St Paul Writes from Rome II
Letter to the Ephesians
This letter is, in many ways, among St Paul’s finest. It has also been the cause of some academic controversy in past years concerning its direction and its authenticity. On both points there is now general favourable agreement.
We know the letter as “Ephesians” because two of the manuscripts that survive contain the words “en Epheso” in the first verse of their Greek texts. But these words are not in the most ancient manuscripts and St. Basil (AD 330 – 379) affirms that in his day they were not in the manuscripts. They are not in two of our surviving manuscripts known as Codex B and Codex Aleph.
The internal evidence from the letter itself also suggests that it was not directed to the church at Ephesus. When St Paul wrote to a specific church – especially one he was extremely familiar with – he constantly makes reference to his relations with its members. There is nothing of that here. His customary personal tone is entirely absent. It has been convincingly argued that it was a letter intended for circulation among the churches of the distant parts of Pontus, Galatia and the Kingdom of Polemon all situated along the River Iris. But it seems that from very early times it came to be believed that this major and quite important letter must have been intended for the large church in Ephesus.
At various times in the past arguments have been raised claiming that this is not the work of St Paul at all. Those doubts have been conclusively disposed of during the last century. They were found to be based on poor analysis of New Testament texts and inadequate reflection on St Paul’s life and writings.
Among the objections raised was the fact that the letter used 75 words that St Paul had never used before. But 9 of the words come in quotations from the Old Testament, while others were particular to matters St Paul had not previously dealt with and still others were in common use at the time. Nothing in the sum of them could be used to indicate a different person as author or the distinctive vocabulary of a different author. In his earlier writings Paul had already dealt with a large amount of doctrine – the theology of justification, of the Law and what was necessary for salvation he had covered thoroughly, especially in the Epistle to the Romans. Now in Rome himself, with the “leisure “of a prisoner – no longer devoting his time and energy to travelling, preaching, teaching and controversy, he had the time to further reflect on revelation and to pray, He came to see that it was the very subject of Christ Himself and His relationship with His Church that needed to be further examined and expounded. Once his powerful mind and great heart warmed to this subject, the multiplicity of inspired ideas and thoughts explode onto the page, sometimes overwhelming his efforts to organize them. Free of the discipline of his customary writings to known churches on specific events, Paul’s style of writing suffers and loses its edge occasionally.
The authenticity of the letter is well – attested not only by the research and technique of the present day, but also by its obvious familiarity to St. Peter in his First Epistle, to St.Polycarp, to St. Justin, to the authors of the Didache and in I Clement. Both Marcion and St. Irenaeus attribute it to St Paul.
The letter differs from his normal practice. The address mentions Paul alone. There is no Prologue. It is replaced by a dogmatic exposition of the eternal plan of God for man’s redemption, a Divine gift to man, sealed by the Holy Spirit. He then praises God in a solemn doxology and moves on to the moral teaching of the letter.
|SEATED AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE FATHER WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT|
Paul tells his readers of his ceaseless prayer that they might be given by the Father in the spirit of wisdom and revelation, deep knowledge of Christ. He now reigns at the Father’s right hand and will do so for eternity, with all things subject to Him. He is the Head of the Church, which is His Body. Because of the Great mercy and love of God his readers have become part of the Body and, in the ages to come, His overflowing riches of Grace in kindness to us will come in Christ Jesus.
By grace they have been saved through faith. This faith is the absolute gift of God, free and not earned in any way. In Christ both Jew and Gentile become one. Circumcised or uncircumcised they are one in Christ and heirs to the promise of the covenant. Both are now reconciled to God in the one Body by the Cross. They are built together into a temple holy in the Lord, upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets and Christ Himself is the chief cornerstone (N.B. the “angularis fundamentum lapis” of Foundation’s banner).Paul relates his appointment as the Apostle to the Gentiles, and that the truth above is a revelation made to him. This revelation had been hidden from mankind in past ages. And not only from mankind, but from the “Principalities and Powers in the heavens” (Eph. 3: 10) who will learn of it from Christ’s Church.
He asks his readers not to be disheartened by his tribulations. He prays that God will grant them many graces through the Spirit to strengthen them inwardly and that Christ may dwell in their hearts, and they may know the fullness of his love.
Paul urges his readers to use all humility, meekness and patience in bearing with one another in love, being always concerned to preserve the unity of the Spirit. There is one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all.
He reminds them that God’s graces to each one vary, but all are intended to work to build up the unity of the Church. “For from Him (Christ) the whole body (being closely joined and knit together through every joint of the system according to the functioning in due measure of each single part) derives its increase to the building up of itself in love.”(Eph. 4: 16)
Paul exhorts them to recall that they are to put pagan ways of sensuality and uncleanness behind them. They are to “put on the new man, which has been created according to God in justice and holiness of truth”. (Eph. 4:24) He urges them to have nothing to do with anger, bitterness, wrath and indignation and malice. Rather, they should be kind, merciful and generously forgiving, as God is to them. He urges them to have nothing to do with uncleanness or covetousness or obscenity or drunkenness which will alienate them from God. Rather, they should be concerned with, talk about and sing about the things of God. He once again elaborates on the duties of husbands, wives and children, of slaves and masters.
Finally he urges his readers to put on the armour of God in order to resist the wiles of the Devil “….. having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of justice, and having your feet shod with the readiness of the Gospel of peace, in all things take up the shield of faith, with which you may be able to quench the fiery darts of the most wicked one. And take unto you the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit that is the word of God”. (Eph. 6:14-17) He closes calling himself an ambassador in chains “and asking for their prayers so that he might write and speak as he ought. He informs them that Tychicus who bears the letter will let them know all about his present circumstances. He wishes them all the peace of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and grace to all whose love of Christ is unfailing.
|PART OF THE RUINS OF ANCIENT PHILIPPI|
To the Philippians
Written toward the end of St Paul’s imprisonment, this letter has a special tone and warmth which sets it apart from all his other letters. The special affection he feels for the Philippians and they feel for him is clear. He had visited them three times and in fact had been imprisoned there also. In Acts St. Luke relates a number of conversions there and the cure of a girl possessed by a demon as a result of Paul’s action, as well as his imprisonment. There is about this letter a sense of comfort in unity of spirit and mutual sympathy.
Hearing of Paul’s imprisonment the Philippians had sent gifts to support him, as they had done in the past when he was in Thessalonica and on other occasions. Paul sends greetings to “all the saints in Christ Jesus that are at Philippi, with the Bishops and Deacons: grace be to you and peace from God Our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The words St Paul uses to begin his remarks to the Philippians are enshrined in the rite of ordination “He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to perfection…..”He assures them of his total concern for them and their salvation “For God is my witness how I long for you all in the Heart of Jesus Christ”.
St Paul tells them that even in his current imprisonment his missionary work goes on and even prospers. He makes it clear that whether he lives or dies matters not – only that God’s will be done: “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain”.(Phil. 1:21) He suggests some possibility that he might yet visit them again.
He encourages them to continue in unity of mind and spirit in Christ, each caring for the other in humility. At this point he delivers the great injunction which has resounded down the millennia:
“Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus, Who though He was
By nature God, did not consider being equal to God a thing to be clung to
But emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave and being made like unto
Men. And appearing in the form of man, He humbled Himself, becoming
obedient unto death, even to death on a cross. Therefore God also has
exalted Him and has bestowed on Him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven
on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that the Lord
Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 1: 5-11)
|CHRIST CRUCIFIED - ST.MARY'S CHURCH KRAKOW POLAND|
2,000 Years on, we stand in awe of the truth St Paul has so wonderfully expressed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Paul expresses his loving concern for the perseverance of the Philippians who he says “shine like stars in the world “in “the midst of a depraved and perverse generation”. (Phil. 2:15) He announces his intention to send Timothy to visit them. Of Timothy he says “I have no-one so likeminded who is genuinely solicitous for you.” He has also sent back Epaphroditus, who bore their gifts to Paul. He had been “sick, almost to death”(Phil. 2:27) but Epaphroditus is now recovered and has been sent more quickly because “he was longing for all of you and was grieved because you had heard that he was sick”.(Phil. 2:26)
St Paul warns them against the Judaizers and to remain on guard. He goes on to inspire them with his personal approach to his life in Christ : “But one thing I do : forgetting what is behind, I strain forward to what is before, I press on towards the goal, to the prize of God’s heavenly call in Jesus Christ.”(Phil. 3: 13-14) He urges them, “my joy and my crown” (Phil. 4: 1) to stand fast in the Lord, not to follow those enemies of the Cross whose god “is the belly, their glory is their shame, they mind the things of the earth” (Phil. 3: 19)
Evodia and Syntyche are urged to be of one mind in the Lord. (How sad to have one’s petty disagreement recognized through 2,000 years.)
He urges them to rejoice in the Lord always, not to be anxious at all but to put all needs into their prayers with thanksgiving. Everything that is true, holy and loveable should be their desire and concern and practice. He thanks them for their unique assistance in his past labours. And he prays that God will supply their every need.
He closes with greetings from all his companions especially those of “Caesar’s household”- this would seem to allude to some converted members of the Praetorian Guard which had custody of Paul and which formed part of “Caesar’s household”. And he imparts the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ upon their spirit.
|Members of the Praetorian Guard - a Roman bas- relief.|
Epistle to Philemon
Here we have something unique in Sacred Scripture – a private letter. And it is unmistakably and irrefutably written by St Paul.
The addressee, Philemon, is a wealthy citizen of Colossae. He is a Catholic and in fact the church meets in his home. The subject of the letter is Philemon’s slave Onesimus. He has run away from his master and has defrauded him. Coming to Rome he has made himself known to Paul. He has been converted and has been an important assistant to Paul. Perhaps he had known of Paul and heard him speak in Ephesus where Philemon had been converted.
But Paul knows that he must do right by Philemon. Onesimus is Philemon’s legal property and he owes Philemon the money he stole. It is evident from the text that Philemon is a leader of the church in Colossae (V 2). Mention is made of Appia and Archippus and historically she has been regarded as Philemon’s wife and Archippus as their son. (We recall that in Colossians, Archippus is admonished in a crisp note included in the Epistle to “Look to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it”. Perhaps this son of a wealthy family was a Deacon – responsible for ministering to the needy?
We do not know whether or not Philemon had received ordination, but St Paul makes it plain that he was very dear to him (our beloved and fellow-worker”) Paul’s letter is masterly. Though, as Lightfoot writing in 1892 (Colossians and Philemon p 389) put it “the word emancipation seems to be trembling on his lips”- Paul does not use it. After praising Philemon in the Introduction, Paul recounts Onesimus’ coming to him, his conversion and his valuable service to him. He acknowledges Onesimus’ debt to Philemon and undertakes to pay it himself. He is sending Onesimus back to Philomen as is right and “pleads” with Philemon to receive him as a brother in the Faith, and indeed as if he were Paul himself. He says he knows Philemon will even go beyond what he asks. He closes asking Philemon to prepare to receive him as a visitor, for he has hopes of regaining his freedom.
|The now ruined St. Johns Basilica later built in Ccolossae.|
Lucky Onesimus – to have received the gift of Faith and to have such an advocate, capable of such subtlety and delicacy in pleading that he be made a free man – without needing to say as much, and willing to repay Onesimus’ debt to Philemon. It is a gem of a letter which leaves one hoping that Philemon proved as generous as Paul expected. We have evidence through ancient tradition ( from the Menaia – a Byzantine daily commentary on the lives of the saints used in the Liturgy of the Hours of the Eastern Church) of the commemoration of the martyrdom of Philemon, Appia, Archippus AND Onesimus at Colossae. The Apostolic Constitutions – VII 46 – speak of Onesimus as Bishop of Beroea. It seems Paul’s confidence was not misplaced.
COPYRIGHT. This article first appeared in the May 2009 issue of FOUNDATION