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

Archive for March 19th, 2016

Notes on Isaiah 50:4-7

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 19, 2016

The Lord’s Servant made perfect through Sufferings
Isaiah 50:4-11

Immediate Context: In Isa 50:4-9 the Servant is again introduced, speaking of himself and his work, as in Isa 49:1-6. He describes in the first place the close and intimate and continuous communion with God through which he has learned the ministry of comfort by the Divine word, and his own complete self-surrender to the voice that guides him (Isa 50:4-5); next, his acceptance of the persecution and obloquy which he had to encounter in the discharge of his commission (6); and lastly he expresses his unwavering confidence in the help of Jehovah and the victory of his righteous cause and the discomfiture of all his enemies (7–9).

Isa 50:4 The Lord hath given me a learned tongue, that I should know how to uphold by word him that is weary: he wakeneth in the morning, in the morning he wakeneth my ear, that I may hear him as a master.
Isa 50:5 The Lord God hath opened my ear, and I do not resist: I have not gone back.

The prophet, say these beautiful lines, learns his speech, as the little child does, by listening. Grace is poured upon the lips through the open ear. It is the lesson of our Lord’s Ephphatha. When He took the deaf man with the impediment in his speech aside from the multitude privately, He said unto him, not Be loosed, but, “Be opened; and” first “his ears were opened, and” then the “bond of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.” To speak, then, the prophet must listen; but mark to what he must listen! The secret of his eloquence lies not in the hearing of thunder, nor in the knowledge of mysteries, but in a daily ‘wakefulness to the lessons and experience of common life. “Morning by morning He openeth mine ear.” This is very characteristic of Hebrew prophecy and Hebrew wisdom, which listened for the truth of God in the voices of each day, drew their parables from things the rising sun lights up to every wakeful eye, and were, in the bulk of their doctrine, the virtues, needed day by day, of justice, temperance, and mercy, and in the bulk of their judgments the results of everyday observation and experience. The strength of the Old Testament lies in this its realism, its daily vigilance and experience of life. It is its contact with life-the life, not of the yesterday of its speakers, but of their today-that makes its voice so fresh and helpful to the weary. He whose ear is daily open to the music of his current life will always find himself in possession of words that refresh and stimulate.

But serviceable speech needs more than attentiveness and experience. Having gained the truth, the prophet must be obedient and loyal to it. Yet obedience and loyalty to the truth are the beginnings of martyrdom, of which the Servant now goes on to speak as the natural and immediate consequence of his prophecy.

The relation of the Servant to YHWH is that of a favourite disciple to his master; from Him he had learned the art of persuasive and consoling speech, and to Him he daily looks for the substance of his message. Comp. Isa 49:2 (the Servant’s endowment with prophetic eloquence), and Isa 42:3 (the gentleness of his ministry).

a learned tongue] a disciples’ tongue (see ch. Isa 8:16), i.e. a disciplined tongue (R.V. “of them that are taught”). The stress laid on the Divine education of the Servant is connected with the fact that his ministry of consolation was almost a new departure in prophecy. In the hands of the earlier prophets the word of Jehovah had been like a hammer breaking the rock in pieces (Jer 23:29) rather than a dew reviving the spirit of the humble.

that I should know … weary] A difficult clause. The verb rendered “speak in season” (‘ûth) is unknown in Hebrew. The A.V., following the Jewish interpreters, takes it to be a denominative from the word for “time” (‘çth), but that is an impossible etymology. The LXX. gives a similar sense (τοῦ γνῶναι ἡνίκα δεῖ εἰπεῖν λόγον) but based on a different text. Of the traditional interpretations the most suitable is perhaps that of the Vulg. and Aquila (which is followed by the R.V.): that I should know how to sustain the weary with a word. Modern authorities who adopt this rendering support it by an Arabic verb meaning “to help,” which however is not an exact philological equivalent. Another Arabic analogy has suggested the translation “water” (i.e. “refresh”). It is impossible to get beyond conjecture, although the general sense is clear.

in the morning he waketh my ear] (cf. Isa_28:19). A far simpler sentence results if we omit with Cheyne the first word of the Heb. (or with Duhm the first two words) as an uncorrected slip of a copyist, reading the adverbial expression with the following verb; thus: “morning by morning (or “in the morning”) he wakeneth my ear to hear” &c.

as the master] after the manner of disciples.

Isa 50:6 I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them: I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked me, and spit upon me.
Isa 50:7 The Lord God is my helper, therefore am I not confounded: therefore have I set my face as a most hard rock, and I know that I shall not be confounded.

The classes of men who suffer physical ill-usage at the hands of their fellow-men may roughly be described as three, -the Military Enemy, the Criminal, and the Prophet; and of these three we have only to read history to know that the Prophet fares by far the worst. However fatal men’s treatment of their enemies in war or of their criminals may be, it is, nevertheless, subject to a certain order, code of honour, or principle of justice. But in all ages the Prophet has been the target for the most licentious spite and cruelty; for torture, indecency, and filth past belief. Although our own civilisation has outlived the system of physical punishment for speech, we even yet see philosophers and statesmen, who have used no weapons but exposition and persuasion, treated by their opponents who would speak of a foreign enemy with respect-with execration, gross epithets, vile abuse, and insults, that the offenders would not pour upon a criminal. If we have this under our own eyes, let us think how the Prophet must have fared before humanity learned to meet speech by speech. Because men attacked it, not with the sword of the invader or with the knife of the assassin, but with words, therefore (till not very long ago) society let loose upon them the foulest indignities and most horrible torments. Socrates’ valour as a soldier did not save him from the malicious slander, the false witness, the unjust trial, and the poison, with which the Athenians answered his speech against themselves. Even Hypatia’s womanhood did not awe the mob from tearing her to pieces for her teaching. This unique and invariable experience of the Prophet is summed up and clenched in the name Martyr. Martyr originally meant a witness or witness-bearer, but now it is the synonym for every shame and suffering which the cruel ingenuity of men’s black hearts can devise for those they hate.

These are not national sufferings. They are no reflection of the hard usage which the captive Israel suffered from Babylon. They are the reflection of the reproach and pains, which, for the sake of God’s word, individual Israelites more than once experienced from their own nation. But if individual experience, and not national, formed the original of this picture of the Servant as Martyr, then surely we have in this another strong reason against the objection to recognise in the Servant at last an individual. It may be, of course, that for the moment our prophet feels that this frequent experience of individuals in Israel is to be realised by the faithful Israel, as a whole, in their treatment by the rest of their cruel and unspiritual countrymen. But the very fact that individuals have previously fulfilled this martyrdom in the history of Israel, surely makes it possible for our prophet to foresee that the Servant, who is to fulfil it again, shall also be an individual.

But, returning from this slight digression on the person of the Servant to his fate, let us emphasise again, that his sufferings came to him as the result of his prophesying. The Servant’s sufferings are not penal, they are not yet felt to be vicarious. They are simply the reward with which obdurate Israel met all her prophets, the inevitable martyrdom which followed on the uttering of God’s Word. And in this the Servant’s experience forms an exact counterpart to that of our Lord. For to Christ also reproach and agony and death-whatever higher meaning they evolved-came as the result of His Word. The fact that Jesus suffered as our great High Priest must not make us forget that His sufferings fell upon Him because He was a Prophet. He argued explicitly He must suffer, because so suffered the prophets before Him. He put Himself in the line of the martyrs: as they had killed the servants, He said, so would they kill the Son. Thus it happened. His enemies sought “to entangle Him in His talk”: it was for His talk they brought Him to trial. Each torment and indignity which the Prophet-Servant relates, Jesus suffered to the letter. They put Him to shame and insulted Him; His helpless hands were bound; they spat in His face and smote Him with their palms; they mocked and they reviled Him; scourged Him again; teased and tormented Him; hung Him between thieves; and to the last the ribald jests went up, not only from the soldiers and the rabble, but from the learned and the religious authorities as well, to whom His fault had been that He preached another word than their own. The literal fulfillments of our prophecy are striking, but the main fulfilment, of which they are only incidents, is, that like the Servant, our Lord suffered directly as a Prophet. He enforced and He submitted to the essential obligation, which lies upon the true Prophet, of suffering for the Word’s sake.

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Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 19

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 19, 2016


Arg. Thomas. That Christ entered the Virginal shrine, and proceeded from it, in order that He might make known the secrets of men. Concerning the preaching of the Apostles, and the Advent of Christ. Concerning the Advent of Christ and His Ascension, by which we may unlock the 119th Psalm, where the Old and New Testament are joined. Read it with S. Matthew.

Ven. Bede. (Title: To the end; a Psalm of David.) This inscription is well known, referring what is said in the Psalm to Christ the Lord, of Whose First Advent the Prophet is about to speak: and this is the first Psalm on that subject. The others are four in number; that is, the 80th, the 85th, the 97th, and the 98th. Through the whole Psalm they are the words of the Prophet. In the first place, he praises the preachers of the Lord; he then uses the loveliest comparisons concerning His Incarnation. Secondly, he lauds the precepts of the Old and New Testament. Thirdly, he prays that he may be purged from his secret faults, and may be made a worthy Psalmist.

Syriac Psalter. The liberation of the people from Egypt, and to us a theological instruction.


This Psalm has been so universally applied to the Apostles, that it will be well, before we proceed to its consideration, to give one of the most beautiful applications thus made of it, the Sequence of Gotteschalkus. It was written for the Division of the Apostles; a favourite feast in Germany on the 15th of July.

The Heavens declare the glory of the Son of God, the Incarnate Word, made Heavens from earth.
For this glory befitteth that Lord alone,
Whose Name is the Angel of the Great Counsel.
This Counsel, the assistance of fallen man, is ancient, and profound, and true, made known to the Saints alone.
When this Angel, made Man of a woman, made an immortal out of a mortal; out of men, angels; out of earth, heaven.
This is the Lord God of Hosts, Whose angels sent into the earth are the Apostles.
To whom He exhibited Himself alive after His Resurrection by many arguments, announcing peace as the victor of death.
Peace be unto you, saith He; I am He; fear ye not; preach the word of Christ to every creature, before kings and princes.
As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you into the world; be ye therefore prudent as serpents, be ye harmless as doves.

Hence Peter, Prince of Apostles, visited Rome; Paul, Greece, preaching grace everywhere; hence these twelve chiefs in the four quarters of the world, preached as Evangelists the Threefold and the One.

Andrew, either James, Philip, Bartholomew, Simon, Thaddeus, John, Thomas, and Matthew, twelve Judges, not divided from unity, but for unity, collected unto one those that were divided through the earth:

Their sound is gone out into all lands.
And their words into the ends of the world.
How beautiful are the feet of them that proclaim good things,—that preach peace;
That speak thus to them that are redeemed by the Blood of Christ: Sion, thy God shall reign.
Who made the worlds by the Word; Which Word was for us, in the end of the world, made Flesh.
This Word Which we preach, Christ crucified, Who liveth and reigneth, God in heaven.
These are the Heavens in which, O Christ, Thou inhabitest; in whose words Thou thunderest; in whose deeds Thou lightenest; in whose grace Thou sendest Thy dew:
To these Thou hast said: Drop down, O ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just One; let the earth be opened and bud.
Raise up a Righteous Branch, Thou Who causest our earth to bring forth, sowing it with the seed of Apostolic words: through whose words grant, O Lord, that we, holding the Word of the Father, may bring forth fruit to Thee, O Lord, in patience.
These are the Heavens which Thou, Angel of the great Counsel, inhabitest, Whom Thou callest not servants, but friends; to whom Thou tellest all things that Thou hast heard from the Father.
By whose Division mayest Thou preserve Thy flock, collected and undivided, and in the bond of peace; that in Thee we may be one, as with the Father Thou art One.
Have mercy on us, Thou that dwellest in the heavens.

1 The heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament showeth his handy-work.

“By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the Breath of His Mouth.”* What heavens are these, says S. Gregory, except the holy Apostles? And this is the key-note by which all the Fathers interpret this Psalm. That as the visible heavens set forth the glory of the Creator, so these spiritual heavens should declare the praise of the Redeemer. Therefore in every Festival of the Apostles, this Psalm has borne its part; and every clause and paragraph has been interpreted, with a holy ingenuity, in this sense. The Firmament, from S. Augustine downwards, they take to be that firmness in speaking the Apostolic message even before kings, and not being ashamed, that fearing not them which kill the body,* and after that have no more which they could do, which the Apostles, weak enough till then,—they who had all forsaken their Master and fled,—received on the descent of the Holy Ghost at the Day of Pentecost. (A.) By it they showed His handy-work; the work by which in His great humility He wrought out our salvation,—His Incarnation, His earthly life, His Passion. Truly as, according to that beautiful idea in the decoration of Egyptian pyramids, the cornices are embellished with the blue wings of the sky, keeping watch over and guarding all inferior objects,—so the Apostles separated once to meet no more on earth, kept watch over all its regions, from the labours of S. Thomas in China, to those of S. Matthew in Ethiopia, and S. Paul in Spain.

2 One day telleth another: and one night certifieth another.

Day unto day. That is, (A.) Saint to Saint, Prophet to Prophet, Apostle to Apostle: Christ Himself, the King of Apostles, the Inspirer of the Prophets, the Saint of Saints, to each and to all. (L.) And night unto night. The trials and afflictions of the Martyrs and Confessors; the struggles and self-denial of every righteous soul, till the night of our own affliction and distress. But the loving-kindness that delivered them can deliver us still: “the Lord’s arm is not shortened that it cannot save, neither His ear heavy that it cannot hear.”* That night speaks to us in no unintelligible voice, “Look at the generations of old and see: did ever any trust in the Lord and was confounded?”* Or again, take it, if you will, of the work of the six days and the rest of the seventh, (Ay.) so sedulously parallelised with the seven gifts of the Spirit. Or, (as S. Augustine truly says, “Some words in Scripture have, from their obscurity, this advantage, that they give rise to many interpretations: had this been plain, you would have heard some one thing, but as it is, observe, you will hear many,”) it cannot be more beautifully taken than of the seasons of the Church’s year: Festival speaking to Festival, Fast to Fast; the faithful soul by Advent prepared for Christmas; by Lent for Easter; by the Great Forty Days of Joy, for the Descent of the Holy Ghost: and by all these days of transitory holiness, made ready for that Eternal day, the festival which shall never be concluded.

The Church on earth,* with answering love,
Echoes her mother’s joys above:
These yearly feast days she may keep,
And yet for endless festals weep.

That succession of doctrine and comfort, day speaking to day; what a beautiful type it finds in the midnight of a Scandinavian summer! The north-western and north-eastern sky, aglow respectively with evening and morning twilight, and the space between them filled with the lines of purple or crimson, the links which unite the departing to the coming day!

[The A. V. is here nearer to the Syriac, LXX.,* and Vulgate, all which read Day breatheth out a Word unto day, and night declareth knowledge unto night. The days, the Saints filled with the wisdom and glory of God, declare the Divinity of the Incarnate Word to men; the nights, less illuminated, can yet speak of the Manhood of the Great Teacher, and lead their hearers on to love Him.]

3 There is neither speech nor language: but their voices are heard among them.

And we may take the verse in two senses: either, no speech nor language among the nations of the earth to which these voices did not go forth; which must be the sense if we refer the clause to the Apostles: or, no real speech in the preaching of the stars, and yet their language is intelligible to all nations. The great Portuguese theologian, Vieyra, referring to this verse, says,* “The most ancient preacher in the world is the sky. If the sky be a preacher, it must have sermons, and it must have words. So it has, says David. And what are these sermons and words of the sky? The words are the stars: the sermons, their composition, order, harmony, and cause.… The stars are very distinct and very clear; so must the style of preaching be. And have no fear that on this account it should appear low: what loftier than the sermons of the heavens? The style may be clear enough, and yet lofty enough too: so clear, that the illiterate may understand it; so deep, that the philosopher may learn from it. In the stars, the countryman finds instruction for his labour, the seaman for his navigation, the mathematician for his observation. So that the husbandman and sailor, who cannot read, can yet understand the stars; and the philosopher who has read every book that ever was written, cannot fathom their meaning.”

4 Their sound is gone out into all lands: and their words into the ends of the world.

The quotation of this text by S. Paul, “But I say, Have they not heard? Yes, verily, Their sound went into all the earth, (A.) and their words to the end of the world,”* is, as is well noticed by Jansenius,1 a sufficient warrant for the explanation which would understand the Apostles by the heavens. And how did their sound then go forth? Let Cardinal Hugo answer.* “The preacher,” says he, “is raised from the earth by contemplation; has the breadth of charity; the splendour of wisdom; the serenity of a tranquil mind; the swift motion of obedience: he rains by instruction; thunders when he rebukes; lightens by miracles; is the seat of God by grace and humility.”

5 In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun: which cometh forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a giant to run his course.

6 It goeth forth from the uttermost part of the heaven, and runneth about unto the end of it again: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

In these verses, the Church has from the beginning seen a marvellous type of the Incarnation. So S. Ambrose, in one of his most noble hymns:

Forth from His Chamber goeth He,*
The Royal Hall of Chastity;
In nature two, in Person One,
His glad course, giant-like, to run.
From God the Father He proceeds;
To God the Father back He speeds:
Proceeds—as far as very hell,
Speeds back—to light ineffable.

They first see the beauty of the literal sense, read according to the Vulgate: In the Sun He hath set His tabernacle: (A.) that is, that of all natural objects, the Sun is the best and clearest representative of the Creator. So the wise man in Ecclesiasticus: “The sun when it appeareth declareth at his rising a marvellous instrument, the works of the Most High:”* and in which so many nations of the world have seen the God whom they considered worthy of adoration. But for us, knowing that it shall pass away,* and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, it is but God’s tabernacle: the true Sun is that which “shall no more go down, (L.) when the Lord shall be our everlasting Light, and the days of our mourning shall be ended.”* Then in the mystical sense, the sun and the tabernacle are the Lord’s abiding in the womb of Mary: and they fail not to quote from Ecclesiasticus that text, “As the sun when it ariseth in the high Heaven, so is the beauty of a good wife in ordering her house.”* “The tabernacle,” says Cosmas, “is the flesh of the Lord, which was united for ever to His Divinity.” Or retaining our own translation, with a slight change of metaphor, In them hath He set His tabernacle for the sun; in the preaching of the Apostles He hath taught that the Eternal Word, the God Who is a consuming fire, the Sun of Righteousness, has tabernacled in human flesh. And as they who go out to war dwell not in houses, but in tabernacles or tents, so our Lord, going forth to His war with Satan, dwelt in the tabernacle of His flesh while He entered into the conflict with, and when He overcame, (Z.) His enemy. Which cometh forth as a Bridegroom out of his chamber. And here none ever failed to see the Lord’s entrance into the world from the womb of Mary. The Bridegroom, hereafter to be betrothed to the Church on the Cross, came forth, as it were, in the morning of that day of which the sufferings of Calvary were the evening. “That Eternal Light,” says S. John Damascene, “which, proceeding from the Co-Eternal Light,* had His existence before all worlds, came forth corporeally from the Virgin Mary, as it were a Bridegroom from His chamber.” And rejoiceth as a giant. They go back far for the full solution of this mystery. It was from the union of the sons of God with the daughters of men that those ancient giants sprang:* who may thus properly be called of “twofold substance.” Like them, it was the twofold nature of our Lord which enabled Him to accomplish the work of our redemption: and thus this word “giant” in itself sets forth to us the whole scheme of salvation. “I see,” says S. Proclus,* “His miracles, and I proclaim His Deity: I behold His sufferings, and I deny not His humanity. Emmanuel opened the gates of nature as man, but burst not the bars of Virginity as God. So came He forth from the womb of Mary as by a word He entered: so was He born as He was conceived: without human passion He entered: without human corruption He came forth.” S. Ambrose explains more fully the type of the giant.* “Him holy David the Prophet describes as a giant, because He, being One, is yet double, and of twofold nature: partaker both of the Divinity and of a body: Who, like a Bridegroom proceeding out of his chamber, rejoiced as a giant to run his course. The Bridegroom of the soul as the Word: the Giant of the earth, because performing all the offices of our nature. Being eternal God, He undertook the Sacrament of the Incarnation.” So in another hymn:

Genus superni numinis,
Processit aulâ Virginis,
Sponsus, redemptor, conditor,
Suæ gigas Ecclesiæ.

“I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again I leave the world and go unto the Father.”* Would you know, asks S. Gregory,* the steps by which He thus came? From heaven into the womb; from the womb to the cradle: from the cradle to the Cross; from the Cross to the sepulchre; from the sepulchre He returned to heaven. Behold, that He might cause us to follow Him, He took these steps, that we might be able to say from our very hearts, “Draw me, we will run after Thee.”* And see the depth of the mystery in the sign that was given to Hezekiah.* The shadow went backward ten degrees, by which degrees it had gone on; thus the Lord humbled Himself below the nine orders of angels, being “made a little lower than the angels,”* to the tenth degree,* namely, man, before His glorified humanity took its place on the Right Hand of the Father. And see how beautifully those two are joined: He runneth about unto the end of it again, and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof. Because He Whom we love has now ascended into heaven, (G.) therefore it is that our hearts burn within us, while we think of the glory which is His, and which is to be ours. Nothing hid from the heat thereof. For that Ascension—for that land—pertain no less to ourselves than to the angels.

O common joy, O common boast,*
To us and that celestial host!
To them, that He regains the sky:
To us, that He to us is nigh.

7 The law of the Lord is an undefiled law, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, and giveth wisdom unto the simple.

He is gone there in His own dear form, (G.) but He has left His law behind Him, the guide and rule of His Church to the end. This is the mantle which fell from our ascending Elijah,* and which, if we hold it steadfastly, will divide for us any Jordan of temptation. “A certain simple-minded and honest man,” says S. Peter Damiani, “one that feared God, had been hearing Matins, and was returning from church. His disciples asked him,* What did you hear at church, father? He answered, ‘I heard four things, and observed six.’ A very subtle reply, and one which showed his faith. He had heard four verses of the nineteenth Psalm. The law of the Lord is an undefiled law, &c., and the three following verses, in which six things are noted: which are law, testimony, righteousness, commandments, fear, judgments.”

8 The statutes of the Lord are right, and rejoice the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, and giveth light unto the eyes.

9 The fear of the Lord is clean, and endureth for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.

And notice, that the first character of Christ’s law is, (B.) that it is undefiled: purity being set foremost, as the foundation of all the service of God, (Z.) just as impurity occupies the first place in almost every Scriptural list of sin; because, as the greatest Saints have always taught, more will be condemned at the end of the world for more or less direct breaches of the seventh commandment, than of all the other commandments put together.* Next observe, the sixfold division of these excellencies. As our Blessed Lord taught us in the wilderness, Holy Scripture is to be our magazine of defensive armour against temptation. But six is always the type of temptation. On the sixth hour of the sixth day, the first temptation came into the world: the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer is, “Lead us not into temptation:” the sixth blessing pronounced to the seven Churches is, “Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I will also keep thee from the hour of temptation:”* and the whole culminates in the 666, the mark of the Beast,* the most fearful of the many tempters that shall ever rise up against the Church. After purity, as so continually in Scriptural lists of virtues, comes truth: (A.) the testimony of the Lord is sure. And forthwith that which the Lord Himself made the chief character of His mission,—that to the poor the Gospel was preached,—that is also recorded here: wisdom unto the simple. Notice further the connection between purity of heart and illumination: the commandment of the Lord is pure, and giveth light unto the eyes: exactly as in the beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Yet it must be confessed to be rather marvellous that holy writers on this Psalm seem unable to trace the especial connection between these six characteristics of the Word of God, and content themselves with dwelling on it, without any attempt to behold in them a, ladder set upon the earth, but reaching to heaven.

10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honey-comb.

The much fine gold, of our version is, in the Vulgate, much, precious stone, and then they see in these three things the chief allurements of the world; riches in the gold; power in the precious stones;* pleasure in the honey. “The flowers that produce this honey,” says Chrysostom, “were fed by no earthly dew: the gentle distillations of the Holy Ghost gave them not only their beauty, but their sweetness.” And here notice how David constantly, but David and Solomon almost alone, (Cd.) use honey in a good sense, or as a type of holy things. “Ye shall burn no leaven nor any honey,”* is the command in the Law.* “It is not good to eat much honey,” say the men of Hezekiah. “It shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey,”* is the command to S. John. Is it to pursue the type too minutely to see in the special reference to the honey-comb a connection between the six-sided cell, and the sixfold characteristics, just mentioned, of the Word of God?

11 Moreover, by them is thy servant taught: and in keeping of them there is great reward.

And we naturally remember how the Lord’s Servant, (G.) when tempted in the wilderness, was taught by this same word, and by a threefold quotation obtained a threefold victory. Compare this saying of the Psalmist with that prophecy of Isaiah: “Behold, My servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled, and shall be very high.”* “Deal prudently.”* He did, indeed, when with the very passage that replied most aptly He repulsed the assaults of the tempter: “exalted” He was, above the desires of the flesh, in refusing to make the stones bread: (L.) “extolled,” when raised to the pinnacle of the temple, and yet refusing the vain-glory of casting Himself down: “very high,” when carried to the summit of an exceeding high mountain, He refused the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. Thy servant. And holy men have not feared thus to interpret the “Well done, good and faithful servant,”* of the parable. “Thou hast truly served,” says Guarric of Igniac,* “Thou hast served in all faith and truth, Thou hast served in all patience and long-suffering. Not after a lukewarm sort,* Who didst rejoice as a giant to run the course of obedience; not in a feigned manner, Who, after so many and so great labours, didst spend Thy life once and above all; not unknowingly, Who, when Thou wast scourged, though innocent, didst not even open Thy mouth. For it is written,* and it is just, That servant who knew his Lord’s will and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes. And this Servant, I pray you, what did He not that was wanting? What ought He to have done that He did not?” In keeping of them. Not for keeping of them, though that also; but he speaks here of the promise of the life that now is, (Cd.) rather than of that which is to come.

But we may, perhaps, rather take all these sayings regarding the Word of God as applicable to the true and eternal Word. It is to content ourselves with too low a view, if we restrict them to anything short of Him. See with respect to this what is said in the Third Dissertation.

12 Who can tell how oft he offendeth: O cleanse thou me from my secret faults.

Who indeed? And the question carries us at once to the greatest of all sins,* and the prayer concerning it: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”* “Do thou still,” says one, “O gentle and patient Lamb of God, so plead for us when we fall into any sin of ignorance; when we forget Thee, do not forget us;* when we are in error, send out Thy light and Thy truth; when we are in doubt, let us hear a voice behind us: This is the way, walk ye in it.”* My secret faults. And here they dwell on the tribunal of penitence, (G.) when we ourselves are the accusers and ourselves the culprits; when we proclaim the most hidden thoughts of our hearts, in order that hereafter the Eternal Judge may not say: “Thou didst it secretly, but I will proclaim it before all Israel, and before this Sun.”* Cleanse Thou me, however bitter the medicine; cleanse Thou me, however full of shame the confession. Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved; for Thou art my praise.*

13 Keep thy servant also from presumptuous sins, lest they get the dominion over me: so shall I be undefiled, and innocent from the great offence.

Here, again, the Vulgate widely differs from our translation. Cleanse Thou me from my secret faults, and preserve Thy servant from the power of aliens. If they get not the dominion over me, then shall I be undefiled. But if—to follow our version—we cannot understand the countless faults into which we daily fall, against this, at least, we can be on our guard: against presumptuous sins: and more especially against that habit of presumptuous sin,* which has so fearful a tendency to terminate in the great offence. The great offence: the sin against the Holy Ghost; the sin unto death: not any one particular offence, however mortal or enormous; not even wilful and deliberate apostasy, which some have imagined it,* but, to use the terrible words of Vieyra, “that most miserable estate of final impenitence, consummated in the next life, but commenced in this. Oh, how many condemned souls,” he continues, “are still living—are still walking among us: not because, absolutely speaking, they cannot, but because they will not be converted. They are bound to the sins of which they have already filled up the measure. Woe to them, says God, when I shall depart from them.* To this woe, infinite woes will respond through all eternity: but woes of grief without repentance; woes of torment without alleviation; woes of despair without remedy.” And this is the great offence.

[They distinguish here,* for the most part, between the secret faults, which arise within man from original sin, and the promptings of his lower nature, and the sins of others, the suggestions of evil spirits or bad companions, external to the soul, understanding delictis after the word alienis here in the Vulgate. But in truth, hominibus is the lacking idea, and modern critics, following Aben-Ezra, agree in translating (מִזֵּדִים) from the proud.]

14a (14) Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart: be always acceptable in thy sight,

14b (15) O Lord: my strength and my redeemer.

He begins with the fruit, the words of my mouth, and descends to the root, the meditation of my heart. For it is written, “Either make the tree good and his fruit good, or else make the tree corrupt and his fruit corrupt.”* And it is singular that,* as this connection between the words and the thoughts follows in the Psalm the mention of the “great offence,” (L.) so that of the tree and its fruit immediately succeeds in the Gospel to that saying concerning blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. And thus the Psalm may well end: (G.) it began by setting forth how “the heavens declare the glory of God;” it concludes by telling how we should make manifest the same glory. It began by the perpetual succession of nights and days, (Z.) with their uninterrupted Benedicite; it ends with the supplication that our prayer may be always acceptable: acceptable to Him Who is our Strength, now that He has made us His own; as He was our Redeemer, when we were far off from Him; our Strength, to enable us to reach the land that flowed with milk and honey, as our Redeemer from the country of Egypt and the house of bondage.

[O, (D. C.) with what a thankful and devout mind ought every Christian to chant this Psalm, wherein the foundations of the Christian Faith are recorded, the preaching of the Apostles, the Incarnation of the Word, the praise of the Gospel Law, the acknowledgment of our own frailty, and the cry for divine mercy, are wondrously contained!]

And therefore:

Glory be to the Father, from Whom was the going forth of the Sun; and to the Son, Which cometh forth as a Bridegroom out of His chamber: and to the Holy Ghost, the spiritual heat, from which not anything is hid;

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.


Gregorian. Sunday: III. Nocturn. [Christmas Day: I. Nocturn. Circumcision: I. Nocturn. Ascension Day: I. Nocturn. Trinity Sunday: I. Nocturn. Feast of the Holy Name: I. Nocturn. Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary: I. Nocturn. Michaelmas Day: II. Nocturn. Common of Apostles: I. Nocturn. Common of Virgins: I. Nocturn.]

Monastic. Saturday: Prime.

Parisian. Tuesday: I. Nocturn.

Lyons. Monday: II. Nocturn.

Ambrosian. Tuesday of First Week: I. Nocturn.

Quignon. Monday: Terce.


Gregorian. There is neither speech nor language * but their voices are heard. [Christmas Day: The Lord coming forth as a Bridegroom from His chamber. Circumcision: In the sun He hath set His tabernacle, and Himself is as a bridegroom coming forth from his chamber. Ascension: His going forth is from the highest heaven, and His return is unto its highest place, Alleluia. Trinity Sunday: We acknowledge Thee, One in Substance, Trinity in Persons. Holy Name: At the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth. Comm. of Apostles: Their sound is gone out * into all lands, and their words into the ends of the world.]

Lyons. O Lord, * my strength, and my Redeemer.1

Mozarabic. The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.


Most gracious God,* Who didst proceed from the Virginal shrine to liberate us, and didst thus at length ascend to the Right Hand of the Father; we beseech Thy boundless mercy, that we, being converted to Thy law, illuminated by Thy precepts, instructed by Thy testimonies, may be cleansed from our secret faults, and delivered from our enemies. Who livest (5.)

Cleanse us,* O Lord, from our secret faults, by purifying our conscience, which is stained with its own defilements; set free Thy servants also from the dominion of their enemies, and forgive us those things which we have learnt by the example of the wicked, or have done through the persuasion of evil counsellors; that we, who confess Thee to be our own Lord, may never again experience the domination of sin. Amen. Through Thy mercy (11.)

O Thou Helper in tribulation and necessity;* O Thou, my Redeemer, for that Thou hast redeemed me with Thy precious Blood; Thou art the Helper of the human race, when Thou causest us to draw near to Thee; Thou art our Redeemer, for that, by Thy Passion and Resurrection, Thou hast redeemed us from destruction. Grant that we, perpetually walking in Thy law, may be guarded by Thee, for to Thee, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, is the honour and glory for ever, and to ages and ages. Amen.

[O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer, (D. C.) let Thy right statutes rejoice out hearts, cleanse our secret faults with the grace of Thy Word, whereby we being purified from the great offence, the meditation of our heart and the words of our mouth may be acceptable in Thy sight. Through (1.)]

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Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 30

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 19, 2016

Title. A Psalm and Song at the dedication of the House of David. [Or, A Musical Psalm at the opening of David’s house.]


Arg. Thomas. That Christ planted the Church by His Resurrection in eternal glory. The Prophet speaketh to the Father, and to the Son, and concerning the praise of the same. Concerning the Pasch of Christ, and the prayers of the future Church, and with praise in man. The voice of Christ to the Father. The Church prays and praises.

Ven. Bede. A Psalm and Song is this: when it thus commences the hymn, and the art of the organ follows up that which the human voice has begun: and wherever it occurs, it teaches that by the knowledge of Divine cognition, good works are to be taken in hand. For the acquired knowledge of God must precede the efficiency of holy deeds. By the House of David we understand the Temple of the Lord’s Body: by the dedication of that house, His Resurrection, by which it was raised to eternal power and glory. At the beginning of the Psalm, the Lord, after the glory of His Resurrection, returns thanks to the Father because He had delivered Him from the adversity of the world, commanding also His saints to sing praises to God, since all things are put in His power: I will magnify Thee, O Lord, for Thou hast set me up. Secondly, He affirms that He shall never be moved, and tells us that thanks must be paid to the Lord by the living, and not by the dead. Thirdly, He returns to His Resurrection, and exults in the deposition of the frail flesh, and the eternity of His majesty and glory: Thou hast put off My sackcloth, and girded Me with gladness.

Syriac Psalter. A prophecy and returning of thanks.


1 I will magnify thee, O Lord, for thou hast set me up: and not made my foes to triumph over me.

This is one of the musical Psalms: the others being 48, 67, 68, 75, 92. What the dedication or opening of the house of David was, (L.) is a point much disputed by commentators. Some will have it to mean the completion of his own house in the City of David: some the setting up the tabernacle there, as if that were more truly David’s house than his own. Others again will have it of the anticipative dedication of the Temple in the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Again others will have the Psalm to apply to the return of the Jews from Babylon, and the complaints of sickness and the like to refer metaphorically to the misery which God’s people endured in captivity. But perhaps, as the literal expression is the opening of David’s house, and as the allusions to sickness are so very strong, it is easier to understand it of the re-opening of the palace after some dangerous illness of David, of which we have no account in the books of Samuel. But whatever difficulty there may be as to the literal, there can be none whatever in the spiritual, meaning.* And this is one among many instances in which the mystical interpretation which is stigmatised as so doubtful and unreal, gives us a firmer hold than any literal explanation can do. Thus it refers to the Ascension of the True David into the Kingdom which His own Right Hand has purchased for Himself and for His people; to the dedication of the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, effected, so to speak, by His own entrance therein. It is in this sense that the Western Church employs this Psalm among others for Ascension Day. I will magnify Thee, O Lord. “The saint,” says S. Ambrose, “exalts the Lord, the sinner humbles Him; and by how much the more a man seeks to the Lord, by so much the more he both exalts Him and is exalted himself.”* Set Me up indeed: for “God is gone up with a merry noise, and the Lord with the sound of the trump.” Set Me up in glory above those who lately set Me up on the Cross, as a mark of derision:* Set Me up as the Monarch to Whom the eyes of all the world must be turned. Well may the Eastern Church exclaim,* “Because Adam by the fall of his nature had descended into the lower parts of the earth, therefore that very same nature, renewed by God, was to-day set up far above all principality and might and dominion: for God so loved it that He made it sit down with Himself: so sympathised with it that He united it to Himself: so united it to Himself, that He glorified it with Himself.” And so indeed we may take the verse of human nature exalted in the Person of our Lord, and exulting in its deliverance from Satan, the world and itself. And not made my foes to triumph over me. Not, says one, as if it were God’s act that our enemies do prevail against us:* but that he may show how entirely all victory, on our part, comes not from ourselves, but from the Giver of all good things. But, they ask, (Ay.) Did not Christ’s enemies triumph over Him, when they that passed by railed on Him, wagging their heads; when they said, Ah, Thou that destroyest the Temple: or again, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while He was yet alive? Answer. They rejoiced indeed over His death as man, but not over His dedication as the evening sacrifice of the world: and it is of the dedication of David’s house, whether in humility on the Cross, or in glory on the Throne, that the Psalm tells. Dionysius the Carthusian, who gives three distinct explanations of this Psalm, the literal, the tropologic, and the anagogic, (D. C.) says very touchingly, in the second of them: We, who have been raised up from the pollution of sin, are bound to consider what and how great a benefit of God this is, that we have been separated from the multitude of our acquaintances, friends, co-evals and co-equals, who perhaps were in themselves much better than we are, but whom yet hell has been permitted to swallow up. What thanks and praise then are we bound to pay to Him Who so justly condemned them, but so mercifully spared us! Whence that holy man, feeling quite insufficient of himself to return the thanks that were due, calls on all saints, whether in heaven or on earth, to join him: “Sing praises unto the Lord, O ye saints of His, and give thanks unto Him for a remembrance of His holiness.”

2 O Lord my God, I cried unto thee: and thou hast healed me.

I cried unto Thee. But when? When, as the Apostle says, “He made prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears to Him That was able to save.”* He cried when He said, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” He cried when He said, Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit. But never at any other time did He so cry,* as by the sweet voices of His Five Wounds: the voice of our Brother’s Blood cried unto God from the ground,* while it spake better things than that of Abel.* But how can it be said that our Lord was healed, seeing we never hear that His most precious Body was subject to disease?* For this reason; that till the Resurrection it was mortal and passible; after the Resurrection it became impassible as well as immortal; and thus the effects which were wrought on it as on every other earthly body by Adam’s sin, were, strictly speaking, healed.* O Lord my God. S. Albertus very well observes that the Lord refers to power, the God to wisdom, the my to love. He is God, therefore He knows how;* He is Lord, therefore He can; He is mine, therefore He will. The thanksgiving itself, Thou hast healed Me, agrees well with the petition, (C.) “Glorify Thy Son:”* for this glorification and this healing are the same.

3 Thou, Lord, hast brought my soul out of hell: thou hast kept my life from them that go down to the pit.

Impossible in its literal sense that this verse could be written of David,* who had not yet even fallen on sleep and seen corruption. But it looks past all those long centuries, and sees the Son of David returning from preaching to the spirits that were in prison, accomplishing the Great Forty Days that still remained upon earth, and with body and soul reunited once and for ever, ascending into glory. The words have always been used in defence of that Article in the Creed, the descent into hell, as well against the heretics who have denied it,* like Calvin and Bucer, as against the Catholics who have taught that our Lord went there by effect, and not by actual presence. It is true that this Article occurs in no Creed that is used by the Eastern Church; and that, till the Council of Aquileia, it made no part of any Western symbol. But still, it has been held by both East and West from the very beginning; and from the beginning also the present verse has, by its commentators, been shown to affirm it. But how are we to understand the expression,* from them that go down into the pit? That although in our Lord that sentence was emphatically fulfilled, “How dieth the wise man? as the fool:”* yet that that Life, that blessed soul, was kept from the companionship of the malefactor and such as he with whom it had been so lately associated on Mount Calvary. Or we may take the words on our own lips: Thou hast kept my Life, that which is dearer and better to us than life itself, nay, that which is our very true and hidden life, Him Who is all our salvation and all our desire, from them that go down into the pit, (C.) the Jews, whose paths, and designs, and aims, were leading them there. Or yet once more: the pit may be the pit of wilful sin, and of final despair; and then, all those who take the Psalm on their own lips, are thereby reminded that it is no virtue or strength of their own which keeps them from descending into that abyss, but God’s goodness—Thou, Lord, hast kept—even as he, who whenever he saw a malefactor go by to punishment, was in the habit of saying, (Cd.) “But for the grace of God there goes John Bradford.” And ascetic writers remind us that it is no more possible for a soul, dead in trespasses and sins, to work out its own resurrection from this pit, than for a body to raise itself from the grave. The pit, (A.) says S. Augustine, is the profundity of this world. What mean I by the profundity of this world? The abundance of luxury and wickedness. They therefore who immerse themselves in lusts and in carnal desires, they go down into the pit.

[Thou hast kept my life. The literal Hebrew text1 is even more precise in its reference to the Resurrection. It is: Thou hast brought me back to life from (among) them that are sunk in the grave.]

4 Sing praises unto the Lord, O ye saints of his: and give thanks unto him for a remembrance of his holiness.

Sing unto the Lord: but how?* Not with the mouth only, but with a pure heart and spirit. Because “praise is not seemly in the mouth of a sinner, for it was not sent him of the Lord.”* And therefore not all,* but His Saints only, (L.) are called on thus to sing to Him. And observe that the word Saints may as well be translated merciful ones; thereby agreeing with what S. James says that pure and undefiled religion is.* As to the latter clause, Give thanks for a remembrance of His holiness, they take it in different ways. Either give thanks, because He, in His holiness, has been pleased to remember us, the word remembrance being received objectively: or in order that His holiness may be kept in remembrance, when the same word is taken subjectively. Apollinarius seems to understand it in the latter sense:

καὶ οἱ ἀκηράσιον μνημήῑον αἰνετὸν ἔστω.

Or we may put the words still into our Lord’s mouth on the Cross. (Ay.) Give thanks because that which has been effected by the Head may be hoped for by the members:

Pascha novum colite;*
Quod præit in Capite
Membra sperent singula.

Give thanks, O ye saints, in taking up your own crosses, because the Saint of saints first took up His:* and above all Give thanks for a remembrance of His holiness* in that blessed Sacrament, which by its very name is the Eucharist, and which was instituted for the continual remembrance of His death until His coming again. S. Augustine says: It is a true and ancient proverb, Where the Head is, there are the other members. Christ hath ascended into heaven, whither we are about to follow. He hath not remained in hell, He hath risen again, He dieth no more. And when we shall arise again, we shall die no more also. “Give thanks,” says Gerhohus, (G.) “ye who are in very deed, not in pretence, His saints: not like the five foolish virgins who were accounted saints because of their virginity, and because of their lamps, but who, because they had no oil in their lamps, are not to be counted real saints. Wilt thou know, O faithful soul, betrothed to Christ, what are the arms by which He embraceth thee when adorned with true sanctity, not only in the bridal chamber of future beatitude, but as thou art now, commended to His angels and good prelates, as His paranymphs? Not to dwell on that saying now, that ‘His left hand is under my head, and His right hand doth embrace me,’—when His left hand in the present life helps thee by loading thee with all manner of good merit, and His right hand in the life to come shall beatify thee for the sake of those very merits, bestowing on thee good things, not only condign with, but far exceeding, the gifts of His grace; to omit this now: He, Christ, thy Bridegroom, is the truth, and would fain, as it were, embrace thee with both His arms in manifesting to thee both Himself and thyself. So that first thou mayest know what thou wast, mayest know what thou hadst made thyself, when thou didst go aside after lies from the truth: and thus, having become acquainted with thy own wretchedness, mayest begin to understand what is His loving-kindness. Look at thyself and fear: look at Him and hope. If thy misery terrify thee, let His mercy console, thee. But that thou mayest be capable of mercy, love the truth, which shows thy wretchedness. Such honour have all His saints, of whom it is now said, Sing praises unto the Lord, O ye saints of His.”

5 For his wrath endureth but the twinkling of an eye, and in his pleasure is life: heaviness may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.

Or as the former part of the verse is in the Vulgate, For in His indignation there is anger, (L.) and life in His will. This again is one of those verses which have consoled many and many a saint, in the prison, before the unjust tribunal, or on the rack. And so strikingly does it apply to our Lord, that even Rabbi Moses Hadassan understands it of the Messiah. The Father’s wrath then endured during the time that He hid His face from the Only-begotten Son; long, fearful hours to endure then, (Cd.) but the twinkling of an eye compared with the eternity of the glory which was won by that suffering. The Chaldaic version well expresses it: One hour is His anger:* His good will is eternal life. S. Gregory Nazianzen, paraphrasing Isaiah, says well: “I gave thee up to punishment and I will help thee;* in a little wrath I struck thee, and in everlasting pity will I glorify thee. Far greater than the measure of My correction, is the measure of My loving-kindness.” Gerhohus takes occasion from a consideration of God’s anger to enter into the various excuses and apologies that are made for man’s. And as it is written of Him, “Surely He scorneth the scorners,”* (G.) so it is equally true He is angry with them that are an-angered. Heaviness may endure for a night: or as it is in the Vulgate, (A.) In the evening weeping will tarry. “It is evening,” says S. Augustine, “when the sun sets. The sun had set on man, that is, that light of righteousness, the Presence of God. Hence when Adam was expelled, what is said in the book of Genesis? When God walked in paradise, He walked in the evening.* The sinner had now hid himself in the wood. He was unwilling to see the face of God at which he had been wont to rejoice. The sun of righteousness had set on him. He did not rejoice in the presence of God. Thence began all this mortal life. In the evening weeping will tarry. Ye will long be in weeping, race of man, for ye will be born of Adam. (Ay.) And so it is come to pass,* In the evening weeping will tarry, and exaltation in the morning. When that light shall have begun to arise on the faithful which shall have set on sinners. For therefore, too, did Jesus Christ rise from the tomb in the morning, that what He had dedicated in the foundation, the same He might promise to the house. In our Lord it was evening when He was buried, and morning when He rose again on the third day. Thou, too, wast buried in the evening in paradise, and hast risen again on the third day. How on the third day? If thou wilt consider the course of the world, there is one day before the law, another under the law, a third under grace. What on that third day thy Head showed, the same is on the third day of the world shown in thee.”

Mane novum mane lætum
Vespertinum tergat fletum;*
Quia Vita vicit letum
Tempus est lætitiæ.

“And the same thing,” says the great Carmelite expositor, (Ay.) “is clearly set forth in that passage of Kings where it is said:* ‘The king of Israel was stayed up in his chariot against the Syrians, and died at even.’ The King of Israel, that is, the King of them that see God, is Christ. The Syrians are devils.” Heaviness may endure for a night. And so it did for that dark night which was spread over Mount Sinai, (G.) when there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud upon the Mount; and when God gave that law which, far from wiping away the tears of man, added to them, because it showed him his misery, without showing his remedy.* The Church was in the habit of singing on the procession in the Paschal night the Triumphal Song,* taken word for word from a Sermon of S. Augustine, and uttered when the morning of gladness was first about to dawn. And thus it ran:

When Christ, the King of Glory, entered hell, to bring to pass its overthrow,
And the choir of Angels before His face commanded that the gates of the princes should be lifted up,
The people of the saints which were held captive in death, exclaimed with joyful voice:
Thou hast come, O desired One, Whom we expected in our darkness that Thou mightest bring forth, in the light, them that were bound, from their prison-houses.
Thee, our lamentation called:
Thee, our long torments required:
Thou art made the hope of the desperate, the great consolation of the suffering.

6–7a (6) And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be removed: thou, Lord, of thy goodness hast made my hill so strong.

Notice, firstly, the different division (and it is the more correct one) of the Vulgate, (L.) which gives the latter clause of this verse to the next. Plenty of examples there are of the pride which David here laments in himself. So it was said to the King of Tyre, “Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty; thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground.”* So even S. Peter could declare, “Though all men should be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended.”* One of S. Chrysostom’s homilies is occupied in dwelling,* from these and the like examples,* on the warning, that a haughty spirit goeth before a fall. But to none does this particular Psalm apply more exactly than to Hezekiah. Raised up, as he had been, (Cd.) from illness,—boasting of his treasures to the ambassadors of Babylon,—and then not rendering again according to the benefit done to him. “But,” (Z.) says S. Ambrose, “if David is to be blamed,*—if, in the midst of his holiness, he was sometimes puffed up,*—what is to be said of us miserable sinners, who go so far beyond him in our presumption, and fall so far short of him in our merits?”* S. Peter Damiani, referring to this passage, says: “Pride makes the human mind like glass, so that, by reason of impatience, it cannot bear a blow without shattering.” And he very well knew the working of the soul who could thus explain the passage: “I, (D. C.) when converted from my sins, said in my prosperity,—that is, in the excessive confidence of my eagerness,—I shall never be removed: that is, I shall never return to my former sins: I shall never again experience that desolation and sorrow of soul which follows upon the parting from God’s ways. This is a very common feeling with new converts, that as soon as ever they receive the unaccustomed comfort and grace of the Holy Ghost, they at once incautiously presume; and in their joy, as if they never could lose that sweetness, propose great things to themselves,—things beyond the power of human nature to accomplish.” But rather let us apply the text to our Lord.* He might truly speak of His prosperity,—that is, of the abundance of gifts and graces bestowed on Him,* in Whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; of Whom it was said, “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord:”* the abundance and prosperity of Him, (Cd.) Who yet for our sakes became poor, even as it is written,* “The rich and the poor meet together.” And well might He say, I shall never be removed; even according to the vision of that king of old, whereby it was foretold that in the latter times the God of heaven should set up a kingdom which shall never be moved. Dionysius the Carthusian gives a very singular explanation, (D. C.) reading the phrase, I said, I shall not be removed for ever. That is, that our Lord, knowing, as the Evangelist says, all things that should come upon Him, knowing that it was necessary that He should be moved,—that is, should endure tribulation for a season, yet here comforts Himself by the thought that He should not be removed for ever; that these afflictions would pass, but the exceeding and eternal weight of glory would remain. Thou, Lord, of Thy goodness, hast made my hill so strong. Or rather, as it is in the Vulgate, (D. C.) Lord, in Thy good will Thou hast added strength to my beauty. According to our translation the sense is clear. David is speaking of the hill of Sion, God’s hill, in which it pleased Him to dwell,—the fair place and the joy of the whole earth,—the hill which he himself had wrested from the Jebusites, and had made the head of his kingdom. Or, if it be the Son of David Who speaks, then the hill that is made so strong is that hill which is exalted above the mountains, and to which all nations shall one day go up,—namely, the Church of the Living God. But if we take it in the Vulgate translation, then it is still our Lord that speaks: and He prophesies that His beauty,—the beauty of which He is the source,* and which He is ready to bestow on His people,—shall endure for ever: not like the beauty of this world, the fashion whereof perisheth: (L.) but shall be as eternal as heaven itself. Thou hast added strength to My beauty cannot but remind us of the verse, “Upon all the glory there shall be a defence:”* that is, that the magnificence of the outward decorations and the external ritual of the Church is actually adding to her strength, by attracting those to her who as yet know her not, and by exciting those in her who are already her children.

7b (7) Thou didst turn thy face from me: and I was troubled.

No verse can more plainly teach us that glorious and comforting truth on which the mediæval writers especially love to dwell, that it is the looking, or not looking, of God upon His creature, that forms the happiness or the misery of that creature; that those secret springs of joy which sometimes seem to rise up of themselves, and with which a stranger intermeddleth not, are nothing but God’s direct and immediate looking on us;* while the sorrow for which we cannot assign any especial cause,—call it melancholy, or low spirits, or by whatever other name,*—is nothing but His turning away His Face from us. I was troubled. As indeed He well might say, of Whom it is written, that “He began to be sorrowful and very heavy;”* and of Whom also it might be said, in the words of the Prophets, “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God;”* the sins, that is, which He bore, but which He did not. But never was He so troubled,* never did the Father so hide His Face from Him, as when this verse was so emphatically fulfilled in His “Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani!”

8 Then cried I unto thee, O Lord: and gat me to my Lord right humbly.

And how did He cry?* Even at that very time that He was Himself forsaken, He prayed for His murderers. Or, (Ay.) as others take it, He prayed that His soul, so soon about to be separated from His Body, might not be left in hell, nor His flesh see corruption: that the dedication of David’s house, commenced in the anguish of the Cross, might be accomplished in the glory of the Resurrection. Then cried I. No occasion for crying or tears in Paradise, (A.) where there was nothing but praise. But crying only, and that strong crying and tears, can recover the second and better Paradise. I cried, not only to the Lord, but even to them that stood about.* “Oh how,” exclaims the Greek Church, “could ye condemn the King of creation to an unjust death? neither calling to mind His mercies, nor listening to His words: ‘O My people, what have I done unto you? Did I not fill Judæa with wonders? Did I not raise the dead by a word alone? Did I not heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease? What is it that ye render Me in return? How long will ye be regardless of Me? Laying strokes upon Me in return for My healing; slaying Me for My life-giving; hanging Me, the Benefactor, on the Cross as a malefactor; the Lawgiver as the lawless; the King of all as the culprit. Long-suffering Lord, glory be to Thee!” Right humbly. “For though He were a Son,* yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.”* And how could the Spotless Lamb pray more humbly than from the place of malefactors, amidst the derision of the crowd, in the midst of two thieves!

9a (9) What profit is there in my blood: when I go down to the pit?

9b (10) Shall the dust give thanks unto thee: or shall it declare thy truth?

A sad verse as any that is in the Psalms. If we take it in the usual sense, according to S. Jerome, it is the lamentation of Christ that His Passion, so to speak, had been endured in vain;* that so few, bitten by the fiery serpent of temptation, would look to this the brazen serpent, and live; that so few would flee to that Cross for refuge, to lay hold on the hope then set before them. S. Gaudentius tells his people from this complaint how their sins frustrated the effects of Christ’s Cross;* how the price of the world was paid in vain; how that Blood—

Cujus una stilla salvum facere

Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere,*

would in its fulness have been poured forth to scarcely any purpose. What profit is there in My Blood? And they answer, none, or next to none; and they most decidedly so reply, (L.) whose own holiness of life caused them more bitterly to lament the evils of sin, as S. Dositheus and S. Isidore of Pelusium. When I go down into the pit: or, as it is in the Vulgate, When I descend into corruption. They understand this of our Lord’s descending amidst the corruption of human nature at the Incarnation, and still the question is the same, What profit is there in it? “This profit there ought to be,” says S. Ambrose,* “that for the Blood thus shed for us, for the labour thus undertaken for us, we are bound to return all our labour,—if need be, to lay down our very lives; to offer ourselves, and all that we have, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice to the Sacrifice on the Cross.” Or in another sense they understand the question concerning the Body of our Lord, as a prayer that it may not be suffered to return to corruption. S. Thomas dwells at great length on this subject,* and points out the various benefits we have received by the preservation of that Spotless Body from the effects of the grave: that Body which was to be raised up from the tomb, now no more liable to return to corruption, in order that it might be the food of all the followers of Christ till His Coming again. Shall the dust give thanks unto Thee?* And here they introduce another meaning: that praise, to be acceptable to God, must come from a heart devoted to Him; from those who have set their affections on things above, not on things of the earth; from those who are not of that dust which is the serpent’s meat,* but whose heart and affections are altogether on high. Shall the dust give thanks unto Thee? Or, as it is in the Vulgate, Shall the dust confess unto Thee? Whence S. Augustine takes occasion to say, (A.) “When it is ill with us, let us confess our sins; when it is well with us, let us confess praise to God; but without confession let us never be,”—a sentence which is made his own by the Master of the Sentences.* It is a singular sense which is attached to these words by S. Basil, the ascetic Doctor: “What profit is there in my blood? That is, in all the force and vigour of human existence, if by that very health and strength of body I am led to corruption of the soul.” Whence he proceeds to dilate on the benefits of fasting, and to praise the philosopher Plato for having chosen an unhealthy spot as the place of his abode, because sickness is the mother of philosophy.

[Shall the dust give thanks unto Thee? It is, teaches a Saint, the question of Christ to His Father.* If I be not raised up again from the pit, then My bloodshedding has been useless. If I come not back victorious, to open the Scriptures to My disciples, to send them the Holy Ghost, can My dust confess unto Thee,* by bringing forth Confessors for Thee and preachers of Thy truth, as I, if raised up, will do? Or, shall man, himself mere dust, ever give thanks to Thee aright, if I return not to show him the way, to be Myself his Oblation of Thanksgiving in the Eucharist? And then we may compare the words of S. Paul, “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain, ye are yet in your sins.”*]

10 (11) Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me: Lord, be thou my helper.

Or as it is in the Vulgate, The Lord heard and had mercy upon me: the Lord is become my helper. But it matters little as to the mystical sense, whether it is still the prayer of our Lord that He might rise again, or His thanksgiving after His Resurrection. And notice the force of the word helper. For equally is it said by the Holy Ghost, (C.) that Christ raised Himself, or was raised by the Father; raised Himself as God, was raised as Man; the Father co-operating with, (Lu.) and so verily becoming the Helper of, the Son. Have mercy. And so the Father had mercy on that Frame on which the Jews had no mercy; crowning those limbs with glory which they had lacerated with the scourge; setting a diadem of pure gold on that Head, which they had outraged with thorns; putting all power into those Hands, into which they had thrust the reed of derision. He so had mercy on the Son, as in Him to have mercy upon us; He so became the Helper of the Son, (G.) that henceforth every feeble and wounded soul may derive from Him unbounded help, and strength. Or, to look at the verse in another sense, we have here no indistinct reference to the Blessed Trinity. The Father is called on to hear; the Son, by the recollection of Calvary, to have mercy; the Holy Ghost to be the Helper of those in whom He dwells, and whom He sanctifies.

11 (12) Thou hast turned my heaviness into joy: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness.

Well and beautifully says Adam of S. Victor:*

Saccus scissus et pertusus
In regales transit usus;
Saccus fit soccus gratiæ,
Caro victrix miseriæ.

And first we must apply these words to the Resurrection, (L.) when the heaviness of the tomb was turned into the joy of “The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared unto Simon;”* when the saying of the Prophet was fulfilled, and to them that mourned in Sion beauty was given for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning,* the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; when the promise of the Lord was fulfilled, “Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice; and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy;”* when the saying of old time was brought to pass, “For Almighty God hath turned to joy unto them the day wherein the chosen people should have perished;* ye shall therefore among your solemn feasts keep it an high day, with all feasting.” Thou hast put off my sackcloth: or, as it is in the Vulgate, Thou hast cut or slit my sackcloth (saccum meum conscidisti,) where the word saccus, with its twofold meaning of sackcloth and bag,* gives a great scope to metaphorical interpretations. So they tell us that the bag in which the price of our redemption was contained, (A.) being cut open, that price itself was poured forth. Or again, that this sack was full of the precious wheat, (G.) hereafter to flourish into the harvests of the Church, when first it had lain in the ground and died. S. Albertus is fullest on the various meanings of the sack; “a word,” says he, and he says it truly, “common to all languages, as the redemption prefigured by it extended to all nations.” And as it has been well remarked, (Ay.) while the sackcloth in which the Sun of Righteousness was enveloped was rent on the Cross, the material sun became black as sackcloth of hair, when there was darkness over all the earth from the sixth hour until the ninth hour. And girded me with gladness: with the state of immortality, thenceforth to be the reward of the conqueror,—

When they beneath their Leader
Who conquered in the fight,*
For ever and for ever
Are clad in robes of white.

12 (13) Therefore shall every good man sing of thy praise without ceasing: O my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.

I know not whence this translation is derived: the Vulgate gives it: That my glory may sing to thee, and I may not be pricked, with the first clause of which the Bible version closely agrees, and which is sufficiently literal.1 True, that because of the triumph of the Cross, every good man shall sing of His praise Who obtained it, without ceasing: but let us rather take the verse as the voice of the Church. All these things were done, all the afflictions endured, all the promises made good, to the end that her glory might not be silent; that in a thousand ways, by her hymns, by her canticles, by her ritual, all which things are her true glory, she may set forth the praises of the Victor. Or we may take it as still spoken by our Lord, and the glory, that glory which He had with the Father before the world was, and which, (L.) having been for a while clouded and eclipsed by the humiliation of His earthly life and Passion, was now to be restored to Him, not only in all its former brightness, but with the addition of splendour which, according to S. Paul’s teaching, His obedience and His labours had merited for His manhood.* And thus we see the force of the next clause, and that I may not be pricked. For the Hands which had been pierced with the nails now serve to remind Him, by that engraving, (G.) of His love, and of the victory won by that love. My God. “O ye all,” says Gerhohus, “who, being the sons of Leah, or of the handmaidens, love not this son of Rachel, ye who envy His dominion,—ye who, so far as in you lies, hinder His reigning in this world,—now, now, while it is the time of penitence that may be of effect, return to Him the First-born, reigning over all the land of Egypt, that is to say, heaven and earth, according to His own most true saying, ‘All power is given to Me in heaven and in earth.’ Lament before Him that ye have sinned against Him, and He will have mercy upon you, and will fill your sacks with corn, that ye perish not with hunger before ye can arrive at His own home. And according to the measure of your sins He may suffer you for awhile to lament until ye say from your hearts, ‘We are verily guilty concerning our Brother.’* But at length He will rend your sackcloth, and will so enrich you, that none of you will any longer stand in need of those sacks of yours; and He will bestow on each of you a beautiful stole, with which adorned, and now free from the weight of your sacks, ye may be able to exult, so that each of you will say to your elder Brother, ‘Thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness.’ And do Thou, O good Joseph, say to them, ‘As for you, ye thought evil against Me, but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass as it is this day, to save much people alive.’ O my God, I will give thanks unto Thee for ever. This let us say, one and all: ‘Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give the praise, that we perish not of hunger, we who bring our sacks to Thee empty, and receive them again full; when, under a mystery, we feed on Thee, the true Corn of life. And so it must be until the sackcloth of our mortality shall be cut in twain, and Thou shalt no longer be received as concealed under a covering, but face to face shalt satisfy us with the finest wheat flour for ever and ever.’ ”

And therefore:

Glory be to the Father, to Whom the Son cried and was heard, in that He feared; and to the Son, Whose life was kept from them that go down into the pit; and to the Holy Ghost, to Whom we cry, Lord, be Thou my helper;

As it was in the beginning of the dedication of the Lord’s Temple on the Cross, is now, that the true Son of David is set down on the throne, and ever shall be, when His people shall behold the glory which He had before the world was: world without end. Amen.


Gregorian. Monday: Matins. [Easter Eve: II. Nocturn. Ascension: I. Nocturn.]

Monastic. Sunday: II. Nocturn.

Parisian. Monday: III. Nocturn.

Lyons. Monday: Lauds.

Ambrosian. Tuesday of the First Week: III. Nocturn.

Quignon. Tuesday: Compline.

Eastern Church. Mesorion of Terce.


Gregorian and Monastic. As to Psalm 28. [Easter Eve: Thou, Lord, hast brought my soul out of hell. Ascension: I will magnify Thee * for Thou hast set me up. Alleluia.]

Parisian. Sing praises * unto the Lord, O ye saints of His, and give thanks for a remembrance of His holiness.

Lyons. O Lord, my God, I will give thanks unto Thee for ever.

Mozarabic. O Lord, my God, I cried unto Thee, and Thou didst hear me.


O most mighty God,* Who liftest us up, suffer not our enemies to triumph over us; but do Thou so strengthen us by Thy might, that, our heaviness being turned into joy, we may ever give thanks for the remembrance of Thy holiness. Through (1.)

Bring our soul,* O Lord, out of prison, and keep our life from them that go down into the pit; and as, when about to redeem the world, by Thine ineffable virtue, Thou didst descend from on high and burst the bars of hell, vouchsafe of Thy mercy that we may never be brought down by our sins; and grant that, with them who are predestinated to eternal life, we may, after our power, sing to Thee, and may merit the possession of beatitude and Thy everlasting delights. Amen. Through Thy mercy (11.)

Thee, O Lord,* we humbly beseech that Thou wouldest turn our heaviness into joy; that Thou wouldest relieve us of the weight of our sins; and that, as Thou dost gladden us by the mystery of Thy Resurrection, Thou wouldest vouchsafe to raise them to heaven, for whose sake Thou didst not abhor to descend into hell. Through (1.)

[Hear our prayers, O Lord, and have mercy upon us; (D. C.) turn our heaviness into joy, and gird us about with gladness and salvation, that we may sing and give thanks to Thee for all Thy benefits in the blessed dwelling of eternity. Through (1.)]

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Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 33

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 19, 2016

Title. LXX.: A Psalm of David. Without any title in the Hebrew.1


Arg. Thomas. That by Christ, the Word of the Father, the heavens and their powers were established. The Prophet exhorts God’s people with praise. The voice of the Church consoling the martyr. The Prophet admonishes to rejoice in the Lord.

Ven. Bede. In this Psalm the Prophet exhorts the Church of the faithful to psalmody, enumerating the power and mighty deeds of the Creator, that man may more eagerly hasten to praise Him, when he knows His virtue and power. Through the whole Psalm the Prophet speaketh: but in the first section he admonisheth the just to rejoice in the Lord, Who supports His creatures with admirable power. In the second he exclaims that the man is blessed who has merited to take His worship in hand, signifying the Christian times in which a multitude of the Gentiles would believe.

Eusebius of Cæsarea. An exhortation to celebrate God’s praises, together with Divine knowledge.


1 Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous: for it becometh well the just to be thankful.

This Psalm has from the beginning been applied to the martyrs, (A.) as it is said now on the Festival of Many Martyrs. And so it was in the time of S. Augustine. Thus he speaks on such a festival:* “You know that which we have just been singing, Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O ye righteous. If the righteous rejoice in the Lord, the unrighteous only rejoice in the world. This is the first rank that has to be overthrown.1 First we must conquer delectation and then trouble. How can we conquer the world when it rages, if we cannot vanquish it when it flatters?” Thus then, in this verse we invite those blessed ones with God to join in our gladness: for it indeed becometh well those to be thankful of whom the hymn says:

Me incessanter
Laudantes amanter;*
Hinc hi beati
Perpetim firmati,
Hinc gloriosi
Semper luminosi,
Similes mihi.
Sunt hi viventes
Me vitâ fruentes,
Pulchre lucentes
Me lumen videntes,
Sunt et divini
Di quoque igniti
Mihi uniti.

And if it becometh well the just to be thankful, so also, the wise man says, “Praise is not seemly in the mouth of a sinner.”* And therefore notice that neither our Lord nor S. Paul would allow Satan to confess the power of God. “He rebuking them, suffered them not to speak, for they knew that He was Christ.”* And thus, when the Pythoness proclaimed, (L.) “These men are the servants of the Most High God,”* Paul commanded the evil spirit to come out of her. Notice also how the last verse of the preceding Psalm and the first verse of this seem to run into each other: the penitential sorrow of the one having been gradually raised into the exultation of the other. Ayguan has a singular idea of the body’s upbraiding the soul with reference to It becometh well the upright, (Ay.) as it is in the Vulgate: both were created by God upright, and intended to look up towards the sky. Man does not imitate the beast by bowing his head to the ground, as even the heathen poet tells us,

.… Cœlumque videre

Jussit,* et erectos ad cœlum tollere vultus;

but in his soul man does stoop and bend down, curved instead of upright, to the pleasures and business of this world. Rejoice. S. Ambrose observes that there is no greater defence against Satan than spiritual joy, which indeed comes second in the catalogue of the graces of the Spirit;* as the evil spirit that vexed Saul was driven away by David’s harp.

2 Praise the Lord with harp: sing praises unto him with the lute, and instrument of ten strings.

Here we have the first mention of musical instruments in the Psalms. It is to be observed that the early Fathers almost with one accord protest against their use in churches; as they are forbidden in the Eastern Church to this day, where yet,* by the consent of all, the singing is infinitely superior to anything that can be heard in the West. It is not easy to determine when they were first introduced into the West. S. Gregory the Great speaks of organs;* but Amalarius in the eighth century, describing the use of the Church of France, says that no instruments were employed. S. Thomas Aquinas seems to disapprove them,* or at least barely tolerates them; and the Church of Lyons, which held more faithfully to primitive practice than any other in France, admitted them only in the sixteenth century. To what perfection they were brought among the Jews the whole routine of the Temple service abundantly shows. The instrument of ten strings they take to mean the music of the Church Triumphant, ten being the symbol of perfection: and as the Vulgate, herein following the Hebrew, mentions only the harp and the ten-stringed Psaltery, instead of the three instruments which both our Bible and our Prayer Book version have, they see in this the union of the Church on earth with that in heaven. So Bernard of Cluny,—

Thou city of the Angels! thou city of the Lord!*
Whose everlasting music is the glorious decachord.

Tropologically, all mediæval writers dwell on the similarity between the strings of musical instruments and Christian souls. Firstly,* they are made of dead animals,—so must we be dead to sins. Next, they require an equal tension, as our passions must be subdued and moderated. Thirdly, as all their sound depends on the air; so all that we can do is to be attributed to the Holy Spirit. Adam of S. Victor sees a parallel between the martyrs and their sufferings and the strings of the lyre, which are drawn tight and stricken, so that they may yield their sweetest sound.

“Sicut chorda musicorum*
Tandem sonum dat sonorum,
Plcctri ministerio;
Sic in chely tormentorum
Melos Christi confessorum
Martyris dat tensio.”

So, again, Hildebert of Le Mans:

“Sicut chorda solet dare tensa sonum meliorem,*
Sic pœnis tensus dat plenum laudis honorem.”

3 Sing unto the Lord a new song: sing praises lustily unto Him with a good courage.

This is the first time that we have had that expression, A new song: on which S. Augustine has left us a whole treatise, and on which all mediæval writers love to dwell at length. Zigabenus sees in this expression the four great hymns of the New Testament: (Z.) he also sees in the decachord the ten songs of the Old Testament, those of Miriam, Moses, Deborah, (A.) Hannah, David, Solomon, Judith, Hezekiah, Habakkuk, the Three Children,—an adaptation rather than an explanation. S. Augustine would have the decachord to mean the three commandments which pertain to God, the seven which pertain to man.1 The remarks of Ayguan may so well apply to choirs of the present day, that I will transcribe them here. “For when we go to sing the Office of God in church, (Ay.) reverence and humility ought to be more strictly observed, lest, when we come into the presence of God Himself, we should be worse than at other times. For there are some who, wandering in their thoughts, staring about with their eyes, slovenly in their dress, look about and gaze upon the flat walls, sing one thing and think of another, are bodily in the choir, and mentally in the market.2 And there are some singers of effeminate voices, who glory in their delicate modulation, and put in other notes than those that are written in the ecclesiastical books, that they may rather, forsooth, please the people than God. They who sing after this fashion do not sing in the choir with Miriam, the sister of Moses: but in the palace with the daughter of Herodias, that they may please those that sit at meat, and Herod. They glory in reaching such and such a high note; but no one reaches such a high note as he whom God is accustomed to hear from His lofty mountain. You, therefore, sing in the valley of humility, that you may merit to be heard on the hill of glory. If you so sing as to be careful about the praise of others, you sell your voice, and make it not yours, but theirs. You have your voice while you sing in your own power; have your mind in your own power too.”* Lustily unto Him with a good courage. Notice how God cares rather for the will than for the deed: how we must throw ourselves heart and soul into our work, if we would do that work so as to please Him. Our English translation, lustily, gives the force more emphatically than any other version. If we wish to show the inferiority of the Bible translation, we could not choose many more glaring examples than this. Compare, on the one side, the noble, Sing praises lustily unto Him with a good courage; on the other, Play skilfully with a loud noise.3

[A new song,* because Christ has made all things new, and we having put on the new man,* must have a new kind of praise in our mouths.* That, remarks another saint, is love, for the Lord hath said, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.”* And not only one another, but “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you.”* And it may be further taken of the counsels of perfection, of chastity, “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it;”* and of poverty, “Sell that ye have, and give alms.”*]

4 For the word of the Lord is true: and all his works are faithful.

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” (A.) said the Word of the Lord Himself; and it well follows, All His works are faithful, since it is written, “All things were made by Him.” Yet the greater part of the early commentators do not take it in this sense. Theodoret, with the literal interpretation which his school dearly loved, takes it of Holy Scripture. So does S. Gaudentius of Brescia.* S. Basil and Cassiodorus take it of the Catholic faith; S. Bruno, by a miserably narrow interpretation, understands it of the precept of singing. The word, says Ayguan, is the half-way spot between the intention and the action; (Ay.) and therefore is the Word of the Lord true, or straight, because of the faithfulness of all His promises. As it is written, “All His commandments are true: they stand fast for ever and ever.”

5 He loveth righteousness and judgment: the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.

Righteousness and judgment: or as it is in the Vulgate, Mercy and judgment.* For these are the two pillars on which God’s house is reared up,—the Jachin and Boaz which stand before the celestial temple. And mercy is well put before judgment: for the promise of the Deliverer who should bruise the serpent’s head was given before the sentence of punishment was pronounced on Adam and Eve: as also at the last day the King will first speak the blessedness of those on the Right Hand, before He shall bid those on the left to depart into everlasting fire.* And since He loves mercy, so He commands us to love it also. “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justice and to love mercy?” The earth is full. And why does he rather say the earth than mankind? Because God’s mercies are over all His works, as well as over man: He that gave warning in the plague of hail that the cattle of the Egyptians should not perish,—He that forbad the taking the dam and the eggs together,—He that had pity on the much cattle of Nineveh, (Z.)—certainly shows His goodness to His other creation as well as to man. Again; the earth is mentioned as if to tell that this world,* and not the next, is the season for repentance and mercy.

6 By the word of the Lord were the heavens made: and all the hosts of them by the breath of his mouth.

Here we have one of the most remarkable testimonies in the Old Testament to the doctrine of the Trinity. Almost all the Fathers have so applied it,—Tertullian,1 S. Cyprian,2 S. Ambrose,3 S. Augustine,4 S. Isidore,5 S. Fulgentius,6 S. Athanasius,7 and many others. Some of these have gone further, and have attributed the creation of the heavens more especially to the Word, that of the stars and angels more especially to the Holy Ghost. S. Augustine, referring the heavens, as he always does, to the Apostles, shows how it was the teaching of the Word of God which made them what they were, and formed them for their work. “And how dared,” says he, “those same heavens to go with confidence, of weak men to be made heavens, except that by the Word of the Lord were the heavens made firm? Whence could sheep among wolves have such strength, except that by the breath of His mouth were all the strength of them? ‘Behold,’ saith He, ‘I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.’ O Lord, most merciful, surely Thou dost this that the earth may be full of Thy mercy! If, then, Thou art so merciful as to fill the earth with Thy mercy, see whom Thou sendest, see whither Thou sendest. Sheep into the midst of wolves. ‘I send them,’ saith He, ‘because they are become heavens to water the earth.’ Whence weak men can be heavens. But all the strength of them by the Spirit of His mouth. Behold, the wolves shall take you, and deliver and give you up to the powers, for My Name’s sake. Now arm ye yourselves. With your own strength? Far from it. ‘Take no thought how or what ye shall speak, for it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.’ This is of a truth, (Cd.) All the host of them by the breath of His mouth.” Many have thought that S. John, at the commencement of his Gospel, and especially in that saying, “All things were made by Him,” was simply referring to this passage, and re-stating it in its own highest Christian meaning. If this be so, it is a curious instance of the way in which the Apostles understood the symbolical teaching of the Psalms. S. Basil understands the heavens, not of Apostles, but of Angels, which, however, is less in accordance with the general principle of symbolism. Grounding themselves on this verse, the Jewish rabbis declare that the basis of all the bases of the Mosaic law is this: that the creation of the world was the immediate work of God, and not His mediate work by the hand of Angels.

7 He gathereth the waters of the sea together, as it were upon an heap: and layeth up the deep as in a treasure-house.

Taking the heavens to signify the Apostles, and the hosts of them the exceeding great army of converts which by their preaching was spread throughout the world,* then here we see an analogy with that prophecy in Isaiah, “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” These waters He gathered together in that book of remembrance which is written for them that fear Him:* and layeth up the deep as in a treasure-house: for what are His treasures but the innumerable souls which either directly or indirectly the preaching of the Apostles has brought in? The Vulgate has it, gathering as in a bottle the waters of the sea: (Z.) and they refer to the new wine and the new bottles which the Lord’s Incarnation was to prepare. Others again take the deep thus laid up in a treasure-house,* of the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God: others, of afflictions, bitter in themselves like the waters of the sea, but the exceeding great treasures of grace. Or again: Theodoret takes the waters* in the bottle of the clouds, sucked up and raised from the sea and there reserved till the time comes to pour them forth upon the earth. As it is written in Job: “Who can number the clouds in wisdom, or who can stay the bottles of heaven?”* On an heap. As it was when the Red Sea was passed, (L.) and when the nether waters of the Jordan were cut off. And if we take the Latin,* Placing the abysses in His treasures, then we may see how the greatest sinners have sometimes become His greatest saints;* abysses of wickedness turned into treasures of mercy. S. Basil says,* “Laying up the abysses in His treasures. It would have been more after the common manner of speech, Laying up His treasures in abysses: that is, containing His treasures in mysteries and hidden secrets. But now He speaks of the abysses themselves as of something precious and worthy of Divine treasures. Nor do I know whether the reasons themselves of Divine judgments hidden in themselves, and comprehensible by no minds, are hence called abysses, because they are reserved to the Divine understanding alone. We, when we shall be held worthy of that knowledge by which God is seen face to face, shall then contemplate those abysses in the treasures of God. But if you collect what is written concerning bottles in the sacred volume, you will approach nearer to the understanding of those prophecies. Those are called new bottles in the Gospel who day by day renew their spiritual life, and receive new wine from the True Vine. But they who have not yet put off the old man with his deeds, are old bottles, into which new wine cannot conveniently or safely be poured.” Thus Adam of S. Victor:

Utres novi,* non vetusti,
Sunt capaces novi musti;
Vasa parat vidua;
Dat liquorem Helisæus;
Nobis sacrum rorem Deus,
Si corda sint congrua.

[The waters, being the nations of the world, according to that saying, “the waters are peoples and multitudes, and nations and tongues,”* are gathered together into the unity of the Church,* which is compared to a bottle, because, as a leathern bottle is made of the skin of a dead animal,* so the Church is made up of those who have mortified sin in the flesh.]

8 Let all the earth fear the Lord: stand in awe of him, all ye that dwell in the world.

In like manner, the Prophet: “Fear ye not Me? saith the Lord: will ye not tremble at My presence, Which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea, by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it?”* They seem to see,* in the two clauses, a double division of those who are addressed: Let all the earth: those who are of the earth, earthy:—all ye that dwell in the world:* those who are true children of that Church which is scattered throughout the whole globe. Stand in awe of Him. And was it not so, when after the stilled storm, Peter fell down at His knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord?” Was it not so when the Gadarenes besought Him that He would depart out of their coasts? Well says S. Augustine: (A.) “Let them not fear another instead of Him. Doth a wild beast rage? Fear God. Doth a serpent lie in wait? Fear God. Doth man beat thee? Fear God. Doth the devil fight against thee? Fear God. For the whole creation is under Him Whom thou art commanded to fear.” Stand in awe of Him. Or as it is in the Vulgate, Let all the inhabitants of the earth be moved because of Him. And that answers precisely to the saying of Ezekiel: “So that the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the field, and all creeping things that creep upon the earth, and all the men that are upon the face of the earth, shall shake at My presence.”*

9 For he spake, and it was done: he commanded, and it stood fast.

Prudentius, in that noble hymn of his, has versified this passage:
Ipse jussit, et creata: dixit ipse,* et facta sunt:
Terra, cœlum, fossa ponti, trina rerum machina,
Quæque in his vigent sub alto Solis et Lunæ globo.

The Greek Fathers seem to take the two clauses as referring,* the former to God’s material, the latter to His spiritual, works. But notice then: He spake, and it was done: a most clear reference to the Word,* by Whom it was done. S. Isidore most truly teaches that He spake is often said of God instead of “He did:” because by His Word His creative power was exercised. And S. Ambrose well says: “God did not give the command that the effect might be: but that it might be seen to be His effect.”* They dispute with reference to this verse, why, in the Apostles’ Creed, in the Latin, God is called Creator of heaven and earth, and in the Nicene, the Maker. And they reply that it was with reference to the heresy of Marcion and his followers, that God did indeed create all the great and chief parts of nature, (Ay.) but that as to the little every-day occurrences of this life, they are brought to pass, made, so to speak, by Satan.

10 The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: and maketh the devices of the people to be of none effect, and casteth out the counsels of princes.

11 The counsel of the Lord shall endure for ever: and the thoughts of his heart from generation to generation.

So of Ahithophel; so it was with Holofernes; so with Sennacherib. And therefore well might Gamaliel say, “If this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought; but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it.” And the Scriptural S. Albert heaps together innumerable passages which testify to the same thing.* So says Eliphaz: “He disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise. He taketh the wise in their own craftiness, and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong.”* So S. Paul: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” So, again, Isaiah: “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure:”* and once more: “The Lord of Hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass: and as I have purposed, so shall it stand.” And thus writes S. Cyprian:* “Hast thou the protection of God? stand safe and without fear against everything that the devil or the world can perform. For what fear can he have from the world, to whom God is a protector in the world?” Casteth out the counsels of princes. It is not in the Hebrew; but being in the LXX., and both in the Italic and Vulgate, it has probably fallen out of the original by accident. And who are these princes, (Ay.) save the devil and his legions? as our Lord Himself says, “Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out.”* “So,” says one of the greatest of the Fathers,* “so, O Christian, his devices against thee are every day brought to nought. He sends such and such a temptation, intending it to be thy ruin; but the Lord, by His overruling providence, turns it into thy victory. He pours forth against thee all the fiery darts of evil thoughts: thy Lord not only intercepts them, but infuses in their stead His Holy Spirit into thy soul.” The counsel of the Lord. Yet we must remember that, as S. John Damascene says, “Counsel,* properly speaking, is only taken by the ignorant.” Hear, therefore, the Carthusian: (D. C.) “But Holy Scripture frequently attributes counsel to God: but it is then ascribed to Him, not in so far as it includes the inquisition of doubtful matters, but in so far as it excludes a hasty determination.” And they remind us that there are three kinds of counsels which God overthrows: 1, the vain philosophy of heathen sects, long before the Advent; 2, (P.) the counsel of Scribes and Pharisees, Annas and Caiaphas, Herod and Pontius Pilate, against our Lord, while He was on earth; and 3, the counsels of great persecutors, of Decius and Diocletian, of Huneric and Mahomet, against His Church since His Ascension. And notice once more how God turns the counsels of the wicked into good. “Often,” says S. Gregory, “while some,* puffed up by human wisdom, devise the most subtle counsels against the dispensation of God, they only carry out the Lord’s will; and while they seek to overthrow it, they indeed confirm it. So Joseph, sold into Egypt that he might not be lord over his brethren, by that very means was made a king and prince to them.”

12 Blessed are the people, whose God is the Lord Jehovah: and blessed are the folk, that he hath chosen to him to be his inheritance.

How does He choose them?* And Cardinal Hugo answers the question at length. If we take God’s own simile of a husbandman, He removes the briars of sin, He ploughs with the plough of the Word, He sows the seeds of grace; He surrounds with the hedge of fear; He walks in His garden in the cool of the evening. S. Basil will have the people to mean the Jews; and then, when they counted themselves, as the Apostle speaks, unworthy of eternal life, the folk to mean the Gentiles. Or, if you like, we may take the people to mean the chosen band of the Apostles: (L.) as the Lord Himself saith,* “Have not I chosen you twelve?” Others, again, see, in the distinction between the two clauses, the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant; (Ay.) or rather,—and it is to be noticed how completely a mediæval writer here eschews the notion of a purgatory1 of suffering,—of the Church awaiting her future reward before the Resurrection, and the Church as having entered into possession at the consummation of all things. To use his own words, “The blessedness which is possessed in our country, so far as respects the first robe before the Resurrection, but which will be complete as to both robes after the Resurrection.” What this blessedness consists in let S. Bernard tell us:* “In that eternal and blessed life those blessed ones triply have fruition of God: to wit, seeing Him in all things, having Him in themselves, and, which is ineffably more glorious and blessed, beholding Him in His very essential Trinity, and contemplating that glory without any enigma, by the pure eye of the heart. And it is this condition of blessedness, which noting, the Saviour saith, ‘This is life eternal, that they may know Thee, the only true God.’ ” And if we take the two clauses together, we thence find that God is the possessor as well as the possessed: as is set forth by S. Anselm with admirable force in his Prosologion. “Therefore God Himself says, Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy Name; thou art Mine.” Corderius is rapt beyond his usual elevation in considering this passage: “O words,” says he, (Cd.) “most sweet, and that fill the mind with wonderful happiness! We are the possession of God, we belong to Him, we pertain to Him; no one can hurt us, without challenging the power of God. ‘Thou art Mine,’ He says, and that by a peculiar reason; not in that way only in which the heaven and earth are God’s, as being the demiurge and architect of all, but because, saith He, ‘I have redeemed thee, fear thou not.’ The purple blood itself of the Immaculate Lamb, that immortal and incomparable price, which, save God, nothing can equal, cries out loudly, ‘Fear not;’ and,* as S. Cyprian speaks in his exhortation to martyrdom, promises to us security and protection. To the same effect is that which follows:”

13–14 (13) The Lord looked down from heaven, and beheld all the children of men: from the habitation of his dwelling he considereth all them that dwell on the earth.

So the ancient hymn tells us:

Speculator adstat desuper
Qui nos diebus omnibus,*
Actusque nostros prospicit
A luce primâ in vesperum.

Instead of from the habitation of His dwelling, the Vulgate has it, from His prepared dwelling, an expression which they interpret variously. The meaning attached to it by S. Gregory Nyssen is something harsh:* The Lord—that is, Christ—from His prepared dwelling—that is, from the bosom of the Father, Whose He always is, looked down upon the children of men at the Incarnation. S. Thomas takes it as reminding us that there is a certain abode prepared,* as for God now, so for those that are God’s hereafter; a place where He is, and where we shall be also. And so in Ecclesiasticus: “The eyes of the Lord are ten thousand times brighter than the sun, beholding all the ways of men, (D. C.) and considering the most secret parts.”* Prepared habitation. We may take it, if so we will, of those whom God has used as His instruments and temples by which to work, and in which to dwell: (A.) according to that saying, “What, know ye not that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost, Which is in you?”* Thus, from His habitation in each of the Apostles, the Holy Ghost considered the various nations to whom, by their means, He preached: China and India by S. Thomas, Scythia by S. Andrew, Spain by S. Paul. So it is that He exercises that which Tertullian calls His* censorium lumen over those to whom His word is spoken by His messengers at this day. And there is no doubt a contrast in the first and second clauses, between The Lord looked down from heaven and from His prepared habitation. Under the old dispensation He looked down from heaven as a God afar off; under the New Covenant from His prepared habitation: as it is written, “A body hast Thou prepared Me.”*

Man with man in converse blending,*
Scattered He the Gospel seed.

15 (14) He fashioneth all the hearts of them: and understandeth all their works.

Or, as it is in the Vulgate, He fashioneth the hearts of them singly. Hence they are accustomed to refute the fancy of Origen, (L.) that the souls of men were created long before their bodies, and that they are simply put into each body as it is formed. It is not here the place to open, as so many modern commentators do, a door to the whole Jansenian controversy, from the last clause,* and understandeth all their works. Others have gathered that the singly or separately refers to the spirit of man as contrasted with the souls of beasts; (Z.) and others, as S. Isidore of Pelusium, take it to mean that God by Himself, and without any intermediate ministry, has fashioned each several soul. “But do thou, O Christian,” says Hugh of S. Victor, “knowing that* He understandeth all thy works, Whose works even from the cradle to the grave were what they were, that He understandeth all thy works, Whose highest work was performed on the Cross of Calvary, take heed lest He behold in thee works of worldly pleasure, works of self-indulgence, works of sin; works the very opposite of, and contrary to, those which His own right hand and which His holy arm effected; works that will be thy shame and confusion in that day when thou, and all the sons of men, must be judged according to thy works.”

15 There is no king that can be saved by the multitude of an host: neither is any mighty man delivered by much strength.

16 A horse is counted but a vain thing to save a man: neither shall he deliver any man by his great strength.

This is the lesson which God at sundry times and in divers manners taught His people. Thus He said to Gideon, (L.) when about to fight with the Midianites, “The people are yet too many; bring them down to the water, and I will try them for thee there.”* So, again, the man of God said to King Amaziah, “O king, let not the army of Israel go with thee; for the Lord is not with Israel. But if thou wilt go, do it, be strong for the battle; God shall make thee fall before the enemy.”* And so, once more, where it is written that Judas Maccabeus “stretched out his hands towards heaven, and called upon the Lord That worketh wonders, knowing that victory cometh not by arms, but even as it seemed good to Him, He giveth it to such as are worthy.”* Neither is any mighty man delivered by much strength.* For consider that He Who was indeed the mightiest of all mighty,—the God Who, to them that had no might, increaseth strength,—the God Who is strength Himself, delivered not the race of man by strength, but by weakness; as when He fell beneath the Cross, as when He bowed His head and gave up the ghost, as when in the weakness of death He was taken down and laid in the grave. Mighty man: or giant, as it is in the Vulgate. They compare, (Ay.) therefore, Sihon, King of the Amorites, and Og, the King of Bashan,*—the latter “of the remnant of the giants,”*—with the two clauses of the present verse: as they do the horse, counted but a vain thing to save a man, with that of Pharaoh, which went down into the Red Sea. And so it is written in another place, “Thus saith the Lord: (D. C.) Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,* neither let the mighty man glory in his might: let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord.”* And notice why a horse is so often spoken of as a worldly method of defence or attack: because the children of Israel never used horses in battle. We read of the vast number of war-horses brought into the field by the Ammonites and Syrians; also the chariots of iron, which proved an insuperable difficulty to the Ephraimites, in driving out the ancient possessors of their land. But, excepting for show, the kings of Judah had none; and even for show, the Law forbade any great number, “He shall not multiply horses unto himself.”* Neither is any mighty man delivered: or, as it is in the Vulgate, And a giant shall not be saved in the multitude of his strength. There we have a clear reference to those giants whom the Philistines sent forth against God’s people, Goliath at their head: (A.) all of them manifest types of Antichrist. Let S. Augustine, then, teach us what is to be our strength. “To the Lord all, in the Lord all. God be your hope, God be your fortitude, God be your firmness; He be your prayer, He be your praise: He be the help by which you labour, He be the end in which you rest.”

18 (17) Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him: and upon them that put their trust in his mercy.

They take it of that eye which, while the Lord was before the judgment-seat, looked Peter into repentance,—while He was hanging on the Cross, inspired the penitent thief with love and hope. And that word* behold, as S. Cyril says, is not idly to be passed by. It seems to bring the mercy of God home to us; as if, not only in those old histories, but in these present days, (C.) that Eye was still watching us through our wanderings, and beaming upon us the strength which is to bring us to our home. And notice once more the gradual ascent from fear to love: upon them that fear Him, first; then upon them that put their trust in His mercy. This was the verse on which the poor old anthropomorphite monk in Egypt based his religion. “It has been all my life,” he said, to the Bishop who showed him the impossibility of his creed, “my comfort to believe, that the Lord was watching me with eyes like those of a man: now you have taken away my God, and what shall I do for another?” S. Albert well observes that here we have a promise of God’s protection in this life in the first clause; of His salvation in the world to come in the next. And he goes on to make an ingenious application of the Mosaic law. “Hope and fear,” he says,* “are the two millstones between which a man’s soul is ground so as to become contrite; and therefore the Law forbids that either the upper or the nether millstone should be taken to pledge, neither being of use without the other.”* And therefore they are well joined in Ecclesiasticus: “Ye that fear the Lord, (A.) hope for good.”* S. Augustine says well: “Whereby shall we be saved? Not by might, not by strength, not by power, not by glory, not by a horse. Whereby, then? Whither shall I go? Where shall I find whence I may be saved? Seek not long, seek not far. Behold, the eyes of the Lord are upon them that fear Him. Ye see that these are the same whom He beholds in His habitation, those who hope in His mercy; not in their own merits, not in strength, not in fortitude, not in a horse; but in His mercy.”

19 (18) To deliver their soul from death: and to feed them in the time of dearth.

They take it with one consent of the blessed Eucharist. Its two principal virtues—deliverance from temptation and eternal death, (L.) and food and refreshment in the wilderness of this world—are marvellously brought out. Gerson, in his beautiful treatise on the Magnificat, dwelling on this subject,* contrasts with the seven deadly sins seven physical properties of the Altar Bread, which he sums up in a line:

Parva, nitens, sana, teres, azyma, mundaque, scripta.
And in three others he sums up the twelve blessings which it bestows:
Restaurat, satiat, delectat, roborat, auget:
Obdormire facit; caro servit; mens dominatur:
Vim genitivam dat: transformat, inarrhat et unit.

To deliver their soul from death: thus speaks David. “He that eateth Me, shall even live by Me,”* says the Son of David. “The time of death is now,” says S. Augustine; (A.) “the time of saturity will be by-and-by. He That deserteth us not in the famine of this corruption, how will He desert us when we shall have become immortal? But while it is the time of famine, we must tolerate, we must endure, we must persevere to the end; and because we bravely bear this famine of our pilgrimage, we must expect to be refreshed in the wilderness, that we faint not.” And, as this, so those many other dear promises in the Old Testament of food to them that are needy: “The poor shall eat, and be satisfied;”* “The Lord giveth meat unto them that fear Him;”* “Behold, My servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry.”*

20 (19) Our soul hath patiently tarried for the Lord: for he is our help, and our shield.

21 (20) For our heart shall rejoice in him: because we have hoped in his holy Name.

And here we have the answer of the righteous, (L.) who have up to this time been addressed or been spoken of. The Psalm is, as it were, antiphonal: the one choir tells of God’s past mercies, the other resolves to trust in Him for the present. It is worth noticing that the second verse is rendered differently in the LXX. and the Vulgate from the original. Instead of the hope in God’s Name being the cause of joy, these versions would imply that the joy was the cause of the hope. Because our heart rejoiceth in Him, we have hoped in His holy Name. S. Bernard dwells at great length on the duty of spiritual joy. Observe, that in the list of the graces of the Holy Ghost,* if love stands the first, joy occupies the second place; and of what value must that be in the sight of God, which precedes our dear Lord’s last legacy, namely, (Ay.) peace! And notice the difference between our help and our shield: the former the positive, the latter the negative assistance; the former leading on to good works, the latter defending from evil temptations. It is the same thing which we shall hereafter find in the 46th Psalm, “God is our hope and strength;” (P.) hope in the good things which we intend to perform,—strength against the temptations which we desire to conquer. In His holy Name. Another instance of that reference to the Name which is above every name, of which we have had so many, and shall have so many more.* “It is enough,” says S. Basil, “that we are called by the name of Christians, to render us superior to every assault of every enemy.” That Name, lauded in so many hymns; that Name, (L.) no less the worship of the saints in heaven than of those who are yet militant on earth. They propose1 ten names of God, and ask which is that to which reference is here made. God forbid that I, or that any one who may read these pages, should doubt for one moment:

Jesu Nomen omne bonum
Tenet,* dulcem facit sonum,
Promeretur regni thronum,
Auditum lætificat:
In hoc lucet splendor Patris;
In hoc patet decor Matris;
In hoc fulget honor fratris;
Hoc fratres magnificat.

22 (21) Let Thy merciful kindness, O Lord, be upon us: like as we do put our trust in thee.

“O valiant prayer,” (L.) cries Theodoret, “measure Thy mercy by my confidence.” So it is indeed; and let us take that prayer in virtual effect on our own lips, whenever we join in the noblest hymn in the Church, ending as it does with the same supplication. O high aim, marvellous petition of the Christian! that he may be forgiven only as he forgives; that he may be helped only as he trusts! Hugh of S. Victor, with that deep mind of his, sees here, in that word* fiat, “fiat misericordia tua super nos,” the mixture of free will and of grace, (C.) which is the only true and safe teaching. Cassiodorus here sees a petition for the Incarnation: that being the merciful kindness hid from ages and generations, but now revealed in the cottage of Nazareth by the message of Gabriel. Let the same writer give us what he calls the conclusion of the Psalm. “What honeyed words have we heard! how gloriously has the celestial Psaltery sounded! Such are the chords of its mandates, that if we will receive them in the ears of our minds, we shall both purify ourselves by the means of David’s lyre, and it will be to us as it was to Saul: evil spirits will be chased away, so that with pure heart we shall serve the Lord. Yes, the blessed have also their music, which enters the hearing of the faithful soul; the sound whereof never fails, the meaning whereof never grows old.”

And therefore:

Glory be to the Father, Whose Counsel shall endure for ever; and to the Son, the Word of the Lord, by Whom the heavens were made: and to the Holy Ghost, the Breath of His Mouth;

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.


Gregorian. Tuesday: Matins. [Office of Many Martyrs: II. Nocturn.]

Monastic. Monday: I. Nocturn.

Parisian. Thursday: Matins.

Quignon. Wednesday: Vespers.

Lyons. Tuesday: I. Nocturn.

Ambrosian. First Week: Wednesday: I. Nocturn.


Gregorian. It becometh well * the just to be thankful. [Many Martyrs. But the righteous * live for evermore, and the reward of them is with the Most high.]

Monastic. It becometh well * the just to be thankful.

Parisian. The Word of the Lord is true.

Ambrosian. Same as Psalm 32.

Mozarabic. Praise the Lord upon the harp, sing praises unto Him upon a psaltery of ten chords.


Feed, O Lord, Thy people, in the time of famine,* with Thy Word, and deliver our souls from the death of sin; that, being filled with Thy mercy, we may, through Thy gift, merit to be admitted to the joys of the righteous. Through (1.)

Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us; and as Thou didst separately fashion the hearts of men,* so be Thou pleased to sanctify them specially; and because Thine eyes are ever open to them that fear Thee, bestow on us the fulness of Thy fear, and confer on us the completeness of Thy knowledge. Amen. Through Thy mercy (11.)

O God, Whose command it is that the righteous should be full of joy; whose praise both obeys Thee by loving,* and loves by praising; who, by the Harp of the Law, sing the New Song, and in the Psaltery give the glad music of pious words; grant, O Lord, that we may follow in their footsteps, and praise Thee together with them: and because Thy Word is true, and all Thy works faithful, grant that we may believe Thee with a faithful heart, and may diligently obtain Thy loving-kindness. Amen. Through Thy mercy (11.)

[O Christ, Word of the Eternal Father, by Whom the heavens were made, (D. C.) enlighten us with the gift of Thy Spirit, and stablish us in good works, that we may be justified through faith in the Trinity, and through working that which is pleasing to Thee, and may, together with the people Thou hast chosen for Thine inheritance, be glorified for ever. Who livest (5.)]

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Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 104

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 19, 2016

Title. LXX. and Vulgate: Of David. Complutensian LXX.: A Psalm of David, on the constitution of the world.


Arg. Thomas. The Voice of the Church praising God, and recounting His works. The Voice of the Prophet touching the fabric of the whole reconciled world. The Voice of the Holy Ghost touching the fabric of the world. The Voice of the Apostles concerning the Jews.

Ven. Bede. David denotes the person of the speaker, but the whole Song is in honour of Christ the Lord, Who is Creator, and Ruler, and Redeemer of the world.

The Prophet, desiring to signify divine mysteries by the order of nature, first sings of the Sacraments of Christ and the Church under the type of the formation of heaven and earth: Praise the Lord, O my soul. In the second part, he enumerates the works of the Lord veiled under divers figures: O Lord, how manifold are Thy works. In the third place, he declares that in the everlasting world he will unceasingly utter the praises of the Lord, which he had made his song, even in his short life here: I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live; I will praise my God while I have my being.

Syriac Psalter. Of David, when he was going to worship before the Ark of the Lord together with the Priests. As regards us, it teaches us Confession and Prayer. And it gives us information touching the first beginning and order of creation, and tells somewhat of the Angels.

Eusebius of Cæsarea. The Doctrine of Confession.

S. Athanasius. A Psalm of exhortation and as though of command.


1 Praise the Lord, O my soul: O Lord my God, thou art become exceeding glorious; thou art clothed with majesty and honour.

The Prophet calls on himself to bless the Lord, (C.) and knowing how mighty is the grace of unity in the Faith, he speaks to himself alone that which he would exhort all men. He saith, Thou art become exceeding great. We need to inquire closely into the force of these words, for was He at any time not great, that He should become great through men’s praises? Or what can be added unto Him, Who is the wonderful and incomprehensible fulness of all might? But God is magnified amongst men, when He is plainly seen by them to be great and exalted, so that they feel Him to be their Maker, the bestower of all good things, their Redeemer, and finally, their Judge. So, too, to put on, is to be clothed with some covering which one had not before. But when did God lack beauty (Vulg.), Who ever bestoweth all lovely things upon His creatures? Never;* but till He created the world, He was, so to speak, bare and unadorned, and unknown, but then, by making confession and beauty (Vulg.) that is, beautiful and graceful things, whereby He could be known and praised, He clad Himself therewith. (C.) And He became yet better known, yet more truly magnified, by His Incarnation, even in its very lowliness,* He was glorious in His Resurrection, exceeding glorious in His Ascension, exceeding glorious, because exceeding humbled first, for “Wisdom lifteth up the head of the lowly.”* Now, enthroned in the highest,* He is clothed with the majesty of heaven, with the honour paid Him by adoring Angels; (Ay.) and on earth, in His Church, He is girt about with the confession of repentant sinners, (A.) whom He robes in the beauty of His own righteousness.

2 Thou deckest thyself with light as it were with a garment: and spreadest out the heavens like a curtain.

Christ our Lord is revealed in these words as the Great High Priest of His own universe,* clad in the white vesture of perpetual holiness, while the heavens are spread around Him as “the tent for Him to dwell in,”* the Tabernacle whence He pours down His benediction, as they are also the scene of His perpetual intercession for mankind.* In the first literal sense, the verse describes the manner in which God, “Whom no man hath seen, or can see: dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto,”* has yet created light as conveying to our minds the best image of Himself, His ineffable radiance and unimaginable purity; (L.) according to that saying, “Light is the shadow of God;” whence some imagine that in this place the shining forms of the Angels, encompassing the throne of God, and deriving all their glory from vision of Him, are intended; or, as others will have it, the heavens themselves, studded with constellations as though with jewels,* are the garment of the Most High. (D. C.) Others prefer, however, to read the words in the sense of the Apostle’s saying,* “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all,”* and to understand here the uncreated and vital glory of His essence.* The pure and stainless Manhood which the Lord took of His Virgin Mother, whereby He became known and visible to mortals, was likewise a garment of light, by reason of its holiness and the revelation it made; (L.) and its true beauty was disclosed for a little to the three Apostles in the vision of the Transfiguration; while a like glory, by Divine favour,* encompassed the mystic woman of the Apocalypse (whether we take her as the Blessed Mary or as the personified Church), clothed as she is with the sun, borne up on the moon, and diademed with twelve stars. And spreadest out the heavens like a curtain. (A.) How He did this thing, that He might clothe Himself with the Church as a garment of light, the Psalmist would fain set before us in certain typical mysteries; how the Church was made to be light, without spot or wrinkle, but white and shining in the raiment of her Spouse; we may observe by noting these words, like a skin (Vulg.), denoting the perfect ease with which God deals with His vast creation, far more readily than a shepherd pitches a tent, or a man unrolls a scroll, because His word alone is enough to effect His will; a marked contrast with the toil and pain which men must put forth in any trifling enlargement of their fixed dwellings or their roofs. That skin which He has stretched forth for us, is the great scroll of Holy Scripture, for as the parchment skin on which we write is taken from the bodies of dead animals, so the Bible was set forth by God for man after he fell by sin into the power of death. Out of that skin of death the heaven of Scripture was made, and while the living Prophets and Apostles were, for the most part, known to but few, and restricted within narrow limits, they, being dead, yet speak, and are now far more widely known and familiar, for while they yet lived, the skin was not stretched out, the heaven was not yet extended.

And whereas it was the valiant martyrdom of the Apostles and early Saints which spread their teaching far and wide in that Gentile world out into which the Jews drove them; (Ay.) now, on the other hand, there is little progress made in the conversion of heathen nations, because preachers and missionaries have no love for martyrdom, and do not care to peril their lives for the Gospel; wherefore the Lord complains of them by His Prophet: “There is none to stretch forth My tent any more, and to set up My curtains, for the pastors have become brutish, and have not sought the Lord.”* The heavens are spread out like a parchment also,* that they may be a great roll wherein the countless names of Christ’s Saints can be written, they are spread out as the curtains of a tent, to be the tabernacle wherein those Saints shall dwell; the new heavens, that is, which shall take the place of that former “heaven, departed as a scroll when it is rolled together.”* The Church Militant here in earth,* a fairer heaven than the visible sky,* enlightened by the Sun of wisdom and the moon of knowledge, studded with the starry examples of the Saints, is spread out like a tabernacle as a shelter and refuge for all who need it, as a shrine wherein perpetual worship is offered to the Lord. And it is most rightly said to be stretched out, (C.) for whereas only the righteous might seem to have any claim to it, yet God’s mercy has extended it so as to embrace the publican, the harlot, and the sinner, whom He thus shelters in the dwelling of the Bride, in token of His folding them Himself in the all-embracing love of the everlasting arms. And as each holy soul is His heaven too,* He stretches it out by enlarging its charity, and that in such self-denial and mortification as is typified by the skin, implying, as we saw before, the idea of death.

3 Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: and maketh the clouds his chariot, and walketh upon the wings of the wind.

The Hebrew is more properly upper chambers, (as LXX. ὑπερῷα) and the literal notion is that the dark and thick rain-clouds are, as it were, the foundations of God’s heavenly dwelling, while the bright ethereal clouds, much higher in the atmosphere,* are the upper chambers resting upon them. It is to be noted that the Latin word expressive of this same idea, cœnaculum, is used by Ennius and Plautus in the sense of the dwelling-place of the Gods in heaven. The ancient commentators, however, almost universally understand the phrase to denote a stratum of water superimposed, as a roof, above the visible sky, in fact, as “the waters above the firmament”* of the Book of Genesis, and enter at length into physical theories which are more ingenious than tenable or instructive, though closely adhering to the Vulgate, rendering here Who coverest the upper parts thereof with water,* which does not differ materially from the Chaldee paraphrase. The mystical sense of the true meaning is, nevertheless, recognized by Hesychius, (Cd.) who refers the verse to the Sacrament of Baptism, the foundation of that spiritual life which rises far into the heights of heaven; albeit he seems to think, like a Latin commentator,* that the idea presented is the immersion and covering over of the body of the neophyte with the waters of the baptistery. (A.) The Latins explain the upper parts of the heaven of Scripture to be charity, as the chief of graces, and this,* they say, is roofed over by the Holy Spirit, typified by the waters;* while another view is, that we may here understand the surface letter of Holy Writ, covered over with deep mystical meanings.* And a Saint reminds us how an upper chamber was the scene of the institution of the Holy Eucharist, as also of the descent of the Paraclete in fiery tongues,* in type of our co-operation with God, as He comes down to meet us, who have ascended a little way to meet Him. And though he follows the notion of the waters covering the chamber, he might better have referred to the common phrase of “ascending from the laver of baptism,” so often met in early Christian writings.

And maketh the clouds His chariot. The notion here presented is that of the noise of peals of thunder, resembling the roll of heavy wheels, while the swift movement of the lighter clouds through the air suggests the rapid pace of horses. Thus Horace:

Namque Diespiter
Igni corusco nubila dividens
Plerumque,* per purum sonantes
Egit equos, celeremque currum.

For the Lord of skies,
Though wont to cleave the clouds with vivid flame,
Through the clear heavens drove his echoing steeds,
And chariot fleet.

In such a chariot as this the Lord came to battle against the Egyptians,* in such a one He descended to give the Law on Sinai,* and when He went up, forty days after Easter, from Olivet in the presence of the Apostles, “a cloud received Him out of their sight.”* He is still borne into all regions of the world, (A.) into the hearts of countless disciples, by His true preachers, clouds which are high above the level of earth, which pour down the refreshing rain of doctrine, which are borne along by the mighty rushing wind of the Holy Ghost,* which flash and blaze with the light of holiness and the power of miracles.* And walkest upon the wings of the wind. This is expounded by the Chaldee paraphrast into “clouds swift as the wings of an eagle.” (A.) And the notion is accepted by most of the Fathers, (C.) who see here simply a type of the rapidity of God’s operations, though they add a mystical sense also, taking the winds or spirits to mean righteous souls, on which God treads as His path, when they put themselves under His feet in loving subjection. But we may very well take the words in close connection with the immediately preceding clause,* and interpret them as the corresponding passage of Ps. 18:10, of the swiftness with which the preaching of the Gospel was communicated to the world from its starting-point at Jerusalem.

4 He maketh his angels spirits: and his ministers a flaming fire.

If it were not for the gloss upon this verse in the Epistle to the Hebrews (and for the plural predicate in the second clause following a subject in the singular) its most obvious literal sense would be,* He maketh the winds His messengers,* and the flaming fire His ministers,* as when He used a wind to dry the Red Sea before Israel,* and when He sent fire on the cities of the plain.* But the construction as given above is that of the New Testament citation,* which may be explained in two ways; first, that God gives His angelic messengers the swiftness of the winds, and the mighty force of burning flame, as we read of the horses and chariots of fire which caught away Elijah, and compassed Elisha in Dothan;* not that their faculties are limited to this extent, but because these are the most striking similes at hand. (A.) The other view is nearer to the grammatical construction,* and is that He maketh His spirits messengers to bear His will to men, and especially chooses out those who are kindled and glowing with the fervour of heavenly love. “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation?”*

And is there care in heaven? And is there love
In heavenly spirits to these creatures base,*
That may compassion of their evils move?
There is:—else much more wretched were the case
Of men than beasts: But O! th’ exceeding grace
Of Highest God that loves His creatures so,
And all His workes with mercy doth embrace,
That blessed Angels He sends to and fro,
To serve to wicked man, to serve His wicked foe!

How oft do they their silver bowers leave,
To come to succour us that succour want!
How oft do they with golden pinions cleave
The flitting skyes, like flying pursuivant,
Against fowle feendes to ayd us militant!
They for us fight, they watch and dewly ward,
And their bright squadrons round about us plant;
And all for love, and nothing for reward:
O why should heavenly God to men have such regard?

“It should be known,” observes S. Gregory, “that the word Angel is a title of office, not a description of nature. For those holy spirits of the heavenly country are always spirits, but they cannot always be styled Angels, for they are Angels only when some message is brought by them.”* And S. Jerome will help us to the reason why fire is named in this connection: “Angels are sent for various ministries, and especially to those who need purification, and because of former sins,* deserve to be purged in some degree by chastisements.” The rushing wind and fiery tongues of Pentecost justify us in applying this verse also to the Divine Commission of preachers of the Word, (L.) sent to sweep away the clouds of heathen darkness,* and to kindle and enlighten souls with the Gospel, that fire which their Master came to send on the earth.

5 He laid the foundations of the earth: that it never should move at any time.

Rising at once from the thought of the material earth, (Cd.) and that principle of gravity which keeps it in its appointed orbit, (A.) they bid us see here the creation of the Church, or of every holy soul which is the microcosm of the Church, steadfast and unshaken in faith, because of the firmness of the base on which it stands, for “other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”*

6 Thou coveredst it with the deep like as with a garment: the waters stand in the hills.

7 At thy rebuke they flee: at the voice of thy thunder they are afraid.

8 They go up as high as the hills, and down to the valleys beneath: even unto the place which thou hast appointed for them.

9 Thou hast set them their bounds, which they shall not pass: neither turn again to cover the earth.

This is the description of the gradual emerging of the earth from the shroud of waters which enveloped it at the first: and is in fact but the expansion of that one verse,* “And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry ground appear: and it was so.”* The waters are represented as fleeing hither and thither at the voice of the Lord, and either rising in waves as high as mountains and then sinking into abysses like the valleys,* (according to the version above and the Chaldee paraphrase) or else, by their gradual subsidence, permitting the mountains to rise and the valleys to sink into their appointed stations, (which is the sense of the LXX. reading, the A. V. margin,* and that of S. Jerome,) and then assuming their own permanent place, namely, the sea and springs, into which they are gathered. Their bounds are explained for us in another passage of Holy Writ, “Will ye not tremble at My presence, which have placed the sand for a bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it?”* “And I said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.”* It is not uninteresting to compare Ovid’s description of the harmonizing of chaos, far inferior as it is, merely as a piece of poetry, to this noble Psalm, and those who please may institute further comparison with the seventh book of Paradise Lost.

Circumfluus humor
Ultima possedit, solidumque coërcuit orbem.*
Sic ubi dispositam, quisquis fuit ille deorum,
Congeriem secuit, sectamque in membra redegit.
Principio terram, ne non æqualis ab omni
Parte foret, magni speciem glomeravit in orbis.
Tum freta diffudit, rapidisque tumescere ventis
Jussit, et ambitæ circumdare littora terra.
Addidit et fontes, et stagna immensa lacusque;
Fluminaque obliquis cinxit declivia ripis:
Quæ, diversa locis, partim sorbentur ab ipsa,
In mare perveniunt partim, campoque recepta
Liberioris aquæ, pro ripis littora pulsant.
Jussit et extendi campos, subsidere valles,
Fronde tegi silvas, lapidosos surgere montes.

Moisture, flowing round,
Seized the last place, and held the strong world bound.
Some God then clave the huge mass thus prepared,
And, after cleaving, into sections shared.
First, that the earth might on all sides appear
Equal in bulk, he shaped it a great sphere:
Then poured the billows, bade them swell when fanned
With gales, and gird the shores of compassed land.
Gave also springs, meres, broads full widely spread,
Hemmed the steep rivers in their winding bed,
(Which, varying in each region, are imbibed
In part by earth, while part, less circumscribed,
To ocean’s freer plain of waters reach,
And banked no longer, dash against the beach.)
And bade the valleys sink, the plains extend,
The woods be green, the craggy mounts ascend.

The mystical interpretation given to the verses, (C.) is the gradual arising of the Church Catholic out of the wild waves of heathen ignorance and darkness, which stood at first on the hills,* that is, oppressing and slaying God’s chief Saints, but then fleeing before the voice of the Sons of Thunder,* the Apostles of the Lord, and allowing the mountain heights of saintly contemplation, the lowly valleys of devout humility, to be plainly seen; while these waters of heathenism, though not altogether dried up, shall never again be suffered to sweep over the whole earth, whatever partial floods and deluges may waste local Churches, but have as their final bound the Second Coming of Christ, when there shall be “no more sea.”*

10 He sendeth the springs into the rivers: which run among the hills.

11 All beasts of the field drink thereof: and the wild asses quench their thirst.

12 Beside them shall the fowls of the air have their habitation: and sing among the branches.

For the rivers we should rather translate water-courses, the channels of a torrent down the side of a mountain, which is the exact force of the LXX. φάραγξιν.* As the vast expanse of the salt ocean,* referred to in the former verses, teaches us the mighty power of God, (L.) so His bounty and tenderness, not only to man, but to the lower animals, are set before us now in His provision of the sweet waters whence beasts and birds slake their thirst. The mystical interpretation is that from Christ, Who is the Rock, the streams of Gospel doctrine flow down to the valley in the channels which He has grooved in His great mountains,* the Apostles (those twelve wells of Elim,) (Ay.) and other eloquent preachers of the Word, so that men,* mere beasts of the field in comparison with the immortal Angels,* draw water with joy out of the wells of salvation, because “when He was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him.”* Which run among the hills. The Vulgate, not dissimilarly, reads, The waters shall pass through in the midst of the mountains, that is, as it is explained, Christian teaching will flow forth amongst all nations from amidst the harmonious concord of the prelates and rulers of the Church, till not only the tame and domesticated beasts of the field,* that is, the partially instructed Jews and the more civilized Gentile races, but also the wild asses, the untaught and savage heathen, shall alike drink of those cool streams, while the birds, the Angels and those holy souls winging on high in prayer and contemplation, shall sing the praises of God among the branches of that Tree of Life which grows by the banks of the “pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb,”* for “the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.”*

Quyte through the streetes,* with silver sound,
The Flood of Life doth flow;
Upon whose bankes, on everie syde,
The Wood of Life doth growe.
There trees for evermore beare fruite,
And evermore do springe;
There evermore the Angels sit,
And evermore doe singe.

For among the branches, (A.) however, the LXX. and Vulgate read, from the midst of the rocks, which they variously explain as from the firm testimonies of Scripture,* from the fellowship of the Apostles,* or from the surroundings of a hard and austere life, which causes no sorrow, but singing and gladness to the Saints of the Lord.

13 He watereth the hills from above: the earth is filled with the fruit of thy works.

As the hills are the source of the chief rivers which irrigate the earth, (L.) so they (too lofty for those rivers to reach) are in turn watered themselves from God’s chambers (A. V.) of the clouds, which pour down rain impartially on all those surfaces which are not already moistened by fountains, streams, and lakes, so that the whole earth, not merely a few isolated tracts, is satisfied (Vulg. A. V.) with the fruit of God’s works in that it produces the abundant harvests of which the succeeding verses speak. The mystical sense is explained by S. Augustine of the direct and immediate teaching of the Apostles by Christ Himself, (A.) as for example in the vision of the sheet full of unclean beasts shown to S. Peter, and the conversion of S. Paul on his road to Damascus, so that the torrents of Gospel teaching flowed down upon the plains below through the water-courses of these great hills, and watered the whole earth with the knowledge of the Lord, producing a great harvest of converted sinners. And, (C.) remembering that the same word upper chambers stands here as in the third verse,* we may well bear in mind that assembly of the disciples in Jerusalem, when the fiery rain of the Holy Ghost came down upon them, and was communicated to the nations far and wide by the sermon of S. Peter and his fellows; when the multitude from many countries were astonished, as each man heard them speak in his own dialect, and many a one amongst them brought forth fruits meet for repentance, whereof the Prophet saith, “this is all the fruit to take away his sin.”*

14a (14) He bringeth forth grass for the cattle: and green herb for the service of men.

15 That he may bring food out of the earth, and wine that maketh glad the heart of man: and oil to make him a cheerful countenance, and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

The gradual ripening of the crops, “first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear,”* is here set before us, with the distinction of the kinds of herbage designed for the use of animals alone from those intended for the benefit of man. (A.) The favourite exposition of the former verse is that it denotes the spirit of liberality which the rain of Gospel grace causes to spring up in the hearts of the hearers of the Word, so as to induce them to provide abundantly and cheerfully for the temporal needs of their teachers. “It is true, I see, and acknowledge,” observes S. Chrysostom,* “the fact is certain, the earth does bring forth grass for cattle and green herb for the service of men. But I see other cattle of the Lord, which are meant when it is said, ‘Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn.* Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith He it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written.’ How then does the earth bring forth grass for the cattle? Because ‘the Lord hath ordained that they which preach the Gospel shall live of the Gospel.’ He sent forth preachers and said unto them, ‘Eat such things as are set before you, for the labourer is worthy of his hire.’* And when He said, Eat such things as are set before you, lest they should object, ‘We shall be despised at the tables of strangers, if we are in want; wouldst Thou have us so intrusive?’ No, saith He, it is not a gift of theirs, it is your hire. Hire for what? What do they give, what do they receive? They give spiritual things, they receive carnal things; they give gold, they receive grass. For ‘all flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field.’* All thy temporal superfluity and abundance is grass for the cattle. Hear for what cattle. ‘If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?’ ”* In like manner the Saint explains herb for the service of men, as signifying the same thing, the temporal offerings made to those who have become the servants of men by devoting themselves to the ministry of the Gospel. (C.) Another view is that the whole verse has to do, not with paying the hire of labourers, but with bestowing alms on the needy; of whom there are two classes, the noisy, persistent and shameless mendicants, compared to the cattle, and the self-respecting, patient, suffering poor, who have a right to the nobler title of men. And they cite a saying of an unknown author against indiscriminate almsgiving, which has a Talmudic ring in it: “Let thine alms sweat in thy hand, till thou find a righteous man on whom to bestow it.” So the Wise Man saith, “Give to the godly man, and help not the sinners. Do well unto him that is lowly, but give not to the ungodly; hold back thy bread, and give it not unto him, lest he overmaster thee thereby.”* A happier exposition, however, than either of the above,* is that which sees in these verses the gradual unfolding of doctrine, the ascent in spiritual instruction, from the grass for the cattle, that is, the plainest and simplest teaching for the perfectly unlearned, and the green herb for the service of men, the somewhat more advanced, but still primary catechizing of new converts; to the richer and more solid gifts of corn, and wine, and oil, which are held back for those who are able to receive them. But in each and all,* in grass and herb, in corn and wine alike, in the simplest rudiments, and in the profoundest speculations, the food of the soul is one and the same Jesus Christ,* growing up like a tender plant out of the pure soil of His virgin Mother, cut down and dried up like grass in the burning heat of the Passion, Himself that Bread which came down from Heaven, (Ay.) and yet was brought out of the earth, once in the Nativity, and again in the Resurrection, to be the spiritual food of man, as well in devout thought as in that Blessed Sacrament of His love,* wherein He is indeed the Wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and the Bread to strengthen man’s heart.

O Tree of Life! O Vine of God! Thou art amid us now;*
The Bread we break, the Wine we bless, are they not very Thou?
Veiled in His creatures comes our God; He comes Who dwells above,
The altogether lovely, and the Fount and Life of Love.
“O come, ye heavy laden, and henceforth restful be;
O come, your weary weight of sin long since was laid on Me”—
This is Thy call, O Merciful; to all who will is given
To eat supernal Bread and drink the mystic Wine of heaven.

“For how great is His goodness, and how great is His beauty! corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids.”*

And oil to make him a cheerful countenance. (B.) Our Father does not confine His bounty to giving us His Son, to be our food, our joy, and our strength, but He bestows upon us also the blessed Unction of His Holy Spirit, Whom He sent upon the Apostles, and through them, on all redeemed mankind. There is, however, a certain ambiguity in the construction of the Hebrew,* which may be turned (as it is nearly by LXX., Vulgate, and S. Jerome,) in order to make his face cheerful [as though] with oil, taking this as a result produced by the wine, and not that oil is a separate gift, which is, however, the better way. Hence, some of the commentators explain this “oil of gladness”* to be grace, wherewith the Lord Jesus is altogether anointed, (A.) whence He is named Christ, and He anoints His preachers and messengers therewith, that they may give the Gospel freely, and not for sale;* while others take it of the Divine mercy which brings man out of his grief into gladness by the remission of sins, (R.) and confers upon him that regal chrism which makes him a king and priest to God.* Further, (C.) we are reminded that oil enters literally into the rites of four sacraments, Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, (P.) and Unction of the Sick; while mystically the oil of mercy belongs to penance, and that of love to matrimony. One commentator,* seeming to bear in mind that saying of Pliny, “There are two liquors most grateful to men’s bodies, wine within, oil without,”* takes the oil here to mean the outward and visible graces and gifts of the Spirit, particularly the power of working miracles, which made the face of the Apostles to shine before men, giving them renown and lustre, while the wine signifies the inner working of the same Spirit, in heavenly operation upon the soul. If,* however, we do take the oil as a qualification of the wine, and not as an independent matter, we may fitly couple it with the last clause of the verse, bread to strengthen man’s heart, and take the whole passage of the Holy Eucharist: “For I feel that two things are most especially necessary to me in this life,* without which this miserable life will be unbearable to me: Prisoned in the dungeon of this body, I acknowledge that I need two things, to wit, food and light. Therefore Thou hast given me, a sick man, Thy Body for the refreshment of my soul and body, and hast made ‘Thy word a lantern unto my feet.’* Without these two I cannot live well; for the Word of God is the light of my soul, and Thy Sacrament is the Bread of Life.”* And one result of that blessed communion is the spirit of martyrdom,* the desire of sharing the Passion of Christ, a sweet and intoxicating wine pressed out for us from the Vine of the Cross, a food which strengthens man’s heart to bear all for Jesus.

16 The trees of the Lord also are full of sap: even the cedars of Libanus which he hath planted;

17 Wherein the birds make their nests: and the fir-trees are a dwelling for the stork.

The trees of the Lord are the indigenous ones, (L.) not planted by the hand of man, nor tended by human culture. The words of sap are not in the Hebrew,* and though the meaning does,* no doubt, ultimately, come to that, yet the immediate sense rather appears to be with rain, which continues the train of thought begun in verse 13. And the intention is to impress further the idea of the sweep and completeness of God’s providential care, not only in the creation, but in the maintenance, of the great forest trees, needing no hand but His to tend them. The usual reading of the LXX. here, followed by the Vulgate, is trees of the plain, (A.) implying their indigenous and wild condition, as distinguished from trees of an orchard or park. These trees of the Lord are, they tell us, the Gentile nations, heretofore uncultured and ignorant, but now filled not only with the refreshing showers of heaven, but with the corn and wine, and oil of God.* The cedars of Libanus come later in order, because He chose the base things of the world first, and filled the lowly and hungry with good things, before turning to the rich and mighty. There are cedars of Libanus in the world which never are so filled, those haughty and ungodly sinners, lying outside the Land of promise, of whom it is written, “The Lord breaketh the cedars of Libanus;”* but these, which are filled, are such only as He hath planted, for “every plant which My heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.”* Note also that Libanus, meaning white, may be taken in two ways, of the shining pomp and splendour of worldly dignity, and of the purity of soul, the true whiteness of sanctification, conferred by the cleansing waters of heaven; so that here we may, in the latter sense, understand the more eminent Saints as intended.

Wherein the birds make their nests. The word עִפֳּרִים, meaning any small birds, (A.) is here translated by LXX. (C.) and Vulgate as sparrows, and the explanation given is that spiritual persons, and especially members of Religious Orders, are supported by the bounty of wealthy and powerful persons, from whose superfluous riches they are fed, in some corners of whose domains they build their convents, aptly called nests,* because they who erect them are conscious of being mere sojourners, and of having here no continuing city. The insignificance, gregariousness, and homely brown aspect of the sparrow, have made it a not inapt emblem of the monastic societies, and in fact the French name for the bird is moineau, (C.) “little monk.” Happy is that tree, observes Cassiodorus, (himself senator, consul, prime minister, who left all to become a simple monk,) where such a nest is built, for any that contains such an institution may know that it has been planted by God.

And the fir-trees are a dwelling-place for the stork. This, which is the true meaning of the last clause, is so unlike the LXX. and Vulgate reading, that the commentators are of no real assistance in arriving at the mystical sense. This appears to be that the Saints of secular and domestic life are here signified. The fir-tree,* from its utility in building and joinery, and from its yielding pitch for binding planks together, so as to exclude wind and damp, serves as a type of settled habitation, a notion brought out by the word house (A. V., LXX., Vulg.,) here contrasting with the nests of the earlier clause, and confirmed by the stork’s habit of returning year after year to the same spot.* The bird itself (called by the Greeks, “most pious of winged creatures,”)1 whose Hebrew name חֲסִירָה is derived from a root חָסַד, “to be kind,” is noted for its tenderness to its young, an affection popularly said to be reciprocated, so that the whole picture adequately corresponds to the suggested meaning. But the LXX. and Vulgate read, The house of the heron (ἐρωδιοῦ, herodii) is their leader, (L.) meaning that the larger size of that bird, and the alleged loftiness of its nest, give it a kind of kingship amongst the feathered tribes. The commentators, not being very clear as to the nature of the herodius, tell us that it is a bird of prey, of great size and strength, more than a match for the eagle, and thus a type of violent and daring sinners. But if these sinners will be converted,* and take refuge with Christ, then He Who is the Leader of the birds, of all spiritual and devout souls, becomes the house and shelter of the sinners too, and enables them to overcome the evil spirit whom the eagle typifies. Or again, reading the sentence conversely, they tell us that the bold sinner himself, who has once been the house of the herodius, on being converted, becomes the leader of spiritual persons, and eminent over them in capacity for good now as for evil previously, as instanced in S. Paul and S. Augustine.

18 The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats: and so are the stony rocks for the conies.

That is, the loftier mysteries of devout contemplation and the more difficult parts of Scripture form the favourite theme of meditation for soaring hearts, inasmuch as the literal meaning of the Hebrew name of the ibex or wild goat is climber. “Let not these animals seem vile to thee,* thou seest that the flock feeds in lofty places, to wit, on a mount. Therefore, where are precipices for others, there is no peril for the goats; there is the food of this flock, there their provender is sweeter, their pasture choicer. They are seen by their herdsmen, hanging from the wooded cliff, where can be no attacks by wolves, where the fruitful trees minister abundant produce.”*

The conies. These are included in the Proverbs amongst the “four things which be little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise,”* for though they “are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks.” The coney or hyrax is a small animal externally much resembling a rabbit or a marmot, though of a totally different species, and is noted for its extreme wariness, and the rapidity with which it hurries to the shelter of a cleft or cavern on the first alarm. It is thus a fit type of all timid souls,* unable for the bold climbing of stronger natures,* but finding a refuge not less sure than the highest hills in devout and lowly reliance on the Wounds and Passion of Christ,* the Rock of Ages cleft for their salvation. For wild goats and coneys, the LXX. and Vulgate read stags and hedgehogs, (A.) but there is no important difference introduced thereby into the exposition, save that a few of the commentators take the latter word to denote men still rough with small daily sins, who seek refuge and purification within the Church of Christ. And observe, (P.) that in these two verses we have three refuges set before us: the Tree of the Cross, the mount of prayer, the rocks of a steadfast faith in Christ.

19 He appointed the moon for certain seasons: and the sun knoweth his going down.

One meaning of the first clause is more fully set forth in another place: “He made the moon also to serve in her season for a declaration of times, and a sign of the world;* from the moon is the sign of feasts.”* But it may be extended to a wider significance, and embrace all the lunar phases, and the seasons of the year. S. Chrysostom understands by the moon here, drawing its light from the unseen sun, the Synagogue,* appointed only for the certain seasons of the Law and Prophets, but not knowing the mystery of the Passion, for only the Sun of Righteousness Himself knew of His coming Crucifixion, His awful setting in blood: saying, “Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son,* that Thy Son also may glorify Thee.”* The more usual exposition of the moon here is, however, as the Christian Church, (A.) waxing and waning, but never extinguished, but sometimes decrescent by reason of apostasy and coldness, (L.) sometimes shining at the full in the victories of the Martyrs. Only the sun is said to know, for the moon depends on him, and has no independent light of her own, and therefore must draw her knowledge from him, as the Church derives all her wisdom from Christ. And one of the things He knows, which we do not, is why He sets at times in the hearts of His people,* leaving them in the darkness of their sins or of their doubt and sorrow; wherefore it follows:

20 Thou makest darkness that it may be night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do move.

It was darkness, that of sorrow, in the hearts of the Apostles at the time of the Lord’s Passion,* when the wild rage of the populace, truly beasts of the forest, was wreaked on Him. It was darkness, that of sin, then too, in the hearts of the Jews, when the evil spirits, believing themselves victorious, assumed the mastery over them; and a little later, when the fierce heathen of Rome moved their camps and forces against the guilty city for its total overthrow.* Of these several glooms that darkness which lasted from the sixth to the ninth hour at the Crucifixion was a type; and so,* when the like overshadows our hearts, then evil thoughts and passions, the suggestions of our ghostly enemies, move and pass through (Vulg.) our minds;* while in the whole body of the Church,* the darkness and ignorance of incompetent and slothful pastors enables heretics to devour the Lord’s flock, as it is then “in darkness and the shadow of death.”*

21 The lions roaring after their prey: do seek their meat from God.

This the evil spirits did at the time of the Passion,* when they saw treason and cowardice invade the very college of the Apostles; when Judas betrayed, Peter denied, and the others fled. Wherefore the Lord saith, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired you, that he may sift you as wheat.”* They seek their meat from God, because, (A.) on the one hand, as we read in the story of holy Job, they can tempt no man unless God grant them permission; and again, their object is to draw sinners from God and to themselves.* Peter was dragged out of those very jaws: Judas was swallowed up. And the words hold good of rapacious kings and governments seizing on the property of the Church and of religious houses,* robbing from God, for “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”*

22 The sun ariseth, and they get them away together: and lay them down in their dens.

When the Lord arose again in the glory of His Resurrection,* the evil spirits and their tools, the chief Priests and Pharisees, (A.) were confounded and put to rout; when the Truth is boldly preached in all its clearness after a season of neglect and darkness, or of persecution, the enemies of the Gospel, Jews and heretics alike, retire to their lurking-places; when the Day-star arises in our hearts, the evil passions of the soul are lulled to rest, and hidden from the thought. Before the Resurrection,* the evil spirits had greater power in the world than now, and went up and down, seeking whom they might devour; but now their power is restricted, and they are compelled to lurk in dens, and not to range openly about. When the last great arising of the Sun of Righteousness shall take place,* and the Lord shall come in glory to judgment, then His enemies shall lay them down in their dens, in the everlasting prison of the bottomless pit. And because the evil spirits are fettered even now, and cannot work harm at their pleasure, we read,

23 Man goeth forth to his work, and to his labour: until the evening.

Here is the result of sunrise, (Ay.) teaching us the contrast between man and beast. For the wild beasts hide in the daytime, to avoid capture, but roam about at night for prey, while man, endowed with reason, rests in the night and toils in the day. Every one on whom Christ shines is prompted to toil for Him, and that till the evening of life, to the coming on of death; and thus the Apostles, and all other great preachers since, have gone forth to the labour of extending the Gospel kingdom, to last through the persecution of Antichrist, and to the very twilight of the world. Until the, evening, for “the night cometh when no man can work,”* but not ceasing until that time, for the Lord hath said, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”* The toil may be heavy, and the hours slow, so that man is “as a servant that earnestly desireth the shadow, and as an hireling that looketh for the reward of his work,”* but takes comfort, remembering that

Be the day weary,* or be the day long,
At the last the bell ringeth to evensong.

24 O Lord, how manifold are thy works: in wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy riches.

He does not undertake to answer his own question, (A.) How manifold? for he confesses God’s works to be greater than his own power of expression; whether these works belong to the creation of nature or to that of grace.* And observe how the concurrent operation of the Blessed Trinity is set forth: O Lord, how manifold are Thy works, teaches of the Father, (C.) the Source of all things; in Wisdom hast Thou made them all, tells us of the Son, the Eternal Word, “Christ the power of God and the Wisdom of God,* by Whom were all things made, and without Him was not anything made that was made;”* the earth is full of Thy riches, is spoken of the Holy Ghost, Who filleth the world. And they explain this last clause diversely of the Church, God’s possession (Vulg.) which fills the earth,* as it is made known in every land, or of the gifts of the sacraments, and those of faith, hope, and charity poured out on the world by the Gospel; or again of the special land of Judæa, filled by the Apostolic preaching with saintly disciples, the true riches of the Lord.

25 So is the great and wide sea also: wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.

So is. These words are not in the Hebrew, which is better translated Yonder is the great and wide sea, the expression of a writer living at some distance from the coast.* In this recurrence to the ocean, it is no longer mentioned, as in the sixth verse, merely as a shroud and pall which hid the earth, but as itself a field of creation, teeming with living things, and as wonderful as the earth and sky. Mystically, the great sea is the life of the present world, (L.) full of creeping things, temptations and perils,* both small and great, (Ay.) through which man must pass before he can reach the peaceful shores of his Country; lured as he is on his voyage by the siren voices of desire, pride, and avarice. The literal Hebrew of the epithet wide is given by LXX. and Vulgate, wide with hands, that is, stretching out its arms, as it were, to east and west; (R.) but the commentators take it as meaning wide for hands, that is,* affording ample employment to the Saints in the conversion of the heathen.

26 There go the ships, and there is that Leviathan: whom thou hast made to take his pastime therein.

These ships are the preachers which carry Christ into the hearts of men,* of the local Churches which pass over the sea amidst storms and tempests, piloted by Christ with the wood of the Cross. And observe, that as the world is the sea, and temptations and persecutions the storms, so if the Church be the ship, the Cross is the mast, faith the sail, good works her yards, the Apostles and doctors her crew, the Holy Ghost the favourable wind, the harbour the end of the world, (L.) and the country reached everlasting life. This is that vessel of which we read, “And when He was entered into a ship, His disciples followed Him,”* of which it is true that “Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.”* Every soul that has set out on the voyage for the Happy Isles is like a ship too,* whereof some make shipwreck of the faith, and never reach the haven, while others, more blessed in their undertaking,* come safe to land. And in saying there go the ships, we are taught that the way to heaven must needs be over the waters of Baptism. Leviathan, translated dragon by LXX. and Vulgate, cannot here mean, as it elsewhere does, the fresh-water crocodile, but stands for any sea monster,* taking its pastime, by sporting and playing freely in the waters. But the ambiguity of the Hebrew, reproduced by the Vulgate,* makes another reading possible, whom Thou hast made to sport with him, a sense borne out by the similar language, “Wilt thou play with him [leviathan] as with a bird? or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens?”* And then the notion will be of the perfect ease with which God deals with the vast bulk of the monster as a mere toy in His hands.* There is a wild Jewish tradition that the male leviathan is for three hours daily the plaything of God, while the female, slain to avert the multiplication of such huge creatures, is salted down for the food of Israel in the days of Messiah. (Ay.) A literalist view, (D. C.) taken by some of the mediæval commentators,* albeit with some incredible adjuncts, sees here denoted the ease with which leviathan, despite his size and strength, is captured and killed by means of human skill and ingenuity pitted against brute force.

Mystically, they take it to mean the devil,* who, in despite of his power and craft, is made a mock of by God, by men, and by Angels; by God, when suffered to tempt men that they may advance in holiness; by men, whom he often finds stronger, like Job, the more he strives to weaken them; by Angels, whom he knows to be fully aware of all the circumstances of his fall. The LXX. rendering of Job 40:19, speaking of Behemoth, is “This is the beginning of the creation of the Lord, made to be sported with by the Angels;” whence S. Augustine, (A.) illustrating the present Psalm, remarks, “Wouldst thou mock the dragon? Be an Angel of God. But thou art not yet an Angel of God. Until thou be such, if thou do but hold the course towards it, there are Angels to mock the dragon, lest he should hurt thee. For the Angels of heaven are set over the powers of the air.” And thus, having lost his great power, he is made for a mock, so that any one who has Christ for his Head, can trample on the dragon, and bruise the head thereof, by refusing to yield to his suggestions, (P.) or to swerve from the right way. And so the Master Himself made a mock of the sea monster, luring him with the bait of Manhood which had the hook of Deity,* and does so still by daily rescuing sinners from his grasp through means of repentance.

27 These wait all upon thee: that thou mayest give them meat in due season.

28 When thou givest it them they gather it: and when thou openest thy hand they are filled with good.

The Psalmist once again turns to the contemplation of God’s continual providence and care for His creation, in that He does not simply make it, and having laid down certain fixed laws for its guidance,* withdraw Himself from all interference and supervision, but is its active and incessant ruler, so that all vital things live by His bounty, and would die were He to close His hand and turn His face away. All faithful souls wait upon God, (L.) that He may give them Christ’s Body and Blood to be their food, in the due season of love and penitence; and all persecutors, all evil spirits, (A.) and even the great dragon himself, must wait God’s pleasure before they can tempt or devour any man. When temptation comes, or when destruction comes, it is only in due season, (C.) at the time when Divine probation or Divine displeasure wills it. They then who would fain not be the dragon’s food, have to see that they be not earthy in their conversation, for it is written of the serpent, “Upon thy belly shalt thou go,* and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life;”* so that they whose conversation is in heaven are far above out of his reach, and are not fed upon, but feeders, for “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”* And man obtains this when God discloses Himself by opening His Hand; that is, (A.) revealing His Only-Begotten Son, by Whom, and not by any efforts of our own, we are filled with good; with the graces of faith, hope, and charity, with the gifts of the Sacraments and of the Spirit in this life, and satiated with everlasting blessedness in the world to come; for “every good gift, and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.”*

29 When thou hidest thy face they are troubled: when thou takest away their breath they die, and are turned again to their dust.

God turns away His face sometimes, (C.) lest men should ascribe to their own merit or holiness that good wherewith they are filled, and to teach them that His open hand is its efficient cause, so that they are troubled, till they pray to see once more the light of His countenance. And as He is the bestower of life, so He also takes it away, and as the withdrawal of His Spirit from any man means spiritual death, (for we read, “The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him,”*) so a man thus punished is turned again to the dust, and becomes the prey of the creeping serpent. But the Lord also, (A.) in His mercy, after He has troubled sinners, takes away from them the spirit of pride and rebellion, so that they die to their sins, and make their confession to God in the dust of humility and repentance.

30 When thou lettest thy breath go forth they shall be made: and thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

The force of the former clause here is seen better in the A. V. translation, nearly identical with LXX. and Vulgate. Thou sendest forth Thy Spirit,* they are created. That is, in the literal sense, whereas God destroys one generation of animated beings, reducing them to dust, He exercises His creative energy by calling a fresh generation into being, and thus replenishes the earth with creatures of every species. It is the same quickening and vivifying influence of which we read in the beginning of the Mosaic record, “The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”* And what He does in this wise by secondary causes, (Ay.) He is able to do at once by primary and immediate operation, so that the verse may be well understood of the general Resurrection, when the Lord God will say, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”* And besides this sense, there is the further one of the continual mission of the Holy Ghost in the Church for the conversion of sinners, and their renewal by the new birth of Baptism, the new cleansing of repentance, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works,”* wherefore, “be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”* And it is rightly said the face of the earth, because the teaching of the Apostles, converting the Gentiles to the truth, has spread everywhere, “their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words into the ends of the world.”*

31 The glorious Majesty of the Lord shall endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works.

This ought rather to be taken, as by LXX. and Vulgate, as a prayer: Let the glory of the Lord be for ever.* The Psalmist begins with the praise of God’s glory and ends with prayer for its everlasting continuance.* His first petition is also the first in the Our Father.* Because the Lord renews the face of the earth, and creates afresh living creatures therein, because He maketh all things new, and will bring forth a new heaven and a new earth when the old have passed away, therefore His glory shall endure for ever. Not that it would cease to be, in its essence and eternity, were He alone in the universe, but that it can be manifested only while there is a creation to disclose, to serve, and to worship Him. And it is then said, The Lord shall rejoice in His works,* because He delights in the life, not in the death of His creatures, “for God made not death; neither hath He pleasure in the destruction of the living.”* When the new creation is complete, it will be said, as it was once before, “God saw every thing that He had made, and behold it was very good.”* But whereas it afterward “repented the Lord, and grieved Him at the heart,”* because of the fall of man, He will have no such sorrow and dishonour in the Resurrection,* for His works of mercy and of justice will be both made perfect, in destroying sin and rewarding holiness, so that the glorious majesty of the Lord shall endure for ever, (L.) as He is worshipped by His ransomed Saints, those works of His grace wherein He rejoices. And the Father, Who saved the world by the Incarnation and Passion of His Son, will look well pleased on Him, saying, “Behold Mine elect, in Whom My soul delighteth.”*

32 The earth shall tremble at the look of him: if he do but touch the hills, they shall smoke.

Amongst those works of God wherein He delights,* the conversion of sinners holds a high place, and He looks upon them when they are trusting in their own strength, till they tremble, (A.) and even the proud amongst them send up the smoking incense of confession and prayer from the height of their imagination to the footstool of His throne. The immediate reference is to the trembling and darkness on Sinai at the giving of the Law,* and some commentators see therein and here a type and prophecy of the earthquake which shall precede the Judgment, and the fire,* out of which the elect shall be saved, (R.) to which the smoke will be due.

33 I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will praise my God while I have my being.

34 And so shall my words please him: my joy shall be in the Lord.

I will sing, denotes our due service of praise and worship during all this mortal life, (A.) as long, too,* as we truly live by the Spirit of God; I will praise implies action, as the word signifies playing on an instrument, and tells us of the other service of good works, never to cease for the redeemed in this life, nor, perhaps, in that which is to come.

Others, however, comparing that voice of the Prophet, (Ay.) “Tate an harp, go about the city, thou harlot that hast been forgotten; make sweet melody, sing many songs, that thou mayest be remembered;” explain the words here as denoting the mournful song of confession of sin. That song may be sung, observes the Carmelite, in bass, in tenor, in alto, as we pass from contrition to confession and thence to mortification. There are four chief faults in singing, remarks the Cardinal of S. Sabina; slurring over the notes,* singing false, being flat, and being in discord; and we may commit all these in confession, by being silent about some of our sins, misrepresenting others, making excuses to palliate them, or not being penitent at heart.

So shall my words please Him. More exactly, (Ay.) with LXX. and Vulgate, be sweet unto Him, for though confession is bitter to man, who offers it, yet it is sweet to God Who receives it. But, as a devout writer observes, “all is washed away in confession, the conscience is purified, bitterness is taken away, the waves are driven back, the calm returns, hope revives, and the soul becometh cheerful,”* wherefore is added here: My joy shall be in the Lord, when all pleasure in worldly delights has passed for ever from the soul.

Jesu,* Thou joy of loving hearts,
Thou fount of life, Thou light of men,*
From the best bliss that earth imparts,*
We turn unfilled to Thee again.

35 As for sinners, they shall be consumed out of the earth, and the ungodly shall come to an end: praise thou the Lord, O my soul, praise the Lord.

The LXX. and Vulgate read this verse as a prayer, (L.) agreeing therein with the A. V. There is but one jarring note in the harmonious Psalm of creation, it is only man of all living things that can make God sad, and draw tears from the eyes of Christ.

All true, all faultless,* all in tune,
Creation’s wondrous choir,*
Opened in mystic unison
To last till time expire.
And still it lasts: by day and night,
With one consenting voice,
All hymn Thy glory, Lord, aright,
All worship and rejoice.
Man only mars the sweet accord,
O’erpowering with harsh din
The music of Thy works and word,
Ill matched with grief and sin.

And therefore the Psalmist prays that this discord may be amended; (A.) and that in one of two ways, either by the conversion of sinners, that burnt up with the fire of the Holy Ghost, they may have no earthliness left remaining in them, but that all their ungodliness may come to end; (D. C.) or, if they harden themselves against the mercy of the Lord, they may be entirely taken away, that they be no longer a stumbling-block in the way of the elect.

Praise the Lord, O my soul. (C.) A dignified ending of the Psalm, as the like beginning of it is dignified, for we should ever be praising Him Who never ceaseth to bestow His bounties upon us. He is Alpha, and our life should begin with His praise:* He is Omega,* and it should close in like manner, for “the soul of blessing shall be made fat” with all the riches of God’s house, when He shall have put away evil for evermore.* And therefore, with deep significance, we have here as the final words of the Psalm, and for the first time in the Psalter, the cry of Hallelujah, Praise ye the Lord, celebrating His victory over sin, His judgments on the wicked; just as its first occurrence in the New Testament is in the vision of S. John,* “I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God: for true and righteous are His judgments: for He hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of His servants at her hand. And again they said, Alleluia.”


Glory be to the Father, Who is clothed with majesty and honour; glory be to the Son, the Eternal Wisdom in Whom He hath made all things; glory be to the Holy Ghost, the Author of the new creation, Who reneweth the face of the earth.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.


Gregorian. Saturday: Matins. [Whitsunday: Matins. Transfiguration: III. Nocturn.]

Monastic. Saturday: I. Nocturn. [Transfiguration: II. Nocturn.]

Ambrosian. Friday of Second Week: I. Nocturn.

Parisian. Monday: Matins.

Lyons. Saturday: Matins.

Quignon. Monday: Lauds.

Eastern Church. Prefatory Psalm at Vespers.


Gregorian and Monastic. Praise * the Lord, O my soul. [Whitsunday: Send forth Thy Spirit, and they shall be created, and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth. Alleluia. Alleluia. Transfiguration: He is clothed with majesty and honour * decked with light as it were with a garment.]

Ambrosian. As Psalm 102.

Parisian. All * hast Thou made in wisdom, O Lord, the earth is full of Thy possession.

Lyons. Praise * the Lord, O my soul.

Mozarabic. Thou art clothed with majesty and honour * Thou deckest Thyself with light as it were with a garment.


O glorious and Almighty God,* Who hast satisfied the dry land with abundant fruit, grant us to contemplate with spiritual understanding Thy glorious Ascension, that while we look up to Thee in heaven, we may ever meditate on heavenly things. (5.)

How magnified are Thy works,* O Lord, in wisdom hast Thou made them all; but fill us with the Spirit of guidance, that whilst we wonder at Thy works, our understanding may praise and magnify Thee in Thy works. (11.)

O Lord God Almighty,* Who hast commanded the evening, and the morning, and the noontide to be called one day, and hast bidden the sun to know his going down; pierce, we beseech Thee, the darkness of our hearts, that as Thou sheddest Thy rays, we may acknowledge Thee to be Very God and Light everlasting. (11.)

O Lord God Almighty,* Who makest Thine Angels spirits and Thy ministers a flame of fire, kindle in us, we beseech Thee, the flame of Thy love, which, by the word of the sacred mouth, Thou hast vouchsafed Thy promise to send, and let it glow in such wise within us by faith and works, that it may cut away all sins from us, and unite us with the heavenly citizens. (11.)

O God, Who lookest upon the earth, (D. C.) and makest it to tremble, send Thy wholesome fear into our hearts, that, abandoning the evil things whereby we have grievously offended Thee, our sinful face may be renewed by Thy Spirit within us, and we may ever cling to Thee in holy devotion, and sing to Thy praise in the pleasantness of salvation. (1.)

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Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalms 42 & 43

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 19, 2016

Psalm 42

THE poet is far from the Temple and its worship, in some part, perhaps, of the northern East Jordanland. He bids his soul, in a twice repeated refrain, to hope for a share in the Temple worship once more. His enemies mock him because he has no ritual of sacrificial worship, and, therefore, seems to have no God. He thinks of great days in the past when he journeyed with joyous pilgrim throngs to the ancient shrine of the nation. The memory sustains him now when he is so far away from Jerusalem. He has, indeed, no solemn worship of the Lord in the lonely place of his sojourn, but he sings in the night time the praises of Israel’s God. “Be not sad, my soul” he concludes, “Once again I shall praise the Lord before His face in the Temple and say to Him: Thou art my Helper and my God.”

Davidic origin is not claimed for this Psalm, and, as the poem seems to imply the existence of Temple worship, Davidic origin is, indeed, excluded. The presence of the refrain of Ps 42 in Ps 43, and other points of contact have led nearly all modern commentators to regard Psalms 42 and 43 as a single poem. Since, however, this view is not quite certain (Ps 43, for instance, being ascribed in the Greek to David), and since this work deals with the Vulgate Psalter, it is more convenient to treat Psalms 42 and 43 separately. The author, some commentators think, probably was a priest. The mosaic of psalm passages in Jonah 2:3-10 includes a verse from Ps 42, so that this psalm is, most probably, older than the Book of Jonah. It is certainly older than 586 B.C., since it supposes the Temple still standing. There is nothing in the psalm to support the popular radical view that the writer was the High Priest Onias III, and that the occasion of the psalm was the conquest of Jerusalem by Scopas, a captain under Ptolemy Epiphanes. The scene of its composition is probably indicated in verse 7.


THE situation of the poet here is the same as in Ps 42. The petition in verse 3 is very natural as a final section, apart from the refrain. Though troubled so greatly by the mockers who surround him, the psalmist is confident that he will once again appear before his God in Jerusalem. The messengers of the Lord, His Light and His Truth, will come to guide him to the Hill where God dwells, that he may share again with the same holy ardour and joy with which he joined in the sacred ceremonial in his youth, in the worship of the Temple. The refrain makes the connection of Pss 42 and 43 certain.

The title “A psalm of David,” is wanting in the Hebrew. It may have been suggested to an early critic by the reference to the Tabernacle in verse 3. There is no good reason for regarding Ps 43 as other than the concluding portion of Ps 42.

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