Ambrose Epistle to the Ephesians

Updates: March 3, 2018

Introduction to the letters of Saint Ambrose

At Irenaeus’ request S. Ambrose points out the scope of the Epistle to the Ephesians. Therein is proposed to us a heavenly inheritance, a seat in heavenly places together with Christ, Who has obtained freedom for us. It sets forth to us charity, whereby we are united to Christ, as the end of faith. He adds that no other Epistle contains the mention of so many blessings, and he briefly recounts these one by one.

1. You have asked me to set forth to you the scope and substance of the Epistle to the Ephesians, an Epistle which seems somewhat obscure, unless by analyzing it we can gather what those motives are by which the Apostle would persuade us not to despair of the kingdom of God.

2. In the first place then he points out that the hope of reward and the inheritance of those heavenly promises which have been brought within our reach by the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, are wont to be a great encouragement to the good in the pursuit of virtue.

3. To this he has added that not only has a mode of return to Paradise been opened to us by Christ, but that even the honour of sitting in heavenly places has been imparted to this flesh of our body by its fellowship with the Body of Christ; so that you need no longer doubt the possibility of your own ascension, now that you know that your fellowship with the flesh of Christ subsists even in the kingdom of heaven, knowing also that by His Blood reconciliation has been made for all things, both on earth and in heaven, for He descended that He might fill all things: and, further, that by His Apostles, prophets, and priests, the whole world has been established, and the Gentiles gathered in; and that the end of our hope is the love of Him, that we may grow up into Him in all things; for He is the Head of all things, and unto Him according to the measure of His working we are all raised and built up by charity into one body.

4. We ought not therefore to despair of the members adhering to their Head; especially since from the beginning we have been predestinated by Jesus Christ to adoption as children of God in Himself: which predestination He has ratified, instructing us that the prediction made from the first, that a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh, is a sacrament of Christ and the Church. If therefore the union of Adam and Eve is a great sacrament which relates to Christ and the Church, it is certain that as Eve was bone of the bones of her husband, and flesh of his flesh, so we are members of the Body of Christ, bone of His Bones and flesh of His Flesh.

5. No other Epistle has pronounced so many blessings over the people of God as this. For herein the pregnant witness of Divine grace has declared that we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenlg places, and predestinated unto the adoption of children, richly endowed also with grace in the Son of God, which things have abounded unto the knowledge of the mystery of His eternal will. Especially now, in the fulness of time, when all things are reconciled in Christ, both in heaven and on earth, have we attained an inheritance in Him, to the intent that both what is of the Law and what is of Grace might be fulfilled in us. For even according to the Law we seemed to be elected in that season of youth, by which is signified a holy life, without either the wantonness of childhood or the infirmity of age. We have been taught also how we must vigorously ivage war not only against flesh and blood, but also against spiritual wickedness in high places.

6. Wherefore as the possession of lands taken from the enemy fell to their lot, so to us has fallen the lot of grace, that we may become the heritage of God, Who possesses our reins, the seat of chastity and temperance. Do you seek to know this lot? Remember that lot which fell upon Matthias, that he might be chosen into the number of the twelve Apostles. The Prophet David also says, If ye sleep in the midst of the lots, because he who is placed in the middle, between the lot of the Old and New Testament, resting upon both, arrives at the peace of the heavenly kingdom. This lot of their paternal inheritance the daughters of Zelophehad sought for, and their petition was admitted by God’s judgment. But they sought for it in the shade, for Zelophehad means ‘the shade of the mouth;’ they sought it then in dark sayings, they spoke not what was revealed. Hence the supplication for their inheritance by the daughters of Zelophehad was couched in dark sayings, but in our case it stands in the light of the Gospel and in the revelation of grace.

7. Let us therefore be the possession of God, and let Him be our portion, for in Him are the riches of His glory and inheritance. For who is rich but God alone, Who created all things? Especially however is He rich in mercy, in that He redeemed all mankind, and, as being the author of nature, changed us, who according to our fleshly nature were the children of wrath, and exposed to trouble, that we might become the children of peace and charity. For who can change nature but He Who created nature? Wherefore He raised the dead, and those that were quickened in Christ He hath made to sit in heavenly places in the Lord Jesus.

8. Not that any man has been thought worthy of the privilege of sitting in that seat of God, for to the Son alone hath the Father said, Sit thou on my right hand; but because in that Flesh of Christ the flesh of the whole human race has been honoured, because it partakes of the same nature. For as He was subjected in our flesh by His unity therewith, and by the obedience of the body, wherein He was made obedient even unto death, so we, in His Flesh, are sat down together with Him in heavenly places. We therefore are not set down by ourselves but in the Person of Christ, Who alone, as the Son of man, sitteth at the right Hand of God; as He said Himself, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of God. To this end has His Grace and Goodness been formed upon us in Christ Jesus, that being dead according to works, redeemed through faith and saved by grace, we might receive the gift of this great deliverance. Our very nature, raised, as it were, in Him, has been made partaker of the Grace of a new creation, that being new created in Christ, we, who had before fallen away through the corruption of our guilty lineage, might walk in good works.

9. For the strife which before existed in the flesh being removed, an universal peace has been made in heaven; that men might be like Angels upon earth, that the Gentiles and Jews might be made one, that both the new and old man might be united, the middle wall of partition, which, as a hostile barrier, had once divided them, being broken down. For the nature of our flesh having stirred up anger discord and dissension, and the law having bound us with the chains of condemnation, Christ Jesus subdued by mortification the wantonness and intemperance of the flesh, and made void the law of commandment contained in ordinances, declaring thereby that the decrees of the spiritual Law are not to be interpreted according to the letter; putting an end to the slothful rest of the Sabbath and to the superfluous rite of outward circumcision, and opening to all access by one Spirit unto the Father. For how can there be any discord, where there is one calling, one body and one spirit?

10. For what else did the Lord Jesus effect by His descent but our deliverance from captivity into liberty, and the subjection to Himself of that captivity which the bonds of unbelief had fettered, but which is now restrained by the fetters of wisdom, every wise man putting his feet into its bonds? For it is written that when He had descended He ascended also, that He might fill all things, and that we might all receive of His fulness.

11. Wherefore He gave first Apostles in the Church, filling them with the Holy Spirit, others prophets, others evangelists, others pastors and teachers, that by their exhortations the progress of believers might be accomplished, and the work of the ministry of faith might receive increase. Every one by the growth of virtue is built up unto the measure of the inward life, which measure, being that more perfect one of a holy life, that is, of a perfect man, taking of the fulness of Christ, has received the fulness of grace.

12. But who is a perfect man, but he who, being delivered from the weakness of a childish mind, from the unstable and slippery ways of youth, and from the unbridled passions of adult age, has attained to the strength of full manhood, and has grown up unto such maturity of character as not to be easily turned aside by the address of a wily disputer, nor cast, as it were, upon the rocks by the turbid violence of foolish doctrine? Who but he that betakes himself to the remedies of error, who follows truth not only in his words but also in his works, and, takes upon him the edifying of himself in love, that he may be united with others in the unity of faith and knowledge, and, as a member, not fall off from his Head, that is, from Christ, Who is the Head of all, from whom the whole body of the faithful and prudent fitted and compacted and joined together by the rational harmony of the Word by that which every joint supplieth, according to the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying itself in love; that so it may rise as one temple of God in all, and one habitation of the heavenly mansion in the spirit of all.

13. Herein I conceive we are to understand that not only holy men but all believers, and all the heavenly and reasonable hosts and powers are united in faith and spirit; that by a certain concord of powers and offices one body, composed of all spirits of a reasonable nature, may adhere to Christ their Head, being so united to the framework of the building, that in no single point of juncture the several members may seem to be severed from each other. And to unite each one to Himself according to the due measure of his merits and faith will not be difficult: for the edifice of love closes and blocks up every crevice through which offences may enter. We ought not then to doubt that in the building up of this temple the company of the heavenly hosts will be united with us; for it is unreasonable to suppose that while the Temple of God can be so built up by human love as that we shall become an habitation of God in the Spirit, He should not dwell within the heavenly Host.

14. On this account, that the building may be raised within us more rapidly, the Apostle exhorts us to open the eyes of our understanding, to lift them to things above, diligently to follow after the knowledge of God, to unravel the truth, to hide in our hearts the commandments of God, to put off deceitful lusts and hidden deeds of shame, to seek to be renewed by the graces of the Sacraments, to moderate anger, to calm all disturbance of spirit before the sun goes down, to beware lest the adversary gain the upper hand of us, that mighty spirit who entered into the heart of Judas, and broke through the gates of his soul, overpowering his resistance, to shut out theft, to eschew falsehood, to rise from the dead, to put on sobriety. He tells us likewise that wives should be subject to their husbands, as the Church is to Christ, and that husbands should offer up their own lives for their wives, as Christ gave Himself for the Church. And lastly, that, as good soldiers, we should put on the armour of God, and continually fight, not only against flesh and blood, but also against spiritual wickedness; that we may neither be corrupted by friends nor vanquished by enemies.

This summary account of the Epistle I offer you as the best which I have in my power to give.

Farewell, my son; love me, for I also love you.