In saecula saeculorum
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The Latin phrase in saecula saeculorum expresses the idea of eternity and is literally translated as "in a century of centuries." It is biblical, taken from the Vulgate translation of the New Testament, translating the Greek phrase "εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων" (eis toùs aionas ton aiṓnōn).
The usual English translation is "for ever and ever", but in Ephesians 3:21, the KJV notably has "world without end". Neither translation is literal, as the time span invoked is not literally eternity but multiple aiōnes in Greek, translated as saecula in Latin, and elevated to "aiōnes of aiōnes" or "saecula of saecula". The saeculum in Roman antiquity was the potential maximal human lifespan, or roughly a century, and so another interpretation would be "for a lifetime of lifetimes." The original meaning of aiōn was comparable, and it is so used in Homer and Hesiod.
Some alternative English translations aim at greater literalness in their rendition of Ephesians 3:21: Young's Literal Translation and the Darby Translation have "of the age of the ages", Webster's Revision has "throughout all ages" while the New Living Translation has "through endless ages". In many modern English-language translations of Orthodox Christian liturgical texts, such as the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the phrase is often translated as "unto the ages of ages".
The phrase occurs twelve times in the Book of Revelation alone, and another seven times in epistles, but not in the gospels:
- Galatians 1:5,
- Ephesians 3:21,
- Philippians 4:20,
- 1 Timothy 1:17,
- 2 Timothy 4:18,
- Hebrews 13:21,
- 1 Peter 4:11,
- Revelation 1:18, 4:9, 10, 5:13, 7:12, 10:6, 11:15, 14:11, 15:7, 19:3, 20:10, 22:5.
It is taken up in medieval Christian liturgy, such as in the Tantum Ergo by Thomas Aquinas, in Veni Creator Spiritus, Gloria Patri and numerous other instances. When it is followed by an Amen, the last two words (saeculorum, Amen) may be abbreviated Euouae in medieval musical notation.
It does not occur in the Old Testament, which has other expressions for eternity, in Latin in aeternum et ultra "for eternity and beyond", rendering the Hebrew עד עולם, LXX " εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα καὶ ἐπέκεινα", in English Bible translations usually also given as "for ever and ever".
- Strong's Greek Concordance (s.v. αἰών)
- Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (http://www.goarch.org/chapel/liturgical_texts/liturgy_hchc) Uses the English phrase "to the ages of ages" to translate the Greek phrase "εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων" throughout this next Reference:
- Η ΘΕΙΑ ΛΕΙΤΟΥΡΓΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΓΙΟΥ ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ ΤΟΥ ΧΡΥΣΟΣΤΟΜΟΥ (http://www.goarch.org/chapel/liturgical_texts/liturgy_hchc-el?set_language=el) Contains the Greek phrase "εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων" 22 times.