Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Art of Grace: A Biblical Study of Ephesians 2:1-10 - Part 4

Application: Our Way of Life

Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, whose understanding of Sola Fide we have taken as representative of the majority of Evangelical Protestants,25 and which has taken the brunt of the criticism in this essay, however, is for the most part correct when he asserts,

[T]he doctrine of justification is central. Not only is the article the standing or falling of the Church, but also of the standing or falling of the Christian. Probably more trouble is caused in the Christian life by an inadequate or mistaken view of this doctrine than any other. When the child of God loses his sense of peace with God, finds his concern for others dried up, or generally finds his sense of the sheer goodness and grace of God diminished, it is from this fountain that he has ceased to drink. Conversely, if we can gain a solid grounding here, we have the foundation for a life of peace and joy.26
While he is himself guilty of perpetuating an erroneous understanding of Justification, foreign to the Gospel and contrary to St. Paul's teaching in Ephesians 2:1-10, Ferguson's claim that an erroneous or inadequate understanding of Justifcation will lead the Christian to lose his sense of peace, his concern for others, or his wonder at God's goodness, is indeed true.

As to the first effect, one who believes in Sola Fide may find he has a sense of peace, but it is a false peace based on a false premise. The falsehood cannot satisfy indefinitely. Scripture is too clear on the matter. Believing a false doctrine will lead to doubts and disillusionment.

As to the second effect, one who believes that his salvation is dependent upon his faith, without any need for good works born of love (cf. Gal 5:6), will indeed find his concern for his neighbour waning. Perhaps in a very good person, the grace of God will work so as to foster care and concern for others in spite of that person's erroneous understanding of Justification, but certainly not because of it. The temptation to sloth is far too strong, especially when there is no real motivation to overcome it.

As to the third effect, one must inquire as to which view of Justification presents a greater, more loving God—the one who merely imputes a foreign righteousness to the sinful person by means of a legal fiction, or the One who carefully and artistically recreates the sinful person in Christ Jesus, so that they, through grace, are infused with righteousness, in which they are enabled, by grace, to persevere until they themselves are seated with Christ in heaven?

The application of Ephesians 2:1-10 is clear: that in thanksgiving to God for His great grace in Christ Jesus, we must turn from our sinful ways with His help, and united with Christ, make the good works that God has prepared for us, a vital part of our way of life. And in light of the erroneous understanding of the doctrine of Justification, we must be willing to correct that error, proclaiming the truth in love (cf. Eph. 4:15), so that all people might have the opportunity to glory in the great riches of God's grace, and through faith in Jesus Christ, walk in that newness of life.


While Ephesians 2:8-9 have often been used, out of context, to put forth an erroneous view of Justification, it is clear that, when studied carefully in its context, the doctrine of Sola Fide is not actually taught by St. Paul. The truth of the matter is that God's grace is even more amazing than the Reformers realised. God Himself calls us to cooperate with Him in His artistic masterpiece of salvation!


25. Ascertaining a definitive understanding of Sola Fide that is applicable to all branches of Protestantism is nigh impossible, since the understanding of this “pillar” of the Reformation varies from denomination to denomination. Luther, for his part, believed a version of Sola Fide that was, in fact, very similar to the Catholic understanding, and the denomination that bears his name was able to sign a "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" with the Catholic Church in 1999. Those following the Calvinist tradition are themselves divided on issues of the depravity of man, and on whether the saved person can lose his or her salvation through sin, while those of an Arminian bent affirm that one can indeed lose one's salvation. Dr. Ferguson, as represented in Dr. Ankerberg and Dr. Weldon's article, in the opinion of this author, portrays the doctrine of Sola Fide in terms that line up with the most vocal, if not the largest, strains of Evangelical Protestantism.

26. As quoted in Ankerberg, Justification. Grammatical errors in Ankerberg's article are corrected for ease of understanding.


Ankerberg, John and John Weldon, The Doctrine of Justification.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. New York: Image, 1994.

John Chrysostom, Saint, "Homily 4 on Ephesians", Church Fathers.

Just, Felix, SJ, PhD, Eight Tips About Canonical Arrangement.

Ladeuze, P., STD, "Epistle to the Ephesians", Bible Study: New Testament Books.

New American Bible. New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1992.

Pope, Hugh, OP, STM, "St. Paul's Epistles", Bible Study: New Testament.

Slick, Matthew J. "Total Depravity", Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.

Thayer, Joseph Henry, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Public Domain, 1868.

Thomas Aquinas, Saint, Commentary on Saint Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians. Albany, N.Y.: Magi Books, 1966.
Thomas Aquinas, Saint, Summa Theologica.

Wansbrough, Henry, gen. ed. The New Jerusalem Bible. New York: Doubleday, 1999.

Watson, Gregory, "Council of Trent: Canons on Justification", Barque of Peter.

(Category: Soteriology: Justification)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Art of Grace: A Biblical Study of Ephesians 2:1-10 - Part 3

Examining Ephesians 2:1-10

As stated, among the handful of passages to which Protestants point in order to make their case for Sola Fide, Ephesians 2:8-9 takes centre stage. Let us examine, then, whether these verses, in context, support the Protestant or Catholic understanding of justification.

After celebrating in a hymn of praise the salvation wrought for us in Christ Jesus (1:3-14), and then praying for the churches to whom he is writing, that they would come to a greater understanding of their salvation, and the power that God has worked in them through Christ (1:15-23), St. Paul begins in chapter 2 to briefly explain what that amazing work of salvation entailed. He begins in verses 1-3 to describe the state of the unsaved person afflicted by Original Sin and dead in his own sins. In verses 4-7, he describes how God, through His grace, brought the unsaved soul to life in Christ. Finally, St. Paul describes our response of faith, and how it cooperates with God's grace, in verses 8-10. Let us take these each in turn.

Dead in sin: Ephesians 2:1-3

1And you were dead, through the crimes and the sins 2which used to make up your way of life when you were living by the principles of this world, obeying the ruler who dominates the air, the spirit who is at work in those who rebel. 3We too were all among them once, living only by our natural inclinations, obeying the demands of human self-indulgence and our own whim; our nature made us no less liable to God's retribution than the rest of the world.
Verse one describes the person without God's grace as dead spiritually. Indeed, this was what God warned Adam and Eve would happen if they ate the forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:16-17). Since their original sin, they lost the supernatural life of God within their souls—that grace which enabled them to live holy lives, integrating their intellects, wills, and passions, and orient them toward the ultimate good, who is God. Each successive generation was born without this vivifying grace, and thus subject to their passions, having their wills and intellects weakened, they lived sinful lives, incurring guilt and the wrath of God. Adam and Eve, having listened to the Tempter, subjected all of humanity to his domination (v. 2).11

Let us take a moment here, however, to clarify what original sin did, and what it did not do. Contrary to the teaching of some Protestants, original sin did not absolutely corrupt mankind, nor cause them to become totally depraved.12 While we are born without sanctifying grace, and thus are subject to disordered passions, and while we cannot of ourselves perform any meritorious acts in the sight of God—that is, without His grace, we cannot earn or achieve our own justification—nevertheless, we are all fundamentally good. While some would assert that even the good actions of the unregenerate person are themselves sinful without God's grace, this notion is absurd. The unsaved man's good deeds are not sinful, but good. They are simply not good enough.13 St. Paul teaches in this passage that it is those who have committed "crimes and sins" (v.1), "those who rebel" (v.2), that are under the rule of Satan. We are not guilty of actual sin unless and until we have actually committed sin. This rebellion, ἀπειθείας in the Greek, describes "an obstinate opposition to the divine will."14

This is important to remember when in verse 3, St. Paul states that "our nature made us...liable to God's retribution." This is not an affirmation of Calvin's doctrine of total depravity. It is not that our nature is inherently wicked or sinful, but that our nature, devoid of sanctifying grace, is prone to sin because of concupiscence—the disordered desires of the passions ("our natural inclinations"), which our wills and intellects, weakened by "obeying the demands of human self-indulgence and our own whim," cannot control, but rather are enslaved by them. We thus, being dead spiritually, cannot save ourselves.

Brought to life in Christ: Ephesians 2:4-7
4But God, being rich in faithful love, through the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our sins, brought us to life with Christ—it is through grace that you have been saved—6and raised us up with him and gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus.
7This was to show for all ages to come, through his goodness towards us in Christ Jesus, how extraordinarily rich he is in grace.
God has loved us exceedingly (v. 4), and this fact goes to show what was said above—that we cannot, therefore, be totally corrupt. For only something that is good is lovable. If we were absolutely evil by nature, and incapable of good, then even God could not love us. In fact, especially God, who is all good and all holy, could not love what was utterly depraved. Thus we see, by His love for us, that despite our sinful rebellion and opposition to His divine will, we nevertheless were good, in whatever small degree that goodness may have existed. God's love is seen to be "rich" to the degree that we were unlovable, however. The rebellion and the sinfulness of our souls so marred the goodness of the image of Himself with which He created us that it would be very difficult to see and to love. We know this particularly in how hard it is to love our neighbour. And yet God, "rich in faithful love", loved us still, and resurrected our souls with Christ (v.5). St. Paul then parenthetically states, "It is through grace that you have been saved." He thus sums up this resurrection power in the word, "grace". Since it is the cause of our salvation, we should consider its meaning.

Despite a lengthy and comprehensive examination of grace by Thayer in his lexicon,15 one most often hears the definition of grace (Gk: χάριτί in v.5) as simply God's undeserved favour, given as a free gift. This definition, as true as it is, is incomplete, as it stems from a purely forensic understanding of salvation: that is, that when we are justified, we are not actually made righteous, but rather, God imputes the righteousness of Christ to us.16 Thayer, however, notes in his definition, that biblically, Grace includes the "merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.17 Indeed, we see from the passage under consideration that this χάρις of God includes more than His tender feelings toward us. Verses 5 and 6 state that this grace "saves" us. How? Though we were dead in our sins, our souls are "brought to life" with Christ, we are "raised up" with Him, and we are "given a place with Him in heaven". All these things, verse 7 tell us, were to show forth just how extraordinary God's grace really is.

Our resurrected souls are brought to life again with Christ, through His passion, death, and resurrection, but St. Paul is describing much more than the merits of Christ's saving act merely being reckoned to us—rather, they have an actual effect on our souls in grace—that is, new life! St. Thomas Aquinas, reflecting on the action of grace in the soul, describes five effects:
Now there are five effects of grace in us: of these, the first is, to heal the soul; the second, to desire good; the third, to carry into effect the good proposed; the fourth, to persevere in good; the fifth, to reach glory.18
For St. Thomas, all of these effects of grace make up our salvation, from God's prevenient action of calling to us and in so doing, healing our soul, in which consists our initial justification, through enabling us to seek the good and thus follow after it, until we come to our final justification and heavenly glory. It is this process that St. Paul sums up in Ephesians 2:5-6, when he describes the result of God's grace as bringing to life the soul, raising us up, and giving us a place in heaven, all with Christ. While St. Paul describes all these in the past tense, clearly they have not all happened yet. He places them in the past tense in hope, for we are saved by hope (Romans 8:24), but the grace of God unfolds in the life of the Christian in a process, which St. Paul describes in verses 8 through 10, as he details our response to God's prevenient grace.

God's work of art: Ephesians 2:8-10
8Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; 9not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. 10We are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life.
Returning to Dr. Ferguson's teaching of Justification by faith alone above, he accuses those who teach that considerations of character as having any bearing on whether one grows in grace or continues in justification, are "smuggled in". He states, "Paul's teaching is that nothing we do ever contributes to our justification."19 This statement goes beyond St. Paul's actual teaching, that there is nothing anyone can do to earn God's initial movement of grace, that initial gift of His justification. However, that is a very different thing than suggesting that nothing that we do ever contributes to our justification—that is, our remaining in a state of Grace and persevering therein until our final glorification. To suggest that either St. Paul or Jesus Himself suggested that our justification before God is never dependent upon our response is to read our own presuppositions back into the text. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Ephesians 2:8-10. And yet this passage is cited frequently as a prooftext for Sola Fide.

As noted, God saves us by His grace, through faith. St. Paul comments, "not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God" (v. 8). Some question revolves around to what this last clause of verse 8 refers: Is God's grace not due to anything of our own? This seems to be utterly redundant, since the word, "grace", as noted above, among other things means specifically "a free gift". So then, is it our faith response to God's grace, or our salvation in general, that is "not by anything of [our] own"? It seems that our salvation and our faith, are the gift of God, that is, His grace. That faith is itself a gift of God, St. Thomas explains, commenting on this very verse:
Since he had said we are saved by faith, any one can hold the opinion that faith itself originates within ourselves and that to believe is determined by our own wishes. Therefore to abolish this he states "and that not of yourselves". Free will is inadequate for the act of faith since the contents of faith are above human reason. "Matters too great for human understanding have been shown to you" (Sir 3:25). "No one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God" (1 Cor 2:11). That a man should believe, therefore, cannot occur from himself unless God gives it, according to that text of Wisdom 9 (17): "Who could ever have known your will, had you not given Wisdom and sent your Holy Spirit from above." For this reason he adds for it is the gift of God, namely, faith itself. "For you have been granted, for the sake of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him" (Phil 1:29). "To another, faith is given in the same Spirit" (1 Cor 12:9).20
Thus, even our faith response to God's grace is itself an effect of God's grace. It is not from ourselves, nor is it given as a recompense or a recognition of any good thing we had done before God's gift of grace (v.9). There is absolutely no way that a person can earn God's grace or save himself apart from God's grace. Yet this very grace of God that brings about our salvation, as said, heals and resurrects our souls. The person saved by grace is no longer dead to sin. God's very life is at work in him or her in order to truly and freely respond to God's gracious gift. And so St. Paul tells us that we are to walk in the good works that God has prepared for us (v. 10). This thought is echoed in his letter to the Philippians (2:12-13),
So, my dear friends, you have always been obedient; your obedience must not be limited to times when I am present. Now that I am absent it must be more in evidence, so work out your salvation in fear and trembling. It is God who, for his own generous purpose, gives you the intention and the powers to act.
Not only, then, is our faith a gift of God's grace, but so too are our good works! Accusations that Catholicism teaches a works-righteousness are unfounded in this light, for we recognise that those very works themselves are the gracious gift of God!

Verse 10 encapsulates the beauty of this doctrine of salvation by God's grace, both in its description of God's work and our response. The phrase employed by the New Jerusalem Bible brings out this beautiful work of God by translating St. Paul's use of the word ποίημα (from whence comes our English word, "poem") as "work of art". God, the master craftsman, the divine artist, has, through the exceeding riches of His grace, recreated us as His masterpieces!

This notion flies in the face of those who hold to a merely imputational, forensic view of justification. God is not the Divine Lawyer reconciling us to Himself through a loophole or a legal fiction, by which He, with a wink, declares an unrighteous person to be righteous by giving them the righteousness of Christ like the fairy-godmother gave Cinderella a fancy dress for the ball! Justification is not about dressing the peasant up in the Noble's clothes, but about recreating the peasant into a noble!

With our souls healed, we now are free to desire the good and to work toward it. This is what God has created us in Christ Jesus for: "the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life." Having received His grace, God invites us now to cooperate with it as His co-labourers (1 Corinthians 3:9). As St. Thomas again says, "God does not justify us without ourselves, because whilst we are being justified we consent to God's justification by a movement of our free-will. Nevertheless this movement is not the cause of grace, but the effect; hence the whole operation pertains to grace."21 In His loving care, God has preordained these good works for us to do, leaving nothing to chance. All that is left is our free choice to cooperate with His plan.

Therefore St. Paul writes that these good works are to "make up our way of life." The Greek phrase rendered thus by the New Jerusalem Bible is ἵνα ἐν αὐτοῖς περιπατήσωμεν, and literally means "that we should walk in them." It is in the aorist, active, subjunctive tense, and thus lays out a conditional instruction—that is, our walking in the good works that God has preordained for us is not an automatic eventuality. We must choose to cooperate, but we are free to choose not to.22 If we walk in God's grace, that is, persevere in it, we will come to our final glory. Yet, as the latter half of St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians makes clear, persisting in that obstinate rebellion (2:2) will once more alienate us from God, and destroy the life of grace in our souls.23 As St. John Chrysostom said, commenting on verse 10:
We need a virtue which shall last throughout, and be extended on to our dying day. If we had to travel a road leading to a royal city, and then when we had passed over the greater part of it, were to flag and sit down near the [sic] very close, it were of no use to us. This is the hope of our calling; for "for good works" he says. Otherwise it would profit us nothing.24


11. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., para. 405.

12. Cf. the definition at the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry website (, accessed December 5, 2012):
Total Depravity is the doctrine that fallen man is completely touched by sin and that he is completely a sinner. He is not as bad as he could be, but in all areas of his being, body, soul, spirit, mind, emotions, etc., he is touched by sin. In that sense he is totally depraved. Because man is depraved, nothing good can come out of him (Rom. 3:10-12) and God must account the righteousness of Christ to him. This righteousness is obtainable only through faith in Christ and what He did on the cross.

Total depravity is generally believed by the Calvinist groups and rejected by the Arminian groups.
13. Cf. Council of Trent, "Canons on Justification", esp. Canon VII (available with comments at

14. Thayer, Joseph Henry, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. (Public Domain, 1868). (Available online at

15. Thayer, Lexicon. (

16. Ankerberg, Justification.

17. Thayer, Lexicon.

18. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica. P. 2, Q. 111 Art. 3. (online at

19. See Part 2.

20. St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Saint Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians. (Albany, N.Y.: Magi Books, 1966). Ch 2, Lecture 3. (Available online at

21. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica. P. 2, Q. 111 Art. 2, R. 2.

22. As indicated at

23. Cf. the moral instructions beginning at Eph. 4:17 and continuing to the end of the Epistle—esp. 4:18.

24. St. John Chrysostom, "Homily 4 on Ephesians", Church Fathers. (Available online at

(Category: Soteriology: Justification)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Art of Grace: A Biblical Study of Ephesians 2:1-10 - Part 2

The General Outline of Ephesians

As with most of St. Paul's other epistles, Ephesians consists of two major parts. In this particular case, these parts divide the letter neatly in half. Chapters 1-3 deal with the content of the faith—the Gospel message of Christ's redeeming the world and through God's grace resurrecting our souls and enabling us to have a covenant, family relationship with God and with all people in Christ. Chapters 4-6 provide teaching on the Christian response to that adoption into God's covenant family: the structure of that covenant, and its obligations to a moral life. In fact, it can be summed up in the terms used to refer to the spheres of authority of the Church: Faith (ch 1-3) and Morals (ch 4-6).

St. Paul begins with a prayer or hymn to God's goodness and his grace given to us in Christ Jesus. He then elaborates on the sinful state of humanity devoid of this grace, which is God's very life within the soul, vivifying it. This treatment carries us into the first few verses of chapter 2, which itself is divided into two even parts. Verses 1 through 10 summarise how God's grace resurrects the one who is dead in sin, and how that one is saved and raised up with Jesus, through the life-giving power of grace, through the response of faith, making that one a child of God. The second half of chapter 2 shows how that grace makes a person a sharer in God's covenant, and unites him or her with all those who are in Christ, whether they are Jew or Gentile, for all are one in Christ Jesus. Chapter 3 sees St. Paul elaborating on the mystery of the New Covenant with an assertion and an appeal to his own apostolic status and ministry. This chapter ends with a prayer to God that the Christian community to whom St. Paul is writing would continue to grow in their faith and love of God.

Chapter 4 begins with an appeal to live a life worthy of the great grace given to us in Christ Jesus, and continues with an appeal to the unity of the Church, under the authority of the Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers, showing that it is their authority and teaching that will protect the Christian from being led astray by false teachings, and enable them to grow and mature in their faith. He continues by contrasting the sinfulness of the fallen world with the expectation of righteousness and virtue for the Christian made alive by the Holy Spirit. Chapter 5 continues this theme in practical terms, giving warning against specific sins. St. Paul then exhorts mutual submission to each other and to the Church, and discusses the right attitude of the Christian to civil authority, and to spouses—providing the theological understanding of the Sacrament of Matrimony. Chapter 6 continues these practical instructions in righteousness, obliging children to be honouring of and obedient to their parents, and parents to be respectful to their children. Lastly, in the sphere of relationships, St. Paul treats of masters and slaves. He then moves on to an exhortation to perseverance, using the Roman soldier's armour as an analogy for the Christian life and the tools needed to live it faithfully. He then concludes with closing greetings and a doxology.

We see, from this overview, the balance in the Christian life—that is, through God's grace, we participate in the life of the Covenant, centred in the Church, lived in justice and in ordered, loving relationships. When one loses sight of the ecclesiastical nature of the Christian covenant, and of the obligation to persevere in a faith lived out in obedient virtue, one loses the entire thrust of the message of the epistle—indeed, of the very Gospel.

The Controversy: Ephesians 2:8-9 and the Doctrine of Sola Fide

However, at the time of the Reformation, it was precisely this message of Ephesians that was lost, both the ecclesiastical nature of the New Covenant, and the understanding of how faith cooperated with God's grace through good works. The Reformation hung on the undermining of these two notions by establishing two counter-pillars: Sola Scriptura militating against the first, and Sola Fide against the second. Claiming to base itself upon Scripture, à la Sola Scriptura, Luther, Calvin, and the other reformers used biblical texts such as Ephesians 2:8-9, wrenched from their contexts, to proclaim a Gospel wherein our salvation was dependent upon only our faith response to God's grace—and that this faith prompted God to declare us righteous by imputing to us Christ's righteousness. This imputation did not make us actually righteous, but only acted as a legal decree. Theologian Sinclair Ferguson describes it this way:

The glory of the gospel is that God has declared Christians to be rightly related to him in spite of their sin. But our greatest temptation and mistake is to try to smuggle character into his work of grace. How easily we fall into the trap of assuming that we only remain justified so long as there are grounds in our character for that justification. But Paul's teaching is that nothing we do ever contributes to our justification. So powerful was his emphasis on this that men accused him of teaching that it did not matter how they lived if God justified them. If God justifies us as we are, what is the point of holiness? There is still a sense in which this is a test of whether we offer the world the grace of God in the Gospel. Does it make me say: "You are offering grace that is so free it doesn't make any difference how you live"? This was precisely the objection the Pharisees had to Jesus' teaching!9
Dr. Ferguson asks some rhetorical questions to which he provides no answers. He dismisses them merely by saying that the Pharisees asked the same questions and made the same accusations to Jesus. However, the Catholic finds these questions rather to the point, and demands an answer. Moreover, the Catholic finds very little evidence in the Gospel that the Pharisees made this particular accusation to Jesus, and very little in the Gospel to suggest that Jesus taught that character and obedience to Him had so very little to do with justification. The Catholic Church, in contrast to this teaching, maintains that Justification is God's work of detaching one from sin, which follows upon His merciful offer of forgiveness. It involves the forgiveness of sin, and sanctification—that is, actually making us righteous through the merits of Christ. Unlike the Reformed understanding, Justification for the Catholic is more than simply a legal declaration, and further, it actually establishes in the person the ability to cooperate with God's grace, and so actually do good works and increase in grace and holiness.10 The corollary, of course, is that if one does not cooperate with God's grace, one can indeed lose this justification.


9. Quoted in Ankerberg, John and John Weldon, The Doctrine of Justification. (, accessed Dec. 6, 2012).

10. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., paras. 1989-1995.

(Category: Soteriology: Justification)

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Art of Grace: A Biblical Study of Ephesians 2:1-10 - Part 1

And you were dead, through the crimes and the sins which used to make up your way of life when you were living by the principles of this world, obeying the ruler who dominates the air, the spirit who is at work in those who rebel. We too were all among them once, living only by our natural inclinations, obeying the demands of human self-indulgence and our own whim; our nature made us no less liable to God's retribution than the rest of the world. But God, being rich in faithful love, through the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our sins, brought us to life with Christ—it is through grace that you have been saved—and raised us up with him and gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus. This was to show for all ages to come, through his goodness towards us in Christ Jesus, how extraordinarily rich he is in grace. Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. We are God's work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life. (Ephesians 2:1-10)1


-St. Paul's 'Catholic' Epistle: The Authorship and Background

-The General Outline of Ephesians

-The Controversy: Ephesians 2:8-9 and the Doctrine of Sola Fide

-Examining Ephesians 2:1-10

-Dead in sin: Ephesians 2:1-3

-Brought to life in Christ: Ephesians 2:4-7

-God's work of art: Ephesians 2:8-10
-Application: Our Way of Life



Preachers and theologians, even from ancient times, have loved the writings of St. Paul. Seeking to emulate both his faith and devotion to Christ, and his often direct and forceful proclamation of the Gospel, pulpits throughout the centuries have quoted and commented on his words, exhorting congregations to greater faith and to perseverance in the same. Yet St. Paul is not always particularly clear in his meaning. Using the Greek language in an often unique way, his writings have caused many difficulties in interpretation and translation.2 In fact, St. Peter himself remarks on this difficulty in his second encyclical:
Think of our Lord's patience as your opportunity to be saved; our brother Paul, who is so dear to us, told you this when he wrote to you with the wisdom that he was given. He makes this point too in his letters as a whole wherever he touches on these things. In all his letters there are of course some passages which are hard to understand, and these are the ones that uneducated and unbalanced people distort, in the same way as they distort the rest of scripture—to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:15-16).
While, on the one hand, St. Paul's letters seem already to be recognised as having Scriptural authority, St. Peter gives the Church the same caution regarding them as he does the rest of Scripture: be careful to read them rightly, and understand them in accordance with the fullness of the faith of the Church.

St. Paul's letter "to the Ephesians" is but one example of his writings which has led to controversial theological interpretation. Through the singling out of passages, devoid of their proper context, and interpreted in such a way as to justify a particular theological conclusion, St. Paul's words have been used to both cause and perpetuate one of the major schisms in the Church that Christ founded. The tragic irony of it is that this particular interpretational twist occurs in a letter that is perhaps St. Paul's clearest appeal to the authority and the unity of the Universal Church (cf. Eph 4:1-16).3

St. Paul's 'Catholic' Epistle: The Authorship and Background

When the New Testament was compiled, it was done so primarily in terms of genre. The Gospels were grouped together, followed by the history of the Early Church contained in the Acts of the Apostles. Next comes the corpus of St. Paul's letters—first, those written to specific churches, then those termed "pastoral" as they were written to leaders of particular churches. Hebrews follows this collection, as it was often attributed to St. Paul, but with uncertainty. Following Hebrews come the "Catholic Epistles", so called because they are not addressed to any particular congregation, and thus are for the whole (i.e., Catholic) Church. These were written by (or at least, in some cases, attributed to) the Apostles whose names they bear. Last, as it pertains to the end, comes Revelation.4

The letter to the Ephesians makes for an interesting exception to this organisational structure. While traditionally, the first verse of the Epistle addresses it to the Ephesians, Origen and St. Basil, among others, attest that the earliest manuscripts do not have this designation5 (a fact preserved in the New Jerusalem Bible)6. This absence, as well as the absence of any hint of intimacy with the congregation at Ephesus, a church St. Paul himself founded and spent three years with, have led scholars to question whether Ephesus was actually the intended recipient, or, on the other hand, whether St. Paul was its actual author. Theories range from suggesting that a companion, disciple, or successor of St. Paul actually wrote the letter in his name, to suggesting that perhaps the epistle is actually a compilation of St. Paul's teaching, and not a self-contained epistle. Others suggest that it was perhaps the epistle to the Laodiceans mentioned in his letter to the Colossians (4:16).7 A final possibility, and the one that this author finds most compelling, is that put forward by P. Ladeuze, STD:
How, then, admitting that St. Paul wrote the Epistle to the Ephesians, shall we explain the origin of this document? The Apostle, who was a captive at Rome, was informed by Epaphras of the dogmatic and moral errors that had come to light in Colossae and the neighboring cities, in churches of which he was not the founder. He also learned that he had been censured for not bringing to the perfection of Christianity those whom he had once converted, and for not taking sufficient interest in churches that had sprung up side by side with his own, although without his personal intervention (Col 1:28-2:5). At the same time that Paul received the news concerning Colossae and its surroundings, he also heard (Eph 1:15) that in a distant part of Asia Minor Christian communities had been brought to the Faith, perhaps by evangelists (Eph 4:11). Impressed by the accusations made against him, Paul took advantage of the departure of Tychicus for Colossae, to enter into communication with those Christians who had heard of him (Eph 3:2) and to address them a letter in which he had to limit himself to general considerations on Christianity, but he wished to prove his Apostolic solicitude for them by making them realize not only the dignity of their Christian vocation, but the oneness of the Church of God and the intimate union by which all the faithful, no matter what their history, are constituted a single body of which Christ is the head.8
As such, unlike with the Epistles, say, to the Corinthians or the Galatians, St. Paul is not addressing a particular crisis or conflict in this epistle—much less a conflict going on at Ephesus. Rather, much like his Epistle to the Romans, he was writing an introductory letter, laying out the Gospel message, in part to show his own place in the Apostolic hierarchy and tradition, as well as to test, and if need be, adjust the orthodoxy of the community which he was addressing for the first time. This accounts, as we shall see, for the impersonal tone and the orderly presentation of the Gospel, neither reacting to Judaisers nor to those of an antinomian persuasion. Writing later on in life, imprisoned in Rome, we understand as well the mature and catholic (i.e. universal) ecclesiology espoused by St. Paul in this letter, which, in the absence of any other title, we shall nevertheless refer to as "Ephesians".


1. All Scripture quotations are taken from The New Jerusalem Bible, Henry Wansbrough, gen. ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1999).

2. Pope, Hugh, OP, STM, "St. Paul's Epistles", Bible Study: New Testament. (, last updated December 3, 2012), part B.

3. Ladeuze, P., STD, "Epistle to the Ephesians, Bible Study: New Testament Books. (, last updated December 3, 2012), II, 2.

4. Just, Felix, SJ, PhD, Eight Tips About Canonical Arrangement. (, last updated July 27, 2009).

5. Footnote on Ephesians 1:1 in the New American Bible. (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1992).

6. "Paul, by the will of God an apostle of Christ Jesus, to God's holy people,a faithful in Christ Jesus." The note, 'a', reads, "Some authorities add 'who are at Ephesus' or 'who are...', leaving a gap for a place-name to be filled in."

7. "Introduction" to Ephesians in the New American Bible.

8. Ladeuze, "Epistle to the Ephesians", V. Earlier, in section IV, Ladeuze argues,
Now, in the course of his three journeys, Paul had traversed all parts of Asia Minor except the northern provinces along the Black Sea, territory which he did not reach prior to his captivity. Nevertheless, the First Epistle of St. Peter shows us that the Faith had already penetrated these regions; hence, with the historical data at our disposal, it is in this vicinity that it seems most reasonable to seek those to whom the Epistle was addressed. These Christians must have been named in the authentic text of the inscription of this Epistle, as they are in all of St. Paul's letters. Now, whenever the substantive participle appears in one of these inscriptions, it serves the sole purpose of introducing the mention of locality. We are therefore authorized to believe that, in the address of the Epistle to the Ephesians (Eph 1:1: τοῑς ἁγίοις οῡσιν καὶ πιστοῑς ἐν Χριστῷ ̓Ιησοῡ (tois hagiois ousin kai pistois en Christo Iesou)), this participle, so difficult to understand in the received text, originally preceded the designation of the place inhabited by the readers. One might assume that the line containing this designation was omitted owing to some distraction on the part of the first copyist; however, it would then be necessary to admit that the mention of locality, now in question, occurred in the midst of qualifying adjectives applied by the Apostle to his readers ἁγίοις τοῑς ... πιστοῑς (hagiois tois ousin ... pistois), and this is something that is never verified in the letters of St. Paul. Hence we may suppose that, in this address, the indication of place was corrupted rather than omitted, and this paves the way for conjectural restorations. We ourselves have proposed the following: τοῑς ἁγίοις τοῑς κατ̓ ῏Ιριν τοῑς ἐν Χριστῷ ̓Ιησοῡ (tois hagiois tois ousin kat' Irin tois en Christo Iesou). (Ladeuze in Revue biblique, 1902, pp. 573 sq.) Grammatically, this phrase corresponds perfectly with the Apostle's style (cf. Gal 1:22; 1 Cor 1:2; Phil 1:1) and palaeographically, if transcribed in ancient capitals, it readily accounts for the corruption that has certainly been produced in the text. The Epistle to the Ephesians was, therefore, written to distant churches, located perhaps in various provinces [Pontus, Galatia, Polemonium (the kingdom of Polemon)] and, for this reason, requiring to be designated by a general term, but all situated along the River Iris.

(Category: Soteriology: Justification)

It's Been a While!

Wow, sorry for the neglect of Barque! After I finished the Eucharist series, I decided I needed to catch up over at Doubting Thomist. Then I started back at my old Bible College, in order to finish off my Bachelor of Religious Education. I'm hoping, once that's finished (in April), I can go on to get a teaching degree, and become a Catholic high school religion teacher. Anyway, between part-time courses and a full-time job, I've had little time to dive into any new topics here.

I've now finished this semester, and plan to publish on this blog two papers that I wrote for my hermeneutics class over the Advent/Christmas break. They'll be published in parts, because otherwise their length would be overwhelming!

The first is an exegetical look at Ephesians 2:1-10 and a refutation of the Protestant notion of Sola Fide, and the second is a treatise on the fundamental principles of biblical interpretation from a Catholic perspective. Before I publish it here, I plan to expand certain parts of it in order to bolster its apologetic aspects, especially as pertains to the Protestant notion of Sola Scriptura.

Next semester, I've got a course in Science and Christianity, and a course called "Worldview Studies", which will, I hear, be pretty philosophical. So I'm excited! And if the opportunity presents itself (as I'm sure it will), I will write Catholic-centric papers for those courses, and insofar as they have an apologetical bent, I will publish them here, as well!

Wishing you all a Blessed Advent, as we await the coming of Our Lord,
God bless,

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Eucharistic Miracles

July starts tomorrow, the month dedicated by the Church to devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus. As such, I thought I'd finally follow up on my Eucharist posts with an article about Eucharistic Miracles.

Back when I wrote my series about the Eucharist, I had planned to follow it up with a few articles about those phenomena in the history of the Church when Jesus had gone even beyond the great miracle of Transubstantiation, in order to provide tangible proof of His Real Presence in the Eucharist. I own a book (which I lent to someone and have yet to get back), which catalogues and summarises over 100 Church-approved Eucharistic Miracles, and was hoping to use it as a springboard for the series. However, I've discovered that the contents of the entire book are available online, as well as other goodies, at The Real Presence Association's website. I very much encourage you to check out this website, and the various miracles recorded there.

In particular, please read Monsignor Raffaello Martinelli's essay explaining what a Eucharistic Miracle is (and, importantly, what it's not!). As well, if all 100+ miracles are a bit daunting to you, dear reader, I would especially encourage you to check out the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano (and part 2), one of the earliest, most dramatic, most scientifically-researched Eucharistic miracles of all--and one that still exists after nearly 1300 years!

People often accuse Christians of accepting their beliefs based on blind faith. Eucharistic Miracles show that, to the contrary, God provides evidence for us from time to time! An atheist friend with whom I used to work once asked, "If God wants us all to believe in Him, why doesn't He give us some proof?" When I showed him the book of Eucharistic Miracles, and in particular, the Miracle of Lanciano, he replied, "I dunno. Seems kinda like a dog-and-pony show." It's not Christians who believe on blind faith; it's sceptics who disbelieve on blind faith!

To whet your appetite to check out the above website, I've included a two-part presentation on YouTube:

The first Eucharistic Miracle presented in the video is that of Lanciano, linked above. The second one is that of Bolsena (and part 2). The third is the one which I linked to back at the beginning of the Eucharist series, and can be found here.

God bless,

(Category: Catholic Distinctives: Sacraments--The Eucharist)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Litany of Humility

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved...
From the desire of being extolled...
From the desire of being honored...
From the desire of being praised...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted...
From the desire of being approved...
From the fear of being humiliated...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes...
From the fear of being calumniated...
From the fear of being forgotten...
From the fear of being ridiculed...
From the fear of being wronged...
From the fear of being suspected...

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I...
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease...
That others may be chosen and I set aside...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should...

(Category: Catholic Devotions: Common Catholic Prayers.)

Prayer to St. Dominic

Great Saint Dominic,
you laboured for the
salvation of others by
preaching the Word of God
in dangerous times
even among the heretics.
Inspire me to be like you.
Let me be strong in my faith.
Help me to provide for the needs
of the children of this world.
Lead me to spend my days
as a reflection of Christ's love
throughout my life.
Give me the right words
to always speak the truth
with a zeal for saving souls.

(Category: Catholic Devotions: Common Catholic Prayers.)