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

St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 68

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 3, 2011

Note: This post contains notes on verses 1-7, encompassing all of st today’s Responsorial Psalm. St Augustine’s notes on this rather lengthy Psalm can be read in full here.

Of this Psalm, the title seemeth not to need operose discussion: for simple and easy it appeareth. For thus it standeth: “For the end, for David himself a Psalm of a Song.” But in many Psalms already we have reminded you what is “at the end: for the end of the Law is Christ for righteousness to every man believing:”(Rom 10:4) He is the end which maketh perfect, not that which consumeth or destroyeth. Nevertheless, if any one endeavoureth to inquire, what meaneth, “a Psalm of a Song:” why not either “Psalm” or “Song,” but both; or what is the difference between Psalm of Song, and Song of Psalm, because even thus of some Psalms the titles are inscribed: he will find perchance something which we leave for men more acute and more at leisure than ourselves. …

“Let God rise up, and let His enemies be scattered” (verse 1). Already this hath come to pass, Christ hath risen up, “who is over all things, God blessed for ever,”(Rom 9:5)) and His enemies have been dispersed through all nations, to wit, the Jews; in that very place, where they practised their enmities, being overthrown in war, and thence through all places dispersed: and now they hate, but fear, and in that very fear they do that which followeth, “And let them that hate Him flee from His face.” The flight indeed of the mind is fear. For in carnal flight, whither flee they from the face of Him who everywhere showeth the efficacy of His presence? “Whither shall I depart,” saith he, “from Thy Spirit, and from Thy face whither shall I flee?”(Ps 139:6) With mind, therefore, not with body, they flee; to wit, by being afraid, not by being hidden; and not from that face which they see not, but from that which they are compelled to see. For the face of Him hath His presence in His Church been called. …

“As smoke faileth, let them fail” (verse 2). For they lifted up themselves from the fires of their hatred unto the vapouring of pride, and against Heaven setting their mouth, and shouting,” Crucify, Crucify,”(Jn 19:6) Him taken captive they derided, Him hanging they mocked: and being soon conquered by that very Person against whom they swelled victorious, they vanished away. “As wax melteth from the face of fire, so let sinners perish from the face of God.” Though perchance in this passage he hath referred to those men, whose hard-heartedness in tears of penitence is dissolved: yet this also may be understood, that he threateneth future judgment; because though in this world like smoke, in lifting up themselves, that is, in priding themselves, they have melted away, there will come to them at the last final damnation, so that from His face they will perish for everlasting, when in His own glory He shall have appeared, like fire, for the punishment of the ungodly, and the light of the righteous.

“Lastly, there followeth, “And let just men be joyous, and exult in the sight of God, let them delight in gladness” (verse 3). For then shall they hear,” Come, ye blessed of My Father, receive ye the kingdom.”(Matt 24:34) “Let them be joyous,” therefore, that have toiled, “and exult in the sight of God.” For there will not be in this exultation, as though it were before men, any empty boasting; but (it will be) in the sight of Him who unerringly looketh into that which He hath granted. “Let them delight in gladness:” no longer exulting with trembling(Ps 2:11) as in this world, so long as “human life is a trial upon earth.”(Job 7:1, LXX) Secondly, he turneth himself to those very persons to whom he hath given so great hope, and to them while here living he speaketh and exhorteth: “Sing ye to God, psalm ye to His name” (verse 4). Already on this subject in the exposition of the Title we have before spoken that which seemed meet. He singeth to God, that liveth to God: He psalmeth to His name, that worketh unto His Glory. In singing thus, in psalming thus, that is, by so living, by so working, “a way make ye to Him,” he saith, “that hath ascended above the setting.” A way make ye to Christ: so that through the beautiful feet of men telling good tidings,(Isa 52:7) the hearts of men believing many have a way opened to Him. For the Same is He that hath ascended above the “setting:” either because the new life of one turned to Him receiveth Him not, except the old life shall have set by his renouncing this world, or because He ascended above the setting, when by rising again He conquered the downfall of the body. “For The Lord is His name.” Which if they had known, the Lord of glory they never would have crucified.(1 Cor 2:8)

“Exult ye in the sight of Him,” O ye to whom hath been said, “Sing ye to God, psalm ye to the name of Him, a way make ye to Him that hath ascended above the setting,” also “exult in the sight of Him:” as if “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”(2 Cor 6:10) For while ye make a way to Him, while ye prepare a way whereby He may come and possess the nations, ye are to suffer in the sight of men many sorrowful things. But not only faint not, but even exult, not in the sight of men, but in the sight of God. “In hope rejoicing, in tribulation enduring:”(Rom 12:12) “exult ye in the sight of Him.” For they that in the sight of men trouble you, “shall be troubled by the face of Him, the Father of orphans and Judge of widows” (verse 5). For desolate they suppose them to be, from whom ofttimes by the sword of the Word of God(Matt 10:34) both parents from sons, and husbands from wives, are severed: but persons destitute and widowed have the consolation “of the Father of orphans and Judge of widows:” they have the consolation of Him that say to Him,” For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord hath taken up me:”(Ps 27:10) and they that have hoped in the Lord, continuing in prayers by night and by day:( 1 Tim 5:5) by whose face those men shall be troubled when they shall have seen themselves prevail nothing, for that the whole world hath gone away after Him.(Jn 12:19) For out of those orphans and widows, that is, persons destitute of partnership in this world’s hope, the Lord for Himself doth build a Temple: whereof in continuation he saith, “The Lord is in His holy place.”

For what is His place he hath disclosed, when he saith, “God that maketh to dwell men of one mood in a house” (verse 6): men of one mind, of one sentiment: this is the holy place of the Lord. For when he had said, “The Lord is in His holy place:” as though we were inquiring in what place, since He is everywhere wholly, and no place of corporal space containeth Him; forthwith he hath subjoined somewhat, that we should not seek Him apart from ourselves, but rather being of one mood dwelling in a house, we should deserve that He also Himself deign to dwell among us. This is the holy place of the Lord, the thing that most men seek to have, a place where in prayer they may be hearkened unto. … For as in a great house of a man, the Lord thereof doth not abide in every place whatsoever, but in some place doubtless more private and honourable: so God dwelleth not in all men that are in His house (for He dwelleth not in the vessels of dishonour), but His holy place are they whom “He maketh to dwell of one mood,” or “of one manner, in a house.” For what are called tropoi in Greek, by both modi and mores (moods and manners), in Latin may be interpreted. Nor hath the Greek writer, “Who maketh to dwell,” but only “maketh to dwell.” “The Lord,” then, “is in His holy place.” …

But to prove that by His Grace He buildeth to Himself this place, not for the sake of the merits preceding of those persons out of whom He buildeth it, see what followeth: “Who leadeth forth men fettered, in strength.” For He looseth the heavy bonds of sins, wherewith they were fettered so that they could not walk in the way of the commandments: but He leadeth them forth “in strength,” which before His Grace they had not. “Likewise men provoking that dwell in the tombs:” that is, every way dead, taken up with dead works. For these men provoke Him to anger by withstanding justice: for those fettered men perchance would walk, and are not able, and are praying of God that they may be able, and are saying to Him, “From my necessities lead me forth.”(Ps 25:17) By whom being heard, they give thanks, saying, “Thou hast broken asunder my bonds.”(Ps 116:16) But these provoking men that dwell in the tombs, are of that kind, which in another passage the Scripture pointeth out, saying, “From a dead man, as from one that is not, confession perisheth.”(Sir 17:28) Whence there is this saying, “When a sinner shall have come into the depth of evil things, he despiseth.”(Prov 18:3) For it is one thing to long for, another thing to fight against righteousness: one thing from evil to desire to be delivered, another thing one’s evil doings to defend rather than to confess: both kinds nevertheless the Grace of Christ leadeth forth in strength. With what strength, but that wherewith against sin even unto blood they are to strive? For out of each kind are made meet persons, whereof to construct His holy place; those being loosened, these being raised to life. For even of the woman, whom Satan had bound for eighteen years, by His command He loosed the bonds;(Lk 13:16) and Lazarus’ death by His voice He overcame.(Jn 11:43) He that hath done these things in bodies, is able to do more marvellous things in characters, and to make men of one mood to dwell in a house: “leading forth men fettered in strength, likewise men provoking that dwell in the tombs.”(Ps 68:6)

“O God, when Thou wentest forth before Thy people” (verse 7). His going forth is perceived, when He appeareth in His works. But He appeareth not to all men, but to them that know how to spy out His works. For I do not now speak of those works which are conspicuous to all men, Heaven and earth and sea and all things that in them are; but the works whereby He leadeth forth men fettered in strength, likewise men provoking that dwell in the tombs, and maketh them of one manner to dwell in a house. Thus He goeth forth before His people, that is, before those that do perceive this His Grace. Lastly, there followeth, “When Thou wentest by in the desert, the earth was moved” (verse 8). A desert were the nations, which knew not God: a desert they were, where by God Himself no law had been given, where no Prophet had dwelled, and foretold the Lord to come. “When,” then, “Thou wentest by in the desert,” when Thou wast preached in the nations; “the earth was moved,” to the faith earthly men were stirred up. But whence was it moved? “For the heavens dropped from the face of God.” Perchance here some one calleth to mind that time, when in the desert God was going over before His people, before the sons of Israel, by day in the pillar of cloud, by night in the brightness of fire;(Ex 13:21) and determineth that thus it is that “the heavens dropped from the face of God,” for manna He rained upon His people:(Ex 16:15) that the same thing also is that which followeth, “Mount Sina from the face of the God of Israel,”(Ps 68:8) “with voluntary rain severing God to Thine inheritance” (verse 9), namely, the God that on Mount Sina spake to Moses, when He gave the Law, so that the manna is the voluntary rain, which God severed for His inheritance, that is, for His people; because them alone He so fed, not the other nations also: so that what next he saith, “and it was weakened,” is understood of the inheritance being itself weakened; for they murmuring, fastidiously loathed the manna, longing for victuals of flesh, and those things on which they had been accustomed to live in Egypt.(Num 11:5-6) … Lastly, all those men in the desert were stricken down, nor were any of them except two found worthy to go into the land of promise.(Num 14:23-24) Although even if in the sons of them that inheritance be said to have been perfected, we ought more readily to hold to a spiritual sense. For all those things in a figure did happen to them; (1 Cor 10:11) until the day should break, and the shadows should be removed.(Song of Songs 2:17)

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4 Responses to “St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 68”

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