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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2

Analysis

The Apostle commences this Epistle with the usual form of Apostolical salutation (1, 2). In the next place, he bursts forth into the praise and benediction of God, for his heavenly blessings bestowed on us gratuitously through Christ. He enumerates the principal among these blessings, which are, our election, in accordance with his eternal decree, to be holy and unspotted in his sight (4), our predestination to be his adopted sons (5), the grace of justification and true sanctity rendering us really pleasing to him (6), the remission of our sins (7), the gifts of wisdom (8), and a full knowledge and revelation of his eternal designs, in the redemption and spiritual renovation of the human race, and all this granted to us gratuitously, without any merits of our own, either actual or foreseen, solely through the merits of Christ (9–12).

He then exhorts the Ephesians to bless God, for making them, no less than the Jews, partakers of these blessings, and for giving them his holy Spirit, as a sure earnest of the eternal inheritance in store for them (13–15). He next addresses a fervent prayer to God, to enlighten their intellects with a fuller and more perfect knowledge of the great grace of their vocation, and their conversion from the degrading worship of idols, which was an exertion of divine power nowise inferior to that exercised in the resurrection of Christ from the dead, when he was raised above the different ranks of angels, and placed, as head, over the entire Church, militant and triumphant, embracing both men and angels, and receiving its completion in him.

Paraphrase

1. Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, neither self-sent, nor commissioned by man, but sent by the command and authority of God (salutes) all the Christians at Ephesus, who are, by their profession, called to a state of sanctity, and steadfastly persevere in the faith of Christ Jesus.

2. May you enjoy the abundance of all spiritual gifts, and their undisturbed possession, from their efficient cause, God the Father, and their meritorious cause, Jesus Christ, our Lord, in right of redemption.

3. Eternal praise and thaksgiving be rendered to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, in consideration of the merits of Christ, has bestowed upon us all spiritual blessings, which are to be accomplished not on earth, but in heaven.

4. In thus enriching us in time, he has only carried out his eternal decree regarding us, according to which, he has chosen us from eternity in consideration of the merits of Christ, to be holy and free from gross transgressions, even in his own sight, and this to be effected through sanctifying grace and charity.

5. Who predestined us to be adopted sons unto himself, not in consideration of any merits of ours, either actual or foreseen, but in consideration of the merits of Christ: and this, according to his own good will and pleasure.

6. Of which predestination the final end was, that he himself would receive praise and glory for the great grace conferred on us, by which he made us really acceptable in his sight, in consideration of his own well-beloved Son.

7. By whom we have been redeemed from sin and hell, having been ransomed by the price of his blood, the first effect of which ransom is, the remission of our sins, according to the abundant riches of his grace.

8. Which grace has been plenteously bestowed on us in all knowledge regarding the truths of faith, and in the knowledge of our practical duties, of the things to be done and of the things to be omitted.

9. He has plenteously filled us with this wisdom and knowledge, by making known to us the secret decree of his Providence, which solely depended on his own good will and pleasure—a secret decree which he disclosed to us, through Christ.

10. The secret is, his will to renew in Christ, after the lapse of ages determined on by himself, all things that are in heaven, by filling up the vacated seats of the fallen angels, and on earth, by freeing us from the thraldom of sin and Satan, and by giving us justice and grace; and this, through Christ, and none other.

11. Through whom we are called, without any merit on our part, and as if by lot, having been, however, on the part of God, predestined according to his wise and deliberate purpose, who does nothing blindly, but does all things according to the determined counsel of his will.

12. In order that we Jews, who were the first to believe and hope in Christ, may be instrumental in procuring the praise of his glory, by manifesting to the world the riches of his grace poured out upon us.

13. In whom you also were called to the inheritance, when you heard the word of God, wherein everything is true, and no falsehood, which also conveyed to you the glad tidings of salvation. In whom, after having received the faith, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit promised in the Sacred Scriptures.

14. Which Spirit is an earnest of our future inheritance in heaven, until we, who are the people of acquisition, or the people purchased by him, are fully redeemed, and all this for the praise of his glory.

15. Wherefore, since I heard of the steadfastness of your faith in Christ, and of the charity exhibited by you towards all your fellow Christians,

16. I cease not to give thanks to God for these favours bestowed on you, and I also pray,

17. That God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, may bestow upon you the spirit of heavenly wisdom, and a further revelation, so that you may acquire a more perfect knowledge of him;

18. That your intellect may be enlightened, so that you may know more perfectly the greatness of these heavenly and eternal goods to which we are invited, and bound to hope for, and how rich and glorious is the inheritance God has in store for his faithful servants.

19. And that you may also know the supreme effort of his Almighty power, exerted in raising us from the grave of sin and infidelity to a new life of grace; this power he will exercise also in resuscitating us, at a future day, to a life of immortal glory.

20. This effort of power in our regard is perfectly similar and like unto that which he exerted in raising Christ from the dead, and in placing him at his own right hand in heaven, thereby declaring him equal to himself;

21. Placing him above all creatures and all orders of angels, whether they be principalities or powers, or virtues or dominations, and above every other created being whatsoever, be his title, dignity, or elevation what it may, either in this world or the world to come.

22. And he has given him full dominion over all creatures, visible and invisible, and has constituted him head over the entire Church, embracing angels and men, Jews and Gentiles, both in its militant and triumphant state.

23. This Church is his mystical body, and his complement, or perfection,—the head being incomplete without the body—and he is completed as to all the members of a body, since the several members of his Church perform the different functions suited to a mystic body.

Commentary

1. For the exposition of this verse, see Romans, 1.; Galatians, 1.

2. The usual form of Apostolical salutation.

3. “The God and Father,” ὁ θεος και πατηρ, rendered “the God and Father,” &c. It will also admit of this rendering, “the God who is Father,” &c., according to the Hellenistic usage of employing the conjunction instead of the relative pronoun, by way of explanation.—(Kenrick). Our blessing of God is quite different from his blessing of us. His benediction of us consists in bestowing benefits; whereas, our benediction of him (since we can bestow no good in return—“he stands not in need of our goods,”—Psalm), consists in acts of praise, thanksgiving and the like. “Spiritual blessings,” viz., faith, grace, &c., which are to be accomplished not on earth, but in heaven; “in heavenly places,” εν τοις επουρανιοις (Vulgate, in cœlestibus). Some Commentators understand these latter words to refer to heavenly things: it is rendered so by Dr. Kenrick; but, this seems to be an improbable meaning, since it was sufficiently expressed already by “spiritual blessings.” Hence, the words refer to heavenly places, or heaven, where these blessings are to be fully completed, unlike the blessings and earthly inheritance conferred on the Jews, to which he would appear to allude by way of contrast. “In Christ;” hence it is to Christ, the meritorious cause of these blessings, we ought to recur, and not to angels, as was asserted by the Gnostics, who maintained, among other errors, that the angels created the world, and that they, and not Christ, are the mediators and intercessors between God and man.

4. The Apostle here ascends to the source of God’s blessing in time—namely, his election from eternity, which eternity is frequently expressed in SS. Scriptures by the words, “before the foundation of the world;” or, as the Greek has it, πρὸ καταβοτης κοσμου, before casting the foundation of the world. The Apostle points out the source and completion of spiritual blessings. They began in eternity, and shall be consummated there. As a pledge of the love which he bore us in electing us from eternity, God has given us the spiritual blessings which shall terminate only in eternity. The immediate end of our election by God was, that we should be “holy,” i.e., gifted with real sanctity and sanctifying grace; “and unspotted,” i.e., free from gross offences; for, to avoid all venial sins, a special privilege on the part of God, such as the Church holds regarding the Blessed Virgin, is required (Concil. Trid. SS. vi. Can. xxiii.), which St. Paul does not appear to contemplate here, in addressing Christians in general.

“In charity,” may either refer to the motive of God in predestining us, which was his great charity for us, or, more probably (as in Paraphrase), to the formal cause of our justification, the gift of charity, an inseparable attendant of sanctifying grace. Hence, there is no argument here for the advocates of the theological opinion of ANTE PRÆVISA MERITA, (regarding which, see Romans, chap. 8 verse 30).

5. Another proof of the love of God.—God might have elected us to sanctity without making us his adopted sons, although, in the present order of things, both are identical. This adoption he has conferred on us “through Jesus Christ.” “Unto himself,” may be referred to Christ, so as to mean, unto his glory, it being a source of glory to Christ, to be the first-born of these adopted sons of God. The Greek, εἰς αυτον, favours the interpretation in the Paraphrase, adopted sons unto himself, or, for himself. The perfect gratuitousness of this divine filiation is pointed out in the words, “according to the purpose of his will.”

6. The Apostle here assigns the end or final cause of our predestination—viz., the glory of God. “Unto the praise of the glory,” i.e., the glorious praise of his grace. Commentators here remark, that all the causes of predestination are enumerated in this passage. The efficient cause, God the Father, “who predestined us” (verse 5). The meritorious cause, “Christ Jesus.” The material or subjective cause, “predestined us.” The formal cause, the decree of God, “he chose us.” The final cause, God’s glory, &c., “unto the praise of his glory.” The phrase, “in which he hath graced us,” (εχαριτωσεν, Vulgate, gratificavit), proves, according to the natural meaning of the words, real and inherent justice; since he made us acceptable, by the infusion of sanctifying grace.

“In his beloved Son.” The Greek wants “Son,” and has only ἐν τῶ ηγαπημενω, in the Beloved, which like the word, Christ, is an epithet of our Redeemer.

From the entire context it is clear, that the predestination to which the Apostle refers is the predestination to grace. First, because the object of the predestination in question is (verse 4), “that we might be holy.” Secondly, because the Apostle addresses all the Ephesians, “all the saints, &c.”—(verse 1). Now, it is not likely, he would say, they were all predestined to glory, as this would exclude that salutary fear which he inculcates elsewhere. He never could have meant to reveal to them all publicly, their predestination to glory. Besides, we can hardly suppose that they were all saved.

7. Christ poured forth his blood to ransom us from captivity. The consequence of which ransom, or rather the ransom itself was, the remission of our sins. This was an extraordinary exercise of his boundless grace. Can the mind conceive anything like it? A God dying, and pouring out the last drop of his blood, quite gratuitously, as a ransom for the very creature who offended him! He submits to the torture which he could not merit, to save us from the eternal tortures we merited; he, the offended party, and the Creator, died for us, his offending creatures.—“Sic amantem quis non redamet?”—St. Bernard. “Ut servum redimeres, Filium tradidisti.”

8. “Which (grace) has superabounded,” or, as in the Greek, ἧς ἐπερὶσσευσεν εἰς ἡμᾶς which he has made to superabound towards us, i.e., Apostles in particular, and towards others, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit. “Wisdom,” is understood by some, of the wisdom of God in the mystery, to which he refers, regarding the union of men and angels under one head, Christ; and “prudence” they understand of his selection of the time and other circumstances; for, the object of prudence is the selection of proper means and befitting circumstances.

9. “That he might make known.” The Greek, γνωρίσας, means, having made known. “Which he hath purposed in him,” are understood by some to refer to Christ (as in Paraphrase). Others understand them to refer to God the Father himself; according to this construction, warranted by the Greek, ἥν (εὐδοκίαν) προέθετω ἐν αὐτῶ, verse 10, εἰς οικονομίαν, the words will mean, which (good pleasure) he purposed within himself and kept concealed (verse 10). “Unto the dispensation of the fulness,” &c.; “dispensation,” or economy, denotes the plan for man’s redemption.

10. The great secret referred to is, to renew all things, &c. (as in Paraphrase) This interpretation conveys the same meaning as the passage (Hebrews, 9:23): “but it is necessary … that the heavenly thing themselves be cleansed with better sacrifices than these.” Others, looking to the Greek word for “re-establish,” ανακεφαλαιωσασθαι, which means, to recapitulate, understand it, of his making Christ the head of all, men and angels, and subjecting men and angels to him as head; hence, uniting earth and heaven, men and angels, so long dissevered from each other. “In him,” and none other. Since “there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved” (Acts, 4:12); and the Apostle repeats “in him,” from the excess of his burning love for Christ.

11. “By lot,” conveys that we had no more claims to the inheritance in question, than we would have were we to obtain it by mere chance in a lottery; that it was, in regard to us, perfectly independent of merit, though, in regard to God, wisely and deliberately determined. Or, “called by lot,” may mean, called to the inheritance, which is termed a “lot,” perhaps, in allusion to the mode in which the inheritance of the Promised Land was given to the Jews, an inheritance with which he contrasts this heavenly one, to which we are all called by Christ.

12. “We who before hoped in Christ.” “Before” is used in a comparative sense. The Jews having been called to the faith before the Gentiles, had hoped, and consequently believed in Christ, before the Gentiles did; or “before” may mean, in former times, since many of the Jews longed for the Messiah, through faith in whom they were justified.

13. This is to be immediately connected with verse 11. “In whom you also” (were called to the inheritance, &c.) “In whom also believing.” In the Greek it is, πιστευσαντες, after having believed. “You were signed with the Holy Spirit” promised in the Scriptures. Some understand this to refer to the gratiæ gratis datæ, or external gifts of tongues, prophecy, cures, &c., abundantly bestowed in the infancy of the Church, which, although not certain marks of sanctity in individuals, still, furnish a sure argument that the members of the Church in which they abounded, were sons of promise. Others refer it to the ordinary graces of justification received in Baptism, and to the consequent peace and tranquillity of conscience, which affords a moral certainty of our being in the state of grace; this is more in accordance with the following verse.

14. This grace is an earnest of our inheritance until the time when we shall be fully redeemed, i.e., asserted into the liberty of the children of God;—we who are the acquired or purchased people. “Acquisition” is used for the “people acquired.” The word “earnest” has been employed in the Paraphrase rather than “pledge,” because the latter word sometimes implies, that there is something given on both sides; whereas, nothing is given by us to God. But an earnest is gratuitously bestowed to be perfected by the thing for which it is given. So the gifts of the Holy Ghost are an earnest to be left until we obtain possession of the inheritance promised to the redeemed people of God. The gifts of the Holy Ghost may be said to be faith, hope, and charity—the two former shall, one day, altogether cease, and be exchanged for vision and possession; while charity, remaining specifically the same, shall be perfected in heaven.

15. The Apostle here turns to another subject. The Gentile converts were remarkable for their steady adhesion to the faith, and also for their charity towards their brethren in distress. “Love,” αγαπην, is wanting in the Alexandrian and Vatican MSS., and in the copy used by St. Jerome.

16. As these gifts of faith and love were not from themselves, the Apostle gives thanks for these gifts, as being received, and begs of God to grant a further increase and continuance of them.

17. The object of his prayers for them was, “that the God,” &c. ὁ θεὸς τοῦ κυρίοῦ ἡμων Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ. According to the Vulgate punctuation, the words, “Father of glory,” refer to the preceding, from a fear, probably, of shocking Christian piety, by saying, “The God of Jesus Christ.” But does not Christ himself say, “my God,” and also “my God and your God?”—(John 20:17).—Kenrick. “The Father of glory” is used for the glorious Father, by a Hebrew idiom, which employs the genitive of the substantive for the adjective. The Apostle often repeats the glorious paternity of Christ, in order to refute the errors of the philosophers, who asserted that Christ was not the Son of the Supreme Deity. Others, understood the words to mean, the Father or Author of glory. “In the knowledge of him;” he refers to a more extended knowledge; since, they already knew him, having believed in him.

18. The more extended knowledge which he prays for them is, that their intellect, would be enlightened, &c. By “the eyes of your heart,” he means, their intellect. Instead of καρδιας, heart, the common Greek text has διανοιας, understanding; but the former is the reading of the chief MSS., and is preferred by some eminent Protestant critics, who regard the latter reading as a marginal gloss. “The hope,” i.e., the object we are bound to hope for, and which we are called to enjoy in the life to come, “of his calling.”

19, 20. He prays, that God would make known to them the exceeding greatness of the power which he exerted in their favour, which is an effort of the same Omnipotence exerted in Christ’s Resurrection. Some understand this powerful effort of God’s Omnipotence by which he raised Christ, &c., to refer to our glorification at the last day. Others understand it of the spiritual resurrection and vivification of the believers, who, after their conversion, desert their vicious courses and live to God. The conversion of a sinner is reputed by St. Augustine and others, to be a greater effort of Divine power than the creation of heaven and earth. Both these meanings may be united (as in Paraphrase). The exercise of Divine power referred to, should, in the first instance, be understood of the spiritual vivification of the unbelievers, and their resurrection to a life of grace and faith, which spiritual resurrection is the assured forerunner of their future resurrection to glory, of which grace is the seed.

21. There are generally supposed to be nine orders of Blessed Spirits, four of which are mentioned here by the Apostle. “There are nine orders of Blessed Spirits,” says St. Gregory (Hom. 34), Angels, Archangels; to which almost every page of SS. Scripture bears testimony—the Cherubim and Seraphim are spoken of in the books of the Prophets. The Apostle here speaks of principalities, powers, virtues, and dominations; Colos. 1:16, he speaks of “thrones.” St. Dionysius (de Cœl. Hierar.) divides these nine orders into three Hierarchies, commencing with the highest. In the first Hierarchy, Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones. In the second, Dominations, Virtues, Powers. In the third, and lowest, Principalities, Archangels, Angels. The sects of early heretics, who may all be included under the general denomination of Gnostics, entertained false notions regarding the dignity, the power, &c., of angels, whom they even placed above Christ. Hence, the Apostle says Christ was placed “far above” any of them (such is the meaning of the Greek word, ὑπεράνω), and above every other creature, visible or invisible, whether known to us in this world, or to be known in the future. “Every name that is named;” by “name” is meant the being named, be his title, celebrity, or authority, what it may.

22. “He hath subjected all things under his feet:” (Psalms, 8:8), i.e., has given him full dominion over all creatures. “All power is given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew, 27:22), though the full exercise of that dominion is to be enjoyed only in the life to come. “And made him head over all the Church,” not only inasmuch as he has supreme dominion over all its members; but also because he imparts to men his graces, thereby communicating to them spiritual life and animation. He may be said to be the head of angels, by being their ruler, and by having imparted to them his grace. For, it is the opinion of many, that it was owing to the grace of Christ, the good angels persevered, and that Lucifer’s sin and rebellion sprang from envy at the hypostatic union, which the Son of God was to accomplish in time by assuming human nature and uniting it with the Divinity.

23. “Who is filled all in all.” According to this rendering of the words, they mean, that Christ is completed, as to all the members of his body, in the different members or persons in his Church, that perform the several functions and duties suited to a mystic body, honoured with the headship of Christ. Some perform the functions of eye—others, of hand—others, of tongue, &c. The Greek, τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ τὰ παντα ἐν πἀσι πληρουμένου, may be rendered actively thus—“the fulness of him who fills all in all,” and then, the meaning will be—that Christ performed all the duties of a head towards the several members of his body, governing, directing, animating, and communicating the several graces requisite for the duties imposed upon them, and for complying with the different relations which they, as members, bear to the entire body. In the words above quoted, there seems to be a manifest allusion to the plerōma, in the false system of the Gnostics; as if the Apostle meant to convey, that Christ is the divine plerōma of Christians, in whom are virtually and eminently contained other spiritual beings, and their several perfections, not to speak of his containing in himself all the attributes of the Divinity. For, “in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” “In him dwelleth corporally all the fulness (πληρωμα) of the Godhead.”—(Colos. 2:3, 9). It is not undeserving of remark, that the Apostle frequently employs in this Epistle, the word, πληρωμα, in treating of the perfections of Christ, for the reason already referred to (3:19, 4:13, &c.)








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