The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

A Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 24:1-6

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 20, 2010

1 The earth is the Lord’s, and all that therein is: the compass of the worlds and they that dwell therein.

Whether or not this Psalm were composed, as is probable, for the feast of bringing up the Ark from the house of Obed-Edom to Mount Sion, at all events it was appropriated by the Jews to the first day of the week, and for many centuries continued by the Church for Sunday. At the very time
when the whole earth was awaking into beauty; when

Caligo terrse scinditur,
Percussa soils spiculo,
Rebusque jam color redit a
Vultu nitentis sideris.

And nothing can be finer than the vindication of God’s dominion at the beginning of each new day, the earth is the Lord’s. Nor must we forget the grand effect which these words possess, when set up over the place of meeting of the merchant princes of the earth. S. Paul uses this verse to settle the controversy regarding meat offered to idols; how that, like everything else, belongs to God, and could not really be affected by its pretended dedication to those idols that are nothing in the world (1 Cor 10:26). It is used in a very glorious sense by the Eastern Church in her Funeral Service, when at the moment in which the coffin is let down into the grave, the Priest exclaims, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof:” that is, the multitude of the bodies of the faithful who there are awaiting His Second Coming. And again: Innocent III. uses it as an argument for the payment of
tithes ; as if it were not much for man to return the tenth to God, of that which belongs to God entirely. And all that therein is. Notice the difference between the blessing of Jacob and Esau, which at first sight seems precisely the same.
“God,” says Isaac to Jacob, ” give thee of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine”(Gen 27:28, 39); “Behold,” is the benediction of Esau, ” thy dwelling shall fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above.” The difference consists in this: that, in the one case, heaven is put first, as imparting a true benediction to earth: in the other it is mentioned last, as having no real lot or portion in the matter. Origen well observes that till the time of our Lord’s Advent, the earth’s fulness was not as
s. Johni. 16. J^t : as it is written, ” Of His fulness have all we received” (Jn 1:16). The compass of the world, or ” the round world,” as it is called in another Psalm; to show that the Church is not now, as of old, confined to one land and to one nation, but spread abroad over the whole face of the earth. The earth is the Lord’s. And therefore was this Psalm well said on the Sunday, since it is His because He made it, and He began to make it on that day, and His because He redeemed it, and He finished its redemption on that sacred day. The earth is the Lord’s. And yet the devil, the father of lies, ventured to say to its rightful owner, “All this will I give Thee, and the glory of it, for that is delivered unto me, and unto whomsoever I will, I give it” (Lk 4:6).  Be then, says Gerhohus, like Him, Who did not say in return. The earth is Mine, and the fulness of it; and not like the ” great dragon,” which said, ” My river is mine
own, and I have made it for myself” (Ezek 29:3).  And notice the different way in whick our Loed met two false claims of possession, Satan’s and Pilate’s. Satan’s boast, “This is mine,” was only answered by a dismissal, “Get tkee hence, Satan:” Pilate’s speech, “Knowest Thou not that I have power?”
was met with an argument, “Thou couldest have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee.” Satan, to whom no place was left for repentance, was not thought worthy of a reply: Pilate, who might yet have been saved, was. “The earth is the Lord’s;” and therefore, it was well and wisely ordered, just before her Lord and possessor came to visit her, that ” there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed” (Lk 2:1).

2 For he hath founded it upon the seas: and prepared it upon the floods.

The literal sense of this verse is much disputed; but two explanations stand prominent above the rest. The one, which is that of S. Augustine, that, since by the Lord’s command the waters were gathered together into one place in order that the dry land might appear, so in a certain sense, the earth may be said to be formed by, or founded upon, this gathering together of the waters. The other explanation, which the Greek Fathers adopt is, that of the earth’s being founded on or fashioned by the admixture of water, without which, say they, it would become dust and crumble away; a somewhat violent and forced interpretation, but giving the same sense as that verse of the hymn;

Firmans locum coelestibus.
Simulque terrae rivulis, Immense
Ut unda flammas temperet,
Terrae solum ne dissipent.

But in the mystical sense, the seas may be taken for troubles and temptations on which the earth, that is, the Church dispersed through the earth, is founded; while the floods signify the effusion of God’s graces by which also she is established. The bitter water and the sweet water, says S. Albertus Magnus, are both equally necessary for her; the waves of the sea that “are mighty and rage horribly” (Ps 93:5) on the one side; the rivers of the flood that make glad the city of God on the other. S. Ambrose, but less happily, understands both the seas and floods of one and the same thing, namely, tribulation: In tribulation, says he, the Church is founded, in tempests and storms, in anxieties and griefs; and it is prepared in the floods of adversities.

3 Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord: or who shall rise up in his holy place ?

It is as if we, yet tossed about by the waves and storms of this troublesome world, those waves in which the Church is founded, were asking the way to that mountain of heavenly peace, whither our Loed has already ascended as of old time, to pray for us. It is the same thing that is written in Isaiah: Come ye and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the House of the God of Jacob (Isa 2:3). Many will say. Let us go up: but here the prophet asks, Who of all that number shall ascend? seeing that ” many are called, but few chosen.” And having gone up. Who shall stand, for so it is that the Vulgate
translates arise, in that holy place? But the interpretations of this hill, are endless: and may well afford matter to S. Bernard for a whole sermon. Some will have it to be the Church Militant; some the Church triumphant; some understand it of Christ Himself; in which they are authorised by that prophecy of Daniel 2:35, when Nebuchadnezzar beheld the “stone that was cut out without hands, and became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” Others, strangely enough, explain it of Satan; some of the state of perfection; and some of the Cross. But the explanation which sees in it the heavenly mountain, the mountain “in which the Lord of Hosts shall make a feast of fat things,” ” Mount Sion, the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” as S. Paul writes, is by far the best and the truest. And no doubt there is an allusion to those mountains to which Moses, Lot, Aaron, Abraham, and Elijah were commanded by God to go up.

4 Even he that hath clean hands, and a pure heart: and that hath not lift up his mind unto vanity, nor sworn to deceive his neighbour.

Now we come to the four conditions requisite to render such an ascent possible. 1. Abstinence from evil doing: He that hath clean hands. 2. Abstinence from evil thought: and a pure heart. 3. Who does that duty which he is sent into the world to do: That hath not lift up his mind unto vanity; or, as it is in the Vulgate, Who hath not received, his soul in vain. And 4. Remembers the vows by which he is bound to God: nor sworn to deceive. And in the fullest sense there was but One in Whom all these things were fulfilled; so that in reply to the question, ” Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?”  He might well answer, “No man hath ascended up into heaven, save He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man Which is in heaven” (Jn 3:13).  “Therefore it is well written,” says S. Bernard, “that such an High Priest became us, because He knows the difficulty of that ascent to the celestial mountain, He knows the weakness of us that have to ascend.” It is like the ladder of S. Perpetua which she saw set upon the earth, and reaching to
heaven, our Lord as a Shepherd at the summit; a fearful dragon guarding the access to it. He that hath clean hands: so clean that they cleansed the leprosy,—so clean that they not only healed all manner of sickness and all manner of disease, but were stretched out to pardon sin; so clean, that the streams which poured from them on the Cross, are to be the cleansing of all evil deeds till the world’s end. And a pure heart. “Who,” says S. Bernard, “can conceive, much more express, the purity of that shrine—that heart—where purity strove with love, which should have the pre-eminence, in a most sweet and tender contest, never to be decided; that heart, which, being opened by the spear, gave access to all guilty, all polluted creatures; offered a hiding place in the rock from the anger that consumed a corrupted world.” Who hath not lift up his mind unto vanity. No, for being in the form of God, and thinking it not robbery to be equal with God, He yet made Himself of no reputation (see Philippians 2:6). Nor sworn to deceive his neighbour. That promise to redeem man, that declaration that the seed of the woman should
bruise the serpent’s head, was, as S. Paul says, a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation (e.g., 1 Tim 1:15). And therefore, well ays the same S. Paul, that “by two immutable things in which it was impossible that God should lie, we may have strong consolation” (Heb 6:18).

5 He shall receive the blessing from the Lord: and righteousness from the God of his salvation.

He, whether like rich Abraham he entertained Angels unawares, or, like miserable Lazarus, was carried by the same angels into Abraham’s bosom, he shall receive the blessing from the Lord. And righteousness: that is, love and mercy, s0 called, because faithfully promised, and therefore righteously bestowed. Of his salvation. And notice here, again, the appropriating pronoun: the God of the salvation of all men spoken of as the God of his salvation only, who is thus blessed. A mediaeval author says, ” This Bishop, the Sheherd and Bishop of our souls, is recorded to have given His blessing, over and over again, to foes as well as friends, to evil-doers, as well as to them that work righteousness; but very rarely do we read of His pronouncing a curse.  And yet S. Augustine, commenting on such passages as this and those others, “which the Lord the righteous Judge shall give me in that day” (2 Tim 4:8),  “that they may have right unto the Tree of Life”(Rev 22:14), and the like, says beautifully, “He, O Lord, that enumerates to Thee his true merits, what else doth he count up but Thy gifts?” And in another place: “When God crowns our merits. He crowns nothing else but His own gifts.” Yet it is better to see, in this and in the following verse, the connection of the Head with the members, of the Captain with His soldiers, of the King with His people.

6 This is the generation of them that seek him: even of them that seek thy face, O Jacob.

Because this mountain is so difficult to climb, because this law of God is so hard to keep, therefore it might well be thought that only two or three in an age, nay, perhaps only He Who alone is righteous, had been able to ascend it. This verse shows how mistaken is the idea: This is the generation. S. Bernard has a sermon addressed to the Cistercian brothers on this text. He distinguishes these generations: the first, those who remain yet unbaptized, who neither seek nor are sought by God; the second, those who are sought by God in Baptismal regeneration, but who seek Him not, because not crucifying, and utterly abolishing, the whole body of sin; the third, those who both seek and are sought, having been found by Him in Baptism, and finding Him every day in earnest prayer and in holy life; the fourth, those who seek Him in a more especial sense, as having given themselves up to Him entirely in the religious life; and these last he exhorts with all his own fervour from that text in Isaiah, “If ye will seek, seek ye” (Isa 21:12).  That seek thy face, O
Jacob. Or, as it is written in the Vulgate, That seek the face of the God of Jacob. If we take our own translation, we may explain it, with some of the Fathers, of our Lord spoken of under the title of Jacob; to show that it is by
means of His Incarnation, His becoming like us and being called as we are, that only we venture to approach Him. But Bredenbach explains it in a more ingenious manner. That seek thy face, Jacob, means according to him, “That
seek the Face which thou, O Jacob, didst behold when thou didst wrestle in that night-struggle” (see Gen 32:30).  And then, in allusion to this, we may very well take Jacob’s own exclamation, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” That is, we for this reason seek the face that Jacob saw, that our life may also be preserved. But, if we take the more usual translation,
then He Whom we seek is called the God of Jacob, to signify that we also must struggle and wrestle, if we would attain to Him: which lesson of earnestness in prayer is also taught us by the double repetition. Them that seek Him even of them that seek Thy face. ” That seek Thy face !” exclaims Venerable Bede: “but what shall it be when the seeking shall have passed, and the finding shall have begun I when we not only behold the goodly pearl, but, having sold all that we had, merit to purchase it ! when the time of prayer is over, and that of praise shall have commenced!”

Jesu, the Hope of souls forlorn,
How good to them for sin that mourn!
To them that seek Thee, O how kind,
But what art Thou to them that find?


7 Responses to “A Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 24:1-6”

  1. […] A Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Today’s Psalm 24 (23). Available 12:05 AM EST. […]

  2. […] A Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Today’s Psalm (24). On verses 1-6. […]

  3. […] A Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Today’s Psalm (24). On verses 1-6. […]

  4. […] Posted by Dim Bulb on January 20, 2012 The commentary on the first 6 verses can be read here. […]

  5. […] Part 1: A Patristic Medieval/Commentary on Psalm 24. Verses 1-6. […]

  6. […] A Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 24. On verses 1-6. […]

  7. […] A Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 24:1-6. Covers the verses used today. Part 2 here. […]

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