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Archive for March 3rd, 2010

Father Wilberforce’s Notes On Ephesians 5:1-9

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 3, 2010

A modern translation of Aquinas’ commentary (not easy reading) can be found here.

Eph 5:1  Be ye therefore followers of God, as most dear children:
Eph 5:2  And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness.

The concluding words of the last chapter were an exhortation to us to forgive, even as God hath forgiven us in Christ; and now St Paul proceeds to propose for our imitation the example of Christ, God Incarnate, Who is the true model of charity.

You should forgive one another as God has forgiven you in Christ, because thus you will be followers of God Himself, which is the grandest possible thing to which we can aim.  Difficult it indeed is for man to imitate God; but though difficult, it is necessary, because human nature can never find perfection save in union with God.

As most dear children.  The fact of being God’s children makes it necessary to imitate Him as far as we can, because it is the duty of a son to imitate his father.  He is our Father by Creation (Deut 32:6) and by loving adoption, for which reason the title most dear children is added.  We are most dear to Him because He made us, because He has bought us with a great price, and because we have been chosen for union with Himself, and “to be partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4).  To lessen the difficulty of imitating Him, God became Man in order to show us how to walk; and when exhorting us to follow Him He does not say learn of Me to raise the dead or to walk on the waters, but learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart; take up your cross and follow Me.

Walk in love.  Walk, that is, always increase and progress in love, for by love are we to imitate God; love is the good which should continually grow within us, and the debt we are constantly to pay to God (Rom 13:8).  “Above all things have charity, which is the bond of perfection” (Col 3:14), and this in order to imitate the example of Christ, as Christ hath also loved us.  Christ proved the reality and excellence of His charity by what He did by delivering Himself for us; for, as St Gregory says, “The proof of love is not what we say, but what we are willing to do” (Gal 2:20; Isa 53:12).

As an oblation and sacrifice to God for an odor of sweetness.

This phrase refers to the sacrifices of the old law (see Lev 3 and 4), which were burnt for a sweet savor before the Lord, and were all fulfilled in that of Christ, on which alone their efficacy depended.  Oblation means any offering; sacrifice one in which there was shedding of blood.  The savor of these old sacrifices was not pleasing to God in itself, but in as much as it signified the sweet-smelling oblation of the Body of Christ, the Son of God (Gen 27:27; Cat 1:3).  So ought we spiritually to sacrifice ourselves to God in union with Christ (Ps 50: 19.  In modern translations 51:19).


Eph 5:3  But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints:
Eph 5:4  Or obscenity or foolish talking or scurrility, which is to no purpose: but rather giving of thanks.

In the last chapter we saw St Paul exhorting the Ephesians to put off the old man by avoiding spiritual sins; now he proceeds to speak of the carnal sins that must be abandoned by those who put on Christ.  This exhortation to avoid all impurity has a peculiar force when we remember that the worship of the great temple at Ephesus was mingled with the worst abominations, which the heathens tried to justify, “by vain words,” as pleasing to Diana.

The expression the fornication of all uncleanness, includes every sin against the virtue of purity, whether violating the natural law or not; but the difficulty is to understand why St Paul introduces covetousness, or avarice.  St Jerome, followed by many others, explains the word here translated covetousness to mean not avarice, but insatiable lust.  The context certainly seems to favor this interpretation, for it it be understood of the inordinate love of money, it is difficult to see why it is introduced between uncleanness and obscenity.  Moreover, though it is evident why uncleanness should not be so much as named among Christians, no reason can be assigned why avarice whould not be the subject of conversation.  The vehement words, let not such things be named among you, show the horror that such sins should excite, and how carefully immodest conversation must be avoided, for “in vain.” says St Thomas, “is the contest against internal sins, unless a man hath first conquered external ones, namely carnal sins, against which the war always endures;” and therefore St Paul cries out, “Let it not be named among you; for it becometh saints,” that is Christians, “to abstain from deeds, from thoughts, and from words.”

Obscenity St Thomas considers to mean all manner of evil actions; by foolish talking he understands words provoking to evil and suggesting bad thoughts; and by scurrility, joking words intended to amuse others, but dangerous to morals (Ecclus 9:11.  Sirach 9:11 in modern bibles).  We are not to imagine that the Apostle condemns innocent and well-ordered merriment; he forbids only that which is to no purpose; for every deliberate word, as well as action, should be for some good end; and we shall have to explain to our Lord the motive of every word and action, that is, why we said or did it.  “I say to you that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render and account of it in the day of judgment.  For by thy words thoug shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt 12:36).  To speak of these things from necessity is not wrong, for then there is a good purpose; but when it is from curiosity, morbid gratification, or levity, it is to no purpose.

But rather giving of thanks.

The meaning is, that instead of wasting time in talking of foul things as the pagans did, Christians should delight to converse of those subjects likely to increase their gratitude to God for their calling to the faith.  St Paul never tires of exhorting us to give thanks.  Our own Blessed Thomas More used often to say in his epigrammatic way, “Heathens and ungrateful men write benefits in the sand, but injuries on marble; Christians should record injuries in the sand, benefits on marble.”


Eph 5:5  For know you this and understand: That no fornicator or unclean or covetous person (which is a serving of idols) hath inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

The everlasting punishment of carnal vices is here announced with divine authority, that punishment being exclusion from the Kingdom of Christ and loss of the vision of God for ever.  Know this great truth as certain, meditate on it till you understand it thoroughly, impurity of all kinds shuts a man out of the Kingdom of God.  No one who does not repent of these sins and abandon them can inherit with Christ the Kingdom of Heaven.  There is the same difficulty here as before about the meaning of the word translated as covetousness.  St Jerome interprets it of insatiable lust.  Estius is doubtful.  St Thomas adopts the meaning of avarice, inordinate love of money.  Natalis Alexander gives the same meaning, which is strongly advocated by Meyer, and favored by Drach.  St Paul calls this greedy desire of money, or this insatiable love of sensual pleasure, idolatry, because men that are given to either put the gratification of their evil desires in the place of God, by making it their last end.  We often say that men worship pleasure or money.

Inheritance.  In the Epistle to the Romans 8:17 we are told that the inheritance depends upon being sons of God; “if sons, heirs also, and joint heirs with Christ;” now those who give themselves up to carnal pleasure cease to be children of God, and therefore renounce the inheritance, “for flesh and blood cannot possess the kingdom of God, neither shall corruption possess incorruption” (1 Cor 15:50).  The inheritance is God Himself, and the impure and covetous, far worse than Esau, barter this everlasting and supernatural inheritance for the vilest of pleasures (Ezek 44:28).

The Kingdom of Christ and of God, because through Christ, and through Him only, can we enter into possession of God, and enjoy Him for ever.  Natalis Alexander considers the Greek words to mean “the kingdom of Christ, Who is God.”  “And” is sometimes used for “who” (vide Beelen, Gram. Græc. N.T. 18, 4 ann).  Van Steenkiste adopts the same meaning, and thus understood, the passage is a clear assertion of the Divinity of Christ.

Eph 5:6  Let no man deceive you with vain words. For because of these things cometh the anger of God upon the children of unbelief.
Eph 5:7  Be ye not therefore partakers with them.

From the beginning, says St Thomas, have men tried to find reasons by which they might indulge their impure passions, endeavoring to convince themselves and others that these things are not wicked.  But all these excuses are merely vain words, without real reason and truth.  It is manifest that these excuses are vain and deceptive, because God punishes these things; and unless they were sinful they would not be punished by God, for being just He cannot punish except where sin has been committed.  St Paul shows that they are punished by the words because of these things cometh the anger of God on the children of unbelief, as is evident in the flood (Gen 6); also in the destruction of Sodom (Gen 19); and in the almost total destruction of the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 20).  Here men should seriously reflect that if those who had not the blessing of the Christian faith were punished so severely for these sins, how much more terribly those will be punished who sin in the full light of the faith, or who refuse to believe, in order to be free to indulge their evil passions.  “Nothing,” says St Jerome, “so kindles the anger of God as to see a sinner erect and stiffened with pride, refusing to prostrate himself in repentance, and to ask for pardon and mercy.”

Be ye not therefore partakers with them by communicating with them in such wickedness, lest you partake of their punishment.  “Bear not the yoke with unbelievers; for what participation hath justice with injustice? or what fellowship hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath the faithful with the unbeliever?” (2 Cor 6:14).


Eph 5:8a  For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk then as children of the light(Note: the “a” in Eph 5:8a stands for the first half of verse 8.  The second half will be dealt with below, with verse 9)

Another reason for not imitating the heathen in carnal sins is the contrast between the past darkness of the Ephesian converts and the light that had been given.  No metaphor is more common in the Scripture than that of light to express faith, and darkness to denote the sinful mind without faith.  Christ is the light of the world, and those who believe in Him and worship Him as God, live in the light that shines from His countenance (Prov 4:18-19).  To make the contrast more emphatic the Apostle does not simply say, you were in darkness, but you were darkness, and now are light, not the Light, for that is Christ alone; but you are light by participating in His brightness, and therefore he adds in the Lord, to show that the light is from Him.

Eph 5:8b  Walk then as children of the light.
Eph 5:9  For the fruit of the light is in all goodness and justice and truth:

Because you are now light you should do the works of the light; therefore live as children of the light, which is accomplished by imitating Christ (Jn 8:12).  To walk as children of the light our various actions must be-first, good in themselves; second, they must be performed with a right intention.

The fruit of the light means the effect in our lives of living in the light and being led by it.  The three fruits enumerated-goodness, justice, and truth-perfect us in our threefold duty to God, to our neighbor, and to ourselves.  Goodness regards ourselves, justice our neighbor, truth our Creator, Who is the God of Truth, through the knowledge and confession of truth.  Or we may refer goodness to the heart, justice to the external work, truth to words

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