Commentary on Canticle in Ephesians 1:3-14

«From Eternity We Are Before the Eyes of God»

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 6, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at today’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square. He used his talk to reflect on the canticle in the first chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (verses 3-14).

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

1. Today we did not hear a Psalm but a canticle taken from the Letter to the Ephesians (see 1:3-14), which appears in the Liturgy of Vespers of each of the four weeks. This canticle is a prayer of blessing addressed to God the Father. As it unfolds, it delineates the various stages of the plan of salvation which is realized through the action of Christ.

At the heart of the blessing resounds the Greek word «mysterion,» a term usually associated with the verbs of revelation («to reveal,» «to know,» «to manifest»). This is, in fact, the great secret plan that the Father had kept to himself from eternity (see verse 9) and that he decided to act on and reveal «for the fullness of times» (see verse 10) in Jesus Christ, his Son.

The stages of this plan are articulated in the canticle by the saving actions of God through Christ in the Spirit. First of all, the Father — this is the first act — chooses us from eternity so that we will be holy and blameless in love (see verse 4), then he predestines us to be his children (see verses 5-6), in addition he redeems us and forgives us our sins (see verses 7-8), he unveils fully to us the mystery of salvation in Christ (see verses 9-10), finally, he gives us our eternal inheritance (see verses 11-12) offering us already as pledge the gift of the Holy Spirit in view of the final resurrection (see verses 13-14).

2. Many, therefore, are the saving events that succeeded one another in the unfolding of the canticle. They involve the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity: beginning with the Father, who is the initiator and supreme author of the plan of salvation; fixing the gaze on the Son who realizes the plan in history; coming to the Holy Spirit who imprints his «seal» on the whole work of salvation. Let us now reflect briefly on the two first stages, that of holiness and of filiation (see verses 4-6).

The first divine gesture, revealed and acted in Christ, is the election of believers, fruit of a free and gratuitous initiative of God. In the beginning, therefore, «before the foundation of the world» (verse 4), in the eternity of God, divine grace was disposed to enter into action. I am moved meditating on this truth: From eternity we are before the eyes of God and he has decided to save us. This call has our «holiness» — a great word — as content. Holiness is participation in the transcendent purity of the divine Being. And we know that God is charity. Therefore, to participate in divine purity means to participate in the «charity» of God, conforming ourselves with God who is «charity.»

«God is love» (1 John 4:8,16). This is the consoling truth that enables us also to understand that «holiness» is not a reality removed from our life, but instead, in the measure in which we can become persons who love God, we enter into the mystery of «holiness.» Thus the agape becomes our daily reality. We are led, therefore, to the sacred and vital horizon of God himself.

3. In this line we move to the other stage, also contemplated in the divine plan from eternity: our «predestination» as children of God. Not only human creatures, but really belonging to God as his children.

Elsewhere Paul exalts (see Galatians 4:5; Romans 8:15,23) this sublime condition of children implied and derived from fraternity with Christ, the Son par excellence, «the firstborn among many brothers» (Romans 8:29) and from intimacy with the heavenly Father who can now be invoked as Abba, whom we can call «beloved Father,» with a genuine sense of familiarity with God, in a relationship of spontaneity and love. We are, therefore, in the presence of an immense gift, made possible by «pure» divine «initiative» and by «grace,» luminous expression of saving love.

4. In concluding, we commend ourselves to the great bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose, who in one of his letters comments on the words of the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians, reflecting precisely on the rich content of our Christological canticle. He underlines above all the superabundant grace with which God has made us his adopted children in Christ Jesus. «There is no need to doubt, therefore, that the members are united to their head, in particular because since the beginning we have been predestined to the adoption of children of God, through Jesus Christ» («Lettera XVI ad Ireneo» [Letter XVI to Irenaeus] 4: SAEMO, XIX, Milan-Rome, 1988, p. 161).

The holy bishop of Milan continues his reflection observing: «Who is rich, if not God alone, creator of all things?» And he concludes: «But he is much more rich in mercy, because he has redeemed and transformed us, who according to the nature of flesh, were children of wrath and subject to punishment, so that we would be children of peace and charity» (No. 7: Ibid., p. 163).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father read the following summary in English:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Today I would like to reflect with you on the canticle from the Letter to the Ephesians, in which St. Paul speaks of the grace poured out upon us in Christ. God chose us in his Son, and made us his adopted children, so that we could be holy and blameless before him.

Let us consider each of these elements in turn. God freely chose us, he predestined us before the creation of the world. This action of grace is a call to holiness, a call to participate in God’s own life of love. In this way, we are united to Christ, the «firstborn among many brothers,» we become brothers and sisters of Christ and adopted children of the Father. As such we are privileged to invoke the Father with the intimate name Abba.

St. Ambrose has written about this wonderful outpouring of grace that makes us adopted children of God through Jesus Christ. He shows us that God is indeed rich in mercy, because he has transformed us from our sinful condition into sons and daughters of peace and love, co-heirs with Christ to the glory of the heavenly Kingdom.

[The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

I am happy to greet the English-speaking visitors present at this audience, including pilgrims from Scotland, Canada and the United States of America.

I offer a special welcome to the members of the Committee Vox Clara, to all the religious attending renewal programs and holding their general chapters at this time. Upon all of you I invoke the peace and joy of Our Lord Jesus Christ; may God bless you all.

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