Per Omnia Saecula Saeculorum

By the way, for some thoughts on Easter, see Some Easter Thoughts.

I remember as a small child going to the big St. Paul Cathedral in St. Paul, Minnesota, with my grandmother. This was definitely in the “old days” when it was in Latin and you pretty much sat there and listened. But there were a few times when the priest would turn to the congregation and say something in Latin and we were expected to answer in Latin. The one I remember hearing first was “Dominus vobiscum,” to which the response sounded to me like “et cum spiri 2-2-0.” I kept looking in the missal for those numbers, but I couldn’t find them. Of course in English it is “The Lord be with you,” followed by “and also with you” or “and with your spirit,” the Latin being “et cum spirtu tuo.” So no numbers at all.

During a High Mass the priest would sing (chant, actually) some of the words, and the congregation would sing back. One expression I remember that the priest sang was “Per omnia saecula saeculorum,” to which the congregation would reply “Amen.” Later, when the Mass was set in the English vernacular, this became “for ever and ever, amen.” It is a Latin idiom that translates as “unto the ages of the ages” but simply means “for ever and ever.”

Which brings me to what I was thinking about. In John chapter three, Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, one of the teachers in Israel. At one point Jesus says:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:14-17)

Why are there two different expressions, “eternal life” in verse 15 and “everlasting life” in verse 16? Are two different thoughts being expressed? Well it turns out that in Greek they are the same word. But after doing a little more research there are some subtleties in the usage of the word. It can mean “without beginning or end”, “without end”, or “without beginning”.

An example of the last usage is in 2 Tim 1:9:

Who hath saved us, and called [us] with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, (2 Tim 1:9)

God’s purpose and grace existed without beginning, before the world was created. An example of something that never ends can be found in Hebrews:

Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom [be] glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Heb 13:20-21)

Hey, there’s that “for ever and ever, amen!” Here we see that there is an everlasting covenant that will never end, which was sealed with the blood of Christ at Calvary. God Himself is, of course, an example of the other usage, having neither beginning nor ending. So is there a difference between “everlasting” and “eternal?” In the King James Version of the Bible it appears that the words are used interchangeably even though they sometimes have slightly different meanings. I thought of it this way: when everlasting life is being contrasted with perishing or death, it seems to have the meaning of “never-ending,” i.e., you won’t perish (end) but will live forever (everlasting). On the other hand, when it is mentioned in the context of the life of Christ, it seems to mean “no beginning or ending.” since Christ has no start or end. As an example of the first:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any [man] pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave [them] me, is greater than all; and no [man] is able to pluck [them] out of my Father’s hand. I and [my] Father are one. (John 10:27-30)

Once saved our life will never end, we will never perish, we will live forever. In contrast to that we have:

And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; [and] he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:11-13)

Here we see that we have obtained an eternal life that in God’s Son, a life that is “eternal” in the sense that it has neither beginning nor end. So when God saved me, he gave me the life that is in His Son, not just to live forever, but having that eternal character that stretches into the infinite past and into the infinite future. This may seem like a difference without a distinction, but as a one-time math major I see a difference. I will live forever since God saved me. But I will always be able to tell exactly how long I have been saved (at least relative to time on Earth). Since I was saved on Feb 18, 1973, today on April 20, 2014, I have been saved 15,036 days (Excel is very useful). So even though the time ahead of me is infinite, my experience of that time always has a finite measurement. The last verse that is usually sung in the hymn “Amazing Grace” alludes to this:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

But we have more than that, we have the life that is in His Son, an eternal life without beginning or end, a truly infinite life:

And you [hath he quickened], who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised [us] up together, and made [us] sit together in heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in [his] kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:1-10)

On this Easter, know that God has raised Jesus from the dead, and through Him, His work on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead, God is able to save everyone.

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:4)

The choice is yours. Where will you be “for ever and ever?”

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One thought on “Per Omnia Saecula Saeculorum

  1. Thanks Bill first of all for your blog and taking the time to log and share your thoughts. My roots started in the Catholic church like yours but there were so many things I didn’t understand. Your blog has made those days clearer and connected me to God’s word making today’s thoughts clearer.

    Like

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