The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Callan’s Commentary on Ephesians 3:13-21

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 16, 2012

Besides Fr. Callan’s notes on verses 13-21 this post also contains his summaries of Eph 3:1-13, Eph 3:14-19, and Eph 3:20-21. These summaries will appear at the appropriate spots in the notes.


A Summary of Eph 3:1-13~Having spoken in the first Chapter of this Epistle of God’s eternal purpose to unite Jewish and non-Jewishpeoples in the one Church of Christ, and having shown in the second Chapter how this purpose has been realized in the present period of grace with its prospect of glorious consummation in the Church Triumphant hereafter, the Apostle, according to his custom after such meditations on the wondrous ways of God, begins a prayer of thanksgiving on behalf of the “Ephesians”; but he has only begun (Eph 3:1a) when he is somehow reminded of his chains and what has made him a prisoner for Christ, and this causes him to digress (Eph 3:1b-13) to consider the part he has played in the realization of God’s eternal purpose to unite all the nations of the world in the one spiritual fold of Christ, and to unfold again the unsearchable wisdom of God hidden in the purpose of that divine mystery and age-old secret. For a parallel parenthesis see Rom 5:13-18.

Eph 3:13. Wherefore I pray you not to faint at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.

Another consequence of the revelation preached by Paul is the sufferings it brought upon him; but here he prays that his readers may not grow remiss and faint-hearted as a result of the afflictions he has to endure for preaching the Gospel to them; for his sufferings are their glory, inasmuch as they are an evidence of God’s love for them, since God was willing to permit His Apostle to endure so much for their sakes: the privileges they enjoy and the afflictions Paul has undergone that they might have those privileges indicate how dear they are to God.

Wherefore, i.e., in view of your dignity and privileges, resulting from God’s eternal decree realized in Christ.

I pray. This is more probably to be understood of a real prayer to God for the Apostle’s readers, as we gather from the similar use of the verb in Eph 3:20 and Col 1:9.

Not to faint should not be interpreted as applying to the Apostle himself, who gloried in his tribulations and declared that nothing could separate him from the love of Christ (Rom 5:3, Rom 8:38-39; 2 Cor 12:10; Col 1:24), but to his readers, to whose glory it was that he had to suffer, and who therefore should not be discouraged.


A Summary of Eph 3:14-19~Having considered his ministry among the Gentiles, St. Paul now continues his prayer interrupted in verse 1b. Prostrating himself in mind before the Father of all, from whom all fathership in heaven and on earth derives its name and its nature, he asks that his readers may be interiorly strengthened by the Divine Spirit; that Christ by faith may dwell in their hearts; that, being rooted and founded in charity, they may be able to comprehend with all the faithful the full scope and extent of His love for us, which surpasses all our understanding; and that, finally, they may come to embody in their own lives the full content of plenitude of God.

14. For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

The Apostle resumes the prayer begun in Eph 3:1, but interrupted by the long parenthesis of Eph 3:2-13.

For this cause, i.e., in view of the grace given the Gentiles, which makes them equal sharers with the Jews in Messianic benefits.

I bow my knees, etc., words denoting a humble and fervent attitude of prayer, not necessarily expressed by the physical posture. The “Father” is addressed because He is the creator and source of all things. The words, “of our Lord Jesus Christ,” should be omitted, according to the evidence of the Greek MSS. and the best Patristic authority.

15. Of whom every paternity in heaven and earth is named,

Of whom every paternity, etc. St. Paul is stressing the common Fatherhood of God. Every paternity (πασα πατρια) is named from the father ( πατερα), and all created fatherhood is but a reflection at best of the Fatherhood of God.

In heaven and on earth, i.e., among the angels in heaven and the different nations of the earth ; every possible family derives its name and has its being from the Father above. The angels are said to be divided into different families according to their different orders (Estius).

16. That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory to be strengthened by his Spirit with might unto the inner man.
17. That Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts; that being rooted and founded in charity,
18. You may be able to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth:
19. To know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge, that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.

In verses 16-19 The Apostle comes back to the purpose for which he has figuratively bent his knees in prayer, and asks God to give his readers strength, and this “according to the riches of his glory,” I.e., in a manner beyond measure, or according to His infinite power and goodness. In Eph 1:19 St. Paul had prayed that his readers might know “what is the exceeding greatness of his power towards us who believe,” and here he prays that they may be made mighty with that power; and his prayer now is a positive supplication corresponding to the negative petition, “not to faint,” of Eph 3:13.

By his Spirit (ver. 16) etc., i.e., that they may be strengthened by the grace of the Holy Ghost in the higher or spiritual faculties of their souls, in their conscience, understanding, imagination, and will—for all of which the heart in Scripture is regarded as the seat. In further and more determinate words, he prays that (ver. 17) “Christ may dwell by faith in their hearts” (i.e., that the presence of Christ in their minds and wills may, by means of a faith which operates by charity, become ever more perfect), so that “being rooted, etc.” (i.e., being firmly fixed in love of God), they “may be able to comprehend” (i.e., mentally to perceive ver. 18) “with all the saints” (i.e., in union with the whole assembly of the faithful) “what is the breadth, etc.” (i.e., the measurement or full extent of the Messiah’s love for us Christians vers. 18-19); that is to say, that they may even know how great is the love of Christ towards us, so that, as far as it is possible for created intelligences, they may have the strength at length to grasp in Beatific Vision the fullness of the divine nature, that is, that they, the members of Christ’s mystical body, may be able to take in of the divine nature, according to their capacity, as much as their Head, in whom dwells the fullness of divinity corporally (see Eph 4:13), perceives according to His capacity.

It is obvious that the Christian perfection of his readers for which St. Paul here prays can be attained in its fullness only in the life to come beyond the grave, though the progress towards it should go on here continually; and even in that other life of Beatific Vision the soul, while perceiving and knowing in an ever-increasing measure the love of Christ for it, can never fully grasp its divine object through all the ages of eternity, simply because the object is infinite; the created knowledge can never be commensurate with the increate object; the goal is ever being attained, but is never attained or attainable; and hence the Apostle says it “surpasseth all knowledge.”

At first sight it sounds paradoxical that St. Paul should pray that his readers may “be able to comprehend” and “to know” that which he afterwards says “surpasseth all knowledge,” but his meaning is clear: he is praying for such a perception and such a knowledge of the love of Christ for them and such a grasp of the divine nature on their part as will be commensurate with their finite capacities, which can ever be increased and extended, but which, in the nature of things, can never equal and exhaust their divine and infinite object. Forever the redeemed soul will find in God more to know, more to love, more to adore; and even at the farthest stretch of the eternal years it will still be as far away from completely comprehending or exhausting the overflowing ocean of God’s infinite being as it was at its entrance into bliss. Here indeed is a revelation that provides the only philosophy of life that has a clue for the otherwise hopeless riddle of our present existence; that rescues our poor life from its littleness and miseries and links it with the tides of the Eternal; that promises an ultimate and adequate satisfaction to the endless reachings of the human mind and the boundless longings of the human heart.

A further explanation of some words in these verses (Eph 3:16-19) may be needed. Thus, “unto the inner man” (ver. 16) is paralleled by “in your hearts” in the following verse, and it means the higher spiritual faculties of the soul—the domain of reason, thought, conscience, will, etc., as said above. Fr. Callan will now give some further specific notes on verses 17 and 18 which were quoted above. I’ve reproduced those verse here for the readers convenience.

17. That Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts; that being rooted and founded in charity,

By faith, i.e., by means of an implicit trust in all that has been revealed, and this, not merely by a speculative adhesion of the mind to revealed truth, but by a practical exercise in works of what one believes, by a faith that lives by charity: “If any one love me, he will keep my word, etc.” (John 14:23-24).

Being rooted, like a tree of the Lord in the rich soil of the love of God, and founded, like stones of the Temple on the same love.

In charity. It is disputed whether these words should go with what precedes or with what follows ; and also whether there is question of God’s love for Christians or of the love Christians have for God. As to the first point, it seems that the participles “rooted” and “founded” need determination, and therefore that the phrase “in charity” should go with them. As to the second point, since the Apostle is praying that his readers may understand Christ’s love for them, and since love is perceived by love and the more Christ is loved the better He is understood, it would seem that the words “in charity” ought to refer to the love Paul’s readers have for Christ.

18. You may be able to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth:

May be able to comprehend, as far as a finite being can comprehend.

With all the saints, may be taken disjunctively or collectively, as implying what each one of the faithful may be able to do, or what all of them together can do, the knowledge and experience of each individual soul adding to and enriching the knowledge and experience of every other soul.

What is the breadth, etc., is probably an accumulation of terms to express exhaustive measurement; the Apostle wishes his readers to perceive the love of Christ for them to the full extent of their capacity. The object is not expressed after this clause, but we have taken it to be love of Christ for the faithful, which will be named just below. See Rom 8:39 for similar terms of measurement relative to divine love: “Neither height nor depth, nor any other creature, will be able to separate us, etc.” Others, with the Greek Fathers, take the object of the foregoing dimensions to be the mystery of the salvation of all nations through Christ, treated before in this and in the preceding chapters. Such, we are told, is the meaning, because the words, “to know also,” that follow indicate an addition to the thought that precedes, and have their own object distinctly expressed, namely, “the charity of Christ.” But, we may ask, is not that great mystery of the union of all peoples in Christ the effect or the fruit of divine love, and therefore ultimately to be resolved into that love? Moreover, the phrase, “to know also,” may be correctly rendered from the Greek, “and even to know,” which intensifies the thought just previously expressed, without adding to it something new.

19. To know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge, that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.

That you may be filled, etc. The fullness here intended may be understood of God’s own fullness, which is poured into our souls according to our capacity to receive it: “Be ye perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect, etc.” (Matt 5:48); or it may be taken, as in Eph 1:23, of the fullness which is given to God through the Church. We prefer the first meaning, which is that understood by St. Thomas, St. John Chrysostom, and many others among modern expositors.


A Summary of Eph 3:20-21~As in the Epistle to the Romans (Rom 11:33-36), so also here St. Paul terminates the Dogmatic Part of his letter with a solemn ascription of praise to God. He has considered the great mystery of the union of all nations in Christ, and his own ministry in the revelation of that mystery; he has asked much for his readers, but he has done so with all confidence, because the Almighty Father is able to do all things more abundantly than we can know or understand. It is fitting, therefore, to bring these sublime considerations to a close with words of praise to Him who has done so much for us, and who is able to do infinitely more than we  an conceive or desire; neither God’s gifts nor His power can we fully comprehend.

20. Now to him who is able to do all things more abundantly than we desire or understand, according to the power that worketh in us;

According to the power, etc., i.e., according to the grace of the Holy Spirit within us (cf. Rom 8:26; Col 1:29).

21. To him be glory in the church, and in Christ Jesus, unto all generations, world without end. Amen.

To him, etc., i.e., to God all-powerful and our supreme benefactor be the external praise due to His wondrous works.

In the church, i.e., in the mystical body of Christ, which is the theatre wherein are manifested principally the grace and mercy of God.

And in Christ, the Head of the Church, from whom all graces come to us.

Unto all generations, etc. Throughout all time and all eternity the redeemed shall praise God for the graces and mercies He has bestowed upon them in Christ.

Amen, so be it.


One Response to “Father Callan’s Commentary on Ephesians 3:13-21”

  1. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on Ephesians 3:13-21. […]

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