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 1:20-23

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 15, 2017

THE EXALTATION OF CHRIST

A Summary of Ephesians 1:20-23~Speaking of the infinite power of God manifested in the raising of Christ from the dead, the Apostle is, as it were, carried out of himself, and bursts forth into a sublime act of praise of the risen and glorified Saviour, sitting at the right hand of God in heaven, elevated above all angelic powers or dignities, with all things beneath His feet, being made the head of the Church, which is His mystical body. In these verses our Lord’s exaltation and supremacy are proclaimed, first over the universe (Eph 1:21–22a) and then over the Church (ver. Eph 1:22b-23).

Eph 1:20. Which he wrought in Christ, raising him up from the dead, and setting him on his right hand in the heavenly places,

Which he wrought. The reference is to the action of the Eternal Father in raising our Lord from the dead.

In Christ, i.e., in the person and instance of Christ.

And setting him. Better: “making him to sit.”

On his right hand, i.e., in the place of honor, sharing as the Incarnate Son the throne of the eternal Father, which as God He had never relinquished.

In the heavenly places, i.e., in a spiritual locality outside and above our world of sense. Our Lord’s glorified body is a real body, and therefore it requires a real place in which to dwell. See above on verse 3.

Eph 1:21. Above all principality, and power, and virtue, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.

Above all principality, etc. The Apostle here mentions four orders or classes or choirs of celestial beings above which Christ in heaven is said to be exalted (cf. 1 Peter 3:22, and below, Eph 3:10). In Col. 1:16, we have a parallel passage where St. Paul adds the order of “thrones,” but omits the order of “virtue” here mentioned. In that passage the thought is that Christ in His pre-existent glory and divinity is the Creator of those angelic beings; whereas here
His Headship over them is the dominant thought. The division of angels into nine orders and three hierarchies is due to the Pseudo-Dionysius in his book On the Celestial Hierarchy, a notable work which first appeared about 500 a.d., but which from then on exercised a great influence till the close of the Middle Ages.

Every name, etc., is a Hebraism which signifies every creature whatsoever, which can exist “not only in this world” (i.e., in the time that precedes the Second Coming of Christ), “but also in that which is to come” (i.e., the eternal and heavenly duration that will follow the Second Advent): over all creatures, present or to come, Christ rules supreme (cf. Phil. 2:9-1 1 ; Col. 1:13).

Eph 1:22. And he hath subjected all things under his feet, and hath made him head over all the church,

And he hath subjected, etc. An allusion to Ps. 8:8, where man is described as the crown of the visible world (cf. 1 Cor. 15:26 ff.; Heb. 2:8 flf).

And hath made him head, etc. The Greek reads : “And gave him to the Church head over all.” The words “over all” show the dignity and excellence of Christ whom the eternal Father has given to the Church as its head. Our Lord made St. Peter the visible head of the Apostolic College and of the Church, but He Himself ever remains the supreme head, not only of the Church Militant, but likewise of the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant.

Eph 1:23. Which is his body, and the fullness of him who is filled all in all.

But Jesus is the head of the Church, not merely because He governs it and has subjected all things to Himself, but also because it is His mystical body. The Church exists by virtue of Christ its head, and we its members live by His life. Hence, to injure unjustly the Church and its members is to injure Christ, as Jesus affirmed to Saul the persecutor: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me, etc.” (Acts 9:4 ff.). St. Paul frequently speaks of the Church as the mystical body of Christ (cf. Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:12 ff.; Eph. 4:12-16, 5:23, 30; Col. 1:18-19, 2:19).

The fullness of him, i.e., the totality or completion of Christ, or that which renders Christ complete. The Greek word πληρωμα (fullness) here is obscure and has received various explanations, the most probable of which we have just given in the preceding sentence. The Church is the body of Christ, and Christ is the head of the Church. From this union of head and body there results one whole, which is the mystical Christ. The Church, therefore, the body of Christ, completes Christ; or, to put it in another way, Christ, the head of the Church, is completed by the Church. In other words, as in the human body the members are the completion or complement of the head, since without them the head could not exercise the different actions, so the Church, which is the body of Christ, is the complement of Christ the head, because without it Christ would not be able to exercise His office of Redeemer and Sanctifier of souls.

Who is filled. Here again the meaning is very obscure. The verb to fill in the Greek of the present passage may be taken in the middle or in the passive voice. If we take it as a middle, the meaning would be that Christ for His own sake fills with all graces and blessings the members of the Church, His mystical body. If the verb be understood as a passive participle, the sense is that Christ, God Incarnate, is incomplete without the Church, as a head is necessarily
incomplete without its body; and that, consequently, as the Church grows in holiness and progresses in the fulfillment of its divine mission, Christ, God Incarnate, is progressively completed.

All in all, i.e., all things in all ways. Cf. St. Thomas, hoc loco; Voste, op. cit., hoc loco; Prat, La Theol. de St. Paul, I, pp. 410 ff.

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