Princeton Motto

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

View of the campus of Princeton University, New Jersey, under snow after a winter storm.

Princeton Motto

Princeton University, a prestigious Ivy League institution, has a rich history and a motto that encapsulates its core values. In this article, we’ll delve into the significance of the Princeton Motto, “Dei sub numine viget,” and explore the traditions, history, and philosophy behind it.

The Motto That Defines Princeton

Welcome to the exploration of Princeton University‘s motto, “Dei sub numine viget,” which translates to “Under God’s Power She Flourishes” in English. This simple yet profound motto is more than just an inscription etched in stone; it is the very essence of Princeton’s identity and values, guiding generations of students and faculty toward academic excellence, community, and service.

Tracing the Origins

Let’s embark on a journey back in time to the late 19th century. The year was 1896, and Woodrow Wilson, a man who would later become the President of the United States, stood at the helm of Princeton University as its president.

It was during his tenure that the motto, “Dei sub numine viget,” was officially adopted. This Latin phrase replaced the university’s previous motto, “Vet Nov Testamentum,” which means “Old and New Testament.”

This change in motto marked a significant shift in the character and values of Princeton. The new motto spoke to a different perspective and philosophy, one that is grounded in spirituality and faith.

The Role of Faith

“Dei sub numine viget” is more than just a phrase; it’s a declaration of the significance of faith and spirituality within the hallowed halls of Princeton. The university’s founders believed that true knowledge and wisdom could only flourish under the guidance of a higher power, emphasizing the inseparable connection between faith and learning.

As you walk through the picturesque Princeton campus, you’ll find the motto subtly woven into the fabric of daily life. It’s a reminder that the pursuit of knowledge here is not just an academic endeavor but also a spiritual one.

This motto serves as a constant source of inspiration, urging students to explore the world of ideas, to delve into the realms of science, art, and literature, and to do so with the acknowledgment that they are under the protection and influence of a higher force.

Imagine the motivation it instills in students, the sense of purpose it bestows upon their studies. It’s as if a guiding hand, a divine presence, hovers over Princeton, nurturing the intellectual growth of those who tread its paths.

A tiger statue, the inspiration behind Princeton official mascot

Beyond Words

Princeton’s motto, “Dei sub numine viget,” transcends mere words. It infuses every corner of the campus, influences academic pursuits, and shapes the way you, as a student or faculty member, approach your journey at this esteemed institution. Let’s delve into how this powerful motto guides and inspires you in your pursuit of knowledge, community building, and service to society.

Pursuit of Knowledge

As you embark on your academic journey at Princeton, you are encouraged to embrace a profound commitment to academic excellence. This commitment goes beyond simply earning a degree; it means delving deep into the realms of knowledge, guided by the belief that you are under the protective influence of a higher force.

The motto, “Under God’s Power She Flourishes,” serves as a constant reminder that your education is not just an intellectual exercise but a spiritual quest. The divine influence hovers over Princeton, encouraging you to push the boundaries of your understanding. Professors, more than educators, become mentors, guiding you on this sacred intellectual path.

Every lecture, every assignment, and every research endeavor is an opportunity to honor this guiding principle. The pursuit of knowledge at Princeton is not merely an academic requirement; it’s a devotion to growing wiser and more enlightened under the watchful eye of a higher power. It’s this belief that compels you to approach your studies with reverence and a thirst for true understanding.

The Power of Togetherness

Beyond academics, the motto fosters a profound sense of community and unity among students and faculty. It’s a belief that together, you all flourish under God’s power. This notion of unity isn’t just about sharing classes or residing on the same campus; it’s a shared commitment to making the world a better place.

The sense of unity is a binding force that extends beyond the confines of Princeton’s campus. You and your fellow students share a common purpose—to use your knowledge, skills, and passion to contribute to the greater good. The motto is a powerful source of inspiration, urging you to collaborate and support one another in your collective endeavor to bring positive change to the world.

As you navigate through your academic journey, you’ll find yourself collaborating on projects, sharing insights, and supporting one another in your quest for academic and personal growth. It’s not just an academic institution; it’s a community bound by shared values and a commitment to flourishing together.

A Call to Serve

“Dei sub numine viget” places a significant emphasis on service and responsibility. Princetonians are not merely encouraged to serve; they are called upon to utilize their knowledge and skills for the betterment of society. It’s not just about personal success; it’s about contributing to a larger purpose.

The motto reminds you that your education is a powerful tool, a gift that comes with the responsibility to make a positive impact. Whether through volunteering, community engagement, or professional pursuits, the call to serve is a driving force in your Princeton experience.

Every skill you acquire, every lesson you learn, and every insight you gain is a stepping stone toward a life of service. The motto reminds you that your actions are not in isolation but under the watchful gaze of a higher power, urging you to make ethical choices and embrace a life of service that extends far beyond the campus borders.

View of Princeton Main Building

Beyond the Campus

The influence of Princeton’s motto doesn’t confine itself within the university’s pristine boundaries. Its impact extends into various facets of life beyond the ivory tower.

Changing the World

As a Princeton student, you are part of a legacy of alumni who have been profoundly influenced by the motto and have gone on to make significant contributions in a myriad of fields. These individuals have, in their own ways, contributed to shaping the world for the better.

The belief in the power of a higher force guiding your actions continues to inspire you even after you graduate. You carry with you the values and principles embedded in the motto as you step into the world.

Whether it’s through groundbreaking innovations, groundbreaking research, or innovative social movements, you have the potential to leave a lasting impact on society. Your education at Princeton has equipped you to make meaningful contributions to the world, just as the motto intended.

Leadership in Action

The motto has not only inspired individuals but has also kindled a sense of leadership in those who have passed through Princeton’s halls. Prominent figures like the 35th US President, John F. Kennedy, and Michelle Obama have carried the motto’s values and principles with them, demonstrating that leadership is not merely a position of authority but a call to exercise power and influence ethically and responsibly.

The influence of “Dei sub numine viget” extends beyond the campus and into the world stage. It reminds you that leadership is a sacred trust, a call to make decisions guided by principles that go beyond personal gain and ambition. As a Princeton graduate, you inherit this legacy of leadership and the responsibility to lead with integrity and purpose.

In Popular Culture

The impact of “Dei sub numine viget” goes even further, extending into popular culture. It has become a symbol of the ideals and principles that Princeton stands for. This Latin phrase isn’t just an old inscription tucked away in history books; it’s a living symbol of the enduring connection between faith, knowledge, and service.

The motto serves as a reminder to everyone that there are values and principles worth upholding and that the pursuit of knowledge is not just a personal journey but a spiritual and communal one. It stands as a testament to the lasting influence of a motto that has guided generations of Princetonians and continues to inspire people far beyond the university’s walls.

The Imperfections

However, like any institution, Princeton has faced its share of challenges and controversies related to its motto and how it’s interpreted.

Interpretation Differences

From time to time, theological debates arise about the motto’s relevance in a modern and diverse society. Some argue that the motto may not resonate with everyone, given the variety of religious beliefs and perspectives present in today’s world. These differences in interpretation have prompted discussions about whether the motto should evolve to better reflect the values of a changing society.

Evolving Perspectives

In response to evolving perspectives, there have been calls for change regarding the motto. Some individuals believe that it should be revised to encompass a broader range of beliefs and values. They argue that this modification would better align with the university’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity.

These debates and calls for change highlight the complexities of maintaining a motto rooted in faith and spirituality in a rapidly changing and diverse world. Princeton, like all institutions, grapples with finding a balance between tradition and progress, preserving the essence of its history while adapting to the needs and values of its current and future community members.

As a Princeton graduate, you become a part of this ongoing dialogue. Your voice, your perspective, and your understanding of the motto will contribute to the university’s evolution and adaptation to an ever-changing world.

One of the beautiful hallways in Princeton with intricate carvings

The Motto as a Guiding Principle for Students

In conclusion, “Dei sub numine viget,” Princeton’s motto, is a timeless expression of the university’s core values. It continues to guide the Princeton community and inspire positive change in the world.

The motto plays a significant role in guiding its students. It serves as a reminder of the importance of maintaining high moral and ethical standards, encouraging students to develop not only academically but also in character. This motto imbues students with a sense of purpose and direction, motivating them to strive for excellence in their studies and future endeavors. It fosters a community spirit, emphasizing the importance of service and contributing positively to society.

During challenging times, this motto acts as a beacon of resilience and hope, reminding students of the value of perseverance. Additionally, despite its reference to a higher power, the motto is inclusive, allowing students from various cultural and spiritual backgrounds to find personal meaning and inspiration in it. Overall, Princeton’s motto is a constant reminder for students to uphold ethical principles, seek purpose, engage in community service, demonstrate resilience, and embrace diversity in all its forms.

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