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The Letter to the Ephesians

St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians differs from his other letters in significant ways.  First of all, the letter contains no personal greetings.  Considering the fact that Paul worked in Ephesus for almost two years, this omission is noteworthy.  Secondly, the earliest manuscript of this letter does not contain the words "in Ephesus."  Thirdly, the letter emphasizes in unparalleled terms the importance that Paul played in bring the Good News of the Gospel to the Gentiles.  As we all know, his boasting is usually directed toward the role that Jesus Christ has played in and through his life.  When we add in the fact that the vocabulary and rhetorical style differ from letters which are undoubtedly of Paul's writing, scholars have suggested that the letter seems to have been written by a disciple of St. Paul's and sent as a circular letter to many of the Pauline communities.

The letter itself is about the nature of the Church.  Ecclesiology is a branch of theology that speaks to the nature and mission of the Church, and this letter is certainly preeminent in that area of study and scholarship.  According to this letter and Paul's line of thinking, the Church is God's household comprised of both Jews and Gentiles who share the "seven unities" of church, Spirit, hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God. In majestic and rhapsodic verses, Paul sings of the community which comes to being through God's plan of salvation with Christ as its head and founded to bring that message of salvation to the entire world. 

The letter opens with a hymn of praise to God who has blessed us through Christ and who has willed that we are to be saved through the blood shed by Christ on the cross.  Hymns such as this are not foreign to Paul's letters as many of his letters begin with these beautiful hymns most likely taken from the liturgies of the first century:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens,

as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world,

to be holy and without blemish before him.

In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ,

in accord with the favor of his will,

for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved.

In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions,

in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us.

In all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will

in accord with his favor that he set forth in him as a plan for the fullness of times,

to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth.  (Ephesians 1:3-10)

Perhaps the most important part of this hymn is the notion that this was all done by God's design, through a plan set in motion by God, so much did God love us.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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