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 the ‘NOTES ON THE PSALMS’ Category

Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 107

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 17, 2015

This post needs some editing.

This Psalm, though separated from its immediate predecessor in the Hebrew distribution of the Books of the Psalter, is closely related to it and to the 105th in scope and diction. Its language points clearly to the end of the Babylonian exile, and yet there is a certain vagueness of expression, a lack of direct statement either of absolute deliverance, of the restoration of the Temple worship, or of the name of Jerusalem, which so far militates against its character as a post-Captivity Psalm, that some critics have denied it any specific historical character, and regard it as little more than generally didactic. There is one item of internal evidence which is tolerably conclusive against a post-Captivity date, which is that in the third verse, where the four quarters of the horizon are named, the sea stands for the south, a sufficiently correct description of the Persian Gulf for an inhabitant of Babylon, but impossible to a Jerusalemite speaking of the Mediterranean, always the sea in Palestinian language. It would seem then that the present Psalm is a hymn of thanksgiving composed for the use of the synagogue in Babylon, after the decree of Cyrus had been promulgated, and while the exiles were gathering together from all quarters of his empire, probably at Babylon itself, for the homeward march of the first caravan under Zerubbabel. This hypothesis seems to reconcile the difficulties, and to account for the absence of any name for the city referred to in the fourth verse. Babylon itself, with its large Jewish population, and the regular services of the Great Synagogue, would seem almost home to the Jewish pilgrims from the borders of India, or the frontiers of Scythia, cut off as they had been from all religious fellowship with their people, and the worship they found there established would lead them to look onwards to a dearer and more sacred city, towards which they were at last, by Divine mercy, suffered to direct their steps.

1 O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is gracious: and his mercy endureth for ever.

The Holy Ghost begins the Fifth Book of the Psalter with praise,* and ends it with praise, because they who spiritually observe the Pentateuch of the Law shall, with the Angels, praise God for evermore. These three Psalms (105, 106, 107.) begin in the same fashion, for the three orders in the Church praise in like manner the Holy Trinity. The first, personifying both peoples (Jewish and Christian) sings of the Advent of Christ, and afterwards of the blessings of the faithful, which God conferred materially on the elder people, and spiritually upon the new. The second, personifying the Church, sings in confession of the sins of the Jews, telling of what the people in its unfaithfulness committed before Christ’s coming, and how, afterwards, in its unbelief, it repaid the Lord. The third, personifying the Church of the Gentiles, sings joyfully of how the merciful Lord delivered the captive bondsmen out of the hands of the enemy, and the Good Shepherd gathered His scattered sheep from many lands into one flock.

2 Let them give thanks whom the Lord hath redeemed: and delivered from the hand of the enemy;

3 And gathered them out of the lands, from the east, and from the west: from the north, and from the south.

In this Psalm we have set before us four temptations, (A.) four invocations, four deliverances in answer to these, (R.) four acknowledgments of the mercies of the Lord. The first temptation is error and lack of God’s Word; the second is the difficulty of overcoming the passions of former habit; the third is weariness and disgust at the Word of God; (Lu.) the fourth is storm and peril in the guidance of the Churches. And while the primary reference is to the release of the children of Israel from captivity, (Ay.) and to their assembling to the Holy City from their various places of exile, yet a wider gathering, a greater redemption, the overthrow of a more formidable enemy, (R.) is spiritually foretold. It is the redemption with the Precious Blood of Christ from the dominion of Satan, the gathering of the Catholic Church out of all nations of the world, from the rising of the sun, the Jews, on whom God had bestowed the dawning light of knowledge of the Law, the actual presence of the Sun of Righteousness Himself, to the sunsetting, the Gentiles lying in actual darkness and ignorance; from the cold north of sin and carelessness as to religion, to the bitter and stormy sea of passionate unrest, into the one fold where He cherishes the wanderers. And we can use in our day with yet more effect Tertullian’s argument that the Christian faith is the only one which can make its way and win disciples everywhere;* “In whom else have all nations believed, save in Christ Who now hath come? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, Armenia, Phrygia, Cappadocia, and the inhabitants of Pontus and Asia, and Pamphylia, the sojourners in Egypt and the part of Africa which is beyond Cyrene, the citizens and strangers at Rome, the Jews too and other nations in Jerusalem, the various tribes of the Getulians and borders of the Moors; all the limits of the Spains, and divers tribes of the Gauls, and the regions of Britain untrodden by the Romans, but now subdued to Christ, and the lands of the Sarmatians, and Dacians, and Germans, and Scythians, and many hidden races and provinces and many islands unknown to us, which we are utterly unable to enumerate, in all which places the Name of Christ has already found its way and reigns.” (L.) But the song which befits this “great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues,”* who “shall come from the east and the west and from the north and the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God,”* is only for the redeemed, for those who know themselves to have been led captive by the enemy, and “sold under sin,”* but now to be “redeemed, not with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the Precious Blood of Christ.”* Those who choose to abide in the prison of their sins, and they who do not confess that they need a Saviour, must be silent when this chant is raised, when “the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads.”*

4 They went astray in the wilderness out of the way: and found no city to dwell in;

The Targum restricts the historical sense of this verse to the forty years’ wanderings of Israel in the desert of Sinai,* while the Greek Fathers extend it to the sufferings of the later Jews in exile after Nebuchadnezzar’s conquests,* and to the toils of their homeward journey.* But the deeper meaning tells us of those who wander in the wilderness of this world, (A.) unwatered by the rivers of grace, by the rain and dew of the Holy Ghost, (C.) by the tears of penitence, who have strayed far from the Way,* which is Christ, and have lost the track which leads to the Heavenly Jerusalem.* The words hold good especially of all such as are selfishly intent on themselves alone, and thus, disregarding all social claims upon them, (L.) separate themselves not only from the fellowship of the Saints, but from all intercourse with others whom they may help, or who may help them. Such as these find no city to dwell in, they are at war with society, and alien from the example of Him, the Way, Who taught in the streets of Judea, and they have no peace here, since, as the Preacher saith, “The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the City.”*

5 Hungry and thirsty: their soul fainted in them.

“Not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.”* And observe that the words imply eager longing,* and cannot therefore be applied to such as are content to remain in ignorance. Rather we may take them of those Gentile philosophers, (Ay.) notably Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, who laboured diligently to find the truth,

And reasoned high

Of providence,* foreknowledge, will, and fate,

Fixed fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute,

And found no end, in wandering mazes lost.

Of good and evil much they argued then,

Of happiness and final misery,

Passion and apathy, and glory, and shame,

Vain wisdom all, and false philosophy.

Wherefore their soul fainted in them,* not because God was hard and stern, but that in His love He suffered them to fail, that they might call to Him in their need, and hearing His reply,* “Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved,”* they might learn to love their Helper.

6 So they cried unto the Lord in their trouble: and he delivered them from their distress.

7 He led them forth by the right way: that they might go to the city where they dwelt.

What counsel loosed them from such difficulties and straits,* from wandering, from the wilderness, from that sore drought? O wondrous thing! one cry sent up to God from the heart,* changed all for the better. “Truly,” as one has wisely said, “troubles are the spurs to make us run to God.” And observe, remarks a third Saint, they did nothing whatever but cry, exactly as they had done in Egypt; (A.) they performed no admirable actions, they merely called with their whole heart, and told their trouble plainly out to God, and at once their trials vanished, and the sorely needed help was given. And we may well believe that the prayer of many a Gentile,* crying in the night, like Cornelius, through the prevenient grace of God, (L.) went up in this manner, that the preachers of the Gospel might come over and help them.* He led them forth by the right way; by the way of holiness and truth, (C.) by the personal guidance of the Lord Jesus Himself, (L.) and by the teaching of the Apostles. (A.) He did not merely show them the way, as one might point out a distant city from the summit of a lofty mountain, so that the wayfarer might miss the track when he descended into the plain, but He led them forth, and was Himself the guide and pattern of their journey, as well as their Teacher. And observe it is said by the right way. A sage once said to a king, who desired to avoid the toil of study, that there is no royal road to mathematics; the Evangelists and Apostles tell us, in the clearest language, that there is no crooked road to heaven. If the way be not straight, it leads not thither, for the one use of that way is that fallen men may recover Paradise, may once more go to the city where they dwelt, for “here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come, which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”*

8 O that men would therefore praise the Lord for his goodness: and declare the wonders that he doeth for the children of men.

The goodness (LXX. and Vulg., mercies) of the Lord denotes that He has called us to the Faith, (D. C.) that He has waited patiently for us, that He has lovingly converted us, freely justified us, made us to advance in holiness, and to persevere in good. The wonders are His Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, Ascension, mission of the Holy Ghost, and all the miracles He hath wrought Himself or by the hands of His servants. (C.) These ought to be the theme of thanksgiving in private, of proclamation in public, for they are not meant for a single nation, but for all the children of men. This intercalary refrain recurs four times in the Psalm,* at the eighth, fifteenth, twenty-first, and thirty-first verses. A mystical reason is given for the three former collocations, that as the eighth Beatitude re-echoes the first, so the eighth verse repeats the praise of the opening words of the Psalm; the number fifteen suggests the Psalms of Degrees, the steps of ascent to Heaven, and twenty-one denotes the seven-fold gifts of the Spirit bestowed by the Holy Trinity. And we may add, in the same strain, that thirty-one denotes the final reward of heaven, that which remains over and above for those who have fulfilled the moral law of the Decalogue in faith, hope, and charity. Or again, keeping the same thought in mind, we may note that Joshua did not finally conquer Canaan till he had overthrown and slain one and thirty kings.*

9 For he satisfieth the empty soul: and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.

This is the second temptation from which God delivers,* by His second act of mercy,* delivering us from the habit of sin and the difficulty of doing well;* because there are many who, after being rescued from unbelief, (A.) are from evil habit unable to do right, because the embers of sin and the enticement of the flesh remain in them. The first reference is to the manna wherewith the Israelites were fed in the desert, a type of better things. (D. C.) The souls which were given over to idolatry were empty,* because God was not in them, and they were bare of grace and spiritual gifts. These He satisfies with repentance, a bitter but necessary diet, while He leaves cloyed and full ones to themselves, for “the full soul loatheth an honeycomb, but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.”* He has something better than this in store, however,* as He hath said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, (D. C.) for they shall be filled,”* here but gradually and according to the needs and powers of this life, but perfectly and absolutely in their Country, for as much as each soul truly, earnestly, purely, and reasonably longs for, whether of grace here or of glory hereafter, so much does God freely bestow, according to the measure of each one’s capacity, till all are satisfied with the plenteousness of His house.*

10 Such as sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death: being fast bound in misery and iron;

11 Because they rebelled against the words of the Lord: and lightly regarded the counsel of the most Highest;

12 He also brought down their heart through heaviness: they fell down, and there was none to help them.

The Chaldee paraphrast interprets these words of Zedekiah,* King of Judah,* a captive and blind; who, according to a tradition mentioned by S. Jerome,* was not only, as we read, chained with brazen fetters, but put into an iron cage at Riblah, and carried thence in the train of Nebuchadnezzar, like a wild beast, to Babylon, where, “bound in fetters, and holden with cords of affliction,”* he died after four years of suffering, into which hunger itself entered as an ingredient, because he lightly regarded the counsel which God sent him by the prophet Jeremiah.*

The words set us before us in type the condition of the Gentiles before the coming of the Lord, (C.) for they did sit in darkness, lacking the light of faith, and blinded by unbelief. And in using the word sit, the Psalmist points out that they had been for a long time in this condition. The shadow of death was the corrupt life of this world, a terrible picture of the death to come. They were fast bound, who were held entangled in the cords of sin under the rule of the devil. Beggary (Vulg. mendicitate) refers to the scarcity of good, the sorest penury of all, which afflicts, not the body, but what is far worse, the soul; (A.) and iron denotes the hardness of the sufferings,* and also the difficulty of breaking the chains of old habits of unbelief and sin. “I was bound,” remarks S. Augustine in his Confessions, “with no external iron, but by my own iron will.” Thus the whole passage may fitly be explained of the condition of sinners, who sit, because of their determined perseverance in wickedness, in darkness, as being either ignorant, or because “the God of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not,”* so that “their foolish heart was darkened,”* in the shadow of death, as separated from God, who is the light and life of the soul;* fast bound in poverty, because lacking the power to do good, (Ay.) and in iron, because chained so as to be unable to flee from danger or evil, and that not because of any irresistible might in their enemies, but solely because of their own refusal to accept the light yoke and easy burden of the Lord, to give heed to His warnings and chastisements, and to listen to His preachers of righteousness and faith.* Thus He also brought down their heart with labour (A. V., LXX., Vulg.,) so that even the dungeon was not a place of rest, (Z.) but of toil,* in that the captives suffered as their fathers had done in Egypt; that is, bondage to Satan does not involve mere incapacity to do good, but the necessity of doing evil, and that at the cost of far more labour than God exacts from His servants.* And it is well added, there was none to help them,* none of the allies to whom Zedekiah looked, none of the false gods to whom his subjects prayed; for while we have Christ and His holy Angels to aid us in all things righteous, the devil and his agents, after luring men into sin, leave all the toil of it to them, as well as the remorse and punishment to come. Wherefore it is truly said,* “The wages of sin is death.” But when it is added, there was none to help them, that held good only so long as they continued to sit and keep silence. The moment they knelt in prayer, a Helper came:

13 So when they cried unto the Lord in their trouble: he delivered them out of their distress.

14 For he brought them out of darkness, and out of the shadow of death: and brake their bonds in sunder.

15 O that men would therefore praise the Lord for his goodness: and declare the wonders that he doeth for the children of men!

For this cause was He born, (D. C.) and came into the world, “to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house,”* “to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet unto the way of peace.”* And this He fulfilled in that He brought, (C.) leading with His own Hand,* and sending no messenger in His stead, men out of darkness into the clear light and true knowledge of God, out of the shadow of death, by showing them the glory of a holy life, and brake, not merely loosed, but brake, with speedy deliverance and irresistible might, (C.) their bonds asunder, by destroying the tyranny of Satan, and giving men instant power against evil habit, as he did to Levi the publican, who rose up at once at His call, and left everything behind to follow Him. Wherefore here follows the second exhortation to thanksgiving for so great benefits; and because of the magnitude of them, the Psalmist returns to amplify further what he has already spoken, and adds:

16 For he hath broken the gates of brass: and smitten the bars of iron in sunder.

Here we are taught that the obstacles in His way were no small ones. No slight doors, no slender cords held the captives prisoned, but gates of brass, and bars of iron. The use of these same words in describing the victorious progress of Cyrus, of whom the Lord saith, “I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight, I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron,”* shows us that the primary reference here is to the strong fortifications of those great Eastern cities which formed the strength of the Babylonian empire, seemingly impregnable, but yet doomed to fall before an invader.1 And the citation (as it probably is) of the passage in Isaiah here,* makes in favour of the view that this Psalm was composed in honour of the decree of Cyrus in favour of the Jews.* The favourite interpretation of the passage is that which has fixed this Psalm tor the Matins of Easter Eve in the Ambrosian Use;* namely, that it tells of the victory over Death and Hell wrought by the Passion and Resurrection of Christ,* and of His bearing away with Him to Paradise the once imprisoned Patriarchs. And this idea is repeated in more than one hymn, as thus:

Saviour, for our warning seen,

Bleeding on that precious Rood,

If, while through the meadows green

Gently wound the peaceful flood,

We forgot Thee, do not Thou

Disregard Thy suppliants now.

Guide our bark among the waves,

Through the rocks our passage smooth,

Where the whirlpool frets and raves,

Let Thy love its anger soothe;

All our hope is placed in Thee,

Miserere Domine!

29 For he maketh the storm to cease: so that the waves thereof are still.

30 Then are they glad, because they are at rest: and so he bringeth them unto the haven where they would be.

31 O that men would therefore praise the Lord for his goodness: and declare the wonders that he doeth for the children of men!

The Vulgate has kept much more exactly and happily to the original,* which runs:* He stayed the tempest into a gentle breeze, and the waves thereof were silent. And they tell us that God does this whenever He quells the violence of diabolic temptation and persecution, and sends in its stead the tender grace of the Holy Ghost, stilling all the tumult of the world and the wild commotions of the heart of man. Again;* they remind us of how often the power of the torments inflicted on the Martyrs was stayed, so that they felt no pain on the rack or amidst the flames, because God dealt with them (save in the matter of preserving the life of their bodies) as He did with the Three Children,* when He “made the midst of the furnace as it had been a moist whistling wind, so that the fire touched them not at all, neither hurt nor troubled them.”* Once more;* He stayed the rage of the heathen against the Gospel, by the might of the preachers of the Word, and converted their fierce passion into calm zeal, (Ay.) as He did with Saul of Tarsus, when his persecuting temper was changed into burning love for souls; for then, as on the Lake of Gennesaret, Jesus “arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.”* He does the like too, (B.) when after bringing men through the storm of unwilling conversion, He grants them spiritual peace, following on repentance and amendment. Then are they glad, because the fierce billows are at rest,* and so He makes them enter into the haven of their desire. What that haven is, they describe variously.* One takes it to be the calm of prayer; another the Cross; a third the Church. The most frequent exposition of any is,* that it denotes tranquillity of soul; another again takes it of everlasting salvation, or of the Heavenly Country, reminding us that hell, depicted as the bottomless abyss, (W.) has no haven where anchor may be cast; but best of all is that simplest and fullest view which tells us that Christ is Himself the harbour of safety for all tempest-tossed souls;

Ipseque Portitor, ipseque Portus.*

“the Pilot and the Haven,”* as the Cluniac calls Him.*

O that men, (A.) For the fourth time the cry of thanksgiving goes up, and on this occasion with a twofold force; because the previous verses tell us of the total failure of human wisdom, and the gladness of unexpected deliverance from imminent peril.

Safe home, safe home in port!*

Rent cordage, shattered deck,

Torn sails, provisions short,

And only not a wreck;

But oh! the joy upon the shore,

To tell our voyage-perils o’er!

32 That they would exalt him also in the congregation of the people: and praise him in the seat of the elders!

The Chaldee paraphrases the former of these clauses as denoting the full assembly of the children of Israel, (C.) and the latter as the chair of the wise men, that is, the Sanhedrim, or sacred council. The more usual Christian exposition is nearly identical, for it takes the terms as signifying the laity and clergy. There are, however, two further comments; (B.) one, that the first half of the verse refers to the Gentile Church, and the second to the Jewish Synagogue, its elder in the knowledge of God.* Cardinal Hugo, dealing in his wonted fashion heavy blows at the secularity and nepotism of his time, draws another lesson from the Vulgate wording, Church of the commons (ecclesia plebis), and stall of the elders (cathedra seniorum), and bids us note that the Psalmist speaks of the commons, but says nothing of princes, because they are wont to exalt themselves instead of God, and that he speaks of the stall of the elders, because mere boys ought not to be promoted to cathedral dignities.

33 Who turneth the floods into a wilderness: and drieth up the water-springs.

34 A fruitful land maketh he barren: for the wickedness of them that dwell therein.

At this point the tone and character of the Psalm changes,* and from the contrast between the sufferings of men and God’s mercy in deliverance,* the singer passes to the praise of the providential government of the world, and of the manner in which the Lord exercises His omnipotence by changing the condition of things, in proof of His sole Lord ship and mastery. And the first example given has most probably a direct reference to the destruction of the cities of the plain, so precisely does it answer to the twofold description of the surrounding country before and after that terrible visitation: “And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest to Zoar.”* Later, we read: “The whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim.”*

The mystical interpretation here usually found is the rejection of the Jewish people,* the drying up of the springs of spiritual grace,* the disappearance of the fruit of good works,* the cessation of prophecy, (A.) the overthrow of their national polity, the abolition of the Mosaic worship; and that because of the guilt of the Scribes and Pharisees.* For barren the literal rendering is saltness,* A. V. marg., or salt-marsh, LXX. ἅλμην, Vulg. salsuginem;* and one commentator tells us that this epithet here implies that the punishment of the Jews is meant as a condiment for our souls, to correct their folly and guard them from decay.* We are justly reminded by another that such judgments have not fallen upon the Jews alone, but that Christian Churches too have had their candlestick removed.* We know how Persia, once rich in Martyrs, how Egypt, the fruitful mother of ascetic saints, how Asia Minor, formerly diademed with a starry crown of famous Churches, have all bowed before the Koran; how the Church of Libya and Mauritania has left no trace behind; how the great Nestorian community, whose missions once stretched from Siberia to Ceylon, from Antioch to Pekin, has dwindled to a few scattered families; how the sun of the Faith in Japan set in blood; how Holland, and Scandinavia, and much of Germany, and Switzerland, and Scotland, have “forsaken the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water,”* that cannot retain the great doctrines of the Christian Faith, but pass, by inevitable steps, from denial of the Church, to denial of her Founder; from insulting the Bride, to crucifying the Bridegroom afresh, and putting Him to open shame. And none can read the ecclesiastical history of these latter countries for the period immediately preceding the religious convulsion of the sixteenth century, without confessing that it was indeed for the wickedness of them that dwelt therein that God sent upon them that terrible disaster.

35 Again, he maketh the wilderness a standing water: and water-springs of a dry ground.

36 And there he setteth the hungry: that they may build them a city to dwell in;

37 That they may sow their lands, and plant vineyards: to yield them fruits of increase.

Here we have the other side of the picture, (A.) the calling of the Gentiles, and the spread of the knowledge of God throughout the earth,* as the waters cover the sea. It is not impossible that the literal reference may be to the resettlement of Canaan by the returning Jews, when the long deserted fields were again brought under tillage, the tanks, reservoirs, cisterns, conduits, and general system of irrigation put once more into working order, and, above all, Jerusalem itself rebuilt.* And this would seem to square with the primary and literal sense of certain prophecies of Isaiah. Mystically, (C.) they tell us that the standing waters are the fonts of Baptism, filled with calm pools for the laver of regeneration, or else resident pastors, as distinguished from the water-springs, which are the itinerant preachers of righteousness who go forth into heathen lands,* dry ground, where the rain of doctrine is unknown;* that the city is the Church, given as a home to them that hungered and thirsted after righteousness, where they may sow the land with the seed of the Word of God, and plant the vineyards of the local Churches, while they are engaged in raising up the walls of the Heavenly Jerusalem. Another interpretation, not very different, sees in the standing water Holy Scripture, made over to the Gentiles as a vast reservoir of spiritual wisdom, whence the springs, the preachers and expounders, derive those waters wherewith they irrigate the gardens of the Church, the souls of the faithful.* Yet again, it is explained, but less happily, of floods of penitential tears, and the whole passage is accommodated, by more than one writer, to the circumstances of the Religious Life.

38 He blesseth them, so that they multiply exceedingly: and suffereth not their cattle to decrease.

They multiply exceedingly in holiness and good works, and when this is the case with the teachers and pastors of the flock, (C.) God does not suffer their cattle,* that is, those simple and less cultivated souls to which they minister, (D. C.) to be made a prey of by heretical teachers,* whose surest wile to lead the uneducated astray is to point out the shortcomings of their lawful pastors. He does not suffer them to decrease; nay, He makes them to increase more than any others,* for “hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to them that love Him?”* “And base things of the world, and things which are despised,* hath God chosen.” He hath not made them less, because persons of no great ability are not worse off under the Gospel than they were under the sects of philosophy, but better, for God has a particular care for those on whom men look down, and finds work and dignity for them in His Church, because the heart is mightier than the brain, and love greater than faith, and hope, and wisdom. So we are taught by the beautiful legend of the eloquent Bishop, who doubted if a poor beggar who sat at the foot of the pulpit could understand the periods wherewith the preacher held and swayed the minds of his congregation, but who was instructed in a vision at night that he owed his very power, and the success which followed its exercise, to the beggar’s intercessory prayer on his behalf, which had gone up and been accepted at the throne of God.

39 And again, when they are minished and brought low: through oppression, through any plague, or trouble;

40 Though he suffer them to be evil intreated through tyrants: and let them wander out of the way in the wilderness;

41 Yet helpeth he the poor out of misery: and maketh him households like a flock of sheep.

After the Christian Church had been multiplied exceedingly from the Twelve and the Seventy into vast numbers of disciples, (Z.) it began to be minished and brought low in two ways; (Ay.) first, by persecution thinning the ranks sorely with martyrdom and with apostasies; and next, by internal heresies, (A.) schisms, and divisions; which sometimes, as in the days of Arian success, have reduced the Church to a few, and will do so again in the last days, during the manifestation of Antichrist. In periods of strife and unbelief such as these, He poureth contempt on princes,* (A. V., LXX., Vulg.,) because revolt against justly constituted authority, whether in Church or State, simply because it is authority, is one of the marks of the schismatic temper, and always goes hand in hand with false doctrine, though the rulers of the Church may indeed have earned that contempt by their luxury and worldliness.* Or, again, (L.) these words may bear a meaning closer to that of the Prayer Book version, and tell us of the manner in which God laughs to scorn the attempts of tyrants to uproot and extirpate His Church. Several of the commentators, while keeping with sufficient closeness to the main scope of this exposition, take the passage not as immediately descriptive of the Church weakened by heresy, (A.) but of the heretics themselves considered apart, (C.) and called few (Vulg.) not because of actual paucity of numbers,* but because of their spiritual unimportance as compared with the wide extent of the Catholic Church (an interpretation which holds good even for these days.*) And in that case the contempt poured on their princes will denote the constant multiplication of schisms from the sects founded by heresiarchs, whose influence is inadequate to retain permanent hold over their disciples; and to the low esteem in which the ministers of all such sects are sooner or later held by their flocks, who quickly learn that they have no Divine commission, and may therefore be treated as man’s servants, not as God’s ambassadors, (C.) inasmuch as by their departure from Catholic unity and tradition, (R.) and by their conflicting interpretation of Scripture, they cannot serve as leaders to the Land of Promise, but only wander out of the way in the wilderness. And in this wise, “He removeth away the speech of the trusty, and taketh away the understanding of the aged: He poureth contempt upon princes, and weakeneth the strength of the mighty.”* Yet even in such times of rebuke and blasphemy, (R.) God does not forget His suffering people, but makes the very prevalence of error a lesson of warning to them, that they may desire the true riches, after having had some experience of the poverty of schism, its few and feeble tenets, its meagre worship, its lack of depth and fervour; and then He makes their families like a flock, (A. V., S. Hieron,) because while His pastors sorrowfully look at the diminished number of the faithful, and lamenting over the seceders, say, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us;”* He answers on the other hand in words of encouragement, “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice, and there shall be one flock, and one shepherd.”* Thus, the conversion of Northern Europe repaired the breach made by the progress of Islam in Asia; thus, the missionary successes and the great Religious Houses of the tenth century counterbalanced the sin and ignorance of that truly Dark Age; thus the Martyrs who died on the Cross in Japan made reparation to their Lord for the sin of the European traders who trod that Cross under foot, that they might have licence to traffic with the heathen.

Two other expositions of the passage may be cited. One is,* that it is to a great extent a brief recapitulation of what went before, and describes the overthrow of the Jews by the Romans, and the substitution of the Gentiles in their stead as the spiritual children of God. The other sees in it the spread of the Religious Life, despite the fewness, obscurity,* and poverty of its followers; nay, the manner in which that very poverty served as the strength of the cloister, and multiplied Houses of many a famous Order throughout the wide pastures of the Church.

42 The righteous will consider this, and rejoice: and the mouth of all wickedness shall be stopped.

43 Whoso is wise will ponder these things: and they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord.

The Psalmist, (C.) after describing the proud abettors of heresy, now returns to the lowly Catholics, whom in their poverty God, leaving the princes of the sects to their hunger, refreshes with heavenly aid.* And the preachers of righteousness, seeing the conversion of the nations brought about in this wise, rejoice, whereas the voice of unbelief, Jewish, sectarian, and infidel, is silenced, because unable to resist the mighty advance of the Word of the Lord.

Whoso is wise will ponder these things, (C.) and prefer to be ranked amongst the poor of Christ, than amongst the princes of the sects, and will rather choose to knock at the door of the King of Heaven than teach words which do hurt. And so humbling themselves they will understand, (A.) not their own merits, strength, or power, but that whatever good they possess is bestowed on them by the mercies of the Lord, Who led the wanderers into the right way; and fed the hungry; loosed and freed him who struggled against the force of sin, and was bound in the chains of habit; Who, sending the medicine of His Word, healed him who turned away from the Word of God and was at the point of death through weariness; Who calmed the sea and brought into the haven of rest him that was in peril amidst wrecks and storms, and set him amongst a lowly people, that He might bring His sheep into the fold of Paradise. (D. C.) He who remembers and understands all this is wise, though he may not have the learning of this world, and for this cause the Lord Himself hath said, “I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes; even so, Father; for so it seemed good in Thy sight.”*


Glory be to the Father, the Most Highest; glory be to the Son, the Word sent to heal us, and save us from destruction; glory be to the Holy Ghost, the gentle wind which stilleth the tempest of our souls.

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

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Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15 and 17

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 29, 2015

Psalm 71

Title: LXX. and Vulgate: A Psalm of David, of the sons of Jonadab, and of the first captives. Without title in the Hebrew.


Arg. Thomas. That Christ opens our lips to declare the glory of His Name. The Voice of Christ to the Father. The Voice of Christ to the Father against the Jews, concerning the Resurrection. The Prophet concerning the Passion and Advent of Christ.

Ven. Bede. The Prophet Jeremiah mentions that Jonadab was a priest of God, who had commanded his sons not to drink wine, and not to dwell in houses, but in tents, and that they found great favour with the Lord for their obedience in these respects; and they are now put for faithful and devout persons. Whence Jonadab is interpreted The voluntary one of the Lord, who can say, An offering of a free heart will I give Thee. With whom the former captives also shed tears, that is, they who were first made captives and then ransomed, who, made captive by sinning, but ransomed by repenting, say, And Thou broughtest me from the deep of the earth again. A representative person is introduced, who, freed from the captivity of sins, remained firm in the Divine commands, preaching to us the mighty love of Christ the Lord, which is always freely bestowed on us, with no previous merits of our own. In the first part of the Psalm this person intreats that he may always be delivered from human iniquities, that he may give thanks unto the Lord. O God, in Thee have I trusted. In the second place, he prays that he may not be deprived in old age of His bounties, by Whose help he was guarded in his youth, Cast me not away in the time of age. Thirdly; numbering His gifts, he promises ever to give thanks. Thy righteousness, O God, is very high, &c.

Syriac Psalter. Composed by David, when Saul warred against the house of David. Also a prophecy of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ.

Eusebius of Cæsarea. Christ’s Sufferings and Resurrection.

S. Athanasius A Psalm in solitary address.

Various Uses

Gregorian. Thursday. Matins. [Maundy Thursday. I. Nocturn.]

Monastic. Wednesday. Matins. [Maundy Thursday. I. Nocturn.]

Parisian. Friday. Lauds.

Lyons. Thursday. Compline.

Ambrosian. Monday of Second Week. III. Nocturn.

Quignon. Friday. Matins.

Eastern Church. [vv. 1–9.] Prime.


Gregorian. Ferial. Be Thou * my protecting God. [Maundy Thursday. O my God * deliver me out of the hand of the ungodly.]

Monastic. Ferial. Thou art my helper and redeemer * O Lord, make no long tarrying. [Maundy Thursday. As Gregorian.]

Parisian. O my God * deliver me out of the hand of the ungodly, for Thou art my patience.

Ambrosian. As Psalm 69.

1–2 (1) In thee, O Lord, have I put my trust, let me never be put to confusion: but rid me, and deliver me, in thy righteousness; incline thine ear unto me, and save me.

This Psalm of David belongs to the close of his life and reign, and it may be noted that it is, in great part, a cento from previous Psalms, as 22, 25, 31, 35, 38, 40, although the noble passage vv. 13–20 is new. It has been also frequently grouped with the preceding Psalm, and counted as part of it. They see in it the pilgrimage of the Church from the days of Adam to those of Antichrist, (P.) counting the seven ages of man’s estate in this wise. From the Fall to the Incarnation are three periods,—infancy, childhood, and youth, typified by exile, the patriarchal dispensation, and the Law. From the first to the second Advent are four stages: early manhood, from the Ascension, through the ten persecutions to the accession of Constantine the Great; the prime of life, through the Arian troubles, till Justinian; middle age, during which the yet unended power of Mohammedanism sprang up; and that eld during which the Church still waits in dread for the coming of Antichrist; and the Psalm contains petitions apt for each of these troubles in turn. In thee, O Lord, have I trusted. Once I trusted in myself, (R.) and then I was confounded; now I have turned to Thee, and I shall never be confounded again. (Cd.) And that because, as the Apostle tells us, “Hope maketh not ashamed,”* following therein the saying of another wise man: “Look at the generations of old, and see; did ever any trust in the Lord, and was confounded?”* Rightly so, (D. C.) since in trusting Him, we are not merely relying on Almighty power, but on infinite love, on purest bounty, on the merit of Christ’s Passion. Let me never be confounded. That in this world, however I may seem to be brought low and despised, I may feel myself strong in Thee at all times. Or, if we take the Vulgate, confounded eternally, it will be a prayer against condemnation in the doom. In the mouth of Christ, the words are but another way of putting what Isaiah prophesied: “I gave My back to the smiters, and My cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; I hid not My face from shame and spitting; for the Lord God will help Me, therefore shall I not be confounded; therefore have I set My face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.”* The insults of the soldiers, of Herod, of the Jews, may fall on the Man of Sorrows, but they cannot touch the Eternal Word, and therefore, observes S. Bruno, (B.) Our Lord trusts in the immortality and impassibility of His Godhead, derived from that Father in Whom He trusted. Deliver me in Thy righteousness. When the sinner utters this prayer, he beseeches God to deliver him by Him Whom He hath made Judge of all the world,* because He is the Justice of God, the King Who reigneth in righteousness, and executes judgment and justice in the earth. And our claim on God’s justice is based on our trust in His promise, (G.) which He binds Himself to fulfil, that He may be justified in His sayings. What we say by reason of our sin, Christ speaks by reason of His innocence. His claim for deliverance is that in Him His enemies find no fault at all, and therefore justice demands that He should go free. Incline Thine ear unto me, and save me. It is the cry, says Gerhohus, of one lying sick and wounded, unable to rise, and asking the Physician to bend over him to listen to his account of his sufferings, (G.) asking the good Samaritan to stoop down and save him, by pouring oil and wine into his wounds.

3 (2) Be thou my strong hold, whereunto I may alway resort: thou hast promised to help me, for thou art my house of defence, and my castle.

In the LXX. and Vulgate the first part of this verse reads differently; Be Thou to me for a protecting [LXX. shield-bearing] God, and for a strong place to save me. And we may see in it the prayer of the Church under two circumstances, when she goes out to aggressive battle against error and sin; and again, when she is compelled by pressure from without to act chiefly on the defensive, as in days of persecution. And thus, (Ay.) as the Carmelite observes, because the Martyrs were so fortified by the grace of God, that the darts of the persecutors could not pierce their hearts, they are mystically called “fenced cities,” as was Jeremiah.* Or, if we look at it from another point of view, the Church intreats for her active and her contemplative members, of whom the former are in the open battles; the latter within the stronghold of the religious life, which Hugh of S. Cher likens to a fortress, for twelve reasons, thus summed up:

Murus, dentales, turris, vigiles, tuba, scuta,*
Mons, aqua, saxa, cibi, machina, fossa, viri.

Thou art my house of defence, and my castle. The first title belongs to God as our Protector; the second as our strong place. And the house of defence will then be His help against peril in this world; the castle, or with the Vulgate, refuge, (C.) the eternal habitation whither no danger can come.

4 (3) Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the ungodly: out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man.

The words are first those of Christ, enduring the contradiction of sinners. (Ay.) And note, that two kinds of sinners are set before us. The unrighteous (Vulg. transgressor of the law) evil Jews or Christians, who know God’s will, but refuse to do it, and the cruel (or unjust) the heathen who sin through comparative ignorance. And as Christ thus prays for Himself against Caiaphas and Pilate, (G.) so He prays for His Church to be delivered from false brethren and from Pagan oppressors. The Carthusian will have the ungodly to be our ghostly enemy, (D. C.) and yet more, the whole three clauses to apply to the pleading sinner, who makes his prayer to be delivered from himself, (Ay.) his own ungodliness, is own transgressions. And God does save, notes Ayguan, triply.* From the temptation of the flesh, “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation.” From the snares of the devil, “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness.”* From the lures of the world, “Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from the present evil world.”*

5 (4) For thou, O Lord God, art the thing that I long for: thou art my hope, even from my youth.

My patience, is the Vulgate reading in the first clause. And they explain it,* rather frigidly, the cause of my patience. Let us look deeper, and take it with S. Ambrose. Doubtless Christ Himself is slain in the Martyrs, and in them who suffer death, or bonds, or stripes, for the faith, the sufferings are Christ’s, that His life may be manifest in their body.* He then Who endures in them is truly their patience, since it is not their own powers that hold out. From my youth, since I was generated in grace, and not merely from my bodily childhood. And the mediæval writers, looking to the usage of their time, (R.) see here the candidate for Christian chivalry, already following his liege lord to battle, (G.) armed with faith, (Ay.) hope, and charity, but not yet more than an esquire who has still to win his spurs, and to be trained in the pureness of chastity, the prudence of truth, the obedience of humility. And so the prophet speaks, “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.”*

6 (5) Through thee have I been holden up ever since I was born: thou art he that took me out of my mother’s womb; my praise shall be always of thee.

They see in the first clause here the mystery of predestination, (Ay.) and the Angelic Doctor adds,* that the task of guardian Angels is intrusted to them even before the birth of the children whose keepers they are to be. My mother’s womb. Literally, (G.) says Gerhohus, because of infant baptism, whereby children of but a few days or hours old, are received in the arms of God. Ayguan, (Ay.) pointing to the same rite, explains the words of our Mother the Church, who bears us to God in the Sacraments. And, applied to Christ, the words may be taken of His Incarnation, and also bear reference to the pious opinion of the Church that the pains of childbirth took no hold on His Virgin-Mother.

Gaude, sine partu tristi
Virgo partum edidisti,*
Immo gaudens protulisti
Prolem mater filia.

Others again give long lists of Saints,* who from early childhood persevered in holiness, as fulfilling this prediction, while Parez and S. Bonaventure explain it of the infancy of the Church in Abel’s days. My praise shall be always of Thee. It is more in the Vulgate, (P.) My singing,* implying not only praise, (B.) but rejoicing for victory. And they take it of Church song, as contrasted with heathen or secular ballads.*

7 (6) I am become as it were a monster unto many: but my sure trust is in thee.

If we take the Prayer Book Version literally as it stands, we may well think on that graffito scrawled by a Pagan hand, and lately discovered, wherein a Christian is seen worshipping a crucified figure, having a man’s body, but an ass’s head, a notion once widely spread, and a serious bar to the reception of the Faith by the Empire. But the word hardly notes so much. It is rather, with the Vulgate and A. V., a wonder, yet still referring to the offence of the Cross, to the astonishment with which the world looked on the life and sufferings of Christ and His Apostles, (C.) regarding even their miracles rather as something to stare at than as proof of a new revelation.* And as Isaiah, walking naked and barefoot for three years was “a sign and wonder,”* so the Apostles, who left all their earthly possessions, and followed Christ during the three years of His earthly ministry, and all Christians who spiritually did the like in the three stages of holiness, the purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways, were made, as S. Paul says, “a spectacle unto the world, and angels, and men.”* But we may take the words in another sense of our Lord, Whose Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection have made Him indeed a wonder and a glory to His people,* as well as even to those Jews and heathens who rejected Him.

8 (7) O let my mouth be filled with thy praise: that I may sing of thy glory and honour all the day long.

It is the song of our country, (Ay.) notes the Carmelite, a song ever accompanied with joy. And that joy is threefold, the inner gladness of the heart, the vocal sound of the lips, the tokens of external actions. The words, that I may sing of Thy glory, (from the LXX. and Vulgate,) are not found in the Hebrew, but are none the less dwelt on by the commentators. One, with a quaint literalness of interpretation, explaining the words of the Song of the Church, takes glory to refer to the recitation of the Doxology,* honour, or as the Vulgate reads, magnitude, to that of the Magnificat, which seems to accord with the remark of Cassiodorus that all the day long means the whole twenty-four hours, (C.) as otherwise Vespers and Nocturns would be shut out. (P.) Parez, more happily, takes glory to refer to the Resurrection: honour to the Ascension of Christ.

9 (8) Cast me not away in the time of age: forsake me not when my strength faileth me.

In the time of age. They question in what sense Christ, Who never knew eld of body or soul, can use these words of Himself, (A.) and they explain them differently. They take it either of the physical and mental exhaustion of the Passion, (D. C.) like in its wasting effects to old age, (G.) or, with yet deeper meaning, of His crucifying our old man in His own Person. Again; it is the prayer of the Church, (P.) looking forward to the great apostasy of the latter days, and dreading lest her love, waxing cold, should expose her to yet more terrible losses than she sustained when so many Eastern Communions fell before the advance of Islam, or when the mighty Nestorian Church, once vaster than Greek and Latin together, and ranging from the Yellow Sea to the steppes of Eastern Russia, from Siberia to Ceylon, vanished like a dream before Gengiz-Khan and his successors. It is also the cry of each member of the Church for himself. For, just as we have seen two kinds of youth spoken of above, so there are two kinds of age, decrepitude of body and of soul. The latter exists when the spiritual heat of love waxes cold, (D. C.) and the soul is not renewed by increase of grace, but either grows old in negligence and sin, is bowed down by weary persecutions, or becomes less active in good works. Well may we, with S. Thomas Aquinas, recite this verse with tears of contrition and hope; well may we, with a holy man of a later day, cry, “O fire ever burning, and never waxing low: behold, I am chill and cold, kindle my veins and my heart, that they may burn with love of Thee. For Thou hast come to send fire upon the earth, and what wilt Thou, save that it be kindled?”* So praying, He will hear us, and will give us, even in extreme age, strength to say with His Martyr, S. Polycarp, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me wrong; how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?”*

10–11 (9) For mine enemies speak against me, and they that lay wait for my soul take their counsel together, saying: God hath forsaken him; persecute him, and take him, for there is none to deliver him.

They take it first of the Passion, of that Council of the Pharisees gathered after the raising of Lazarus, (A.) and of the mockings suffered by Christ upon the Cross, (Ay.) when His cry was, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me”* and theirs was, “He trusted in God that He would deliver Him, let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him.” It is the cry of the Church under the three greatest trials, the Pagan persecutions, (P.) the Mohammedan successes, the rise of the sects, which last in especial say, God hath forsaken her, “with our tongue will we prevail; (L.) we are they that ought to speak; who is lord over us?”*

12 (10) Go not far from me, O God: my God, haste thee to help me.

13 (11) Let them he confounded and perish that are against my soul: let them be covered with shame and dishonour that seek to do me evil.

Again; the words are both of Christ and of the Church. The Lord asks for His members rather than for Himself, that for the elect’s sake the days may be shortened. And note, that whereas type and prophecy both foretold that the Saviour should be three days and three nights in the grave, yet the time was too long for the infant Church to bear, and therefore the Father hasted to help the Son, and raised Him up just after the midnight of Easter Eve, Who had given up the ghost at the ninth hour of Good Friday. Thus the confusion will refer to the alarm caused by the signs at the Crucifixion, the darkness, the earthquake, (D. C.) the rending of the rocks, and still more to the dismay on hearing the news that the sepulchre was void, while the perishing denotes the overthrow of the Jewish nation. The Church, fallen on evil days, intreats for help also. And we may note again, as so often before, the warnings against the persecutors, how they were confounded and perished, as Nero, Julian, Valens; how they were put to shame and dishonour, as Valerian, whom the Persian Sapor made his footstool, and as Eugenius, who was the last to raise the standard of ancient Paganism against the Cross. (G.) Once more, the words are those of the penitent sinner, to whom God is always near, but who feels that he has been departing from God, (D. C.) and going afar off in his wickedness. And the prayer will then be chiefly directed against ghostly enemies, though also against human tempters.

14 (12) As for me, I will patiently abide alway: and will praise thee more and more.
15 (13) My mouth shall daily speak of thy righteousness and salvation: for I know no end thereof.

Rather, with the A. V., LXX. and Vulgate, I will hope continually, and that not merely when I am afflicted by the devil, (G.) with poverty, disease, or lust, but when even the hand of God is heavy against me, I will say with holy Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”* And will praise Thee more and more. The LXX. and Vulgate here read, And will add above all Thy praise. How can this be? ask they all. They answer it diversely. Literally, it may tell us how David was the first to set forth the praises of Christ’s Incarnation, Resurrection, Ascension, and Kingdom, for the instruction of the people, whereas the Saints who praised God in former times told far less of these mysteries. (Ay.) And the Carthusian sees in it a promise to persevere in the compositions of fresh songs of praise. (D. C.) Or we may reflect how the Synagogue praised God for temporal blessings, while the Church, (G.) not forgetting such thanksgiving, lauds Him yet more for spiritual gifts. Yet again; S. Augustine remarks that God’s justice deserves all praise, even were He to condemn all mankind, (A.) but seeing that He has shown us mercy, we add that praise to the glory of His Name. When I confess that the Word of God created the heaven and the earth and all that is therein, (C.) observes another, I have praised the Lord with perfect devotion. But when I add that He became incarnate for the salvation of men, I have added to His praise. Once more—and the lesson is a practical one—I will not merely praise Thee in speech and words, (Z.) but with my works also, because the Lord is praised in this wise too, and therefore the Saviour said, “That they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”* My mouth shall daily speak of Thy righteousness and salvation. (Ay.) It is the voice of the Bride. The righteousness and salvation is He of whom Paul says that “Christ Jesus of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption;”* of whom Simeon said, “Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.”* Daily. The LXX. and Vulgate read, All the day. That is, adds Ayguan, both in the day of prosperity and the night of sorrow.* Or with the Gloss, All the day means the day with the night, because night serves day, not day night. (G.) The night is our flesh, and the day is righteousness, and whatever is done in the flesh is of the night, while deeds of righteousness belong to the day. And there is yet another meaning, that of the everlasting praise of Christ in the land where is no darkness at all.

Dies sine vesperâ, nocte non sepultus,*
Quem non sol per aëra sed divini vultûs
Illustrat serenitas.

I know no end thereof. More exactly, with the A. V., I know not the numbers. The word סְפֹרוֹת (closely connected as it is with סְפֶר a book or writing) has been rendered by some copies of the LXX. and by the Vulgate similarly, I know not letters. And they take it first of Christ, concerning Whom the Jews said, “How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?”* answering the question by saying that He indeed knew not the letter that killeth, but the Spirit that giveth life. And again they say that the letter means the old Law, (Ay.) which they compare to the staff of Elisha, sent by the hand of a servant to recover the dead child, but vainly, so that Elisha needed to come and lay himself down on the child, (A.) that is, our true Elisha (“God of salvation”) needed to humble Himself and become as a servant, nay, as one dead, to do what Moses failed to accomplish. Or again, the Five Books of Moses are the porches of Bethesda, where men lie waiting and sick. It needed the Angel of the Covenant to come down into the water of the Jewish nation that the sick might be healed. And then they take it of the Church, or of single Christians, saying the like of that which the Lord had said. For there are three kinds of letters, those which puff up, those which make man a servant, and those which make him a son.* They are the secular learning of philosophers, the Jewish law, and the New Testament, the last of which only is needful for the soul to know. The Carthusian adds that the words may be a confession of the utter ignorance of man contrasted with the infinite wisdom of God, (D. C.) or that it may be used of inspired Saints like SS. Peter and John, of whom it was said, truly in one sense, that “they were unlearned and ignorant men.”* S. Augustine, who probably had the reading πραγματείας instead of γραμματείας before him, gives a various translation, (A.) negotiationes, tradings, and dwells on the spiritual dangers which attend on all commerce; (C.) and Cassiodorus follows him, limiting his censure carefully to avarice and fraud. The various reading is said by another to apply to the Church of the last days, resisting the wiles of Antichrist, (P.) who will bring to bear all worldly learning, and even a bare literal rendering of Holy Writ, to aid his cause. And Hugh of S. Victor, taking both readings, sums up the matter by saying that whoso reads the Scripture for mere curiosity and not for edification, knows indeed its letter and its tradings,* but has not the true weight granted to the man who studies it for the savour of godliness.

16 (14) I will go forth in the strength of the Lord God: and will make mention of thy righteousness only.

The LXX. and Vulgate, for go forth read enter in, and more correctly, as the first sense is that of proceeding to the temple to praise God because of His mighty deeds. Euthymius connects the words with those of the preceding verse. I know not letters, that is, (Z.) observes he, the Scribes lay down a rule in their writings that all Jews must enter the temple of Jerusalem thrice a year, but I will go for a better reason, the strength of the Lord. (Ay.) Ayguan, more deeply says, I will go from the mere letter of the Old Testament into its spiritual meaning, the power of Christ. I will not look, adds Gerhohus, to the mere outward rite of even the Gospel Sacraments, (G.) but will enter further into them to find there the saving might of Jesus, Who gives me faith, endurance, and power to fulfil His commands, a triple cord to draw me and bind me to Him. And will make mention of Thy righteousness only. Not of my own, (D. C.) but ascribing all that is good in me, all virtue, and all grace, to Thee; all evil, defective, or sinful, to myself, saying with the Apostle, “By the grace of God, I am what I am;”* and again, “If a man think himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.”* Since, as the same Apostle says, such persons “being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”* And he says only, because when the soul has left human weakness behind, and entered into the spiritual power of God, it will think no more of the flesh, but will ponder on God alone.*

17 (15) Thou, O God, hast taught me from my youth up until now: therefore will I tell of thy wondrous works.
18 (16) Forsake me not, O God, in mine old age, when I am gray-headed: until I have showed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to all them that are yet for to come.

Here, as so often, the words may apply to Christ or to the Church. Thou hast taught Me, is the Lord’s address to His Father, even according to that saying, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent Me.”* And again, “As My Father hath taught Me, I speak these things.”* From my youth up, because the human soul of Christ “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”* It is also the voice of the Church. Thou hast taught me; (Ay.) referring all her gifts to Him as her Teacher, Who said, “Neither be ye called masters, for one is your Master, even Christ.”* And that from the youth of the Church, from the time when the Apostles drew their lessons from His lips during His three years’ ministry, when He opened the Scriptures to them after His Resurrection, when He sent the Holy Ghost on them at Pentecost. Therefore will I tell of Thy wondrous works. How Thou rulest me, how Thou hast set me in the way of salvation, how Thou makest me to live whom Thou hast wonderfully quickened in soul. For what greater marvel is there than to quicken those dead in soul? A quickened body lives even when its quickener is absent, as Lazarus did in the corporal absence of Christ, because the life of the body is in the soul. But the quickened soul cannot live thus without God, Who is its life. This then is wondrous grace, which can quicken the dead, and abide with us afterwards, that we die not. Wondrous too are those works whereof the Church tells, the Incarnation of the Word, the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, and that God so loved us that He gave His Only-begotten Son unto death for us. Forsake me not, O God, in mine old age, when I am gray-headed. They take it of the coming of Antichrist in the last times, when the faith of the Church has become weak, and from Augustine in the fifth century to Parez in the fifteenth, each accounts his own days as near the end, and finds all the marks of decrepitude in the belief and lives of Christians, all the signs of growing strength and insolence in the powers of evil. Until I have showed Thy strength unto this generation, and Thy power unto all that are yet for to come. The LXX. and Vulgate translate, (Ay.) Until I declare Thine arm to every generation that is to come, and couple the word power with the next verse. Thine arm is the Incarnate Word, and the phrase until notes that the preaching of Him will not be carried beyond this life, because the vision of God in the life to come will supply all spiritual knowledge to the Saints, and there will thus be no preaching in heaven; nor yet in hell, because the time for conversion has gone by. (R.) To every generation, as against the teaching of certain heretics, that the Church was to endure for a time, as the Jewish dispensation did, and then be supplanted by a more perfect revelation.

19 (17) Thy righteousness, O God, is very high: and great things are they that thou hast done; O God, who is like unto thee?

The LXX. and Vulgate couple the first words with the preceding, so that the clause runs [I will declare] Thy power and righteousness, O God, unto the highest, great things which Thou hast done. (Ay.) That is, I will declare the power of Thy justifying grace from its first beginnings in the soul up to its highest achievement in turning sinners into perfect Saints; (R.) or again, (Cd.) I will tell of Thy marvels, not only to Thy humbler creature, man, but I will call on Thy highest works, the Thrones, (B.) Dominations, and Princedoms of the heavenly host to join in the praise which is Thy due. (A.) Higher yet, observes Cassiodorus, (C.) even to that right hand of the Father where the Man of Sorrows is throned. Again; God’s power is shown in His setting man free, (A.) His righteousness in causing His Son to die for us. His power gives man strength to do good works, (L.) His righteousness justifies man. His power is seen in the valiant endurance of the Martyrs, His righteousness in the holy lives of the Confessors. O God, who is like unto Thee? It is the cry of Adam, (A.) after he had sinned by tasting of the fruit, whereof the serpent told him, “In the day that ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil,”* and had thereby lost the likeness which he had before, as being made in the image and likeness of God. And none can answer it, save the Second Adam, because He is the “brightness of God’s glory, and the express image of His Person;”* and He can change our vile body, making it like to His glorious Body, and so “we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”*

20 (18) O what great troubles and adversities hast thou showed me! and yet didst thou turn and refresh me: yea, and broughtest me from the deep of the earth again.

All the bitter sorrows of My Passion, the Agony, the Betrayal, the mocking, (D. C.) scourging, crucifixion, the yet sharper pangs of man’s sin and thanklessness. And refresh me. The LXX., Vulgate, and A. V. more truly, revive Me, raising Me from the grave, where I lay in the deep of the earth. And we may take it next, (A.) with S. Augustine and all who follow him, (G.) of the wretchedness of mankind after the Fall, and the bounty of God in lifting it up from the depth of sin by the message of salvation, (R.) and giving it new life in Christ. And observe, says Cassiodorus, (C.) that there are seven ways in which God gives us remission of our sins. Firstly, in baptism; secondly, by martyrdom; thirdly, by almsgiving; fourthly, by our forgiveness to our debtors; fifthly, by our conversion of our brethren; sixthly, by abundant charity; seventhly, by penance. Again; (Ay.) it is the voice of the Church, thanking God for all her early sufferings and persecutions, when the blood of the Martyrs was the seed of the faithful, and the Gentiles, attracted by their valiant constancy, were turned by God, and brought to life, and out of the abyss of earthly sin. We may see too a literal meaning here which seems to have escaped the commentators, that is, the public recognition of Christian worship after the edict of Constantine, when the Church emerged from the deep of the catacombs into the light of day. Lastly; (D. C.) it is the grateful acknowledgment of every elect soul which God has brought through great tribulation into the kingdom of grace. (Z.) And so Ezekiel says, “O My people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.”*

21 (19) Thou hast brought me to great honour: and comforted me on every side.

Again it is the voice of Christ, speaking of His own Resurrection, (D. C.) Ascension, and of His deliverance from all the liability to suffering which had belonged to His humanity. And this is brought out strongly by the Vulgate reading, Thou hast multiplied Thy magnificence upon me. Multiplied, (Ay.) observes another, because Christ, Who is the magnificence of God, was multiplied, not in person, but in nature, by His Incarnation, where God was made Man, and thus was built up of Godhead, body, and soul. It is the voice of the Church, raised to high dignity of grace, and to the earthly honour of having kings and queens at her feet, and stored with all the gifts of the Comforter. And, lastly, it is the thanksgiving of sinners whom God has first scourged with fatherly chastisement, (G.) and then made kings and priests, clothing them with the garment of salvation, and comforted, as He is the God of Consolation, in all their trouble. For comforted on every side, the Vulgate reads, Thou hast turned and comforted me. Turned, because by Christ’s Incarnation the sternness of the law was turned into the loving tenderness of the Gospel, (Ay.) so that He whom we called Lord in fear, we now call in love, “Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort, who comforteth us in all our tribulation.”*

22 (20) Therefore will I praise thee and thy faithfulness, O God, playing upon an instrument of music: unto thee will I sing upon the harp, O thou Holy One of Israel.

On an instrument of music, LXX. and Vulgate, On the vessels of psalm, which most of them take, as does the A. V., to be the psaltery. And S. Augustine points out that the chief difference between the psaltery and harp is that the former has the hollow sounding-board placed above the strings, and the latter has it below. And because the Spirit is from above, flesh from the earth; there seemeth to be signified by the psaltery the Spirit, by the harp the flesh. And men who are appointed to sing God’s praises with psalmody may be aptly called vessels of psalm; in particular the clergy, some of whom are vessels to honour,* and some to dishonour. Yet again,* our bodies, within which the truth dwells, are its vessels, (C.) and the Psalms themselves are vessels holding the truth, as a pure and fragrant wine. Truth, in three ways, of life,* of righteousness, and of doctrine. O Thou Holy One of Israel. Because all nations will become a part of the true Israel when the fulness of the Gentiles is gathered in. Note too, (P.) that this is the only Psalm of David’s writing which contains this title of God, and as it is the very last of his songs, it looks forward in this wise to the universal kingdom of Christ, as the sea into which all the streams flowing from the vessels of song shall one day empty themselves. That is a poor house, (G.) says Gerhohus, where there are vessels for oil and wine, and nought to put in them, but what is the wretchedness of a house which has not even vessels fit to hold them!

23 (21) My lips will be fain when. I sing unto thee: and so will my soul whom thou hast delivered.

They all agree in seeing here the union of bodily and spiritual praise of God, the harmony of will and deed, of heart and life, when the body is subdued to the spirit, and obeys its rule with gladness. It is the idea which has been expressed by a poet of our own day:

Let knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell,
That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music as before,
But vaster.

Not here,* however, where “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh,” can this harmony be perfectly free from discord. We must look forward to the time of which the next verse tells us.

24 (22) My tongue also shall talk of thy righteousness all the day long: for they are confounded and brought unto shame that seek to do me evil.

In the Land of beauty there will be no false notes to mar the sweet song of praise, because—

Fleshly wars they know no longer,* since with blemish stained is none,
For the spiritual body and the soul at last are one;
Dwell they now in peace eternal, with all stumbling they have done.

All the day long. The unending day of eternity, (D. C.) during which the song of the redeemed shall ever ascend before the throne of God, (G.) when the ghostly enemies of our souls have been brought to everlasting shame.

Pectora plausibus atque canoribus ora parabit,*
Cum sua crimina, lapsaque pristina stans memorabit,
Quo fuit amplior error, iniquior actio mentis,
Laus erit amplior, hymnus et altior, hanc abolentis.

And therefore:

Glory be to the Father, from Whom cometh soberness; and to the Son, of Whom is righteousness; and to the Holy Ghost, Whose is loving-kindness.

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


Incomprehensible Ruler of the throne on high,* Who sufferest not them that trust in Thee to be condemned to everlasting confusion, fill our lips, we beseech Thee, with Thy praise, and ever inspire us with thoughts of holy things. Through. (1.)

Deliver us, O our God,* out of the hand of the ungodly, Who didst vouchsafe to bear for us the pain of the Cross, that Thou only mayest be our patience, Who for us didst endure the grave. Through Thy mercy. (11.)

Let our tongue, O Lord,* be talking of Thy righteousness, that Thy praise may proceed from our lips all the day long, that inasmuch as the glory of Thy Passion hath been set forth by us, so we may now and ever without end praise Thee in that righteousness whereby we live through faith. Through Thy mercy. (11.)

We beseech Thee,* O Crucified Lord, to be our house of defence and our castle, that delivering us from the hand of the enemy, Thou mayest place us in a stronghold, to receive our crown. Through Thy mercy. (11.)

O God of might,* Who, though Thou wast God, didst willingly suffer Thyself to be seized at the time of Thy Passion, when they took their counsel against Thee, saying, “Let Him deliver Him, if He will have Him;” forsake us not in our trouble, and go not far from us, that Thou only mayest look on us and help us, Who on Thy Cross triumphest over the powers of this world. Through Thy mercy. (11.)

O Jesu,* Son of God, Whom the multitude of Thine enemies vainly persecuted, and drove from themselves the bounty of Thy loving-kindness while taking counsel together against Thee to seize Thee, and sought to take Thy life from Thee, a willing victim, Whom they knew not to be the author of life; Grant that we may with holy devotion in good works follow after Thee, Whom they pursued with ill will, so that wherein Thine enemies shall for ever mourn, therein we may have everlasting joy. Through Thy mercy. (11.)

Let our lips be firm in Thee,* O Lord, with the tidings of truth, that they never be loosed in the vain speech of error, and may ever speak Thy glory and never cry aloud in the unseemly disputes of quarrelling, that our soul which Thou hast redeemed, may, when praising the triumph of Thy Martyr and Forerunner, John Baptist, obtain Thy favour through his intercession. Through Thy mercy. (11.)

We beseech Thee,* O Lord, that our human mouth being filled with Thy praise, we may ever think in our hearts of that which we offer Thee with acceptable voices. Through. (1.)

O God, (D. C.) unspeakable mercy, go not far from us, make haste to help us, and forsake us not in our old age when we are gray-headed, quicken us, and comfort us in Thy love, and grant that we may ever worthily sing the majesty of Thy glory. Through. (1.)

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St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 7

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 14, 2015


1. Now the story which gave occasion to this prophecy may be easily recognised in the second book of Kings.3 For there Chusi, the friend of king David, went over to the side of Abessalon, his son, who was carrying on war against his father, for the purpose of discovering and reporting the designs which he was taking against his father, at the instigation of Achitophel, who had revolted from David’s friendship, and was instructing by his counsel, to the best of his power, the son against the father. But since it is not the story itself which is to be the subject of consideration in this Psalm, from which the prophet hath taken a veil of mysteries, if we have passed over to Christ, let the veil be taken away.4 And first let us inquire into the signification of the very names, what it means. For there have not been wanting interpreters, who investigating these same words, not carnally according to the letter, but spiritually, declare to us that Chusi should be interpreted silence; and Gemini, righthanded; Achitophel, brother’s ruin. Among which interpretations, Judas, that traitor, again meets us, that Abessalon should bear his image, according to that interpretation of it as a father’s peace; in that his father was full of thoughts of peace toward him: although he in his guile had war in his heart, as was treated of in the third Psalm. Now as we find in the Gospels that the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ are called sons,5 so in the same Gospels we find they are called brethren also. For the Lord on the resurrection saith, “Go and say to My brethren.”6 And the Apostle calls Him “the first begotten among many brethren.” The ruin then of that disciple, who betrayed Him, is rightly understood to be a brother’s ruin, which we said is the interpretation of Achitophel. Now as to Chusi, from the interpretation of silence, it is rightly understood that our Lord contended against that guile in silence, that is, in that most deep secret, whereby “blindness happened in part to Israel,”7 when they were persecuting the Lord, that the fulness of the Gentiles might enter in, and “so all Israel might be saved.” When the Apostle came to this profound secret and deep silence, he exclaimed, as if struck with a kind of awe of its very depth, “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the wind of the Lord, or who hath been His counsellor?”8 Thus that great silence he does not so much discover by explanation, as he sets forth its greatness in admiration. In this silence the Lord, hiding the sacrament of His adorable passion, turns the brother’s voluntary ruin, that is, His betrayer’s impious wickedness, into the order of His mercy and providence: that what he with perverse mind wrought for one Man’s destruction, He might by providential overruling dispose for all men’s salvation. The perfect soul then, which is already worthy to know the secret of God, sings a Psalm unto the Lord, she sings “for the words of Chusi,” because she has attained to know the words of that silence: for among unbelievers and persecutors there is that silence and secret. But among His own, to whom it is said, “Now I call you no more servants; for the servant knoweth not what 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:9 among His friends, I say, there is not the silence, but the words of the silence, that is, the meaning of that silence set forth and manifested. Which silence, that is, Chusi, is called the son of Gemini, that is, righthanded. For what was done for the Saints was not to be hidden from them. And yet He saith, “Let not the left hand know what the right hand doeth.”10 The perfect soul then, to which that secret has been made known, sings in prophecy “for the words of Chusi,” that is, for the knowledge of that same secret. Which secret God at her right hand, that is, favourable11 and propitious unto her, has wrought. Wherefore this silence is called the Son of the right hand, which is, “Chusi, the son of Gemini.”

2. “O Lord my God, in Thee have I hoped: save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me” (ver. 1). As one to whom, already perfected, all the war and enmity of vice being overcome, there remaineth no enemy but the envious devil, he says, “Save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me (ver. 2): lest at any time he tear my soul as a lion.” The Apostle says, “Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”1 Therefore when the Psalmist said in the plural number, “Save me from all them that persecute me:” he afterwards introduced the singular, saying, “lest at any time he tear my soul as a lion.” For he does not say, lest at any time they tear: he knew what enemy and violent adversary of the perfect soul remained. “Whilst there be none to redeem, nor to save:” that is, lest he tear me, whilst Thou redeemest not, nor savest. For, if God redeem not, nor save, he tears.2

3. And that it might be clear that the already perfect soul, which is to be on her guard against the most insidious snares of the devil only, says this, see what follows. “O Lord my God, if I have done this” (ver. 3). What is it that he calls “this”? Since he does not mention the sin by name, are we to understand sin generally? If this sense displease us, we may take that to be meant which follows: as if we had asked, what is this that you say, “this”? He answers, “If there be iniquity in my hands.” Now then it is clear that it is said of all sin, “If I have repaid them that recompense me evil” (ver. 4). Which none can say with truth, but the perfect. For so the Lord says, “Be ye perfect, as your Father which is in heaven; who maketh His sun to rise upon the good and the evil, and raineth on the just and the unjust.”3 He then who repayeth not them that recompense evil, is perfect. When therefore the perfect soul prays “for the words of Chusi, the son of Jemini,” that is, for the knowledge of that secret and silence, which the Lord, favourable to us and merciful, wrought for our salvation, so as to endure, and with all patience bear, the guiles of this betrayer: as if He should say to this perfect soul, explaining the design of this secret, For thee ungodly and a sinner, that thine iniquities might be washed away by My blood-shedding, in great silence and great patience I bore with My betrayer; wilt not thou imitate me, that thou too mayest not repay evil for evil? Considering then, and understanding what the Lord has done for him, and by His example going on to perfection, the Psalmist says, “If I have repaid them that recompense me evil:” that is, if I have not done what Thou hast taught me by Thy example: “may I therefore fall by mine enemies empty.” And he says well, not, If I have repaid them that do me evil; but, who “recompense.” For who so recompenseth, had received somewhat already. Now it is an instance of greater patience, not even to repay him evil, who after receiving benefits returns evil for good, than if without receiving any previous benefit he had had a mind to injure. If therefore he says, “I have repaid them that recompense me evil:” that is, If I have not imitated Thee in that silence, that is, in Thy patience, which Thou hast wrought for me, “may I fall by mine enemies empty.” For he is an empty boaster, who, being himself a man, desires to avenge himself on a man; and whilst he openly seeks to overcome a man, is secretly himself overcome by the devil, rendered empty by vain and proud joy, because he could not, as it were, be conquered. The Psalmist knows then where a greater victory may be obtained, and where “the Father which seeth in secret will reward.”4 Lest then he repay them that recompense evil, he overcomes his anger rather than another man, being instructed too by those writings, wherein it is written, “Better is he that overcometh his anger, than he that taketh a city.”5 “If I have repaid them that recompense me evil, may I therefore fall by my enemies empty.” He seems to swear by way of execration, which is the heaviest kind of oath, as when one says, If I have done so and so, may I suffer so and so. But swearing in a swearer’s mouth is one thing, in a prophet’s meaning another. For here he mentions what will really befall men who repay them that recompense evil; not what, as by an oath, he would imprecate on himself or any other.

4. “Let the enemy” therefore “persecute my soul and take it” (ver. 5). By again naming the enemy in the singular number, he more and more clearly points out him whom he spoke of above as a lion. For he persecutes the soul, and if he has deceived it, will take it. For the limit of men’s rage is the destruction of the body; but the soul, after this visible death, they cannot keep in their power: whereas whatever souls the devil shall have taken by his persecutions, he will keep. “And let him tread my life upon the earth:” that is, by treading let him make my life earth, that is to say, his food. For he is not only called a lion, but a serpent too, to whom it was said, “Earth shalt thou eat.”6 And to the sinner was it said, “Earth thou art, and into earth shalt thou go.”1 “And let him bring down my glory to the dust.” This is that dust which “the wind casteth forth from the face of the earth,”2 to wit, vain and silly boasting of the proud, puffed up, not of solid weight, as a cloud of dust carried away by the wind. Justly then has he here spoken of the glory, which he would not have brought down to dust. For he would have it solidly established in conscience before God, where there is no boasting. “He that glorieth,” saith the Apostle, “let him glory in the Lord.”3 This solidity is brought down to the dust if one through pride despising the secrecy of conscience, where God only proves a man, desires to glory before men. Hence comes what the Psalmist elsewhere says, “God shall bruise the bones of them that please men.”4 Now he that has well learnt or experienced the steps in overcoming vices, knows that this vice of empty glory is either alone, or more than all, to be shunned by the perfect. For that by which the soul first fell, she overcomes the last. “For the beginning of all sin is pride:” and again, “The beginning of man’s pride is to depart from God.”5

5. “Arise, O Lord, in Thine anger” (ver. 6). Why yet does he, who we say is perfect, incite God to anger? Must we not see, whether he rather be not perfect, who, when he was being stoned, said, “O Lord, lay not this sin to their charge”?6 Or does the Psalmist pray thus not against men, but against the devil and his angels, whose possession sinners and the ungodly are? He then does not pray against him in wrath, but in mercy, whosoever prays that that possession may be taken from him by that Lord “who justifieth the ungodly.”7 For when the ungodly is justified, from ungodly he is made just, and from being the possession of the devil he passes into the temple of God. And since it is a punishment that a possession, in which one longs to have rule, should be taken away from him: this punishment, that he should cease to possess those whom he now possesses, the Psalmist calls the anger of God against the devil. “Arise, O Lord, in Thine anger.” “Arise” (he has used it as “appear”), in words, that is, human and obscure; as though God sleeps, when He is unrecognised and hidden in His secret workings. “Be exalted in the borders of mine enemies.” He means by borders the possession itself, in which he wishes that God should be exalted, that is, be honoured and glorified, rather than the devil, while the ungodly are justified and praise God. “And arise, O Lord my God, in the commandment that Thou hast given:” that is, since Thou hast enjoined humility, appear in humility; and first fulfil what Thou hast enjoined; that men by Thy example overcoming pride may not be possessed of the devil, who against Thy commandments advised to pride, saying, “Eat, and your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods.”8

6. “And the congregation of the people shall surround Thee.” This may be understood two ways. For the congregation of the people can be taken, either of them that believe, or of them that persecute, both of which took place in the same humiliation of our Lord: in contempt of which the multitude of them that persecute surrounded Him; concerning which it is said, “Why have the heathen raged, and the people meditated vain things?”9 But of them that believe through His humiliation the multitude so surrounded Him, that it could be said with the greatest truth, “blindness in part is happened unto Israel, that the fulness of the Gentiles might come in:”10 and again, “Ask of me, and I will give Thee the Gentiles for Thine inheritance, and the boundaries of the earth for Thy possession.”11 “And for their sakes return Thou on high:” that is, for the sake of this congregation return Thou on high: which He is understood to have done by His resurrection and ascension into heaven. For being thus glorified He gave the Holy Ghost, which before His exaltation could not be given, as it is written in the Gospel, “for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.”12 Having then returned on high for the sake of the congregation of the people, He sent the Holy Ghost: by whom the preachers of the Gospel being filled, filled the whole world with Churches.

7. It can be taken also in this sense: “Arise, O Lord, in Thine anger, and be exalted in the borders of mine enemies:” that is, arise in Thine anger, and let not mine enemies understand Thee; so that to “be exalted,” should be this, become high,13 that Thou mayest not be understood; which has reference to the silence spoken of above. For it is of this exaltation thus said in another Psalm, “And He ascended upon Cherubim, and flew:” and, “He made darkness His secret place.”14 In which exaltation, or concealment, when for their sins’ desert they shall not understand Thee, who shall crucify Thee, “the congregation” of believers “shall surround Thee.” For in His very humiliation He was exalted, that is, was not understood. So that, “And arise, O Lord my God, in the commandment that Thou hast given:” may have reference to this, that is, when Thou showest Thyself, be high or deep that mine enemies may not understand Thee. Now sinners are the enemies of the just man, and the ungodly of the godly man. “And the congregation of the people shall surround Thee:” that is, by this very circumstance, that those who crucify Thee understand Thee not, the Gentiles shall believe on Thee, and so “shall the congregation of the people surround Thee.” But what follows, if this be the true meaning, has in it more pain, that it begins already to be perceived, than joy that it is understood. For it follows, “and for their sakes return Thou on high,” that is, and for the sake of this congregation of the human race, wherewith the Churches are crowded, return Thou on high, that is, again cease to be understood. What then is, “and for their sakes,” but that this congregation too will offend Thee, so that Thou mayest most truly foretell and say, “Thinkest Thou when the Son of man shall come, He will find faith on the earth?”1 Again, of the false prophets, who are understood to be heretics, He says, “Because of their iniquity the love of many shall wax cold.”2 Since then even in the Churches, that is, in that congregation of peoples and nations, where the Christian name has most widely spread, there shall be so great abundance of sinners, which is already, in great measure, perceived; is not that famine of the word3 here predicted, which has been threatened by another prophet also? Is it not too for this congregation’s sake, who, by their sins, are estranging from themselves the light of truth, that God returns on high, that is, so that faith, pure and cleansed from the corruption of all perverse opinions, is held and received, either not at all, or by the very few of whom it was said, “Blessed is he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved”?4 Not without cause then is it said, “and for the sake of this” congregation “return Thou on high:” that is, again withdraw into the depth of Thy secrecy, even for the sake of this congregation of the peoples, that hath Thy name, and doeth not Thy deeds.

8. But whether the former exposition of this place, or this last be the more suitable, without prejudice to any one better, or equal, or as good, it follows very consistently, “the Lord judgeth the people.” For whether He returned on high, when, after the resurrection, He ascended into heaven, well does it follow, “The Lord judgeth the people:” for that He will come from thence to judge the quick and the dead. Or whether He return on high, when the understanding of the truth leaves sinful Christians, for that of His coming it has been said, “Thinkest thou the Son of Man on His coming will find faith on the earth?”5 “The Lord” then “judgeth the people.” What Lord, but Jesus Christ? “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.”6 Wherefore this soul which prayeth perfectly, see how she fears not the day of judgment, and with a truly secure longing says in her prayer, “Thy kingdom come: judge me,” she says, “O Lord, according to my righteousness.” In the former Psalm a weak one was entreating, imploring rather the mercy of God, than mentioning any desert of his own: since the Son of God came “to call sinners to repentance.”7 Therefore he had there said, “Save me, O Lord, for Thy mercy’s sake;”8 that is, not for my desert’s sake. But now, since being called he hath held and kept the commandments which he received, he is bold to say, “Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to my harmlessness, that is upon me.” This is true harmlessness, which harms not even an enemy. Accordingly, well does he require to be judged according to his harmlessness, who could say with truth, “If I have repaid them that recompense me evil.” As for what he added, “that is upon me,” it can refer not only to harmlessness, but can be understood also with reference to righteousness; that the sense should be this, Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to my harmlessness, which righteousness and harmlessness is upon me. By which addition he shows that this very thing, that the soul is righteous and harmless, she has not by herself, but by God who giveth brightness and light. For of this he says in another Psalm, “Thou, O Lord, wilt light my candle.”9 And of John it is said, that “he was not the light, but bore witness of the light.”10 “He was a burning and shining candle.”11 That light then, whence souls, as candles, are kindled, shines forth not with borrowed, but with original, brightness, which light is truth itself. It is then so said, “According to my righteousness, and according to my harmlessness, that is upon me,” as if a burning and shining candle should say, Judge me according to the flame which is upon me, that is, not that wherewith12 I am myself, but that whereby I shine enkindled of thee.

9. “But let the wickedness of sinners be consummated” (ver. 9). He says, “be consummated,” be completed, according to that in the Apocalypse, “Let the righteous become more righteous, and let the filthy be filthy still.”13 For the wickedness of those men appears consummate, who crucified the Son of God; but greater is theirs who will not live uprightly, and hate the precepts of truth, for whom the Son of God was crucified. “Let the wickedness of sinners,” then he says, “be consummated,” that is, arrive at the height of wickedness, that just judgment may be able to come at once. But since it is not only said, “Let the filthy be filthy still;” but it is said also, “Let the righteous become more righteous;” he joins on the words, “And Thou shalt direct the righteous, O God, who searcheth the hearts and reins.” How then can the righteous be directed but in secret? when even by means of those things which, in the commencement of the Christian ages, when as yet the saints were oppressed by the persecution of the men of this world, appeared marvellous to men, now that the Christian name has begun to be in such high dignity, hypocrisy, that is pretence, has increased; of those, I mean, who by the Christian profession had rather please men than God. How then is the righteous man directed in so great confusion of pretence, save whilst God searcheth the hearts and reins; seeing all men’s thoughts, which are meant by the word heart; and their delights, which are understood by the word reins? For the delight in things temporal and earthly is rightly ascribed to the reins; for that it is both the lower part of man, and that region where the pleasure of carnal generation dwells, through which man’s nature is transferred into this life of care, and deceiving joy, by the succession of the race. God then, searching our heart, and perceiving that it is there where our treasure is, that is, in heaven; searching also the reins, and perceiving that we do not assent to flesh and blood, but delight ourselves in the Lord, directs the righteous man in his inward conscience before Him, where no man seeth, but He alone who perceiveth what each man thinketh, and what delighteth each. For delight is the end of care; because to this end does each man strive by care and thought, that he may attain to his delight. He therefore seeth our cares, who searcheth the heart. He seeth too the ends of cares, that is delights, who narrowly searcheth the reins; that when He shall find that our cares incline neither to the lust of the flesh, nor to the lust of the eyes, nor to the pride of life,1 all which pass away as a shadow, but that they are raised upward to the joys of things eternal, which are spoilt by no change, He may direct the righteous, even He, the God who searcheth the hearts and reins. For our works, which we do in deeds and words, may be known unto men; but with what mind they are done, and to what end we would attain by means of them, He alone knoweth, the God who searcheth the hearts and reins.

10. “My righteous help is from the Lord, who maketh whole the upright in heart” (ver. 10). The offices of medicine are twofold, on the curing infirmity, the other the preserving health. According to the first it was said in the preceding Psalm, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak;”2 according to the second it is said in this Psalm, “If there be iniquity in my hands, if I have repaid them that recompense me evil, may I therefore3 fall by my enemies empty.” For there the weak prays that he may be delivered, here one already whole that he may not change for the worse. According to the one it is there said, “Make me whole for Thy mercy’s sake;” according to this other it is here said, “Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness.” For there he asks for a remedy to escape from disease; but here for protection from falling into disease. According to the former it is said, “Make me whole, O Lord, according to Thy mercy:” according to the latter it is said, “My righteous help is from the Lord, who maketh whole the upright in heart.” Both the one and the other maketh men whole; but the former removes them from sickness into health, the latter preserves them in this health. Therefore there the help is merciful, because the sinner hath no desert, who as yet longeth to be justified, “believing on Him who justifieth the ungodly;”4 but here the help is righteous, because it is given to one already righteous. Let the sinner then who said, “I am weak,” say in the first place, “Make me whole, O Lord, for Thy mercy’s sake;” and here let the righteous man, who said, “If I have repaid them that recompense me evil,” say, “My righteous help is from the Lord, who maketh whole the upright in heart.” For if he sets forth the medicine, by which we may be healed when weak, how much more that by which we may be kept in health. For if “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, how much more being now justified shall we be kept whole from wrath through Him.”5

11. “My righteous help is from the Lord, who maketh whole the upright in heart.” God, who searcheth the hearts and reins, directeth the righteous; but with righteous help maketh He whole the upright in heart. He doth not as He searcheth the hearts and reins, so make whole the upright in heart and reins; for the thoughts are both bad in a depraved heart, and good in an upright heart; but delights which are not good belong to the reins, for they are more low and earthly; but those that are good not to the reins, but to the heart itself. Wherefore men cannot be so called upright in reins, as they are called upright in heart, since where the thought is, there at once the delight is too; which cannot be, unless when things divine and eternal are thought of. “Thou hast given,” he says, “joy in my heart,” when he had said, “The light of Thy countenance has been stamped on us, O Lord.”1 For although the phantoms of things temporal, which the mind falsely pictures to itself, when tossed by vain and mortal hope, to vain imagination oftentimes bring a delirious and maddened joy; yet this delight must be attributed not to the heart, but to the reins; for all these imaginations have been drawn from lower, that is, earthly and carnal things. Hence it comes, that God, who searcheth he hearts and reins, and perceiveth in the heart upright thoughts, in the reins no delights, affordeth righteous help to the upright in heart, where2 heavenly delights are coupled with clean thoughts. And therefore when in another Psalm he had said, “Moreover even to-night my reins have chided me;” he went on to say as touching help, “I foresaw the Lord alway in my sight, for He is on my right hand, that I should not be moved.”3 Where he shows that he suffered suggestions only from the reins, not delights as well; for he had suffered these, then he would of course be moved. But he said, “The Lord is on my right hand, that I should not be moved;” and then he adds, “Wherefore was my heart delighted;” that the reins should have been able to chide, not delight him. The delight accordingly was produced not in the reins, but there, where against the chiding of the reins God was foreseen to be on the right hand, that is, in the heart.

12. “God the righteous judge, strong4 (in endurance) and long-suffering” (ver. 11). What God is judge, but the Lord, who judgeth the people? He is righteous; who “shall render to every man according to his works.”5 He is strong (in endurance); who, being most powerful, for our salvation bore even with ungodly persecutors. He is long-suffering; who did not immediately, after His resurrection, hurry away to punishment, even those that persecuted Him, but bore with them, that they might at length turn from that ungodliness to salvation: and still He beareth with them, reserving the last penalty for the last judgment, and up to this present time inviting sinners to repentance. “Not bringing in anger every day.” Perhaps “bringing in anger” is a more significant expression than being angry (and so we find it in the Greek6 copies); that the anger, whereby He punisheth, should not be in Him, but in the minds of those ministers who obey the commandments of truth through whom orders are given even to the lower ministries, who are called angels of wrath, to punish sin: whom even now the punishment of men delights not for justice’ sake, in which they have no pleasure, but for malice’ sake. God then doth not “bring in anger every day,” that is, He doth not collect His ministers for vengeance every day. For now the patience of God inviteth to repentance: but in the last time, when men “through their hardness and impenitent heart shall have treasured up for themselves anger in the day of anger, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,7 then He will brandish His sword.”

13. “Unless ye be converted,” He says, “He will brandish His sword” (ver. 12). The Lord Man Himself may be taken to be God’s double-edged sword, that is, His spear, which at His first coming He will not brandish, but hideth as it were in the sheath of humiliation: but He will brandish it, when at the second coming to judge the quick and dead, in the manifest splendour of His glory, He shall flash light on His righteous ones, and terror on the ungodly. For in other copies, instead of, “He shall brandish His sword,” it has been written, “He shall make bright His spear:” by which word I think the last coming of the Lord’s glory most appropriately signified: seeing that is understood of His person, which another Psalm has, “Deliver, O Lord, my soul from the ungodly,8 Thy spear from the enemies of Thine hand. He hath bent His bow, and made it ready.” The tenses of the words must not be altogether overlooked, how he has spoken of “the sword” in the future, “He will brandish;” of “the bow” in the past, “He hath bent:” and these words of the past tense follow after.9

14. “And in it He hath prepared the instruments of death: He hath wrought His arrows for the burning” (ver. 13). That bow then I would readily take to be the Holy Scripture, in which by the strength of the New Testament, as by a sort of string, the hardness of the Old has been bent and subdued. From thence the Apostles are sent forth like arrows, or divine preachings are shot. Which arrows “He has wrought for the burning,” arrows, that is, whereby being stricken they might be inflamed with heavenly love. For by what other arrows was she stricken, who saith, “Bring me into the house of wine, place me among perfumes, crowd me among honey, for I have been wounded with love”?10 By what other arrows is he kindled, who, desirous of returning to God, and coming back from wandering, asketh for help against crafty tongues, and to whom it is said, “What shall be given thee, or what added to thee against the crafty tongue? Sharp arrows of the mighty, with devastating coals:”11 that is, coals, whereby, when thou art stricken and set on fire, thou mayest burn with so great love of the kingdom of heaven, as to despise the tongues of all that resist thee, and would recall thee from thy purpose, and to deride their persecutions, saying, “Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For I am persuaded,” he says, “that neither death, nor life, nor angel, nor principality, nor things present, not things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor other creature, shall be able to separate me from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”1 Thus for the burning hath He wrought His arrows. For in the Greek copies it is found thus, “He hath wrought His arrows for the burning.” But most of the Latin copies2 have “burning arrows.” But whether the arrows themselves burn, or make others burn, which of course they cannot do unless they burn themselves, the sense is complete.

15. But since he has said that the Lord has prepared not arrows only, but “instruments of death” too, in the bow, it may be asked, what are “instruments of death”? Are they, peradventure, heretics? For they too, out of the same bow, that is, out of the same Scriptures, light upon souls not to be inflamed with love, but destroyed with poison: which does not happen but after their deserts: wherefore even this dispensation is to be assigned to the Divine Providence, not that it makes men sinners, but that it orders them after they have sinned. For through sin reaching them with an ill purpose, they are forced to understand them ill, that this should be itself the punishment of sin: by whose death, nevertheless, the sons of the Catholic Church are, as it were by certain thorns, so to say, aroused from slumber, and make progress toward the understanding of the holy Scriptures. “For there must be also heresies, that they which are approved,” he says, “may be made manifest among you:”3 that is, among men, seeing they are manifest to God. Or has He haply ordained the same arrows to be at once instruments of death for the destruction of unbelievers, and wrought them burning, or for the burning, for the exercising of the faithful? For that is not false that the Apostle says, “To the one we are the savour of life unto life, to the other the savour of death unto death; and who is sufficient for these things?”4 It is no wonder then if the same Apostles be both instruments of death in those from whom they suffered persecution, and fiery arrows to inflame the hearts of believers.

16. Now after this dispensation righteous judgment will come: of which the Psalmist so speaks, as that we may understand that each man’s punishment is wrought out of his own sin, and his iniquity turned into vengeance: that we may not suppose that that tranquillity and ineffable light of God brings forth from Itself the means of punishing sin; but that it so ordereth sins, that what have been delights to man in sinning, should be instruments to the Lord avenging. “Behold,” he says, “he hath travailed with injustice.” Now what had he conceived, that he should travail with injustice? “He hath conceived,” he says, “toil.” Hence then comes that, “In toil shall thou eat thy bread.”5 Hence too that, “Come unto Me all ye that toil and are heavy laden; for My yoke is easy, and My burden light.”6 For toil will never cease, except one love that which cannot be taken away against his will. For when those things are loved which we can lose against our will, we must needs toil for them most miserably; and to obtain them, amid the straitnesses of earthly cares, whilst each desires to snatch them for himself, and to be beforehand with another, or to wrest it from him, must scheme injustice. Duly then, and quite in order, hath he travailed with injustice, who has conceived toil. Now he bringeth forth what, save that with which he hath travailed, although he has not travailed with that which he conceived? For that is not born, which is not conceived; but seed is conceived, that which is formed from the seed is born. Toil is then the seed of iniquity, but sin the conception of toil, that is, that first sin, to “depart from God.”7 He then hath travailed with injustice, who hath conceived toil. “And he hath brought forth iniquity.” “Iniquity” is the same as “injustice:” he hath brought forth then that with which he travailed. What follows next?

17. “He hath opened a ditch, and digged it” (ver. 15). To open a ditch is, in earthly matters, that is, as it were in the earth, to prepare deceit, that another fall therein, whom the unrighteous man wishes to deceive. Now this ditch is opened when consent is given to the evil suggestion of earthly lusts: but it is digged when after consent we press on to actual work of deceit. But how can it be, that iniquity should rather hurt the righteous man against whom it proceeds, than the unrighteous heart whence it proceeds? Accordingly, the stealer of money, for instance, while he desires to inflict painful harm upon another, is himself maimed by the wound of avarice. Now who, even out of his right mind, sees not how great is the difference between these men, when one suffers the loss of money, the other of innocence? “He will fall” then “into the pit which he hath made.” As it is said in another Psalm, “The Lord is known in executing judgments; the sinner is caught in the works of his own hands.”1

18. “His toil shall be turned on his head, and his iniquity shall descend on his pate” (ver. 16). For he had no mind to escape sin: but was brought under sin as a slave, so to say, as the Lord saith, “Whosoever sinneth is a slave.”2 His iniquity then will be upon him, when he is subject to his iniquity; for he could not say to the Lord, what the innocent and upright say, “My glory, and the lifter up of my head.”3 He then will be in such wise below, as that his iniquity may be above, and descend on him; for that it weigheth him down and burdens him, and suffers him not to fly back to the rest of the saints. This occurs, when in an ill regulated man reason is a slave, and lust hath dominion.

19. “I will confess to the Lord according to His justice” (ver. 17). This is not the sinner’s confession: for he says this, who said above most truly, “If there be iniquity in my hands:” but it is a confession of God’s justice, in which we speak thus, Verily, O Lord, Thou art just, in that Thou both so protectest the just, that Thou enlightenest them by Thyself; and so orderest sinners, that they be punished not by Thine, but by their own malice. This confession so praises the Lord, that the blasphemies of the ungodly can avail nothing, who, willing to excuse their evil deeds, are unwilling to attribute to their own fault that they sin, that is, are unwilling to attribute their fault to their fault. Accordingly they find either fortune or fate to accuse, or the devil, to whom He who made us hath willed that it should be in our power to refuse consent: or they bring in another nature, which is not of God: wretched waverers, and erring, rather than confessing to God, that He should pardon them. For it is not fit that any be pardoned, except he says, I have sinned. He, then, that sees the deserts of souls so ordered by God, that while each has his own given him, the fair beauty of the universe is in no part violated, in all things praises God: and this is not the confession of sinners, but of the righteous. For it is not the sinner’s confession when the Lord says, “I confess to Thee, O Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise, and revealed them to babes.”4 Likewise in Ecclesiasticus it is said, “Confess to the Lord in all His works: and in confession ye shall say this, All the works of the Lord are exceeding good.”5 Which can be seen in this Psalm, if any one with a pious mind, by the Lord’s help, distinguish between the rewards of the righteous and the penalties of the sinners, how that in these two the whole creation, which God made and rules, is adorned with a beauty wondrous and known to few. Thus then he says, “I will confess to the Lord according to His justice,” as one who saw that darkness was not made by God, but ordered nevertheless. For God said, “Let light be made, and light was made.”6 He did not say, Let darkness be made, and darkness was made: and yet He ordered it. And therefore it is said, “God divided between the light, and the darkness: and God called the light day, and the darkness He called night.”7 This is the distinction, He made the one and ordered it: but the other He made not, but yet He ordered this too. But now that sins are signified by darkness, so is it seen in the Prophet, who says, “And thy darkness shall be as the noon day:”8 and in the Apostle, who says, “He that hateth his brother is in darkness:”9 and above all that text, “Let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.”10 Not that there is any nature of darkness. For all nature, in so far as it is nature, is compelled to be. Now being belongs to light: not-being to darkness. He then that leaves Him by whom he was made, and inclines to that whence he was made, that is, to nothing, is in this sin endarkened: and yet he does not utterly perish, but he is ordered among the lowest things. Therefore after the Psalmist said, “I will confess unto the Lord:” that we might not understand it of confession of sins, he adds lastly, “And I will sing to the name of the Lord most high.” Now singing has relation to joy, but repentance of sins to sadness.

20. This Psalm can also be taken in the person of the Lord Man: if only that which is there spoken in humiliation be referred to our weakness, which He bore.11

Posted in Bible, Catholic, fathers of the church, Notes on the Lectionary, NOTES ON THE PSALMS, Scripture | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 7

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 14, 2015


THE psalmist is threatened by many enemies, and begs for help against them from the Lord. He claims that he has given no cause for their hostility. Had he given such cause he would, he says, willingly pay for his offence with death. But, since he is innocent, he begs the Lord to declare his innocence in a public trial a trial like the Last Judgment at which the nations will be gathered to hear the sentence.1 In this trial God will, the singer hopes, take His seat once again as world-judge, and by His sentence put an end to evil, and protect the just. The Psalmist sees his enemies preparing a new attack against him, and warns them that they are devising destruction for themselves when they think of destroying him. For the intervention of the Lord to this end, which the singer now confidently expects, he will sing a hymn of praise.

If we could ascertain the real nature of the charge made against the Psalmist which is referred to in verse 4, we should be able, perhaps, to date the poem with some certainty. But we do not know what is really implied in verse 4. The psalmist is obviously a person of great importance, since a great trial, like the Judgment of the nations, is demanded for his sake. The Davidic authorship claimed by the
superscription, is, therefore, quite possible. We cannot identify the
Benjaminite, Chusi.

Posted in Bible, Catholic, Notes on the Lectionary, NOTES ON THE PSALMS, Scripture | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 95

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 7, 2015

1. I could wish, brethren, that we were rather listening to our father: but even this is a good thing, to obey our father. Since therefore he who deigneth to pray for us, hath ordered us, I will speak unto you, beloved, what from the present Psalm Jesus Christ our common Lord shall deign to give us. Now the title of the Psalm is “David’s Song of praise.” The “Song of praise” signifieth both cheerfulness, in that it is a song; and devotion, for it is praise. For what ought a man to praise more than that which pleaseth him so, that it is impossible that it can displease him? In the praising of God therefore we praise with security. There he who praiseth is safe, where he feareth not lest he be ashamed for the object of his praise. Let us therefore both praise and sing; that is, let us praise with cheerfulness and joy. But what we are about to praise, this Psalm in the following verses showeth us.

2. “O come, let us sing unto the Lord” (ver. 1). He calleth us to a great banquet of joy, not one of this world, but in the Lord. For if there were not in this life a wicked joy which is to be distinguished from a righteous joy, it would be enough to say, “Come, let us rejoice;” but he has briefly distinguished it. What is it to rejoice aright? To rejoice in the Lord. Thou shouldest piously joy in the Lord, if thou dost wish safely to trample upon the world. But what is the word, “Come”? Whence doth He call them to come, with whom he wisheth to rejoice in the Lord; except that, while they are afar, they may by coming draw nearer, by drawing nearer they may approach, and by approaching rejoice? But whence are they afar? Can a man be locally distant from Him who is everywhere?… It is not by place, but by being unlike Him, that a man is afar from God. What is to be unlike Him? it meaneth, a bad life, bad habits; for if by good habits we approach God, by bad habits we recede from God.… If therefore by unlikeness we recede from God, by likeness we approach unto God. What likeness? That after which we were created, which by sinning we had corrupted in ourselves, which we have received again through the remission of sins, which is renewed in us in the mind within, that it may be engraved a second time as if on coin, that is, the image of our God upon our soul, and that we may return to His treasures.…

3. “Let us make a joyful6 noise unto God, our salvation.” … Consider, beloved, those who make a joyful noise in any ordinary songs, as in a sort of competition of worldly joy; and ye see them while reciting the written lines bursting forth with a joy, that the tongue sufficeth not to express the measure of; how they shout, indicating by that utterance the feeling of the mind, which cannot in words express what is conceived in the heart. If they then in earthly joy make a joyful noise; might we not do so from heavenly joy, which truly we cannot express in words?

4. “Let us prevent His face by confession” (ver. 2). Confession hath a double meaning in Scripture. There is a confession of him who praiseth, there is that of him who groaneth. The confession of praise pertaineth to the honour of Him who is praised: the confession of groaning to the repentance of him who confesseth. For men confess when they praise God: they confess when they accuse themselves; and the tongue hath no more worthy use. Truly, I believe these to be the very vows, of which he speaketh in another Psalm: “I will pay Thee my vows, which I distinguished with my lips.”1 Nothing is more elevated than that distinguishing, nothing is so necessary both to understand and to do. How then dost thou distinguish the vows which thou payest unto God? By praising Him, by accusing thyself; because it is His mercy, to forgive us our sins. For if He chose to deal with us after our deserts, He would find cause only to condemn. “O come,” he said therefore, that we may at last go back from our sins, and that He may not cast up with us our accounts for the past; but that as it were a new account may be commenced, all the bonds of our debts having been burnt.… The more therefore thou despairedst of thyself on account of thy iniquities, do thou confess thy sins; for so much greater is the praise of Him who forgiveth, as is the fulness of the penitent’s confession more abundant. Let us not therefore imagine that we have receded from the song of praise, in understanding here that confession by which we acknowledge our transgressions: this is even a part of the song of praise; for when we confess our sins, we praise the glory of God.

5. “And make a joyful2 noise unto Him with Psalms.” We have already said what it is “to make a joyful noise:” the word is repeated, that it may be confirmed by the act: the very repetition is an exhortation. For we have not forgotten, so as to wish to be again admonished, what was said above, that we should make a joyful noise: but usually in passages of strong feeling a well-known word is repeated, not to make it more familiar, but that the very repetition may strengthen the impression made: for it is repeated that we may understand the feeling of the speaker.… Hear now: “For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (ver. 3). “For the Lord will not cast off His people.”3 Praise be unto Him, and shouts of joy be unto Him! What people shall He not cast off? we have no right to make our own explanation here: for the Apostle hath prescribed this unto us, he hath explained whereof it is said. For this was the Jewish people, the people where were the prophets, the people where were the patriarchs, the people begotten according to the flesh from the seed of Abraham; the people in which all the mysteries which promised our Saviour preceded us; the people among whom was instituted the temple, the anointing, the Priest for a figure, that when all these shadows were past, the Light itself might come; this therefore was the people of God; to it were the prophets sent, in it those who were sent were born; to it were delivered and entrusted the revelations of God. What then? is the whole of that people condemned? far be it. It is called the good olive-tree by the Apostle, for it commenced with the patriarchs.… This then is the tree itself: though some of its boughs have been broken, yet all have not. For if all the boughs were broken, whence is Peter? whence John? whence Thomas? whence Matthew? whence Andrew? whence are all those Apostles? whence that very Apostle Paul who was speaking to us but now, and by his own fruit bearing witness to the good olive? Were not all these of that people? Whence also those five hundred brethren to whom our Lord appeared after His resurrection?4 Whence were so many thousands at the words of Peter (when the Apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke with the tongues of all nations5) converted with such zeal for the honour of God and their own accusation, that they who first shed the Lord’s blood in their rage, learnt how to drink it now that they believed? And all these five thousand were so converted that they sold their own property, and laid the price of it at the Apostles’ feet.6 That which one rich man did not do, when he heard from the Lord’s mouth, and sorrowfully departed from Him,7 this so many thousands of those men by whose hands Christ had been crucified, did on a sudden. In proportion as the wound was deeper in their own hearts, with the greater eagerness did they seek for a physician. Since therefore all these were from thence, the Psalm saith of them, “For the Lord will not cast off His people.” …

6. What doth the Psalm add? “In His hand are all the corners of the earth” (ver. 4): we recognise the corner stone: the corner stone is Christ. There cannot be a corner, unless it hath united in itself two walls: they come from different sides to one corner, but they are not opposed to each other in the corner. The circumcision cometh from one side, the uncircumcision from the other; in Christ both peoples have met together: because He hath become the stone, of which it is written, “The stone which the builders rejected, hath become the head of the corner.”1 …

7. “For the sea is His and He made it” (ver. 5). For the sea is this world, but God made also the sea: nor can the waves rage save only so far as to the shore, where He hath marked their bounds. There is therefore no temptation, that hath not received its measure.… “And His hands prepared the dry land.” Be thou the dry land: thirst for the grace of God: that as a sweet shower it may come upon thee, may find in thee fruit. He alloweth not the waves to cover what He hath sown. “And His hands prepared the dry land.” Hence also therefore let us shout unto the Lord.

8. “O come, let us worship, and fall down to Him; and mourn before the Lord our Maker” (ver. 6).… Perhaps thou art burning with the consciousness of a fault; blot out with tears the flame of thy sin: mourn before the Lord: fearlessly mourn before the Lord, who made thee; for He despiseth not the work of His own hands in thee. Think not thou canst be restored by thyself. By thyself thou mayest fall off, thou canst not restore thyself: He who made thee restoreth thee. “Let us mourn before the Lord our Maker:” weep before Him, confess unto Him, prevent His face in confession. For who art thou who mournest before Him, and confessest unto Him, but one whom He created? The thing created hath no slight confidence in Him who created it, and that in no indifferent fashion, but according to His own image and likeness.

9. “For He is the Lord our God” (ver. 7). But that we may without fear fall down and kneel before Him, what are we? “We are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.” See how elegantly he hath transposed the order of the words, and as it were not given its own attribute to each word; that we may understand these very same to be the sheep, who are also the people. He said not, the sheep of His pasture, and the people of His hand; which might be thought more congruous, since the sheep belong to the pasture; but He said, “the people of His pasture.” The people are therefore sheep, since he saith, “the people of His pasture:” the people themselves are sheep.… He praiseth these sheep also in the Song of Solomon, speaking of some perfect ones as the teeth of His Spouse the Holy Church: “Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which come up from the washing; whereof every one beareth twins, and there is none barren.”2 What meaneth, “Thy teeth”? These by whom thou speakest: for the teeth of the Church are those through whom she speaketh. Of what sort are thy teeth? “Like a flock of sheep that are shorn.” Why, “that are shorn”? Because they have laid aside the burdens of the world. Were not those sheep, of which I was a little before speaking, shorn, whom the bidding of God had shorn, when He saith, “Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor; and thou shalt find treasure in heaven: and come and follow Me”?3 They performed this bidding: shorn they came. And because those who believe in Christ are baptized, what is there said? “which come up from the washing;” that is, come up from the cleansing. “Whereof every one beareth twins.” What twins? Those two commandments, wherefrom hang all the Law and the Prophets.4

10. Therefore, “To-day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts” (ver. 8). O my people, the people of God! God addresses His people: not only the people of His which He shall not cast off, but also all His people. For He speaketh in the corner stone5 to each wall: that is, prophecy speaketh in Christ, both to the people of the Jews, and the people of the Gentiles. For some time ye heard His voice through Moses, and hardened your hearts. He then, when you hardened your hearts, spoke through a herald; He now speaketh by Himself, let your hearts soften. He who used to send heralds before Him, hath now deigned to come Himself; He here speaketh by His own mouth, He who used to speak by the mouths of the Prophets.

11. “As in the provocation, and in the day of temptation in the wilderness, where your fathers proved Me” (ver. 9). Let such be no more your fathers: imitate them not. They were your fathers, but if ye do not imitate them, they shall not be your fathers: yet as ye were born of them, they were your fathers. And if the heathen who came from the ends of the earth, in the words of Jeremias, “The Gentiles shall come unto Thee from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Surely our forefathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit:”6 if the heathen forsook their idols, to come to the God of Israel; ought Israel whom their own God led from Egypt through the Red Sea,7 wherein He overwhelmed their pursuing foes; whom He led out into the wilderness, fed with manna,8 never took His rod from correcting them, never deprived them of the blessings of His mercy; ought they to desert their own God, when the heathen have come unto Him? “When your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, and saw My works.…

12. “Forty years long was I very near unto this generation, and said, It is a people that do always err in their hearts; for they have not known My ways” (ver. 10). The forty years have the same meaning as the word “always.” For that number forty indicates the fulness of ages, as if the ages were perfected in this number. Hence our Lord fasted forty days, forty days He was tempted in the desert,1 and forty days He was with His disciples after His resurrection.2 On the first forty days He showed us temptation, on the latter forty days consolation: since beyond doubt when we are tempted we are consoled. For His body, that is, the Church, must needs suffer temptations in this world: but that Comforter, who said, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world,”3 is not wanting. For this was I with them forty years, to show such a race of men, which alway provoketh Me, even unto the end of the world: because by those forty years He meant to signify the whole of this world’s duration.

13. … We began with exulting joy: but this Psalm hath ended with great fear: “Unto whom I sware in My wrath, that they should not enter into My rest” (ver. 11). It is a great thing for God to speak: how much greater for Him to swear? Thou shouldest fear a man when he sweareth, lest he do somewhat on account of his oath against his will: how much more shouldest thou fear God, when He sweareth, seeing He can swear nought rashly? He chose the act of swearing for a confirmation. And by whom doth God swear? By Himself: for He hath no greater by whom to swear.4 By Himself He confirmeth His promises: by Himself He confirmeth His threats. Let no man say in his heart, His promise is true; His threat is false: as His promise is true, so is His threat sure. Thou oughtest to be equally assured of rest, of happiness, of eternity, of immortality, if thou hast executed His commandments; as of destruction, of the burning of eternal fire, of damnation with the devil, if thou hast despised His commandments.…

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St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 79

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 28, 2015

1. Over the title of this Psalm, being so short and so simple, I think we need not tarry. But the prophecy which here we read sent before, we know to be evidently fulfilled. For when these things were being sung in the times of King David, nothing of such sort, by the hostility of the Gentiles, as yet had befallen the city Jerusalem, nor the Temple of God, which as yet was not even builded. For that after the death of David his son Salomon made a temple to God, who is ignorant? That is spoken of therefore as though past, which in the Spirit was seen to be future.

“O God, the Gentiles have come into Thine inheritance” (ver. 1). Under which form of expression other things which were to come to pass, are spoken of as having been done. Nor must this be wondered at, that these words are being spoken to God. For they are not being represented to Him not knowing, by whose revelation they are foreknown; but the soul is speaking with God with that affection of godliness, of which God knoweth.5 For even the things which Angels proclaim to men, they proclaim to them that know them not; but the things which they proclaim to God, they proclaim to Him knowing, when they offer our prayers, and in ineffable manner consult the eternal Truth respecting their actions, as an immutable law. And therefore this man of God is saying to God that which he is to learn of God, like a scholar to a master, not ignorant but judging; and so either approving what he hath taught, or censuring what he hath not taught: especially because under the appearance of one praying, the Prophet is transforming into himself those who should be at the time when these things were to come to pass.6 But in praying it is customary to declare those things to God which He hath done in taking vengeance, and for a petition to be added, that henceforth He should pity and spare. In this way here also by him the judgments are spoken of by whom they are foretold, as if they were being spoken of by those whom they befell, and the very lamentation and prayer is a prophecy.

2. “They have defiled Thy holy Temple, they have made Jerusalem for a keeping of apples.” “They have made the dead bodies of Thy servants morsels for the fowls of heaven, the fleshes of Thy saints for the beasts of the earth” (ver. 2). “They have poured forth their blood like water in the circuit of Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them” (ver. 3). If in this prophecy any one of us shall have thought that there must be understood that laying waste of Jerusalem, which was made by Titus the Roman Emperor, when already the Lord Jesus Christ, after His Resurrection and Ascension, was being preached among the Gentiles, it doth not occur to me how that people could now have been called the inheritance of God, as not holding to Christ, whom having rejected and slain, that people became reprobate, which not even after His Resurrection would believe in Him, and even killed His Martyrs. For out of that people Israel whosoever have believed in Christ; to whom the offer of Christ was made, and in a manner the healthful and fruitful fulfilment of the promise; concerning whom even the Lord Himself saith, “I am not sent but to the sheep which have been lost of the house of Israel,”1 the same are they that out of them are the sons of promise; the same are counted for a seed;2 the same do belong to the inheritance of God. From hence are Joseph that just man, and the Virgin Mary who bore Christ:3 hence John Baptist the friend of the Bridegroom, and his parents Zacharias and Elisabeth:4 hence Symeon the old,5 and Anna the widow, who heard not Christ speaking by the sense of the body; but while yet an infant not speaking, by the Spirit perceived Him: hence the blessed Apostles: hence Nathanael, in whom guile was not:6 hence the other Joseph, who himself too looked for the kingdom of God:7 hence that so great multitude who went before and followed after His beast, saying, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord:”8 among whom was also that company of children, in whom He declared to have been fulfilled, “Out of the mouth of infants and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise.”9 Hence also were those after His resurrection, of whom on one day three and on another five thousand were baptized,10 welded into one soul and one heart by the fire of love; of whom no one spoke of anything as his own, but to them all things were common.11 Hence the holy deacons, of whom Stephen was crowned with martyrdom before the Apostles.12 Hence so many Churches of Judaea, which were in Christ, unto whom Paul was unknown by face,13 but known for an infamous ferocity, and more known for Christ’s most merciful grace. Hence even he, according to the prophecy sent before concerning him, “a wolf ravening, in the morning carrying off, and in the evening dividing morsels;”14 that is, first as persecutor carrying off unto death, afterwards as a preacher feeding unto life. These are they that are out of that people the inheritance of God.… So then even at this time a remnant through election of Grace have been saved. This remnant out of that nation doth belong to the inheritance15 of God: not those concerning whom a little below he saith, “But the rest have been blinded.” For thus he saith. “What then? That which Israel sought, this he hath not obtained: but the election hath obtained it: but the rest have been blinded.”16 This election then, this remnant, that people of God, which God hath not cast off, is called His inheritance. But in that Israel, which hath not obtained this, in the rest that were blinded, there was no longer an inheritance of God, in reference to whom it is possible that there should be spoken, after the glorification of Christ in the Heavens, in the time of Titus the Emperor, “O God, there have come the Gentiles unto Thine inheritance,” and the other things which in this Psalm seem to have been foretold concerning the destruction of both the temple and city belonging to that people.

3. Furthermore herein we ought either to perceive those things which were done by other enemies, before Christ had come in the flesh: at that time when there were even the holy prophets, when the carrying away into Babylon took place,17 and that nation was grievously afflicted, and at the time when under Antiochus also the Maccabees, having endured horrible sufferings, were most gloriously crowned.18 Or certainly if after the Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord the inheritance of God must be understood to be here spoken of; such things must be understood herein, as at the hands of worshippers of idols, and enemies of the name of Christ, His Church, in such a multitude of endured martyrs.… This Church then, this inheritance of God, out of circumcision and uncircumcision hath been congregated, that is, out of the people of Israel, and out of the rest of the nations, by means of the Stone which the builders rejected, and which hath become for the Head of the corner,19 in which corner as it were two walls coming from different quarters were united. “For Himself is our peace, who hath made both one, that He might build two into Himself, making peace, and might unite together20 both in one Body unto God:21 in which Body we are sons of God, “crying, Abba Father.”22 Abba, on account of their language; Father, on account of ours. For Abba is the same as Father.…

4. But now in that which followeth, “they have made Jerusalem for a keeping of apples;” even the Church herself is rightly understood under this name, even the free Jerusalem our mother,23 concerning whom hath been written, “many more are the sons of the forsaken, than of her that hath the husband.”1 The expression, “for a keeping of apples,” I think must be understood of the desertion which the wasting of persecution hath effected: that is, like a keeping of apples; for the keeping of apples is abandoned, when the apples have passed away. And certes when through the persecuting Gentiles the Church seemed to be forsaken, unto the celestial table, like as it were many and exceeding sweet apples from the garden of the Lord, the spirits of the martyrs did pass away.

5. “They have made,” he saith, “the dead bodies of Thy servants morsels for the fowls of heaven, the fleshes of Thy saints for the beasts of the earth” (ver. 2). The expression, “dead bodies,” hath been repeated in “fleshes:” and the expression, “of Thy servants,” hath been repeated in, “of Thy saints.” This only hath been varied, “to the fowls of heaven, and to the beasts of the earth.” Better have they interpreted who have written “dead,” than as some have it, “mortal.” For “dead” is only said of those that have died; but mortal is a term applied even to living bodies. When then, as I have said, to their Husbandman the spirits of martyrs like apples had passed away, their dead bodies and their fleshes they set before the fowls of heaven and the beasts of the earth: as if any part of them could be lost to the resurrection, whereas out of the hidden recesses of the natural world He will renew the whole, by whom even our hairs have been numbered.2

6. “They have poured forth their blood like water,” that is, abundantly and wantonly, “in the circuit of Jerusalem” (ver. 3). If we herein understand the earthly city Jerusalem, we perceive the shedding of their blood in the circuit thereof, whom the enemy could find outside the walls. But if we understand it of that Jerusalem, concerning whom hath been said, “many more are the sons of her that was forsaken, than of her that hath the husband,”3 the circuit thereof is throughout the universal earth. For in that lesson of the Prophet, wherein is written, “many more are the sons of her that was forsaken, than of her that hath the husband:” a little after unto the same is said, “and He that hath delivered thee, shall be called the God of Israel of the universal earth.”4 The circuit then of this Jerusalem in this Psalm must be understood as followeth: so far as at that time the Church had been expanded, bearing fruit, and growing in the universal world, when in every part thereof persecution was raging, and was making havoc of the Martyrs, whose blood was being shed like water, to the great gain of the celestial treasuries. But as to that which hath been added, “and there was no one to bury:” it either ought not to seem to be an incredible thing that there should have been so great a panic in some places, that not any buriers at all of holy bodies came forward: or certes that unburied corpses in many places might lie long time, until being by the religious in a manner stolen5 they were buried.

7. “We have become,” he saith, “a reproach to our neighbours” (ver. 4). Therefore precious not in the sight of men, from whom this reproach was, but “precious6 in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”7 “A scoffing and derision:” or, as some have interpreted it, “a mockery to them that are in our circuit.” It is a repetition of the former sentence. For that which above hath been called, “a reproach,” the same hath been repeated in, “a scoffing and derision:” and that which above hath been said in, “to our neighbours,” the same hath been repeated in, “to them that are in our circuit.” Moreover, in reference to the earthly Jerusalem, the neighbours, and those in the circuit of that nation, are certainly understood to be other nations. But in reference to the free Jerusalem our mother,8 there are neighbours even in the circuit of her, among whom, being her enemies, the Church dwelleth in the circuit of the round world.

8. In the second place now giving utterance to an evident prayer, whence it may be perceived that the calling to remembrance of former affliction is not by way of information but prayer; “How long,” he saith, “O Lord, wilt Thou be angry, unto the end? shall Thy jealousy burn like fire?” (ver. 5). He is evidently asking God not to be angry unto the end, that is, that this so great oppression and tribulation and devastation may not continue even unto the end; but that He moderate His chastening, according to that which is said in another Psalm, “Thou shalt feed us with the bread of tears, and Thou shalt give us to drink of tears in measure.”9 For the, “how long, O Lord, wilt Thou be angry, unto the end?” hath been spoken in the same sense as if it had been said, Be not, O Lord, angry unto the end. And in that which followeth, “shall Thy jealousy burn like fire?” both words must be understood, both, “how long,” and, “unto the end:” just as if there had been said, how long shall there burn like fire Thy jealousy unto the end? For these two words must be understood in the same manner as that word which was used a little higher up, namely, “they-have made.” For while the former sentence hath, “they have made the dead bodies of Thy servants morsels for the fowls of heaven:”10 this word the latter sentence hath not, wherein is said, “the fleshes of Thy saints for the beasts of the earth;” but there is surely understood what the former hath, namely, “they have made.”

Moreover, the anger and jealousy of God1 are not emotions of God; as some do charge upon the Scriptures which they do not understand:2 but under the name of anger is to be understood the avenging of iniquity; under the name of jealousy, the exaction of chastity; that the soul may not despise the law of her Lord, and perish by departing in fornication from the Lord. These then in their actual operation in men’s affliction are violent; but in the disposal of God they are calm, unto whom hath been said, “But Thou, O Lord of virtues, with calmness dost judge.”3 But it is clearly enough shown by these words, that for sins these tribulations do befall men, though they be faithful: although hence may bloom the Martyrs’ glory by occasion of their patience, and the yoke of discipline godly endured as the scourge of the Lord. Of this the Maccabees amid sharp tortures,4 of this the three men amid flames innocuous,5 of this the holy Prophets in captivity, do testify. For although paternal correction most bravely and most godly they endure, yet they do not hide the fact, that these things have befallen them for the deservings of their sins.6 …

9. But that which he addeth, “Pour forth Thine anger upon the nations which have not known Thee, and upon the kingdoms which have not called upon Thy name” (ver. 6); this too is a prophecy, not a wish. Not in the imprecation of malevolence are these words spoken, but foreseen by the Spirit they are predicted: just as in the case of Judas the traitor, the evil things which were to befall him have been so prophesied as if they were wished. For in like manner as the prophet doth not command Christ, though in the imperative mood he giveth utterance to what he saith, “Gird Thou Thy sword about Thy thigh, O Most Mighty: in Thy beauty and in Thy goodliness, both go on, and prosperously proceed, and reign:”7 so he doth not wish, but doth prophesy, who saith, “Pour forth Thine anger upon the nations which have not known Thee.” Which in his usual way he repeateth, saying, “And upon the kingdoms which have not called upon Thy name.” For nations have been repeated in kingdoms: and that they have not known Him, hath been repeated in this, that they have not called upon His name. How then must be understood, what the Lord saith in the Gospel8 concerning stripes, “the many and the few”? if greater the anger of God is against the nations, which have not known the Lord? For in this which he saith, “Pour forth Thine anger,” with this word he hath clearly enough pointed out, how great anger he hath willed that there should be understood. Whence afterwards he saith, “Render to our neighbours seven times as much.”9 Is it not that there is a great difference between servants, who, though they know not the will of their Lord, do yet call upon His name, and those that are aliens from the family of so great a Master, who are so ignorant of God, as that they do not even call upon God? For in place of Him they call upon either idols or demons, or any creature they choose; not the Creator, who is blessed for ever. For those persons, concerning whom he is prophesying this, he doth not even intimate to be so ignorant of the will of their God, as that still they fear the Lord Himself; but so ignorant of the Lord Himself, that they do not even call upon Him, and that they stand forth as enemies of His name. There is a great difference then between servants not knowing the will of their God, and yet living in His family and in His house, and enemies not only setting the will against knowing the Lord Himself, but also not calling upon His name, and even in His servants fighting against it.

10. Lastly, there followeth, “For they have eaten up Jacob, and his place they have made desolate” (ver. 7).… How we should view” the place” of Jacob, must be understood. For rather the place of Jacob may be supposed to be that city, wherein was also the Temple, whither-unto the whole of that nation for the purpose of sacrifice and worship, and to celebrate the Passover, the Lord had commanded to assemble. For if the assemblies of Christians, letted and suppressed by persecutors, has been what the Prophet would have to be understood, it would seem that he should have said, places made desolate, not place. Still we may take the singular number as put for the plural number; as dress for clothes, soldiery for soldiers, cattle for beasts: for many words are usually spoken in this manner, and not only in the mouths of vulgar speakers, but even in the eloquence of the most approved authorities. Nor to divine Scripture herself is this form of speech foreign. For even she hath put frog for frogs, locust for locusts,10 and countless expressions of the like kind. But that which hath been said, “They have eaten up Jacob,” the same is well understood, in that many men into their own evil-minded body, that is, into their own society, they have constrained to pass.

11. … He subjoineth, “Remember not our iniquities of old” (ver. 8). He saith not bygone, which might have even been recent; but “of old,” that is, coming from parents. For to such iniquities judgment, not correction, is1 owing. “Speedily let Thy mercies anticipate us.” Anticipate, that is, at Thy judgment. For “mercy exalteth above in judgment.”2 Now there is “judgment without mercy,” but to him that hath not showed mercy. But whereas he addeth, “for we have become exceeding poor:” unto this end he willeth that the mercies of God should be understood to anticipate us; that our own poverty, that is, weakness, by Him having mercy, should be aided to do His commandments, that we may not come to His judgment to be condemned.

12. Therefore there followeth, “Help us, O God, our healing3 One” (ver. 9). By this word Which he saith, “our healing One,” he doth sufficiently explain what sort of poverty he hath willed to be understood, in that which he had said, “for we have become exceeding poor.” For it is that very sickness, to which a healer is necessary. But while he would have us to be aided, he is neither ungrateful to grace, nor doth he take away free-will. For he that is aided, doth also of himself something. He hath added also, “for the glory of Thy Name, O Lord, deliver us:” in order that he who glorieth, not in himself, but in the Lord may glory.4 “And merciful be Thou,” he saith, “to our sins for Thy Name’s sake:” not for our sake. For what else do our sins deserve, but due and condign punishments? But “merciful be Thou to our sins, for Thy Name’s sake.” Thus then Thou dost deliver us, that is, dost rescue us from evil things, while Thou dost both aid us to do justice, and art merciful to our sins, without which in this life we are not. For “in Thy sight shall no man living be justified.”5 But sin is iniquity6. And “if Thou shalt have marked iniquities, who shall stand?”7

13. But that which he addeth, “lest at any time they should say among the Gentiles, Where is their God?” (ver. 10) must be taken as rather for the Gentiles themselves. For to a bad end they come that have despaired of the true God, thinking that either He is not, or doth not help His own, and is not merciful to them. But this which followeth, “and that there may be known among the nations before our eyes the vengeance of the blood of Thy servants which hath been shed:” is either to be understood as of the time, when they believe in the true God that used to persecute His inheritance; because even that is vengeance, whereby is slain the fierce iniquity of them by the sword of the Word of God, concerning which hath been said, “Gird Thou Thy sword:”8 or when obstinate enemies at the last are punished. For the corporal ills which they suffer in this world, they may have in common with good men. There is also another kind of vengeance; that wherein the Church’s enlargement and fruitfulness in this world after so great persecutions, wherein they supposed she would utterly perish, the sinner and unbeliever and enemy seeth, and is angry; “with his teeth he shall gnash, and shall pine away.”9 For who would dare to deny that even this is a most heavy punishment? But I know not whether that which he saith, “before our eyes,” is taken with sufficient elegance, if by this sort of punishment we understand that which is done in the inmost recesses of the heart, and doth torment even those who blandly smile at us, while by us there cannot be seen what they suffer in the inner man. But the fact, that whether in them believing their iniquity is slain, or whether the last punishment is rendered to them persevering in their naughtiness, without difficulty of doubtfulness is understood in the saying, “that there may be known before our eyes vengeance among the nations.”

14. And this indeed, as we have said, is a prophecy, not a wish.… And the Lord in the Gospel10 hath set before us the widow for an example, who longing to be avenged, did intercede with the unjust judge, who at length heard her, not as being guided by justice, but overcome with weariness: but this the Lord hath set before us, to show that much more the just God will speedily make the judgment of His elect, who cry unto Him day and night. Thence is also that cry of the Martyrs under the altar of God,11 that they may be avenged in the judgment of God. Where then is the, “Love your enemies, do good unto them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute you”?12 Where is also the, “Not rendering evil for evil, nor cursing for cursing:”13 and, “unto no man rendering evil for evil”14 … For when the Lord was exhorting us to love enemies, He set before us the example of our Father, who is in Heaven, “who maketh His sun to rise upon good men and evil men, and raineth upon just men and unjust men:”15 cloth He yet therefore not chasten even by temporal correction, or not condemn at the last the obstinately hardened? Let therefore an enemy be so loved as that the Lord’s justice whereby he is punished displease us not, and let the justice whereby he is punished so please us, as that the joy is not at his evil but at the good Judge. But a malevolent soul is sorrowful, if his enemy by being corrected shall have escaped punishment: and when he seeth him punished, he is so glad that he is avenged, that he is not delighted with the justice of God, whom he loveth not, but with the misery of that man whom he hateth: and when he leaveth judgment to God, he hopeth that God will hurt more than he could hurt: and when he giveth food to his hungering enemy, and drink to him thirsty, he hath an evil-minded sense of that which is written, “For thus doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.”1 … In such sort then under the appearance of one asking in this Psalm, future vengeance on the ungodly is prophesied of, as that we are to understand that holy men of God have loved their enemies, and have wished no one anything but good, which is godliness in this world, everlasting life in that to come; but in the punishments of evil men, they have taken pleasure not in the ills of them, but in God’s good judgments; and wheresoever in the holy Scriptures we read of their hatreds against men, they were the hatreds of vices, which every man must needs hate in himself, if he loveth himself.

15. But now in that which followeth, “Let there come in before Thy sight,” or, as some copies have it, “In Thy sight, the groans of the fettered:” not easily doth any one discover that the Saints were thrown into fetters by persecutors; and if this doth happen amid so great and manifold a variety of punishments, so rarely it doth happen, that it must not be believed that the prophet had chosen to allude to this especially in this verse. But, in fact, the fetters are the infirmity and the corruptibleness of the body, which do weigh down the soul. For by means of the frailty thereof, as a kind of material for certain pains and troubles, the persecutor might constrain her unto ungodliness. From these fetters the Apostle was longing to be unbound, and to be with Christ;2 but to abide in the flesh was necessary for their sakes unto whom he was ministering the Gospel. Until then this corruptible put on incorruption, and this mortal put on immortality,3 like as it were with fetters, the weak flesh doth let the willing spirit.4 These fetters then not any do feel, but they that in themselves do groan being burthened, desiring to be clothed upon with the tabernacle which is from Heaven;5 because both death is a terror, and mortal life is sorrow. In behalf of these men groaning the Prophet doth redouble his groaning, that their groaning may “come in in the sight of the Lord.” They also may be understood to be fettered, who are enchained with the precepts of wisdom, the which being patiently supported are turned into ornaments: whence it hath been written, “Put thy feet into her fetters.”6 “According to the greatness,” he saith, “of Thy arm, receive Thou unto adoption the sons of them that are put to death:”7 or, as is read in some copies, “Possess Thou sons by the death of the punished.”8 Wherein the Scripture seemeth to me to have sufficiently shown, what hath been the groan of the fettered, who for the name of Christ endured most grievous persecutions, which in this Psalm are most clearly prophesied. For being beset with divers sufferings, they used to pray for the Church, that their blood might not be without fruit to posterity; in order that the Lord’s harvest might more abundantly flourish by the very means whereby enemies thought that she would perish. For “sons of them that were put to death” he hath called them who were not only not terrified by the sufferings of those that went before, but in Him for whose name they knew them to have suffered, being inflamed with their glory which did inspire them to the like, in most ample hosts they believed. Therefore he hath said, “According to the greatness of Thine arm.” For so great a wonder followed in the case of Christian peoples, as they, who thought they would prevail aught by persecuting her, no wise believed would follow.

16. “Render,” he saith, “to our neighbours seven times so much into their bosoms” (ver. 12). Not any evil things he is wishing, but things just he is foretelling and prophesying as to come. But in the number seven, that is, in sevenfold retribution, he would have the completeness of the punishment to be perceived, for with this number fulness is wont to be signified. Whence also there is this saying for the good, “He shall receive in this world seven times as much:”9 which hath been put for all. “As if having nothing, and possessing all things.”10 Of neighbours he is speaking, because amongst them dwelleth the Church even unto the day of severing: for not now is made the corporal separation. “Into their bosoms,” he saith, as being now in secret, so that the vengeance which is now being executed in secret in this life, hereafter may be known among the nations before our eyes. For when a man is given over to a reprobate mind, in his inward bosom he is receiving what he deserveth of future punishments. “Their reproach wherewith they have reproached Thee, O Lord.” This do Thou render to them sevenfold into their bosoms, that is, in return for this reproach, most fully do Thou rebuke them in their secret places. For in this they have reproached Thy Name, thinking to efface Thee from the earth in Thy servants.

17. “But we Thy people” (ver. 13), must be taken generally of all the race of godly and true Christians. “We,” then, whom they thought they had power to destroy, “Thy people, and the sheep of thy flock:” in order that he that glorieth may glory in the Lord,1 “will confess to Thee for an age.” But some copies have it, “will confess to Thee for everlasting.” Out of a Greek ambiguity this diversity hath arisen. For that which the Greek hath, εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, may be interpreted both by “for everlasting,” and “for an age;” but according to the context we must understand which is the better interpretation. The sense then of this passage seemeth to me to show, that we ought to say “for an age,” that is, even unto the end of time. But the following verse after the manner of the Scriptures, and especially of the Psalms, is a repetition of the former with the order changed, putting that before which in the former case was after, and that after which in the former case was before. For whereas in the former case there had been said, “we will confess to Thee,” instead of the same herein hath been said, “We will proclaim Thy praise.” And so whereas in the former case there had been said, “for an age,” instead of the same herein hath been said, “for generation and generation.” For this repetition of generation doth signify perpetuity: or, as some understand it, it is because there are two generations, an old and a new.… But in many places of holy Scriptures we have already made known to you that confession is also put for praise: as in this passage it is, “These words ye shall say in confession, ‘That the works of the Lord are very good.’ ”2 And especially that which the Saviour Himself saith, who had not any sin at all, which by repentance to confess: “I confess to Thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to babes.”3 I have said this, in order that it may be more clearly perceived how in the expression, “We will proclaim Thy praise,” the same hath been repeated as had been said higher up, “We will confess to Thee.”

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St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 119:1-8

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 18, 2015

1. From its commencement, dearly beloved, doth this great Psalm exhort us unto bliss, which there is no one who desireth not.… And therefore this is the lesson which he teacheth, who saith, “Blessed are those that are undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord” (ver. 1). As much as to say, I know what thou wishest, thou art seeking bliss: if then thou wouldest be blessed, be undefiled. For the former all desire, the latter fear: yet without it what all wish cannot be attained. But where will any one be undefiled, save in the way? In what way, save in the law of the Lord?…

2. Listen now to what he addeth: “Blessed are they that keep His testimonies, and seek Him with their whole heart” (ver. 2). No other class of the blessed seemeth to me to be mentioned in these words, than that which has been already spoken of. For to examine into the testimonies of the Lord, and to seek Him with all the heart, this is to be undefiled in the way, this is to Walk in the law of the Lord. He then goeth on to say, “For they who do wickedness, shall not walk in His ways” (ver. 3). And yet we know that the workers of wickedness do search the testimonies of the Lord for this reason, that they prefer being learned to being righteous: we know that others also search the testimonies of the Lord, not because they are already living well, but that they may know how they ought to live. Such then do not as yet walk undefiled in the law of the Lord, and for this reason are not as yet blessed.…

3. It is written, and is read, and is true, in this Psalm, that “They who do wickedness, walk not in His ways” (ver. 3). But we must endeavour, with the help of God, “in” whose “hand are both we and our words,”3 that what is rightly said, by not being rightly understood, may not confuse the reader or hearer. For we must beware, lest all the Saints, whose words these are, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us;”4 may either not be thought to walk in the ways of the Lord, since sin is wickedness, and “they who do wickedness, walk not in His ways;” or, because it is not doubtful that they walk in the ways of the Lord, may be thought to have no sin, which is beyond doubt false. For it is not said merely for the sake of avoiding arrogance and pride. Otherwise it would not be added, “And the truth is not in us;” but it would be said, Humility is not in us: especially because the following words throw a clearer light on the meaning, and remove all the causes of doubt. For when the blessed John had said this, he added, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”5 …

4. What meaneth, “Thou hast charged that we shall keep Thy commandments too much”? (ver. 4). Is it, “Thou hast charged too much”? or, “to keep too much”? Whichever of these we understand, the sense seems contrary to that memorable and noble sentiment which the Greeks praise in their wise men, and which the Latins agree in praising. “Do nothing too much.”6 … But the Latin language sometimes uses the word nimis in such a sense, that we find it in the holy Scripture, and employ it in our discourses, as signifying, very much. In this passage, “Thou hast charged that we keep Thy commandments too much,” we simply understand very much, if we understand rightly; and if we say to any very dear friend, I love you too much, we do not wish to be understood to mean more than is fitting, but very much.

5. “O that,” he saith, “my ways were made so direct, that I might keep Thy statutes” (ver. 5). Thou indeed hast charged: O that I could realize what thou hast charged. When thou hearest, “O that,” recognise the words of one wishing; and having recognised the expression of a wish, lay aside the pride of presumption. For who saith that he desireth what he hath in such a manner in his power, that without need of any help he can do it? Therefore if man desireth what God chargeth, God must be prayed to grant Himself what He enjoineth.…

6. “So shall I not be confounded, while I have respect unto all Thy commandments” (ver. 6). We ought to look upon the commandments of God, whether when they are read, or when they are recalled to memory, as a looking-glass, as the Apostle James saith1. This man wisheth himself to be such, that he may regard as in a mirror the commandments of God, and may not be confounded; because he chooses not merely to be a hearer of them, but a doer. On this account he desireth that his ways may be made direct to keep the statutes of God. How to be made direct, save by the grace of God? Otherwise he will find in the law of God not a source of rejoicing, but of confusion, if he hath chosen to look into commandments, which he doth not.

7. “I will confess unto Thee,” he saith, “O Lord, in the directing of my heart; in that I shall have learned the judgments of Thy righteousness” (ver. 7). This is not the confession of sins, but of praise; as He also saith in whom there was no sin, “I will confess unto Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth;”2 and as it is written in the Book of Ecclesiasticus, “Thus shalt thou say in confession, of all the works of God, that they are very good.”3, “I will confess unto Thee,” he saith, “in the directing of my heart.” Indeed, if my ways are made straight, I will confess unto Thee, since Thou hast done it, and this is Thy praise, and not mine.…

8. Next he addeth: “I will keep Thy ordinances” (ver. 8).… But what is it that followeth? “O forsake me not even exceedingly!” or, as some copies have it, “even too much,” instead of, “even exceedingly.”4 But since God had left the world to the desert of sins, He would have forsaken it “even exceedingly,” if so powerful a cure had not supported it, that is, the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ; but now, according to this prayer of the body of Christ, He forsook it not “even exceedingly;” for, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.”5 …

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St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 144

Posted by Dim Bulb on October 19, 2014

1. The title of this Psalm is brief in number of words, but heavy in the weight of its mysteries. “To David himself against Goliath.” This battle was fought in the time of our fathers, and ye, beloved, remember it with me from Holy Scripture.… David put five stones in his scrip, he hurled but one. The five Books were chosen, but unity conquered. Then, having smitten and overthrown him, he took the enemy’s sword, and with it cut off his head. This our David also did, He overthrew the devil with his own weapons: and when his great ones, whom he had in his power, by means of whom he slew other souls, believe, they turn their tongues against the devil, and so Goliath’s head is cut off with his own sword.

2. “Blessed be the Lord my God, who teacheth my hands for battle, my fingers for war” (ver. 1). These are our words, if we be the Body of Christ. It seems a repetition of sentiment; “our hands for battle,” and “our fingers for war,” are the same. Or is there some difference between “hands” and “fingers”? Certainly both hands and fingers work. Not then without reason do we take “fingers” as put for “hands.” But still in the “fingers” we recognise the division of operation, yet still a sort of unity. Behold that grace! the Apostle saith,6 To one, this; to another, that; “there are diversities of operations; all these worketh one and the self-same Spirit;” there is the root of unity. With these “fingers” then the Body of Christ fighteth, going forth to “war,” going forth to “battle.” … By works of Mercy our enemy is conquered, and we could not have works of mercy unless we had charity, and charity we could have none unless we received it by the Holy Ghost; He then “teacheth our hands for battle, and our fingers for war:” to Him rightfully do we say, “My Mercy,” from whom we have also that we are merciful: “for he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy.”7

3. My Mercy and my Refuge, my Upholder and my Deliverer” (ver. 2). Much toileth this combatant, having his flesh lusting against his spirit. Keep what thou hast. Then shalt thou have in full what thou wishest, when “death shall have been swallowed up in victory;”8 when this mortal body has been raised, and is changed into the condition of the angels, and rises aloft to a heavenly quality.… There is life, there are good days, where nought lusteth against the spirit, where it is not said, “Fight,” but “Rejoice.” But who is he that lusteth for these days? Every man certainly saith, “I do.” Hear what followeth. I see that thou art toiling, I see that thou art engaged in battle, and in danger; hear what followeth: … “Depart from evil, and do good:” let not the poor first weep under thee, that the poor may rejoice through thee. For what reward, since now thou art fighting? “Seek peace, and ensue it.” Learn and say, “My Mercy and my Refuge, mine Upholder and my Deliverer, my Protector:” “mine Upholder,” lest I fall; “my Deliverer,” lest I stick; “my Protector,” lest I be stricken. In all these things, in all my toil, in all my battles, in all my difficulties, in Him have I hoped, “who subdueth my people under me.” Behold, our Head speaketh together with us.

4. “Lord, what is man, that Thou hast become known unto him?” (ver. 3). All is included in “that Thou hast become known unto him.” “Or the son of man, that Thou valuest him?” Thou valuest him, that is, Thou makest him of such importance, Thou countest him of such price, Thou knowest under what Thou placest him, over what Thou placest him. For valuing is considering the price of a thing. How greatly did He value man, who for him shed the blood of His only-begotten Son! For God valueth not man in the same way as one man valueth another he, when he findeth a slave for sale, giveth a higher price for a horse than for a man. Consider how greatly He valued thee, that thou mayest be able to say, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” And how greatly did He value thee, “who spared not His own Son”? “How shall He not also with Him freely give us all things?”1 He who giveth this food to the combatant, what keepeth He in store for the conqueror?…

5. “Man is made like unto vanity: his days pass away like a shadow” (ver. 4). What vanity? Time, which passeth on, and floweth by. For this “vanity” is said in comparison of the Truth, which ever abideth, and never faileth: for it too is a work of His Hand, in its degree. “For,” as it is written, “God filled the earth with His good things.”2 What is “His”? That accord with Him. But all these things, being earthly, fleeting, transitory, if they be compared to that Truth, where it is said, “I Am That I Am,”3 all this which passeth away is called “vanity.” For through time it vanisheth, like smoke into the air. And why should I say more than that which the Apostle James said, willing to bring down proud men to humility, “What is,” saith he, “your life? It is even a vapour, which appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”4 … Work then, though it be in the night, with thine hands, that is, by good works seek God, before the day come which shall gladden thee, lest the day come which shall sadden thee. For see how safely thou workest, who art not left by Him whom thou seekest; “that thy Father which seeth in secret may reward thee openly.”5 …

6. “Lord, bow Thy heavens, and come down: touch the mountains, and they shall smoke” (ver. 5). “Flash Thy lightning, and Thou shalt scatter them; send forth Thine arrows, and Thou shalt confound them” (ver. 6). “Send forth Thy Hand from above, and deliver me, and draw me out of many waters” (ver. 7). The Body of Christ, the humble David, full of grace, relying on God, fighting in this world, calleth for the help of God. What are “heavens bowed down”? Apostles humbled. For those “heavens declare the glory of God;” and of these heavens declaring the glory of God it is presently said, “There is neither speech nor language, but their voices are heard among them,” etc.6 When then these heavens sent forth their voices through all lands, and did wonderful things, while the Lord flashed and thundered from them by miracles and commandments, the gods were thought to have come down from heaven to men. For certain of the Gentiles, thinking this, desired even to sacrifice to them.… But they commended to these the Lord Jesus Christ, humbling themselves, that God might be praised; because “the heavens” were “bowed,” that “God” might “come down.” … “Touch the mountains, and they shall smoke.” So long as they are not touched, they seem to themselves great: they are now about to say, “Great art Thou, O Lord:”7 the mountains also are about to say, “Thou only art the Most Highest over all the earth.”8

7. But there are some that conspire, that “gather themselves together against the Lord, and against His Christ.”9 They have come together, they have conspired. “Flash forth Thy lightnings, and Thou shalt scatter them.” Abound with Thy miracles, and their conspiracy shall be broken.… “Send forth Thine arrows, and Thou shalt confound them.” Let the unsound be wounded, that, being well wounded, they may be made sound; and let them say, being set now in the Church, in the Body of Christ, let them say with the Church, “I am wounded with Love.”10 “Send forth Thine Hand from on high.” What afterward? What in the end? How conquereth the Body of Christ? By heavenly aid. “For the Lord Himself shall come with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God shall He descend from heaven,”11 Himself the Saviour of the body, the Hand of God. What is, “Out of many waters”? From many peoples. What peoples? Aliens, unbelievers, whether assailing us from without, or laying snares within. Take me out of many waters, in which Thou didst discipline me, in which Thou didst roll me, to free me from my filth. This is the “water of contradiction.”12 … “From the hand of strange children.” Hear, brethren, among whom we are, among whom we live, from whom we long to be delivered. “Whose mouth hath spoken vanity” (ver. 8). All of you to-day, if ye had not gathered yourselves together to these divine shows1 of the word of God, and were not at this hour engaged in them, how great vanities would ye be hearing! “whose mouth hath spoken vanity:” when, in short, would they, speaking vanity, hear you speaking vanity? “And their right hand is a right hand of iniquity.” What doest thou among them with thy pastoral scrip with five stones in it? Say it to me in another form: that same law which thou hast signified by five stones, signify in some other way also. “I will sing a new song unto Thee, O God” (ver. 9). “A new song” is of grace; “a new song” is of the new man; “a new song” is of the New Testament. But lest thou shouldest think that grace departeth from the law, whereas rather by grace the law is fulfilled, “upon a psaltery of ten strings will I sing unto Thee.” Upon the law of ten commandments: therein may I sing to Thee; therein may I rejoice to Thee; therein may “I sing to Thee a new song;” for, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.”2 But they who have not love may carry the psaltery, sing they cannot. Contradiction cannot make my psaltery to be silent.

8. “Who giveth salvation to kings, who redeemeth David His servant” (ver. 10). Ye know who David is; be yourselves David. Whence “redeemeth He David His servant”? Whence redeemeth He Christ? Whence redeemeth He the Body of Christ? “From the sword of ill intent deliver me.” “From the sword” is not sufficient; he addeth, “of ill intent.” Without doubt there is a sword of good intent. What is the sword of good intent? That whereof the Lord saith, “I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword.”3 For He was about to separate believers from unbelievers, sons from parents, and to sever all other ties, while the sword cut off what was diseased, but healed the members of Christ. Of good intent then is the sword twice sharpened, powerful with both edges, the Old and New Testaments, with the narration of the past and the promise of the future. That then is the sword of good intent: but the other is of ill intent, wherewith they talk vanity, for that is of good intent, wherewith God speaketh verity. For truly “the sons of men have teeth which are spears and arrows, and their tongue is a sharp sword.”4 “From” this “sword deliver me” (ver. 11). “And take me out of the hand of strange children, whose mouth hath spoken vanity:” just as before. And that which followeth, “their right hand is a right hand of iniquity,” the same he had set down before also, when he called them “many waters.” For lest thou shouldest think that the “many waters” were good waters, he explained them by the “sword of ill intent.”

9. “Whose sons are like young vines firmly planted in their youth” (ver. 12). He wisheth to recount their happiness. Observe, ye sons of light, sons of peace: observe, ye sons of the Church, members of Christ; observe whom he calleth “strangers,” whom he calleth “strange children,” whom he calleth “waters of contradiction,” whom he calleth a “sword of ill intent.” Observe, I beseech you, for among them ye are in peril, among their tongues ye fight against the desires of your flesh, among their tongues, set in the hand of the devil wherewith he fighteth.5 … What vanity hath their mouth spoken, and how is their right hand a right hand of iniquity? “Their daughters are fitted and adorned after the similitude of a temple.” “Their garners are full, bursting out from one store to another: their sheep are fruitful, multiplying in their streets” (ver. 13): “their oxen are fat: their hedge is not broken down, nor their road, nor is their crying in their streets” (ver. 14). Is not this then happiness? I ask the sons of the kingdom of heaven, I ask the offspring of everlasting resurrection, I ask the body of Christ, the members of Christ, the temple of God. Is not this then happiness, to have sons safe, daughters beautiful, garners full, cattle abundant, no downfall, I say not of a wall, but not even of a hedge, no tumult and clamour in the streets, but quiet, peace, abundance, plenty of all things in their houses and in their cities? Is not this then happiness? or ought the righteous to shun it? or findest thou not the house of the righteous too abounding with all these things, full of this happiness? Did not Abraham’s house abound with gold, silver, children, servants, cattle? What say we? is not this happiness? Be it so, still it is on the left hand. What is, on the left hand? Temporal, mortal, bodily. I desire not that thou shun it, but that thou think it not to be on the right hand.… For what ought they to have set on the right hand? God, eternity, the years of God which fail not, whereof is said, “and Thy years shall not fail.”6 There should be the right hand, there should be our longing. Let us use the left for the time, let us long for the right for eternity. “If riches increase, set not your heart upon them.”7 …

10. “They have called the people blessed who have these things” (ver. 15). O men that speak vanity! They have lost the true right hand, wicked and perverse, they have put on the benefits of God inversely. O wicked ones, O speakers of vanity, O strange children! What was on the left hand, they have set on the right. What dost thou, David? What dost thou, Body of Christ? What do ye, members of Christ? What do ye, not strange children, but children of God.… What say ye? Say ye with us, “Blessed is the people whose Lord is their God.”

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St Augustine’s Notes on Psalm 18

Posted by Dim Bulb on October 18, 2014


1. That is, for the strong of hand, Christ in His Manhood.8 “The words of this song which he spoke to the Lord on the day when the Lord delivered him out of the hands of his enemies, and of the hand of Saul; and he said, On the day when the Lord delivered him out of the hands of his enemies and of the hand of Saul:” namely, the king of the Jews, whom they had demanded for themselves.9 For as “David” is said to be by interpretation, strong of hand; so “Saul” is said to be demanding. Now it is well known, how that People demanded for themselves a king, and received him for their king, not according to the will of God, but according to their own will.

2. Christ, then, and the Church, that is, whole Christ, the Head and the Body, saith here, “I will love Thee, O Lord, My strength” (ver. 1). I will love Thee, O Lord, by whom I am strong.10

3. “O Lord, My stay, and My refuge, and My deliverer” (ver. 2). O Lord, who hast stayed Me, because I sought refuge with Thee: and I sought refuge, because Thou hast delivered Me. “My God is My helper; and I will hope in Him.” My God, who hast first afforded me the help of Thy call, that I might be able to hope in Thee. “My defender, and the horn of My salvation, and My redeemer.” My defender, because I have not leant upon Myself, lifting up as it were the horn of pride against Thee; but have found Thee a horn indeed, that is, the sure height of salvation: and that I might find it, Thou redeemedst Me.

4. “With praise will I call upon the Lord, and I shall be safe from Mine enemies” (ver. 3). Seeking not My own but the Lord’s glory, I will call upon Him, and there shall be no means whereby the errors of ungodliness can hurt Me.

5. “The pains of death,” that is, of the flesh, have “compassed Me about. And the overflowings of ungodliness have troubled Me” (ver. 4). Ungodly troubles1 stirred up for a time, like torrents of rain which will soon subside, have come on to trouble Me.

6. “The pains of hell compassed Me about” (ver. 5). Among those that compassed Me about to destroy Me, were pains of envy, which work death, and lead on to the hell of sin. “The snares of death prevented Me.” They prevented Me, so that they wished to hurt Me first, which shall afterwards be recompensed unto them. Now they seize unto destruction such men as they have evilly persuaded by the boast of righteousness: in the name but not in the reality of which they glory against the Gentiles.

7. “And in Mine oppression I called upon the Lord, and cried unto My God. And He heard My voice from His holy temple” (ver. 6). He heard from My heart, wherein He dwelleth, My voice. “And My cry in His sight entered into His ears;” and My cry, which I utter, not in the ears of men, but inwardly before Him Himself, “entered into His ears.”

8. “And the earth was moved and trembled” (ver. 7). When the Son of Man was thus glorified, sinners were moved and trembled. “And the foundations of the mountains were troubled.” And the hopes of the proud, which were in this life, were troubled. “And were moved, for God was wroth with them.” That is, that the hope of temporal goods might have now no more establishment in the hearts of men.

9. “There went up smoke in His wrath” (ver. 8). The tearful supplication of penitents went up, when they came to know God’s threatenings against the ungodly. “And fire burneth from His face.” And the ardour of love after repentance burns by the knowledge of Him. “Coals were kindled from Him.” They, who were already dead, abandoned by the fire of good desire and the light of righteousness, and who remained in coldness and darkness, re-enkindled and enlightened, have come to life again.

10. “And He bowed the heaven, and came down” (ver. 9). And He humbled the just One, that He might descend to men’s infirmity. “And darkness under His feet.” And the ungodly, who savour of things earthly, in the darkness of their own malice, knew not Him: for the earth under His feet is as it were His footstool.

11. “And He mounted above the cherubim, and did fly” (ver. 10). And He was exalted above the fulness of knowledge, that no man should come to Him but by love: for “love is the fulfilling of the law.”2 And full soon He showed to His lovers that He is incomprehensible, lest they should suppose that He is comprehended by corporeal imaginations. “He flew above the wings of the winds.” But that swiftness, whereby He showed Himself to be incomprehensible, is above the powers of souls, whereon as upon wings they raise themselves from earthly fears into the air of liberty.

12. “And hath made darkness His hiding place” (ver. 11). And hath settled the obscurity of the Sacraments, and the hidden hope in the heart of believers, where He may lie hid, and not abandon them. In this darkness too, wherein “we yet walk by faith, and not by sight,”3 as long as “we hope for what we see not, and with patience wait for it.”4 Round about Him is His tabernacle.” Yet they that believe Him turn to Him and encircle Him; for that He is in the midst of them, since He is equally the friend of all, in whom as in a tabernacle He at this time dwells. “Dark water in clouds of air.” Nor let any one on this account, if he understand the Scripture, imagine that he is already in that light, which will be when we shall have come out of faith into sight: for in the prophets and in all the preachers of the word of God there is obscure teaching.

13. “In respect of the brightness in His sight” (ver. 12): in comparison with the brightness, which is in the sight of His manifestation. “His clouds have passed over.” The preachers of His word are not now bounded by the confines of Judæa, but have passed over to the Gentiles. “Hail and coals of fire.” Reproofs are figured,5 whereby, as by hail, the hard hearts are bruised: but if a cultivated and genial soil, that is, a godly mind, receive them, the hail’s hardness dissolves into water, that is, the terror of the lightning-charged,6 and as it were frozen, reproof dissolves into satisfying doctrine; and hearts kindled by the fire of love revive. All these things in His clouds have passed over to the Gentiles.

14. “And the Lord hath thundered from heaven” (ver. 13). And in confidence of the Gospel the Lord hath sounded forth from the heart of the just One. “And the Highest gave His voice;” that we might entertain it, and in the depth of human things, might hear things heavenly.

15. “And He sent out His arrows, and scattered them” (ver. 14). And He sent out Evangelists traversing straight paths on the wings of strength, not in their own power, but His by whom they were sent. And “He scattered them,” to whom they were sent, that to some of them they should be “the savour of life unto life, to others the savour of death unto death.”1 “And He multiplied lightnings, and troubled them.” And He multiplied miracles, and troubled them.

16. “And the fountains of water were seen. And the fountains of water springing up into everlasting life,”2 which were made in the preachers, were seen. “And the foundations of the round world were revealed” (ver. 15). And the Prophets, who were not understood, and upon whom was to be built the world of believers in the Lord, were revealed. “At Thy chiding, O Lord:” crying out, “The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.”3 “At the blasting of the breath of Thy displeasure;” saying, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”4

17. “He hath sent down from on high, and hath fetched Me” (ver. 16): by calling out of the Gentiles for an inheritance “a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle.”5 “He hath taken Me out of the multitude of waters.” He hath taken Me out of the multitude of peoples.

18. “He hath delivered Me from My strongest enemies” (ver. 17). He hath delivered Me from Mine enemies, who prevailed to the afflicting and overturning of this temporal life of Mine. “And from them which hate Me; for they are too strong for Me:” as long as I am under them knowing not God.

19. “They have prevented Me in the day of My affliction” (ver. 18). They have first injured Me, in the time when I am bearing a mortal and toilsome body. “And the Lord hath become My stay.” And since the stay of earthly pleasure was disturbed and torn up by the bitterness of misery, the Lord hath become My stay.

20. “And hath brought Me forth into a broad place” (ver. 19). And since I was enduring the straits of the flesh, He brought Me forth into the spiritual breadth of faith. “He hath delivered Me, because He desired Me.” Before that I desired Him, He delivered Me from My most powerful enemies (who were envious of Me when I once desired Him), and from them that hated Me, because I do desire Him.

21. “And the Lord shall reward Me according to My righteousness” (ver. 20). And the Lord shall reward Me according to the righteousness of My good will, who first showed mercy, before that I had the good will. “And according to the cleanness of My hands He will recompense Me.” And according to the cleanness of My deeds He will recompense Me, who hath given Me to do well by bringing Me forth into the broad place of faith.

22. “Because I have kept the ways of the Lord” (ver. 21). That the breadth of good works, that are by faith, and the long-suffering of perseverance should follow after.

23. “Nor have I walked impiously apart from My God.” “For all His judgments are6 in My sight” (ver. 22). “For” with persevering contemplation I weigh “all His judgments,” that is, the rewards of the righteous, and the punishments of the ungodly, and the scourges of such as are to be chastened, and the trials of such as are to be proved. “And I have not cast out His righteousness from Me:” as they do that faint under their burden of them, and return to their own vomit.

24. “And I shall be undefiled with Him, and I shall keep Myself from Mine iniquity” (ver. 23).

25. “And the Lord shall reward Me according to My righteousness” (ver. 24). Accordingly not only for the breadth of faith, which worketh by love; but also for the length of perseverance, will the Lord reward Me according to My righteousness. “And according to the cleanness of My hands in the sight of His eyes.” Not as men see, but “in the sight of His eyes.” For “the things that are seen are temporal; but the things that are not seen are eternal:”7 whereto the height of hope appertains.

26. “With the holy Thou shalt be holy” (ver. 25). There is a hidden depth also, wherein Thou art known to be holy with the holy, for that Thou makest holy. “And with the harmless Thou shalt be harmless.” For Thou harmest no man, but each one is bound by the bands of his own sins.8

27. “And with the chosen Thou shalt be chosen” (ver. 26). And by him whom Thou choosest, Thou art chosen. “And with the froward Thou shalt be froward.” And with the froward Thou seemest froward: for they say, “The way of the Lord is not right:”9 and their way is not right.

28. “For Thou wilt make whole the humble people” (ver. 27). Now this seems froward to the froward, that Thou wilt make them whole that confess their sins. “And Thou wilt humble the eyes of the proud.” But them that are “ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seek to establish their own,”10 Thou wilt humble.

29. “For thou wilt light My candle, O Lord” (ver. 28). For our light is not from ourselves; but “Thou wilt light my candle, O Lord. O my God, Thou wilt enlighten my darkness.” For we through our sins are darkness; but “Thou, O my God, wilt enlighten my darkness.”

30. “For by Thee shall I be delivered from temptation” (ver. 29). For not by myself, but by Thee, shall I be delivered from temptation. “And in my God shall I leap over the wall.” And not in myself, but in my God shall I leap over the wall, which sin has raised between men and the heavenly Jerusalem.

31. “My God, His way is undefiled” (ver. 30). My God cometh not unto men, except they shall have purified the way of faith, whereby He may come to them; for that “His way is undefiled.” “The words of the Lord have been proved by fire.” The words of the Lord are tried by the fire of tribulation. “He is the Protector of them that hope in Him.” And all that hope not in themselves, but in Him, are not consumed by that same tribulation. For hope followeth faith.
32. “For who is God, but the Lord?” (ver. 31) whom we serve. “And who God, but our God?” And who is God, but the Lord? whom after good service we sons shall possess as the hoped for inheritance.

33. “God, who hath girded me with strength” (ver. 32). God, who hath girded me that I might be strong, lest the loosely flowing folds of desire hinder my deeds and steps. “And hath made my way undefiled.” And hath made the way of love, whereby I may come to Him, undefiled, as the way of faith is undefiled, whereby He comes to me.

34. “Who hath made my feet perfect like harts’ feet” (ver. 33). Who hath made my love perfect to surmount the thorny and dark entanglements of this world. “And will set me up on high.” And will fix my aim on the heavenly habitation, that “I may be filled with all the fulness of God.”1

35. “Who teacheth my hands for battle” (ver. 34). Who teacheth me to work for the overthrow of mine enemies, who strive to shut the kingdom of heaven against us. “And Thou hast made mine arms as a bow of steel.” And Thou hast made my earnest striving after good works unwearied.

36. “And Thou hast given me the defence of my salvation, and Thy right hand hath held me up” (ver. 35). And the favour of Thy grace hath held me up. “And Thy discipline hath directed me to the end.” And Thy correction, not suffering me to wander from the way, hath directed me that whatsoever I do, I refer to that end, whereby I may cleave to Thee. “And this Thy discipline, it shall teach me.” And that same correction of Thine shall teach me to attain to that, whereunto it hath directed me.

37. “Thou hast enlarged my steps under me” (ver. 36). Nor shall the straits of the flesh hinder me; for Thou hast enlarged my love, working in gladness even with these mortal things and members which are under me. “And my footsteps have not been weakened.” And either my goings, or the marks which I have imprinted for the imitation of those that follow, have not been weakened.

38. “I will follow up mine enemies, and seize them” (ver. 37). I will follow up my carnal affections, and will not be seized by them, but will seize them, so that they may be consumed. “And I will not turn, till they fail.” And from this purpose I will not turn myself to rest, till they fail who make a tumult about me.

39. “I will break them, and they shall not be able to stand” (ver. 38): and they shall not hold out against me. “They shall fall under my feet.” When they are cast down, I will place before me the loves2 whereby I walk for evermore.

40. “And Thou hast girded me with strength to the war” (ver. 39). And the loose desires of my flesh hast Thou bound up with strength, that in such a fight I may not be encumbered. “Thou hast supplanted under me them that rose up against me.” Thou hast caused them to be deceived, who followed upon me, that they should be brought under me, who desired to be over me.

41. “And thou hast given mine enemies the back to me” (ver. 40). And thou hast turned mine enemies, and hast made them to be a back to me, that is, to follow me. “And Thou hast destroyed them that hate me.” But such other of them as have persisted in hatred, Thou hast destroyed.

42. “They have cried out, and there was none to save them” (ver. 41). For who can save them, whom Thou wouldest not save? “To the Lord, and He did not hear them.” Nor did they cry out to any chance one, but to the Lord: and He did not judge them worthy of being heard, who depart not from their wickedness.

43. “And I will beat them as small as dust before the face of the wind” (ver. 42). And I will beat them small; for dry they are, receiving not the shower of God’s mercy; that borne aloft and puffed up with pride they may be hurried along from firm and unshaken hope, and as it were from the earth’s solidity and stability. “As the clay of the streets I will destroy them.” In their wanton and loose course along the broad ways of perdition, which many walk, will I destroy them.

44. “Thou wilt deliver Me from the contradictions of the people” (ver. 43). Thou wilt deliver Me from the contradictions of them who said, “If we send Him away, all the world will go after Him.”1

45. “Thou shalt make Me the head of the Gentiles. A people whom I have not known have served Me.” The people of the Gentiles, whom in bodily presence I have not visited, have served Me. “At the hearing of the ear they have obeyed Me” (ver. 44). They have not seen Me with the eye: but, receiving my preachers, at the hearing of the ear they have obeyed Me.

46. “The strange children have lied unto Me.” Children, not to be called Mine, but rather strange children, to whom it is rightly said, “Ye are of your father the devil,”2 have lied unto Me. “The strange children have waxen old” (ver. 45). The strange children, to whom for their renovation I brought the new Testament, have remained in the old man. “And they have halted from their own paths.” And like those that are weak in one foot, for holding the old they have rejected the new Testament, they have become halt, even in their old Law, rather following their own traditions, than God’s. For they brought frivolous charges of unwashen hands,3 because such were the paths, which themselves had made and worn by long use, in wandering from the ways of God’s commands.

47. “The Lord liveth, and blessed be my God.” “But to be carnally minded is death:”4 for “the Lord liveth, and blessed be my God. And let the God of my salvation be exalted” (ver. 46). And let me not think after an earthly fashion of the God of my salvation; nor look from Him for this earthly salvation, but that on high.

48. “O God, who givest Me vengeance, and subduest the people under Me” (ver. 47). O God, who avengest Me by subduing the people under Me. “My Deliverer from My angry enemies:” the Jews crying out, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.”5

49. “From them that rise up against Me Thou wilt exalt Me” (ver. 48). From the Jews that rise up against Me in My passion, Thou wilt exalt Me in My resurrection. “From the unjust man Thou wilt deliver Me.” From their unjust rule Thou wilt deliver Me.

50. “For this cause will I confess to Thee among the Gentiles, O Lord” (ver. 49). For this cause shall the Gentiles confess to Thee through Me, O Lord. “And I will sing unto Thy Name.” And Thou shall be more widely known by My good deeds.

51. “Magnifying the salvation of His King” (ver. 50). God, who magnifieth, so as to make wonderful, the salvation, which His Son giveth to believers.6 “And showing mercy to His Christ:” God, who showeth mercy to His Christ: “To David and to His seed for evermore:” to the Deliverer Himself strong of hand, who hath overcome this world; and to them whom, as believers in the Gospel, He hath begotten for evermore. What things soever are spoken in this Psalm which cannot apply to the Lord Himself personally, that is to the Head of the Church, must be referred to the Church. For whole Christ speaks here, in whom are all His members.

Posted in Bible, Catholic, fathers of the church, Notes on the Lectionary, NOTES ON THE PSALMS, Scripture | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

My Introduction to Psalm 1

Posted by Dim Bulb on October 18, 2014

This psalm is usually classified as a wisdom psalm inasmuch as it contains characteristics common to that genre. These include macarisms (i.e. blessed or happy sayings); extoling of the Torah; two-ways teaching (i.e. contrasting the actions and/or fate of the just and wicked); and acrostic structure (i.e. alphabetic structure).

The psalm can be easily divided into four parts (note that the three part structure given above is more generally accepted):

A) Vss 1-3. These verses focus on the just man. Vs 1 defines the just man by way of negation, detailing what the just man is not. Vs 2 looks at the just man in a positive fashion by describing something a just man does. Vs 3 applies a descriptive image of the just man.

B) Vs 4 Focus upon the wicked and applies a descriptive image of them.

C) Vs 5 Gives the consequences of the differences that exist between the just and the wicked.

D) Vs 6 The ultimate reason for these consequences.

The protestant commentator, Matthew Henry, gives a good, brief overview concerning the psalm, followed  by a common outline that differs slightly from the one presented above.

This is a psalm of instruction concerning good and evil, setting before us life and death, the blessing and the curse, that we may take the right way which leads to happiness and avoid that which will certainly end in our misery and ruin. The different character and condition of godly people and wicked people, those that serve God and those that serve him not, is here plainly stated in a few words; so that every man, if he will be faithful to himself, may here see his own face and then read his own doom. That division of the children of men into saints and sinners, righteous and unrighteous, the children of God and the children of the wicked one, as it is ancient, ever since the struggle began between sin and grace, the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, so it is lasting, and will survive all other divisions and subdivisions of men into high and low, rich and poor, bond and free; for by this men’s everlasting state will be determined, and the distinction will last as long as heaven and hell. This psalm shows us:

1) The holiness and happiness of a godly man (v. 1-3).

2) The sinfulness and misery of a wicked man (v. 4, 5).

3) The groundand reason of both (v. 6). Whoever collected the psalms of David (probably it was Ezra) with good reason put this psalm first, as a preface to the rest, because it is absolutely necessary to the acceptance of our devotions that we be righteous before God (for it is only the prayer of the upright that is his delight), and therefore that we be right in our notions of blessedness and in our choice of the way that leads to it. Those are not fit to put up good prayers who do not walk in good ways. (From the MATTHEW HENRY BIBLE COMMENTARY: PSALMS, CH 1)


Posted in Bible, Catholic, Notes on the Lectionary, NOTES ON THE PSALMS, Scripture | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »


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