Some Christian scholars, even Catholics ones, have conjectured that there are seven ages, or phases, of history to the Church, that can be imaged in the seven letters to the Churches at the introduction to the Apocalypse. Of course, with Protestant ones, many times such layers will eventually be aimed negatively at the Catholic Church, so that the Church obviously cannot accept these.
What if the Church could do her own version? It certainly sounds possible. It has been done. I would like to do so with the version of theology that I have developed. However, in what manner might we do this? Well, examining the ways that I have looked at the ages of the Church thus far, nothing immediately works, since, in my analysis, in the larger sense, there are FIVE ages of the Church, per the five parts of the three-prong way of the saint,...
The Five Ages of the New Covenant:
The Purgative Way:
1. Darkness: Dark Night of the Senses: Persecution by glory-seeking pagan power (Pagan Rome) (60 - 300 AD)
The Illuminative Way:
2. Light: The First Conversion of the Gentiles, the Development of Church Doctrine (300 - 1900 AD)
3. Darkness: Dark night of soul: intermediate apostasy from New Law (1900 - present AD)
The Unitive Way
4. Light: Minor Chastisement, Vindicating Church, Restoration of Christian Unity and Catholic Christendom, Age of Peace (immediate future)
5. Darkness: Martyrdom: Great Apostasy, NT Antichrist, Great Persecution and Tribulation (long distance future)
and in the lesser sense, the illuminatve way has seven ages, but that is only one PART of Church history, leaving others parts out, and so incomplete:
Trinity and Incarnation Attacked:
1. Initial Christological and Trinitarian heresies, 300 - 600 AD~
- Islam 600 AD~
Supreme Apostolic Successor, Peter, Attacked:
3. Great Schism, 1000 AD~
General Apostolic Succession and Oral Tradition, Attacked:
4. Moral fall of Catholic Hierarchy, 1300-1500 AD~
5. Protestant Rebellion, 1500-1700 AD~
Written Tradition, or Scripture, Attacked (and all Divine Revelation):
6. Enlightenment [Deism, Rationalism], 1700 AD~
7. Modern Minor Secular Apostasy [Atheism, Relativism], Latter Mid 20th century to Present
HOWEVER, when we recall the article that argues that the scenes of the apocalypse that include the dragon, taken together as a collective chronology, can image the whole spiritual history of the Church,...
The Dragon, the Woman, and the Millennium http://www.catholic365.com/article/4621/the-dragon-the-woman-and-all-of-church-history.html
...and if we look closer at the dragon scenes, we do see that the partitioning of the history is seven ages! Then, in that vein, after deeper consideration, a correlation becomes quite possible! Hence, it suggests a try! And it actually works! Let’s dive right in!
So, from a spiritual historicist background, the seven churches and the seven letters addressed to them respectively can be seen as the ages of the Church in sequence correlated to the ages of the dragon. The effective parts would be as follows, relating the seven ages to the letters in Apocalypse 2-3:
First, let us recall a common sense method to divide the dragon scenes into seven parts:
1. The Dragon wages war in heaven: Age of martyrs, Pagan Rome
2. The Dragon pursues the Woman: "Dark Ages", heresies against God's nature
3. The Woman flies to rest from serpent by wings of eagle: Middle Ages
4. The Dragon spews a flood after the woman: Intermediate Fall from Catholic Christendom: Protestantism, Enlightenment/Age of Solo-Ratio
5. The Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet Deception: Modern godless age, the Minor Apostasy,
6. The bowls of wrath, destruction of Beast and False Prophet, chaining of the Dragon in abyss, “thousand year reign”: Minor Tribulation, Our Lady's Coming Age of Peace, Triumph of Her Immaculate Heart
7. Release of the Dragon at the end of thousand years and attack of Gog and Magog: Great Apostasy and Tribulation
These seven phases then, per the same basic scenes of the dragon, will be correlated to the seven letters, in the same order.
Now, there is obviously speculation here. Because of this, I will NOT start from the beginning since the first two letters involve greater speculation. Rather, I will start a little later in the sequence and this, namely, with the third letter. So here goes.
From the seven Churches, starting with letter number 3, a fairly good connection can be made:
Letter 3: the Middle Ages
“  And to the angel of the church of Pergamus write: These things, saith he, that hath the sharp two edged sword:  I know where thou dwellest, where the seat of Satan is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith. Even in those days when Antipas was my faithful witness, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.  But I have against thee a few things: because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat, and to commit fornication:  So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaites.
 In like manner do penance: if not, I will come to thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.  He, that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches: To him that overcometh, I will give the hidden manna, and will give him a white counter, and in the counter, a new name written, which no man knoweth, but he that receiveth it ”
Antipas, the faithful witness and servant, is martyred. The greatest witness and servant of the Church is Peter, the servant of servants, the supreme witness to the Church's truths . Too, on the left edge of the Middle Ages, Peter was spiritually martyred by the Great Schism between East and West.
Letter 4: Protestantism, Enlightenment
“And to the angel of the church of Thyatira write: These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like to a flame of fire, and his feet like to fine brass.  I know thy works, and thy faith, and thy charity, and thy ministry, and thy patience, and thy last works which are more than the former.  But I have against thee a few things: because thou sufferest the woman Jezabel, who calleth herself a prophetess, to teach, and to seduce my servants, to commit fornication, and to eat of things sacrificed to idols.
 And I gave her a time that she might do penance, and she will not repent of her fornication. Behold, I will cast her into a bed: and they that commit adultery with her shall be in very great tribulation, except they do penance from their deeds.  And I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am he that searcheth the reins and hearts, and I will give to every one of you according to your works. But to you I say,  And to the rest who are at Thyatira: Whosoever have not this doctrine, and who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will not put upon you any other burthen.  Yet that, which you have, hold fast till I come.
 And he that shall overcome, and keep my works unto the end, I will give him power over the nations.  And he shall rule them with a rod of iron, and as the vessel of a potter they shall be broken,  As I also have received of my Father: and I will give him the morning star.  He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.”
There is a great unfaithful Jezebel, who is cast on chastisement, and Christ "kills her children with death". This is obviously hyperbolic language, since Christ would never will death for any children or humans, whether literal or spiritual. The connotation here should be that Jesus is allowing the fallen nature to run its course, that is, to bring about supernatural death [!], precisely because the progressive fall brings these things upon those that are turning ever more from God, as in “God hardened Pharoh’s heart” (God did not literally and directly cause Pharoe to harden, since God can never author sin. Rather, God allowed Pharoe to harden his heart by withholding grace that would have been rejected by Pharoe anyway).
In other words, with the phrase, “I will kill her children with death”, we first note that the great partial unfaithfulness of the age of intermediate departure from Catholic Christendom was Protestantism. Protestantism was still a certain apocalyptic woman in relationship to Christ. She still had salvific elements in her eccleisial communities [e.g., most of Scripture, Baptism, and Marriage in validity]. BUT SHE WAS, OBJECTIVELY, an UNFAITHFUL WOMAN! A JEZEBEL! She rejected not only Peter but all his brothers, the Bishops and their Tradition. It was unfaithful, a rebellion! And its place in apocalyptic history is great, warranting an apocalyptic name in the mystery of the Church’s ages, and what not better name than an unfaithful woman, Jezebel!
Moreover, with regards to, “And I will kill [Jezebel’s] children with death”, what can we say about Protestantism except that, in bringing an Apocalyptic division of Christians never before seen, and the incomprehensible confusion of doctrine that confounded the Message of Divine Revelation in Christ, it caused an easily appropriate, severe disillusionment with the message and a rejection of Divine Revelation and Intervention altogether, the Enlightenment. And this CHILD of Jezebel, this AFTERBIRTH, this rejection of the supernatural activity of God, was a veritable "supernatural death", since it brought religion down to the merely natural plain: the deists and rationalists, the primary religious warriors of the so called Enlightenment, rejected that God ever reveals or intervenes, and therefore saw all religion as, rather than God coming down to meet man, man trying to find God on his own. Only reason can be used to find religious truth. This reduces religion to a merely natural plane, and so is "supernaturally dead." Hence, when Christ says He will "kill Jezebel's children with death", it implies He simply allows the fallen nature to run its course, falling as it must away from the Middle Ages partial light toward darkness, allowing the great confusion of the sola-scripturists to give “birth” to a supernatural “expiration”.
Letter 5: the Modern godless age, the Minor Apostasy
“And to the angel of the church of Sardis, write: These things saith he, that hath the seven spirits of God, and the seven stars: I know thy works, that thou hast the name of being alive: and thou art dead.  Be watchful and strengthen the things that remain, which are ready to die. For I find not thy works full before my God.  Have in mind therefore in what manner thou hast received and heard: and observe, and do penance. If then thou shalt not watch, I will come to thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know at what hour I will come to thee.  But thou hast a few names in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments: and they shall walk with me in white, because they are worthy.  He that shall overcome, shall thus be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.  He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.”
The letter can image our modern age, the godless Minor apostasy and liberal infiltration and complacent material prosperity that plagues the Church. The Western Church is, in majority, afflicted with fluff, effeminate theology, and liberal dissent, and only a remnant of Catholics are fully faithful to Rome. It has a reputation among lukewarm and complacent Catholics as being “wonderfully imbued with the Spirit of Vatican II.” The liberals, with "vague, post-modern metaphysics," to quote Kevin OBrien, in the spirit of Vatican II, think their theology is rich with enlightenment, when it is wretched, poor, and destitute.
“But there are a few of you who have not soiled your garments with...”: in the former Western European Christendom, whereas most of the faithful are complacent, ill-catechized liberals, a remnant of faithful, Marian, orthodox Catholics exist. We are that remnant! We have not “soiled our garments” with the vile stain of “liberalism and modernism.”
Letter 6: The age of Our Lady’s Triumph in the Age of Peace, is yet future, the age of peace.
And to the angel of the church of Philadelphia, write: These things saith the Holy One and the true one, he that hath the key of David; he that openeth, and no man shutteth; shutteth, and no man openeth:  I know thy works. Behold, I have given before thee a door opened, which no man can shut: because thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.  Behold, I will bring of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie. Behold, I will make them to come and adore before thy feet. And they shall know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I will also keep thee from the hour of the temptation, which shall come upon the whole world to try them that dwell upon the earth.
 Behold, I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.  He that shall overcome, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God; and he shall go out no more; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God, and my new name.  He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.”
Here, there are no rebukes, and they are kept from tribulation that is coming; too, in the Age of Peace, that is the next age of human history after our modern godless age--the age in which Our Lady’s Heart will reign in all humanity for perhaps several centuries, a civilization of love where nearly all men are faithful Catholics, in word and deed, with the Church’s age old wisdom vindicated by the forthcoming chastisement before it-- the Church will have reached the unitive way with God, the Gentiles nearly totally renewed in a loving, voluntary Catholic Christendom. In this age, there is no tribulation for the Church, which is coming in the great apostasy, the next, final age (I will keep you from that time of trial which is coming to test all those on earth). Also, the “heretics, or liars,” that are brought before the Church and shown their errors, vindicating the Philadelphia community, can image how, after the Minor Tribulation that we await imminently in our time, the catastrophes and suffering therein will show the true effects and deficiencies of all errors against our Church, culminating, as the mystics testify, in the Reunion of Christians. In this way, the Tribulation vindicates the Church’s wisdom in all facets, faith and morals, showing the ultimate consequences of not listening to the Catholic Church’s dogmas and morals, leading to the radical conversion of all non-Catholics, those that had hitherto rejected some or all of the Church’s witness: Orthodox, Protestants, deists, rationalists, atheists, relativists, materialists, pagans. Hence, Christ expresses this mystically with harsh and hyperbolic language, Behold, I will bring of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie. Behold, I will make them to come and adore before thy feet. And they shall know that I have loved thee.
Letter 7: Laodicea: The Church on the precipice of the Great Apostasy
And to the angel of the church of Laodicea, write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, who is the beginning of the creation of God:  I know thy works, that thou art neither cold, nor hot. I would thou wert cold, or hot.
 The Amen,: that is, the true one, the Truth itself; the Word and Son of God. The beginning-- that is, the principle, the source, and the efficient cause of the whole creation.
 But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, not hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.  Because thou sayest: I am rich, and made wealthy, and have need of nothing: and knowest not, that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.  I counsel thee to buy of me gold fire tried, that thou mayest be made rich; and mayest be clothed in white garments, and that the shame of thy nakedness may not appear; and anoint thy eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.  Such as I love, I rebuke and chastise. Be zealous therefore, and do penance.  Behold, I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
 To him that shall overcome, I will give to sit with me in my throne: as I also have overcome, and am set down with my Father in his throne.  He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.
Some mystics indicate that as the age of peace nears its end, parents will become complacent from spiritual and material prosperity and begin to not confirm their children because it is not necessary. This lukewarm disposition is paving the way for the great apostasy, in which only a remnant of Gentiles will remain faithful under Antichrist.
This is all speculative, but fairly reasonably, and provides a Catholic response to anti-Catholic, Protestant versions of these ages.
Addenduum on Seven Letters:
Regarding letters 1 and 2, which we skipped, a little greater speculation exists, but here goes:
Letter 1: Pagan Rome and her persecutions
Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write: These things saith he, who holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks:  I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them that are evil, and thou hast tried them, who say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:  And thou hast patience, and hast endured for my name, and hast not fainted.  But I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first charity.  Be mindful therefore from whence thou art fallen: and do penance, and do the first works. Or else I come to thee, and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou do penance.
 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaites, which I also hate.  He, that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches: To him, that overcometh, I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God.
Christ has mostly praises, saving a minor rebuke on charity. Too, he commends them for resisting groups who say they are Christians and are not. Of course, the Church has such in all ages, but a word: they have persevered. Again, the first age we have seen is the age of the martyrs (pagan Rome), which was mostly pure. The age of the martyrs is a persecuted Church, very pure, very holy. Most bishops and popes are martyrs. The Early Church persevered in suffering and converted the world to Christ. There is a very minor rebuke for having lost a first charity. Here, I conjecture a special meaning: there is a sense in which the Gnostics claimed to the be true Christians, and were not. Moreover, they cast aside charity for mere knowledge, as if mere secret knowledge could save without love. Hence, “you have lost your first love.” Too, the Donatists and Montanists claimed to be the true Christians because of their miracles. This harkens back to the Pharisaical tendencies of Corinth, where St Paul says, if you have charisms galore, the miraculous powers and can move mountains, and speak in tongues, and heal, and know all mysteries, but I have not charity, [you are] nothing.
Letter 2: [“The Dark Ages“], Trinitarian and Christological heresies, Progressive Christianization of Europe...
And to the angel of the church of Smyrna write: These things saith the First and the Last, who was dead, and is alive: I know thy tribulation and thy poverty, but thou art rich: and thou art blasphemed by them that say they are Jews and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.  Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer. Behold, the devil will cast some of you into prison that you may be tried: and you shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful until death: and I will give thee the crown of life.
 He, that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches: He that shall overcome, shall not be hurt by the second death.
A mention is made of tribulation for ten days. Obviously, for the purposes of the mystery of ages, literal time periods are of no avail, as the Christ has said “it is not for you to know times or seasons”. Hence, any attempt for spiritual ages’ purposes to see ten days as literal days, or months, or years, or centuries, or any other literal time period is not the subject of Divine Revelation. Hence, something symbolic is needed. Here I suggest what may seem a long shot, but bear with me:
Ten days are exactly one third of a Jewish month, 30 days. The skinny of it is this: where have we viewed a month mystically? Answer: in the MONTHS of St Elizabeth and the Blessed Mother, the first three JOYFUL MYSTERIES! There, we saw that just there were 15 total months of pregnancy between St Elizabeth and Mother Mary, so there was a way to divide up all human history into 15 total parts. The way it was divided was to use the days of creation analogy: that just as God CREated the world in six days, rested on the seventh, and rose on the eighth, so God shall labor through His People against sin and unrighteousness to REcreate the world in six ages, have His People rest from sin and opposition for a seventh imperfect age, and finally have all humanity rise from the dead for the eternal sabbath in the eighth age. In that vein, each day is simple: it has two parts: evening and morning, or darkness and light. So then, eight days, or ages, can be broken down into 8 x 2 = 16 parts. With a correction, the 16 is backed up to our 15 months of pregnancy, and wallah!
For reference: The Joyful Mysteries as Image of the Whole of Salvation History http://www.catholic365.com/article/4486/the-first-3-joyful-mysteries-analogy-of-all-human-history.html
Here were the divisions for summary:
1. Darkness: Fall
2. Light: Flood
3. Darkness: Babel
4. Light: Confounding of Tongues, Formation of Hebrew People (Abraham)
5. Darkness: Egypt Enslaves
6. Light: Exodus, Red Sea, King David
7. Darkness: Pre-Exile wickedness of Jews
8. Light: Exile, Repentance, Restoration to Holy Land and Temple
9. Darkness: OT Antichrist Antiochus10. Light: First Coming of Christ
11. Darkness: Pagan Rome Persecutes
12. Light: Catholic Christendom, Doctrinal Development
13. Darkness: Intermediate Gentile Secular Apostasy [today]
14. Light: Minor Chastisement, Gentile Renewal, Our Lady's Age of Peace [future to now]
15. Darkness: Great Apostasy, NT Antichrist [future to now]
16. Light: Second Coming of Christ [future to now]
Above, then, each numbered entry, 1-16, is a spiritual “month” in the near 15 months that span the pregnancies of St Elizabeth and Mary. So if one month in the sequence was either a phase of spiritual darkness or spiritual light, then from that model, the period 12--Catholic Christendom and the Church’s doctrinal development--is the “month” of “light” that separates the darknesses of Pagan Rome (50-300 AD ~ ) [month 11] and the Modern Secular Apostasy between (1900 - present~) [month 13]. This means that this light of phase 12 is effectively from 300 AD and 1900 AD ~. But this time period, this “month”, this “thirty days” precisely has three of our dragon ages!
1. The Dark Ages
2. The Middle ages
3. The Age of Protestantism and Enlightenment, or solo-Ratio
That is, the dragon and church letter ages divide this greater light, or “month” [30 “days”], into three parts (the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, and the great sunset away from Catholic Christendom toward the modern minor apostasy [Protestantism and Enlightenment]). So, you say? Well, if a month has “30 days”, and you divide it into three parts, you get “ten days”. hence, the Christ can say (!)
Behold, the devil will cast some of you into prison that you may be tried: and you shall have tribulation TEN DAYS!
A final addendum: Was this period, the 12th “phase” of human history, the age of the Church’s general doctrinal development, from 300 - 1900 AD, really a period of light compared to pagan Rome and the modern godless apostasy? Effectively, yes! Let us delve deeper:
This period clearly extends from Constantine to the Enlightenment, inclusive, as follows:
300 – 1000: Dark Ages, or Progressive Christianization of Europe
1000 – 1500: Middle Ages, or Age of Faith
1500 – 1900: Descent toward apostasy: Protestantism, Enlightenment.
Notice, light exists in all these subphases:
First, the Dark Ages: the Dark Ages saw the conversion of the Roman Empire and the progressive metamorphosis of all Europe from paganism to Catholicism. Assaults on the Church still had much light: The first Trinitarian and Christological heresies still retained the essence of the Gospel [Arianism, Monophysitism, Monothelyte heresy, Nestorianism]. Even Islam retains much light, as the CCC notes it has worthy salvific elements: monotheist aspects of Judeo Christian heritage, the belief that God intervenes and reveals. This phase is like the sun rising in the morning toward midday.
Second, the Middle Ages: The Middle Ages have been the greatest spiritual light in human history so far. It was great light, seeing as most of Europe was Christian with only some minor heresies. People were not always the holiest, but they mostly had a Catholic faith. This is like the sun at midday.
Finally, Protestantism and Enlightenment: In Protestantism, the sun is beginning to set toward the minor apostasy of our own day. But Protestantism is still much light, still Christian, having Scripture and Baptism and Marriage, even though the light is going down. Finally, while admittedly the Enlightenment has extinguished supernatural light with its rejection of supernatural religion, meaning, the refusal to accept the notion of Divine Revelation, Assistance, or Intervention, it still clung at first to natural religion and retained natural light: basic monotheism and natural law [deism, rationalism]. Hence, in this phase, the sun is really like setting in late afternoon. It is twilight. And even in the latter phases of solo-Ratio, where even natural religion is rejected in favor of mere brute reason without religion, nevertheless, the desire to use logical thought to solve human problems is still, in some sense, a glimmer of light before sunset, in some sense good, even if God is not referenced. Hence, even the age of non-religious solo-Ratio is a faint natural light, just before atheism, relativism, hedonism, and materialism bring us into the modern night.
Well there you have it, an attempt to work out the Seven Letters as the Whole Age. God bless you!