Sapientia Illuminat Viam

Sapientia Illuminat Viam

As Virginia Wesleyan turns 50, “Wisdom Lights the Way” is now more than a phrase in the College’s alma mater.

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By Laynee Timlin | August 2, 2011

Wisdom lights the way. This phrase certainly resonated with Dr. Sandra Billy, director for the Center for Sacred Music and the VWC Concert Series, when she first wrote the lyrics for the College’s alma mater in 2002.

So she was not surprised when she received requests to use the phrase, first as the title for Dr. Stephen Mansfield’s book about the College’s first half century, and again as the overall theme for VWC’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Billy says that when she first wrote the lyrics for the alma mater, she labored over the element that would be the key point. Then she had a realization.

“The ancient Greeks viewed wisdom as the greatest virtue,” says Billy, “The Hebrew scriptures provide numerous references to it being present with God before creation began. So, I was confident there would be few who would dispute that it is wisdom we strive for at Virginia Wesleyan. And since light is the image typically associated with wisdom, ‘wisdom lights the way’ became the key element of our alma mater.”

It was only recently when Billy was sitting in traffic near Virginia Beach’s Town Center behind a car with a Dartmouth license plate that included the phrase vox clamantis in deserto, that the idea for using Latin for this key phrase hit her.

“There’s something about accepting the ‘mantles of age,’ and I realized that as Virginia Wesleyan reaches the ripe age of 50, it seems most appropriate to introduce a Latin motto.”

For Dartmouth, “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness” captures their essence, for Virginia Wesleyan it's sapientia illuminat viam, or "wisdom lights the way."

Billy shared her epiphany with President Greer, who relayed the idea to his administrative counsel. She then consulted with Dr. Ben Haller, assistant professor of classics.

A Latin motto for Virginia Wesleyan in our 50th year underscores our mission to provide not just a credential for a job, but to give students the guidance to learn to operate as autonomous, moral agents within today’s society. - Dr. Ben Haller

According to Haller, sapientia is best translated “wisdom,” but he also referenced Lewis and Short’s Latin Dictionary that includes “prudence,” “intelligence,” “discretion,” “discernment, and “good sense” among its other possible connotations.

"A Latin motto for Virginia Wesleyan in our 50th year underscores our mission to provide not just a credential for a job, but to give students the guidance to learn to operate as autonomous, moral agents within today’s society,” says Haller. “The cornerstone to this activity, we believe, is sapientia, which implies what we might regard as curiosity about the origins and workings of the cosmos, natural philosophy, or even something close to modern science.”

Sapientia, Haller says, entails more than merely going to the right school and taking the right classes. It is a “disposition and transformation of the spirit, affecting the way one lives, reasons and loves.” As Cicero observed, “wisdom is the art of living.”

The possession of these traits for the ancients was the result of an education perhaps not so different from that which we provide at Virginia Wesleyan.

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