St Thomas Aquinas on the
Commentary on The Epistle to the
translated by Fabian Larcher, O.P.
Thanks to the
Centre for Theological Renewal
13 Wherefore I pray you not to faint at my tribulations for
you, which is your glory. 14 For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of
our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is
named; 16 that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to
be strengthened by his Spirit with might unto the inward man; 17 that Christ
may dwell by faith in your hearts; that, being rooted and founded in
After the Apostle has dealt
with the dignity of the office belonging to his position (3:3), he goes on
to speak of his tribulations and sufferings. In reference to this he does
First, he exhorts them lest
they be troubled by his sufferings; they should have patience.
Secondly, since divine
assistance is necessary if man is not to become agitated, he prays that they
might accomplish this through divine grace (3:14).
About the first he says: Due to
the importance and security of my office, which I have through faith in
Christ, it happens that I suffer tribulations; but they neither daunt me nor
can they tear me away from Christ. "Who then shall separate us from the love
of Christ? Shall tribulation? Or distress? Or famine? Or nakedness? Or
danger? Or persecution? Or the sword?" (Rom. 8:35). As though he affirmed
that nothing can.
Wherefore I urge and pray you not to faint at my tribulations.
My sufferings should not be an occasion for you to fail in faith or in good
works at all. "Think diligently upon him [Jesus] that endureth such
opposition from sinners against himself; that you be not wearied, fainting
in your minds" (Heb. 12:3).
I declare that you must not be
disheartened, they are
for you, for your own utility. "Whether we be in tribulation, it is
for your exhortation and salvation; or whether we be comforted, it is for
your consolation; or whether we be exhorted, it is for your exhortation and
salvation, which worketh the enduring of the same sufferings which we also
suffer, that our hope for you may be steadfast, knowing that as you are
partakers of the sufferings, so shall you be also of the consolation" (2
Cor. 1:6-7). Or, he says for you meaning, for your testing: "As gold
in the furnace he hath proved them, and as a victim of a holocaust he hath
received them" (Wis. 3:6).
Which is your glory if you do not fall but remain
steadfast in sufferings, for "He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall
be saved" (Mt. 10:22). In a different way, which is your glory,
that is, the endurance of our trials is to your own glory in that God
exposes his Apostles and prophets to sorrows and pains on account of your
salvation. "For this reason have I hewed them in the prophets, I have slain
them by the words of my mouth" (Os. 6:5*). "We are your glory, as you also
are ours, in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 1:14).
As a consequence he goes on (v.
14) to implore assistance for them through a prayer that they might derive
advantage from his exhortation.
First, he sets down the prayer.
Secondly, confident of its
being heard, he adds a thanksgiving (3:20).
The first part has three
First, he mentions to whom the
prayer is addressed.
Secondly, the intention of the
Thirdly, the prayer's fruit
Humility makes a prayer worthy
of being heard: "He hath had regard to the prayer of the humble: and he hath
not despised their petition" (Ps. 101:18). And, "The prayer of him that
humbleth himself shall pierce the clouds: and till it come nigh he will not
be comforted." (Ecclus. 35:21). Therefore, he immediately starts his prayer
in humility, saying
For this cause that you fail not in the faith I bow my knees to the
Father. This is a
symbol of humility for two reasons. First, a man belittles himself, in a
certain way, when he genuflects, and he subjects himself to the one he
genuflects before. In such a way he recognizes his own weakness and
insignificance. Secondly, physical strength is present in the knees; in
bending them a man confesses openly to his lack of strength. Thus external,
physical symbols are shown to God for the purpose of renewing and
spiritually training the inner soul. [This is expressed] in the prayer of
Manasse: "I bend the knee of by heart. . ."95 "For every knee shall be bowed
to me: and every tongue shall swear" (Is. 45:24).
He describes next the person to
whom the prayer is directed, God, whom he portrays in his nearness and in
his authority. For from his relationship to us we are encouraged to pray
with confidence. In this regard he states
to the Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ and whose children we are also. "Every best gift and every
perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (Jas.
1:17). "Thou, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer: from everlasting is thy
name" (Is. 63:16). We are confirmed in the hope of obtaining what we ask for
with confidence by his authority since from him all paternity in heaven
and earth is named.
At this point the question
arises if there is any paternity in heaven. A quick answer would be that
in heaven means
that paternity is present in God and in Divinity, and that this is the
source of all fatherhood. But this is not questioned here, it is known to
all the faithful. It is asked whether in heaven,
that is, in the angels, there is any paternity.
To this I reply that paternity
exists only among beings who live and who know. But life is twofold: it is
either actual or potential. To possess the vital activities in potency is to
be potentially alive; for example, a person who is sleeping is said to be
potentially alive in regard to the external actions [he performs when
awake]. But when someone actually performs the vital activities, he is alive
in act.96 Thus, not only he who transmits the potency to life is the father
of him to whom he gives it, but also he who communicates an act of life can
be called a father. Therefore, whoever stimulates another to some vital act,
whether it be to good activity, to understanding, to willing or loving, can
be given the name of father. "For if you have ten thousand instructors in
Christ, yet not many fathers" (1 Cor. 4:15). Likewise, in the hierarchical
acts by which one angel illumines, perfects, and purifies another, it is
evident that that angel is the father of the other - just as a teacher is
the father of his disciples.
Some doubt that the fatherhood
in heaven and on earth is derived from the paternity which exists in the
Divinity. It seems not to be, for we give names in accordance with our
knowledge of the reality named. And whatever we do know is through
creatures; hence, the names we give to the things themselves are applicable
primarily, and to a greater degree, to creatures rather than God.
I reply and state that the name
of anything we name can be taken in two ways. In one it is expressive or
symbolic of an intellectual concept, since words are the marks or signs of
the impressions or concepts that are in the soul. In this perspective a name
refers to creatures more than to God. However, in the second [the name]
discloses the quiddity of the external object which is named; thus it will
refer more to God. Therefore, the word
paternity, when it signifies a
concept formed by our intellect as it is naming a thing, will primarily be
applicable to creatures instead of God since creatures are more known to us
than God. But when it signifies the reality itself which has been named,
then [this reality] is primarily in God rather than in us. For certainly all
the power to procreate present in us is from God. So he says of whom all
paternity in heaven and earth is named
as though to affirm: The fatherhood present in
creatures is, as it were, nominal or vocal; but the divine fatherhood by
which the Father communicates his whole nature to the Son without any
imperfection, this is true paternity.
Next (v. 16), he discloses what
he prays for:
First, he does this.
Secondly, he shows through whom
he can ask for what he desires (3:16b).
Thus he says: I ask that you do
not give up, but be steadfast like men. Yet I know that by yourselves you
cannot achieve this without God's gift, so I beg
that he would grant it to
you since "every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming
down from the Father of lights" (Jas. 1:17). He will do this according to
the riches of his glory, that is, in accord with his overflowing majesty
and grandeur. "Glory and riches are in his house" (Ps. 111:3), and "with me
are riches and glory" (Prov. 8:18). Riches, I say, which will cause you
to be strengthened with might. "It is he that giveth strength to the
weary, and increaseth force and might to them that are not" (Is. 40:29).
This is for the inward man
because a man is overcome easily by his enemy
if he is not inwardly fortified. [God must] "establish him and strengthen
him with judgment and with justice, from henceforth and forever" (Is. 9:7*).
Inserted in the above is the
phrase by his Spirit
indicating through whom petitions are granted. The Spirit himself
fortifies, he is the Spirit of fortitude, and is the source of our not
yielding under sufferings. We receive him through a faith which is most
strong because it is the substance of the realities we hope for - that is,
it makes these desired realities exist within us. Whence 1 Peter 5 (9)
[concerning the devil]: "Whom resist ye, strong in faith." And Paul adds
that Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts.
"Sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts" (1 Pet. 3:15).
With what? I claim that it
should not only be through faith, which as a gift is the strongest, but also
through the charity that is in the saints.
That you may be rooted and
founded in a charity
which "beareth all things, believeth all
things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never falleth away"
(1 Cor. 13:7-8). "For love is strong as death. . ." (Cant. 8:6). A tree
without roots, or a house lacking a foundation are destroyed easily. In a
similar manner, a spiritual edifice not rooted and founded in charity cannot
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 into all
the fullness of God. 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; 21* to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, unto all the
generations of the age of ages, Amen.
Previously the Apostle revealed
the object of his petition or prayer in behalf of the Ephesians, a
strengthening of spirit in faith and charity (3:14). Consequently, he here
shows the fruit of this strengthening through faith and charity; it is a
certain type of knowledge. He sets forth:
First, the knowledge itself.
Secondly, the effective power
of this awareness or knowledge (3:19b).
He says: You ought to be so
rooted and founded in charity, dearly beloved, that
you may be able to comprehend, with
all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth.
This can be read in two ways.97 In the first way we are more in accord with
the Apostle's thought.
The knowledge of God is
necessary for us both in the future life and in the present. For in the
future we shall rejoice in our knowledge of God and in our perception of the
humanity [the Son] assumed. "Now this is eternal life: that they may know
thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (Jn. 17:3).
[Our Lord compared himself to a door; men will] "go in" to contemplate the
divinity, and will "go out" in the contemplation of the humanity, "and shall
find pastures" (Jn. 10:9). Faith inaugurates that future knowledge; it is
"the substance of things hoped for" (Heb. 11:1), already making the
realities we desire exist within us in an inchoate manner. For this reason
our faith consists in the divinity and humanity of Christ. "For I judged not
myself to know anything among you, but Jesus Christ; and him crucified" (1
Cor. 2:2). In accord with this he discusses:
First, the knowledge of
Secondly, the knowledge of the
mysteries of the humanity (3:19).
He reveals the knowledge of the
divinity to them with the words:
that you may be able to comprehend,
with all the saints. . .
As though he said: Be strong in faith and
charity for if you are, you will gain life eternal where you will enjoy
God's presence and perfectly know him. It is evident from John 14 (21) that
God reveals himself to one who loves: "He that loveth me shall be loved of
my Father; and I will love him and will manifest myself to him." It is also
clear that he shows himself to one who believes, as a variant reading of
Isaias 7 (9) puts it: "Unless you believe, you will not understand."98 You
must be fortified by faith and charity in order that you might be able to
It should be noted that
comprehend means "to enclose," and then it is necessary that the
comprehending totally contains within itself what is comprehended. At other
times it means "to apprehend," and then it affirms a remoteness or distance
and yet implies proximity. No created intellect can comprehend God in the
first manner. "Peradventure thou wilt comprehend the steps of God, and wilt
find out the Almighty perfectly?" (Job 11:7). The answer implied is, No. For
one could know him perfectly to the extent that [one knew all] that could be
known about him. And this type of knowledge is not referred to in that
you may comprehend, but rather the second kind. This latter is one of
the three dowries,99 and it is of it that the Apostle speaks here when he
says that you may comprehend, meaning, that you may enjoy the
presence of God and know him intimately. "Not as though I had already
attained, or were already perfect; but I follow after, if I may by any means
apprehend [comprehendam], wherein I am also apprehended by Christ Jesus"
(Phil. 3:12). Such comprehension is common to all his saints; so he adds
with all the saints. "This glory is to all his saints" (Ps. 149:9). "So
run that you may apprehend [comprehendatis]"
(1 Cor. 9:24*).
Note that the words
what is the breadth and
length and height and depth seem to owe their origin to the passage in
Job 11 (7-9). "Peradventure," he says, "thou wilt comprehend the steps of
God?" As if he stated that God is incomprehensible. Then he gives the reason
for this incomprehensibility by saying: "He is higher than the heaven, and
what wilt thou do? He is deeper than hell, and how wilt thou know? The
measure of him is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea." Yet from
this it appears that Job, in attributing the four different dimensions to
him, shows that he is comprehensible. Alluding to these words the Apostle
asserts that you may be able to comprehend what is the breadth and length
and height and depth;
as though he said: May you possess sufficient faith and charity that you
might comprehend him to the extent that he is able to be comprehended.
Dionysius explains the text in this way.100
Under no pretext should these
dimensions be conceived as physically applicable to God, "God is spirit"
(Jn. 4:24). They are in God metaphorically.
designates the dimension or extension
of his power and divine wisdom over all being. "And he poured her out,"
namely wisdom, "upon all his works" (Ecclus. 1:10). By
length his eternal duration is
signified: "But thou, O Lord, endurest forever" (Ps. 101:13), and "holiness
becometh thy house, O Lord, unto length of days" (Ps. 92:5). Height
or loftiness denotes the perfection and nobility of his nature which
infinitely exceeds all creation: "The Lord is high above all nations: and
his glory above the heavens" (Ps. 112:4). In depth
the incomprehensibility of his
wisdom is intimated: "It is a great depth," this divine wisdom, "who shall
find it out?" (Eccl. 7:25). Clearly, therefore, the fulfillment of our faith
and charity is to arrive at a perfect knowledge of the faith, by it we shall
know, to the degree we can attain to it, the infinite extent of his power,
the unbounded eternity of his duration, the loftiness of his most perfect
nature, and the incomprehensibility and depth of his wisdom.
Next, since further knowledge
is also necessary - a knowledge of the mysteries of the humanity - he goes
on to know also the
charity of Christ. For whatever occurred in the mystery of human
redemption and Christ's incarnation was the work of love. He was born out of
charity: "For his exceeding charity wherewith he loved us even when we were
dead in sins, hath quickened us together in Christ" (Eph. 2:4-5). That he
died also sprang from charity: "Greater love than this no man hath, that a
man lay down his life for his friends" (Jn. 15:13). And "Christ also hath
loved us and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to
God" (Eph. 5:2). On this account St. Gregory exclaimed: "O the incalculable
love of your charity! To redeem slaves you delivered up your Son."101 It
follows that to know Christ's love is to know all the mysteries of Christ's
Incarnation and our Redemption. These have poured out from the immense
charity of God; a charity exceeding every created intelligence and the
[combined] knowledge of all of them because it cannot be grasped in thought.
Thus he says which surpasseth all natural knowledge and every
created intellect: "The peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding,
keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7). For the charity
of Christ is [the
manifestation of] what God the Father has accomplished through Christ: "God
indeed was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor. 5:19).
The other manner in which this
passage (vv. 18-19) can be read is in reference to the perfection of our
charity. As though he stated: Be strong, rooted and founded in charity, that
you may comprehend
- and not merely know - with all the saints; since this gift of
charity is common to all, no one can be holy without charity, as the third
chapter of Ephesians indicates.102 May you, I say, comprehend what
is the breadth of charity, extending, as it does, even to one's enemies:
"Thy commandment is exceeding broad" (Ps. 118:96). For charity is broad in
its diffusion: "And the Lord brought me forth into a broad place" (Ps.
17:20*). Its length is seen in its durability, never stopping, it
begins in this life and is perfected in glory: "Charity never falleth away"
(1 Cor. 13:8), and "Many waters cannot quench charity" (Cant. 8:7). Its
height is perceived in its motivation which is heavenly; God is not
loved to obtain temporal advantages - which love would be sickly - but he is
loved for his own sake alone. "Set thyself up on high and be glorious" (Job
signifies the source of charity itself. For our love of God does not spring
from ourselves, but from the Holy Spirit, as Romans 5 (5) mentions: "The
charity of God is poured forth in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost who is given
to us." Hence, for one person to possess a love which is lasting, extensive,
sublime and deep, while another person does not, arises out of the depth of
divine predestination. And "who has measured the depth of the abyss?" (Ecclus.
you may be able to comprehend,
in the sense of perfectly attaining to, with all the saints, what is the
breadth with which your charity should extend even to enemies, and what
is the length during which it never ceases, and its height in
loving God for his own sake, and the depth
of the divine predestination [from which it
At this point it should be
realized that it was within Christ's power to choose what type of death he
wanted. And since he underwent death out of charity, he chose the death of
the cross in which the aforesaid four dimensions are present. The cross-beam
has breadth and
to it his hands were nailed because through charity our good works ought to
stretch out even to adversaries: "The Lord brought me forth into a broad
place" (Ps. 17:20*). The trunk of the cross has length against which
the whole body leans since charity ought to be enduring, thus sustaining and
saving man: "He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved" (Mt.
10:22). The projection of wood [above the cross-beam], against which the
head is thrown back, has height since our hope must rise toward the
eternal and the divine: "The head of every man is Christ" (1 Cor. 11:3). The
cross is braced by its depth
which lies concealed beneath the ground; it is
not seen because the depth of the divine love which sustains us is not
visible insofar as the plans of predestination, as was said above, are
beyond our intelligence.
In this manner we should
comprehend the power of our love, and of Christ's, realizing that his
surpasses human understanding. For no one could know how much Christ has
loved us; nor can one know the charity of the knowledge of Christ, [that
love] which is possessed with knowledge of Christ. I hold that such charity
surpasses a love which is without knowledge.
Is it not correct that a
charity with knowledge is more eminent than a charity without knowledge? It
seems that it is not, for then a wicked theologian would have a charity of
greater dignity than a holy old woman. I reply that what is discussed here
is a knowledge which exerts its influence [on one's life and conduct]. For
the force of the knowledge stimulates one to love more since the more God is
known, so much the more is he loved. For this reason Augustine used to ask:
"That I may know You and know myself."103 Or, this is stated here on account
of some who possess zeal for God "but not according to knowledge" (Rom.
10:2). A charity coupled with the above mentioned knowledge of Christ
surpasses the love of such people.
Next he speaks of the efficacy
of a knowledge of the divine.
That you may be filled unto all the
fullness of God, that
is, that you might enjoy a perfect participation in all God's gifts. In
other words, that you might possess the fullness of the virtues here, and
beatitude in the next life - charity accomplishes just that. "Come over to
me, all ye that desire me, and be filled with my fruits" (Ecclus. 24-26).
After this, the Apostle gives
thanks to God for hearing his prayer (v. 20). In reference to this he does
First, he mentions the power of
God with which he grants petitions.
Secondly, he gives an example
of that power (3:20)
Thirdly, he mentions what
prompts his thanksgiving (3:21).
He describes the infinite power
of God, saying Now to
him, meaning to Christ as God and God the Father, who is able to do
all things: "Almighty is his name" (Ex. 15:3). "Now, to him that is able
to establish you, according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ"
(Rom. 16:25). He effects this within us more abundantly than we
either would know how to ask for through desire or understand
with our intelligence.
He gives an example of this
profusion within us [of the divine power], saying
according to the power that worketh
in us. As if he had
stated: It becomes apparent once we consider what he has wrought in us men.
For the human mind and will could never imagine, understand or ask that God
become man, and that man become God and a sharer in the divine nature. But
he has done this in us by his power, and it was accomplished in the
Incarnation of his Son. "That through this you may be made partakers of the
divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4*). Concerning these matters Ecclesiasticus 18
(2-4) says: "Who is able to declare his works? For who shall search out his
glorious acts? And who shall shew forth the power of his majesty? Or, who
shall be able to declare his mercy?"
that worketh in us
Apostles, to whom he gave the
grace of proclaiming the good news of "the unsearchable riches of Christ;
and to enlighten all men, that they may see what is the dispensation of the
mystery which hath been hidden from eternity in God" (Eph. 3:8).
The subject matter of the thanksgiving is
the twofold blessing God has bestowed upon us. The first is the institution
of the Church, and the second the Incarnation of his Son. Hence he says
to him, God the
Father, be glory in the Church for all he has done in the Church he
established, and in Christ, that is, through Christ; or for Christ
whom he gave to us. To him, I repeat, be glory that his glory
might shine forth, not only now, but unto all the generations of the age
of ages, meaning in the age which embraces all things.104 "Now, to the
King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever
and ever. Amen" (1 Tim. 1:17).