The Divine Lamp

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

St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 119:1, 27, 30, 34, 35, 44

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 17, 2016

Psa 119:1 Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.

The prophet, most properly, in praising the excellence and the advantage of the divine law, draws his first argument from happiness, that is, the ultimate end of man; for in the moral order the end holds the same place that first principles do in the order of nature. The meaning of the first verse, then, is, Blessed are they who, in their journey through life, are not soiled by the mud or dirt of sin: and they who escape being thus soiled, and thus blessed, are those “who walk in the law of the Lord;” they who abandon every other way, and choose that of the law of the Lord, as being the purest and the clearest. To come to particulars. The word “blessed” implies eternal happiness, which alone is complete happiness; and also temporal happiness, as far as such can be had in this world. The meaning, then, is, Blessed are they in eternity; and, even in this life, blessed are they, joyous and content, coveting nothing in this world, are those who live unblemished by sin, by reason of “their walking in the way of the Lord.” Christ himself informs us that the straight road to eternal happiness is the observance of his law. “If thou wilt enter into life keep the commandments.” With that, experience, as well as reason, teaches us that, even in this world, none lead a happier life than they who lead an upright and a pious one; for happy must that man be who has all he desires, and wishes for nothing bad; while wicked men wish for many things that are bad, and have not very many of the things that they wish for. On the contrary, the just wish for nothing that is bad, and they have whatever they wish for by reason of their wishing for God alone and the doing of his will. The word “undefiled” does not imply the absence of venial sin; if such were the case, we should not have even one to come under such a category. It means the absence of mortal sin, that alone, strictly speaking, leaves a stain on the soul. The metaphor seems to be taken from the spots one picks up in walking through muddy, dusty, or dirty places. “In the way” means through life, which is most aptly called a way by reason of the constant changes in it, and, as Job has it, “must ever continue in the same state,” from the moment we commence it to the very last stage of our existence. “In the law of the Lord;” giving us to understand that God’s law is a straight and clear path, because it prohibits all manner of sin. The law of the Lord is here opposed to the law of the flesh, which the Apostle designates as “the way of concupiscence,” full of the dust of pride, the mud of luxury, and the dirty water of avarice.

Psa 119:27 Make me to understand the way of thy justifications: and I shall be exercised in thy wondrous works.

Being very desirous of advancing in the way of the Lord, he becomes more urgent again in praying to God for light. “Make me to understand the way of thy justifications.” Tell me what your commandments mean, how I should walk in your law; “and I shall be exercised in thy wondrous works;” I will be entirely taken up in putting your precepts into practice, precepts so wonderful as to appear nigh impossible of observance; such as, “Thou shalt love God with thy whole heart;” and, “Thou shalt not covet;” “Thou shalt love thy enemy;” and the like.

Psa 119:30 I have chosen the way of truth: thy judgments I have not forgotten.

He hitherto acknowledged his own inherent wretchedness; he now, in these verses, tells what the mercy of God may effect, as if he said, Hitherto I have chosen the path of falsehood, but, through that mercy, in which, “out of thy love, thou hast mercy on me,” now “I have chosen the way of truth,” have seriously proposed to walk in the true way, the way of thy commandments; and, through your mercy, “I have not forgotten thy judgments;” that is, thy commandments, however vehemently “the flesh may lust against the spirit.”

Psa 119:34 Give me understanding, and I will search thy law; and I will keep it with my whole heart.

After having asked for a desire or affection for the law, he also asks far understanding; that he may rightly comprehend it, and inquire into its utility, excellence, and other advantages, so that he may “keep it with my whole heart;” thereby implying that it was not through curiosity, but for its better observance, that he seeks to understand the law.

Psa 119:35 Lead me into the path of thy commandments; for this same I have desired.

He now, in the third place, asks for grace to observe the law. “Lead me in the path of thy commandments;” make me observe them. They are termed “the paths,” because paths are narrow, short, straight, clean passages for people on foot only, and not for horses and carriages; and such is the way of the Lord, as compared with that of the flesh and of the world, all the ways of which are broad, filthy, and crooked, trodden by the brute beasts, the type of carnal, animal man. He assigns a reason for being heard when he says, “For this same I have desired;” because, through God’s grace, I have chosen this path, and desired to walk in it, and it is only meet that he who gives the will should give the grace to accomplish, as St. Paul says, “Who worketh in you both to will and to accomplish.”

Psa 119:44 So shall I always keep thy law, for ever and ever.

He now tells us the effect of the mercy that so heals the soul, and that is the perpetual observance of God’s law. See the following verses, 45-48.


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