Saturday, March 31, 2012

Psalm 118 (119) Tau : All we like sheep have gone astray!


Today the final part in this Lenten series on Psalm 118, as we come to the twenty-second stanza labeled Tau.

Longing for salvation

And it is a particularly suitable ending point as we come up to Holy Week, for its theme is the longing for salvation.

Cassiodorus (c485-585) summarises the stanza as follows:

“With the Lord's help the twenty-second letter has been reached, in which the longing of the band of saints to draw near to Christ is commensurate with their proximity to the close of the psalm. The whole composition is relevant to the Lord Saviour's coming. The devotion of the faithful awaited it with an indescribable longing, so that He might deign to summon back the lost sheep through the kindness of His love; for when they begged that their prayer should draw near to the Lord's sight, they revealed that the presence of sinners is exceedingly far from Him, for only things cleansed by the purest holiness draw near to Him.”

The shepherd seeks the lost sheep

The most memorable verse of this stanza is the last, echoed several times in the New Testament:

Errávi, sicut ovis, quæ périit: quære servum tuum, quia mandáta tua non sum oblítus.
I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost: seek your servant, because I have not forgotten your commandments.

The New Testament of course, puts this verse in the context of Christ’s mission to convert and redeem sinners. St Luke 15: 4-7 for example says:

"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Everyone’s autobiography

The psalmist’s story of falling into sin is surely the story of us all.

In the opening verses of the stanza the psalmist pleads for God to hear him and grant him the necessary grace for salvation:

169 Appropínquet deprecátio mea in conspéctu tuo, Dómine: * juxta elóquium tuum da mihi intelléctum.
Let my supplication, O Lord, come near in your sight: give me understanding according to your word.

170 Intret postulátio mea in conspéctu tuo: * secúndum elóquium tuum éripe me.
Let my request come in before you; deliver me according to your word.

He states too that once he has that necessary grace he will surely be moved to rejoice, as we do at the Easter Vigil:

171 Eructábunt lábia mea hymnum, * cum docúeris me justificatiónes tuas.
My lips shall utter a hymn, when you shall teach me your justifications.

He has committed himself to God, he states, and now waits, a waiting symbolized by this Lenten period, with desperate longing for salvation to be realized for him personally:

173 Fiat manus tua ut salvet me: * quóniam mandáta tua elégi.
Let your hand be with me to save me; for I have chosen your precepts.

174 Concupívi salutáre tuum, Dómine: * et lex tua meditátio mea est.
I have longed for your salvation, O Lord; and your law is my meditation.

Almost but not yet redemption

In fact Easter is that season that should most clearly bring home to us the almost but not yet nature of our redemption – despite the assertions of fundamentalists, we cannot, in this life claim to be saved!

As St Bellarmine points out, the idea that we have all strayed from God and suffered the consequences of it applies whether or not we have personally sinned, for through Adam’s sin we have all been banished from Paradise:

“Banished from my country, and still an exile, through the sin of my first parents, that extended to the whole human race, "I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost," by seduction, and not like the devil, the roaring lion, who fell through malice.”

St Bellarmine points out that through our baptism the door to heaven has been reopened:

"Seek thy servant," for though you have already partly sought and found him, inasmuch as you justified him from sin, and reconciled him to God”

Yet still we can fall again into sin, and must seek reconciliation anew, confident in the success of our petition made possible by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross:

“…yet the lost sheep is still to be sought for, inasmuch as he expects the redemption of his body, so that he may body and soul be brought to the heavenly mountains, and those most fertile pastures, where the ninety-nine that did not stray had been left; and I confidently ask for this salvation of soul and body, "because I have not forgotten thy commandments."

I pray as we move into this Holy Week, that we can all make our own the statement that we have not forgotten God’s commandments, and therefore wait in joyful hope.

And I do hope you have found this series of interest and use….please do pass any comments or reactions you have to it to me on or offline.

Verse by verse

169 Appropínquet deprecátio mea in conspéctu tuo, Dómine: juxta elóquium tuum da mihi intelléctum.
Let my supplication, O Lord, come near in your sight: give me understanding according to your word.

Appropínquet deprecátio mea in conspéctu tuo, Dómine = may/let my supplication approach into your presence O Lord

St Bellarmine comments: “that is to say, may my prayer, that does not rely on its own merits, be raised up and ascend, through the aspirations of your grace, and come so near you, that you may deign to take a nearer view of it, and regard it with favor”

appropinquo, avi, atum, are , to draw near, approach
deprecatio, onis, f prayer, supplication, entreaty

juxta elóquium tuum da mihi intelléctum = according to your word give to me understanding

And here we have the content of the prayer, as St Bellarmine suggests: Grant me the grace, therefore, of understanding your commandments, as they are understood by those who observe them, and who, by their observance, have come to life everlasting.

170 Intret postulátio mea in conspéctu tuo: * secúndum elóquium tuum éripe me.
Let my request come in before you; deliver me according to your word.

Intret postulátio mea in conspéctu tuo = let my request/prayer/petition come into your presence

introeo, ivi or li, Itum, ire, to go into, to enter.
postulatio, onis, f., prayer, request, supplication, petition

secúndum elóquium tuum éripe me = according to your word deliver/free me

St Augustine comments: For by receiving understanding he is delivered, who of himself through want of understanding is deceived.

We can perhaps see this as relating back to the previous stanza’s comment on the law as a stumbling block to some. The lover of the law assumes that anything seems odd is simply a want of understanding on his own part, and asks God’s help to resolve it.

171 Eructábunt lábia mea hymnum, * cum docúeris me justificatiónes tuas.
My lips shall utter a hymn, when you shall teach me your justifications.

Eructábunt lábia mea hymnum = my lips will declare/utter a hymn

The sense is that God’s word naturally elicits a joyful response in song, just like belching after eating much food...

eructo, avi, atum, are, to belch, belch forth; to utter, declare, publish; overflow.

cum docúeris me justificatiónes tuas = when you [will] teach me your justifications

Grammatically this is a temporal clause, so the future tense of the Latin isn’t normally really reflected in the English meaning. If one wanted to be very literal, you could translate it (as Brenton’s from the Septuagint does) as ‘when you shall have’, but a more colloquial rendering would be something like ‘when you have taught me your justifications or commands’.

172 Pronuntiábit lingua mea elóquium tuum: * quia ómnia mandáta tua æquitas.
My tongue shall pronounce your word: because all your commandments are justice.

Pronuntiábit lingua mea elóquium tuum = My tongue will announce/proclaim your word

St Augustine sees this as speaking of the duty of all of us to preach in our own way, God’s word: When he says that he will declare these things, he becomes a minister of the word. For though God teach within, nevertheless faith comes from hearing: and how do they hear without a preacher? For, because God gives the increase, 1 Corinthians 3:7 is no reason why we need not plant and water.

pronuntio, avi, atum, are, to announce, declare, proclaim.

quia ómnia mandáta tua æquitas =because all your commandments [are] justice/righteous

173 Fiat manus tua ut salvet me: * quóniam mandáta tua elégi.
Let your hand be with me to save me; for I have chosen your precepts.

Fiat manus tua ut salvet me = let your hand be done/made in order to save me = let your hand save me

The neo-Vulgate changes ‘save’ to ‘help’ (adiuvet). Bellarmine comments: He follows up his prayer, asking for the only thing worth asking for, life everlasting, which is the object of the commandments… Let your wisdom and power be exercised to save me; and as the apostle teaches, that Christ is the power and wisdom of God, the Fathers have very properly explained this prayer to be, "Let Christ be with me to save me:"

quóniam mandáta tua elégi – for I have chosen your commandments/precepts

The Greek here is ἐντολάς which is usually translated as commandments; it is not clear why the Douay-Rheims uses precepts instead, though it may be following St Jerome’s from the Hebrew translation. In any case, the neo-Vulgate retains mandata. St Augustine comments here that the psalmist is saying that he has ‘stifled fear with love’.

eligo, legi, lectum, ere 3 to choose, pick out, select.

174 Concupívi salutáre tuum, Dómine: * et lex tua meditátio mea est.
I have longed for your salvation, O Lord; and your law is my meditation.

Concupívi salutáre tuum, Dómine = I have your longed for your salvation O Lord

Cassiodorus comments: They had longed for the Lord Christ as revealed by the prophets, for they knew that His coming birth had been foretold by them; and inevitably He was sought with great love, for they had learnt that His coming for the salvation of the human race was signified all those centuries before.

concupisco, ciiplvi or ciipii, ciipltum, ere 3 to desire eagerly, to long for or after.

et lex tua meditátio mea est = and your law is my meditation

The neo-Vulgate changes it to the law is my delight (delectatio).

175 Vivet ánima mea, et laudábit te: * et judícia tua adjuvábunt me.
My soul shall live and shall praise you: and your judgments shall help me.

Vivet ánima mea, et laudábit te =My soul will live and I will praise you

St Augustine points to the service of the martyrs here; St Bellarmine however to the joys of everlasting life:

"My soul shall live," when it shall have obtained the salvation it so longs for and "thy hand shall have been with it to save it;" and then its duty, and its only business, will be to praise you for "blessed are they who dwell in thy house, O Lord, they shall praise thee forever and ever," "and thy judgments shall help me." Your commandments, so observed by me, will help me, ultimately, when I shall rise in the resurrection to live forever.”

et judícia tua adjuvábunt me = and your justice/judgments will help me

adjuvo, juvi, jutum, are, to help, assist, support.

176 Errávi, sicut ovis, quæ périit: * quære servum tuum, quia mandáta tua non sum oblítus.
I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost: seek your servant, because I have not forgotten your commandments.

Errávi, sicut ovis, quæ périit = I have strayed like a sheep which has perished/is lost

erro, avi, atum, are, to wander, stray, rove,
pereo, li, ltum, ire, to perish, come to naught, be lost; stray, be lost.

quære servum tuum = seek your servant

cf Mt 18:12, Lk 15:4-7, 1 Peter 2:25 going after the lost sheep.

quaero, sivi, situm, ere 3, to seek, seek after; to will, desire, think upon.

quia mandáta tua non sum oblítus = for I have not forgotten your commandments


Friday, March 30, 2012

Psalm 118 (119) Shin: Rebuilding the walls of the city of God

Today we come to the penultimate stanza of Psalm 118.  There is a lot that could be said on this stanza, but I just want to briefly touch on three not entirely unrelated points, namely the peace offered through Christ; the law as a stumbling block (v165); and the importance of symbolism in worship.

The peace of Christ

The psalm opens with a reminder that princes – or these days perhaps we should speak of Prime Ministers and Presidents – will persecute the Church without reason. But it goes on to assert that the person who loves the law will nevertheless enjoy peace:

161 Príncipes persecúti sunt me gratis: Princes have persecuted me without cause…
165 Pax multa diligéntibus legem tuam: Much peace have they that love your law

What does he mean here by peace? It is not the false peace of toleration of sin that the psalmist is pointing to here, but rather the peace of mind that comes from the hope of salvation. As Cassiodorus comments:

“Much peace is to be understood as purity of mind and abundance of faith, which we aptly set against vices. But the person who proclaims himself the servant of the Lord is subject in this world to hardships and dangers. The Lord says to the apostles who were to be ravaged by various forms of persecution: My peace I give to you, my peace I leave to you, so that it may become clear that the Lord's servants always enjoy peace of mind in spite of appearing to be molested by various physical tribulations.”

When the law seems a stumbling block…

The second half of verse 165 deals with a subject of particular contemporary relevance, namely the idea that God’s law can be a stumbling block to some. Today many Catholics stumble indeed at the law as passed down to us, often deeming it as scandalous for example in its requirements around sexual morality.  Yet the psalmist asserts that the law can never be a stumbling block to one who looks to God for salvation:

et non est illis scándalum = and to them there is no stumbling block/scandal

St Augustine provides an important explanation of just why this should be the case, arguing that one who truly loves the law of God, when confronted with a law that seems absurd to him, must assume not that the law is a bad one, but rather that his own reaction is due to a lack of understanding on his part:

“Does this mean that the law itself is not an offense to them that love it, or that there is no offense from any source unto them that love the law? But both senses are rightly understood. For he who loves the law of God, honours in it even what he does not understand; and what seems to him to sound absurd, he judges rather that he does not understand, and that there is some great meaning hidden: thus the law of God is not an offense to him...”

This approach has of course been echoed down the centuries by the Magisterium of the Church, and applied to areas such as Scriptural interpretation and more. It is a counsel of humility, of appreciating that we are limited beings who can never hope, at any particular point in time to know everything, whereas God is infinite and all-knowing…

Seven times a day I have praised you….

Thirdly, I wanted to draw attention to a key verse in this psalm from the point of view of the Divine Office:

164 Sépties in die laudem dixi tibi, * super judícia justítiæ tuæ.
Seven times a day I have given praise to you, for the judgments of your justice.

Seven is a number symbolizing completeness (viz the creation of the world), perfection (viz metal refined seven times), or an infinite number of times (viz the number of times we should forgive sins). St Benedict cites this verse as the reason for the seven day hours of his Office, and the Roman Office followed him on this.

It is true of course that the verse can also be interpreted spiritually, as a call to continuous praise.

But one does not have to be a traditionalist to appreciate that the seven day hours of the Office, particularly in monastic usage where it was said in choir at set times each and every day, served symbolically to convey the spiritual message, and in a way far more effective than just saying that we are called to pray constantly. Fr Michael Casey of Tarrawarra Abbey, for example, certainly no traditionalist, suggests in his book Strangers to the City that it is regrettable that ‘secularization theology’ was unthinkingly incorporated in the ‘process of reformation and renewal’ following Vatican II (p174). Certainly the new ‘Liturgy of the Hours’ achieved what the fourteenth century heretic Wycliff and the reformation’s Luther could not, namely the abandonment of this long ecclesial tradition. Haydock comments:

“The Church has enjoined matins to be said at night, lauds in the morning, prime, tierce, sext, none, vespers and complin, in the course of the day. (St. Benedict, reg. 8., and 16.) (Calmet) --- This ecclesiastical office consists of hymns, psalms, &c. (St. Isidore) --- Against it some have risen up, particularly against that part which was said in the night, pretending that God had made the night for rest; and hence they were called nuctazontes, or "drowsy" heretics. (St. Isidore, Of. i. 22.) --- St. Jerome styles Vigilantius Dormitantius, for the same reason; as if it were better to sleep than to watch. Wycliff (Wald. iii. Tit. iii. 21.) and Luther have oppugned the same holy practice, though it be so conformable to Scripture and to the fathers. (St. Basil, reg. fus. 37.; St. Gregory, dial. iii. 14.; Ven. Bede, Hist. iv. 7., &c.)”

The Office, the law and genuine peace

Is there a connection between these three threads? Well yes, I would argue that there is.

I would argue that the drastic reduction in the number of times of prayer each day, and the length of those times of prayer - and above all consequent reduction of what was once a weekly cycle of saying all the psalms to a monthly one omitting all the 'hard bits' - has undermined the spiritual lives of priests and religious. It has weakened the walls of what Catherine Pickstock has called the 'liturgical city' to the point where they are but ruins.

And the consequences we see all around us.

We see it in the bishops and priests who no longer accept the natural law as a starting point for Christian morality, who see God's law as a stumbling block, not a means to salvation, but think in their arrogance that they know best.

We see it in the bishops and priests who faced with the persecution of princes have continued to compromise and crumble rather than standing up for the faith, able to draw on a true inner peace.

We see it in the many who left the priesthood and religious life despite their promises and vows, no longer sufficiently nourished in their lives by Sacred Scripture.

Recovery will take a long time. But it has to start from somewhere.

Verse by verse

161 Príncipes persecúti sunt me gratis: et a verbis tuis formidávit cor meum.
Princes have persecuted me without cause: and my heart has been in awe of your words.

Príncipes persecúti sunt me gratis = Princes/the mighty have persecuted me without cause

Old Testament history contains numerous examples of persecution without good reason that foreshadow Our Lord’s own persecution. And in our own age, Western Christians are once more starting to feel the heat…

gratis – without cause, unjustly

et a verbis tuis formidávit cor meum = and/but from/at your words my heart has trembled/been afraid

Note that formido takes a with the ablative; most translations make it of.

But all facing persecution should remember the words of the Gospel, as Cassiodorus points out: Fear not them that kill the body and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both body and soul in hell.

formido, avi, atum, are. to fear, be afraid, tremble at. (formido +a)

162 Lætábor ego super elóquia tua: sicut qui invénit spólia multa.
I will rejoice at your words, as one that has found great spoil.

Lætábor ego super elóquia tua = I will rejoice/exult over your words/promises

sicut qui invénit spólia multa = like [one] who has found great spoils/riches

The comparison here is to the victors of an earthly battle. The spoils found include our reward in heaven, but also the conversion of persecutors moved to pity as occurred so often in the early years of Christianity (Augustine).

spolium, ii, booty, spoil.

163 Iniquitátem ódio hábui, et abominátus sum:  legem autem tuam diléxi.
I have hated and abhorred iniquity; but I have loved your law.

Iniquitátem ódio hábui, et abominátus sum (deponent) = Sin/iniquity/evil-doing I have hated and detested/abhorred

The neo-Vulgate changes sin (iniquitatem) to lies (mendacium) which reflects the Masoretic Hebrew Text’s flavour of falsehood/lies in particular rather than evil-doing in general.

iniquitas, atis, f iniquity, injustice, sin.
odio habere, to have hatred towards, to entertain hatred against, to hate
abominor, atus sum, ari to abhor, loathe, detest.

legem autem tuam diléxi = but your law I have loved

St Augustine’s commentary on this verse draws attention to the tension between fear and love of something or someone, arguing that we can and should do both: the wife loves her husband for example, but fears losing him. He quotes Hebrews 12:6: Let the Father's judgments therefore be praised even in the scourge, if His promises be loved in the reward.

164 Sépties in die laudem dixi tibi, super judícia justítiæ tuæ.
Seven times a day I have given praise to you, for the judgments of your justice.

Sépties in die laudem dixi tibi = Seven times in the day I have given [literally said] praise to you

Seven is a number symbolizing completeness (viz the creation of the world), perfection (viz metal refined seven times), or an infinite number of times (viz the number of times we should forgive sins). St Benedict cites this verse as the reason for the seven day hours of his Office. Interestingly, his contemporary Cassiodorus has to stretch things a little to achieve a similar literal interpretation, for his monastery evidently didn’t include Prime in its regime:

“Should we wish to interpret this number literally, it denotes the seven offices with which monks in their devoted piety console themselves, namely, matins, terce, sext, none, vespers, compline, nocturn; the hymn of saint Ambrose, sung at the sixth hour, also attests this.”

St Benedict, like some of the prophets of old such as Hosea, modelled this literally.  Cassiodorus, however, points to the spiritual interpretation of the verse:

“But if you seek a spiritual significance, you more wisely interpret this as the expression of continuing activity, like: I shall bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall be ever in my mouth.”

septies, num. adv. seven times.

super judícia justítiæ tuæ = for/because of the judgments of your justice/righteous judgments

165 Pax multa diligéntibus legem tuam: et non est illis scándalum.
Much peace have they that love your law, and to them there is no stumbling block.

Pax multa diligéntibus legem tuam = Much peace loving the law = those who love the law have much peace

What do we mean by peace? Cassiodorus suggests this is about our state of mind, not the external state of affairs: Much peace is to be understood as purity of mind and abundance of faith, which we aptly set against vices. But the person who proclaims himself the servant of the Lord is subject in this world to hardships and dangers. The Lord says to the apostles who were to be ravaged by various forms of persecution: My peace I give to you, my peace I leave to you, so that it may become clear that the Lord's servants always enjoy peace of mind in spite of appearing to be molested by various physical tribulations.

et non est illis scándalum = and to them there is no stumbling block/scandal

Today many Catholics stumble indeed at the law as passed down to us, often deeming it as scandalous for example in its requirements around sexual morality. St Augustine comments: Does this mean that the law itself is not an offense to them that love it, or that there is no offense from any source unto them that love the law? But both senses are rightly understood. For he who loves the law of God, honours in it even what he does not understand; and what seems to him to sound absurd, he judges rather that he does not understand, and that there is some great meaning hidden: thus the law of God is not an offense to him...

scandalum, i, n. lit., a trap, snare, that which causes one to stumble, a stumbling-block.

166 Exspectábam salutáre tuum, Dómine: et mandáta tua diléxi.
I looked for your salvation, O Lord: and I loved your commandments.

Exspectábam salutáre tuum, Dómine = I was waiting/looked for/waited/hoped for your salvation O Lord

The Fathers see this as a reference to the two comings of Christ, first in the Incarnatin, and next in the Second Coming.

exspecto, avi, atum, are, to wait for a person or thing, to await, trust; to look for, expect

et mandáta tua diléxi = and I have loved your commandments

The neo-Vulgate changes mandata to praecepta and dilexi to feci (ie I have kept your precepts) to reflect the MT.

167 Custodívit ánima mea testimónia tua: et diléxit ea veheménter.
My soul has kept your testimonies and has loved them exceedingly

Custodívit ánima mea testimónia tua = My soul has kept your testimonies

et diléxit ea veheménter = and it has loved them greatly/exceedingly

vehementer, adv. greatly, exceedingly, very much.

168 Servávi mandáta tua, et testimónia tua: * quia omnes viæ meæ in conspéctu tuo.
I have kept your commandments and your testimonies: because all my ways are in your sight.

Servávi mandáta tua, et testimónia tua = I have observed your commandments and your testimonies

servo – preserve, protect, guard; keep, obey, observe

quia omnes viæ meæ in conspéctu tuo = for all of my ways in your sight

Bellarmine comments:

Whatever I did was done as if your eyes were fixed on me, being fully satisfied of your seeing and knowing everything. Such thoughts have a wonderful effect in controlling men's actions; for, if the presence of a prince of this world has the effect of preventing the subject from transgressing, nay, even more, of making them blush to be found lazy or careless, timid or fearful, what must not the effect be of having constantly before one's eyes the presence of a heavenly and all-powerful ruler? Hence the Lord said to Abraham, "Walk before me, and be perfect." And Elias and Eliseus said, "The Lord liveth, in whose sight I stand."

And you can find the final part in this series here.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Psalm 118 (119) Resh: Fight for truth and everlasting life

We are on the home stretch now in our study of Psalm 118: this is the first psalm section said at None on Monday in the Benedictine Office.

Today’s verses can be seen as about why we must wage the spiritual warfare, both against our own weaknesses and against the forces of evil.

Truth and everlasting life

The last verse of this stanza presents us with the reason we must fight:

160 Princípium verbórum tuórum, véritas: * in ætérnum ómnia judícia justítiæ tuæ.
The beginning of your words is truth: all the judgments of your justice are for ever.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (215) quotes this verse and comments:

God is Truth itself, whose words cannot deceive. This is why one can abandon oneself in full trust to the truth and faithfulness of his word in all things. The beginning of sin and of man's fall was due to a lie of the tempter who induced doubt of God's word, kindness and faithfulness.

And each of us make a decision for or against that truth, as St Augustine points out:

From truth, he says, Your words do proceed, and they are therefore truthful, and deceive no man, for in them life is announced to the righteous, punishment to the ungodly. These are the everlasting judgments of God's righteousness.

Many arise against us

The path we must follow is not an easy one, though, but rather a narrow one. Verse 157, echoes Psalm 3, used daily as a Matin Invitatory in the Benedictine Office:

Multi qui persequúntur me, et tríbulant me: Many are they that persecute me and afflict me

In Psalm 3 the speaker expresses confidence that no matter how many rise up against him, God will protect him in the daily battle. Here, the psalmist is similarly confident that he will not depart from God’s testimonies:

a testimóniis tuis non declinávi. but I have not declined from your testimonies

The verse can be read as of the individual speaker, as St Robert Bellarmine applies it:

It is not without reason that I ask you to quicken me; for the visible enemies, and the invisible ones who outnumber them, and seek to destroy me, are very numerous, yet nevertheless, through the help I have had from you, "I have not declined" to one side or the other, "from thy testimonies;" from thy commandments, the only straight and direct road.

But it can also be interpreted collectively, as speaking of the Church grounded on the rock that is Christ, and growing through the blood of the martyrs, as St Augustine points out:

“The whole earth has been crimsoned by the blood of Martyrs; heaven is flowery with the crowns of Martyrs, the Churches are adorned with the memorials of Martyrs, seasons distinguished by the birthdays of Martyrs, cures more frequent by the merits of Martyrs.”

Yet why is he so confident of God’s help?

The psalmist contrasts himself with sinners here who cannot expect salvation unless they amend on several grounds. First, he has grounded himself in humility (v153) and strived to do the good:

Vide humilitátem meam, et éripe me: * quia legem tuam non sum oblítus.
See my humiliation and deliver me for I have not forgotten your law.

Secondly, he may not be perfect, but he can legitimately distinguish himself from those who have failed to find out and tried to do what God wants, and cut themselves off from salvation through their contempt for the law:

155 Longe a peccatóribus salus: * quia justificatiónes tuas non exquisiérunt.
Salvation is far from sinners; because they have not sought your justifications.

Thirdly, he has already the gift of charity:

159 Vide quóniam mandáta tua diléxi, Dómine: * in misericórdia tua vivífica me.
Behold I have loved your commandments, O Lord; quicken me in your mercy.

But above all, he is confident that God will grant him the grace he needs, will revive or quicken him because of God’s mercy, manifested in the Word that is Christ:

156 Misericórdiæ tuæ multæ, Dómine: * secúndum judícium tuum vivífica me.
Many, O Lord, are your mercies: quicken me according to your judgment.

154 Júdica judícium meum, et rédime me: * propter elóquium tuum vivífica me.
Judge my judgment and redeem me: quicken me for your word's sake.

Verse by verse

153 Vide humilitátem meam, et éripe me: * quia legem tuam non sum oblítus.
See my humiliation and deliver me for I have not forgotten your law.

Vide (imperative) humilitátem meam = See my humiliation/affliction/misery

Humility is always the foundational virtue: everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and vice versa. St Bellarmine suggests that he is also saying that though he has fallen into sin, he continues to try to learn and observe the law.

et éripe me= and free/deliver/rescue me

quia legem tuam non sum oblítus = for your law I have not forgotten

154 Júdica judícium meum, et rédime me: * propter elóquium tuum vivífica me.
Judge my judgment and redeem me: quicken me for your word's sake.

Júdica judícium meum= Judge my judgment = Plead my cause

The Neo-Vulgate changes it to ‘Judica causam mean’ or judge my cause

et rédime me =and redeem/ransom/deliver me

propter elóquium tuum vivífica me = for the sake of your word revive me

155 Longe a peccatóribus salus: * quia justificatiónes tuas non exquisiérunt.
Salvation is far from sinners; because they have not sought your justifications.

Longe a peccatóribus salus = Far from sinners [is] salvation

quia justificatiónes tuas non exquisiérunt = because they have not sought your justifications

The important thing is to seek to know what is right and do it; those who refuse to do this, often showing outright contempt for the law cut themselves off from salvation

156 Misericórdiæ tuæ multæ, Dómine: * secúndum judícium tuum vivífica me.
Many, O Lord, are your mercies: quicken me according to your judgment.

Misericórdiæ tuæ multæ, Dómine = your mercies [are] many, O Lord

Cassiodorus comments: The Lord's mercies are those by which He deigns to aid the afflicted and the wounded in various ways. For example, Joseph who was kept enclosed in the bonds of imprisonment, or Jonah swallowed by the whale, or Susanna whom He freed through Daniel's judgment when she was labouring under a false charge, the thief whom He also saved through his spontaneous confession. Then too there were the other kinds of mercies which no man's knowledge can explain.

secúndum judícium tuum vivífica me = according to your judgment revive me

Cassiodorus continues: Judgment is quite simply what we must seek when we prostrate ourselves in humble satisfaction, when we lay aside excuses and confess our sins; for at that moment the Lord's judgment embodies pity for such suppliants, since an entreaty is meritorious if one in humble and suppliant posture asks to be quickened according to the Lord's judgment. When the Lord judges He pities, and when He pities He judges; for He neither pities without judgment nor judges without pity.

157 Multi qui persequúntur me, et tríbulant me: * a testimóniis tuis non declinávi.
Many are they that persecute me and afflict me; but I have not declined from your testimonies

Multi qui persequúntur me= [There are] many who persecute me

et tríbulant me= and trouble me

St Bellarmine comments: It is not without reason that I ask you to quicken me; for the visible enemies, and the invisible ones who outnumber them, and seek to destroy me, are very numerous, yet nevertheless, through the help I have had from you, "I have not declined" to one side or the other, "from thy testimonies;" from thy commandments, the only straight and direct road.

a testimóniis tuis non declinávi = from your testimonies I have not swerved

Reading this at the collective level, St Augustine comments that “The whole earth has been crimsoned by the blood of Martyrs; heaven is flowery with the crowns of Martyrs, the Churches are adorned with the memorials of Martyrs, seasons distinguished by the birthdays of Martyrs, cures more frequent by the merits of Martyrs.”

158 Vidi prævaricántes, et tabescébam: * quia elóquia tua non custodiérunt.
I beheld the transgressors, and pined away; because they kept not your word.

Vidi prævaricántes, et tabescébam= I have seen [those] transgressing and I was fainting/pined away/am grieved

The neo-Vulgate changes tabescebam to taeduit me, to reflect the Hebrew Masoretic Text’s implication of disgust or loathing.

praevaricor, atus sum, ari to walk crookedly in a lit. or fig. sense, not to act uprightly; to transgress, to break the law
tabesco, tabui, ere 3 to pine away, waste away, melt away, faint.

quia elóquia tua non custodiérunt = for your words they have not kept

We should grieve at the sins of others, first for the offence given to God and secondly because unless they repent, they will not enjoy everlasting life.

159 Vide quóniam mandáta tua diléxi, Dómine: * in misericórdia tua vivífica me.
Behold I have loved your commandments, O Lord; quicken me in your mercy.

Vide quóniam mandáta tua diléxi, Dómine = See that your commandments I have loved O Lord,

Differentiating himself from the sinners of the previous verse. The point is that charity makes all the difference, as Cassiodorus notes:

“But once they had recounted the savagery of the persecutors, and the punishments imposed, they pass to the charity which commends all things; for if they had endured such treatment without living the Lord's commandments, they would not have had a blessed crown, but merely have exhibited sinful boasting. As Paul says: If I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing? If a person grumbles as he endures the tortures of martyrdom, there is a sense in which he seems ungrateful to the Lord's law; he should love the means by which he believes he attains eternal joys. The Lord pays more favourable attention to attitudes of mind than to the pain of physical suffering, just as He witnesses almsgiving offered with a joyful heart. So they rightly begged the Lord to be enlivened, for they had spurned worldly life in a spirit of true religion.”

in misericórdia tua vivífica me = in your mercy revive me

160 Princípium verbórum tuórum, véritas: * in ætérnum ómnia judícia justítiæ tuæ.
The beginning of your words is truth: all the judgments of your justice are for ever.

Princípium verbórum tuórum, véritas = The beginning/sum of your words [is] truth

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (215) quotes this verse and comments: God is Truth itself, whose words cannot deceive. This is why one can abandon oneself in full trust to the truth and faithfulness of his word in all things. The beginning of sin and of man's fall was due to a lie of the tempter who induced doubt of God's word, kindness and faithfulness

principium, ii, n. the beginning; the sum, substance, content; sovereignty, princely, power, dominion

in ætérnum ómnia judícia justítiæ tuæ = forever/eternal [are] all the judgments of your justice

St Augustine takes this as a reference to our everlasting fate: From truth, he says, Your words do proceed, and they are therefore truthful, and deceive no man, for in them life is announced to the righteous, punishment to the ungodly. These are the everlasting judgments of God's righteousness.


And for the next part in this series continue on here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Psalm 118 (119) qof: Keeping vigil

Pope John Paul II gave two General Audiences on this stanza of Psalm 118 in his series on the psalms of the Liturgy of the Hours (it is used at Lauds on Saturday of Week I), so today some extracts from his catechesis.

The first of his talks (Wednesday 14 November 2001) focuses on the ideal of keeping vigil that the psalm alludes to:

“In fact the scene at the centre of this set of 8 verses is nocturnal, but open to the new day. After a long night of waiting and of prayerful vigil in the Temple, when the dawn appears on the horizon and the liturgy begins, the believer is certain that the Lord will hear the one who spent the night in prayer, hoping and meditating on the divine Word. Fortified by this awareness and facing the day that unfolds before him, he will no longer fear dangers. He knows that he will not be overcome by his persecutors who besiege him with treachery (cf. v. 150) because the Lord is with him. The strophe expresses an intense prayer: "I call with all my heart, Lord; answer me.... I rise before the dawn and cry for help; I hope in your word ..." (vv.145.147). In the Book of Lamentations, we read this invitation: "Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands toward him" (Lam 2,19). St Ambrose repeated: "O man, know you not that every day you should offer God the first fruits of your heart and voice? Make haste at dawn to carry to the Church the first fruits of your devotion" (Exp. in ps. CXVIII; PL 15, 1476 A). At the same time our strophe is also the exaltation of a certainty: we are not alone because God listens and intervenes. The one who prays, says: "Lord, you are near" (v. 151). The other psalms confirm it: "Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies!" (Ps 68,19); "The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit" (Ps 33,19)”

The second (January 2003) starts by looking at the stanza as an example of prayer as a dialogue:

“The stanza we have just heard is a strophe marked by the Hebrew letter qôf, that portrays the person at prayer who expresses his intense life of faith and prayer to God (cf. vv. 145-152).The invocation of the Lord is relentless because it is a continuing response to the permanent teaching of the Word of God. On the one hand, in fact, the verbs used in prayer are multiplied: "I cry to you", "I call upon you", "I cry for help", "hear my voice". On the other hand, the Psalmist exalts the word of the Lord that proposes decrees, teachings, the word, promises, judgment, the law, the precepts and testimonies of God. Together they form a constellation that is like the polar star of the Psalmist's faith and confidence. Prayer is revealed as a dialogue that begins when it is night before the first gleam of dawn (cf. v. 147), and continues through the day, particularly in the difficult trials of life. In fact, at times the horizon is dark and stormy: "In betrayal my persecutors turn on me, they are far from your law" (v. 150). But the person praying has a steadfast certainty: the closeness of God, with his word and his grace: "But you, O Lord, are close" (v. 151). God does not abandon the just in the hands of persecutors.”

Verse by verse

145 Clamávi in toto corde meo, exáudi me, Dómine: justificatiónes tuas requíram.
I cried with my whole heart, hear me, O Lord: I will seek/search out your justifications

Clamávi in toto corde meo, exáudi me, Dómine = I have cried out with my whole heart, hear me O Lord

Bellarmine comments that for our prayers to be effective, they must be heartfelt: “For, as we cannot hear one speaking in a subdued tone, and are sure to hear them when they shout, thus God seems to take no notice, as if he did not hear it at all, of a cold, distracted prayer, but is all attention to an ardent, earnest one, as if he could not avoid hearing it”

justificatiónes tuas requíram = your justifications I will seek out

Cassiodorus comments on the object of their intense prayer: “Observe too what they sought with their whole heart and strength; not worldly riches, not marriage with noble women, not momentary distinctions, but the Lord's justifications which the holy mind always desires and seeks above gold and the topaz.”

requiro, quisivi, quisitum, ere 3 seek, seek after, to care for, have regard for, take an interest in; to search out, observe

146 Clamávi ad te, salvum me fac: ut custódiam mandáta tua.
I cried unto you, save me: that I may keep your commandments

Clamávi ad te, salvum me fac = I have cried to you, save me

This is a plea for grace – we are saved by keeping the commandments which we need God’s help in order to do.

ut custódiam mandáta tua = that I may keep your commandments

146 Clamávi ad te, salvum me fac: ut custódiam mandáta tua.
I cried unto you, save me: that I may keep your commandments

Clamávi ad te, salvum me fac = I have cried to you, save me

This is a plea for grace – we are saved by keeping the commandments which we need God’s help in order to do. The neo-Vulgate changes mandata to testimonia, presumably to reflect the Septuagint Greek μαρτύριά which is usually translated in this psalm as testimonies.

ut custódiam mandáta tua = that I may keep your commandments

147 Prævéni in maturitáte, et clamávi: * quia in verba tua supersperávi.
I prevented the dawning of the day, and cried: because in your words I very much hoped

Prævéni in maturitáte, et clamávi = I have come before/anticipated/prevented dawn/maturity and I have called = I rose early

This verse is not easy to translate.

First, praeveni literally means prevent, but in the context, ‘anticipates’ might better convey what it is trying to convey, thus Augustine comments:

“If we refer this to each of the faithful, and to the literal character of the act; it oft happens that the love of God is awake in that hour of the night, and, the love of prayer strongly urging us, the time of prayer, which is wont to be after the crowing of the cock, is not awaited, but prevented. But if we understand night of the whole of this world's duration; we indeed cry unto God at midnight, and prevent the fullness of time in which He will restore us what He has promised, as is elsewhere read, Let us prevent His presence with confession.”

Secondly, there is some debate about just what time of night or morning is being referred to in this verse - St Jerome’s translation from the Hebrew makes this I rose in the darkness (tenebrae), and perhaps links it implicitly to verse 62 on rising at midnight.  Maturitas in the Vulgate literally means ripeness or maturity, the full or proper time for something, so 'I have prevented maturity'.  But the Hebrew and Greek seems more to be trying to convey the idea of rising before dawn in order to greet it in prayer (hence maturitas in the Vulgate is interpreted as meaning dawn; changed to diluculum in the neo-Vulgate to make this clearer).  The New English Translation of the Septuagint, for example, gives it as 'I got a head-start at an unseemly hour'. St Ambrose comments: "O man, know you not that every day you should offer God the first fruits of your heart and voice? Make haste at dawn to carry to the Church the first fruits of your devotion" (Exp. in ps. CXVIII; PL 15, 1476 A).

praevenio, veni, ventum, ire, come or go before, precede, be beforehand, anticipate, prevent, forestall.
maturitas, atis, f maturity, ripeness; early morning, dawn.
diluculum, i, n. the dawn, daybreak, the early morning, morning twilight,.

148 Prævenérunt óculi mei ad te dilúculo: * ut meditárer elóquia tua.
My eyes to you have prevented the morning: that I might meditate on your words.

Prævenérunt óculi mei ad te dilúculo = My eyes have prevented to you the dawn = My eyes seek you before dawn/anticipate you at dawn

The neo-Vulgate substitutes vigilias or night watches for diluculum (dawn) here.

diluculum, i, n. the dawn, daybreak, the early morning, morning twilight,.

ut meditárer elóquia tua =in order to meditate on your words

149 Vocem meam audi secúndum misericórdiam tuam, Dómine: et secúndum judícium tuum vivífica me.
Hear my voice, O Lord, according to your mercy: and quicken me according to your judgment.

Vocem meam audi secúndum misericórdiam tuam, Dómine = Hear my voice according to your mercy O Lord

et secúndum judícium tuum vivífica me = and according to your justice revive me

St Augustine comments: For first God according to His loving-mercy takes away punishment from sinners, and will give them life afterwards…

150 Appropinquavérunt persequéntes me iniquitáti: * a lege autem tua longe facti sunt.
They that persecute me have drawn near to iniquity; but they have gone far off from your law.

Appropinquavérunt persequéntes me iniquitáti = Those who are persecuting me have drawn near to /approached iniquity

appropinquo, avi, atum, are , to draw near,approach
persequor, seciitus sum, sequi, to pursue, follow perseveringly, follow after, persecute.
iniquitas, atis, f iniquity, injustice, sin.

a lege autem tua longe facti sunt = but from your law they have been made/have gone far off = but they are far removed from your law

longe, adv. far off, at a distance; as a substantive with a and de, afar off, from afar.
151 Prope es tu, Dómine: * et omnes viæ tuæ véritas.
You are near, O Lord: and all your ways are truth.

Prope es tu, Dómine = You are near O Lord

Ie in the midst of our persecution by evil-doers as mentioned in the previous verse.

prope, near, nigh.

et omnes viæ tuæ véritas = and all your ways are truth

151 Prope es tu, Dómine: * et omnes viæ tuæ véritas.
You are near, O Lord: and all your ways are truth.

Prope es tu, Dómine = You are near O Lord

Ie in the midst of our persecution by evil-doers as mentioned in the previous verse.

prope, near, nigh.

et omnes viæ tuæ véritas = and all your ways are truth

The neo-Vulgate changes viae to praececepta which reflects the Greek ἐντολαί used here.

152 Inítio cognóvi de testimóniis tuis: quia in ætérnum fundásti ea.
I have known from the beginning concerning your testimonies: that you have founded them for ever.

Inítio cognóvi de testimóniis tuis = I have known from the beginning/from of old about your testimonies

The Fathers see this as a reference back to the promises made to the Fathers, and events which foreshadow the coming of Our Lord.

initium, ii n beginning, commencement.
cognosco, gnovi, gnitum, ere 3, to know, see, learn, perceive, be come acquainted with.

quia in ætérnum fundásti ea = that you have established them forever

ie eternal truths are being referred to here

fundo, avi, atum, are to lay the foundation of, to found, establish

And for the next post in this series, continue on here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Righteous zeal or 'spiritual warmongering'?: Psalm 118 (119) Tzade

Resuming today our study of Psalm 118, we are now up to the eighteenth stanza of this longest of the psalms. And following the alphabetical progression of the Hebrew alphabet, it is headed up Tzade.

It is often suggested that the Church needs to be more inclusive and welcoming of sinners, rather than calling on them to repent from their sins.

Standing up and fighting for our faith is even labeled by some as ‘spiritual warmongering’!

Yet such attitudes aren’t easy to reconcile with the Gospel, for Christ calls us to turn away from sin, not to embrace it, and to fight for what is right.

Zeal consumes me

In the previous stanza, the psalmist ended up weeping for his own sins. Here however the psalmist is concerned over the actions and fate of others. The central verse is 139:

Tabéscere me fecit zelus meus: quia oblíti sunt verba tua inimíci mei.
My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget thy words

So today I want to look at the delicate balance between a healthy zeal, that embraces the spiritual works of mercy advocated in today’s stanza of Psalm 118, of instructing the ignorant and admonishing sinners; the sin of cowardice in failing to teach at all; and the evil zeal of bitterness.

Zeal for the law of the Lord is a virtue

Verse 139 echoes the verse of Psalm 68(69) applied to Our Lord in the New Testament in relation to his cleansing of the Temple:

In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade." His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume me." Jn 2

But zeal can be both good and bad:

Cassiodorus comments:

“Zeal is used in both the bad sense and the good sense; in the bad sense, as in: "Zeal and envy have devoured the house of Jacob"; and again, we read in the Acts of the Apostles: When they saw this, the Jews -were filled-with zeal, and they laid their hands on the apostles. This kind of zeal always leads to sins, lays ambushes, cuts off the path to salvation.

Too often we see this evil zeal today in those who attack the bishops when they are actually defending the faith, and claim some superior knowledge to that of the Pope as to what Vatican II is meant to mean to us.

Yet good zeal can seem extremist at times, as Cassiodorus comments:

“The word is used in the good sense: The zeal of thy house has consumed me and Elias says: With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord God of hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant,." Then too Phineas the priest, on seeing the Israelite engaged in sexual intercourse with the Moabite woman, in zeal for the Lord's command ran them both through with the sword." His zeal was so effective that it alone diverted the Lord's anger. Indeed, this kind of zeal bestows salvation, keeps faith, maintains chastity and protects God's Church with splendid vigour.”

The marks of good zeal

The verses of this stanza point to some of the distinguishing marks of a healthy zeal for God, namely that it starts from the realization that we are all sinners (previous stanza), who need God’s truth and justice as a guide (v137-138, 142) and is fired up by love of God and meditation on his law (140-144).

Verse by verse

137 Justus es, Dómine: * et rectum judícium tuum.
You are just, O Lord: and your judgment is right.

Justus es, Dómine = you are just o Lord

et rectum judícium tuum = and your justice is righteous

The starting point for our assessment of our own and others state is God’s justice, which is broader than his meeting of punishments and rewards.

justus, a, um just as a subst., a just man, the just.
judicium, i, n. judgment, decrees; law, commandment; the power, or faculty of judging wisely; justice
rectus, a, um, part. adj. just, right, righteous, upright; the just, just men, the good; steadfast, stable, steady.

138 Mandásti justítiam testimónia tua: * et veritátem tuam nimis.
You have commanded justice your testimonies: and your truth exceedingly.

Mandásti justítiam testimónia tua = you have commanded justice [in] your testimonies

et veritátem tuam nimis = and your truth exceedingly

=You have ordained your testimonies [to be] justice and truth beyond measure.

mando, avi, atum, are to enjoin, order, command.
testimonium, ii, n. testimonies, commands, decrees; commandments, ordinances, statutes, judgments, testimonies
nimis, adv., exceedingly, greatly, beyond measure.

139 Tabéscere me fecit zelus meus: * quia oblíti sunt verba tua inimíci mei.
My zeal has made me pine away: because my enemies forgot your words.

Tabéscere me fecit zelus meus = My zeal makes me [to] pine away [consumed me]

The Neo-Vulgate changes the verb here to ‘consumpsit’, or it consumed’ which reflects both the Hebrew and the New Testament citation of this verse.

quia oblíti sunt verba tua inimíci mei = for my enemies have forgotten your words

tabesco, tabui, ere 3 to pine away, waste away, melt away, faint.
zelus, i, m. zeal; jealousy,indignation, displeasure.
obliviscor, oblitus sum, oblivisci to forget
inimicus, i, m., a foe, enemy

140 Ignítum elóquium tuum veheménter: et servus tuus diléxit illud.
Your word is exceedingly refined: and your servant has loved it.

Ignítum elóquium tuum veheménter = Your word [is] exceedingly pure/refined/fire-tried

Cassiodorus: “The Lord's word is ablaze, for it cleanses men's hearts when they are befouled with worldly grime. Just as the blazing heat of the furnace melts down metals and burns out their faults by necessary purification, so the Lord's word cleanses the thoughts of the humble by wiping away the stains of sins. The heart of Cleophas burned with this fire when she said: Was not our heart burning within us when he opened to us the scriptures?”

et servus tuus diléxit illud = and your servant has loved it

ignitus, a, um fire-tried, purified from dross, very pure
eloquium, ii, n. a word, oracle, speech, utterance, promise.
vehementer, adv. greatly, exceedingly, very much.
diligo, lexi, lectum, ere 3 to love; to flatter, make pretence of loving.
ille, ilia, illud, demon, pron., that; also he, she, it In the Vulgate ille is frequently used for is or ipse

141 Adolescéntulus sum ego et contémptus: * justificatiónes tuas non sum oblítus.
I am very young and despised; but I forget not your justifications

Adolescéntulus sum ego et contémptus = I am young and despised

St Augustine comments that: The younger seems to grieve for those older than himself who had forgotten the righteousnesses of God, while he himself had not forgotten. For what means, I am young, yet do I not forget? save this, Those older than me have forgotten. For the Greek word is νεώτερος, the same as that used in the words above, Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? This is a comparative, and is therefore well understood in its relation to some one older.

Can also be seen as a reference back to verses 99-100 I have more understanding more than my teachers and elders.

justificatiónes tuas non sum oblítus = I have not forgotten your justifications

adolescentulus, i, m. youth, young man from 13 to 20 years of age, or even more
contemptus, a, um, part, adj: despised.

142 Justítia tua, justítia in ætérnum: * et lex tua véritas.
Your justice is justice for ever: and your law is the truth.

Justítia tua = your justice

justítia in ætérnum = [is] justice forever

et lex tua véritas = and your law [is the] truth

143 Tribulátio, et angústia invenérunt me: * mandáta tua meditátio mea est.
Trouble and anguish have found me: your commandments are my meditation.

Tribulátio, et angústia invenérunt me = trouble and hardship have found me

mandáta tua meditátio mea est = your commandments are my meditation

angustia, ae, f prop, narrowness of circumstances, scarcity, want, poverty, hardship; anguish, afflictions, difficulties
invenio, veni, ventum, ire, to find

144 Æquitas testimónia tua in ætérnum: * intelléctum da mihi, et vivam.
Your testimonies are justice for ever: give me understanding, and I shall live.

Æquitas testimónia tua in ætérnum = Your testimonies are justice forever

intelléctum da mihi, et vivam = give to me understanding and I will live

aequitas, atis, f justice, fairness, uprightness, goodness
vivo, vixi, victum, ere 3 to live, to have life, be alive,

And for the next post in this series, continue on here.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Psalm 118 (119) Phe: Joy and the law

Today’s stanza of Psalm 118 (Phe, verses 129-136) is the first ‘psalm’ of Monday Sext in the Benedictine Office; Sunday None in the Roman.

And it is a stanza that I think brings us back to the opening verses of the psalm: Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.

Joy and the law

It is often suggested these days that focusing on God’s law, whether in the broadest use of that term, or in the form of moral, judicial and ceremonial codes of either the Old Law or the Church, somehow stands in opposition to joy and thus evangelization.

This psalm repeatedly asserts that the very opposite is the case.

The first verse of this stanza is a restatement of this key theme:

Mirabilia testimonia tua : ideo scrutata est ea anima mea.
Your testimonies are wonderful: therefore my soul has sought them.

St Augustine sees testimonies here as above all a reference to the wonder of creation, through which alone we can reason our way to God. But it can equally be interpreted (and has been) as including the detailed code of the old Law contained in the Torah, to the working out of God’s providential plan in history, and above all to the coming of Christ and the institution of his Church.

Consider for example the Old Testament laws, most of which Christians do not follow. St Robert Bellarmine comments that on the face of it they are not wonderful, but rather articulated so no one can claim ignorance of what was required. Yet they are wonderful, he argues, especially the Decalogue, in that they contain and foreshadow all the (proper) laws of the world:

“But as regards the mystic meaning, especially of the ceremonial laws, they are wonderful and most obscure, foreshadowing, as they do, all the mysteries of the Christian religion, to which the Prophet alludes here. With that, the Decalogue that principally contains God's law, is wonderful for being written in such plain and intelligible language, though it contains, in the smallest possible space, all the principles of justice on which all the laws that ever have been, or will be made, are based. All other laws are innumerable, have filled, and are still filling, many large volumes, and yet they are all conclusions or inferences from the laws of the Decalogue. Thus, as small seeds are wonderful by reason of their having within them the germs of large trees, so the Decalogue is wonderful by reason of its essentially comprising all the laws of the world.”

Truth is the true freedom

This stanza goes on to explain just why seeking and studying the law should be so freeing, so joyful.

First, they shed light on our path, so that we do not have to walk in darkness:

Declaratio sermonum tuorum illuminat, The declaration of your words gives light (v129)

They allow God to direct us in our way (v133), and bring his blessings on us (v135, Make you face shine upon me).

Secondly, they give understanding to those who are prepared to become like little children as the Gospel enjoins us, rather than insisting on our own path in the name of an ‘adult faith’:

et intellectum dat parvulis : and gives understanding to little ones.

Thirdly, following them allows us to call for God’s justice (whether realized now or in the next life) in the face of attacks by evildoers (v134).

Joy mixed with pain

Yet the psalmist also reminds us that in this life, the joy of God’s law can never be entirely pure, never be entirely unmixed with pain, for we are all sinners who are yet to be fully purified. Attempting to follow God’s law gives us the right to ask, as Verse 132 suggests, to ask for his mercy, and to ask for him to prevent us falling to the forces of evil (v133).

Thus the stanza reminds us that the wonder of the law should call forth not just longing for it, and for the grace that we need (v131), but also repentance (v136):

Exitus aquarum deduxerunt oculi mei, quia non custodierunt legem tuam.
My eyes have sent forth springs of water: because they have not kept your law.

In this stanza, the repentance is for our own sins. In the next stanza (verses 137-144), as we shall see next week, the psalmist speaks of the zeal called forth by the lapses of others.

Verse by verse

129 Mirabilia testimonia tua: ideo scrutata est ea anima mea.
Your testimonies are wonderful: therefore my soul has sought them.

mirabilis, e wonderful, marvelous; subst., mirabilia, mm, wonders, wonderful works, marvellous things.
ideo, adv., therefore, on that account
scrutor, atus sum, ari, to search, examine, scrutinize; to search out, examine carefully

Mirabilia testimonia tua =your testimonies [are] wonderful

Testimonia here corresponds to the Greek marturia, from which the word martyrdom is derived; Hebrew eduwth (a precept of God). The Fathers and Theologians offer varying interpretations of the testimonies being referred to: St Augustine points to the wonder of creation; St Bellarmine to the moral, judicial and ceremonial law (of the Torah).

ideo scrutata est ea anima mea = therefore my soul has sought/searched/examined them

The power of God’s law naturally attracts the soul to it, by virtues of its marvelous nature inclines us to try understand and keep it.

130 Declaratio sermonum tuorum illuminat, et intellectum dat parvulis.
The declaration of your words gives light: and gives understanding to little ones.

Declaratio sermonum tuorum illuminat = the declaration/statement of your words/commands/edicts enlightens/gives light

The ‘sermonum’ translates the Greek logos, Hebrew dabar.

declaratio, onis, f a declaration, an open and clear statement
sermo, onis, m. words; a command, edict word, speech, saying, discourse; scheme, plan, proposal
illumino, avi, atum, are , to make or cause to shine, to enlighten, illuminate. to shine forth, to shine.

et intellectum dat parvulis = it gives understanding to little ones

intellectus, us, m. understanding, insight.
parvulus, a, um , small, little. Of age: little, youthful, young. children, little ones, the simple, the guileless,

This verse provides some context and continuity to two key NT concepts, namely the Word as the light of the world (cf Jn 1), and the importance of becoming humble and receptive, as little children, if we truly wish to understand God’s teaching. The ‘manifestation/declaration of your words’ can clearly be interpreted, as Cassiodorus points out, as a reference to the Incarnation of Our Lord.

131 Os meum aperui, et attraxi spiritum: quia mandata tua desiderabam.
I opened my mouth, and panted: because I longed for your commandments

Os meum aperui, et attraxi spiritum = I have opened my mouth and drew breath/panted

This phrase has both a literal explanation and a spiritual one: literally he took a deep breath, or panted; or spiritually, as St Augustine suggests, he reached out for grace and drew in the Holy Spirit. The underlying idea is that though we ourselves can cultivate our desire for God, we cannot do it alone, nor can we actually follow his ways, without his breath or grace from the Holy Spirit.

os, oris, n., the mouth.
aperio, perui, pertum, ire, to open
attraho, traxi, tractum, ere 3 to draw to; of persons, to drag; to draw breath
spiritus, us, m. breath; wind; breath of life, vital spirit; the soul; spirit, disposition; Divine assistance, grace

quia mandata tua desiderabam = for I was longing for your commandments

desidero, avi, atum, are, to long for, desire, earnestly wish for

132 Aspice in me, et miserere mei, secundum judicium diligentium nomen tuum.
Look upon me, and have mercy on me according to the judgment of them that love your name.

Aspice in me = Look upon me

aspicio, spexi, spectum, ere 3 to look at, behold, see.

et miserere mei = and have mercy/pity on me

secundum judicium = according to the judgment

diligentium nomen tuum = loving your name = of them that love your name

nomen, mis, n. name; God himself; the perfections of God, His glory, majesty, wisdom, power, goodness,

ie, Bellarmine says, the same mercy on me that you have on those friends of yours that truly love you.

133 Gressus meos dirige secundum eloquium tuum, et non dominetur mei omnis injustitia.
Direct my steps according to your word: and let no iniquity have dominion over me.

Gressus meos dirige = direct my steps

gressus, us, m. , steps, stride, goings, the whole course of one's life
dirigo, rexi, rectum, ere 3 to direct, guide, set aright; to prosper, to be established.

secundum eloquium tuum = according to your promise

et non dominetur mei omnis injustitia =and do not let any sin have dominion of me

dominor, atus sum, ari to rule over, have dominion over, lord it over; to rule, reign
injustitia, ae, f. injustice, iniquity, sin..

Ligurori summarises the verse aptly: “Make me conduct myself according to Thy law, and permit not that any unjust passion should have dominion over me”.

134 Redime me a calumniis hominum ut custodiam mandata tua.
Redeem me from the calumnies of men: that I may keep your commandments.

Redime me a calumniis hominum = save me from the false accusations/oppression of men

redimo emi emptum ere 3 to redeem, buy back, ransom, rescue, set free, save
calumnia, ae, f. oppression, false accusation.

ut custodiam mandata tua=in order that I may keep your commandments

The good often attract false accusations; this verse asks for the grace to get through such trials unscathed. Bellarmine says: “Direct my steps, then especially, when, confused by calumnies, there may be danger of straying from the right way, for "Calumny troubleth the wise, and shall destroy the strength of his heart." "Redeem me from the calumnies of men." Deliver me from their calumnies, that my mind being at rest, "I may keep thy commandments."

135 Faciem tuam illumina super servum tuum, et doce me justificationes tuas.
Make your face to shine upon your servant: and teach me your justifications.

Faciem tuam illumina = Your face shining =let/cause your face to shine

facies, ei, f. face, countenance, appearance; presence.
illumino, avi, atum, are , to make or cause to shine, to enlighten, illuminate. to shine forth, to shine.

super servum tuum = on your servant

super +acc=above, upon, over, in, on;+abl= about, concerning; with, on, upon, for, because of.

et doce me justificationes tuas = teach me your justifications

136 Exitus aquarum deduxerunt oculi mei, quia non custodierunt legem tuam.
My eyes have sent forth springs of water: because they have not kept your law.

Exitus aquarum =water going out

exitus –us m a going out, going forth, departure

deduxerunt =they have lead

deduco, duxi ductum, ere 3, to lead or bring down; to guide, lead, conduct

oculi mei = my eyes

=tears have run down from my eyes

quia non custodierunt legem tuam = because they have not kept your law



And this series continues on here.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Psalm 118 (119) Ayin: Time for action

Today’s stanza of Psalm 118 focuses on a call for God to act: to protect those who seek to do good from their enemies; for God to send his salvation in the form of Christ; and above all to stop evil doers from continuing to break God’s laws.

The central verse is 126:

‘It is time for the Lord to act for thy law has been broken’ (RSV)

How does God act?

Cassiodorus suggests that the answer is by sending us the Saviour:

It is time to do, in other words, time to appear as Saviour to the world, to loosen sins, to conquer death, and to lay low the devil with his troop. This is what the Lord's doing is, to come at the prophesied time. In the words of the prophet: In an acceptable time I have heard thee, and in the day of salvation I have helped thee; and as Paul says: Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

Whether you see this salvation primarily in terms of the Incarnation, Cross, Resurrection or Second Coming, I think, depends on your particular spirituality. In verse 123, the psalmist says that he faints after [the desire of] God’s salvation, which St Augustine sees as the Cross, prefigured by Moses’ holding aloft the image of a serpent on a pole. Cassiodorus, however, points to the Incarnation.

Acting through us
But there is an alternative interpretation to the Latin (albeit one corrected in the neo-Vulgate) as Haydock’s classic commentary points out: the Latin could be read as suggesting that it is time for us to act for the Lord, for example ‘by striving to repair the injuries done to his name and worship’.

Textual ambiguities aside it is a useful reminder that God acts in history through us: we cannot just sit back and wait for the Second Coming, we must do what we are called to do in the world now.

Of course action for Christ calls forth reaction, and the stanza reminds us of the ‘almost but not yet’ dimension of salvation: even though the Messiah has come, as we celebrate this coming Easter, we must still beg God daily, with the psalmist, for protection against those who slander us here and now (verses 121-122); for knowledge, understanding and the grace to do God’s will (verses 124-125); and above all for mercy rather than judgment on our sins when it comes to our end (verse 124).

Verse by verse

121 Feci judicium et justitiam : non tradas me calumniantibus me.
I have done judgment and justice: give me not up to them that slander me

judicium, i, n. judgment, decrees; law, commandment; the power, or faculty of judging wisely; justice.
justitia, ae, f. justice, righteousness, innocence, piety, moral integrity
trado, didi, ditum, ere 3, to give up, hand over, deliver up or over, abandon.
calumnior, atus sum, ari to oppress, to speak against unjustly.

Feci judícium et justítiam = I have done/made judgment and justice

The Greek here, dikaiosunen is often translated as righteousness, hence the Monastic Diurnal makes it ‘justice and righteousness’. The RSV translation perhaps best conveys the real sense here though: I have done what is just and right.

non tradas me calumniántibus me = do not hand me over/abandon me to [those] oppressing/slandering me

122 Suscipe servum tuum in bonum : non calumnientur me superbi.
Uphold your servant unto good: let not the proud calumniate me.

suscipio, cepi, ceptum, ere 3 to guard, protect, uphold, support; receive, accept; to seize.
superbus, a, um raising one's self above others, proud, haughty, arrogant, insolent.

Súscipe servum tuum in bonum = Uphold/receive your servant unto good/with favour

The Neo-Vulgate changes suscipe to sponde – give assurance, promise.

Non calumnientur me superbi= Let not the proud oppress/calumniate me.

123 Oculi mei defecerunt in salutare tuum, et in eloquium justitiæ tuæ.
My eyes have fainted after your salvation: and for the word of your justice

deficio, fed, fectum, ere 3 to fail, to be wasted, spent, consumed, cease to be, come to an end, vanish, long for, pine for,

eloquium, ii, n. a word, oracle, speech, utterance, promise.

Oculi mei defecérunt = my eyes have failed/longed for

in salutáre tuum = in your salvation

St Augustine sees this as the Cross, prefigured by Moses’ holding aloft the image of a serpent on a pole; Cassiodorus points to the Incarnation. The Neo-Vulgate makes it ‘with the desire of your salvation’.

et in elóquium justítiæ tuæ = and in the promise of your justice

124 Fac cum servo tuo secundum misericordiam tuam, et justificationes tuas doce me.
Deal with your servant according to your mercy: and teach me your justifications.

Fac cum servo tuo =do/deal with your servant

secúndum misericórdiam tuam =according to your mercy

That is, not on our merits; not as we deserve because of our sins.

et justificatiónes tuas doce me = and teach me your justifications

Cassiodorus: They continue with their diligent entreaties, for there must be no weariness in petitioning, since the generosity of the Donor cannot be exhausted. They made unlimited requests, for they asked that blessings be granted them according to God's mercy, and just as that mercy is unending, so His gifts are known to be never-failing. They did well to add: With thy servant, for one who desires another as master at once gives way. According to their custom, they invariably beg for the justifications which in their piety they have already obtained. This incessant demand is likewise indicated by the Lord's prayer, where it says: Give us this day our daily breads. It is right to make continual entreaty of Him, for He is offended if He is not petitioned.

125 Servus tuus sum ego : da mihi intellectum, ut sciam testimonia tua.
I am your servant: give me understanding that I may know your testimonies.

intellectus, us, m. understanding, insight.
scio, ivi and li, Itum, Ire, to know.

Servus tuus sum ego = I am your servant

da mihi intelléctum = give me understanding

Cassiodorus: Though we must beg the Lord with continual prayers for everything helpful to us, we must regularly beseech Him most of all for an understanding of the divine Scriptures, for the more they are apprehended, the sweeter they are found by holy minds.

ut sciam testimónia tua = that I may know your testimonies

Augustine notes that: For it suffices not to have received understanding, and to have learned the testimonies of God, unless it be evermore received, and evermore in a manner quaffed from the fountain of eternal light. For the testimonies of God are the better and the better known, the more understanding a man attains to.

126 Tempus faciendi, Domine: dissipaverunt legem tuam.
It is time, O Lord, to do: they have dissipated your law.

tempus, oris, n. time,
dissipo, avi, atum, are scatter, disperse; frustrate, bring to naught; break, annul, make void

Tempus faciéndi, Dómine = Time of making/doing O Lord = It is time [for you] to do/make/act O Lord OR It is time O Lord for action

The Vulgate is ambiguous in Latin. Haydock points out that it could be interpreted as 'it is time for us to act for the Lord', for example, ‘by striving to repair the injuries done to his name and worship’.

Most, however, interpret the phrase as ‘it is time for the Lord to act’. This is certainly consistent with the most obvious translation of the Greek, which makes Lord dative (to/for) rather than vocative (O Lord) as in the Latin, and the change of case to Domino in the neo-Vulgate reflects this.

The reason for the ambiguity though is that the Greek verb form (ποισαι) can have several meanings – it could be an infinitive (aorist infinitive active, to do/make/act), imperative (be done/made, aorist imperative middle) or third person aorist optative active (he/she/it-happens to do/make).

 díssipavérunt legem tuam = they have frustrated/broken/ your law

127 Ideo dilexi mandata tua super aurum et topazion.
Therefore have I loved your commandments above gold and the topaz.

ideo, adv., therefore, on that account.
aurum, i, n., gold
topazion, Ii, n. the topaz, a precious stone.

Ideo diléxi mandáta tua = therefore I have loved your commandments

Augustine: Grace has this object, that the commandments, which could not be fulfilled by fear, may be fulfilled by love...

super aurum et topázion = above gold and precious stone/topaz

The NV changes topaz to ‘obyryzum’ or fine gold, to align with the Hebrew MT. The argument is that topaz, regarded as the finest of precious stones, was a later discovery. In this view, the Greek topazios was probably in fact a yellow crystal now called chrysolite.  Hmm, maybe!

128 Propterea ad omnia mandata tua dirigebar; omnem viam iniquam odio habui.
Therefore was I directed to all your commandments: I have hated all wicked ways.

propterea, adv., therefore, on that account, for that cause; but now
dirigo, rexi, rectum, ere 3 to direct, guide, set aright; to prosper, to be established.
odio habere, to have hatred towards, to entertain hatred against, to hate

Proptérea = Therefore
ad ómnia mandáta tua = to all your commandments
dirigébar = I was guided by/directed by

omnem viam iníquam =all the ways of wickedness
ódio hábui = I have hated



And you can find the next part in this series here.