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“Nunc Coepi”: The phrase that helped quarterback Philip Rivers persevere in faith, family, and football

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers throws a pass.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers (17) throws a pass during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Buffalo Bills, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

Philip Rivers announced last week that, after seventeen years, he was retiring from the game of football. 

He does so as the owner of more than thirty franchise records with the Los Angeles Chargers and after leading the Indianapolis Colts to the playoffs in his lone season as their starter. 

And while his illustrious career has likely set him on a path to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he’s known as much for his personality, family life, and faith as he is for football. 

Rivers and his wife Tiffany have nine kids, and setting a good example to them has long been one of his top priorities. It’s part of the reason why, despite being a legendary trash-talker on the field, the 2011 Walter Payton Man of the Year finalist made it a point never to curse. Teammates and opponents have tried to trip him up throughout his career, but he has maintained a fairly spotless record. 

That commitment stems in large part from his faith. Rivers grew up as a devout Catholic, and his relationship with Christ remains foundational to everything he does. 

It’s also the origin of the Latin phrase that has become something of a personal and professional mantra: Nunc Coepi.

The statement means, roughly, “Now I begin” and traces back to the Catholic Priest Bruna Lanteri from the early nineteenth century. As Lanteri described it, “If I should fall even a thousand times a day, a thousand times, with peaceful repentance, I will say immediately, ‘Nunc Coepi.'” 

For Rivers, it’s helped him keep perspective despite the ups and downs of his career. As he sees it, football is essentially a game where, no matter what happens on the field, whether a drive ends in success or failure, you always have to begin again. Seeing everything as an opportunity rather than dwelling on the past has been foundational to his success. 

Now, as he prepares to transition away from playing the game he’s played since childhood to fulfill a different dream—following in his father’s footsteps as a high school coach—Nunc Coepi will continue to guide his approach to everything he does.

And perhaps we would do well to adopt a similar approach in our lives.

The need for new beginnings

In Psalm 103, David describes God’s forgiveness and renewal, declaring: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (vv. 11–13). 

And while we must always understand the preceding verses in light of the final statement—that it is those who fear the Lord who will receive his compassion—the problem many of us face is that we’re not nearly so quick to forgive ourselves as the Lord is even after we have genuinely repented of our sins.

At the same time, we can also struggle to let go of yesterday’s successes in order to pursue God’s will for today. Fortunately, Paul gives us a good framework for addressing this temptation in Philippians 3. 

Shortly after describing the sparkling resumé that set him apart before his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, the Apostle writes, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14). 

He understood that any past success he may have had meant little if it kept him from pursuing God’s will in the present.

So in what ways are you stuck in the past today?

Whether our struggles are tied to good times or bad, the idea of approaching every day as the chance to begin again can help us see both our failures and successes from the perspective of God’s larger will for our lives. 

Where do you need to say Nunc Coepi today?