The Meaning of Quo Vadis: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of quo vadis? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word quo vadis, including its definition, etymology, usage, example uses, and more!

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What does the term quo vadis mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language and Educalingo, the term quo vadis (pronunciation: ˈkwəʊ ˈvɑːdɪs) is a Latin phrase that means “where are you going?” or “whither goest thou?” In the modern usage of the phrase, the best definition refers to the Christian tradition of Saint Peter. This phrase occurs a few times in the Vulgate translation of the Bible, including for a second time in John 13:36. Here, Peter asks Jesus the same question, but with a different response. This time, Jesus replies, “Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me.” The Latin translation of this phrase is literal, but it is often used figuratively in church settings. 

What is the origin of the term quo vadis?

According to Arlington Diocese, the term quo vadis comes from the story of Saint Peter’s flight and escape from Emperor Nero’s persecution of the Roman Christians during the first century. The legend that spurred the Latin phrase is from the apocryphal acts of Peter, also known as the Vercelli Acts XXXV, which was composed around C. A. D. 190 in Palestine or Syria.

In this story, Peter fled Rome at the outbreak of the persecution. People speculate that he could have done this out of fear, or maybe because he thought the rock should be brought somewhere safe. This would be so that others could find it and cling to it and to Peter himself. 

When Peter heads out on the Via Appia, he needs Jesus, who is going into Rome to face persecution. Peter asks, “Quo vadis, Domine?” which translates to, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answers this quote by saying, “Romam vado iterum crucifigi.” This means that he is going to Rome to be crucified upside-down. Then, he disappears. The likely crucifixion is later performed at the hands of the government, giving way to the later risen Jesus.

This is said to have occurred on the Via Appia Antica in Rome. Christian built a church on the spot to commemorate this biblical story. According to the Bible, quo vadis events help a person encounter Jesus. Every person has their own individual sacred place, just like Saint Peter. When this happens, we all have a choice to make: do we go our own way or follow Jesus? Christians and Catholics believe that one should listen to Jesus, follow him, and they will find their purpose in life. This story is meant to show courage and faith in Christian tradition, and to encourage virtue through the retelling of a story.

Where might one see the term quo vadis?

The term quo vadis is also the title of a book written by the Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz, according to Webster. This book is a narrative of the time of Nero, and has been turned into films several times. The most famous of these is the 1951 version which was nominated for several Academy Awards. This film was written by John Lee Mahin and directed by Mervyn Leroy, according to IMDb. The film stars Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr, and follows the plot of the novel fairly closely. The film was nominated for Best Picture, best actor in a supporting role for two different supporting actors, best cinematography, best art direction and set decoration, best costume design, best film editing, and best music. 

The author received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1905 for the novel Quo Vadis as well as other novels that he has written. This novel is almost 600 pages in length and is fairly historically accurate and its depiction of Rome in the last days of Nero’s rule. 

The novel is set between 64 and 68 ad. The emperor Nero is in charge of Rome and nearly insane. He is a megalomaniac who is convinced he is a God. The central plot of this novel revolves around vinicius, who is a Roman military leader, and his love affair with Ligia, a woman who has been left in Rome by her father, who is the head of a tiny nation and a hostage of Nero’s. 

There is also a church called The Church of Domine Quo Vadis in the city of Rome. Legend has it, this church is built where the meeting between Peter and Jesus took place. According to Fandom, this church is a seventeenth-century conventual and devotional church. This church is located at Via Appia Antica 72, and the Appio Latino quarter of Rome. It’s denomination is Roman Catholic, and its dedication is the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as Our Lady of Sorrows. The English name for the church is the chapel of Domine Quo Vadis. Official name of the church is Santa Maria Delle Piante, which literally translates to St Mary of the Soles of the Feet. One may never know if this was truly the church where Saint Peter met Jesus Christ as he fled from Rome to escape martyrdom, however it is an important location for people of the Catholic and Christian faith. 

Overall, the term quo vadis means where are you going? This Latin phrase was used in the Bible when Peter asked Jesus where he was going. In modern times, a quo vadis event is considered by the Catholic Church to be an event that helps a person encounter Jesus. This helps Catholics and Christians listen to Jesus and follow their faith. 

Sources: 

  1. Why Quo Vadis? | Arlington Diocese 
  2. Quo Vadis? | Definition of Quo Vadis? | Merriam-Webster
  3. QUO VADIS? – Definition and synonyms of quo vadis? | Educalingo  
  4. Book review — By Henryk Sienkiewicz – QUO VADIS | Webster 
  5. Quo Vadis (1951) | IMDb 
  6. Domine Quo Vadis | Churches of Rome Wiki | Fandom