The Coat of Arms of The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts represents its principles. The blazon was the formal language used by a herald to describe the coat of arms. The rules for this language, dating back to the High Middle Ages, remain in force to this day. In heraldic terms, the College coat of arms is described—blazoned—as follows:
On a field of gules (red), an engrailed chevron sable (black) and three escalloped shells, two and one, or (gold).
On a chief sable between two swords or, the Mystical Rose gules barbed vert (green).
The symbolism of the visual language come from the metals (principle colors), the heraldic lines (the geometric forms and patterns), and the ordinaries (the objects, plants or creatures displayed on the shield).
The gold (or) in the seal symbolizes generosity of spirit and the serious elevation of mind, while the black (sable) indicates both a constancy in intention and act as well as a humility and sense of mortification. Red (gules) emphasizes the virtues of the soldier and martyr, especially fortitude and magnanimity—most important to a college whose patron saint is a martyr, and whose faculty and students are called constantly to witness to the truth.
The Heraldic Lines:
The shield of Thomas More College has only one heraldic line: the engrailed chevron. The chevron indicates the perseverance of one who builds. In the coded language of the Medieval learning, the chevron was reminiscent of the Hebrew character gimel, which signified each man’s need to choose between good and evil actions. Such choices are inevitable, and each person must choose rightly.
The Charges (the pictorial images placed throughout the arms):
The escalloped shells, evoking the arms of Compostella, symbolize the great pilgrims of sacred and literary history, such as Abraham, Jonah, Odysseus, Dante, and Chaucer’s travelers to Canterbury. In the Middle Ages, all men were viewed as cosmic pilgrims en route to their final destination. Man was understood as a wanderer, the homo viator.
The student, in particular, was and is a pilgrim. Though he may think his work ordinary and involving little movement, even on the most routine day on campus, the student remains an extra-ordinary pilgrim. It is worth quoting the author and essayist Walker Percy on this aspect of Christian life:
What distinguishes Judeo-Christianity in general from other world religions is its emphasis on the value of the individual person, its view of man as a creature in trouble, seeking to get out of it, and accordingly on the move. Add to this anthropology the special marks of the Catholic Church: the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, which, whatever they do, confer the highest significance upon the ordinary things of this world, bread, wine, water, touch, breath, words, talking, listening––and what do you have? You have a man in a predicament and on the move in a real world of real things, a world which is a sacrament and a mystery; a pilgrim whose life is a searching and a finding. Such a view of man as wayfarer is, I submit, nothing else than a recipe for the best novel-writing from Dante to Dostoevsky. (“The Holiness of the Ordinary”)
Of course, in the Rome semester, the student becomes a pilgrim in a more common sense of the word.
Finally, the use of three shells is a strong reminder of the Blessed Trinity—our point of origination and our destination, the inspiration and nourishment of the Christian along his arduous journey.
The next element in the arms, the rose, may at first be understood as an allusion to the English heritage—the roses of the noble and tumultuous houses of York, Lancaster, and Tudor—the last of which was worn by our patron St. Thomas More. But a careful consideration reveals that the rose here better recalls Dante’s Paradisio, in which he beholds “the Mystic Rose in which the Word Divine became incarnate.” The five petals of the Rose commemorate the five wounds of Christ and His blood poured out for mankind. The Rose is depicted as “barbed vert,” that is, with green foliage showing beneath the flower. It is without thorn, however, and of one color—always an indication of purity in heraldic imagery.
The Rose of Thomas More College is guarded by the two swords that represent the unity between Faith and Reason—between Intellectus (the more poetic or mystical understanding) and Ratio (discursive reasoning). We are reminded of the exchange in the Gospel of St. Luke: “And they said, ‘Lord, behold, here are two swords.’ And He said to them, ‘It is enough.’” These swords remind us also of the importance of the Spiritual and Temporal realms through which we all move and act, by faith as well as by reason. By extension, these swords represent the hard-won integration and wholeness of a good life, the hallmark of Thomas More College’s educational vision, and indeed, of the great tradition of Christian Humanism of which we are a creative part.
Thomas More himself was attracted to the heraldic image of the sword and wanted to incorporate it into a new coat of arms. For him the image of a sword harkened back to the sword of St. Paul in Catholic imagery, at that time representing martyrdom, for More this became quite specific: the witness one was called to bear on behalf of the Catholic Church.
There is also the Pauline image from Ephesians (6.17): “The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Such an understanding of “word” (rhema in the Greek), such a sword, evokes thus the oratorical tradition within learning that the College maintains. To be of Thomas More College is to take seriously the power of the word.
By habit, affection, and tradition, the College understands that there could be said to be two saints wielding these swords—St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Thomas More. Now the College patron, St. Thomas More, is of course closely associated with humanism and the temporal side of Christian life. Our intellectual patron, St. Thomas Aquinas, is associated with the philosophical, theological and more purely contemplative side. The two stand united in defense of the Mystical Rose and a world created and transformed by the love and truth of our Savior.
The swords are gold. Here we are reminded of Second Maccabees 15, wherein Judas Maccabeus relates a vision to his people in which the Prophet Jeremiah appears and “stretched forth his right hand, and gave to Judas a sword of gold, saying: ‘take this holy sword a gift from God…” In the founding mythology of the Holy Roman Empire this gold sword was very real and it was handed down to the greatest Christian kings of the West and was displayed by Charlemagne. Thus, we can conceive of these two swords as symbolizing much: faith and reason, the poetic and the scientific mode of study, and the united spiritual and temporal heritage of our Western Civilization.
The College motto is inspired by the words of St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “Charity rejoices not with iniquity; charity rejoices in the truth.” St. Paul reminds us that loving action will, in this world, involve confrontation and trial, but ends in the joy of truth.
Thomas More College adopted this Pauline observation as its motto in 2007. Two years later the College noted with great joy that Pope Benedict XVI framed key passages and themes of his encyclical Caritas in Veritate around the very observation that the College had taken as an expression of its mission and spirit. In his encyclical, Pope Benedict wrote that “Each person finds his good by adherence to God’s plan for him, in order to realize it more fully. To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity. Charity, in fact, ‘rejoices in the truth.’” “To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life…”—is this not a fine summation of the Catholic educational endeavor? It is a joyful endeavor because of the privileged task shouldered by teacher, staff, and student to bear witness to the truth. This is a labor in the old Roman sense—that is, it is good work, not toil—but it is a labor that brings renewal, a labor that is wedded to leisure and ultimate reposes in the truth.
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