Christian Men's Breakfast

Presentation by Chuck Esposito

April 2, 2005

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"Great Seal of the United States"

Thank you I.T., and good morning gentlemen.

Those of you who were here for the meeting two years ago may remember that I reported on a WWII incident involving General George Patton, and his demand to his Chaplain to publish a prayer for good weather because, as he put it, “I'm tired of these soldiers having to fight mud and floods as well as Germans. Let’s see if we can't get God to work on our side.” Apparently, I.T. liked what I did, because he asked me to return a year later and do it again, so I did. Then, he asked me to address you again just last December, and those of you who were here for that session may recall that I challenged the various groups and individuals who were going about bashing Christians, and denying the Christian roots of the American Founding. Today I would like to continue on that theme, by reading to you an adaptation of something written by Dr. Thomas G. West, a Vietnam vet, an author, a Professor at the University of Dallas, and a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute.

The topic is the Great Seal of the United States, and before we begin, I’d like you all to reach in your pocket and get out a one dollar bill, and look at the Great Seal printed on that bill.

If you’re looking at a picture of George Washington, you’re looking at the wrong side of the bill. Turn it over.

On the right side of the bill is a circle with an eagle in it. That’s the front of the Great Seal. On the left side of the bill there is a circle with a pyramid in it. That’s the reverse of the seal. Today, I’m going to talk about the reverse of the seal – what’s in the circle on the left. And I’m going to talk about professor West’s judgment that the Founders' conception of God's relation to America was pictured in the Great Seal, and his judgment that the reverse side of the Seal — represents the theological teaching of the Declaration of Independence.

The task of designing a great seal was begun in 1776, and was worked on, off and on, by three different committees, over several years, until the final version, co-designed by Charles Thomson and William Barton, was accepted in 1782.

Much nonsense has been written about the Seal's supposed Masonic symbolism. Perhaps the most popular misconception is that the eye above the pyramid comes from Masonic symbolism. First of all, there is no evidence that any of the people who worked on the design of the seal were Masons. Secondly, what is generally regarded as the definitive history of the Seal, a 681 page report published by the State Department for the Bicentennial in 1976, finds no evidence to support the claim of Masonic inspiration or meaning. And finally, this notion disregards the time line fact that the eye was not used in Masonic documents until 21 years after it appeared in the first draft of the great seal.

The reverse of the Seal consists of two parts: a heavenly eye, which was part of the common cultural iconography of the times, and an earthly pyramid. Each part is labeled with a Latin motto, taken from the great Roman poet, Virgil.

In the earthly part, a pyramid rises toward the heaven. Congress adopted co-designer Charles Thomson's 1782 report as part of its law approving the Seal. It explains that "The pyramid signifies strength and duration." On the base of the pyramid is the Roman number MDCCLXXVI (1776), the date of the Declaration of Independence. The pyramid has thirteen rows of bricks, signifying the thirteen original states. The pyramid is the United States, a solid structure of freedom, built on the foundation of the Declaration, in a world hostile to civil and religious liberty. It is unfinished because America is a work in progress. More states will be added later.

Above the unfinished pyramid is an eye which was originally suggested by a consultant and artist who worked on the first Great Seal committee. He described the eye as “The Eye of Providence[meaning God] in a radiant Triangle.” Dr. West noted that co-designer Thomson also called this the eye of providence and that the design and placement of God's eye suggests that America is connected to the divine in the following three ways:

First, the eye keeps watch over America, protecting her from her enemies. Thomson's report explains: "The eye over it and the motto allude to the many signal interventions of providence in favor of the American cause." The Declaration of Independence had expressed "a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence."

Second, the complete triangle enclosing God's eye is a model for the incomplete or imperfect triangular shape of the pyramid below. The perfect divine shape symbolizes God's perfection, which we know through his laws, which in turn guide and govern the construction of the earthly pyramid. The Declaration says that America, grounded on "the laws of nature and of nature's God," seeks to secure the rights with which the Creator endowed all men. America is a work in progress in a deeper sense than its number of states. No matter how many rows of bricks (new states) are added to the pyramid, America must always look to the Supreme Being as, and at, her "zenith," to be true to what she is and aspires to be. In the spirit of the Seal, Lincoln once said:

It is said in one of the admonitions of the Lord (Mat 5:48), "As your Father in Heaven is perfect, be ye also perfect." Lincoln continued: The Savior, I suppose, did not expect that any human creature could be perfect as the Father in Heaven. . . . He set that up as a standard, and he who did most towards reaching that standard, attained the highest degree of moral perfection. So I say that in relation to the principle that all men are created equal, let it be as nearly reached as we can.

Third, the all-seeing eye is not only America's protector and ruling guide. God is also her judge. This theme is not as obvious as the first two, but it is implied by the Latin motto above the triangle, which translates to, "He approves of what has been started." These words imply that God will no longer approve if America strays too far from the right path — if the shape of the pyramid departs too far from the divine model.

In sum, America is a nation "under God" in three ways. God protects America; God perfects and rules America; and God judges America.

The pyramid is labeled novus ordo seclorum, which translates to, "a new order of the ages"; or, “for a new beginning.” Thomson's report explains, "the words under it signify the beginning of the New American Era, which commences from that date [1776]." America is a "new order," because nothing like the American founding has ever happened. No nation has ever grounded itself on the universal principle that we are all endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

We can now see that General Patton's demand for a weather prayer was well grounded in what we may call America's non-established civil religion, as taught in the Declaration of Independence, the Great Seal, and in the last stanza of the national anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner, which reads like this:

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

And this be our motto — "In God is our trust."
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave,

O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave. … Amen

Every time I have been before you I have concluded with a prayer for our military, and I would like to do the same today. Please bow your heads and join me:

Dear Lord,

Today there are 468 Thousand -- American men and women in uniform stationed in 135 countries around the world.

We pray You keep them safe,
we pray You keep them strong,
we pray You send them safely home ...

Bless those who await their safe return.

And Bless the friends and relatives who mourn the casualties in Iraq: The MIAs, the more than 11,000 wounded, and the more than 1500 Killed In Action.

In Jesus name we ask ...

Amen.

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