Non serviam

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Non serviam is Latin for "I will not serve". The phrase is generally attributed to Lucifer, who is said to have spoken these words to express rejection to serve God in the heavenly kingdom.

Today "Non serviam" is also used or referred to as motto by a number of political, cultural, and religious groups to express their wish to rebel; it may be used to express a radical view against established common beliefs and organisational structures accepted as the status quo.


In the Latin Vulgate, Jeremiah laments that the people of Israel speak "Non serviam" to express their rejection of God. The words became a general expression of the basic manner of rejecting God, such that it would apply to the fall of Lucifer. The words have thus been attributed to Lucifer.

In modern times "Non serviam" developed also into a general phrase used by modernists to express radical, sometimes even revolutionary rejection of conformity, not necessarily limited to religious matters only and as expressed in modern literary adaptations of the motto.[1]

The expression underlies the Shermanesque statement "I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected", as well as Stephen Dedalus's in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that "I will not serve in that which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use – silence, exile, and cunning."

Scriptural discussion[edit]

The original Hebrew phrase is לֹא אעבוד (Lô´ ´e`ĕvôd). Some English language Bibles may translate "non serviam" as "I will not transgress"; this seems to be an alternate reading of certain manuscripts. This is most likely a scribal error because the difference between "serve" (עבד) and "transgress" (עבר) in late Hebrew characters is so minute that it would be easy to mistake one for the other when hand-copying a manuscript. Most modern literal translations (such as the Revised Standard Version) choose "serve" over "transgress" as the proper reading because the context calls for a statement of disobedience, not of obedience.[citation needed]

In culture[edit]

  • In James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Father Arnall uses the phrase "Non serviam: I will not serve" to characterize Lucifer's sin, an allusion to Lucifer's assertion of non serviam to God in Milton's Paradise Lost, where the fallen angel Satan states that it is "Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven".[2] The protagonist Stephen Dedalus later echoes Lucifer in his decision to follow the life of the artist, telling Cranly, "I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church."[3] Eamonn Hughes maintains that Joyce takes a dialectic approach, both assenting and denying, saying that Stephen’s much noted non serviam is qualified - “I will not serve that which I no longer believe…”, and that the non serviam will always be balanced by Stephen’s “I am a servant…” and Molly’s “yes”.[4]
  • Stephen repeats the phrase non serviam in Ulysses during his confrontation with his dead mother.[5]
  • In Patrick McGrath's Dr. Haggard's Disease, Dr Haggard cries the phrase "Non serviam" to reject the medical science.
  • Non Serviam is the title of a book and poem from 1945 by the Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelöf.
  • In Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's The Illuminatus! Trilogy the character Hagbard Celine uses this phrase to voice his refusal to (among other things) pay taxes.
  • Vicente Huidobro read a Creationist manifesto (Santiago de Chile, 1914) in which the poet rejects to follow Nature.
  • The book A Perfect Vacuum by Science Fiction author Stanislaw Lem, is a collection of book reviews of non-existent books, one of which reviews such a fictional book with the title Non Serviam.
  • "Non serviam" is the title of a poem by Carlos de la Cruz.
  • "Non serviam" is the title of a poem by Mexican poet Jorge Fernández Granados.
  • Non serviam is the motto of the protagonist in the 1971 novel "The bushwacked piano" by Thomas McGuane.
  • In American author Louis Begley's 2007 novel "Matters of Honor," the protagonist labels the declaration of his Jewish roommate at Harvard to be whatever he likes, instead of openly, obviously Jewish, a "non serviam."
  • Non serviam is the title of a music album, and its title track, by Greek black metal band Rotting Christ. Covered in 2016 by Moonsorrow
  • In the Martin Scorsese film The Departed, Jack Nicholson's character Frank Costello uses "non serviam" to sum up his gangland theories of independence and leadership to his young charge Colin Sullivan. Costello is impressed when Colin quickly ascribes the term to Joyce.
  • In "Godkiller: Walk Among Us", the phrase is used by the rebel groups that live in Outer City, as well as by Starkiller before he destroyed New York City.
  • In the novel Barbelo's Blood by Joseph Ferri, Non Serviam is the motto of the British government black ops agency known as 'The Craft.' [1]#
  • Nergal, vocalist of Behemoth, has 'non xerviam' tattooed on his left forearm.


  1. ^ c.f. e.g. A. Olson, Exile and Literary Modernism Initiation, in: A. Eysteinsson et al., Modernism Vol. 2, Amsterdam/Philadelphia 2007
  2. ^ Milton 1674
  3. ^ See Portrait 3:B and 5:C.
  4. ^ Hughs, Eamonn in Robert Welch’s Irish writers and religion , pp.116-137, Rowman & Littlefield 1992
  5. ^ c.f. "Non serviam!" in D. Gifford et al., Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce's Ulysses,p. 518, California, 1988

External links[edit]