The Great Seal – American Emblem
Contrary to current teaching, The Great Seal of the United States of America is an emblem rich in religious symbolism. The best place to view The Great Seal is on the back of the dollar bill, where each side of the Seal flanks the central words, “In God We Trust.”
The Great Seal – Theological Significance
Professor and senior fellow at the Claremont Institute Thomas G. West notes that the theological significance of The Great Seal has been largely lost because of the common misconception that its symbols are rooted in Freemasonry.
In the spring 2010 issue of the journal The City, Dr. West references a 1782 document written by the Seal’s creator, Charles Thomson, explaining its various symbols.
On the reverse side of the Seal, there is an unfinished pyramid with 13 rows of bricks, representing the 13 original colonies. Engraved on the bottom row are the Roman numerals, MDCCLXXVI, to signify the Declaration of Independence, written in 1776, as the foundation upon which the country is built. The pyramid is unfinished because “America is a work in progress.”
Underneath the pyramid the words, “Novus Ordo Seclorum,” are literally rendered “a new order of the ages.” It is “new,” writes West, because “no nation has ever grounded itself on a principle, discovered by reason, affirmed by God, and shared by all human beings: ‘that all men are created equal: that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’”
In the words of Charles Thomson, the motto signifies “the beginning of the New American Era,” not the beginning of a new world order, as is commonly reported today.
Raised above the pyramid, an omniscient eye, enclosed in a triangle, represents the triune God who is associated with the nation in three ways: 1) as a Protector and Guide—the glory emanating from the eye suggests the pillar of fire guiding the Israelites of Exodus. Similar imagery is on the obverse side of the Seal with glory radiating from a pillar of cloud surrounding 13 stars; 2) as a Standard to which the incomplete pyramid below points and aspires to conform; and 3) as a Judge—the motto above the eye, “Annuit Coeptis,” translated “He favors our beginnings,” carries the converse implication that if the foundation of our beginnings is abandoned, His favor will turn to judgment.
The Great Seal – Religious Heritage
The Great Seal, created after the Declaration of Independence and before the U.S. Constitution, reflects a religious heritage that the country’s Founders believed integral to the common weal of the nation. Thus, de Tocqueville, whose own country was marked by great tension between faith and freedom, was taken aback by integration of those ideals he found in the social and political life across the sea.
In America, the church was not an arm of the state, nor the state an arm of the church; still, biblical faith was a sort of DNA that informed the colonists’ sense of themselves as a nation, and of the principles of liberty, justice, law, and governance that became institutionalized as uniquely American.
In the formation of the “more perfect union,” no hardened barrier was erected, or intended, to prevent the intrusion of religion into public spaces, Jefferson’s “wall of separation” notwithstanding. To the contrary, an Establishment Clause was crafted to secure the free exercise of religion and to prevent the intrusion of the state into the affairs of the church, specifically prohibiting the legislation of a national religion.
Operating within its biblical sphere of sovereignty, the church provides the moral framework for a just society. It acts as the conscience of the state, reminding Caesar of the high calling of his office, and its limits, and exhorting citizens to the duty owed Caesar. The state, in turn, protects the church by defending, encouraging and supporting religious expression, without preference to any particular sect. The positive benefits of that association have been acknowledged in some surprising precincts of late.
John D. Steinrucken, an avowed secularist and atheist, gives air to the feckless fantasies of secularism. In the recent article “Secularism’s Ongoing Debt to Christianity,” Steinrucken bristles over the long history of failures of rationally based ideologies to make good on their utopian promises, or to provide a viable substitute for religion, in general, and Christianity, in particular.
Steinrucken makes the astonishing admission that Christianity is the “guarantor of our political and legal system” because it is “a moral force independent of and transcendent to the political” (emphasis in original). Even more astonishingly, he warns that the country that “loses its religious faith in favor of non-judgmental secularism” will lose “that which holds all else together.”
John Steinrucken would find common ground with our country’s founding fathers and, in particular, George Washington. It was Washington who gave voice to what many of his colleagues and countrymen recognized over two centuries ago: "Religion and liberty must flourish or fall together in America.”
The Great Seal – Beacon of Freedom
The Great Seal of the United States of America represents the perseverance of the necessary association between religion and liberty. Despite the fevered efforts of secularists in recent decades to sever the association, this truth that has made the United States a beacon of democratic freedom and human rights around the globe.