish so much, the Moravians often had to experience many difficulties, following in the footsteps of their Savior.
- The Word of the Lord endures forever. / Verbum Domini manet in aeternum. – Motto of the Lutheran Reformation
The Reformation started when Martin Luther studied and understood Scripture. Though 1500 years old already, the Word of the Lord was still powerful enough to change the world then. This motto reminds us that the same power of God remains present in his Word, even today.
- My heart I offer to you, O Lord, promptly and sincerely. / Cor meum tibi offero, Domine, prompte et sincere. – Motto of John Calvin
Calvin’s motto can teach us a lot about obedience. Interestingly, Calvin had no desire to minister in Geneva when he first passed through, and it was only by terrifying promises of doom that his friend, William Farel, kept him in the city. Maybe Calvin learned his lesson.
- After Darkness Light / Post Tenebras Lux – Motto of the Calvinistic Reformation
Before the Reformation, Geneva’s motto was “Post Tenebras Spero Lucem” – “After Darkness, I Hope for Light,” a reference to Job 17:12. Calvin wasn’t satisfied with this, and changed it to the present form. Since, as Romans tells us, hope that is seen is not hope!
- He Who Suffers Conquers. / Vincit qui patitur. – Motto of the Puritans
While the Puritans did not have any official motto, John Geree – one of their number – gave them one. Writing on The Character of an Old English Puritane, he said, “”His whole life he accounted a warfare, wherein Christ was his captain, his arms, praiers and tears. The Crosse his Banner and his word Vincit qui patitur.”
- Truth for Christ and the Church / Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae – Motto of Harvard University
Harvard may not be a very ‘Christian’ place nowadays, but the University was the first one established in the United States, for the purpose of training ministers. This motto reminds us of the importance of learning and scholarship in Christian history and the Christian church. Truth is for the service of God. (PS – Adopted as the motto in 1692, it was later changed to simply ‘Veritas.’)
- Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God. – Motto of William Carey
William Carey may only have been a humble shoemaker, but his zeal for God launched the modern missions movement. Many people still use Carey’s motto (as I did last week), and it’s a reminder that our God is a God of great things.
- Burning but Flourishing / Ardens sed Virens – Motto of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland
The Scottish Presbyterians chose as their symbol a burning bush, with the Latin inscription “nec tamen consumebatur” – “Yet it was not consumed.” The Irish Presbyterians, taking a cue from them, shortened and simplified the phrase – reminding us that Christ’s church, even in suffering, can still flourish.
- Devoted for Life – Motto of Adoniram Judson
As one of the first American Baptists to be a missionary, Judson went through many challenges. His first and second wives both died on the mission field, while he himself spent a long period of time in a Burmese prison, enduring horrific tortures. How did he remain faithful? He wrote that “The motto for every missionary, whether preacher, printer, or schoolmaster, ought to be ‘Devoted for Life.’”