The Divine Lamp

Psalm 1 A Patristic Medieval Commentary

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 5, 2010

The following commentary is a compilation taken from numerous Church Fathers and Medieval Commentators. It was compiled by JM Neale and is in the public domain. Mr. Neale’s system of referencing the authors he is quoting or alluding to is quite impractical, and an attempt to identify the various authors would have taken me a considerable amount of time, therefore, I’ve not done so.  I’ve added a few minor notes of my own, these are in red text.

This Psalm is the preface of the Psalter, the Psalm of Psalms, the title of the whole book; and as the key of a palace, by opening the outer gate, gives access to innumerable chambers, so this gives admission to the mystery of all Psalms. And it has no title, because Jesus Christ, our Head, of Whom it altogether treats, “is before all things, and by Him all things subsist.” The last sentence, with its allusion to Col 1:17, reflects the idea-common in the early and medieval Church-that this Psalm “is to be understood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord Man.” (St Augustine).

1:1 Blessed is the man, that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners: and hath not sat in the seat of the scornful.

Blessed. As the prize is proclaimed before the conflict, so this book, the companion of the Church to the end of time in her great conflict, opens with the proclamation of her great reward,—blessedness. Both David and the Son of David begin their teaching with a blessing; only whereas here we have but one, the commencement of the Sermon on the Mount gives us eight. David was thought to be the author of this Psalm. the sentiment being expressed here witnesses to the importance of both prayer and the word of God.

Blessed is the man. Namely, He Who is both God and Man, Jesus Christ. The counsel of the ungodly was oftentimes offered to Him. Satan said, ” Command that these stones be made bread” (Mt 4:3); His friends said, “If Thou do these things, show Thyself to the world” (Jn 7:4); the Chief Priests said, “Let Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the Cross, that we may see and believe” (Mk 15:32). The way of sinners was open before Him; but He warned against it when He said, “Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth unto destruction” (Mt 7:13).  Before the seat of the scornful He stood indeed, when He testified of Himself that for this end came He into the world, that He should bear witness of the truth. But when He sat, it was in the seat of teaching, as when He instructed the multitude in the Sermon on the Mount; or in the seat of love, as when He was known to the two disciples in breaking of bread; and finally He shall sit in the scat of Judgment, when He shall come in the glory of the Father and of the holy Angels. Thou, therefore, O Christian, if thou seekest the name of blessed, repel these temptations as thy Master did; for it is written, ” Blessed is the man that endureth temptation” (James 1:12).  And when thou hast so repelled them, remember to return the blessing to Him from Whom it came, according to that saying, “Blessed be the Name of His Majesty for ever” Ps 72:19).

Notice the gradual way in which a man grows hardened in sin. First, he walks, or rather departs in the counsel of the the ungodly; departs from God, and goes to himself; leaves the  Fountain of all wisdom, for the advice of him that is the source of all iniquity. Secondly, he stands in the way of sinners, as opposed to the Way of Life, which is Christ. Where note: he saith not, who hath not been in the way of sinners, for in that way all were born; but, who hath not stood in it, after being once removed from it by holy Baptism. Lastly, which is more than walking or standing, tnere is the sitting in the seat of the scornful; the throwing in our lot and portion with them here, because we choose it, whose lot and portion will be ours hereafter, whether we choose it or not. And, again; there are three other steps of guilt: the ungodly, namely, those that forget God; the sinners, who commit open and grievous sins; the scornful, those who boast themselves in their wickedness, and ridicule that which is good. Where observe, that the three miracles of raising the dead which our Lord performed set forth to us His power over all these three degrees of sin. Jairus’ daughter was just dead; there is the state of the ungodly. The son of the widow of Nain was already carried out of the city; where we have the sinners, who are removed from the company of the faithful, Lazarus had been dead four days, and was buried; and he is a type of the scorners, who are dead and buried in trespasses and sins. And further, notice, that of these three, Lazarus is the only one that is mentioned by name; just as it has oftentimes pleased God to make the greatest of sinners into the great lights of His Church.

Blessed is the man. The word man does not here denote sex, but maturity of reason, wherefore the Church does not hesitate to use the Psalm of certain Virgin Martyrs. And as the Psalmist tells us of the man Adam, who was wretched because he walked in the counsel of the ungodly, and thereby drew all men into condemnation, so he points to the coming Man, Whose obedience shall be rewarded with blessedness above human thought. The way of sinners. This world is that way, observes S. Augustine, the broad way which leadeth to destruction. The seat of the scornful. The LXX. and Vulgate read the seat of pestilence.  Sitting, that is, as a teacher of evil, corrupting by precept and example, in contrast with Christ, Whose words are healing to the soul. Pride is that seat, remarks another, and he only sits not there who desires not the kingdom of this world. Or, better, it is heretical doctrine, whose “word will eat as doth a canker,” especially the false philosophy of Gentile paganism.]

1:2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord: and in his law will he exercise himself day and night.

but his s delight is in the law of the Lord. Here we have three steps in holiness, which in some degree answer to the three stages of sin. And in the respective position of the two verses we learn that the beginning of God’s fear is to depart from sin,—its progress, to do good; as it is written, “Cease to do evil, learn to do well” (Isa 1:16). To delight in the law of the Lord; this is much: and yet this, after a sort, is done by the wicked: “They take delight in drawing near to God” (Isa 58:2). To meditate on His law by day,—that is, in the day
of prosperity, is more; and yet of this Satan may say, ” Doth Job fear God for nought?” (Job 1:9) But most of all is it to do so in the night of adversity. So it was with the Man of Whose blessedness the Psalm treats (i.e., Jesus). He so meditated on the law of His Fathee in the same night in which He was betrayed, that whereas He might presently have called for more than twelve legions of angels. He would not, saying, “How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (Mt 26:54). Again, He so meditated on it in that night when “there was darkness over all the earth from the sixth hour till the ninth hour” (Mt 27:45) that it is written of Him, “After this, Jesus, knowing
that all things were now accomplished, that the Scriptures might he fulfilled, saith, I thirst” (Jn 19:28). And in these three steps to, or degrees of, holiness, we are reminded of that Blessed Trinity, to Whose Presence they lead.

His delight is in the law. Yet the Apostle saith that ” the law is not made for a righteous man” (1 Tim 1:9).  But it is one thing to be in the law, another to be under the law. He who is in the law, deals according to the law, he who is under the law is dealt with by the law. The one is free, the other a bondsman. St Albert Magnus: Day and night. This is, in its fulness, true of Christ only. Who kept God’s law sleeping as well as waking, and of Whom it is therefore said, “I sleep, but my heart waketh” (Cant 5:2).

1:3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the waterside: that will bring forth his fruit in due season.

And he shall he like a tree planted by the water-side. And here, leaving for a moment the Lord, David turns to the servant. He, the true follower of Christ, shall be like the tree planted by the water-side, which is Cheist Himself, —the “green tree,” on which His enemies did such things, and which they hewed down, but which now flourishes in the midst of the Paradise of God. Thus it is said that the true servant of his Lord shall be transformed into the image of
Lord. Planted by the water-side. For as rivers flow through valleys and low countries, so the root of all holy actious is nourished by humility. And here also the tears of repentance are set forth to us, that water-side by which the
greatest of God’s Saints have most loved to be planted. Planted: and that by the Hand of God: as it is written, “Every tree which My heavenly Father hath not planted shall be plucked up” (Mt 15:3).  In due season: for it is not enough that our works be good, unless they be also done at the right time. As one says, ” God loveth adverbs; it mattereth less to Him that a thing be good, than that it be well.” And this also was fulfilled in the Man of Whom we speak. Who Himselfmtestified, “My time is not yet come, but your time is always ready” (Jn 7:6).

He, Christ Jesus Himself, shall he like a tree, in His Humanity, planted by the water-side, because hypostatically united to the Godhead of the Son, which flows from the Father, that will bring forth His fruit, the Holy Ghost, Who has mission from Him, in due season, after His own Resurrection and Ascension. The Monastic Breviary, prefixing, on the Exaltation of the Cross, the words of Venantius Fortunatus as the Antiphon to this Psalm:

Sweetest wood, and sweetest iron,
Sweetest weight is hung on thee.
Hymn Verilla Regis.

teaches us that the Cross itself is the Tree which brought forth its fruit in God’s own season, as the same poet sings in another hymn:

When at length the sacred fulness
Of the appointed time was come,
This world’s Maker left His Father,
Sent the heavenly mansion from.
Hymn, Pange Lingua.

And the verse will then tell us of conformity to the Passion as the true mark of a Saint.

Others again, while referring the Tree to Christ, find in the waterside a reference to the Church, intended for all nations, according to that saying, “The waters are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues” (Rev 17:15), and the  fruit then denotes the local Churches founded in many lands by the Apostles.  They who take the Tree to represent a Saint, explain the water as the gifts of the Holy Ghost, free, cooling, satisfying.

1:4 His leaf also shall not wither : and look, whatsoever he doeth, it shall prosper.

His leaf also shall not wither.  As the fruit signifies works, so the leaves set forth words. The leaves of the tree, the words of Him that spake as never man spake, “are for the healing of the nations” (Rev 22:2).  His leaf, not leaves; for all the words of Christ are comprehended in this one, namely,-Love.  Shall not wither. Wherefore, O servant of God, knowing that for every idle word men speak they shall give account, take heed, lest thou off’end with thy tongue, and remember that thy Master said, ” Heaven and earth shall pass away,but My words shall not pass away” (Mt 5:18).  Whatsoever he doeth it shall prosper. It shall indeed. “He went forth conquering and to conquer” (Rev 6:2).  “The help that is done upon earth, He doeth it Himself.” Shall prosper. There are three kinds of prosperity: that of fools, which destroys them; that of the godly, which may be a snare to them; and that of the blessed, the only true prosperity, when, as the Prophet writes, “Jacob shall return, and be at rest and at ease, and, none shall make him afraid” (Jer 46:27).  And thus David lays down six conditions necessary for the righteous man, and which were fulfilled by Him, Who died at the sixth hour of the
sixth day. He must depart from sin (hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly) must love the commandments of God (his delight is in the law of the Lord); be conversant in them (in His law doth he meditate,) fulfil them (he bringeth forth his fruit), teach them (his leaf also shall not wither), persevere unto the end (whatsoever he doeth it shall prosper).

1:5 As for the ungodly, it is not so with them: but they are like the chaff, which the wind scattereth away from the face of the earth.

Now follows the wretched estate of Christ’s enemies. It is not so with them. They reviled; the Man Whose blessedness is set forth, reviled not again; they gave Him vinegar and gall; He feeds the sons of men with His own Body and
Blood. They set on Him a crown of thorns; He prepares for them a crown of glory. “I fed thee with manna in the wilderness, and thou gavest Me to drink of vinegar and gall,” say the Reproaches on Good Friday. They are like the
chaff which the wind scattereth away. “As soon, then, as He had said unto them, I am He, they went backward and fell to the ground” (Jn 18:6).  The wind. Like that great and strong wind of old time, which rent the mountains and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord, so this shall at the Last Day utterly destroy those whose hearts were as hard as rocks. This is that whirlwind which Ezekiel saw coming “out of the north, with a great cloud and a fire enfolding itself” (Ezek 1:4).  Scattereth away from the face of the earth. As it is written in another Psalm, “Let them be as the dust before the wind, and the angel of the Lord scattering them” (Ps 35:5). And it is also written in the Book of Revelation how the ungodly shall desire the mountains to fall on them and the hills to cover them from the wrath of the Lamb (see Rev 6:16).

Chaff. The Vulgate reads dust, which the wicked are like, because unwatered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, not united by any bond of charity, “carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14),  and by every temptation of the devil, they are scattered away from the face of the earth, that is, from the Church, the solid ground of the truth, which bears fruit for God.

1:6 Therefore the ungodly shall not be able to stand in the judgment: neither the sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

Therefore the ungodly shall not he able to stand in the judgment. The Godly (i.e., Jesus) did stand in the judgment of that unrighteous governor (Pilate); and by so standing for a while there, was exalted to sit down at the right hand of glory for ever. Shall not he able to stand in the judgment. In one sense they certainly shall stand in it, as it is written, “We must all appear before the judgment-seat of God” (2 Cor 5:10).  But either they shall not stand in it, as being already judged, as it is written, He that believeth not is condemned already” (Jn 3:18), or they shall not so stand in it as to abide it, so as to be justified in it, so as to be delivered from it. “If the righteous scarcely be saved, is, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Pet 4:18).  Neither the sinners in the congregation of the righteous. In this world they do stand in that congregation. The wheat and the tares grow together till the harvest (Mt 13:24-30). The net that is cast into the sea gathers bad fish as well as good (Mt 13:47-50). The man without the wedding-garment comes into the palace of the king as well as he that is arrayed in it (Mt 22:2-14). But then it shall not be so. The sheep on the right hand, the goats on the left (Mt 25:31-46); the good fish gathered into vessels, the bad fish cast away; the wheat housed in the barn, the chaff burnt up with fire unquenchable; the other guests sitting down at the marriage supper of the Lamb, he without the wedding garment cast into outer darkness. The congregation of the righteous. Gathered together,
that is, by the merits and by the strength of Him Who is only righteous, and therefore truly His congregation.

1:7 But the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: and the way of the ungodly shall perish.

But the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous. God is said to know things in two ways: in the way, as the schoolmen speak, of cognition, and in the way of complacence. By the one He knows all things, bad as well as good: as it is written, “Thou only knowest the hearts of the children of men” (2 Chron 6:30); and again, “He knew what was in man” (Jn 2:25).  By the other way of knowing He knows so as to approve: and in this sense it is said to the foolish virgins, “Verily I say unto you, I know you not” (Mt 25:12) Knoweth the way of the righteous: and that will end in their knowing Him as He is. The way ofthe ungodly shall perish: not the ungodly, lest it should seem that no place
were left for repentance.

Doxology: Wherefore: Glory be to the Father, Who knoweth the Way of the
righteous; glory be to the Son, Who is the Way of the righteous, the Man Who is blessed, and prosperous in what soever He doeth; glory be to the Holy Ghost, Who is the Wind that scattereth the ungodly. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

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