In saecula saeculorum
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The Latin phrase in saecula saeculorum expresses the idea of eternity and is literally translated as "unto the ages of ages." The phrase occurs in the New Testament in the Vulgate and translates the original Koine Greek phrase "εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων" (eis toùs aionas ton aiṓnōn), found e.g. at Phillippians 4:20. The phrase expresses the eternal duration of God's attributes. Other variations of the phrase are found at e.g. Eph 3:21, as εἰς πάσας τὰς γενεὰς τοῦ αἰῶνος τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν, here referring to the glory of God the Father; this may be translated as "from all generations for ever and ever, amen".
The translation of aiōnes can be temporal, in which case it would correspond to the English "ages". Then again, it can be spatial, and then one would need to translate in spatial terms, describing the cosmos so as to include both the heavenly and earthly world.
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: "... δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν."
- Philippians 4:20: "...δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν."
- 1 Timothy 1:17: "...δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν."
- 2 Timothy 4:18: "...δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν."
- Hebrews 13:21: "...δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας [τῶν αἰώνων], ἀμήν."
- 1 Peter 4:11: "...δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν."
- Revelation 1:6: "...δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας [τῶν αἰώνων] · ἀμήν."
- 5:13: "...δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων."
- 7:12, 10:6, 11:5, 15:7, 19:3, 20:10, 22:5: "... εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων"
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.
In Catholic mass, the variant form per omnia saecula saeculorum is predominantly used, which translates literally as "through all ages of ages". It is spoken by the priest during the sacrament of the Eucharist.
In 1541, eight years after the English schism from the Roman Catholic Church, King Henry VIII of England issued his official standard text translations of many most common Christian prayers and made major modifications to the level of transliteration that was used by the Catholic Church of the era. His translations were based on a heavily Protestant and very English ideological influence. This was to encourage prayer in the vernacular in England, something opposed by Rome. His translation of the Gloria Patri (Glory be) is fairly literal aside from the translation of "in saecula saeculorum" as "world without end".
The phrase "world of worlds" or "age of ages" does not occur as such in the Old Testament, which uses other expressions for eternity. The Hebrew לעולם ועד (literally "from the world to until" or "from eternity to forever"), which appears in verses such as Genesis 49:2 and Deuteronomy 6:4, was rendered in Greek LXX as εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα καὶ ἐπέκεινα, in Latin as in aeternum et ultra "for eternity and beyond", and in English Bible translations usually as "for ever and ever". In Aramaic, however, the same phrase was rendered as לְעָלְמֵי עָלְמַיָּ (lalmey almaya, literally "from the eternity of eternities" or "from the world of worlds"), for instance in the Kaddish, an important prayer in the Jewish liturgy.
- "Jewishvirtuallibrary.org". Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2015-10-08.
- Strong's Greek Concordance (s.v. "αἰών)
- German Bible Society Greek New Testament (GNT5) https://www.academic-bible.com/en/online-bibles/greek-new-testament-ubs5/read-the-bible-text/
- 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.