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I'm looking for someone that can help me produce a correct, coherent Latin phrase for a school project to be used as a motto, similar to the Marine Corps motto Semper Fidelis, etc. I would like the phrase to say "God is highest" or "God is supreme."

I have used Google translate, which produced Deus est summum​ or Deus summum.

Also, I have a couple of questions. First, is there already a phrase with this meaning in existence as a motto in Latin? Second, what are the rules for capitalization in Latin when a phrase is used as a motto? Are all caps acceptable?

Thank you for the help from a Latin-illiterate friend.

  • Welcome to Latin Language, I hope my comment on your secondary questions helped! – Rafael Jul 28 at 13:21
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While in classical Latin summus might have been the best word, the Christian tradition uses altissimus to translate both the Hebrew and the Aramaic words found in the Old Testament for the concept of “highest God”.

See e.g. Daniel, chap. 5, v. 18 (as in the Clementine Vulgate)

O rex, Deus altissimus regnum et magnificentiam, gloriam et honorem dedit Nabuchodonosor patri tuo.

which means, according to King James' Version

O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour

Deus Altissimus is the traditional expression. You can use it in isolation, but if for any reason you want to use the verb est (is) as well, you can write Deus est altissimus, in medieval style.

During Latin's long history, many capitalization rules have been applied at different times. Don't worry and do whatever you find appropriate for your context.

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    Or if you prefer the word order more common in Classical Latin, rather than Mediaeval Latin, Deus altissimus est. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 28 at 11:37
  • Is there a difference in meaning between the form with "est" in the middle and the form without? I.e. is there a difference between the predicate adjective and a descriptive adjective in Latin. For instance (to avoid the case at hand), in Latin is there a difference between "God is great" and "great God"? – preahkumpii Jul 31 at 3:35
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The best phrase would be Deus optimus maximus, literally “God [is] best and greatest”.

Not only is the meaning right but it has an ancient lineage which makes it perfect for this use.

Iuppiter optimus maximus is a standard pagan formula for Jupiter.

Christianity took this phrase over and the dedication Deo optimo maximo, “To God, best and greatest”, has very wide use throughout the ages. You will often see it abbreviated to D • O • M on monuments.

The Wikipedia article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deo_optimo_maximo is quite good.

For your use, since you want to say “God is greatest” rather than “To God, the greatest”, the nominative form Deus optimus maximus will be the right one.

  • Thanks for the answer. I'm using it in conjunction with an equivalent phrase in another language (which I know and speak). So I really want to stay as close to the idea of supremacy/highness as opposed to largeness or goodness. Does that make sense? – preahkumpii Jul 27 at 11:38
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As a musician my first thought goes to in excelsis Deo.

Excelsis seems to have been translated in a multitude of ways. Some interesting thoughts on this and also on usage of in excelsis/altissimus are offered in this question.

EDIT In a comment Joonas Ilmavirta kindly pointed out a grammatical error in my answer. For searchability I will simply copy the comment in here:

Because of the dative form in excelsis Deo means "to the God in highest". If you want to say "the God is in highest", you need to switch Deo to Deus. You can also add an explicit est ("is") before it if you want.

Apologies for my poor skills, I have not maintained what little I learned in school 35 years ago but was nevertheless left with a love for the language.

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    Welcome to the site! I like this starting point, but there is a grammatical issue. Because of the dative form in excelsis Deo means "to the God in highest". If you want to say "the God is in highest", you need to switch Deo to Deus. You can also add an explicit est ("is") before it if you want. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jul 28 at 6:14
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I offer here a different alternative, which is very motto-prone, but a rather free translation of your original sentence:

Quis ut Deus? Who is like God?

It is the meaning of the name Michael (Hebrew מִיכָאֵל). The phrase in its popular Latin form is not literally attested in the Bible, but is present in the Church Fathers (e.g. St. Gregory the Great, Hom. 34.9, c. 593 AD) and is a paraphrase of several Biblical passages. You can find it as an inscription in a huge variety of places, from Canada to Germany to France to Portugal.

Although it is not a literal translation of your original sentence, it is quite popular and has been used before as a motto (more examples, and yet one more example of someone not called Michael). As this site puts it, "this is a rhetorical question, implying no person is like God".


Re: your side questions,

Is there already a phrase with this meaning in existence as a motto in Latin?

Maybe that's why I thought of this option in specific.

Second, what are the rules for capitalization in Latin when a phrase is used as a motto? Are all caps acceptable?

All caps are absolutely acceptable. Lowercase letters developed during the history of Latin as a living language. All caps is possibly the most common choice for inscriptions, but you can find different sets of capitalization rules throughout Latin history. If you want to give it an ancient taste you can even replace the u's by v's: QVIS VT DEVS (note that both letter U and the question mark are Medieval Latin).

  • Does the Hebrew have a question ("who is like God?") or a relative clause ("[he] who is like God")? Latin makes a distinction between quis and qui, but I don't know about Hebrew. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jul 27 at 21:09
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    @JoonasIlmavirta all translations I can find put the question mark in the end, but they could be biased by the Latin translation. I don't know Hebrew to give a more solid argument. But had Gregory the Great been wrong, I think we would know (I mean, it's been 1400 years!). Put into context, "the question is rhetorical, implying no person is like God" – Rafael Jul 27 at 21:32

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