The Divine Lamp

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

A Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 25

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 29, 2016

PSALM TITLE
A Psalm of David.

ARGUMENT

Arg. Thomas. That Christ, when the temple of His Body was destroyed, should raise it again after three days. He hath sent a song to His elect. The song of the elect. Concerning the doctrine of Confession. The voice of the Church repenting with her whole soul. The voice of the Church against her enemies. By fasting. A song for the catechumens and elect.

Ven. Bede. Through the whole Psalm the Church prays that she may not, before the Presence of the Lord, appear contemptible to her enemies. In the first part she makes supplication that she may be taught the commandments of the Lord, and His ways: Unto Thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. Secondly, she asks for the favours which He hath bestowed on the Holy Fathers from the beginning: Call to remembrance, O Lord, Thy tender mercies, &c. Thirdly, she showeth how they that keep the commandments of the Lord merit eternal rewards, and protesteth that she will constantly remain in the will of the same Lord. The first portion, therefore, consists of five letters; the second of six; the third of nine.

S. Jerome. The 25th Psalm contains the prayer of the Mediator offered to the Father: it may also be the clamour of the Church making her requests to God.

COMMENTARY

This is the first of the Alphabetic Psalms: that is, of those in which each verse, or each clause, commences consecutively with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The others are the 34th, the 37th, the 111th, the 112th, the 119th, and the 145th. Besides these, the Lamentations of Jeremiah are written on the same system, and the 31st chapter of the Book of Proverbs. Some of the Psalms, of which this is one, are not absolutely perfect in this acrostic arrangement. It is a more ingenious than likely suggestion of Cassiodorus, that those in which the acrostic is maintained without a flaw are intended to describe the state of the perfect; the Psalms in which it is not unbroken, of those who are only striving after perfection.

Probably from these Psalms arose the ABCdarian hymns of the Latin, and Canons of the Eastern Church. The former are by no means uncommon: as, for example, that of Sedulius, A solis ortus cardine: that beginning, Æterna cœli gloria: the A Patre Unigenitus: that of Ethelwald, Alma lucerna micat: the Altissimi verbum Patris: the Agni Genitor Domine. In the Greek Canons many might be quoted: it will suffice to mention those in the Octoechus, and one on the Metastasis of S. John (Sept. 27) antistrophic: (i.e., beginning at the end.)

1–2 Unto thee, O Lord, will I lift up my soul; my (א) God, I have put my trust in thee: O let me not be (ב) confounded, neither let mine enemies triumph over me.

The Apostle commands us, “Cast not away, therefore, your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.”* Acting in agreement with that command, the Psalmist begins with the expression of his own confidence: My God, I have put my trust in Thee. And if we take the words as spoken by our Lord, (Ay.) they merely assert that which He said on the Saturday before His Passion: “I knew that Thou hearest Me always.”* He says Himself, I have put My trust in Thee. He commands it to us: “Ye believe,* or rather ye have confidence in God; have confidence also in Me.”1 Do I lift up my soul. It is well and wisely commanded by Isaiah,* “Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem:” because by nature our soul “cleaveth unto the dust.” In the very beginning of this his prayer, David commences by raising his mind. It is the Sursum corda which has commenced the Christian sacrifice from the very beginning. Well says S. John Damascene:* “Prayer is the elevation or ascent of the soul to God.” O let me not be confounded. It is the Second Adam that speaks. The first had said, (G.) “I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”* Of the second it is written, “Not that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon.”* Let not mine enemies triumph. You may take it of Satan and his hosts, as S. Athanasius does: or, as S. Jerome, of temporal enemies; as Gentiles against the Jews, (L.) or heretics against the Church. Let them not triumph, when we are beginning some holy work, as Tobiah against Nehemiah: “Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall:”* or as the Jews at the day of Pentecost, “These men are full of new wine.”* Unto Thee, O Lord.* Erchembert says, beautifully enough: “It is the voice of the Church to Christ: that Church, which lay low in the valley of tears, before Christ came into the world; but by His Advent, He hath raised her in faith, in hope, and in love. It is just the same thing as corn, which, if it lies low in the ground, rots: if it sprouts up, it shall be preserved. Thus the soul which perseveres in its sins goes to decay, and perishes; if it is raised up, and amends itself, and stands in faith, hope, and love, it is guarded by the Lord.”

3 For all they that hope in thee shall not be ashamed: (ג) but such as transgress without a cause shall be put to confusion.

The wise man is the best Commentator. “Look at the generations of old, and see: did ever any trust in the Lord, and was confounded? or did any abide in His fear, and was forsaken? or whom did He ever despise that called upon Him?”* The multitudes, as the Fathers remind us, hoped in Christ for three days, and were rewarded by being fed with five loaves and two small fishes. S. Albertus Magnus well says:* They that hope in Thee; but it must be with courage, as it is written, “O tarry thou the Lord’s leisure: be strong, and He shall comfort thine heart; and put thy trust in the Lord.”* It must be even under correction; according to that saying, “Yea, in the way of Thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for Thee.”* It must be, although He seem to procrastinate, giving us that for which we hope; according to that saying, “Reward them that wait for Thee.” And the end of this waiting the wise man tells us: “The patient man will bear for a time, and afterward joy shall spring up unto him.”* And again: “Yea, I am with him in trouble: I will deliver him and bring him to honour.”* Deliver him, that is, liberating him from the punishment he has deserved by nature; bring him to honour, bestowing on him the glory that he has merited by Christ. And notice that this verse begins with the letter Gimel. Now Gimel,* by interpretation, is perfection; because patience is the perfection and crown of all virtues. As S. James saith,* “Let patience have her perfect work.” And again it is written in the Epistle to the Hebrews, “Through patience the promises are inherited.”* Shall be put to confusion. Thus He turns back the shame on His enemies which they have poured upon Him. And so the Church applies in Passiontide those words of Jeremiah, “Let them be confounded that persecute me, but let not me be confounded; let them be dismayed, but let not me be dismayed; bring upon them the day of evil, and destroy them with double destruction.”* The translation of the Vulgate is somewhat different. Confounded be all they that do wickedness vainly. S. Augustine understands it of those who so vainly toil to acquire those earthly riches which make themselves wings and fly away. Ruffinus takes it to show how vain is every work of the wicked, (A.) seeing that it cannot be carried on in the next world; that there its contriver may say with Job, “My days are past,* my purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of my heart.”

4 Show me thy ways, O Lord: and teach me thy (ד) paths.

Notice the difference between ways and paths. By ways, (Ay.) we understand God’s laws, that are common to all men; by paths, which are straighter and narrower than ways, those evangelical counsels, such as poverty, chastity, and obedience, of which it is written, “All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.”* Observe also the difference of the verbs to show and to teach: as, if once shown, the ways were comparatively easy, but the paths must be taught with difficulty and perseverance. Or, as Gerhohus puts it neatly, (G.) Show me Thy ways by the most shining example of Thy conversation among men in the active life: and teach me Thy paths, in the contemplative life, by which the saints desire to behold Thy divine face in heaven.* Thy ways, not any of which lead to destruction, but all are ways of life. S. Bernard teaches that the soul desirous of God is said in the Psalms to be continually searching out these things,* namely, justice, judgment, and the place of the dwelling of God’s glory, as the way in which she is to walk, the rule by which she is to journey, and the goal to which she is to tend. S. Augustine, the Doctor of Grace, who never misses one clause that tells of grace, takes occasion to deduce its necessity from this verse. Show me, because I cannot show myself: teach me, for without Thee I can never learn. Thy ways: and principally Him Who said, “I am the Way;” and Whom Solomon calls the Beginning of God’s ways. Show me Thy ways; according as it is written, “The Lord directeth the steps;”* and teach me Thy paths, according to that saying,* “Master, we know that Thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth:” the motive, as S. Albertus speaks, thus coming before the apprehension. Teach me. Corderius well observes that we are not here to understand the word teaching in the way in which Scripture or any external authority is said to teach; for in that sense the prophet had already been taught the ways of the Lord: but of the inward teaching of the Spirit of God, (Cd.) and that twofold. The first, that by which He persuades men to embrace His ways as really desirable, and to be followed for the sake of happiness; the other, that by which He takes advantage of every little external circumstance or accident to draw His own lessons therefrom. After all, I know not but that I prefer the brief comment of Ludolph to any other, (Lu.) who, after quoting the text, merely says, “O Lord, let me not err.”

5 Lead me forth in thy truth, and learn me: (ה) for thou art the God of my salvation; (ו) in thee hath been my hope all the day long.

And here we have what we always must have in the service of God—progress:* Lead me forth. There is among the works of S. Chrysostom a homily on this verse; which, however, is not Chrysostom’s, but some Latin author’s. He dwells on the principal means by which God does learn us, namely, by that Church which cannot err. Learn me, that I may understand what I believe: for faith precedes,* understanding follows: as it is written, “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.”* Learn me; not in the book of nature, as the philosophers, for so it is written, “The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made:”* nor yet in the book of Scripture, in which Thou teachest theologians; as it is written, “The vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee, and he saith, I cannot, for it is sealed:”* but in Thy very truth, (C.) which is the book of life. For Thou art the God of my salvation. “There are two things,” says Cassiodorus, “which make good Christians: the first, that we should believe God to be the God of our salvation; the other, (Z.) that we constantly set His final retribution before our eyes.” In Thee hath been my hope. It is the voice of the saints before the Advent waiting and expecting the Coming of the Lord. And in this sense it may well be said, For Thou art the God of my salvation. For who is the God of our salvation but Jesus?* All the day long. S. Chrysostom takes it as opposed to night, of our Lord Himself, the true Day. As if the Prophet said. In Thee hath been my hope, on account of that Saviour Who is to come.1 For Thou art the God. Notice the twofold pleading in this petition for help: the one on the part of God,* the other on the part of ourselves. On the part of God, love; on the part of ourselves, patience. And these both taken together, make good the initial letter of the verse, He, which is life.2

It would seem, as Dr. Good very well observes, that from the latter clause of this verse has been separated the clause which now forms the end of the sixth. According to most mediæval commentators, the Vau verse has accidentally been lost. He would arrange the Psalm so that it should take its proper place, and the fourth verse be relieved of its third member thus:

He. Lead me forth in Thy truth, and learn me: for Thou art the God of my salvation.

Vau. In Thee hath been my hope all the day long: for Thy goodness, O Lord.”

The sixth verse (according to our numbering) will then stand: “O remember not the sins of my youth: but according to Thy mercy think Thou upon me.”

6 Call to remembrance, O Lord, thy tender mercies: (ז) and thy lovingkindnesses, which have been ever of old.

And here we may notice the manner in which the Psalmist carries on his supplication. For this Psalm is the pattern of all prayer. 1. He calls on the mercy of God to pity him. 2. He exposes his own infirmity that it may be helped,* in verse 7. 3. He tells how He has been heard, that others may be comforted, in verse 8. Call to remembrance, O Lord, Thy tender mercies; and God makes answer, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.”* Why does He say lovingkindnesses in the plural, rather than lovingkindness? And they give the answer, Because it is written,* “How multiplied” (our version reads excellent) “is Thy mercy, O God!”* And it has been well said that this very verse, in its method of addressing God, is another proof of His mercy: that He allows Himself to be asked to call to remembrance; as if He, the omniscient, ever could forget. Think Thou upon me. We cannot read such words without remembering the most marvellous as well as the most touching time that they ever were uttered, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom!”

7 O remember not the sins and offences of my youth: (ח) but according to thy mercy think thou upon me, O Lord, for thy goodness.

Notice the difference of sins and offences: as the Vulgate has it, delicta et ignorantiœ: following the LXX., ἁμαρτίαι καὶ ἄγνοιαι. The greater part of the commentators take the sins, in the full force of the Latin word, to mean sins of omission: but Cassiodorus, though not employing the word, (C.) understands them to be venial sins. So early a passage on that subject is curious, and worth quoting: “They will have delictum to be something that is of less moment than a sin, and is so called because it leaves the way of strict justice, but yet is not conversant in any deep depravity of crime. For it is a delictum to take one’s food too greedily; to give way to immoderate laughter; to waste time in idle words, and other matters of the same sort, which do not appear to be very heavy sins, but which nevertheless are manifestly prohibited.” Dionysius observes that all sins may be divided into three classes,—the three bands of the Chaldæans again,—the three companies of spoilers that came out from the camp of the Philistines: (D. C.) sins of ignorance, sins of infirmity, and sins of presumption. Sins of ignorance, he says, are especially directed against the Son, as the personification of wisdom; sins of infirmity against the Father, as that of power; sins of presumption against the Holy Ghost, as that of goodness. Hence the expositors take occasion to discuss the question,* how far ignorance exempts from or palliates sin. “I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.”* Those are noble words of the Second Council of Utrecht, directed against the miserable laxity of later times, that ignorance exempts from sin, properly so called. “The eternal law, naturally implanted in all, can only be matter of ignorance, from the blindness and corruptions of the heart; therefore this ignorance can never, in the case of adults, who have the use of their reason, be properly, fully, and entirely invincible, nor can it excuse from sin. Wherefore the Psalmist saith with tears,* O remember not the sins of my youth and my ignorances. ‘Which class of offences,’ says S. Augustine, ‘unless they were imputed by a just God, would not need the prayers of a faithful man for forgiveness.’ “Euthymius ingeniously asks why he prays especially for forgiveness of ignorances? And replies, (Z.) Because sins of malice are not to be removed by prayer alone. Of my youth. Many do not take it of the literal season of youth, but of those passions which are most common to that season; (Ay.) and so regard it as a prayer for the remission of the sins of concupiscence. Youth. Gerhohus sees in this, as in the preceding verses, (G.) a reference to S. Peter, and refers to that text, “When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldst;”* which he ingeniously compares with Ahab’s reprimand of the Syrian’s boast, “Let not him that girdeth on his harness, boast himself as he that putteth it off.”* This accidental resemblance is worked out by him at very great length, and with more ingenuity than probability. Parez sees a reference to the sin of Adam, (P.) which was indeed the sin of the youth of the world: Theodorus of Heraclea, to the sins of the people in Egypt, (Cd.) the youth of the Israelitish Church.* S. Augustine has a noble passage on the blessedness of those whose youth has passed without any special outbreak of mortal sin; and bitterly laments in his Confessions his own crimes at that age, when he was tantillus puer, sed tantus peccator. I will end with a fine passage (though containing a different view of the text) from Vieyra with reference to this verse. He is preaching on S. Augustine’s day,* and telling of the confessions of that saint.

David, when he is asking God’s pardon for the offences of his youth, (such as those of Augustine also were,) makes his prayer after this fashion: O remember not the offences of my youth, nor my ignorances. These, which in the first place he calls offences, in the second he names ignorances: and the reason of his calling sins ignorances, is because he desired to palliate and excuse them under that name. But it seems that it neither ought so to have been, nor ought he so to have spoken. Ignorances are defects of the understanding: sins are defects of the will: and having to excuse one defect by another defect, it seems as if he ought to have charged it on the less noble power, which is the understanding; and not on the more noble, which is the will. And so David would have done, had he spoken and meant like a man; but he spoke and meant like a saint. The saints, as they know the weight and nature of sin, and how much more ugly are the defects of the will than those of the understanding, are more ashamed of being wicked than of being foolish; and had rather seem ignorant than sinners. Wherefore David, confessing his sins, alleges his ignorances as their excuse. Delicta juventutis meœ et ignorantias meas.”

8 Gracious and righteous is the Lord: (ט) therefore will he teach sinners in the way.

Gracious and righteous. Gracious, (Ay.) says one, in respect of the mercy whereby He forgiveth sin; righteous in respect of the justice whereby He will by no means clear the guilty: gracious, in respect of His saying, “Behold, thou art made whole;”* righteous, in respect of His adding, “Go, and sin no more:”* gracious, when we look back to His first Advent, in great humility; righteous, when we look forward to His second Advent, in great justice. Gracious. It is in the Vulgate, sweet. But yet the wise man advises us well: “Say not,* I have sinned, and what harm hath happened unto me? for the Lord is long-suffering; He will in no wise let thee go. And say not, His mercy is great, He will be pacified for the multitude of my sins: for mercy and wrath come from Him, and His indignation resteth against sinners.” Will He teach: or, as it is in the Vulgate, Will He give the law to. “God,” says Dionysius, “hath given a threefold law to man: (D. C.) the law of nature, the ceremonial law, and the evangelical law; and every one of these comes of His sweetness and of His love.” Sinners in the way. They understand this expression in many different senses. Some take it to mean, He will teach sinners, who, though they are constantly offending, falling seven times a day, turning to the right hand or to the left hand, nevertheless, and on the whole, are keeping His commandments; and in this sense the Western Church prays by the side of the dying,* “For although he hath sinned, yet he hath not denied the Father, the Son, or the Holy Ghost, but hath believed; and had a zeal for God, and hath faithfully adored God, Who made all things.” Others, again, (G.) take the way to mean our Lord Jesus Christ, the true Way; so that the sense should be, Therefore will He teach sinners in, or because of, the Way, namely, our Lord. And yet again they take the way, after its common ecclesiastical meaning, (P.) to signify this life, so as to make the signification, (Lu.) Therefore will He teach sinners, while yet there is time and space for repentance, (C.) according to that saying,* “He is able to save unto the uttermost all that come unto God by Him.”

9 Them that are meek shall he guide in judgment: (י) and such as are gentle, them shall he learn his way.

Meek. And who are they? Those who do not resist the leading grace of God. As it is written: (Ay.) “So then it is not of him that willeth,* nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” And again: (Cd.) “A man’s heart deviseth his way,* but the Lord directeth his steps.” It is the same command that is given by S. James, “Receive with meekness the engrafted word.”* In judgment. It may be understood in two different ways: either He will direct them by judgment, or prudence, so that they shall not turn to the right hand nor to the left,* which is the usual interpretation of the later commentators; or He shall so direct them, (Lu.) that in the last judgment they shall stand unblamed before Him. We may apply to the Psalmist’s declaration, that the meek shall be guided in judgment, the explanation which S. Augustine gives of a similar passage. When he had written in his book,* De Verâ Religione, the following sentence: “Attend therefore to that which follows as diligently and piously as thou canst; for it is such that God helps,”* he explained it in his Retractations thus: “I do not wish to be understood as if God only helps those that give all their attention with the greatest diligence; for He sometimes so assists those that do not, that they may become among the number of those who do.” So here God does not only guide the meek, but sometimes also He so directs the unmeek and ungentle, as that they may become meek; as S. John, who once demanded, “Wilt Thou that we call down fire from heaven?” was afterwards guided and taught, till he became the Apostle of love. Such as are gentle: or, as S. Augustine will have it,* humble. In his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, he tells us, in imitation of the famous saying of Demosthenes about action, that for those who would learn God’s ways, humility is the first thing, (Z.) humility is the second, humility is the third. And therefore our Lord Himself says, “Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart.”* Shall He learn His way. Well says S. Gregory: “The preacher can pronounce words which shall enter into the ears,* but he cannot open the heart; and unless by internal grace God, only omnipotent, invisibly causes the spirits of the hearers to receive the words of the preacher, the latter labours in vain.” Them shall He learn His way. Wherefore David proceeds to show us what are God’s ways: saying,

10 All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth: (כ) unto such as keep his covenant, and his testimonies.

This, (Ay.) then, explains the conclusion of the last verse. The Gloss says, “Although the ways of the Lord, are, as it were, (Gl.) infinite, yet all are included in these two: whereof He exhibits the one by forgiving sin, the other by rewarding according to merit.” All the paths of the Lord. “Those ways,” says S. Bernard, “which are everlasting, and under which, as Habakkuk says,* the perpetual hills did bow: the hills being understood of those evil spirits who are to be cast down at the Coming of the Lord.” Mercy and truth. They are here joined by God Himself; and those whom God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. S. Thomas, treating on this subject with a depth worthy of himself, explains mercy of the free, unmerited forgiveness of sins bestowed on us in Baptism; truth, of the reward given us according to our works, when the grace to do those works has once been put into our power. S. Anselm beautifully says: “Thy mercy springs from Thy justice,* because it is just that Thou shouldest so be good as to manifest Thy goodness by sparing. But if we consider justice, how it awards prizes and punishments according to our merits, mercy comes first: for God is moved by Himself and by the primary act of His will; in giving a reward or a punishment, He takes the occasion from ourselves. And that is a secondary and consequent act of His will.” Rupert understands the two columns that stood before the temple to mean the same thing. “There are,” says he, “but two paths of the Lord;* the whole house leans on two pillars; the whole edifice of Holy Scripture is supported by these two attributes. For whatever we have heard of all the ways of the Lord may be referred either to mercy or to truth.” Again, as in a preceding verse, we may understand mercy and truth of the first and second Advent. And with this verse we may compare the expostulation in Ezekiel, “Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel: is not My way equal? are not your ways unequal?”* Unto such as. Not to all; for as the house of Israel in that text, (G.) there are those who will persist in calling them harsh and unjust. His covenant and His testimonies. Here, again, the commentators differ as to the meaning of these two phrases. Some, as Venerable Bede, will have them to signify the Old and New Testaments: others, as S. Jerome and S. Albertus, by covenant understand the writings, by testimonies the human authors of Holy Scripture. On the whole, this chiefly, (D. C.) as Dionysius the Carthusian tells us, are we to learn from this verse, to pray that we may be kept from presumption, because all the paths of the Lord are truth; to pray that we may be kept away from despair, because all the paths of the Lord are mercy. “But why God chooses justly to have mercy on one evil man rather than on another, cannot be discovered by us: nay,” S. Augustine saith, “do not thou investigate this matter, (A.) if thou wouldst not err.”

11 For thy Name’s sake, O Lord: be merciful (ל) unto my sin, for it is great.

I cannot do better than quote one of those beautiful passages of the great Vieyra, which gave him the character of the first preacher of his age. “I confess, my God,* that it is so; that we all are sinners in the highest degree.” He is preaching on a fast on occasion of the threatened destruction of the Portuguese dominion in Brazil by the Dutch. “But so far am I from considering this any reason why I should cease from my petition, that I behold in it a new and convincing argument which may influence Thy goodness. All that I have said before is based on no other foundation than the glory and honour of Thy most holy Name. Propter Nomen Tuum. And what motive can I offer more glorious to that same Name, than that our sins are many and great? For Thy Name’s sake, O Lord, be merciful unto my sin, for it is great. I ask Thee, saith David, to pardon, not every-day sins, but numerous sins, but great sins: multum est enim. O motive worthy of the breast of God! O consequence which can have force only when it bears on Supreme Goodness! So that, in order to obtain remission of his sins, the sinner alleges to God that they are many and great. “Verily so; and that not for love of the sinner, nor for the love of sin, but for the love of the honour and glory of God; which glory, by how much the sins He forgives are greater and more numerous, by so much the more ennobles and exalts itself. The same David distinguishes in the mercy of God greatness and multitude: greatness,* secundum magnam misericordiam tuam; multitude, et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum. And as the greatness of the Divine mercy is immense, and the multitude of His loving-kindnesses infinite; and forasmuch as the immense cannot be measured, nor the infinite counted, in order that the one and the other may in a certain manner have a proportionate material of glory, it is necessary to the very greatness of mercy that the sins to be pardoned should be great, and necessary to the very multitude of loving-kindnesses that they should be many. Multum est enim. Reason have I, then, O Lord, not to be dismayed because our sins are many and great. Reason have I also to demand the reason from Thee, why Thou dost not make haste to pardon them?”

12 What man is he, that feareth the Lord: (מ) him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose.

That feareth the Lord. There are three principal effects of the fear of God. It purifies, according to that saying, (Ay.) “The fear of the Lord driveth away sin.”* It fortifies, as it is written,* “Whoso feareth the Lord shall not fear nor be afraid.” Thirdly, it sanctifies, as Cassiodorus says: “The law of God begins in fear, and ends in love.” What man is he? “Is there such a man!” exclaims one of the Fathers, (Z.) “if there be,—but I much fear whether any hearers will be found,—let him attend.” In the way that He shall choose. And here they dispute to whom the pronoun belongs: whether to God, or to him that feareth the Lord. The greater number of interpreters,* headed by S. Jerome, understand it in the latter sense. Thus, for example, when the soldiers demanded of John Baptist, What shall we do? the publicans, What shall we do? and the common people also, he gave them an answer applicable to the way of life which each of them had chosen. Thus, also, there must be special rules for those that have chosen the secular and the religious life. And this affords a very good meaning, and may well teach priests how, in giving their advice, they follow the example of the great High Priest, and teach each man who comes to them in the way that he shall choose. But surely it is better to understand the verse in the other sense: in the way, namely, which God shall choose. Thus Gerhohus and Jansenius expound the clause.

13 His soul shall dwell at ease: (נ) and his seed shall inherit the land.

Shall tarry in good things, (G.) as it is in the Vulgate. Unlike the soul of Adam, who, being put into possession of the delights of Paradise, tarried there but a few days or hours. His soul must indeed at first sojourn in Mesech, and dwell among the tents of Kedar; but it shall tarry for ever in those good things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard. S. Ambrose takes it in the sense that the righteous man,* however surrounded by affliction,—nay, however oppressed and encircled by the wicked,—does even at that very moment tarry among good things; because “all things shall work together for good to them that love God.” Cassiodorus, rejecting every idea of a purgatory, applies it to the state of the righteous immediately after death: surrounded, indeed, with good things, but yet tarrying for the completion of happiness, the Beatific Vision. To the same purpose speaks the Eastern Liturgy,* when it asks a place for the departed “in tabernacles of light and gladness, in habitations of shade and quiet, amidst the treasures of happiness, whence all sorrow is banished afar, where the souls of the righteous expect without labour the guerdon of life, and the spirits of the just wait for the end of the promised reward, in that country where the workers and the weary look on to Paradise, and they that are invited to the wedding long for the Celestial Bridegroom, and ardently desire to receive that new state of glory.” Others explain it of the possession of heaven itself,* and its three principal blessednesses—vision, love, fruition. But, taking it in the sense which would see in it a promise on earth,* Hugh of S. Victor says admirably, “He expresses with great sweetness spiritual delectation, where He says, His soul shall tarry in good things. For whatever is carnally sweet yields without doubt a delectation for the time to such as enjoy it, but cannot tarry long with them; because, while by its taste it provokes appetite, by its transit it cheats desire. But spiritual delights, which neither pass away as they are tasted, nor decrease while they refresh, nor cloy while they satiate, can tarry for ever with their possessors.” And his seed shall inherit the land.* Almost all the commentators take his seed to signify his good works;* and S. Albertus collects, in illustration of this sense,* the texts which I append in the margin. And with this may be compared the verse,* “That when ye fail,* they may receive you into everlasting habitations,” if by the they we are to understand the good works we have sent afore.*

Et virtute meritorum*
Illic introducitur
Omnis, qui ob Christi Nomen
Hoc in mundo premitur.

Others, again, (D. C.) will have the earth to mean the body of him of whom the Psalmist speaks; and the sense to be, that his seed, his higher self, his new nature, shall keep that body under subjection, and rule over it with an absolute sway. Others, again, (L.) see in the earth a figurative expression for our Lord’s Body, which the righteous possess in the Blessed Sacrament here, (G.) and shall more gloriously and entirely possess there. And if we apply the whole text to our Lord, His blessed soul, now no more “troubled,” now no more “exceeding sorrowful,” dwells in everlasting ease in the kingdom which His might has won for Him; and His seed—for “now are we the sons of God,”—shall one day possess the earth, the new earth, the ἀντίχθονα, as the Pythagoreans express it, which He Himself has purchased for them.

14 The secret of the Lord is among them that fear him: (ס) and he will show them his covenant.

Here again the Vulgate differs: (R.) The Lord is a strong foundation1 to them that fear Him. For the fear of men weakens, says one;* but the fear of the Lord strengthens. “In the way of God,” says S. Gregory, “we begin in fear, (G.) and we end in fortitude.” Gerhohus takes the firmamentum of the Vulgate, and sees in it a reference to the separation of the waters from the waters, and of the firmament which was called heaven. But, if we take our own translation, we shall find it authorized by the secretum Domini of S. Jerome, the ἀπόῤῥητον of Aquila, and the μυστήριον of Theodotion. And they quote the “Because it is given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,”* of our Lord: and again, (L.) His “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what things his Lord doeth; but I have called you friends: for all things that I have heard of My Father, I have made known unto you.”* Think again, too, of the declaration in Amos: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret to His servants the Prophets;”* and the equally loving question in Genesis, “Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation?”* We may take it, if we will, as spoken of Him Who once said, “Why askest thou thus after My Name, seeing it is secret?”* and then, in the next clause, He, He Whose Name is thus wonderful, shall show them His covenant; His Cross, which is to be their crown; His imprisonment in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, which is to be their everlasting peace.

[Yet again, the secret of the Lord dwelt within her who feared Him, His lowly handmaiden, to whom He showed His covenant by the voice of the Archangel.

Castæ parentis viscera*
Cœlestis intrat gratia;
Venter puellæ bajulat
Secreta quæ non noverat.

His secret,* the mystery of the Sacrament of the Altar, “latens Deitas,” as the hymn says, abides amongst His faithful ones, to whom He discloses Himself in that bond of the New Covenant, when they feed on Him in faith.

Mary’s womb the folded bloom of Sharon’s Rose contained,* And I may share the load she bare, though not like her unstained: Joy such as hers my spirit stirs, the hungry Thou hast fed, My God, my King, to Thee I sing, Who art the Living Bread.]

15 Mine eyes are ever looking unto the Lord: for (ע) he shall pluck my feet out of the net.

And this is the same thing which is written in Ecclesiastes: (G.) “The wise man’s eyes are in his head:” that is,* in our True Head, our Lord Jesus Christ. Out of the net, which Satan, that diligent fisher of souls, spreads in the troublesome waters of this world,* “wherein,” as they remind us, “are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts,” all manner of temptation, both in its tremendous and in its meanest forms. “The eye,” says Hugh of S. Victor,* “is the active intention: he therefore hath his eyes ever to the Lord, who directs, by intention to the Law of God, all that he does. And his feet are set loose from the net, because that cannot be an evil action which is set on foot by the law of God.” S. Chrysostom remarks, “Birds, while they cleave the air at a height,* are not easily taken. Thus thou, if thou wilt only fix thine eyes on the things that are above, wilt not easily be taken with any snares. Birds have wings given to them to this end,—that they may avoid snares: men have reason,”—but he should rather have said the power of prayer—“that they may avoid the temptations of the devil.”

16 Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me: (פ) for I am desolate and in misery.

Thou, Who causest mine eyes to turn to Thee, turn Thine also to me. Thou once, when Thou didst create Adam, (G.) didst only see a noble creature, formed after Thine own Image, in Thine own likeness, endued with every glorious power of soul, when man was very good. Now Thou beholdest one of whom Thy Prophet saith well, “From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it, but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores.”* Nevertheless, turn Thee unto me! If Thou turnest from me, who will turn to me?

The Priest beheld,* and passed
The way he had to go:
A careless eye the Levite cast
And left me to my woe:
But Thou, O Good, O Loving One, draw nigh;
Have pity on me! say, Thou shalt not die!

If Thou turn to me, Thine own love will compel Thee to have mercy on me, as on the woman that had had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years:* as on the impotent man that had none to put him into the pool when it had been stirred up by the Angel: have mercy on me as Thou didst on her of old, of whom it is written, “I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.”* Ven. Bede well says, “For God to look upon us is to have mercy upon us: for He looks not only on us when we turn to Him, but looks on us also that we may turn to Him.”* And notice: God is said to look in three ways. There is the glance of His Wisdom, which He throws on all His creatures; “God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good:”* the glance of His anger, which He casts on the ungodly; as it is written,—“His look resteth upon sinners:”* and the glance of His love on the righteous, according to that saying,—“He hath respect unto His elect.”* And this verse well answers the 14th: (C.) for on whom can God look, save on one who is always looking to Him?

For I am desolate: or as it is in the Vulgate, The only one: in the LXX., The Only-begotten. And here, then, we have a key to the true sense. Who is this that cares to be looked upon, and to receive mercy, save He Who is the Only-begotten Son of the Father? Some take it indeed, (Ay.) to mean the only one, as not having a double heart: and that is true also: but far better it is to understand the verse of Him Who, being the Only and Eternal Son, yet became, of His own free will, subject to such misery as none else ever knew: Who was desolate beyond all earthly desolation, when He cried out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” And then to Him, as to none else, the verses that follow will apply.

17 The troubles of my heart are enlarged: (צ) O bring thou me out of my distresses.

Enlarged, indeed! From the moment that He was born “in the manger, because there was no room for Him in the inn,” how did they increase, and gather, and multiply, till they found their full accomplishment in the Cross! And He speaks of the sorrows of His heart first, (Ay.) because that Agony in the Garden where they all found vent preceded in time, and—if we may without irreverence compare that which is infinite—exceeded in heaviness, the troubles of Mount Calvary. Out of my necessities, it is in the Vulgate: (G.) and Gerhohus beautifully dwells on the expression. “I know that it is necessary for me to eat, to sleep, to drink, to be clothed, if I desire to live: but, in order that I may be set free from the bonds of such necessities, therefore, ‘to me to die is gain:’ and therefore I ‘desire to depart and to be with Christ.” I ask for a happy death, then, O my God! When I say, Deliver me out of my necessities. That rich man, who died ill, and in hell lift up his eyes being in torments, was not delivered from them, since, being athirst, he desired a drop of water to cool his tongue. But I desire so to die, that I may be with Christ. For if Lazarus, before the Advent of Christ, was free, in the bosom of Abraham, from these necessities, how much more I shall be liberated from them, if when dissolved I am with the Lord?” And then he goes on in a passage, the antithetical beauty of which could not be preserved in a translation: “O Domine! sic de necessitatibus meis eripe me, ut quæ non possunt mihi viventi deesse, non possint obesse: sic insint, ut non obsint: serviant, non dominentur: sint mihi ad usum, non ad abusionem.” The Italic version has dilatatæ1 instead of multiplicatæ: and Cassiodorus, who applies it to the Church, ingeniously observes, (C.) and like a consular as he was,—“Necesse est enim ut copioso fasce depuniatur,* qui pro multis affligitur.” The Saints take occasion from this verse to dwell on the danger of turning what are necessities into sins. Perimus licitis. And S. Augustine in his Confessions sadly complains that he had often sinned in this way. It is surely rather a hard construction put by the same Saint on this verse, where he understands sins to be signified by necessities,* because through the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright. Are enlarged. Many they are in kind, many in species, many in number, says the Biblical S. Albertus. Many in kind: Eccles. 4:4. Many in species: Isa. 38:15, 2 Cor. 11:29, Ecclus. 25:15. And in number: Ps. 120:5, Job 4:20, Ps. 42.

18 Look upon my adversity and misery: (ק2) and forgive me all my sins.

Or, as it is in the Vulgate, (G.) my humility and my labour. And what humility ever like His Who left the Throne for the Manger, the utmost bound of the everlasting hills for the womb of the Virgin? And what labour ever like His Who taught the multitude by day, continued all night in prayer to God, fainted under the weight of the Cross on which His own weight was so soon to be hung? Nor must we be afraid of applying the verse to our Lord because of its conclusion: forgive me all my sins. My sins,—those which for our sakes He bare,—those which bearing He atoned for,—those which, (Ay.) more than anything else, wrung from Him the Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? But we may well also take the prayer into our own mouths. Adversity, (G.) every man that has a soul to save must expect from the enemy of that soul: misery is pledged to us by that saying, uttered too by him who was called the Son of Consolation, “that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”* S. Augustine ingeniously turns the verse against the Donatists: (A.) “See my humility, whereby I never, through the boasts of righteousness, break off from unity.” Abbat Antiochus tells us, quoting this passage, that labour, undertaken for the sake of God, (L.) is one of the most favourable breezes which can carry us into the everlasting harbour. And S. Bernard affirms that humility and toil are the two uprights of the ladder by which we ascend to Paradise.

19 Consider mine enemies, how many they are: (ר) and they bear a tyrannous hate against me.

Consider: and why? Because,* as Job says, (Ay.) “He looketh upon men; and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profiteth me not: He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light.” Consider Mine enemies. As He saith, “Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do.” How many they are. Look upon Me the Only One (ver. 16) on the one side: Mine enemies, banded together on the other: on Pharisees and Scribes, Jewish Rulers and Roman soldiers, Pilate and Herod: and they bear a tyrannous hate against Me, “that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, They hated Me without a cause.”* Or, if we understand the words as uttered by any afflicted Christian soul, (G.) then Gerhohus will explain them for us. “Look upon the demons as the soldiers of Pharaoh, look upon the crowds of malignant men as the chariots and horses of the same devils, look on the concupiscences implanted in my flesh and senses, look upon those undisciplined motives, of which I might well say, ‘A man’s foes shall be they of his own household.’* Consider all these mine enemies. And since I know not what I should wish with regard to each of them, since, as saith Thine Apostle, ‘we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered,’* let that good and benign Spirit teach me what I should desire to happen to each of mine enemies; whether to devils, that they may be kept off, or to men, that they may be converted, or to carnal concupiscences, that they may be extinguished, or to those men who will not be converted, and are hardened in their nature like the Pharaoh, (C.) that they may be hindered from their evil effects,” Cassiodorus ingeniously joins the multitude of the enemies with the prayer that they may be considered and so pardoned. The destruction of a few might not have seemed so great a matter: but the greatness of their ruin itself cries out to, and claims, mercy.

20 O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be (ש) confounded, for I have put my trust in thee.

Keep my soul in the first place from sin, and then deliver me, (G.) if it be Thy will, from affliction. If I am cast into the raging sea of this world, deliver me by sending the whale that, however unlikely a minister of safety, shall bear me securely to the shore: If I am thrown into the furnace of Babylon, deliver me, and let the Angel of the Covenant stand by me. If I am cast into the lion’s den, deliver me by sending Thy Angel, who shall shut the mouths of those beasts.* Let me not be confounded. “How should I be confounded?” asks the great hymnographer, Joseph of the Studium: “when Thou didst stretch forth Thine Hands on the Cross, to atone for the ill actions of my hands: when Thy heart was wounded with the spear, to propitiate for the crime of my wicked thoughts: when Thou didst taste of vinegar, to do away the pleasurable sins to which I have yielded?”

21 (20) Let perfectness and righteous dealing wait upon (ת) me: for my hope hath been in thee,1 O Lord.

The Vulgate gives it differently. The innocent and the right adhere to me, because I have waited for Thee. See, they say, (Ay.) the efficacy of prayer! But two verses back, the Psalmist had interceded,—“Consider mine enemies;” and here those very enemies are become the innocent and right. According to Cassiodorus, (C.) it is the Church Triumphant that is speaking. Because in the days of my warfare I waited for Thee, therefore now the innocent, those little ones that have been called from earth in their baptismal purity, and the right, those who have been tried and found true in their many struggles, adhere to me: have a portion and an inheritance with me: are denizens in the “many mansions” prepared for them in the heavenly Jerusalem. There may again be a reference to that 15th verse, (L.) where he describes himself as alone. Now he stands no longer alone, but girt about with the assembly of the innocent and upright.

22 Deliver Israel, O God: out of all his troubles.

As that first Israel, after his compelled flight from his father’s house, after his hard bondage with Laban, (G.) after his marvellous escape from Esau, after the ruin of Dinah, after the loss of his best-beloved Joseph, was at length brought into the best of the land, into the country of Goshen, while that same Joseph was raised to be lord over all Egypt. “Therefore,” cries Gerhohus, “in the same way in which Thou, O God, didst then deliver that Israel, now deliver Thy whole Israel: leave not off consoling him, by showing him the glory of the True Joseph reigning over the Egypt of this world, till that glorious and beautiful sight shall make him cry out, ‘It is enough; I will go and see Him before I die.’* I will see him, in types and riddles, before I die: but face to face, after I die: now I see Him reigning over the whole land of Egypt, but then I shall see Him reigning in Heaven, when the kingdom of Egypt shall have been destroyed. Now I shall see Him in Egypt feeding His brethren, and distributing corn to all people: but then I shall see Him, the Living Bread of Angels, and feeding both Angels and men with the glorious Vision.” The Roman version has, Deliver me, O God of Israel, from all my afflictions: but far nobler is the common reading, which winds up this Psalm of prayer with a supplication, no longer for one, but for the whole Church!

And therefore:

Glory be to the Father, Who is gracious and righteous; and to the Son, the Way in Whom sinners are taught; and to the Holy Ghost, the Secret of the Lord.

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

VARIOUS USES

Gregorian. Tuesday; originally Sunday: Prime. [Office for the Dead: II. Nocturn.]

Parisian. Monday: Tierce.

Lyons. Wednesday: Prime.

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

Quignon. Monday: Prime.

Eastern Church. Ferial: Terce. In Lent: Compline.

Benedictine. Sunday: I. Nocturn.

ANTIPHONES

Gregorian. [Office of the Dead: The sins * of my youth and my ignorances, remember not, O Lord.]

Ambrosian. My God, my God, look upon me. K. K. K.

Mozarabic. My God, I have put my trust in Thee: O let me not be confounded.

Benedictine. Mine eyes * are ever looking unto the Lord.

COLLECTS

Deliver us,* O most merciful God, from all our miseries, because we lift up our souls unto Thee; remember not, we pray Thee, the offences of our youth and our former ignorance; and if we have through negligence offended Thee, do Thou, of Thy clemency, pardon us. Through (1.)

To Thee,* O Lord, we raise our soul by the assistance of hope; and we beseech Thee so to embue it with celestial desires, that it may cease to have its conversation upon earth. Let not the enemy deceive it by promising terrestrial pleasures, but do Thou draw it to Thyself by offering celestial joys. Grant to it, O Almighty God, such wisdom, that it may cleave to the truth rather than to a lie: may follow after humility, and be on its watch against pride, and participate Thy rewards with the Saints. Amen. Through (11.)

Remember us, (D. C.) O Lord, according to Thy mercy and goodness, and set free our feet from the nets of our enemies: that, once ready to run in the path of evil, they may at length take hold of the path of righteousness, and constantly and perseveringly follow the same. Through (1.)

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