New Testament scriptural passages with 'age':

Matthew 12:31-33 (RSVCE) 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Mark 10:29-31 (RSVCE) 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many that are first will be last, and the last first.”

Similarly, Luke 18:29-31 (RSVCE).

1 Corinthians 10:10-12 (RSVCE) 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

Ephesians 1:20-22 (RSVCE) 20 which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; 22 and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,

Hebrews 6:4-6 (RSVCE) 4 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt.

In the Nicene Creed recited at Mass in the US there is born of the Father before all ages vs. eternally begotten of the Father cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church - Credo Chart. Does this mean that there was eternity, the Beginning, and then there is a succession of ages?

In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, a line in Eucharistic Prayer III is now you never cease to gather a people to yourself while previously it was from age to age you gather a people to yourself perhaps suggesting that the latter conveyed a meaning that it wasn't meant to convey.

And finally, here is a mention of age by Venerable Bartholomew Holzhauser in this context:

He also wrote a remarkable work on the last book of the New Testament, the Revelation or the Apocalypse, which today is still held in high regard by Roman Catholics. He interpreted the book of the Apocalypse as follows: The seven stars and the seven candlesticks seen by St John signify seven periods of the history of the Church, from its foundation to its consummation at the final judgment. To these periods correspond the seven churches of Asia Minor, the seven days of the Mosaic record of creation, the seven ages before Christ, and the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost. Since, he claimed, all life is developed in seven stages, so God has fixed seven periods for regeneration.


"Therefore let the philosophers, who enumerate thousands of ages from the beginning of the world, know that the six-thousandth year is not yet complete. . . . Therefore, since all the works of God were completed in six days, the world must continue in its present state through six ages, that is, six thousand years. For the great day of God is limited by a circle of a thousand years, as the prophet shows, who says, ‘In thy sight, O Lord, a thousand years are as one day [Ps. 90:4]’" (Divine Institutes 7:14 [A.D. 307]).

What is the Catholic understanding of 'age' in Scripture and in its Tradition?

  • Oh - That is an idea about Rev 2 - 3 which says you should interpret these as historical eras. It isn't strictly catholic, and the exact correspondence of churches to historical periods changes over time. Jul 16, 2014 at 19:17

1 Answer 1


The word "saeculum" is the Latin word used for "age" in many Catholic writings, and in the Scripture passages that you mention in your question. This word is defined as "a generation; the spirit of the age , the times; a hundred years, a century, an age" by this Latin dictionary.

According to etymonline.com (and others), the English word "secular" derives from the Latin word "saeculum" by an interesting path. "Saecularis" is a Latin adjective that means "pretaining to an age." This contrast was used by medieval writers to refer to the present age, or to the general doings of the world, and from this distinction arises the modern sense of "secular" meaning "non-religious." (Also, the "secular priesthood," is the body priests who live in the world, as opposed to in monasteries, that is, to diocesan rather than order priests.) The sense of "age" (= "saeculum") referring to the present world, or the present created order (that is, the world before the Last Day), is contrasted with the "age to come" (Latin "venturum saeculum") as in the Latin Nicene creed, "vitam venturi saeculi," which means, "the life of the world to come" or "life of the age to come."

The quotation from Matthew 12 and from Mark 10 use "age" in this sense, to contrast the present order of creation with that which will exist after Christ comes again.

The quotation from 1 Corinthians shows us a slightly different sense. In ancient culture, there was a sense of repetition or succession of ages ("saecula", plural). Paul is alluding to the fact that the ages will no longer succeed one after another, but rather once Christ has returned all things will be completed, and the transient succession of "saecula" will end. (In some cases, a "saeculum" is the duration of a particular political arrangement, and in some cases it is a period of 100 years. The Romans celebrated "Ludi saeculares" roughly every 100 years, though Augustus Caesar caused them to be celebrated so that they might mark his inauguration of a new period of Roman government and show a continuation of an ancient tradition.)

The quotation from Ephesians shows that the name of Jesus is supreme, both in the current, transient created order and in the "age to come," that is, in the perfected order that will arise after Christ returns. This sense, the contrast of "now" against "after Second Coming," is the same sense as found in your quotations from the Evangelists.

As an aside, I would also note that although it is not reflected in the English translation, "Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, world without end," the use of "saeculum" occurs in the Latin version of this prayer, where we see "et in saecula saeculorum," literally, "into the ages of ages," rather than "world without end." A similar expression of "into the age of an age" or "into the ages of ages" is found in the doxology in many Psalms, and in the hymn of Daniel and his companions in the furnace.

Regarding the Nicene Creed, the phrase "born of the Father before all ages," (Latin: "ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula") indicates that Christ's existence precedes the existence of every successive period of creation, including this present age (Latin "hoc saeculum"). This is the same sense of "saecula" (plural) found in 1 Corinthians as discussed above.

In summary, there are two related senses of "age" in this tradition. "This age" or "the present age" (usually singular, Latin "hoc saeculum") contrasted with the "age to come," (Latin "saeculum venturum"), and meaning simply the current order of creation before Christ returns. The second sense, "ages," usually plural, refers to successive periods of creation, usually looking at times past before the author wrote, as when Paul speaks of the "end of the ages" meaning roughly "the cessation of the quasi-cyclical rise and fall of nations, passage of seasons, etc., and their replacement with whatever God has prepared in the age to come."

I don't know enough to comment on the numerical interpretation of Revelation. I hesitate to point to any literal correspondence between the Revelation of St. John and real world events, historical or predicted, but that is only my opinion, and is really a caution born of ignorance.

You may be right that the change from "from age to age" to "you never cease" is meant to avoid accidentally using this sense of age. Another goal of the recent translation was to follow the Latin more closely, and the Latin in this case reads simply "et populum tibi congregare non desinis" literally "you do not cease to gather a people for yourself."

I hope I've answered your question adequately. I answer from the perspective of what the word "age" in Latin means, and, as a Latin teacher, I am much more confident of the Latin than of any theological implications I may accidentally have made.

  • Further reading has made me understand a bit more as they mentioned King of kings as a way to understand 'Century of centuries'. Making sense now.
    – user13992
    Aug 12, 2014 at 21:01

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