Moral aspects of the Christian's vocation

The general audience of 15 September took place in St Peter's Square in the presence of a large crowd of people. Pope John Paul continued his discourse on the text of Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, and spoke as follows:

1. We have before us the text of the Letter to the Ephesians 5:22-23, which we have already been analysing for some time because of its importance in regards to marriage and the sacrament. In the whole of its content, beginning from the first chapter, the letter treats above all of the mystery "for ages" "hidden in God" as gift eternally destined for mankind. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of  his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved" (Eph 1:3-6).

2. Until now the letter speaks of the mystery hidden "for ages" (Eph 3:9) in God. The subsequent phrases introduce the reader to the phase of fulfilment of this mystery in the history of man: the gift, destined for him "for ages" in Christ, becomes a real part of man in the same Christ: "... in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us. For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." (Eph 1:7-10).

3. And so the eternal mystery passed from the mystery of "being hidden in God" to the phase of revelation and actualization. Christ,  in whom humanity was "for ages" chosen and blessed "with every spiritual blessing of the Father"—Christ, destined according to the eternal "plan" of God, so that in him, as in a head "all things might be united, things in heaven and things on earth" in the eschatological perspective—reveals the eternal mystery and accomplishes it among men. Therefore the author of the Letter to the Ephesians, in the remainder of the same letter, exhorts those who have received this revelation, and thosewho have accepted it in faith, to model their lives in the spirit of the truth they have learned. And to the same end he exhorts in a particular way Christian couples, husbands and wives.

4. For the greater part of the context the letter becomes instruction, or parenesis. The author seems to speak, above all, of the moral aspects of the vocation of Christian, while however making continuous reference to the mystery, which is already at work in them, by virtue of the redemption of Christ—and efficaciously works in them especially by virtue of baptism. He writes in fact: "In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit" (Eph 1:13). Thus then the moral aspects of the Christian vocation remain linked not only with the revelation of the eternal divine mystery in Christ and with its acceptance through faith, but also with the sacramental order, which although not placed in the forefront in the whole letter, seems however to be present in a discreet manner. Anyway, it could not be otherwise seeing that the Apostle is writing to Christians who, through baptism, had become members of the ecclesial community. From this point of view, the passage of the Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5:22-23, analysed up to the present, seems to have a special importance. Indeed, it throws a special light on the essential relationship of the mystery with the sacrament and especially on the sacramentality of matrimony.

5. At the heart of the mystery there is Christ. In him—precisely in him—humanity has been eternally blessed "with every spiritual blessing". In him—in Christ, humanity has been chosen "before the creation of the world", chosen "in love" and predestined to the adoption of sons. When later, in the "fullness of time" this eternal mystery is accomplished in time, this is brought about also in him and through him; in Christ and through Christ. Through Christ there is revealed the mystery of divine love. Through him and in him it is accomplished: in him "we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses..." (Eph 1:7). In this manner men who through faith accept the gift offered to them in Christ, really become participants in the eternal mystery, even though it works in them under the veils of faith. This supernatural conferring of the fruits of redemption accomplished by Christ acquires, according to the Letter to the Ephesians 5:22-23, the character of a spousal donation of Christ himself to the Church similar to the spousal relationship between husband and wife. Therefore, not only the fruits of redemption are a gift, but above all, Christ himself is a gift: he gives himself to the Church as to his spouse.

6. We should ask the question whether in this matter such analogy does not permit us to penetrate more profoundly and with greater exactitude the essential content of the mystery. We should ask ourselves this question with all the greater reason because this "classical" passage of the Letter to the Ephesians (5:22-23) does not appear in the abstract and isolated, but constitutes a continuity, in a certain sense a continuation of the statements of the Old Testament, which presented the love of God-Yahweh for his chosen people Israel according to the same analogy. We are dealing in the first place with the texts of the prophets who, in their discourses, introduced the similarity of spousal love in order to characterize in a particular way the love which Yahweh has for Israel, a love which on the part of the chosen people was not understood and reciprocated; rather it encountered infidelity and betrayal. That infidelity and betrayal was expressed especially in idolatry, a worship given to strange gods.

 
7. Truth to tell, in the greater part of the cases, the prophets were pointing out in a dramatic manner that very betrayal and infidelity which were called the "adultery" of Israel. However, at the basis of all these statements of the prophets, there is the explicit conviction that the love of Yahweh for the chosen people can and should be compared to the love which unites husband and wife. Here one could quote numerous passages from Isaiah, Hosea, Ezekiel (some of these were already quoted previously when we were analysing the concept of "adultery" against the background of Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount). One cannot forget that to the patrimony of the Old Testament belongs also the Song of Solomon in which the image of spousal love is traced—it is true—without the typical analogy of the prophetic texts, which presented in that love, the image of the love of Yahweh for Israel, but also without that negative element which, in the other texts, constitutes the motive of "adultery" or infidelity. Thus then the analogy of the spouses, which enabled the author of the Letter to the Ephesians to define the relationship of Christ to the Church, possesses an abundant tradition in the books of the Old Testament. In analysing this analogy in the "classic" text of the Letter to the Ephesians, we cannot but refer to that tradition.

8. To illustrate this tradition we will limit ourselves for the moment to citing a passage of the text of Isaiah. The prophet says: "Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be put to shame; for you will forget the shame of your youth and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the Lord has called you like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you... but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you" (Is 54:4-7; 10).

During our next meeting we shall begin the analysis of the text cited from Isaiah.

L'Osservatore Romano September 20, 1982
Reprinted with permission