5

The Gloria Patri or "Minor Doxology" is, in Latin:

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto, sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum. Amen.

Who was the first to translate "in sæcula sæculorum" as "world without end"?

"Sæculum" can mean "generation, age, world, worldliness," so a more literal translation would be "into the ages of ages" or "generation after generation." To say "into worlds of words" makes little sense in this context. "World without end" makes even less sense. We Christians do not believe in an eternal world; the world will have an end.

5
  • Wikipedia has, as usual, an article. Did you see it? Does it answer your questions? Admittedly it does not source its claims about the English translation. – Matt Gutting Jan 28 '16 at 1:55
  • @MattGutting Yes, I saw that. It makes an unsubstantiated claim that Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer was the first occurrence of it. – Geremia Jan 28 '16 at 3:36
  • It probably was, since that was the first prayer book in English. – Andrew Leach Jan 28 '16 at 8:50
  • @AndrewLeach first widely read prayer book in Modern English :-) – Matt Gutting Jan 28 '16 at 10:05
  • @Geremia look what I found :-) aclerkofoxford.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/… – Matt Gutting Jan 28 '16 at 12:39
2

The Vulgate Psalm 83:5 has saecula saeculorum, so I suppose a useful starting point would be an Anglo-Saxon psalter, as these did exist whereas vernacular Bibles didn't; but I can't find one online.

Wycliffe (around 1390) translated Ps 84:5† into Late Middle English as "into the worlds of worlds", which is a fairly literal rendering of the Latin.

Tyndale (1494–1536) didn't complete the Old Testament, but he translated Rev 1:6 (where the Vulgate again has saecula saeculorum) into Early Modern English as "for evermore".

The earliest readily-available English psalter after Tyndale is Myles Coverdale's (1537) who translates Ps 84:5 as "alway".

The Gloria Patri itself comes from the Hours of the Divine Office and would not have appeared in any English book before an English prayer book was mandated by the 1549 Act of Uniformity. The probable culprit for "world without end" is Cranmer, who prepared the Prayer Book of 1549.


† The different numbering comes from the Septuagint. This may indicate that the translation is closer to the Hebrew than the Latin.

1
  • 1
    The OED seems to be aware of some Old English translations which used "woruld butan ende" (i.e. "world without end"; see here for a discussion. – Matt Gutting Jan 28 '16 at 12:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.