The Carleton Seal

This is the seal of my college. I think it’s extremely cool. We were founded in 1866 by the General Conference of the Congregational Churches of Minnesota. We are no longer religiously affiliated, but it’s nice to know that God was on the minds of the men who founded this school. I’m glad the seal hasn’t changed. It’s really encouraging to me, when I’m struggling with questions of why I’m in school and why I’m studying things with which I don’t really know what I’m gonna do.

The Latin words in the outer rim (“SIGILL : COLL”) are the abbreviation for “Sigillum Collegii”: Seal of the College. It’s the inside that most interest me, though.

I’m just going to paste the explanation that’s on the school’s website:

The outer ring carries the abbreviations SIGILL : COLL : CARLETON. The full words would be sigillum collegii, or Seal of the College. The inner ring has DECLARATIO SERMONUM TUORUM ILLUMINAT, or The Revelation/Announcement of Your Words Illuminates.

But who is the “you” of “your words”? And what, exactly, is being illuminated there in the image?

Due to the eroding process that takes place when copies are made from copies over many years, reproductions of the Carleton Seal (such as those on Carleton folders or pens) often appear to have simple hen scratches on the books pictured at the center. But in good reproductions, it is possible to see that in fact the books are inscribed with Greek characters. The upper, central book carries the legend: AI AGIAI GRAFAI, or “hai hagiai graphai.” This means “the sacred writings” and refers to the Scriptures of the Christian tradition. The books at the bottom of the picture, receiving rays of illumination from the top one, are marked TO KALON KAI TO AGATHON, or “to kalon kai to agathon.” This means literally “the good and noble.” It was always the expression used in ancient Greek to refer to the most highly prized qualities of the heroic aristocratic tradition. Here, it signifies the texts of the Classical tradition.

What the seal shows, then, is the illumination of those dangerous yet attractive pagan texts in the holy rays of Christian Scripture.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty awesome.

There are people who shy away from studying ‘pagan’ or secular texts, for fear that faith would be diluted. But it’s precisely because of our faith that we can and should study them. As Christ’s ambassadors, our job is to bring His truth into the world. In order to do that, we’ve got to know what’s in the world. We need not fear, because Jesus is the truth. We need not fear the things we read, as long as we are careful and certain to read them in light of God’s Words.

I pray that one day, the seal will again reflect the mindsets of all those who impart and receive knowledge on this campus.


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