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The word secularization comes from the Latin sæculum, which could be taken to mean an age (or era) but also, at least by the fourth and fifth centuries, “the world,” probably as an extension of the idea of a “spirit of an age.” By this date, too, the word had already developed an ambiguous meaning. It could be used to mean something like unending time (the phrases “world without end” or “forever and ever” that still often appear at the end of formal Christian prayers are translations of the Latin in sæcula sæculorum), or the world “out there” (monastic priests, who were “enclosed” and under a formal “rule of life,” were distinguished from “secular” clergy, meaning the parish clergy who served the people “out in ...

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