A closer look at the University seal

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I really enjoyed reading through The Pro Humanitate Issue (Fall 2013); thanks for choosing that as the theme for a Wake Forest Magazine. There is a rich and growing tradition of Pro Humanitate at Wake, and I appreciate that you’ve helped to shine some light on that noble tradition.

I couldn’t help but notice that the single graphic focus of the cover of The Pro Humanitate Issue is the University Seal, which contains the University Motto. I would also like to take this opportunity to help shine some light on another facet of the University Seal, which is in fact its centerpiece: the shield containing the Chi-Rho symbol.

Chi-Rho is the oldest known monogram (or letter symbol) for Christ. Some call this symbol the “Christogram” and it dates back to the Roman Emperor Constantine (A.D. 306-337). Though the truth of this story is questionable, it is said that Constantine saw this symbol in the sky before an important battle, and he heard the message, “By this sign, conquer.” Thus, he adopted the symbol for his army. (Source: http://christianity.about.com/od/symbolspictures/ig/Christian-Symbols-Glossary/Chi-Rho.htm)

The Chi-Rho itself contains the superimposed Greek letters Chi (X) and Rho (P), which are the first two letters of “Christ” in the Greek language (Christos).

Scott Kyles ('92, MA '94)

Scott Kyles (’92, MA ’94)

The version of the Chi-Rho found in the University Seal is flanked by the Greek letters Alpha (A) and Omega (Ω), the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. In the Book of Revelation (verses 1:8, 21:6, and 22:13), Christ is referred to as “the Alpha and the Omega,” symbolic of the fact that He is the “beginning and ending” of all things. Rays of light also appear above the Chi-Rho in the University Seal, symbolic of the fact that Christ is the “light of the world” (John 8:12 and 9:5, among other references).

Wake Forest was founded as an unabashedly Christian institution of higher learning in 1834, and this point is made abundantly clear in the symbolism that Wake’s early founders and shapers chose to occupy its University Seal. Randal Hall puts it this way:

“In 1908 [William Louis] Poteat and his predecessor as president, Charles E. Taylor, designed the seal at the request of the board of trustees … Poteat felt the emblem accurately depicted the mission of the school: ‘The symbolism of its seal represents correctly its ideal and aim. In the center of the seal is the Greek monogram of Christ from which issue rays of light. The words Pro Humanitate are inscribed below. The meaning is apparent. Christ is the light of [the] world and Wake Forest College is an agency in its dissemination for the benefit of mankind.’ Poteat was fond of quoting a newspaper report from 1834, just weeks after the opening of Wake Forest Institute, that noted with anticipation, ‘They have kindled a light in the Wake Forest Institute that I trust will soon shed its beams over the whole State.’” (as quoted on page 16 of The Little Black Book: The Evolution of a Demon Deacon, Volume III, http://parents.wfu.edu/files/2010/08/LittleBlackBookVolumeIII.pdf )

Wake Forest’s light is no longer limited to the confines of North Carolina; the light which shines from Wake Forest and the alumni it has produced now touches all corners of the globe. I encourage all of us who hold Wake as our “Mother, So Dear” to remember our roots and to remember the principles upon which our University was originally founded. We would do well to remind ourselves of Whom our University Seal points – Jesus Christ, the beginning and ending of all things, and the one true source of light in this sometimes dark world in which we live.

It can be a dark world, indeed, at times. Jesus knew this all too well, so He sent us forth to bring light to those wandering around in the darkness.

“You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, NET)

Scott Kyles (’92, MA ’94) is co-founder (along with Clark Pinyan, ’93) of Chi Rho, Wake Forest University’s original Christian Men’s a cappella ensemble.

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