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Bible Commentaries
Ephesians 5

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-33

v. 1. We are most dear children of God in Christ. A father likes to find his image in his child.

2. Christ gave his life on our behalf; his death was a voluntary expiation. The words oblation and a sacrifice are borrowed from the OT sacrifices for sin, and they are applied to the sacrifice on the Cross. ’For an odour of sweetness’ is a common biblical metaphor suggested by the smoke of incense rising to heaven. The metaphor, then, refers to a victim pleasing to God. Prat (2, p 185) says: ’It is, therefore, probable that, having in view the general idea of sacrifice, of which Jesus is the perfect antitype, he denotes by "victim" (T?s?a) the bloody sacrifice of Calvary, and by "oblation" (p??sø??) the voluntary and loving offering which Christ makes of himself to his Father. The two notions of priest and victim would, therefore, be associated here; and, as in the epistle to the Hebrews, be reunited in the person of Jesus’.

V 3-14 Purity— 5. ’No fornicator . . . hath inheritance in the kingdom of Christ.’ The verb is in the present tense. The sinner deprives himself of the spiritual blessings of the Church on earth, and loses all right to eternal reward.

10. ’Proving what is well pleasing to God’, i.e. searching out carefully ’like a money-changer who is not content with a glance at a coin, but who weighs and sounds it’ (St Jerome).

14. The quotation here is from some Christian baptismal hymn.

15-21 Life in prayer—15. The phrase ’redeeming the time’ is a metaphor from the market place. Food is short; you must seize the opportunity to buy. In God’s intention each moment of our lives is given to us in view of our eternal destiny in Heaven. We redeem time whenever we use it in doing a good work. The effort is all the more urgent, since the days are evil (cf.Philippians 2:15).

22-33 Family Life: man and wife— Down to this point in the moral part of his epistle St Paul has been giving general injunctions on how we must live the Christian life. Now he gives special consideration to the family, and first of all to husband and wife.

22. ’As to the Lord’ provides the key to the thoughts here expressed: Baptism confers equality on all individuals from the point of view of religion, but in society (of which the family is at once the smallest and most important unit) there is a natural hierarchy. The husband is the head; the wife is subject to him. By Baptism this order is not broken; it is ennobled. St Paul compares it with the love of the Church for Christ, the head. There should, then, be no room for either despotism or craven fear. Pius XI (’Casti connubii’, 31 Dec. 1930): ’If the husband is the head, the wife is the heart’.

25. In using his authority the husband must take as his model Christ’s love for the Church. ’Thou hast seen the measure of obedience, hear also the measure of love. Wouldst thou have thy wife obedient to thee, as the Church is to Christ? Take then thyself the same provident care for her, as Christ takes for the Church. Yea, even if it shall be needful for thee to give thy life for her . . . refuse it not’ (Chrysostom). Christ’s love for the Church was perfect: he delivered himself up for it. 26. And this supreme act of love had for its goal and its effect a baptism of the Church, whereby at once it is made holy. ’The laver of water’ is a metaphor based on the bath of water solemnly presented by Greeks to a bride on the eve of her marriage. This Greek custom had a purificatory and religious significance. ’In the word’ is best read in connexion with what immediately precedes (i.e. the laver of water). The sense, then, is that the purification-sanctification conferred on the Church by the death of Christ is a baptism of water accompanied, or conditioned by, a sacramental formula.

28. That men should love their wives as their own bodies suggests in the context not a carnal love, but generous love. Moreover, it must be a love ennobled by the fact that it reflects the supernatural love of Christ for the Church, the body of Christ, of which (30) we are members.

31. In consideration of the unique union between husband and wife (’for this cause’) ’a man shall leave . . . and shall cleave to his wife’. In citing Genesis 2:24 here St Paul implies that marriage connotes complete unity, and this by its very nature as instituted by God in the time of our first parents.

32a. ’This is a great sacrament.’ As in 1:9 and 3:3, 9 Vg translates the Greek µ?st????? by ’sacramentum’, which in turn has become DV ’sacrament’, in the sense of having a hidden meaning. The union of man and wife as described in Genesis has a hidden meaning besides the obvious giving and receiving of each party. This hidden meaning is great, not in the sense that it is hard to understand, but that it is important, farreaching; (32b) I mean in reference to Christ and to the Church (WV). There is no doubt about the general sense here: in uniting husband and wife God created a type of the future union between Christ and the Church.

Some theologians (Palmieri, Perrone, etc.) demanded that the type (marriage) and the anti-type (union between Christ and the Church) must correspond exactly. Marriage must, then, imply not only unity and indissolubility, but holiness as well. In other words, the unity in marriage would be a bond of supernatural grace. If that is so, then St Paul must have had in mind here Christian marriage as a sacrament in the strict sense of that term. The Council of Trent was not so explicit. It used this text not as proof of the sacrament, but as providing a suggestion of the sacrament (’Innuit’, Dz 969). Moreover, none of the Greek or Latin Fathers claimed that this text of itself proved that Christian marriage is one of the seven sacraments. Most theologians now take the view that once we know from Tradition that matrimony is one of the seven sacraments, we can use this text to show how Christian marriage is the living expression and realization of the union (and all that this union implies) between Christ and the Church. In the context St Paul is looking at matrimony only in so far as it is a sign of unity, and he has in mind matrimony of all time, from Adam through all ages. He does not say that this unity is an outward sign conferring a special grace on man and wife ex opere operato. Yet, these reservations made, it is clear that if any lawful union between man and wife can be referred to Christ’s union with the Church, surely that is true in a fuller sense of the union between Christians, when the bond not only signifies, but effects the union of God with man. That union is by sanctifying grace. The origin of this ’mystery’ can be traced through the OT (Ps 44( 45); Cant, Ez 16:1-63, etc.) to the teaching of Christ in the NT (Mark 2:19-20; cf.John 3:29; Matthew 22:1-14) 83. Nevertheless St Paul returns to the practical: Supposing you have not quite grasped the symbolism latent in the union of matrimony, at least let every one of you . . . fear, i.e. reverence.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Ephesians 5". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/ephesians-5.html. 1951.
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