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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 continues the subject of obedience and its reciprocal duties. He first inculcates on children, the duty of obedience to their parents, and assigns for this several motives, (verses 1, 2, 3). He directs parents on the other hand, to avoid, in the education of their children, the excess of either severity or indulgence, and to instruct and correct them, according to the doctrine of the Lord (4).

The next class whom he instructs in the duty of obedience, are slaves, whom he enjoins to obey their temporal masters with reverence and sincerity, as Christ their Lord; and this not only in their presence, but always and in all places, serving them with benevolence and affection, keeping God in view, from whom they may expect an eternal recompense (5–8); and on masters he enjoins, on the other hand, the reciprocal duty of kindness and forbearance towards their slaves, knowing that they too have to render an account before a just Judge, who regards not the persons, but the merits of men (9).

After having laid down the rule of conduct which the Ephesians were to pursue in the different relations of life, the Apostle concludes the Epistle, with a general exhortation to fight manfully, in the spiritual struggle against the enemies of salvation (10). He exhorts them to put on the armour of God (11); he points out the power and cunning of their spiritual enemies. Hence the necessity of putting on the full spiritual panoply, the several parts of which he describes (12–17). But, as the victory must come from above; hence, the necessity of fervent prayer, which he entreats them to offer up, at all times, for all Christians (18), and for himself in particular, that he might receive strength to announce the Gospel with freedom and intrepidity (19). He sends Tychicus to console them, and concludes with a prayer to God, to grant the man increase of peace, and of all spiritual blessings.


1. Children obey your parents, as far as the law of God permits, that is to say, in all things not opposed to the will of God; for, this precept is grounded on the law of natural justice and equity.

2. There is also a divine positive law to the same effect; for, the precept, “honour thy father and thy mother,” is the first to which a special promise is attached, viz.:—

3. That thou mayest enjoy a long and happy life on this earth.

4. And you, parents, on the other hand, avoid provoking your children to anger, by undue or untimely severity; but take care to educate them in wholesome instruction, administering also the mild, moderate correction, which the law of God prescribes as just and salutary.

5. Servants obey your earthly masters, who have dominion over your bodies, with great diligence, reverencing them interiorly, and manifesting that reverence exteriorly, obeying them with sincere and good faith, as if you were obeying Christ.

6. Not only in their presence, when their eyes are upon you, as is done by those who have only in view to please men, but like persons enlisted in the service of Christ, performing with cheerfulness the duties which the will of God has marked out for you.

7. Serving your masters with sincere feelings of benevolence, as if it were the Lord, and not men, you were serving.

8. Knowing from the principles of our holy faith, that it is according to their good works God will reward all his creatures, no matter what their condition, be they slaves or free.

9. And do you, masters, manifest in a corresponding degree the same feelings of fidelity and benevolence towards your servants which have been inculcated on them towards you, remitting the punishment with which you menaced them, and which you are empowered by law to inflict, knowing that you, too, have a master in heaven, from whom you expect forgiveness, and with whom there is no exception of persons.

10. Finally, brethren, assume courage, relying on the Lord, who is your captain in the warfare in which you are continually engaged, and on the might of his strength.

11. And put on the panoply, and complete armour of God, that you may be able to stand against and frustrate the insidious attacks of the devil.

12. For our wrestling is not merely against weak men, composed of flesh and blood like ourselves? but against the evil spirits who fell from the orders of principalities and powers, and are themselves most powerful; against those spirits who exert their power in this lower darksome world—against wicked, cunning spirits, who dwell in the air, whence they descend to wage their fiendish war against us.

13. Having, therefore, such adversaries to combat, take unto you the full and complete armour of God, in order that you may be able to resist in the day of peril and temptation, so that, having been perfectly equipped, and furnished with armour in every respect, you may be able to stand your ground, and conquer your enemies.

14. Stand, therefore, in battle, having your loins girt with truth for a belt, and with justice, for a breastplate.

15. And let your shoes or boots be a prompt alacrity and ready willingness to follow at any risk the way of the gospel—the message of peace from heaven to earth—and announce it to heretics and infidels.

16. In all temptations, taking the shield of faith, whereby you may be enabled to repel and extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked and most subtle enemy.

17. And take unto you for helmet, the hope of salvation; and take for sword, supplied you by the Holy Ghost, the truths revealed by God, and firmly believed by faith.

18. Thus armed, you must expect victory from God alone, continually imploring him fervently from your heart and soul by all prayer and supplication; and for this purpose, watching with perseverance, and praying not only for yourselves, but also for all Christians.

19. And for me in particular, that whenever I open my mouth to announce the gospel, words may be supplied to me whereby I may freely and intrepidly proclaim the mystery of the gospel.

20. On account of which gospel I am now discharging the office of Apostolic ambassador, even in chains; pray, therefore, for me, that I may be endowed with courage to announce it with proper firmness and intrepidity.

21. But as to the manner in which my own affairs stand, and what I am doing, all these things, Tychicus, our most beloved brother and faithful minister of Christ, will make known to you.

22. Whom I have sent to make known to you the state of our affairs, and to console your hearts.

23. Peace and concord to our Christian brethren; may they enjoy an increase of faith and charity from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

24. Grace, i.e., the abundance of all spiritual gifts, be to all those that love our Lord Jesus Christ, in sanctity of life and purity of morals.


1. “In the Lord.” Some Expositors join these words with “parents,” as if he said, “obey your Christian parents;” but, this is an erroneous construction. The words are to be understood as in Paraphrase; or thus—on account of the love and reverence you owe the Lord, whom you should regard in your parents. “For, this is just.” This precept of obeying their parents is founded on natural justice and equity.

2. There is also a divine positive precept commanding the same. It is likewise the first of the commandments to which is attached a special promise, viz., length of days, and happiness even in this life. The wisdom of this promise will appear clear, if it be borne in mind, that the precept is imposed on young persons not fully capable of appreciating heavenly and eternal things, Hence, the promise involves what every one naturally desires, the moment he arrives at the use of reason, viz., a long and happy life even in this world.

3. “That it may be well,” &c. This is the special reward promised to dutiful children; and although we frequently see the best and most dutiful children hurried away prematurely to an untimely grave; we are not, still, to imagine that God is unmindful of his promise, since if he gives not specifically the thing promised, he gives something infinitely better and eminently containing it, viz., a happy life of eternal glory. This promise of a long life is not of such an absolute nature as that God is bound by it to grant a long life in this world to dutiful children; it only warrants such children to hope for a long and happy life, “that thou mayest be long-lived,” &c.

4. Parents, on the other hand, should not treat their children in a brutal or tyrannical manner, nor act as cruel task-masters in their regard; they should, rather, “bring them up in discipline,” by instructing them in the proper motives for practising one thing and avoiding the other. “And correction of the Lord;” they should not fail to correct and chastise them, when necessary in a spirit of parental fondness and charity, conformably to the doctrine of our Lord.

5. The next class whom he instructs in their respective duties of obedience on the one hand, and of kindness and forbearance on the other, are masters and servants, or rather, slaves; for, he refers to the class of persons engaged in the hardships of servitude. Without entering on the question respecting the lawfulness or unlawfulness of slavery, the Apostle, in a spirit of heavenly wisdom, points out the duties which master and slaves owe each other, so long as the relations of master and slave may subsist between them. The slave should obey his earthly master, with great diligence. “Fear and trembling” convey that they should serve with great diligence and care, accompanied with interior and exterior reverence. “In the simplicity of your heart, as to Christ,” i.e., serving them with good faith and uprightness, as if they were obeying Christ himself.—(See 1 Corinthians, 7:20–24).

6. “Not serving to the eye,” i.e., not merely acting with a view to please your masters when present, and when their eyes are upon you, “as it were pleasing men,” as those do whose only object is to please men; “but as the servants of Christ,” &c. but acting as men who are engaged in the service of Christ, whom your earthly master represent, and whose all-seeing eye is ever fixed upon you.

7. “With a good will serving,” i.e., while engaged in their service, entertaining for them feelings of benevolence, and sincerely anxious to promote their interests, “as to the Lord,” &c., as if you were serving Christ, who will one day reward you.

8. “Knowing that whatsoever good,” &c. Knowing, that in bestowing his rewards, God will recompense each person acccording to the good he shall have performed, without minding what his condition may be, whether in a state of freedom or servitude. What an important lesson is here conveyed by the Apostle to all who are placed under the direction of superiors! They should look upon them as holding the place of God in their regard, and should do nothing from the sole motive of pleasing them only, but they should do all for God—“maledictus omnis qui confidit in homine,” “cursed be the man that trusteth in man.”—(Jeremiah, 17:5).

9. In this verse the Apostle inculcates the duties which the masters owe their slaves. They should manifest in a corresponding degree, and as far as the relations of masters demand, the same feelings of fidelity and kindness, &c.

“Forbearing threatenings:” These words, besides the interpretation given in Paraphrase, may also mean, ceasing from all threatening or menacing conduct; treating them in a humane, kind and benevolent manner. The interpretation in the Paraphrase appears the more probable, if we look to the following words: “knowing that the Lord both of them and you is in heaven.” For which we have, in the common Greek text, knowing that your master also is in heaven, whose forgiveness you stand in need of; and hence, you should forgive the offences committed against you (as in Paraphrase). The chief MSS. support the Vulgate, εἰδότες ὅτι και αὐτῶν και ὑμῶν ὁ κυριος εστιν ἐν οὐρανοις.

10. “Finally, brethren.” (in the common Greek, my brethren). The pronoun is wanting in many manuscripts, and the words, “my brethren,” are not found at all in the Codex Vaticanus. After having laid down the rule of conduct to be followed by the Ephesians in the several relations of life, the Apostle concludes the Epistle by a general exhortation to fight manfully in the struggle wherein they are continually engaged against the enemies of salvation. For a soldier, two things are indispensable to secure success, viz., courage and arms. In this verse, he tells them to assume courage, relying on the Lord, &c.

11. “The armour of God.” In the Greek it is, την πανοπλιαν, the panoply, or complete suit of armour. “The deceits of the devil.” By the “devil,” some understand, adversary. From the following verse it is clear, however, that the word refers to the spirit of darkness, to that infernal adversary, who goes about like a roaring lion, seeking for his prey.—(1 Peter, 5:8).

12. The reason why we should be thus securely clad in full and complete armour, is derived from the nature of the enemies whom we have to combat. For, our adversaries are “not flesh and blood,” i.e., men like ourselves, but “principalities and powers,” wicked spirits who fell from these, as well as from all the other orders of angels, and retained, even after their fall, the names of the respective orders, to which they belonged. Under “principalities and powers,” are included all the other orders of fallen spirits; but the Apostle expressly specifies “principalities and powers,” to give an idea of their very great power, and of the dominion which they exercise over sinners. It seems the more probable opinion, that angels fell from each of the nine orders of blessed Spirits at the instigation of Lucifer, their rebel chief, to whom Isaias alludes, under the figure of the haughty King of Babylon (14:12), and Ezechiel (28:17), under that of the King of Tyre. Dazzled with his own superior excellence, out of pride he aspired to be like unto God, and drew a great part of the heavenly host after him in his revolt.—(Apocal. 12:4). In an instant, they were hurled from their abode of bliss and condemned to hell.—(2 Peter, 2:4; Jude, v. 6). While some of these wicked spirits are confined to the abyss, others are permitted at large, till the last day.—(Luke, 8:31). Some of these dwell in the air, whence the descend to wage their fiendish war with mankind. St. Jerome assures us, in his commentary on this passage, that “it is the common opinion of all the learned, that the entire space or vacuum between heaven and earth is filled with these hostile powers.” The power of these fiends is very great, owing to the perfection of their nature. For, it is the common opinion, that they are not shorn of their innate natural strength by their fall, although restrained in its exercise; just as a sinner who falls from grace, still retains the strength of his nature. These spirits have exerted great powers in several instances by divine permission. They hurried the swine into the lake, killed the husbands of Sara, slew armies in one night, often stirred up tempests, and struck whole provinces with terror. We are told by Job, “there is no power on earth which can be compared with him who was made to fear no one.”—(12:24). God sometimes permits these wicked spirits to exert their innate strength on natural agents through secondary causes, in causing diseases among men, in raising storms, and producing other physical evils in this world. Such effects are sometimes ascribed to the wicked spirits in SS. Scripture (vide Calmet sur les Mauvais Anges.) The power of the devil is greatly restricted since the coming of Christ.—(Apoc. 20:2, 3). But, sometimes, he is permitted, even now, to exert his malice against man. To counteract the exercise of his power, we have the exorcisms and prayers of the Church—(See Butler’s Lives of Saints, October 2nd.) Such are the enemies we have to encounter, in our warfare here below. How powerful! Although the flesh and the world tempt us as well as the demon; still, he is the principal enemy, and the others he uses as instruments. “Against the rulers of the world of this darkness.” This more probably refers to the power which the demons exercise in this lower material world, by making use of creatures to tempt man and injure him. This innate power of the fallen angels is, however, restricted in its exercise, and dependent on the permission of God. He says “of this darkness,” to confine this power to the lower world, lest it be imagined they were rulers of the entire universe. Others understand the words to refer to the spiritual dominion which the demons exercise over infidels, idolaters, and all others who maintain vice and ignorance, and oppose the truth. “Against spirits of wickedness,” i.e., wicked, cunning spirits. The Greek, προς τὰ πνευματικα τῆς πονηρίας, literally is, against the spiritual things of wickedness. “In the high places.” The Greek, εν τοις επουρανιοις, literally means, in the heavenly places. Here, it means the higher regions of the atmosphere.

13. “And to stand in all things perfect,” i.e., fully armed and equipped for battle. The Greek will also bear another meaning, giving the word “perfect” an active signification, thus: after having perfected or accomplished all the duties of a soldier, or, after having vanquished all your enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil, ἅπαντα κατεργασάμενοι (omnia perficientes), you may be able to hold out and enjoy your victory, δυληθῆτε στῆναι. This interpretation gives the word “perfect” an active signification. The Vulgate reading is, however, preferable.

14. “Stand therefore.” The first part of military training is to stand to their arms. “Having your loins girt with truth,” as a belt. The first part of the Christian panoply is the belt, which is “truth,” i.e., sincerity and fidelity in fulfilling one’s words and promises. In which sense it is said of our Redeemer, “erit fides (i.e., fidelitas), cinctorium lumborum ejus.” The next is the “breastplate,” which is “justice,” i.e., the general virtue or practice of universal holiness. For, as the breastplate defends the principal and vital parts of man, so shall the general practice of holiness preserve the soul and conscience of a Christian against sin, the arms which the devil uses in the warfare.

15. The shoes are the next part of the armour, which signify the prompt alacrity to walk in the way of the gospel, and to proclaim the message of peace contained in it to heretics and infidels, and to defend it against all attacks. This alacrity and promptitude to practise the precepts of the gospel, and announce it to others, is properly compared to boots, because the fervent are prepared for all difficulties, as those who are shod are prepared for the most arduous journeys and paths.

16. “In all things,” by which some understand, “above or before all things.” The exposition in Paraphrase is preferable. “Extinguish the fiery darts,” &c. In these words, allusion is made to a most destructive species of warfare anciently resorted to, viz., that of shooting arrows to which was attached combustible matter for the purpose of firing the tents, &c., of the enemy. Reference is made to them in Herodotus and Thucydides. The best mode of neutralizing their effects was to extinguish these arrows, which was done most effectually, by opposing to them some hard matter, such as shields. In the spiritual combat, such “fiery darts” mean fierce, violent temptations. The most effectual way of extinguishing these temptations of the devil and the flesh, is by opposing to them the “shield of faith,” i.e., the consideration of the truths of faith above all, of the four last things, and of the menaces, the punishments, and rewards which they point out to us.

17. The next part of the panoply is, the helmet, by which is meant “salvation,” or, as it is more clearly expressed (Thessalonians, 5:8), “the hope of salvation.” Because as the helmet protects the head, so does the hope of future rewards direct to good our thoughts and our intentions, which are the heads of our actions. “And the sword of the spirit,” &c. The only offensive weapon mentioned is “the sword,” by which is meant “the word of God,” i.e., the revealed truths of faith, whether known from Scripture or Tradition; for the knowledge of the truths of faith, the rewards and punishments of a future life, will make the Christian soldier more vigilant not to be taken by surprise; more resolute and determined to battle manfully and perseveringly against the enemy. Or, according to others, the revealed word of God will supply the Christian soldier with ample means of refuting the gainsayer, whether infidel or heretic. The former meaning is preferable, because the enemies in the combat are the spirits of wickedness.

18. But no matter how well they may be armed, the victory must come from above, and be obtained by fervent prayer. This victory is to come from God; without the aid of his all-powerful grace, they are sure to fall a prey to their spiritual enemies: and prayer, presented with the proper dispositions, is an indispensable means for obtaining the graces, the spiritual aids and helps so necessary to achieve this victory. “Ask and you shall receive;” hence, if we ask not, we shall not receive. “By all prayer and supplication” probably signify the same thing; they denote earnestness in prayer, “praying at all times in the spirit,” as the enemy is exceedingly malicious and crafty, and in all places, at all times, and by all means, seeks to destroy us; so we must pray for aid against his assaults, at all times, in all places, and with all possible fervour. “In the same watching.” In the Greek, εἰς αὐτο αγρυπνουντες, “watching thereunto,” i.e., for the same purpose; or, in order to pray fervently on all occasions, we must be constantly on the watch and pray for all Christians.

19. “May open my mouth,” i.e., whenever I open my mouth to preach, words may be given me, &c. “The mystery of the Gospel,” i.e., the Gospel which is a mystery concealed for ages from the world, at least, so far as the vocation of the Gentiles is concerned. Hence, the efficacy of the prayers of the saints. If St. Paul sets such value on the prayers of the saints on earth, how can we for an instant deny the efficacy of their prayers, when nearer to God? And if the prayers on earth are not injurious to the merits of Christ, how can their prayers in heaven detract from the same merits? Hence, we should pray for the prelates of the Church, that they may discharge their exalted functions, so as to advance the glory of God, and the salvation of souls, the price of the blood of a God, for every one of whom these prelates shall, one day, render an account, “judicium durissimum his qui præsunt.”

21. From this it is inferred, that Tychicus had been the bearer of this letter.

23. “Charity,” or brotherly love, is the principle, conservative of “peace,” and “faith,” the foundation of “charity.”

24. “In incorruption,” i.e., with a pure love, free from all carnal defilement. In this, he probably alludes to the followers of Simon Magus, who, although indulging in the most abominable impurities, still professed that they loved our Lord Jesus Christ. The love which shall ensure the abundance of grace is a pure and holy love, a practical love, manifested in the observance of his commandments.

The subscription of some Greek copies has: “Written to the Ephesians, from Rome, by Tychicus.” This seems to be correct. The Codex Vaticanus has, Προς Εφεσιους, εγραφη απο Ρωμης, “Written to the Ephesians from Rome.” This, although correct, does not, any more than the former, belong to the text; and was, probably, added by some more recent hand.

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