On the Gloria Patri

I grew up singing the Gloria Patri (in a Baptist church, no less).

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.

For past few years, I have also been singing it in German:

Ehre sei dem Vater und dem Sohn und dem heilgen Geist,
wie es war im Anfang, jetzt und immerdar
und von Ewigkeit zu Ewigkeit.

Finally, today, my brain kicked in and I started consciously translating the German as we sang. It all started to make sense.

Im Anfang.” That’s how Genesis begins. “In the beginning,”  God created the world and it was good. Adam and Eve walked in the garden, and then they disobeyed God, bringing death and misery into the world  God’s good creation needed fixing.

Von Ewigkeit zu Ewigkeit.” This is a phrase found repeatedly in the New Testament, especially in the book of Revelation. Mostly, it appears in ascriptions of glory to God. In German, it is “from eternity to eternity” or “forever and ever.” In Greek, however, it is εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων – unto the ages of the ages. It’s a reference both to God’s eternal nature and the Christian’s hope for the new creation in the age to come.

And it struck me that this song which I had been singing rather mindlessly is a hymn praising God for the restoration of all creation.

The Gloria Patri alludes to the first chapter of the Old Testament (“as it was in the beginning”) and the last chapter of the New Testament (“into the age of the ages”), and by inclusion, everything in between.

Revelation 22 begins:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. (εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων ) (Revelation 22:1-5)

Revelation 22 itself points back to Genesis 1. The tree of life is accessible once more.  The curse is removed. Humanity once again can look on the face of God. The garden has become a garden-like city, but without the evils of every city that came before. Creation itself is transformed.

What God intended in the beginning, when God created the world, has come to pass in Jesus Christ. The fallen have been lifted up. The guilty have been forgiven and made new. The pure goodness of creation has been restored. Death has been overcome.

As it was in the beginning, it shall be again, in the age of ages, when Jesus comes in glory. In fact, Jesus has already begun to reign. What shall be already is now, and forever it shall be. The old remains, but the new has already come into existence. We have received a down-payment on the age to come in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Both the English and German versions of the Gloria Patri are based on the Latin.

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto,
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper,
et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, also now, and always,
and to ages of ages. Amen.

The Latin was first documented in 529 in the records of a church council in Gaul. The council directed that churches of the region should use these words to praise God because churches throughout Rome, Africa and the eastern parts of the empire were doing so. This became the standard form of the “minor doxology” throughout the western Catholic (and later Protestant) world.

The council, however, was wrong about the form of the Gloria Patri in use in the East. The Greek version – still in use in Orthodox churches – is this:

Δόξα Πατρὶ καὶ Υἱῷ καὶ Ἁγίῳ Πνεύματι,
καὶ νῦν καὶ ἀεὶ καὶ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. Ἀμήν.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
Both now and always, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

The Greek (and Orthodox) version omits “As it was in the beginning”; it is simply an acclamation of eternal praise to the triune God.

Personally, I like the additions in the western (Latin) text. Our God is not only worthy of praise for who he is in himself, but for what he has done for us. He created this beautiful and wonderful world, and when we had mucked it up he didn’t abandon us. In Christ, he set things right. He makes all things new, and through the Holy Spirit he gives us a foretaste of the glorious age to come.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.