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


In this chapter, the Apostle commences the moral part of the Epistle. He inculcates union and concord, and in order to persuade the Ephesians to attend to his admonitions in this matter, he reminds them of his sufferings on their account. Furthermore, with a view to secure this necessary and important branch of concord and union, he recounts the several relations of unity in which they were already identified (1–7).

Seeing that the unequal distribution of spiritual gifts might be an obstacle to this union of soul, the Apostle obviates this by showing, that these gifts were bestowed not according to the merits of those favoured with them, but gratuitously, according to the will of Christ (7). This he shows from Psalm 67.—and turning aside from his subject, he proves from the prophetic quotation the divinity and eternal generation of Christ against the heretics of the day (8–10).

Returning to the subject from which he had digressed at verse 8, he points out the different gifts and offices (12), their duration to the end of the world (13). He more clearly points out the ends to be obtained by the institution of the ministry in the Church, and the gifts conferred on her, which are unity of faith, and an increase of Christian virtue and knowledge (14, 15). He illustrates this increase of Christian virtue in the mystical body of the Church, by the example of the natural increase of the human body (16).

Resuming the subject of exhortation with which he commenced (verse 1), he conjures them to lead lives different from those of the unconverted Gentiles, of whom he draws a most frightful picture. He represents their interior state or the dispositions of their souls, which comprise vanity of thought, blindness of intellect, obduracy of will (17, 18). He next describes the exterior fruits of these corrupt passions of heart, their insatiable impurities of every description (19). The life of Christians is all contrary to this (20, 21). A truly Christian conduct consists in two things—in putting off the old man, and putting on the new (22–24). He specifies a few of the deeds of the old man, which are, vices of the tongue (25), passions of the heart, especially those of the irascible appetite (26), deeds committed by the hands (27, 28). He dwells on the vices of the tongue, and recommends the language of edification. He particularizes the faults of the tongue, and finally recommends the language of kindness and charity.


1. Since, therefore, God in his infinite goodness has conferred on you so many blessings and privileges in calling you to the faith, I, Paul, who am in chains for having announced the Gospel to you, exhort and beseech you to lead a life becoming the exalted dignity to which you have been raised.

2. Manifesting an humble opinion of yourselves in your dealing towards all, together with the spirit of meekness opposed to anger; exercising also a spirit of long-suffering and forbearance, in regard to the defects of others, how disagreeable soever; and this, from a principle of charity, or, the love of our neighbour.

3. Be particularly zealous in preserving true concord of heart and union of soul, making the spirit of peace the bond by which this union of soul is effected.

4. (Unity pervades your entire religious system). You are members of the one body of the Church: you have one vivifying spirit, the Holy Ghost, which animates the Church; you have but one object of Christian hope and of future enjoyment.

5. You have all one and the same Lord, Jesus Christ, who by purchase and in right of redemption, has a special claim on you; you all believe one and the same thing; you have but one baptism, the gate through which you entered the Church.

6. You all worship the same God—who requires unanimous worshippers—the same common Father, who requires in his sons the concord of brethren, whose dominion is over all—whose Providence extends to all—and whose spirit dwells and acts in all. (From all this the conclusion, therefore, is, that as you are already united under so many relations, you should not fail in the most important branch of unity now inculcated, viz., union and concord of heart and soul).

7. It is true, the gifts of grace are unequally distributed; but this should be no obstacle to unity and peace, since these are gratuitous gifts, given not in proportion to our merits, but according to the measure in which Christ thinks fit to bestow them.

8. It is with a view of marking this unequal distribution of gifts, the royal Psalmist says of Christ (Psalm 64): Ascending on high he led with him the souls of the just hitherto detained as captives in the prison of Limbo, and he distributed the gifts which he received for the purpose of bestowing them on men.

9. But by saying that Christ ascended into heaven, does he not tacitly insinuate and leave us to infer, that he had before descended, and even as far as the lowest parts of the earth?

10. And he who descended into the lowest parts of the earth is the very same that ascended into the highest and most exalted heaven, where he now sits, so as to fill all places from the highest heaven to the lowest parts with his majesty and glory, or, all persons with his gifts and graces.

11. To resume the subject digressed from at verse (8), Christ, I said, has distributed different gifts and offices in his Church according to his good will and pleasure; for, he gave to his Church, some to be Apostles; others, to be prophets; others, to be Evangelists; others, to be pastors and doctors.

12. The end or object of this external institution was, “for the work of the ministry,” that each one might zealously discharge his own individual function, which could not be easily effected if one person were charged with all; “for the edification of the body of Christ,” that this faithful discharge of individual functions might advance the spiritual good of the Church; “for the perfecting of the saints,” so that by this spiritual advancement of the Church, the saints, or rather the Church of the saints, might reach that full perfection, in the knowledge of faith and practice of morality, which it can attain in this life.

13. The duration of this ministry—unto the end of the world; that is to say, unto that period when we all, who are destined for the true Church, being united in the belief of the same faith, and in the knowledge of the Son of God, shall, by our gradual association to her, have arrived at that state of perfection or plenitude of the Church, similar to the perfection of a full-grown man; when after the last of the faithful is aggregated to her, Christ shall have attained, in his mystical body, a degree of plenitude and completion analogous to the state of perfection which his natural body had attained at his death.

14. These ministers he has given to the Church unto the end of time, that we may no longer resemble children, whose ideas are fickle and inconstant, fluctuating between different opinions, and carried about with false and changing novelties of error owing to the cunning and deceitful trickery of perverse men, who craftily endeavour to circumvent and lead us astray.

15. But, reducing to practice, by charity, what we believe to be true in faith, we may reach a full increase and a perfect spiritual growth through Christ, who is our head.

16. From whom the entire body (compactly and fitly joined together by the joints which administer life and spiritual graces), maketh an increase of itself, owing to the efficacious operation of this head, which extends its animating influence to each individual member according to its exigency and the place which it holds in the body, so as to edify and perfect itself through charity.

17. This, therefore, is what I had been saying (verse 1), and what I now exhort and implore you to do, in the name of the Lord, whom I call to witness this my exhortation, henceforward not to lead the lives of the unconverted Gentiles, who follow the vain, foolish, and erroneous judgments of their minds.

18. Who have their intellects clouded by the mists and darkness of error, alienated and far removed from that holy life which is prescribed by the law of God; and this owing to the ignorance which is in them, and which is caused by the blindness and hardness of heart into which they are permitted to fall in punishment of their numerous transgressions,

19. Who, devoid of the hope of future blessings, which we possess, have delivered themselves up to impurity so as to perpetrate all kinds of abominable uncleanness with a greediness and avidity never to be satiated.

20. But you have not been thus taught in the school of Christ, or, taught so in Christianity, as to feel yourselves warranted in following such abominable practices.

21. Since indeed you have heard his doctrine and have been taught by him through me, his Apostle, the truth as it really is in Christ Jesus, or, as Christ Jesus himself has made it known to me by his divine revelation.

22. This is what you have been taught, to lay aside the carnal corruption or old man inherited from Adam, with the dictates of which you complied in your past lives, before embracing the faith, and which becomes every day more and more corrupted by following these deceitful desires, that promise gratification, and end in remorse and bitter disappointment.

23. You have been taught to be renewed spiritually in your interior man by the grace of the Holy Ghost infused into your hearts.

24. And you have been taught to be transformed into new men, like persons who receive a new existence, a new creation, conformable to the will and law of God, in true justice and sanctity.

25. Since, therefore, you have been thus taught in the school of Christ to put off the old man and put on the new; laying aside all lying and fraud, speak the truth and practise candour and sincerity in your dealings with one another; for we all are members of the same mystic body, and hence bound to avoid all deceive towards one another, to relieve and help one another after the example set by the members of the natural body towards each other.

26. If you conceive hasty, precipitate feelings of anger, take care not to sin in this, by consenting to those thoughts and by wishing to carry them into execution; and lay aside those feelings as quickly as possible, so that the sun may not go down upon your anger.

27. Do not, by indulging in these feelings of angry excitement, give the devil a place in your hearts.

28. Let the man who practised stealth, discontinue in future such a wicked course, by desisting from further acts of rapine and by making restitution for the past; let him labour in some honest and lawful employment, so as not only to procure sustenance for himself, but also to have wherewith to relieve the wants of the indigent, and thus make reparation for past acts of injustice.

29. Let no language, whether obscene or in any other respect faulty, proceed from your mouth, but only proper language, spoken with such a regard to circumstances, as to promote edification, and advance the hearers in grace and faith.

30. And do not, by indulging in the vices already referred to, particularly those of the tongue, contristate the Holy Ghost, by banishing him from the abode of your heart, in which he wishes to dwell; by whom you have been sealed, in the abundant effusion of sanctifying grace, unto the day of the final resurrection, when, after your bodies shall have been glorified, and freed from all evils, you shall put on immortal glory.

31. Let all aversion and embittered feelings towards your neighbour, all angry excitement, all desires of revenge, all loud threatenings and brawling expression of inward rage, all injurious and insulting language, with every fault of this description, i.e., evil acts or dispositions towards your neighbour, be put away from you.

32. But in order the more perfectly to subdue these evil propensities of our corrupt nature, practice the opposite virtues. Be courteous and obliging towards one another, have compassion for the troubles and miseries of each other, so as to share them by a kindly sympathy, pardoning and remitting to each other the injuries you may have mutually to sustain, after the example of God, who has pardoned us our manifold sins and injuries offered him, through the merits of his Son, Christ.


1. “A prisoner in the Lord,” means the same as “prisoner of Jesus Christ.”—(3:1).

2. “With all humility.” Shunning every appearance of arrogance. “With patience,” in Greek, μακροθνμιας, long-suffering, the virtue, which is slow to anger. “In charity, patiently bearing the insults offered to us, and slow in resenting them, not from natural or prudential motives, but from a motive of charity.”

3. “In the bond of peace.” The practice of the spirit of peace is the tie, or chain that will closely bind together this concord of mind and union of heart.

4. In this and the two following verses, are enumerated the several relations of unity in which they were closely bound together, and this is done with a view of supplying the most powerful motive for union of heart and soul (as in Paraphrase, verse 6). “One body,” i.e., the body of the Church, of which Christ is head. “One Spirit,” the Holy Ghost that animates the Church. Some Commentators, and among the rest Estius, interpret the verse thus:—As you are one body, so you ought to be also one Spirit. But, the construction in Paraphrase is preferable; because, in this entire passage, the Apostle is enumerating the different points in which their religion unites them. “As you are called in one hope,” &c. There is unity in the object of your Christian hope.

5. “One faith.” The objects of Christian faith are the same for all, although the mode of believing them may be different; in some articles, explicit faith is absolutely necessary; in other points, implicit faith contained in the general belief of whatever the Church teaches, is sufficient. “One baptism,” whereby we are regenerated and admitted to heirship, as sons of God.

6. “One God and Father of all,” refers to the entire Trinity, and the following attributes are by appropriation applied to the different Persons; “above all,” to the Father, who, as first source and principle, has a lofty dominion over all things; “through all,” to the Son, “by whom all things were made” (John, 1:3); and “in us all,” to the Holy Ghost. In the ordinary Greek copies, we have, και εν πασιν ὐμιν, “and in you all.” Critics generally prefer the Vulgate. In the Codex Vaticanus, it is δια παντων εν πασιν, “through all in all,” και, and ὐμιν, are omitted. Others understand each quality to refer to each of the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. “Above all,” by dominion and authority; “through all,” by Providence; and “in all,” by immensity and inhabitation.

The words, “one faith,” warrant the conclusion, that the members of the Church cannot have different creeds. For, St. Paul addresses the Ephesians as members of the Church—“One body”—and of them, as such, he says, they can have but “one faith;” which would certainly be untrue, if the members of the Church could have different creeds. Hence, the oneness or unity of faith is such as to exclude heretics from the unity of the Church, their creed being different from that professed by the true Church. Moreover, the unity of their faith is proposed by the Apostle to the Ephesians, and, of course, to all Christians, as the model of the unity of spirit, which he is inculcating (verse 3). Now, if their unity of spirit were to resemble the unity of faith between heretics and Catholics, instead of being concord, would it not be the very essence of discord? Possibly, it may be said in reply, that the unity of baptism, which is referred to by the Apostle, “one baptism,” does not prevent the validity of baptism in an heretical communion. But, there is a very wide disparity between baptism and faith in this respect; because, the profession of heresy is not directly opposed to the administration of baptism, or destructive of its efficacy—all the essential requisites for the sacrament may be found among heretics—whereas, the very nature of faith excludes heresy; heresy is directly opposed to, and destructive of, the virtue of faith; since it is only by positively rejecting some point of faith admitted and defined by the Church, or by pertinaciously maintaining some error rejected and condemned by Her, a man becomes a heretic. The only case that would furnish even the appearance of a parity, would be the case of a heresy regarding the essentials of baptism; this should, moreover, be reduced to act in the defective mode of administering baptism. But even in this case, there would not be a perfect parity, because even if such a heresy were carried out in practice, there would be no baptism. But, every heresy has not baptism for object; and, hence, not even an apparent parity. From the very idea, and the very nature of heresy, a man professing it, cannot have the same faith with a member of the Church, from whose belief the heretic dissents. It matters not whether the doctrine denied be fundamental or non-fundamental, since any difference in faith, fundamental or otherwise, would be an improper model of that unity of spirit which the Apostle so strongly inculcates in this passage.

7. The Apostle in this verse obviates a practical difficulty, which might present itself to the minds of the Ephesians against this unity of spirit, arising from the unequal distribution of spiritual gifts. These gifts, he says, are gratuitously given by Christ, solely as he pleases and thinks proper to bestow them; and hence, as his object in conferring them was to beget unanimity; their gratuitousness, which was independent of the merits of any one, should engender feelings of gratitude rather than of envy. The Apostle afterwards shows from the analogy of the natural body, the different members of which could not be alike, that in the mystical or moral body of the Church, this very difference of functions and offices should be a source of unity. The latter idea, which is merely alluded to here, is fully developed in chapter 12:14, &c., &c., of the First Epistle to the Corinthians.

8. In this verse, the Apostle proceeds to show that these gifts were gratuitously given by Christ. The quotation from Psalm 64, in which the words are read in the second person, “thou hast ascended on high,” &c., is understood by many to refer, in its primary and literal signification, to the temporal triumph of the Jews over their enemies. But in its mystical signification—the signification principally intended by the Holy Ghost—it refers to the Ascension of our blessed Lord, who, ascending on high, “led captivity captive,” which in the Psalm is read thus: “thou hast taken captivity,” and may either mean, that he captured his enemies, the devils, who were before the captors of others, or, as it is commonly understood after St. Jerome, that he has taken with him, as the fruits of his victory over his enemies, and as trophies to grace his triumph, the souls of the Patriarchs and just of old detained in the prison of Limbo. This, besides being the more common interpretation of the words, is the interpretation which acccords best with the ideas of a triumph, to which he here makes allusion. “He gave gifts to men.” In the Hebrew it is read thus: thou hast received gifts in men. But the word, in, often bears the meaning of, for. “Thou hast received gifts for,” that is, to be given, to men. And then, the Apostle, for the sake of clearness, employs “gave,” instead of “received,” because he received them, to be given, to men (as is expressed in Paraphrase).

9. Instead of proceeding to enumerate the gifts conferred by Christ on his Church, the Apostle turns on the heretics of the day, the Ebionites, Simonians, &c., who denied that Christ existed before his birth of the Virgin Mary, and he infers from the words “ascending on high,” that Christ must have descended from heaven.

But how could it be inferred from his ascending, that he must have descended from heaven? It is only on the supposition that the Messiah referred to by David was from heaven; this the Jews themselves did not doubt; for, they maintained, that the original abode of the Messiah was in heaven. In this supposition, he must have descended in order to ascend; or, perhaps, it should rather have been said, that the inference of the Apostle supposes the divine nature of Christ, who must have descended, in order to ascend into heaven. Of course, when we say, that Christ ascends or descends, we adopt language conformable to human ideas. His Divinity did not leave one place for another, he descended, by assuming human nature with a personal union on earth, while he ascended, in this nature which he assumed. “Into the lower parts of the earth,” is generally understood of the Limbus Patrum, or, the resting place of the ancient Saints, into which it was predicted that Christ would descend. “I will penetrate all the lower parts of the earth, and will behold all that sleep (Ecclesiasticus 24:45), and into this we know from St. Peter (1st Epistle, chapter 3), he had descended. The reasoning and deduction of the Apostle require merely that he had descended on earth, in the centre of which Limbo was situated. But he even makes mention of his descent into the lowest part of the earth, to show the fruit of this excessive humiliation, in his being elevated to the highest heavens, and to show us more clearly how “he filled all things,” (verse 10).

10. It is the same person, who descended by assuming human nature, that ascended in the same nature. “Above all the heavens.” The words are differently explained. It is better to understand them to mean the highest heaven, in the most elevated and dignified part of which, Christ sits enthroned. For, we know that Christ, in his natural state, is in heaven and not outside it.—(Acts, 3:21; Philippians, 3:20; Heb. 8.) “That he might fill all things,” ἲνα πληρώση τα παντα, Vulgate, ut impleret omnia, means either all places, or all persons (vide Paraphrase), or, might fulfil all things written concerning him.

11. He here resumes the subject from which he had digressed at verse 8, and enumerates the different offices instituted in the Church, and the different gratuitous gifts, with which Christ favoured her. “Apostles;” the first and most exalted office in the Church.—(See Romans, 1:1; Galatians, 1:1). “Some prophets.” By these “prophets” of the New Law, are meant those, who were gifted with supernatural lights in expounding the abstruse passages of SS. Scripture, and of the ancient prophecies. To some of them was also imparted the gift of foretelling future events (v.g.), Agabus. St. Ambrose tells us, that this office is now filled by the expositors of the SS. Scripture, and by the preachers of the Word. “Others, Evangelists.” The word “Evangelist,” in its original signification, refers to the inspired penman who wrote the life of our Divine Redeemer, in the four Gospels. But here, if we look to the place assigned to it, after the “Prophets,” it refers to the preachers of the Gospel. In this sense, Philip is called an Evangelist, in the 21st chapter of the Acts, although he never wrote a Gospel, and St. Paul, writing to Timothy (2 Epistle, 4), tells him, “do the work of an Evangelist.” This office is still fulfilled in the Church by the missionaries, who carry the Gospel to foreign climes. “And other pastors and teachers.” This refers to those holding jurisdiction in the Church, particularly to bishops, who are to be at the same time doctors as well as pastors; St. Paul unites both offices, as both ought to be inseparably connected.

12. He here points out the end or object of the institution of this ministry. The order of the words should be transposed (as in Paraphrase), placing “the perfecting of the saints,” last. The very nature of the matter in question, the order of duties and results, require this. Because the “work of the ministry” precedes the “edification of the body of Christ,” i.e., of the Church, and from this latter, follows “the perfecting of the saints.” Moreover, the particle, προς, prefixed in the Greek to the word “perfecting,” shows it to be the end and final cause of the rest. Every minister of the Gospel should frequently call to mind the end of the institution of the sacred ministry, viz., the edification of the Church. All his actions should tend to promote this great object. Woe to him, if, through neglect of positive scandal, he be the guilty instrument of ruining those souls, for which God has shed the last drop of his sacred blood! Judicium durissimum his qui præsunt.

13. The Apostle points out the duration of these functions, to the end of the world. “Unto a perfect man,” i.e., when we shall have arrived at that period of full manhood in the Church, similar to the perfection of a full-grown man, which is more fully explained in the following words, “unto the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ.” in which is instituted a comparison between the perfect proportions of Christ’s natural body at his death, and the perfection which his mystical body shall attain at the end of the world. The perfection in Christ’s mystical body shall not take place until the last of the faithful is associated to the Church, that is to say, until the end of the world. This interpretation, the substance of which is given in A’Lapide, and briefly alluded to by Estius, seems the most probable and the most natural interpretation of the passage. The Church is compared to a “perfect” or full-grown “man,” in the same way, that it is often compared to an edifice, or building, &c. “Upon the measure of the age,” εἰς μετρον ἡλικίας του πληρώματος τοῦ Χρἰστοῦ, may signify, unto the measure of the size (or stature) of the fulness of Christ, or, unto the measure of the stature of Christ. It is deserving of remark, how frequently the Apostle uses the word, plerōma, in this Epistle, in allusion to the false system of the Gnostics. Others, by “perfect man,” understand, until we became perfect spiritual men, and arrive at the measure and age, in which Christ may be fully formed in us. The former interpretation seems, however, preferable.

14. “Carried about with every wind of doctrine,” i.e., with the false and varying doctrines of heretics, ever changing and unsettled. “Wickedness,” the Greek word, κυβείᾳ, denotes the throw of dice, and contains an allusion to the cheating and fraudulent conduct of gamblers.

From this entire passage is furnished the clearest proof of the existence of an external authority in the Church. For the office of Apostles, &c. (verse 11), must be exercised externally—an authority which is to last to the end of time (13), an authority gifted with infallibility, since, it could not otherwise attain the end of its institution (14), that is to say, it could not protect us against the wiles of deceitful men, who, with the nicest subtlety, assail the truth and endeavour to lead men after them into error—an authority armed and vested with summary power, for the same reason; otherwise, it could not prevent the growth of error. The very circumstance of these gifts and offices being instituted for a public end, the good of the entire body of the Church, should prevent jealousy on the part of the members of the Church not favoured with them, and pride on the part of those who are; since they have received them for the service of the faithful at large. (For a singularly able dissertation on the Infallibility of the Church, see Murray’s [Very Rev. Dr.] Reply to Whately, Annual Miscellany, vol. iii.)

15. “But doing the truth,” &c., i.e., believing in the true doctrines of faith, and practising its precepts, we may reach a full spiritual increase in Christ, &c. By faith and good works, the Church and all its members are perfected, and by charity, a special value is imparted to our actions.

16. Having mentioned the head, Christ, the Apostle now proceeds to point out the influence which Christ, as head, exerts on the members of his body, the Church “From whom the whole body … maketh increase of the body,” i.e., of itself. For the word “body” is repeated a second time, by a Hebrew idiom. “Of every part,” ἑκάστοῦ μερους. The Alexandrian and another chief MS. have ἑκαστοῦ μελους, “of each member,” uniuscujusque membri,—Vulgate. By a description of the union that exists between the component members of the natural body, the Apostle instructs us in the necessity of the union that should exist between the members of the mystic body of Christ. The head of the body of the Church is Christ; its members, the faithful; its joints through which are communicated life and support, are the members of religion, the prelates and pastors; its soul is charity. And as, in the natural body, the members are connected with the head by means of joints, ligaments, &c., and thus the influence of the head extends to them; so, in like manner, is the Church connected with Christ. And as, in the natural body, the different members receive a proportionate share of support, so does it likewise happen in the Church; different graces and offices are bestowed on different persons, according to their fitness and necessity for the entire body. The unequal distribution, then, of these gifts, far from producing divisions, should, on the contrary, tend to union. Since all these gratiæ gratis datæ were given to the different members for the good of the entire body, each one receives whatever grace or office may be necessary for the position which God wishes him to hold in the Church.

According to the description given, does it not follow, that sinners are not in the Church?

Answer.—The Apostle describes the Church according to the more excellent part to which alone he wishes the Ephesians to belong, and the relations and functions of which alone he describes. Sinners, although they have not the spirit of Christ dwelling in them, still, receive grace from his spirit, and are united to his body, as dead members, by the less perfect bond of faith, without charity.

17. The Apostle here resumes the subject of moral exhortation, with which he commences this chapter. “As the Gentiles walk.” (In the ordinary Greek τὰ λοιπὰ ἐθνη, the other Gentiles; λοιπα, is wanting in the chief MSS.) They follow the vain judgments of their minds. The error in judgment is the source of their manifold practical immoralities.

18. “Having their understanding darkened.” In the Greek it is, εσκοτωμενοι τη διανοια οντες, being darkened in their understanding. “Alienated from the life of God,” i.e., the life of sanctity, which the law of God prescribes. “Through the ignorance that is in them.” Though the Gentiles had much knowledge regarding God, and his attributes; still, owing to their pride and ingratitude, they were abandoned by God, and they grew foolish in their thoughts. “Their foolish hearts were darkened, and they were given over to a reprobate sense” (Rom. 1:1), which is also expressed hereby the words, “because of the blindness of their hearts.” This blindness of heart was a judgment of God, in punishment of their crimes and ingratitude to him.

Blindness of intellect and hardness of heart produce despair. These Gentiles not believing in the sanction of a future life, have no hopes of future blessings. “Who, despairing”; for this the Greek has, οἴτινες ἀπηλγηκοτες, who, having lost all feeling, i.e., all sense of shame or remorse of conscience for their sins, all notions of right or wrong. St. Jerome explains the Greek word to mean, destitute of sorrow or remorse for passed sins. “Unto covetousness.” The Greek word for “covetousness,” πλεονεξια, means an insatiable desire of anything, such as riches, pleasures, honours, &c. Here, it more probably signifies the insatiable avidity for the gratification of impure desires.

From this sad picture, which the Apostle draws of a corrupt Pagan life, we can clearly perceive, that blindness of intellect produces hardness and corruption of heart; from this results a state of remorseless insensibility in regard to the most shameful deeds, so as to make man perfectly resemble the brute. How many are to be found among Christians, whose lives are more corrupt than those of the unconverted Gentiles, to whom St. Paul here refers. How rarely do we, with due feelings of gratitude, consider the gratuitous goodness of God in rescuing us from this deplorable state in which he has left millions of our fellow-creatures.

21. “If so be that you heard him.” The words, “if so,” in Greek, ειγε, are susseptible of an affirmative signification (as in Paraphrase). Others understand them, as in our version, to imply a doubt; thus: if, however, you have understood the truth, as it was really in him: these say that the Apostle refers to the false teaching of some heretics, who attempted to corrupt the faith of the Ephesians after his own departure. The former meaning is adopted in the Paraphrase; you have been taught the truth as it has been revealed to me by Jesus Christ himself.

22. “To put off, &c. The words, “have been taught,” are understood from the preceding verse; others connect this verse with verse 17. “This then I say … to put off the old man,” &c. By the “old man” is meant the sinfulness and corruption which we inherit from Adam, or rather, man considered as affected by his sinfulness. He says, “put off,” in allusion to the rite of baptism, at which the clothes were laid aside, an emblem of their putting off the sinfulness of their nature. “Who is corrupted,” i.e., progresses more and more in corruption, and renders us more like the brute, according as the sinful desires are indulged.

23. “Be renewed;” in the Greek it is, ανανεοῦσθαι, to be renewed, i.e., you have been taught to be renewed, to receive a renewed spiritual being and existence.

24. “And put on;” in Greek, ἐνδύσασθαι, to put on, i.e., you have been taught to put on the new man, “who according to God,” &c. By the “new man,” some understand, Christ; others, Adam, newly created in original justice and innocence. It is better, however, to understand it of the spiritual man after his renovation by the grace of the Holy Ghost, and after receiving a new existence by spiritual regeneration; hence, said to be “created.” “In justice and holiness of truth,” i.e., in true justice and sanctity. “Justice,” has a reference to the fulfilment of the obligations and relations which we owe our neighbour: “holiness,” to the brightness and purity of soul caused by the infusion of sanctifying grace, thereby rendering us pleasing in the sight of God. This passage furnishes a most convincing refutation of the heretical doctrine regarding external and imputative justice; for, the justified man is here described as receiving a new spiritual existence, as gifted with true justice and sanctity. How could a man merely reputed just by God, but really unjust, be said to be “created in true justice and sanctity”?

25. The Apostle here specifies a few of the deeds of this man of corruption. “For we are members one of another,” &c. As in the natural body, the different members, far from deceiving, on the contrary, help and relieve each other, the eye does not deceive or injure the foot, nor the hand, the eye; so ought it happen also in the mystical body of Christ.

26. These words, taken from Psalm 4:5, are said by some to refer immediately to the enemies of God’s people in general, whom David exhorts, not to fulfil the thoughts which anger would suggest. They are here directed by St. Paul to all Christians. There is no contradiction between the words, “be angry,” and “let not the sun go down upon your anger;” because the former phrase is purely conditional. “If you be angry.” It serves as an example of what are termed, permissive Imperatives. “Let not the sun go down,” &c., is a Hebrew proverb, signifying that a thing should not be of long continuance. The day began at sunset, with the Hebrews; what, then, is prescribed is, that anger should not be prolonged until next day, sunset being the beginning of Jewish festival days.

27. The devil particularly insinuates himself into the souls of men by the passion of anger; he uses enmities and desires of revenge constantly to destroy human souls. In the preceding verses, the Apostle cautioned them against the vices of the tongue. In this verse, he passes to the sins committed in the heart, viz., desire of revenge, &c.

28. He now treats of the deeds of wicknedness committed by the hands. “He that stole.” Stealing is put down for all kinds of fraud and unjust acquisition. Theft and injustice of every kind may be discontinued in two ways:—firstly, by desisting in future from all deeds of injustice; and, secondly, by making restitution for the property unjustly retained, because the unjust detention of our neighbour’s property is a continued act of robbery.

29. “Let no evil speech,” &c. Some understand this of obscene language. It is better, however, understand it of improper language of every description, of all vices of the tongue, since it is contrasted with the language which contributes to edification. Let whatever discourse we utter be good in itself, useful for edification, i.e., let this good language be spoken in proper circumstances, suited to the times and persons, &c. The Greek for “edification of faith,” is, προς οἰκοδαμὴν τῆς χρείας, “to the edification of utility” which means, useful for edification, the noun, utility, being employed for the adjective, useful, a thing not unusual with the Apostle. St. Jerome reads edificationem “opportunitatis,” “edification of opportunity”; the ancient Vulgate had, of faith, a reading, too, which is supported by some of the best manuscripts. “That it may minister grace to the hearers,” is interpreted by some thus: that it may prove agreeable and acceptable to the hearers, in consequence of being uttered seasonably, and in due circumstances.

30. The Holy Ghost is said to be “grieved” by being banished from our hearts, as a man is said to be saddened by being expelled from an abode in which he wished to dwell. “Sealed,” by the abundance of sanctifying grace, which is a spiritual seal of the beloved soul, by which it is marked out as belonging to God. The Apostle probably refers to the sacramental grace received in baptism and confirmation.—(See 2 Tim. 1:6). As, therefore, the seal of God is impressed on the soul, this seal should be inviolable, and should not be broken without the authority of him who impressed it. He, then, breaks and violates this seal, whoever he be, that utters obscene words, with lips that were holy and sanctified by divine grace. “Unto the day of redemption,” i.e., of the glorious resurrection of our bodies, when we shall be emancipated from the slavery of corruption.

31. “Let all bitterness:” aversion, arising from our brooding over the provocation received, is the beginning of anger. “Anger,” that excited state of feeling resulting from the injuries we conceived to be inflicted on us. “Indignation,” that passionate, fixed desire of revenge. “Clamour,” all loud threatenings, &c. “Blasphemy,” is generally understood of language injurious to God, but it is also understood of injurious language used towards men. “With all malice,” regards all vices by which our neighbour is injured. These he omits enumerating, and comprehends under the general term “malice.”

32. The best and most secure way of overcoming these evil propensities of nature is, to practise the opposite virtues. There is scarcely a passion more deeply rooted in our corrupt nature, and harder to eradicate, than the desire of retaliating and taking vengeance on our enemies, on those who have injured and are still disposed to injure us. But eradicate it, overcome it we must, if we wish to enter the kingdom of heaven, which suffers violence, and which only the violent can bear away. It is on condition that we forgive our enemies, that God forgives us. We can achieve the victory over this dreadful passion, to the gratification of which our corrupt nature so strongly urges us, by fervent prayer to God, who commands nothing above our strength, nothing which he will not grant us grace, if fervently besought for it, to accomplish. We can to this end also employ certain considerations. First—The example of God pardoning his enemies, “that you may be like your Father who is in heaven,” &c. What sins and outrages has he not remitted to us? He, the Creator, the Benefactor, pardoning his ungrateful creatures. Second—The example of the Son of God. How he wished to reclaim his apostate disciple, “friend, why camest thou hither?” On the cross he prays for his blasphemous persecutors, “Father, forgive them,” &c. Third—The example of the saints of old. Among the rest, David refused to stretch forth his hand against Saul, his unrelenting and unjust persecutor, and after his death, punished the Amalecite who said he slew him, and called on the rains and dews of heaven not to fall on the mountains of Gilboe, where he and his son had been slain. Fourth—Gratitude to God for his many benefits, for whose sake principally, and not for the sake of an ungrateful creature, we are called on to pardon our enemy. Fifth—The consideration of the wretched state of our enemy, exposed to eternal torments, the miserable condition of his soul who wishes to injure us. This should soften us into pity rather than vengeance. Sixth—The reward of this forgiveness, and self-victory, viz., peace of soul, tranquillity of conscience, which is but the earnest of future glory, the final reward which God has in store for those who make sacrifices for his sake. God is never outdone in generosity. No one ever made sacrifices for Him that did not receive an hundred-fold reward. Of this we have a striking example in the life and conversion of St. John Gualbert, after pardoning a mortal enemy.—(See his Life, July 12.)

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