A lot of the constituents of the San Sebastian College – Recoletos Manila institution would use the phrase, Sebastinian identity. One definition of identity reads: “the collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known.” To edify this, there is a necessity to scrutinize the institution’s history and its symbols.
This article shall attempt to identify, define, and edify the Sebastinian identity by looking at the institution’s various symbols.
San Sebastian College – Recoletos Manila brands itself as the home of the stags. A stag surfaces among Christian symbols.
Psalm 42 reads: As a deer longs for running streams, so my soul longs for you, o God. My soul thirsts for the living God. Perhaps because of this, the stag is considered a symbol for piety and religious aspiration and longing. Following this, if every Sebastinian is a stag, then every Sebastinian longs for the Living Water, God. It is faith in God that nourishes every Sebastinian.
“A Primer to Catholic Symbolism” published in the Boston Catholic Journal presents: His freedom of mobility captivates our imagination and speaks to us of the freedom of soul we would like to have. His fearlessness in combat is what we would like to imitate in our encounters with evil.
An online site containing discussions about medieval bestiary discusses: The stag is the enemy of the snake. When the stag discovers a snake, it spits water into the hole where the snake hides, draws the snake out with its breath, and tramples it to death. If the stag is ill or old, it draws the snake out of hiding and swallows it. The stag then finds water and drinks large amounts of it to overcome the poison, and is renewed. When the stag is renewed it sheds its horns.
This may simply be a myth but the imagery concretely captures the Christian concept of the fight between good and evil, and also touches on allusions about renewal. The water taken by the stag may be considered a symbol for the Spirit; thus, this may be an allusion to baptism, which, for Christians, means a renewal.
The same site continues: The stag is a symbol for Christ, who tramples and destroys the devil. As the stags crossing a river help each other, so should the Christian crossing from the worldly life to the spiritual life help others who grow weak or tired. As the stag is renewed and sheds its horns after drinking from the spring, so those who drink from the spring of the spirit are renewed and shed their sins.
RED and YELLOW
In San Sebastian College, one would hear the phrase Red and Gold mentioned a lot of times, referring to the school colors. A lot of the members of the institution would wear shirts displaying the phrase. One would wonder, though, about its meanings, and whether these people understand these meanings.
Let us subject this phrase to scrutiny: red is a color; gold is an element. That is just unparallel and, therefore, inconsistent. Let us think, therefore, of the line: flaming red, golden yellow. With that, we get two pairs of imagery: red and yellow, flame and gold.
When we trace the symbolism of red, we get various concepts considering its meanings for various cultures and fields: love, action, confidence, courage, dynamism, vitality. It is also associated with loyalty, honor, success, fortune, fertility, happiness, passion, and summer.
Red is the color most commonly associated with love so that whenever a heart (believed to be the seat of love) is depicted, it is colored red. This brings us to another association, that of blood; which, in turn, brings us to war and martyrdom. In Christianity, red symbolizes martyrdom and sacrifice. Because of this, perhaps, red also is associated with courage.
This may remind us of the Christian concept of courage. In a nutshell, when a Christian faces danger or temptation, he/she does not bravely face the enemy and fight. Instead, a Christian would run towards God so God may defend him/her against the enemy. This courage, therefore, is very much associated with the Christian concept of Kenosis. Here lie a lot of paradoxes: kenosis would present an act of emptying so one may be full, dying so one may live. One does an act of resignation, so one may do an act of courage. To die for one’s faith is not death, but to live eternally; to run towards God from the enemy is not cowardice, but an act of faith and courage. In Christianity, martyrdom (death) becomes a reason for celebration and ceremony. We, therefore, see red as symbol for joy.
Red is also the color most commonly associated with passion and heat. In art, fire is often shown as red even when flames are usually yellow, orange or blue.
THUS: flaming red.
In Christianity, yellow and white together symbolize Easter, rebirth, and Resurrection; i.e., the culmination, or end, or fruit of Kenosis.
In medieval European symbolism, red symbolized passion, blue symbolized the spiritual, and yellow symbolized reason.
Interestingly, considering the colors of San Sebastian College – Recoletos Manila, it is also said that yellow combined with red symbolized heat and energy. This then leads us again to the imagery of the flame. In art, sunlight – which shoots forth from that body of flames called sun – is presented as colored yellow; thus, yellow is also associated with warmth.
If we push through following this direction of inquiry, we will inevitably be led to a syllogism that since yellow symbolizes light, and light symbolizes knowledge and wisdom (thus, development of such word as enlightenment); therefore, yellow symbolizes knowledge and wisdom. In the academic field, yellow is the color of reason and research.
Searching for yellow’s symbolisms would also immediately lead us to its association with gold, which was considered to be imperishable, eternal and indestructible. If we trace the etymology of the word ‘gold,’ it will give us aurum, which means yellow. In some cultures, the yellow color of gold also symbolizes wisdom.
THUS: golden yellow.
These associations of red and flame to love and passion; yellow and gold to wisdom and reason are curiously significant and interestingly fitting to San Sebastian College – Recoletos Manila considering the institution’s Augustinian principle: Caritas et Scientia.
CARITAS ET SCIENTIA
We learn from the Book of Ecclesiasticus, “…gold is tested in the fire….” This metaphor is repeated in various books in the Bible (Wisdom 3:5, 1 Peter 1:7, Proverbs 17:3) used to refer to man’s faith that must be tested by humiliations and afflictions.
This is an interesting analogy as flames do not destroy gold, but purify it. Flames destroy the impurities. What remains is the purest gold. [This may also be considered parallel with symbolism presented in the water taken by the stag that causes shedding of its horns, and ultimately, a symbolism of Christian baptism.]
If red is to flame, flame is to love (charity); and yellow is to gold, gold is to wisdom (scientia); then we say that caritas – and all its burning flames – is necessary so that scientia may reach its purest form or that it may reach its fulfillment.
In order for one to reach the summit of the search for wisdom, one must first seek to learn how it is to truly love. Before the acquisition of wisdom, there is that requisite: love. Let love burn in the heart of one who seeks wisdom.
This epitomizes a Sebastinian: a seeker of wisdom, yes; but one who, first and foremost, is imbued with love. This means love in the measure of the cross. This means being truly humble so as to be ready to pass through ontological deaths or various degrees of kenosis. Wisdom is given to and dwells only in a heart that is humble and full of love.
This is not to say that love and wisdom are two separate entities. One realizes, if one finally learns to love, that one – in that moment of epiphany – has already gained wisdom. Love safeguards wisdom; and wisdom safeguards love. They are inseparable. One comes first only so the other may be gained, but the first cannot exist without the other.
This reminds me of the only full example of love: that of the Father’s Love fulfilled in the Paschal Mystery of the Son, from which shoots forth the Spirit of Wisdom.
THUS:Caritas et Scientia; Love and Wisdom.
All these mentioned may be encapsulated as manifested in the lives of saints, such as Saint Sebastian.
Let us – for the sake of following the direction this article takes in presenting various symbols significant for the Sebastinian community – take the popular image of Saint Sebastian as a symbol. This image shows the saint at that point when he was tied to a tree and shot by arrows.
If, for instance, a statue must be made of this particular depiction of Saint Sebastian to serve as symbol for the institution, it must be seen thus:
The eyes, looking upwards to heaven, must have a look of prayerful joy and expectation. It should mean that a Sebastinian does not value worldly life more than what is prepared for him in heaven. Head is tilted towards heaven, rightwards. This must mean that a Sebastinian upholds that which is just and right. His nakedness mustsymbolize openness to learning and must symbolize a Sebastinian’s firm foundation on truth. The arms must look firm and toned considering that Sebastian was a soldier, but must also look relaxed, symbolizing self-surrender. Behind his back, wrists tied by a rope, the hands must be clasped together, symbolizing a Sebastinian’s trust in prayer. A Sebastinian must be a man of prayer. The rope and arrows must symbolize the challenges or issues – spiritual, academic, and social – that a Sebastinian faces, receives, acts upon. The tree must symbolize a Sebastinian’s unity with the crucified Christ. The feet must look as if one is on top of the other with an arrow piercing them. This, obviously, is an allusion to the Crucified Christ and must remind every Sebastinian of that call to follow Our Lord much like what Saint Sebastian did. The cloth covering his waist must also similarly serve as an allusion to the image of Jesus Christ on the cross.
The entire statue must be a symbol of an invitation to martyrdom, which may be interpreted figuratively or literally. A Sebastinian – in any area he/she is – must be a witness, a Christian. He/she must uphold that which is right, true, and just. This must also, therefore, mark a willingness among Sebastinians to give himself/herself for the service of others. He/she, therefore, must be exposed to social issues and must develop critical thinking and a sense of unity with his/her fellowmen.
A Sebastinian believes that in order to gain life, one must lose it. In order to gain knowledge, one must undergo a certain degree of ontological death. This may mean the death of ignorance or the death of intellectual pride or arrogance. In order to gain wisdom, one must strip oneself of biases that mar the process of education, like gold losing its impurities in fire or a stag shedding its horns after drinking water from the spring.
This, as discussed earlier captures the Christian concept of Kenosis.
It is only proper that those who call themselves Sebastinians – and those who would like to find their identity – must look at the image of this saint, and find that said identity has already been identified, defined, and edified in that very same act of faith and martyrdom.