Light and Truth

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In my last post, I was talking about Universities, but humor was not appropriate on the topic I was dealing with, so I thought I would save this little anecdote for a brief posting of its own.

Back at the end of the second semester in May or June 1984 (!) I was finishing up my Regency (the teaching period in Jesuit formation) at Loyola High School in Los Angeles. I had had a wonderful time there, and treasure the three years.

Harvard_Wreath_Logo_1.svgIt was the end of the school year, and we were at some kind of awards ceremony I believe. Many of the faculty were presenting various academic awards, and each would give a short prologue, just like at the Oscars and the Emmys (it is L.A. after all!). I was scheduled to go on just after a first year lay teacher, who was, as I recall, not the most popular instructor at Loyola (Name Withheld: I am sure he is a great guy and I hope his life has gone well).

He was a Harvard Grad, and made sure that in his intro to the award, he brought that up. He said something about how his Harvard education allowed him to know “The Truth” since Harvard’s motto on their seal was “Veritas,” Latin for “Truth.” There was polite applause and then he gave the award.

As I was preparing to go up to the podium, with the skills Father Naucke had instilled in me in Impromptu and Extemp for Speech tournaments, I planned the counter-strategy. I got to the podium, and said something like this:

2000px-Yale_University_Shield_1.svgI just wanted to thank Mr. D__ for his comments, and congratulations on his recent graduation from Harvard. I thought I might add, that as a Yalie, I knew that Yale’s motto on its shield, “Lux et Veritas,” is Latin for “Light and Truth.” You know, for those Harvard folks, it’s a little difficult to see The Truth without The Light.

The auditorium erupted in laughter and applause. Then I gave the award to the deserving student. I was happy I had remembered one of our Yale jokes about Harvard!

Some Footnotes

Footnotes (or Endnotes) are among the favorite parts of a book or article for me. That’s where I look behind the scenes and pick up threads for further explorations. So here are a few.

Loyola High School

Loyola High, typical of Jesuit High Schools, is extraordinary. Currently, its President, Fr. Greg Goethals, S.J. is a dear friend of mine, and a wonderful priest, who is himself a LHS alum. I am honored to stay in touch with some of my former students from Loyola, and am incredibly proud of the men they have become. A case in point is Michael Denman, now an award winner teacher himself in Southern California, and there are countless others.

In A Man for All Seasons, one of my favorite plays and films, St. Thomas More tries to convince Richard Rich to teach rather than to go into Politics:

Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.
Richard Rich: If I was, who would know it?
Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.

St. Thomas is so right. To be a good teacher is to be rewarded for the rest of your life. If you can, please support the good work of Loyola High. Many of its students are given free or reduced tuition due to their economic needs. A famous example was Francis Clougherty, who attended Loyola free early in the 20th Century, went on to co-found the Farmer John’s brand of meats (the famous Dodger Dogs). Clougherty was an important supporter and donor to LHS.

In this video, you’ll see Father Al Naucke, S.J.,  Father John Auther, S.J. and Father Greg Goethals, S.J. and me:

Two of my closest friend in the Order, Fr. John Auther, S.J. and Fr. Tom O’Neill, S.J. started their Regency during my second year of teaching at Loyola. Jesuit Scholastics often play harmless pranks on one another. During this stage of formation, Scholastics, who are not yet Ordained, go by “Mr.”

After a few weeks into the school year, I noticed that some of my Freshmen students in English were more than usually obedient in the classroom and seemed to take anything I said very seriously. That’s OK in a classroom, but you also want some life and vitality. I finally asked a couple of them I knew better than others due to the Speech and Debate teach, which I coached, to wait a moment after class before going out to Lunch Period. I ask them, “Is anything going on, what’s with this hesitation?”

They hemmed and hawed, and then one of them said, “We aren’t supposed to tell.”

“Well you have to,” I said.

“Well, OK,” he began, eyes downcast. “Mr. Author and Mr. O’Neill said that before you entered the Jesuits you were a prize-fighter who killed a man in the ring. That’s why you went into the Jesuits, as a penance for the rest of your life.”

I laughed, “Oh, did they? They shouldn’t be saying things like that. Thanks guys for telling me. Have a good lunch break”

Of course it was entirely poppycock, and I know I returned the favor to John and Tom, but can’t remember exactly what it was!

Harvard and Yale Shields and Mottos

Sterling Memorial Library at Yale, clearly a Temple of Learning!

Sterling Memorial Library at Yale, clearly a Temple of Learning!

Harvard College was the first institution of higher learning founded in the Colonies. It began in 1636 just outside Boston in the Massachusetts Colony. William and Mary followed in Virginia in 1693 and Yale was the third, founded in 1701 first in Saybrook Connecticut, later moving to the Port of New Haven. Of the Nine Colonial Colleges, only Rutgers and William and Mary are not in the Ivy League, because they became public institutions.

Harvard’s Seal, in Harvard Crimson, has three open books with the Latin for Truth, Veritas. They are open, since the truth is found by open study. The original motto was Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae: Truth for Christ and the Church. The school as originally Congregationalist Christian. As it became secular, the motto and seal kept just Veritas. In the old version, the top two books were open, while the third was face down, indicating the limits of reason and the need for God’s Revelation.

Yale’s Seal, in Yale Blue, has an open book with the Hebrew inscription  האורים והתומים‎, Urim v’Thummim. The Latin below, as we have seen, is Lux et Veritas: Light and Truth. Yalies of the present have puzzled over the Hebrew…when I was at Yale, the theory was that it was to differentiate Yale (a Congregationalist school) from a Catholic University. However the Yale Alumni magazine has found new evidence in an article by Class of 1979’s Dan Orren:

The Urim and the Thumim are mentioned several times in the Hebrew Scriptures. They are associated with the High Priest’s breastplate, and the Temple. They may also have been the lots that were thrown in divination in the Temple. Their meanings are disputed. St. Jerome translated them as doctrine and truth, but Hebrew scholars have used linguistic interpretations such as Lights and Perfections, or Revelations and Truth. The primary Divinity textbook in use at Yale, Johannes Wollebius’s The Abridgement of Christian Divinitie, interpreted them allegorically: “Urim and Thummim did signify Christ the Word and Interpreter of the Father, our light and perfection.” The Yale Administration therefore probably matched Hebrew and Latin on the Seal.

The latest linguistic analysis suggests that the Urim and the Thummin might be translated as “Rejected” and “Accepted,” useful in casting lots to divine the way to proceed!

Another post at another time will delve into the Yale-Harvard rivalry.

Lux et Veritas

Lux is Latin:

It is a seminal word, from Proto-Italic *louks, from Proto-Indo-European *lewk- (white; light; bright). Cognates include Ancient Greek λευκός(leukós), Sanskrit रोचते (rocate) and Old English noun lēoht (English light). It has many related and derived words which have come down to us in various forms:

  • luceolucere: To Shine, to become visible, to appear, to be noticed
  • lūcidus: clear, bright, shining
  • lūcifer: light bearer, light-bringer
  • lūmen: light, the eyes, daylight, brightness, the light of life

Veritas is Latin for reality, that which is real; real life; truth, fact, accuracy. It is derived from the adjective verus, true. Verus is From Proto-Italic *wēros, from Proto-Indo-European *wēr-*weh₁ros, see also Old English wǣr (true, correct), Dutch waar(true), German wahr (true), Icelandic alvöru (earnest), Russian вера (véra).

It would be quite a meditation to consider all of the permutations of meanings that Lux et Veritas could have.

The Other NFL

People are surprised that the acronym NFL, which everyone associates with the National Football League, also refers to the National Forensics League, and that this NFL is not about Crime scene Forensics, but about Speech and Debate in Middle and High Schools.

Let’s take some of these words apart:

Acronym is from acro- +‎ -onym, first used around 1940. It is from Ancient Greek ἄκρος (ákrostip) and Ancient Greek ὄνυμα (ónuma), Doric dialectal form of ὄνομα (ónomaname). An acronym is a name using the tips of the words, their initials.

Forensic, so much associated nowadays with CSI Units in Law Enforcement, has a broader meaning. It derives from Latin forēnsis (of the forum, public), from forum (the Forum, the Public Square). Its history is interesting: It is from Proto-Indo-European *dʰworom (enclosure, courtyard, i.e. something enclosed by the door), accusative of *dʰwor-. Cognate with Old Church Slavonic дворъ (dvorŭcourt, courtyard), Sanskrit द्वार (dvā́radoor, gate, passage) and Lithuanian dvãras (estate). This Proto-Indo-European neuter is a derivation of the basic root noun *dʰwer- (door, gate) that also gave Latin foris (door; gate) and forās (outdoors).

Two, related things went on in an ancient Public Square, among others. Public Speaking and Legal Proceedings.

The very popular Forensics, or Forensic Science has to do with finding the evidence in a case in a Court of Law and interpreting it using modern scientific methods. The latest CSI series is about Cyber Crime, the newest threat to people, companies, and nations.


The National Forensic League deals with training young people in Public Speaking, including Debate, which is also related to the adversarial Justice System. We have seen before how important the Science of Rhetoric is, and Forensic competitions are a great way to teach this.

When I was competing in Speech and Debate in High School, I was involved in these Events at Speech Tournaments:

  • Declamation: Delivering a Historic Speech
  • Dramatic Interpretation: Doing a dramatic reading from Literature
  • Expository: Giving an original informative speech
  • Humorous Interpretation: Doing a humorous reading from Literature
  • Impromptu: Speaking on a topic given to you with only 7 minutes preparation
  • Original Oratory: Giving an original 10 minute speech on a topic of your choosing
  • Extemporaneous Speaking: The contestant chooses one topic of three, and has 30 minutes to prepare a note-free 10 minute speech
  • Lincoln-Douglas Debate: A one on one debate on given topics, prepared in advance
  • Policy Debate: Two teams of two students each debate a topic used Nationally for each school year. There are constructive speeches, cross-examinations, rebuttals and summations. It is much like a Court of Law.

There are also many other events. It is a great way to learn and grow, and has had significant effects, especially in High Schools in underprivileged areas.

So, I think that will be enough Footnotes for today!

Thank you for reading!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

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