Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 119:66, 71, 75, 91, 125, 130
Posted by Dim Bulb on August 7, 2016
Ps 119:66. “O learn me sweetness, and understanding, and knowledge,” he saith, “for I have believed Thy commandments” (ver. 66). He prayeth these things may be increased and perfected. For they who said, “Lord, increase our faith,”6 had faith. And as long as we live in this world, these are the words of those who are making progress. But he addeth, “understanding,” or, as most copies read, “discipline.” Now the word discipline, for which the Greeks use παιδεία, is employed in Scripture, where instruction through tribulation is to be understood: according to the words, “Whom the Lord loveth He disciplineth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.”7 In the literature of the Church this is usually called discipline. For this word, παιδεία,8 is used in the Greek in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where the Latin translator saith, “No discipline for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous,” etc.9 He therefore toward whom the Lord dealeth in sweetness, that is, he in whom He mercifully inspires delight in that which is good, ought to pray instantly, that this gift may be so increased unto him, that he may not only despise all other delights in comparison with it, but also that he may endure any amount of sufferings for its sake. Thus is discipline healthfully added to sweetness. This discipline ought not to be desired, and prayed for, for a small measure of grace and goodness, that is, holy love; but for so great, as may not be extinguished by the weight of the chastening: … so much in fact as to enable him to endure with the utmost patience the discipline. In the third place is mentioned knowledge; since, if knowledge in its greatness outstrips the increase of love, it doth not edify, but “puffeth up.”1 …
But in that he saith, not, Give unto me; but, “O learn me;” how is the sweetness taught, if it be not given? Since many know what doth not delight them, and find no sweetness in things of which they have knowledge. For sweetness cannot be learnt, unless it please. Also discipline, which signifieth the tribulation which chasteneth, is learnt by receiving; that is, not by hearing, or reading, or thinking, but by feeling.…
He addeth, “for I have believed Thy commandments,” and herein we may justly enquire, why he said not, I obeyed, rather than, I believed. For commandments are one thing, promises another. We undertake to obey commandments, that we may deserve to receive promises. We therefore believe promises, obey commandments.… Teach me therefore sweetness by inspiring charity, teach me discipline by giving patience, teach me knowledge by enlightening my understanding: “for I have believed Thy commandments.” I have believed that Thou who art God, and who givest unto man whence Thou mayest cause him to do what Thou commandest, hast commanded these things.
Ps 119:71. “It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me: that I might learn Thy righteousnesses” (ver. 71). He hath said something kindred to this above. For by the fruit itself he showeth that it was a good thing for him to be humbled; but in the former passage he hath stated the cause also, in that he had felt beforehand that humiliation which resulted from his punishment, when he went wrong. But in these words, “Wherefore have I kept Thy word:” and again in these, “That I might learn Thy righteousnesses:” he seemeth to me to have signified, that to know these is the same thing as to keep them, to keep them the same thing as to know them. For Christ knew what He reproved; and yet He reproved sin, though it is said of Him that “He knew not sin.”5 He knew therefore by a kind of knowledge, and again He knew not by a kind of ignorance. Thus also many learn the righteousnesses of God, and learn them not. For they know them in a certain way; and again do not know them from a kind of ignorance, since they do them not. In this sense the Psalmist therefore is to be understood to have said, That I might learn Thy righteousnesses,” meaning that kind of knowledge whereby they are performed.
But that this is not gained, save through love, wherein he who doeth them hath delight, on which account it is said, “In Thy sweetness teach me Thy righteousnesses:”
Ps 119:75. “I know,” she saith, “O Lord, that Thy judgments are righteous, and that in Thy truth Thou hast humbled me” (ver. 75). “O let Thy merciful kindness be my comfort, according to Thy word unto Thy servant” (ver. 76). Mercy and truth are so spoken of in the Divine Word, that, while they are found in many passages, especially in the Psalms, it is also so read in one place, “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth.”11 And here indeed he hath placed truth first, whereby we are humbled unto death, by the judgment of Him whose judgments are righteousness: next mercy, whereby we are renewed unto life, by the promise of Him whose blessing is His grace. For this reason he saith, “according to Thy Word unto Thy servant:” that is, according to that which Thou hast promised unto Thy servant. Whether therefore it be regeneration whereby we are here adopted among the sons of God, or faith and hope and charity, which three are built up in us, although they come from the mercy of God; nevertheless, in this stormy and troublesome life they are the consolations of the miserable, not the joys of the blessed.
Ps 119:91. “Day continueth according to Thy ordinance” (ver. 91). For all these things are day: “and this is the day which the Lord hath made: let us rejoice and be glad in it:”4 and “let us walk honestly as in the day.”5 “For all things serve Thee.” He said all things of some: “all” which belong to this day “serve Thee.” For the ungodly of whom it is said, “I have compared thy mother unto the night,”6 do not serve Thee.
Ps 119:125. “I am Thy servant. O grant me understanding, that I may know Thy testimonies” (ver. 125). This petition must never be intermitted. For it sufficeth not to have received understanding, and to have learnt the testimonies of God, unless it be evermore received, and evermore in a manner quaffed from the fountain of eternal light. For the testimonies of God are the better and the better known, the more understanding a man attaineth to.
Ps 119:130. “When thy word goeth forth,” he saith, “it giveth light, and maketh His little ones to understand” (ver. 130). What is the little one save the humble and weak? Be not proud therefore, presume not in thine own strength, which is nought; and thou wilt understand why a good law was given by a good God, though it cannot give life. For it was given for this end, that it might make thee a little one instead of great, that it might show that thou hadst not strength to do the law of thine own power: and that thus, wanting aid and destitute, thou mightiest fly unto grace, saying, “Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak.”2 … Let all be little ones, and let all the world be guilty before Thee: because “by the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified” in Thy sight; “for by the Law is the knowledge of sin,” etc.3 These are Thy wonderful testimonies, which the soul of this little one hath searched; and hath therefore found, because he became humbled and a little one. For who doth Thy commandments as they ought to be done, that is, by “faith which worketh through love,”4 save love itself be shed abroad in his heart through the Holy Spirit?5