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 MacEvilly’s Commentary on Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 6, 2015

This post opens with Fr. MacEvilly’s summary analysis of Ephesians chapter 4, followed by his commentary on 4:1-7, 11-13. Text in purple indicates his paraphrasing of the verses he is commenting on.


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.

Eph 4:1 I therefore, a prisoner in the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation in which you are called: ‎

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.

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

Eph 4:2 With all humility and mildness, with patience, supporting one another in charity.

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.

“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.”

Eph 4:3 Careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

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.

“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.

Eph 4:‎4 One body and one Spirit: as you are called in one hope of your calling. ‎

(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.

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.

Eph 4:5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism. ‎

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.

“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.

Eph 4:6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.

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).

“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.

Eph 4:‎7 But to every one of us is given grace, according to the measure of the giving of Christ.

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.

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.

Eph 4:11 And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and other some evangelists, and other some pastors and doctors: ‎

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.

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.

Eph 4:12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the word of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: ‎

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.

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.

Eph 4:13 Until we all meet into the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ:

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.

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.


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