Fahan Presbyterian Church

Jesus is Lord - Romans Chapter 10 v 9

Burning Bush

The story of how God called his servant Moses to help his people is told in the Bible at Exodus Chapter 3. Click here if you would like to read this fascinating true story.

The symbol of the Burning Bush is used by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
There are several examples at Fahan:

Ardens Sed Virens, War Memorial 1914-1918, Fahan Presbyterian Church 
A carving on the War Memorial from the First World War mounted on the Church wall in Fahan Presbyterian Church.

 Communion elements of Bread  Wine at Fahan

A carving on the chair behind the Communion Table. The table is set for communion "Sacrement of the Lord's Supper".

Fahan Presbyterian Church, Burning Bush

A picture of the "Burning Bush" with the words "Arden Sed Virens"on the Pulpit at Fahan Presbyterian.

Church Choir during the Christmas Craft Fayre
The Burning Bush can be seen in the background during the Choir singing at a Christmas Craft and Gift Fayre.

The first distinct trace of the Burning Bush being used as a symbol is in 1583 when at the 12th National Synod of the French Reformed Church it was resolved that a seal should be made for the use of the National Synod. In a marginal note in his treatise, 'Synodicon in Gallia Reformata' the Rev. J. Quick, a Devonshire clergyman ejected in 1692, says "There is engraven on the seal a Burning Bush, and round the circle Flagror non Consumor". It means "I am being burned but not consumed".

Another form of the Hugenot motto is Conburo non Consumor, which has the same meaning. The burning bush symbol was a favourite among the early Hugenots.

 Something not unlike this seems also to have been the seal of the Waldensian Church, a taper burning in, golden candlestick, scattering its beams in a field of thick darkness.

 Used by the Church of Scotland and Others

So far as we know the earliest use of the emblem in Scotland is on the title page of a book 'Joy and Tears', published in 1635, where it is introduced with some reference to the troubles of the Kirk. It appears again as frontispiece to a pamphlet printed at London, 1642, and there are frequent allusions to the Burning Bush as a symbol of the suffering Church in Samuel Rutherford's 'Letters'.

 In 1691, we find it printed for the first time in the title-page of the Acts of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. This, however, was not done by any formal resolution of the Assembly. The emblem was accepted because of its appropriateness and has appeared ever since in the official documents of the Church of Scotland and any Churches that owe their origin to her. The credit of bringing the emblem into general use therefore belongs to George Mossman, an Edinburgh printer appointed by the Assembly to do its work.

 At first the Acts appear with a monogram (which appears to be that of the printer) at the corners, for the encircled emblem is on a square, but in 1694-95 a Scottish thistle is substituted, and in subsequent years the design and surroundings vary between those of 1690 and those of 1694-95. The words 'Not consumed' appear sometimes instead of the Latin form.

 The Free Church took over the device and motto from the Established Church at the Disruption, 1843. At the Union in 1900 the Burning Bush was combined with the Dove and Olive Leaf, the special emblem of the United Presbyterian Church.

 The Free Church of England has also a double device, the Burning Bush and 'Nec Tamen Consumebatur' being blended with an open Bible bearing the words 'The Word of the Lord endureth forever'. We in the Irish Presbyterian Church use the emblem with 'Ardens sed Virens' - burning but flourishing - as our motto.

 The Burning Bush Worldwide

Most of the Presbyterian Churches in the Colonies adopted the device without any change, though in Australia a St. Andrew's Cross is introduced with shield on blue ground and upon it a Southern Cross, indicated by stars, charged with the Burning Bush, the motto being on a white border. The shield has a spray of flowers as its base.

 One would think that in the United States of America, where Presbyterianism is strong, the symbol would be used, but such is not the case. The Rev. Dr. Henry B. Master, of Philadelphia, American Secretary of the General Presbyterian Alliance, with whom I have corresponded on the matter, saying that in consulting Dr. Louis Benson, of the Presbyterian Historical Society, 'on the subject', and that the latter 'is unable to locate any use of it as a symbol of the Church in this country.'

The fact is certainly remarkable, and can scarcely be explained by the citizens of the great Republic objecting to crests, coats of arms and the like, for the matter is one of simple faith, and has no connection with 'coronets' or 'Norman blood'. It is noteworthy that the official notepaper as used by Dr. Master has a large crest or emblem on it - circular in form, with a seven-branched candlestick surmounted by a wreath, and beneath are the words 'Lampades multae una lux.' Around the border in much larger letters is the legend, 'Alliance of Reformed Churches Holding the Presbyterian System, 1877'. The same crest or emblem, without any wreath or lettering, appears on the frontispiece of the official magazine (The Quarterly Register) of said Alliance.

 The Scottish Church of Rotterdam, founded in 1642, has a seal which probably dates from that time or shortly after. The Burning Bush is there, with 'Nec tamen consumebatur' encircling it, and on either side there is a Scottish thistle surmounted by a crown. The arms of Rotterdam also appear on the seal.

 The Design

It is a pity that the designing of our emblem should have been left to the arbitrary taste and skill of different engravers or wood-cutters, for on church notices, communion cards, disjunction certificates and such like printed matter; there are to be seen representations, some of which are certainly not beautiful, and most of which are quite wrong.

 The same applies to communion tokens.

 The emblem should not be some strange looking bush or tree, from which issue leaping flames and clouds of smoke - a veritable bonfire plainly indicating that the wood will soon be utterly consumed; but it should be - as is affirmed by those conversant with the flora of Arabia the desert acacia or thorn tree, with its tangled branches, having on them a few green leaves and some white flowers.

 The Divine Glory in the midst should be bright and luminous, letting the features of the bush or tree be seen, and around there should be golden rays penetrating the blue of the sky, or perhaps an encircling cloud. In 'The Christian Year' Keble has a beautiful poem on the Burning Bush where the line reads, 'One towering thorn was wrapt in flame,' a rendering which indicates the poet's acquaintance with the Hebrew text.

 The translation batos (rubus) in the Septuagint points to the bramble or blackberry, which does indeed grow in Palestine and Syria, and a bush of the kind has been planted by the monks of the Convent of St. Catherine, in Sinai, at the back of their Chapel of the Burning Bush, thus testifying that in their view it is the bush in question; but rubus has not been found wild in Sinai, which is south of its range and climatically unsuited to it.

 For a private purpose the Lyon King-at-Arm's has submitted a sketch of the emblem which I now give: 'On a sandy mount studded with a few conventional flowers, a white acacia with thorns and white blossoms showing here and there, interspersed with lambent tongues of fire and surrounded by golden rays, the whole on a ground of deep blue encircled with a white vesica-shaped border, on which the motto is inscribed'.

 There could be no objection to the border being a pure circle, or nearly so, for it is such in the oldest representations; but it is well to note the Lyon-King's 'vesica-shaped' or pointed oval, which was the form in which the seals of abbeys, colleges, and other religious establishments were made. There should certainly be no garter or buckle introduced in the border which contains the motto, for, apart from such being quite out of place on a seal, it is, as generally represented, really part of the insignia of the Order of the Garter!

 George Mossman's representation is wonderfully correct, and so too, is that of Woodrow, who has it very well done on the title-page of his History published in 1722.

 It would be well, however, to have the seal matriculated at the Lyon office, and in its proper form officially approved by our Church.

 Reprinted from the Presbyterian Herald July/August, 1987; Researched and edited by Rev Robert Cobain