From Civilization on Trial, Oxford University Press, 1948.
AS I WAS RE-READING my notes for this essay during the last few days, there floated into my mind the picture of a scene which was transacted in the capital of a great empire about fourteen hundred years ago, when that capital was full of war — not a war on a front but a war in the rear, a war of turmoil and street fighting.
The emperor of that empire was holding council to decide whether he should carry on the struggle or whether he should take ship and sail away to safety. At the crown council his wife, the empress, was present and spoke, and she said: ‘You, Justinian, can sail away if you like; the ship is at the quay and the sea is still open but I am going to stay and see it out, because καλὸν ἐντάφιον ἡ βασιλεία: “Empire is a fine winding sheet.”
I thought of this passage and my colleague, Professor Baynes, found it for me; and, as I thought of it, and also thought of the day and the circumstances in which I was writing, I decided to emend it; and I emended it to κάλλιον ἐντάφιον ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ: ‘a finer winding-sheet is the Kingdom of God’ — a finer because that is a winding-sheet from which there is a resurrection.
Now that paraphrase of a famous phrase of Greek comes, I venture to think, rather near to the three Latin words which are the motto of the University of Oxford; and, if we believe in these three words, Dominus Illuminatio Mea, and can live up to them, we can look forward without dismay to any future that may be coming to us.
The material future is very little in our power. Storms might come which might lay low that noble and beloved building and leave not one stone upon another. But, if the truth about this university and about ourselves is told in those three Latin words, then we know for certain that, though the stones may fall, the light by which we live will not go out.