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Archive for the ‘NOTES ON THE PSALMS’ Category

St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 79

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 11, 2017

The church in time of persecution prayeth for relief. It seems to belong to the time of the Maccabees

1 O God, the heathens are come into thy inheritance, they have defiled thy holy temple: they have made Jerusalem as a place to keep fruit.

The prophet, putting himself in the position of the people in the time of the Machabees, addresses God, complaining of the destruction of the temple and of the city. “O God, the heathens are come;” the pagan idolaters, “into thy inheritance;” to that city and province which you have selected from the entire world to be your own. Inheritance and possession are synonymous in the Scriptures. He tells, then, for what purpose the heathens came into his inheritance. “They have defiled thy holy temple,” which they did in the time of Antiochus, when they set up an idol in the temple, and profaned the altars by offering sacrifices to idols on them. “They have made Jerusalem as a place to keep fruit;” they left the royal city so desolate that it had no longer the look of a city, but looked rather like a hut set up to watch the fruit in a garden or vineyard; that such was the case is stated in 1 Mac. 3, where we read, “And Jerusalem was not inhabited, but was like a desert.”

2 They have given the dead bodies of thy servants to be meat for the fowls of the air: the flesh of thy saints for the beasts of the earth.
3 They have poured out their blood as water, round about Jerusalem and there was none to bury them.

Having deplored the devastation of the temple and the city, he now deplores the slaughter of the people, and the cruelty and the barbarity of the enemy who would not suffer the corpses of the slain to be buried. “They have given the dead bodies” of the Jews that were killed, not for interment, but exposed them to be eaten by the crows and the dogs. “They hare poured out their blood as water;” in great abundance, without regard to time or person; “and there was none to bury them;” and their bodies, therefore, were left to the birds of the air and the beasts of the fields. This was accomplished several times, and especially in the slaughter of three score of the leading men of the Jews, who were put to death in one day by Alcimus, as we read in 1 Mach. 7, where this very verse is quoted, when speaking of the slaughter.

4 We are become a reproach to our neighbours: a scorn and derision to them that are round about us.

He now deplores the infamy attached to them by such persecution. “We are become a reproach to our neighbors,” to the neighboring kingdoms of the Moabites, Ammonites, and others, who despise and mock us as weak and contemptible fellows.

5 How long, O Lord, wilt thou be angry for ever: shall thy zeal be kindled like a fire?

The prophet, seeing God’s anger so terribly excited against his people, that he feared for their total destruction, in deprecation of which he earnestly asks, “How long wilt thou be angry?” and he repeats it, saying, “shall thy zeal be kindled like a fire?” when he compares God’s anger to a fire, which if not extinguished at once, rapidly spreads and consumes everything before it.

6 Pour out thy wrath upon the nations that have not known thee: and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon thy name.

He prays here that God’s anger may be turned on the enemies of his people. We thy children, bad as we may be, are still thy children; we know you to be the true God, we worship you, we invoke you; rather, then, “pour forth thy wrath upon the nations that have not known thee;” who have not thee for their God, who do not invoke your name, who do not believe you to be omnipotent. This would seem to contradict the saying of our Savior, Luke 12, “And that servant who knew the will of his Lord, and did not according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.” St. Augustine replies, that the Gospel speaks of servants belonging to the same family, with whom the fault, and, consequently, the punishment is greater in proportion to their cognizance of the extent of it; but much more grievously do they sin, and much more severe will be the punishment of those who do not belong to the family; nay more, but are sworn enemies, “serving the creature rather than the Creator,” and grievously persecute the entire family; and it is of such persons the following verse speaks.

7 Because they have devoured Jacob; and have laid waste his place.

Not only have they paid no regard to the invocation of the Almighty, but they eat up his people as they would so much bread, robbing them, banishing them, putting them to death, seeking to drive them to apostasy, by threats and torments; “and have laid waste his place,” the city of Jerusalem which they left waste and desolate.

8 Remember not our former iniquities: let thy mercies speedily prevent us, for we are become exceeding poor.

For fear God’s people, in accusing their enemies, and deeming them worthy of punishment, would appear to be justifying themselves, as if their own punishment were not deserved, and that they were afflicted more through the power of their enemies than through the justice of God, in this verse they confess their own sins, and the sins of their fathers, and appeal to the mercy of a Father instead of the justice of a judge. “Remember not our former iniquities.” Punish us not for our old sins, nor for those of our fathers. God sometimes revenges the sins of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation, as we read in Exod. 20. Even the Lord himself says, Mt. 23, “Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers;” and, in few verses after, “That upon you may come all the just blood that hath been shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the just, even unto the blood of Zacharias the son of Barachias.” Nor does this contradict Ezechiel, who says, “The son shall not bear the iniquity of his father;” for the son, strictly speaking, is punished for his own sins, but he is said sometimes to be punished for the sins of his parents, for God would not have punished him, though he might have done so in justice, but for the sins of his parents. “Let thy mercies speedily prevent us;” we are rushing to destruction if your mercy will not speedily interfere; and he tells why, when he says, “for we are become exceeding poor;” afflicted, humbled, attenuated, wanting; not only the riches of this world, but also help and assistance.

9 Help us, O God, our saviour: and for the glory of thy name, O Lord, deliver us: and forgive us our sins for thy name’s sake:

The prophet now explains how “God’s mercies prevent us,” which he does in the shape of a prayer rather than an instruction. “Help us, O God, our Savior;” may your mercies prevent us, by helping us in doing what is right, so as to avoid sins of the future, and in doing penance to atone for sins of the past. He says, “help us,” to show that free will, instead of being suspended by grace, is only helped by it; for no one can be said to be helped but he who does something through the cooperation of grace. He then explains both by saying, “And for the glory of thy name, O Lord, deliver us.” Deliver us from the death of future sin, by helping us in doing what is right; not on account of our merits, but for your own glory. “And forgive us our sins, for thy name’s sake;” and for the sake of the same glory, and not for our sake, forgive us our past sins, by helping us to do penance.

10 Lest they should say among the Gentiles: Where is their God? And let him be made known among the nations before our eyes, By the revenging the blood of thy servants, which hath been shed:

Here is the reason why, in the preceding verse, he appealed to God by the glory of his name, “lest they should say among the gentiles: Where is their God?” where is the God that was wont to protect the Jews? He must have deserted them like an imbecile or a coward, or he is quite ignorant of what they have come to. “And let him be made known among the nations before our eyes;” such blasphemies will be uttered not only here, but they will spread among the surrounding nations; and when we hear and see them, we must needs be the more grievously afflicted. “By the revenging the blood of thy servant which hath been shed.” That your name, then, be not blasphemed, revenge the blood of your servants so cruelly spilled.

11 Let the sighing of the prisoners come in before thee. According to the greatness of thy arm, take possession of the children of them that have been put to death.

Let the groans of thy servants in captivity, and even in chains, come before thee. “According to the greatness of thy arm, take possession of the children of them that have been put to death.” The prophet, speaking in the person of God’s people, had previously asked two things, namely, that vengeance may be inflicted for the slain, and that the captives doomed to death may be freed; he now repeats the prayer, but inverts it, first asking for protection for the living, then vengeance for the dead. “According to the greatness of thy arm, take possession of the children of them that have been put to death.” As your arm is most powerful, bravely resist our persecutors, and take possession (it being your peculiar inheritance) of the remnants of your people, to wit, the children of those who have been slain by the enemy. “And render to our neighbors seven fold in their bosom,” punish our neighbors seven fold, and hide it in their bosom, so that it will not be easy for them to get quit of it: “the reproach wherewith they have reproached thee, O Lord;” as they reproached you with imbecility and folly, as if you were not the true God, show them that they were the real imbeciles and fools, and, instead of being men, were rather the vermin of the earth, or dust and ashes.

12 And render to our neighbours sevenfold in their bosom: the reproach wherewith they have reproached thee, O Lord.
13 But we thy people, and the sheep of thy pasture, will give thanks to thee for ever. We will
shew forth thy praise, unto generation and generation.

St. Augustine, writing on the words, “render to our neighbor,” says, with much truth, that such and similar expressions are to be read rather as predictions than imprecations; for the Psalm is concluded by the certain prediction that God’s praise would have no end. They, says he, (and they deserve it) will get seven fold punishment in their bosom; but we will give thanks to thee;” we will praise thee, and preach up thy glory to all ages. That was foreshadowed to the Jews, with whom the Machabees held sway for many years after the persecution of Antiochus; but will be more completely accomplished in the Church of Christ, which, after many and varied persecutions, will, on the day of judgment, see all her persecutors receive in their bosom the reward of their iniquity, while she, with Christ her King, will, in the heavenly Jerusalem, praise her God through ages of ages.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 16

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 11, 2017

Christ’s future victory and triumph over the world, and death

1 Preserve me, O Lord, for I have put my trust in thee.

Which may be supposed to be said by Christ or by any sincere Christian; that is, guard, protect me from the impending trouble, for in thee alone, and in no created being, have I put my trust, which is evident from what follows: for,

2 I have said to the Lord, thou art my God, for thou hast no need of my goods.

I have confessed to the Lord, and said from my heart: “Thou art my God,” varying the expression from Lord, “for thou hast no need of my goods,” but I rather have need of thine; you, in nowise, depend on me, I entirely depend on you; you are, therefore, my only true and supreme Lord, and, therefore, in thee alone I hope and confide. These expressions proceed from the prophet in the person of Christ; at the time he was not only man, but liable to suffering and death.

3 To the saints, who are in his land, he hath made wonderful all my desires in them.

“As God has no need of my goods,” I will seek to confer them on his elect, and of which friendly intentions God is witness, for “He has made wonderful all my desires in them;” that is, all my benevolence and good will towards his saints and his elect. God is said to have made the benevolence of Christ to the elect wonderful, by declaring it both through the prophets, through the various figures of the Old Testament, as well as by the miracles of Christ and his apostles; and wonderful was Christ’s love for his elect, when he laid down his life for them.

4 Their infirmities were multiplied: afterwards they made haste. I will not gather together their meetings for blood offerings: nor will I be mindful of their names by my lips.

The effect of the benevolence of Christ towards his elect; they who, by reason of the grievous wounds of sin, so as to be unable to walk, when healed by the grace of God now began to run in the way of the commandments. “Their infirmities are multiplied;” that is, their spiritual infirmities and diseases; hence the apostle to the Romans, chap. 5, “When we were as yet infirm, Christ suffered for us;” and, in a few verses after, in explanation of the passage, he says: “When we were sinners.” The Hebrew for “infirmity” is made by many translators to stand for “idols;” such is not its signification; it properly means infirmity accompanied with pain, and may be figuratively applied to idols; because idols are infirm and powerless, or because they make sinners of men, and thus infirm. “Afterwards they made haste,” which means the very weakest among them, made so by the multiplicity of their sins, but afterwards, restored by grace, became so strong “as to exult in running their way.” Such was the case in the infancy of the Church, when the converts so hastened to the scaffold. “I will not gather together their meetings for blood offerings;” I do not approve of their “meetings for blood offerings;” and, therefore, I will not call them together, “nor will I be mindful of their names by my lips;” I will not only refuse to call such meetings together, but I will not even speak or make mention of such meetings. The connection between this latter part and the beginning of the verse now appears, for he assigns a reason why the elect, after having fallen into a number of sins, and especially idolatry, made such haste “in running in the way of the Lord;” because, in consequence of their having the most thorough abhorrence of idols and of their worship, so much so, as not to allow their name even to be mentioned; he therefore cleansed the elect in Christ from the sin of idolatry, and thus made them saints, “To run in the way of his commandments.”

5 The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup: it is thou that wilt restore my inheritance to me.

Having declared his detestation of idols and of sin, he adds his reason for so doing: because he places all his happiness in God alone. An expression most becoming the Redeemer who, entirely “separated from sinners,” and in thorough union with God the Father, places all his happiness in him. A thing we, too, as far as we are able, are bound to. “The Lord is the portion of my inheritance;” that is, the portion which came to me by inheritance, my whole, my all, my everything; “and of my cup;” a repetition of the idea, for the word “cup,” from being divided among the guests, is often made to signify the inheritance which is divided among the children. If you will, “inheritance” may signify substantial wealth, or valuables, and “cup,” delicacies; when the meaning would be, that all my substantial and refined pleasures are fixed in God alone; “it is thou that wilt restore my inheritance to me.” These words are supposed to have been used by Christ, while yet a mortal, before he had got full possession of his inheritance. When we use them, we hold all happiness in God in desire, but not yet in actual possession. That possession is in God’s keeping, and he will hand it over to us on the last day, as he did to Christ on the day of his resurrection. St. Paul alludes to this when he says, “For I know whom I have believed; and I am certain that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him, against that day.”

6 The lines are fallen unto me in goodly places: for my inheritance is goodly to me.

By a simile drawn from an inheritance in this world, he declares the superiority of that in eternity, for those who seek God and his glory. When an inheritance was divided among a family, the fields were measured with lines, and divided, and lots were cast for the several divisions; and the lines were said to fall in goodly places, when the best part of the land was had by lot. The meaning then is, I have obtained the best part of the inheritance by a most fortunate cast or lot, “for my inheritance is goodly to me;” a mere repetition of the same. He alludes to the division by lot; that he may remind us that the principle of the inheritance comes from predestination, and predestination in our regard is a sort of lot; whence St. Paul, Ephes. 1:11, says, “In whom we are also called by lot;” and Coloss. 1:12, “To be partakers of the lot of the saints.”

7 I will bless the Lord, who hath given me understanding: moreover, my reins also have corrected me even till night.

Thanks to God for having inspired him with the thought, and inflamed him with the desire of choosing so valuable an inheritance. “I will bless the Lord.” I will praise him, the author of such a blessing, “who hath given me understanding,” who makes me know, and prudently choose the inheritance; “moreover my reins also have corrected me even till night.” Reins or loins, in the Scriptures signify affections, or desires; whence the expression, “Searching the heart and reins;” and, “prove my heart and my reins;” the heart signifying the thoughts; the reins, the affections: “night” means the time of tribulation; and day, that of prosperity: the expression “correct me,” would be more properly translated by the word “instructed.” Thus the sense will be: not only in prosperity, but in adversity, my whole affections, inflamed to love God, instructed me in a most urgent manner to bear my sufferings patiently, hoping for the best always from Almighty God.

8 I set the Lord always in my sight: for he is at my right hand, that I be not moved.

From the intelligent and affectionate manner in which he praised God, in the preceding verse, it is quite clear God must have been always before his eyes, for the soul is more where it loves, than where it animates. “For he is at my right hand, that I be not moved;” nor was I deceived in having God always before my eyes; that is, the eyes of my heart; for he is really always on my right hand, as if he were protecting my side, and preceding me, like a brave auxiliary; that I may not be disturbed from my path, but persist and persevere to the very end.

9 Therefore my heart hath been glad, and my tongue hath rejoiced: moreover, my flesh also shall rest in hope.

He now tells what that “great inheritance” is that God is “to restore” to him and to others, who have chosen God. “Therefore,” because the “Lord is on my right hand,” a most faithful helper and protector, “my heart hath been glad,” with that true and solid joy of which our Lord speaks in the gospel, when he says, “Your heart shall rejoice, and nobody shall take your joy from you.” “And my tongue hath rejoiced,” because eternal joy is wont to show itself externally; moreover my flesh also shall rest in hope;” that is, my soul shall rejoice, and my flesh shall sleep in secure and placid death, being in certain expectation of a very speedy resurrection.

10 Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; nor wilt thou give thy holy one to see corruption.

This is explained by the apostles Peter and Paul, Acts 2 and 13; and though, strictly speaking; it applies to Christ alone, whose soul was not left in hell, meaning the limbo of the holy fathers; nor did his body in the sepulchre undergo any putrefaction, yet we can all apply it to ourselves, inasmuch as we are members of Christ, and through him, as the apostle has it, “God has raised us up together,” 2 Ephes; and because our souls will not be left in hell, meaning purgatory, nor will our flesh see corruption.

11 Thou hast made known to me the ways of life, thou shalt fill me with joy with thy countenance: at thy right hand are delights even to the end.

The complete promise of the inheritance is here explained. “Thou hast made known to me the ways of life;” you have “taught me the way” of returning to life from death. A most beautiful metaphor, by which the mode of resurrection is called a way unknown up to that time, because nobody to that time, with the exception of Christ, had truly risen. And he adds, you have not only taught me the way of rising from the dead, but “Thou wilt fill me with joy with thy countenance;” making me glorious, immortal, and happy, by showing me your countenance; because, from the beatific vision, in which consists essential happiness, glory even redounds on the body, which glory was the only one that Christ had not always; for his soul had such glory from the time of his conception, “at thy right hand are delights even to the end.” Not content with conferring glory on me, you will place me on your right hand in heaven, where the glory will be everlasting. All which apply to the elect too, in a certain sense; to whom God shows the road to life when he teaches them that the observance of his law is the way to the kingdom of heaven. “He fills the elect too, with joy,” when he shows himself to them, “face to face;” when, with his right hand he offers them delights even unto the end;” when he places them on his right hand, and with his right hand fills them, as if from an inexhaustible fountain, with delights interminable. We may here note the incredible rashness of Theodore Bera, “You will not leave my soul in hell;” “You will not leave my body in the grave.” If this be not a corruption of the sacred text, we have none. I have demonstrated most clearly in the “Controversies,” that the words in this passage and in Acts 2, signify, both in the Hebrew and in the Greek, not “corpse” and “grave,” but “soul” and “hell,” and can signify nothing else.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 23

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 5, 2017

1 The Lord ruleth me: and I shall want nothing.

The happiness of the elect, under the figure of sheep in charge of some excellent shepherd, is described in this Psalm. David, one of such sheep, exclaims, “The Lord ruleth me, and I shall want nothing;” I am one of God’s sheep, and he being a most wise, powerful, and good shepherd, I may confidently assert, “I shall want nothing.” This is the language of one of the happy, “on the road,” and “in hope.” For the happy, actually so, and “at home,” do not use the future tense, but the present, because they are done with labor and grief, and have already “entered into the joy of their Lord.” But the blessed on the road, and in hope, cannot say, I want nothing, being subject to many passions; but they can justly say, “I will want nothing;” because, when they will want they will get; when they shall be hungry, they will not fail to be supplied with food; when they shall be sick, they will be sure of a physician. The words, “I shall want nothing,” come to be explained by him after. Sheep require, first, rich pasture; secondly, pure water; thirdly, one to bring them back when they stray; fourthly, to be brought through easy passages; fifthly, to be protected from wolves and wild beasts; sixthly, to be supported when tired and weary; seventhly, if cut or maimed by passing through cliffs or rocks, to be cured; and, lastly, at the close of day, at the end of their journey, to have a home wherein they may securely rest. All these matters God gives in abundance to his elect, and they can, therefore, justly say, “I shall want nothing.” David takes up the first in these words, “He hath set me in a place of pasture;” not in a barren or desert spot, but in prairie land, where an abundance of the choicest and most wholesome grass is to be had; where the sheep have food in abundance; the food, in a spiritual sense, being the knowledge of God, his sacraments, especially the Eucharist, Truth himself, for these are what support, nourish, and increase the spiritual life within us.

2 He hath set me in a place of pasture. He hath brought me up, on the water of refreshment:

The second necessary for the sheep, viz., to have not only plenty of wholesome pasture, but to have plenty of pure water at hand, to be cooled in the heat and the thirst. The spiritual water that extinguishes the thirst of us sheep, is the grace of God, of which Christ himself speaks in the Gospel, Jn. 4, “Whosoever shall drink of the water I will give him, shall not thirst forever.” Nothing is so effectual in curbing our carnal desires, as a taste of the love of God; to the soul who once tastes of it, everything else seems insipid.

3 He hath converted my soul. He hath led me on the paths of justice, for his own name’s sake.

The third want of the sheep, the being brought back when they stray; for man, though he may by his own strength turn from God, cannot by his own strength return to him. He says then: The good shepherd sought me out when I strayed, brought me back, and, more than that, never allowed me to stray again—a peculiar privilege to the elect. “He hath led me on the paths of justice.” The fourth duty of the shepherd, made me walk in the narrow path of his commandments; and, thereby, lead the life of the just. That he effected by taking from the power and strength of the tempter, by an increase of charity, by additional sweetness, by illuminating with his justice, by enticements, by excitement, by endearment, by terror, and other innumerable ways, on which, if we would only reflect for a moment, we would never cease, during our whole lifetime, to return thanks to so sweet a Pastor; the more so, when all this has been done, not by reason of our previous merits, but “on account of his own name, that he may make known the riches of his mercy to the praise of the glory of his grace.”

4 For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me.

The fifth service rendered the sheep, is their protection from wolves and other wild beasts. “For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death;” through dark, dreary places, exposed to all manner of dangers from wild beasts, robbers, precipices, “I will fear no evils, for thou art with me.” And, in truth, no one can well imagine the security a faithful soul feels when they bring to mind that God, who cannot be resisted, accompanies them. “The shadow of death” is of frequent recurrence in the Scripture; the proper meaning of which is that dense darkness, which shuts out all light, and is caused by death. The blind are said to be in darkness, because they see nothing; and with much more reason are the dead said to be so, because they feel nothing. Hence, the poets make the dead to dwell in shady places, wrapped up in darkness; and hence, the Scripture promiscuously uses darkness for the shadow of death, to explain one through the other, as in Job 3, “Let darkness and the shadow of death cover it;” and Job 10, “To a land that is dark, and covered with the mist of death;” Isaias 9, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen;” in each of which passages “dwelling in darkness,” and “dwelling in the region of the shadow of death,” are used to signify the same thing. And as dark places are exposed to a great many dangers, and we generally go through them with no small amount of fear, David, therefore, says, “Though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death:” in dense darkness, surrounded by danger, “I will fear no evils, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me.” The sixth benefit conferred on the sheep, their being supported when weary. He now drops the simile of the sheep, and takes up the shepherd, for sheep are not supported, when weary, by a staff, but are carried on the shoulders of the shepherd; which God is always ready to offer his faithful souls when weary.

5 Thou hast prepared a table before me against them that afflict me. Thou hast anointed my head with oil; and my chalice which inebreateth me, how goodly is it!

The seventh favor, namely, the wonderful consolation extended by God to his elect, in the troubles incidental to them in this world. The meaning of this verse is, not that God has prepared a table, wine and oil, against his enemies, as if they were the weapons wherewith to fight; but the meaning is, that God provides great consolations to meet great tribulations; and, as the enemy seeks to do us much injury, so God pours upon us many consolations, which are pictured as if we were enjoying a feast, where the table was overspread with the choicest meats, with the rarest wines, and the most precious perfumed ointments, such as we read of Mary Magdalen having poured on the head of our Savior. “Against them that afflict me.” This is clearer in the Greek, and the meaning of it is, that out of the persecution and trouble prepared for me by my enemies, you have extracted great consolation—a well furnished table for me. “thou hast anointed my head with oil.” Thou hast poured precious ointment on my head, and thus “made my face cheerful with oil:” nor was there wanting the cup of wine, inebriating me with thy grace, so “goodly,” and so “gladdening to the heart.” Such another passage occurs in Psalm 93, “According to the multitude of my sorrows in my heart, thy comforts have given joy to my soul.” And in 2 Cor. 7, “I am filled with comfort: I exceedingly abound with joy in all our tribulation.”

6 And thy mercy will follow me all the days of my life. And that I may dwell in the house of the Lord unto length of days.

This is the last good, that brings to the supreme good. “Thy mercy will follow me,” not for a time, but forever, which is the peculiar privilege of the elect. “And that I may dwell;” that is, it will follow me for that purpose, “to dwell in the house of the Lord, unto length of days;” that is, forever.

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Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 31

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 25, 2017


ARG. THOMAS. That CHRIST, when crucified, commended His Spirit into His FATHER’s hands, speedily to receive it again. The Voice of CHRIST, hanging on the Cross, and praying for Himself and for His faithful people. Here is the Confession of Faith of them that believe in GOD. The Voice of CHRIST in His Passion concerning the Jews.

VEN. BEDE. This title is a well-known one, pertaining to the LORD CHRIST, concerning Whose Passion and Resurrection this whole Psalm is sung.

Through the whole Psalm they are the words of the LORD the SAVIOUR. At the beginning He prayeth to the FATHER, that He may be freed from imminent ills, and then exults, without doubting that He hath been heard. Next, He returns to His Passion, and by diverse allusions, marvellously describeth how it was ordered. Have mercy upon Me, O Lord, for I am in trouble. Thirdly, He returneth thanks for Himself and His faithful people, since He hath given His gifts of mercy to the universal Church: admonishing also the Saints that they persevere in the love of the LORD, since they have heard of the rewards of the good, and the retribution of the evil. This Psalm may, historically, be understood of David himself.

SYRIAC PSALTER. A thanksgiving, and a perpetual supplication to GOD.

S. JEROME. The Psalm, at the opening, contains the voice of the Mediator Himself; then of the people redeemed by His Blood, in the person of the Prophet. The Redeemer therefore saith to the FATHER, In Thee, O Lord, &c.


I have before mentioned the tradition that our LORD, beginning the 22nd Psalm on the Cross, went through that and those which follow, till He concluded His prayer and His mortal life together with the sixth verse of the present Psalm. The first six verses, therefore, have always been considered as forming a separate Psalm; and from the very earliest ages have been appropriated in the West to Compline. For, night being the type of death, (L.) it was felt that the words with which our LORD closed the day of His earthly life were the fittest with which the LORD’s followers could close each day of their earthly pilgrimage. What is the precise meaning of the words pro extasi, which end the title, it seems difficult to say: it seems probable that it had its rise from the verse, I said in My haste, this same expression occurring in the LXX. It is not mentioned by S. Jerome, nor Cassiodorus; though it is recognised by S. Augustine. The poet Apollinarius evidently takes it of the especial influx of the HOLY GHOST under which David composed this Psalm.* The Psalm itself is recommended by S. Athanasius to Marcellinus as most appropriate to the Christian who, for the Name of his Master, is enduring the attacks of enemies, or suffering from the coldness of friends. S. Augustine dwells at great length on the ecstasy or transport under which it was composed. “An ecstasy,” says he, “is either a panic on account of some dreadful apprehension, or a straining after heavenly things in such sort, that the sense of earthly things is in some sense lost.” And having shown how, in either sense, the Psalm is applicable, he proceeds: “Here, then, CHRIST speaketh in the Prophet; I venture to say CHRIST speaketh. The Psalmist will say some things in this Psalm which may seem as if they could not apply to CHRIST, to that excellency of our Head, and especially to that Word Which was in the beginning GOD with GOD: nor perhaps will some things here seem to apply to Him in the form of a servant, which form of a servant He took from the Virgin: and yet CHRIST speaketh, because CHRIST in CHRIST’S members.”

1 In thee, O LORD, have I put my trust: let me never be put to confusion, deliver me in thy righteousness.

Let Me never be put to confusion. If they are the words of our LORD on the Cross, (Ay.) then it is better to take them in the Vulgate sense, Let me not be put to confusion eternally. “Though I bear all the sins of the world for a while, in order that they may be done away for ever, let them be confounded that persecute Me, but let not Me be confounded; let them be afraid, but let not Me be afraid.” And observe that the verse which is the commencement of this Psalm of David’s is the end of the most glorious hymn that the Church uses: O Lord, in Thee have I trusted: let me never be confounded. As if to show us that the beginning and end of Christian life must send up this prayer,—must acknowledge that from our own acts, if we are left to ourselves, nothing but confusion can follow.* In Thy righteousness. They take it of the SON of GOD, Who is made wisdom and righteousness to us. And here, as they observe, and all through the Psalm, David sometimes speaks in the person of the Head, sometimes in that of the members, without giving any notice of the change. “Which he doth,” says Ayguan, (Ay.) “on account of the exceeding unity which there is between the Head and the members. Just as the tongue undertakes to speak in the person of all the limbs; as, if the foot be hurt, the tongue says, You hurt me. For He Who vouchsafed for us to be Man, and to be endued with the form of a servant, disdains not to transfigure us into Himself. Which He doth in many ways; as when He speaketh in the person of His members as if it were His own, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?’ And again, ‘I was an hungered, and ye gave Me meat.’ Or when He manifests, in or from Himself, something which He hath not of Himself, but of us, because He has mercifully received it from us: as when He speaks of being sorrowful, or of fearing. He, then, Who thus transfigures us into Himself, disdains not to use our words, that we may with a good courage employ His. Wherefore, although CHRIST saith some things in this Psalm which cannot apply to Him as Head of the Church, yet it is CHRIST Who speaks them for all that, because CHRIST is in His members, and the Person of the Bridegroom and Bride are, as it were, one.” And S. Augustine still more strikingly: “The wonderful and excellent unity of this Person the prophet Isaiah also sets forth: (A.) for speaking in him too, CHRIST saith in prophecy: ‘He hath bound a mitre on Me as on a bridegroom the chaplet, and hath adorned Me with ornaments as a bride.’ He calls Himself the Bride as well as the Bridegroom: why calls He Himself the Bridegroom and the Bride, unless they should be two in one flesh? If two in one flesh, why not two in one voice? CHRIST may therefore speak, because the Church speaks in CHRIST, and CHRIST in the Church, and the Body in the Head, and the Head in the Body.” Notice that the words which are in the LXX., καὶ ἐξελοῦ με, are not to be found either in the Hebrew or in the Vulgate, and are very probably only a different version of the same phrase. Let me never be put to confusion. It may be in the future—I shall never be confounded; or better still, I shall not be confounded for ever: (C.) that is, though I may be confounded for a while, though for a while it may seem that GOD’s face was withdrawn from me, that promise shall be fulfilled, “For shame ye shall have double, and for confusion they shall delight in their portion: therefore in their land shall they possess the double, everlasting joy shall be upon them.”*

2a (2) Bow down thine ear to me: make haste to deliver me.

Bow down, in two senses: the one by which the LORD bowed His ear to the commandments of His FATHER; (L.) the other by which, since our prayers have no power to ascend to heaven, the SON of GOD stoops, as it were, to meet them half way. Or mystically, (A.) Bow down Thyself, as in the Incarnation: for so it is written, “He bowed the heavens, and came down.”* In like manner, when the woman taken in adultery was brought before our LORD, He stooped down: just as when the whole human race was arraigned before the tribunal of His justice, (A.) He had stooped down, by taking upon Himself our form, and became subject to the Cross for our sakes. Make haste to deliver me. It is the natural prayer of man, and as we see, not forbidden by grace. But think how long the time seems to us in passing, which is to our LORD but as one moment; for a thousand years to Him are but as one day, and one day as a thousand years.* The Master of the Sentences understands the text in a different way. Others must wait until the time of the general Resurrection: Make haste to deliver Me. Them Thou shalt raise again at the end of the world; Me, on the third day: them, (C.) as the general harvest; Me, as the first-fruits. Or, if we take it in another sense: Make haste to deliver Me, and why? Because man makes such haste to destroy himself.

2b (3) And be thou my strong rock, and house of defence: that thou mayest save me.
3 (4) For thou art my strong rock, and my castle: be thou also my guide, and lead me for thy name’s sake.

The foolishness of GOD is wiser than man. So it may be said of these two verses: Be Thou My strong rock: for Thou art My strong rock:* the prayer to GOD that He may be that which we know He is. That He may be in reality and in our feeling that which we know Him to be by faith.* It is the same prayer that might be made with respect to one of the cities of refuge. We know that He is our hiding-place, as the city of refuge was the hiding-place of those who had committed manslaughter. But as the city of refuge was no refuge except to those that used their utmost endeavours to fly thither, so this our strong rock, however much it be so by nature, will not be so to us, unless with all our heart and soul we seek that He should be such. Be Thou My strong rock.* “Notice,” says S. Gregory, “that the place is of little avail, unless the Spirit of GOD be present. Satan sinned in heaven; Adam sinned in Paradise; Lot, who had been a saint in Sodom, sinned in the mountain.” For Thou art My strong rock—there we have the past; (C.) the various helps for the sake of which we trust GOD: and my castle—there we have the future; the erection of hope which we dare to build because we have been so assisted in times past. Be Thou also my Guide. In one sense we thank the LORD that He has been our Guide;* in the other we pray that we may follow His steps, because He is our Guide. That He marked out the path for us, we know: that we cannot walk in the path which He has marked out for us, except by His own grace, (Cd.) we know also. And lead me. And there we see the necessary progression of a Christian life. Thou, art my strong rock: Be Thou also my guide. A guide is not wanted in a fortress; (Z.) but a guide is needed in such an aggressive warfare as ours always must be. And notice why we are to be led: Lead me, for Thy Name’s sake.* Thy Name, the Name set over the Cross, JESUS of Nazareth; Thy Name, the Name so given by the Angel, before He was conceived in the womb. Lead me: because this our true Moses is our leader in the wilderness: because this our true Joshua is our leader over the Jordan to the promised land.

5 Draw me out of the net that they have laid privily for me: for thou art my strength.

Many, says a mediæval writer,* were the nets which Satan laid for our LORD: the triple net of concupiscence in the wilderness; the net of perplexity in the questionings of the Scribes and Pharisees; the net of fear in the garden; the net of divided duty upon the Cross.* And yet it is written, that they have laid; for Satan acts not by himself, but employs his instruments, whether the natural impulses of the human frame, as hunger and thirst, or the mistakes of good men, as the Apostles, “LORD, wilt Thou at this time?” or the temptations of the wicked, as the “Let CHRIST the King of Israel descend now from the Cross” of the Chief Priests. Cardinal Hugo dwells at great length on the way in which GOD extricates His elect from these nets. “De Deo,”* as he says, “educente, deducente, circumducente, adducente, introducente.” In the Vulgate and the LXX.* the prayer is made still more emphatic and immediate, Draw me out of this net: as if to adopt the supplication with the greater force to every one of GOD’s servants who may take it in their lips. Art thou in trouble, O Christian, from the concupiscence of an evil heart? Draw me out of this net, that they—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—have laid for me. Art thou beset by the machinations of evil spirits, with thoughts injected into the soul which thou abhorrest, whether they spring from the Mammon of covetousness, the Moloch of anger, or the Belial of impurity? Draw me out of this net that they have laid for me. Art thou afflicted with earthly enemies, eager to slander away thy good name, to deprive thee of thy rightful influence, to cut short thy means of serving GOD? Draw me out of this net that they have laid for me. Or, (G.) if you choose to take it rather as the future,—Thou shalt draw Me out,—marvellously was that promise fulfilled. The net spread was, “Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cæsar or not?” The rent in the net was, “Render therefore unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and unto GOD the things that are GOD’s.” The net was, “Moses in the Law commanded that such should be stoned, but what sayest Thou?” The rent was, “He that is without sin amongst you, let him first cast a stone at her.” The net, “Let CHRIST the King of Israel descend:” the rent, “It is finished.” But above and beyond all, (C.) at that first Easter, this prayer or promise was most emphatically fulfilled. The net then, the cavern of the new tomb, the great stone, the quaternion of soldiers, the seal. And how He was drawn out of that net, let the Alleluias of Easter-tide year by year repeat. And yet notice that word privily, (Z.) although it is given with more force in our version than in the LXX. or Vulgate. For never is any net so dangerous,—never is any machination of Satan so formidable,—as when it is secret. The prayer of the hero of old might be the prayer of every Christian now, “Only give us light, and destroy us.” This then is what he prays to be delivered out of: now see what He prays to be delivered into.

5 (6) Into thy hands I commend my spirit: for thou hast redeemed me, O LORD, thou GOD of truth.

O blessed verse, (G.) whereby the world’s redemption was sealed! wherewith the most pure Spirit of the SAVIOUR departed from His most sacred Body! This is the verse which, as it hallowed the dying bed of the Master, so it has formed the last utterance of many of His servants. Happy verse, which has merited to form the last accents of so many of those from death to life, from sorrow to joy, (L.) from a vale of misery to a paradise of immortality! The Proto-martyr ended his struggle with these words: the same words are recorded to have been uttered by the dying S. Nicolas; by S. Basil the Great; and above all by S. Louis of France, who with this prayer breathed forth his spirit on the coast of Tunis, just as the Christian fleet was reported in sight. Thence arises the question,* a question much discussed by mediæval authors, how far the Soul of CHRIST may be said to have been redeemed. And they answer that it was, by His own perfect obedience: nevertheless, in a far different sense from that in which the souls of His servants are redeemed. Just as our LORD commended His Spirit to GOD in a different way from that in which we also commend our spirits to Him: He, as a SON to His FATHER; we, as a pardoned culprit to a merciful Judge.* There is a tradition among the later Fathers that Satan took his station on the left arm of the Cross during the whole time of our LORD’s Passion, anxiously waiting for something that he might have to accuse Him, and that with these words he found his endeavour in vain, (C.) and departed. Cassiodorus well says, He commends to the FATHER that inestimable treasure, His soul. If that soul were an inestimable treasure, it was of greater value than the whole world: therefore, in giving it, He paid the ransom of the whole world. It was a good and safe hand to which He trusted that treasure.* It is a happy thought of one of the oldest Christian writers, that, ever since our LORD pronounced this commendation of His own Spirit, the spirits of the righteous have had secure access to the same FATHER: and so says S. Athanasius,* that the souls of all good men were by these same words entrusted into the same loving care, CHRIST desiring that His people should have no less secure place of refuge at the hour of their death, than He had at His. It was an ancient custom, though not commanded, that I know, by any rubric, that the Priest, at the moment of consecration, should repeat these words to himself; testifying the completion of the bloody Sacrifice on Calvary at the moment of the consummation of the unbloody Sacrifice on the Altar.

6 (7) I have hated them that hold of superstitious vanities: and my trust hath been in the LORD.

It well follows, Because into Thy hands, (L.) therefore I hate all other hands. And so in the opposite sense: Because the LORD answered not Saul,* therefore he consulted the woman that had a familiar spirit. Vanities, in their primary sense, no doubt are the idols that having eyes, see not, having ears, hear not; but also all those helps in which man is wont to put his trust, and of which it is written, “Thus saith the LORD: Let not the rich man glory in his riches, neither let the mighty man glory in his might.”* Notice that the Vulgate translates, not, I have hated, but Thou hast hated;* still the speech of our LORD, and still with reference to His own oblation. S. Augustine says very well, (A.) “Who holds to vanity? He that by fear of death dieth. For by fear of death he lieth, and dieth before he dies, who therefore lied that he might live. Whereas Thou shunnest one death, which Thou canst put off, but canst not put away, Thou fallest into two, so as that Thou diest first in soul, and then in body.” And Hugh of S. Victor says very well,* “It is the voice of the righteous man who despises present felicity. He had just before commended his spirit to GOD; and as if he were now asked what he desired to be done with his body, he answers that he cares not, because all flesh is vanity. For they who superfluously and unlawfully attend to it, and minister to it, cannot keep it back one hour from corruption.” Again: it is, they say, mercifully spoken by GOD; (G.) Thou hatest them that observe vanities, not that are surrounded with them, not that sometimes give way to them, not even that are subject to them; (for it is written, “The creature was made subject to vanity not willingly;”*) but only those that observe, that is give themselves up to, them.

7 (8) I will be glad, and rejoice in thy mercy: for thou hast considered my trouble, and hast known my soul in adversities.

It is to this verse that the Blessed Virgin seems to refer when she says, (L.) “For He hath regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden:” words almost the same with the LXX. rendering of Thou hast considered my trouble. And see how beautifully the two clauses depend on each other: (G.) I will be glad and rejoice—and why?—because Thou hast considered my trouble. How did He consider it but by taking it upon Himself? It is written of old time that “the LORD looked upon the affliction of the children of Israel, and had respect unto them;”* but He not only looked on the affliction of His true Israel, but He Himself took it upon Himself. The inference is perhaps more ingenious than true which Gerhohus draws: Thou hast looked back upon, respexisti, not simply looked upon, aspexisti, my trouble. And why? Because Thy face was formerly turned away from me on account of my sins. Thou hast known, my soul in adversities. And oh, how well does He, Who for our sakes was so afflicted, rejected by those whom He came to save, slain by those to whom He came to give life, how well does He know our soul in the time of its sufferings! Thou hast known. Yes, always with the knowledge of omniscience; but with the knowledge of sympathy only from the time that Thou didst not abhor the Virgin’s womb.* So, as always, GOD suffers that man may rejoice; (C.) GOD; is troubled that man may exult. Cassiodorus well draws a lesson from this verse against Pelagianism; telling us, as it does, how the I will of the first clause depends on the Thou hast of the second. In adversities. Or as it is in the LXX. and the Vulgate, From necessities. Necessities, so made by sin: as labour is now a necessity because of GOD’s award, “In the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread:” as death is a necessity,* because of the declaration, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” And by these necessities we may understand that which the schoolmen call the penalties—

Cauma, gelu, sitis, esuries, morbus, labor et mors.

8 (9) Thou hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy: but hast set my feet in a large room.

The original reference was no doubt to the city of Keilah, (L.) where David was so nearly shut up to his destruction. So was Jonah shut up in the whale’s belly; (Cd.) so Joseph in Pharaoh’s prison. But above all, so was our LORD shut up in the narrow sepulchre; of which, nevertheless, it may be said, that He was not shut up there, seeing that early on the third morning He was set free thence. And it is worth while to notice how often the width or breadth of the place of deliverance forms a part of Scriptural thanksgiving; “Thou shalt make room enough under me for to go, that my footsteps shall not slide.”* As if with reference to that Jerusalem in which there are many mansions:

Our homes are here too narrow;
Our friends are far apart,
We scarce share joy or sorrow
With the desert of our heart;

There will be room above
In our great FATHER’s hall,
To live with those we love
Through the best time of all.

And the large room may also mean the Church Catholic on earth, (G.) extended as it is from sea to sea, and from the flood unto the world’s end. My feet. They understand it also of the Apostles, who went forth through the world, being, as it were, (Ay.) the LORD’s feet, in order to proclaim His message, and destroying the power of Satan; as it is written, “The foot shall tread it down, even the feet of the poor and the steps of the needy.”

9 (10) Have mercy upon me, O LORD, for I am in trouble: and mine eye is consumed for very heaviness; yea, my soul, and my body.

The command is, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice,* and weep with them that weep.”* Therefore the Church, though rejoicing with her triumphant LORD, she has just said, “Thou hast set my feet in a large room,” yet, sorrowing with her militant members, continues, almost in the same breath, Have mercy upon me, for I am in trouble. Or, (G.) if we like to go back again, and see here the afflictions of which we have in the preceding verse seen the termination, then they take the eye of the understanding, the soul of the will,* the body—or as it is in the Vulgate, the belly—of the memory; because, as food is digested by the one, so are facts by the other. And in all these our blessed LORD suffered, (C.) so as to be consumed or worn out by them. Hence the question of the Jews, “Thou art not yet fifty years old.”* Some of the schoolmen have gathered from this verse that our LORD, while still in the flesh, actually suffered the pains of damnation: an opinion which, if not heretical,* is at all events as false as it is painful. But if we put these words in the mouth of the Church, then the eye is to be understood of her prelates, by whom, as it were, she sees; the soul,* of her more intellectual children; the body, of the poor and ignorant. Instead of Mine eye is consumed for very heaviness, (A.) the Vulgate has it, is troubled with anger. “And how should we not be angry, says S. Augustine, “to see those filling the theatres who a little before filled the churches; to hear those blaspheming who but a little before said Amen in the service; those who have taken the words of David on their lips, (Cd.) performing the works of Satan in their lives.” And this also we may learn,—how hard is that war which the saints have to carry on against the world, the flesh, and the devil; that war which made S. Paul cry out, “O wretched man that I am!” and David say, Mine eye is consumed for very heaviness.

10a (11) For my life is waxen old with heaviness: and my years with mourning.
10b (12) My strength faileth me, because of mine iniquity: and my bones are consumed.

Still our LORD speaks; (L.) and He speaks of what He suffered, to the end that thou, O Christian, shouldst become, instead of a Benoni, a child of sorrow, a Benjamin, a son of His right hand.* And notice, He not only tells us how, during His whole life, He was a man of sorrows for our sake, but how long that life was; for length of time is not to be measured by the number of years, but by the number of doings or sufferings in those years. Instead of heaviness, the Vulgate translates, My strength has become weak in poverty, or beggary, as the LXX. has it. Ayguan complains bitterly how true that was in his time: how the Church was weakened, (Ay.) not by means of poverty, but in poverty by means of riches. It is the old story of “golden chalices and wooden priests.” Singularly enough, Parez1 understands it in exactly the opposite sense. S. Albertus draws the best corollary from the text.* “CHRIST speaks, and speaks concerning His members. Hence we can test ourselves whether we are of the members of CHRIST and the Church: if so, we are in very heaviness: and because of this moaning it is that the Church is called a dove. Hence the Apostles also are called doves: ‘Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?’ ”*

11 (13) I became a reproof among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbours: and they of mine acquaintance were afraid of me; and they that did see me without conveyed themselves from me.

Mine enemies: and they understand it of the heathen: (Ay.) My neighbours; it is said of the Jews: Mine acquaintances; that applies to bad Christians. And these, as causing more pain to our LORD than either heathens or Jews, (A.) are put in the third and highest place. These are the vine-branches of which Ezekiel speaks;* branches of the True Vine, but to be cut off and thrown into the fire. And as of other trees, however wild, however knotty, some use may still be made, but vine-branches are absolutely worthless save to heat the oven, so of the comparative demerits of heathens and bad Christians.* They of Mine acquaintance were afraid of Me. Of whom is it written but of Peter, who was indeed afraid of that acquaintance? who said, “I know not the man.” So that our LORD might say with Job in old time, (D. C.) “Mine acquaintance are verily estranged from me: my kinsfolk have failed, and my familiar friends have forgotten me.”* They that did see Me without;* only as He was in His external appearance; only as He was when there was no form nor comeliness, and when He was seen, no beauty that He should be desired.* They saw His humanity, and could not behold His Divinity; they saw how He was punished in the sight of men,* they saw not His hope full of immortality. And as with the Master, so with the servants, says S. Bernard. Multi vident nostras cruces qui non vident nostras unctiones. I became also a reproof; and as the Head did, so do His members. “If any one,” says S. Chrysostom,* “strives after patience and humility, he is a hypocrite. If he allows himself in the pleasures of this world, he is a glutton. If he seeks justice, he is impatient; if he seeks it not, he is a fool. If he would be prudent, he is stingy; if he would make others happy, he is dissolute. If he gives himself up to prayer, he is vainglorious. And this is the great loss of the Church, that by means like these many are held back from goodness; which the Psalmist lamenting says, I became a reproof among all mine enemies.”

12 (14) I am clean forgotten, as a dead man out of mind: I am become like a broken vessel.

Clean forgotten. Not absolutely, (D. C.) but so far as hope is concerned. We trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel. We trusted.* O miserable imperfect! And observe again, that the LORD is not forgotten by our lips, but by our heart. And so it is written in Isaiah: “This people draw near Me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour Me, but have removed their heart far from Me.”* And in Jeremiah: “Thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins.”* I am become like a broken vessel. Even like those pitchers which, in the midnight attack on the army of the Midianites, being dashed together and broken,* emitted the glare of the concealed lamp to the confusion of the assembled host. For so the LORD’s Body being broken on the Cross, gave to light the till then concealed splendour of His Divinity.

With pitcher and with burning lamp
He marched to storm th’ invader’s camp, (L.)
Our own, our Royal Gideon.
The mortal pitcher shattered sore,
The Godhead’s lamp to ruin bore
The vanquish’d host of Midian.

I can hardly admire the observation of Diez,* who from this expression gathers that the Passion of our LORD is profitable for every purpose we can need. A vessel which is not broken usually serves but to one or two uses: “Let it,” says he, “once be shattered, and we care not to what end, however vile, we employ it.”1 S. Paulinus says: “Our LORD JESUS, the Word of GOD, was made flesh and dwelt among us; and took upon Himself the fragile vessel of our body, which by the voluntary sin of Adam had, as it were, slipped from his hand and been broken, that He might form it in a better mould, becoming, as the Psalmist says,* a broken vessel, in the likeness of a body of sin, that He might condemn sin in the body.”

13 (15) For I have heard the blasphemy of the multitude: and fear is on every side, while they conspire together against me, and take their counsel to take away my life.

Blasphemy. Take it literally, (L.) and you have the evil sayings of Nabal and Shimei: take it mystically, and you are led to the Pavement and to the Cross: you hear the “Prophesy, who is it that smote Thee?”* and the many other things blasphemously spoken against Him. Fear was on every side. In the contests of the servants of GOD it was now on this side, now on that; (H.) never on every side at once. In the contest of the SON of GOD, all that they bore separately, He bore conjointly, and by means of all He “was heard in that He feared.” They conspire: for like Samson’s foxes,* with different aims and going in different ways,—for neither so did their witness agree together,—they were yet joined together by the firebrand of malice. And they conspire principally against three things: (Ay.) against the wisdom of CHRIST, to catch Him in His words; against the goodness of CHRIST, in ascribing His works to the devil; against the power of CHRIST, in putting Him to death. And thus the prophecy was fulfilled: “The LORD said unto me, A conspiracy is found among the men of Judah, and among the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”*

14 (16) But my hope hath been in thee, O LORD: I have said, Thou art my GOD.

For the first clause see the first verse of this Psalm: for the second, read what is said on Psalm 16:2.

15 (17) My time is in thy hand; deliver me from the hand of mine enemies: and from them that persecute me.

My time is in Thy hand: or as it is in the LXX. and the Vulgate, My lots are in Thy hand. It has been thought that the LXX. altered the passage in order to protest against the idea of human affairs being ordered by fate, and to teach that that which seemed as uncertain and accidental, as a lot,* was really in GOD’s hand. Others think that it is an error of transcription: κλῆροι for καιροί. The old Italic, and therefore, of course, Cassiodorus and the Mozarabic, have tempora. What does the lot mean? The Doctor of grace, of course, explains it of grace. “Since GOD had found no deserts of ours, He hath saved us by the lot of His own will, (A.) because He willed, not because we were worthy. This is a lot. With much significance upon that vesture of the LORD woven from the top, which signifies the eternity of love,* when it could not be divided by the persecutors, was the lot cast.” Others understand it of the various lots or portions of life.* And hence because the lot of life is in GOD’s hands and not in ours, therefore S. Athanasius argues in his apology for his flight,* that we have no right to throw it away by exposing it to the fury of persecutors.* “Thou givest,” says Theodoret, “to whom Thou wilt, and as Thou wilt, the lot of sorrow or joy, riches or poverty, servitude or domination, peace or war; and again Thou changest these lots according to the purpose of Thine own counsel.” Eusebius, who takes the other reading, understands the clause as an exhortation to patience. My time is in Thy hand: the time when Thy promise shall be fulfilled;* “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted” the time when Thine own sweet words shall be made good; “Your sorrow shall be turned into joy;” the time of which it is written, “The patient abiding of the meek shall not perish for ever.” My time, because it will work for my good; because its procrastination is to try my faith, because its arrival is to awaken my thankfulness. “Give us, O LORD,” cries the most scriptural of commentators,* “the lot of predestination according to the good pleasure of Thy will,—the lot of grace, that with Thine Apostle,* I may receive the remission of sin by faith in Thee; and the lot of glory, as Thou didst promise to Thy holy Prophet, that he should stand in his lot at the end of the days.* Notice; they distinguish between mine enemies, and them that persecute me. By the former, they understand Satan; by the latter,* his earthly agents. At the end of this verse there is in the Mozarabic Psalter a diapsalma: and the Antiphon for the second part is: “LORD, let me not be confounded: for I have called upon Thee.”

16 (18) Show thy servant the light of thy countenance: and save me for thy mercies’ sake.

S. Ambrose, in one of his epistles,* explains at length how the name and duties of a servant are applied to Him “Who took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” Thy countenance. For GOD shows His countenance to us in two ways; (Ay.) to faith in types and enigmas; to sight in the Beatific Vision.* Richard of S. Victor says, “There can be nothing sweeter, nothing more desirable to lovers, than mutually to see one another, and without this everything that to others is pleasant seems distasteful, everything that to others is desirable seems loathsome. Each desires to love and to be loved, each desires to see and to be seen. After the fashion, therefore, of a lover, the soul that is inflamed with the desire of Divine love, that is in an ecstasy with the longing for the Celestial Bridegroom, crieth out, Show the light of Thy countenance upon Thy servant.” Again,* they take Thy countenance to signify the SON, Thy mercy to set forth the HOLY GHOST. Gerhohus, here comparing the shining forth of GOD’s face to the light which the pillar of fire shed upon the camp of the Israelites, (G.) works out the whole type with reference to that analogy. And again, taking GOD’s countenance of our LORD, we may see in it the fourfold character of this Angel of the Great Counsel, and may pray to be transformed into the image of each. That by the mystery of the Divine Incarnation, the face of a man, we may have brotherly love; by the mystery of the LORD’s Passion, the face of an ox, we may crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts; by the mystery of the LORD’s Resurrection the face of a lion, we may gain the courage of resistance, so that sin may no longer have dominion over us; by the mystery of the LORD’s Ascension, the face of an eagle, that we may also in heart and mind ascend to Him and with Him continually dwell. In this way the light of our LORD’s Countenance is to be displayed on us, changing while it shines upon us, into His own image.

17 (19) Let me not be confounded, O LORD, for I have called upon thee: let the ungodly be put to confusion, and be put to silence in the grave.
18 (20) Let the lying lips be put to silence: which cruelly, disdainfully, and despitefully speak against the righteous.

Here again we have the optative of cursing, which we may explain as a future, or as a prophecy. They take the lying lips,* not only to mean the lips that utter falsehood, but those which by speaking anything unworthy of a Christian, break the conditions under which they were given to man, namely, (G.) of being employed in the praises of GOD. Let me not be confounded. It is the same petition with which Bathsheba came to Solomon, and that we must present to the true Solomon.* Again: there is no occasion to take the prayer, Let them be put to confusion, as a petition for their destruction; rather, let them be put to salutary shame here, in order that they may not find the day of grace past, and when the season for prayer is over, be put to silence in the grave. Those who have written on penitence,* have employed this text to show that there may be great sorrow for sin without a spark of true repentance. Those that are lost, grieve, as Dives did, not for the guilt of their sin, but for the bitterness of their punishment: for there can be no true repentance without confession, and here there is no confession because there is silence. And notice again the triplicity of evil as so constantly through Holy Scriptures: (C.) cruelly, disdainfully, and despitefully. Cruelly: when they have both the power and the will to do harm: “We beseech thee,* let this man be put to death,” of Jeremiah: “Let Him be crucified,”* of our LORD. Despitefully: when they have the will but not the power; “All this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew, sitting at the king’s gate.”* Disdainfully: when they think it not worth while to show their power; “Even that which they build, if a fox go up,* he shall even break down their stone wall.”* Against the righteous. “This is the Name whereby He shall be called, The LORD our Righteous One.”

19 (21) O how plentiful is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee: and that thou hast prepared for them that put their trust in thee, even before the sons of men!

This verse is employed more than once by Origen to prove the termination of the torments of hell,* following as it does on the clause which threatens them to the wicked. Pseudo-Jerome endeavours to refute this application at great length.* Which Thou hast laid up: or as it is in the Vulgate, Which Thou hast hidden. With one consent they take it of the Beatific Vision; the great ocean of all blessedness,* the hidden sea which sends forth every stream of happiness that comes into this world.* Hence the LORD speaks of the kingdom of heaven as a hidden treasure: hence “our life is hid with CHRIST in GOD.”* Theodoret well observes that the laying up of this goodness,* or rather sweetness, as it is in the Vulgate, take it in whatever sense you will, is typified by the law forbidding the employment of honey in sacrifices. This life, which is a life of sacrifice and self-denial, is not to enjoy the honey of GOD’s perfect vision. But in inferior senses they make very beautiful application.* How plentiful is Thy goodness in the deep and hidden meanings of Holy Scripture; those loving allegories and parables for which the Church in all ages has been wont to dig; the kernel hid in the shell, the gold concealed in the ore, the gem tabernacled in the shrine. Again, in another sense,* this sweetness is hidden in the Blessed Eucharist; concealed from those whose soul, like that of the Israelites, loathed this light bread; who ask with the Jews, How can this Man give us His Flesh to eat? concealed for those who can say with that saint of old:

JESU,* quem velatum nunc aspicio,
Quando fiet illud quod tam sitio
Ut, te revelatâ eernens facie,
Visu sim beatus tuæ gloriæ?

How plentiful. Gerhohus well says: (G.) “It was sweetness that the penitent thief heard the words, ‘Thou shalt be in paradise,’ even had that been to take place after thousands and thousands of years; but the plentiful sweetness was in the word that the LORD added, ‘to-day.’ There we have the plenty and the sweetness; but the great plenty (for so it is in the Vulgate) consisted in that, ‘With Me.’ Consider then the verse: ‘Amen, I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.’ Amen; that is, I, the faithful and true Amen, say faithfully and truly to thee, that, not after a long lapse of time, but to-day, not with an Angel of lower or higher rank, but with Me, shalt thou be in paradise: that is, in the true garden of delights, where is the great plentifulness of sweetness.” And see what is the fruit of standing by the Cross. We are taken thither at the beginning of the Psalm by the words, ‘Into Thy hands I commend My Spirit,’ and after waiting there, we have now come to the plentiful goodness laid up in that kingdom to which this ladder set upon the earth verily leads. Laid up for them that fear Thee. Prepared for them that put their trust in Thee. See how the fear of GOD leads us to hope in GOD. Dionysius the Carthusian has a passage which I should spoil not to give in his own words. “There is a double kind of fear, (D. C.) filial and servile; whence this passage may be interpreted in a double sense. Thou hast hidden, that is, Thou hast concealed, these Thy good things from them that fear Thee with a servile fear. For such are neither worthy nor capable of the least degustation of that Divine sweetness, because they do good only, not from the love of good, but from the horror of punishment. In the other sense thus: which Thou hast laid up; that is, sweetly shown, and only declared in the hidden chambers of the heart, to them that fear Thee with a filial fear. But in the mean while, some that love GOD with only initial fear, as those that are newly converted, are for one short hour admitted to the table of the sons, so that they may taste a little of the sweetness of GOD, and may cry out to Him, O how plentiful is Thy goodness. But this is done by the wisdom of JESUS CHRIST, that He may allure them to Himself, and may cause them, as it is written in Ecclesiasticus,* ‘in the day of evil to remember the day of good.’ Wherefore, they who have thus been privileged, have need to take great care, lest when they are deprived of the aforesaid consolation, they become pusillanimous, or else too importunately demand it of GOD, in Whose hand it is to give, or not to give, as ‘He will.’ ” But in one sense more we must apply the words to the sweetness of the Passion. The mystery indeed hid, (Cd.) and laid up from ages and from generations, and at last revealed on Calvary. Even before the sons of men. Not primarily nor principally for their sakes; but, says one, if a king’s palace is lighted up at night, however closely it be barred up and concealed from view,* yet flashes of the light and bursts of the music will find their way forth, and be seen and heard by the wanderer on the wild common in the dark night.

20 (22) Thou shalt hide them privily by thine own presence from the provoking of all men: thou shalt keep them secretly in thy tabernacle from the strife of tongues.

Observe, in the first place, who it is that hides:* “In that day shall the LORD defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”* Then, when He hides; “Jacob shall return to his home, and shall be in rest and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid.”* And, thirdly, from what? From the provoking of all men, which He while on earth bore Himself from the cradle to the grave. And again notice: as S. Augustine says, of how little value is place, however strong, or however well defended, in itself for our protection. “It were of little avail to be hidden,” (A.) says he, “in heaven, in paradise, in Abraham’s bosom, if GOD be not with thee. Let GOD Himself be our place, and our house of refuge, and be thou the house of GOD, and then thy house will dwell in thee and thou in it. If thou shalt receive Him in this world in thy heart, then He shall receive thee after this world to His presence.” In Thy tabernacle. It is CHRIST Himself; (Ay.) a tabernacle rather than a temple in this sense; that He goes along with us and abides with us in all our journeyings through the world. Bellarmine says well: “In Thy tabernacle; that is, in Thyself, in which Thou also dwellest, (Cd.) for GOD hath no other tabernacle wherein He can be found but Himself. And they that by love and contemplation dwell in GOD, fulfil the Psalm, ‘Whoso dwelleth under the defence of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.’ ” From the strife of tongues. Take it if you will, (L.) with S. Augustine, of heretics; our comfort must be to consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, “lest we be weary and faint in our minds.”* It was prophesied in His very infancy, that our LORD should be “for a sign that should be spoken against:”* and of our LORD’s people long after it was said, “As concerning this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”*

21 (23) Thanks be to the LORD: for he hath showed me marvellous great kindness in a strong city.

Literally,* the greater number of commentators understand the strong city of Keilah, and the marvellous great kindness of the warning given to David by GOD that he would be delivered up by its inhabitants.* According to others it refers to the time when he was received by the Jews at Hebron, whither GOD had commanded him to go up,* and crowned there. And first notice how faith loves to descend from the general promise to the particular instance: (L.) “Thou shalt hide them,” “Thou shalt keep them,” and then, “He hath showed me marvellous great kindness.” Thanks be to the Lord. And why? Let Gerhohus tell us. “Thanks, because He has not weighed my merits according to my righteousness, (G.) but has given His HOLY SPIRIT, and showed me marvellous great kindness. For what am I, and what is my father’s house, that to me, precondemned in original sin, and not justified by actual righteousness,—to me, who am dust and ashes, He should vouchsafe to show such kindness, and that without any preceding good merits, but with a multitude of evil merits?” In a strong city. They take it of the Church militant, (P.) strong in the infallibility of her doctrine, strong in the virtue of her Sacraments, strong in the various gifts of the HOLY GHOST. They take it also, and that more blessedly, of the Church triumphant; strong in that no enemy can draw nigh to attack her, as it is written, “The people that are therein dwelt careless, quiet and secure.”* And again, they take it of conscience; (Ay.) as it is written, “Behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and brazen walls against the whole land, and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee.”* It is in the LXX. A city of encompassment, and therefore the Italic gives it, In civitate circumstantiœ: in the LXX. περιοχῆς. This of course means a city compassed round with walls and bulwarks. Yet Augustine chooses to understand it of Jerusalem, (A.) which old belief held to stand in the middle of the earth, and thus to be compassed round by every other people. The strong city is also well applied to our LORD; (D. C.) for, says one, His humanity, by the mercy of GOD alone, has been assumed into a personal union with the WORD preserved from every sin, and filled with every grace, which created nature is capable of containing.
[A soul free from passions is a walled city, but the enemies, breaching this wall,* made their way in together with Bathsheba to David. Wherefore he prays in the fiftieth (51st) Psalm that the walls of Jerusalem may be built.]

22a (24) And when I made haste, I said: I am cast out of the sight of thine eyes.

When I made haste, as we are all so continually tempted to do: (Ay.) “My time is not yet come, but your time is alway ready.” So the Apostles, only a few weeks after the resurrection, “LORD, wilt Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”* But, according to the Vulgate, it is, I said in my ecstasy: and as S. Augustine reminds us, we must remember that the very title of the Psalm is, “A Psalm of David in his ecstasy.” They take this mystically to mean the rapture of those who have been admitted to see something of the glory of the next world; as Moses, to whom the LORD showed “His back parts,” as Paul when he heard things “which it was not possible for a man to utter.” And seeing this glory, he would do as so many of the saints have done,* judge himself unworthy to stand in the presence of GOD. Thus the Seraphim with twain of their wings covered their faces; thus Elijah, when he heard the still small voice,* wrapped his face in his mantle: thus Moses,* when he stood by the burning bush, hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon GOD: thus David was afraid to take the ark of the LORD into his own city:* thus Simon Peter, after the miraculous draught of fishes, fell down and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O LORD.”* The whole again is very beautifully applied to our LORD’s Passion. Where notice three things: 1. That though He kept silence at the judgment-seat,* yet not in His ecstasy of love on the Cross: I said. 2. Where it was, on Calvary, in the greatest display of the greatest love: I said in My ecstasy. 3. What it was: I am cast out of the sight of Thine eyes: and what is that but, (D. C.) “My GOD, My GOD, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” And again: I am cast out. Compare with this that saying of S. Paul, regarding Him that died on this same Cross: “The bodies of those beasts whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the High Priest for sin,* are burned without the camp. Wherefore JESUS also … suffered without the gate.” And yet again this: It is written in Isaiah, according to the reading of the Vulgate: “Yet did we esteem Him a leper.”* Now of the leper the command was, “All the days wherein the plague shall be in him, he shall dwell alone: without the camp shall his habitation be.”* Even in this sense then, it is well written: I said in My ecstasy, I am cast out of the sight of Thine eyes.

22b (25) Nevertheless, thou heardest the voice of my prayer: when I cried unto thee.

Nevertheless, or as it is in the Vulgate, Therefore; which, Lorinus says,* affords no true sense: but Venerable Bede and Ayguan with a deeper insight into the Psalmist’s meaning, (Ay.) support that signification.* For notice that GOD’s therefore are not as man’s therefores. “JESUS loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus;* when He had heard therefore that he was sick, He abode two days still in the same place where He was.” Or again: Israel “believed not in GOD, and put not their trust in His help: so—He commanded the clouds above, and opened the doors of heaven.” Which compare with man’s therefore in the same Psalm: “He cast out the heathen also before them.… and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents: so—they tempted and displeased the Most High GOD.” This verse, (A.) with the preceding ones, are ingeniously applied by S. Augustine to S. Peter. And Gerhohus works out the analogy at greater length. To him, (G.) marvellous great kindness had been showed by having the keys of a strong city entrusted to him; but by his own free will he was cast out of the sight of his LORD’s eyes, when those all-seeing eyes clearly beheld his future fall, and he nevertheless said, “Though I should die with Thee, I will not deny Thee.” And still further was he cast out when he said, “I know not this Man of whom ye speak.” And because he was so cast out, therefore it is written, (D. C.) “The LORD turned and looked upon Peter.” Therefore Thou heardest the voice of my prayer. What prayer? Because in the ecstasy of My love I said, “FATHER, forgive them, for they know not what they do;” therefore is the promise, “I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession.”

23 (26) O love the LORD, all ye his saints: for the LORD preserveth them that are faithful, and plenteously rewardeth the proud doer.

Notice first, that even saints have to be exhorted to the first and chief of all duties, the love of GOD. It is with bitter shame that in his admirable treatise, called* Amor pœnitens, the great and good Van Neercassel proves at length that this is the first duty of a Christian, against the corrupt maxims of modern casuists. It is remarkable how S. John, though emphatically the theologian of the Apostolic college, is, nevertheless,* given to dwell on plain declarations which one might have been disposed to think needless. “Let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous:” “Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good.”* Or, we may take it in this sense;* that only those who are saints in deed and in wish, can truly love GOD; since to profess to love Him, (A.) while leading an unholy life, is the worst of falsehoods. And we must love GOD in a threefold way; which way the LORD set forth by His threefold question to Peter, “Lovest thou Me?” With all the heart, (Ay.) with all the soul, and with all the strength. Preserveth them that are faithful. Where He shows that perseverance is the gift of GOD, (C.) no less than the commencement of grace. Instead of preserveth them that are faithful, it is in the Vulgate, He shall require the truth.* As He did in those most terrible words, “Adam, where art thou?” And again, “What hast thou now done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground.” And because He requires the truth, therefore the truth is pleaded with Him by His servants; “Remember now, O LORD, I beseech Thee, how I have walked before Thee in truth, and with a perfect heart:”* and is rewarded by Him; “And in their mouth was found no guile, for they are without fault before the throne of GOD.” And plenteously rewardeth the proud doer. They dispute where the adverb plentifully ought to be joined; (Ay.) and most of the commentators take it as the LXX. does, in the sense of Rewardeth him that plentifully doeth proud things.* For, they say, It is not true to affirm that the sinner is plentifully rewarded, that is to say, up to, or beyond his demerits, no, not even in the case of those that are finally lost: for it is written, “He hath not dealt with us after our sins.”

24 (27) Be strong, and he shall establish your heart: all ye that put your trust in the LORD.

Be strong. Nothing is more common in the Psalms than this exhortation; see what is said on it at the end of Psalm 22. Above all things notice, (Ay.) how over and over again this exhortation occurs at the beginning of the conquest of Canaan in the first chapter of Joshua. And remark how completely this verse accords with S. Paul’s: (G.) “Work out your own salvation, for it is GOD that worketh in you.”* Be strong, and He shall stablish. And this the LORD Himself teaches us, when He said, “Stretch forth,” to him who of himself had no power to stretch out at all. All the commentators refer back to the many times that they have already explained this verse. But observe that there is one caution: (D. C.) He shall stablish your heart, all ye that put their trust in the Lord. Trust in thyself, and the wise man’s saying will be good, “He that trusteth in himself is a fool:”* trust in another, and the prophet threatens, “Cursed is the man that putteth his trust in man.”* But put thy trust in the Lord, not discouraged as the Apostles were, “We trusted that it had been He,” but going on and still trusting, and then the same Prophet foretells the reward: “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is.”*
And therefore:
Glory be to the FATHER, to Whom the SON saith, “Into Thy hands, O LORD, I commend My Spirit;” and to the SON, of Whom it is written, “Thou art my strong rock and my castle:” and to the HOLY GHOST, through Whom they that are His saints love the LORD;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.


We beseech Thee, O LORD, to bestow upon us the ineffable bounty of Thy sweetness; to the end that,* while we seek for Thy truth, we may overcome all the temptations of pride. Through (1.)

Turn us, O GOD our Protector, from our crooked ways, and grant that we may,* without fear, dwell in the land of our inheritance; and having set us free from sin, govern us by faith, so that we may neither be extolled by worldly prosperity, nor disturbed by the tribulation of our envious enemy, nor clouded by the darkness of our sins; but that, ever hoping in Thee, we may rejoice in that Thou showest the light of Thy countenance upon us. Amen. Through Thy mercy (11.)

Deliver, O LORD,* the souls of Thy servants from their distresses; and since they do put their trust in Thy righteousness, shut them not up in the hands of their adversaries; but look upon our humility, and give us refuge in Thy strong city, Who didst die to this end, that Thou mightest overcome hell, and that we might attain heavenly glory in Thy most holy city. Amen. Through Thy mercy (11.)

[O LORD JESU CHRIST,* let not the strength of Thy Church fail, we pray Thee, in her pilgrimage through the poverty of this world; and should the bones of our virtues be consumed for a time, grant that we, uplifted by the example of Thy Passion, may never fall into the snares of the enemy. (11.)

O GOD, (D. C.) the Hope and Salvation of the faithful, let not us, who put our trust in Thee, be put to confusion eternally, but graciously bow down Thy merciful ears to us fallen sinners who cry unto Thee; and of Thy goodness, justify us through remission of our debts and pardon of our sins, and save us through Thine unspeakable confession. Through (1.)]


Gregorian. Ferial: Compline, every night, to ver. 5, inclusive. Monday: Matins.
Monastic. Sunday: II. Nocturn; and Compline on the last three days of Holy Week, ver. 1–5.
Parisian. Wednesday: Prime.
Lyons. Monday: III. Nocturn.
Ambrosian. Tuesday of the First Week: III. Nocturn.
Quignon. Sunday: Compline, ver. 1–5: and Monday, Nocturns.


Gregorian. Monday: Matins as before. Compline: Have mercy upon me * and hearken unto my prayers.

Lyons. Deliver me * in Thy righteousness.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 31

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 25, 2017


1 King David, in his flight from Absalom, destitute of all earthly assistance, appeals to God, and says, “In thee have I hoped,” and I am therefore confident, as you are all powerful, and most true to me, that you will not disappoint me in my hope. Agreeable to such hope, therefore, “Deliver me in thy justice;” that justice that prompts you to punish the wicked and free the just.

2 The persecution was pressing on him; his friends had sent him word to rest in no one place, to continue his flight, unless he chose to be destroyed; and therefore he prays to be heard at once, and to be delivered from the impending danger. “Be thou unto me a God, a protector, and a house of refuge, to save me.” Be like a well protected strong house to me; for there is no fortified place in this champaign country to which I can fly.

3 You are my stronghold to which I will fly for refuge. “And for thy name’s sake thou wilt lead me, and nourish me,” corresponds exactly with David’s history. His flight was so sudden, that he knew not whither to betake himself, nor whence to obtain the necessaries of life, until Providence directed Siba to him, with two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred bunches of raisins, a hundred cakes of figs, and a vessel of wine; and he therefore says, “For thy name’s sake,” for the glory of your name, you will lead me to a safe place, and there supply me with provisions.

4 You will not only bring me to a safe place, and there provide for me, but you will also deliver me from the conspiracy, which, like a hidden snare, they have laid for me; alluding, to the conspiracy got up in Hebron against him by Absalom, when he neither dreaded nor even thought of the like.

5 Though full of hope, when he said, “Thou wilt bring me out of this snare,” being not yet quite secure of his life, he adds, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit,” to your care I entrust my life. And, as you have at other times frequently “redeemed me,” saved me from death, you who are a most true and most faithful God. These expressions lead many to think that the whole Psalm has reference to Christ, by reason of his having, while hanging on the cross, exclaimed, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” But though the Psalm, to the letter, may not be applicable to Christ, the Lord might have taken these words from the Psalm, when he wished to commend his spirit to his Father, just as St. Nicholas, in his last moments, repeated this with the preceding verses; and we, not infrequently, ourselves use them. The words, “Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, the God of truth,” appear to be against the application of the verse to Christ, for, instead of being the redeemed, he is the Redeemer. St. Augustine, attributes the first part of the verse to Christ, the latter to his people; for he is of opinion that the prophet is fond of speaking in the person of different characters—sometimes of Christ, sometimes in that of the people. All right and pious enough, when one is looking for a mystic sense or explanation; but when we look for the literal sense, it does not appear why different persons should be introduced, when there is nothing in the context or the punctuation to call for such change.

6 He assigns another reason for having “commended” his life to the hands of God, because God is wont to hate them who, instead of trusting in him, trust in “vanities,” that can afford them no possible help. “Thou hast hated them that regard vanities to no purpose;” those who regard dreams or omens, or the responses of demons, as Saul did, when he consulted the pythoness. Under the word “vanities,” may also be included those who, relying on human industry, craft, cunning, human aid or help to the exclusion of the divine help and counsel; all of which are vain and useless; and he, therefore, adds the words “to no purpose,” for all such exertions are, in reality, “to no purpose.” “But I have hoped in the Lord:” not so with me, I hoped in none, in nothing but God.

7–8 As “I hoped in the Lord,” I will “be glad and rejoice in thy mercy,” for the Divine mercy never deserts those who hope in him. “For thou hast regarded.” He brings up past favors, in the hope that, by his acknowledgment of them, he may obtain fresh ones. “I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy,” for I have a pledge of it in my deliverance from Saul; for then you “regarded my humility,” my abjection, and affliction; and then you “saved my soul” from the troubles that surrounded me, and from which I could not extricate myself. “And thou hast not shut me up in the hands of the enemy;” you did not allow Saul, who sought my death, to accomplish his purpose; but “thou hast set my feet in a spacious place;” you freed me from the troubles that encompassed me, and placed me, free and disembarrassed, as it were, on an open plain; at liberty to go about at pleasure.

9 Bearing past favors in mind, he prays for future ones, and relates his misfortunes. “Have mercy on me, O Lord.” As you have had mercy on me in former tribulations, have mercy now, too; for tribulation has again set in on me; and here they are, “My eye is troubled with wrath.” Whose wrath? God’s or his own? I rather think, with St. Augustine, God’s; for, it is clear, from the First and Second Book of Kings, that David, in all his persecutions, never burst into wrath, but was always most mild and most patient; and I, therefore, take the meaning to be, “in thy wrath,” in which you punish me for my sins, “my eye is troubled;” my corporeal eye has grown dim with my tears; or, the eye of my soul has grown dark: “my soul,” too, is confused, for it has been fearfully frightened; so also has been “my belly,” the very interior of my soul; that is, my memory; the receptacle of my thoughts. Thus the prophet makes brief allusion to the functions of the soul eye representing the intellect; the soul, the will; and the belly, the memory.

10 David, being now an old man, could justly say, “For my life is wasted with grief:” was spent in constant trouble and “sighs.” In the first thirty years of his life his troubles were innumerable. On being made king, for seven years he had to wage war against the descendants of Saul; he then had various wars with neighboring kingdoms; then with his own son. Then, the very care of a kingdom, to one who wishes to govern it conscientiously, is enough to “waste” one, and make them “sigh.” “My strength is weakened through poverty.” In addition to all his other afflictions, he has lost his strength. The first and last members of this sentence are synonymous; they mean the same thing: “my strength is weakened,” is the same as “my bones are disturbed;” for bones stand for health, power, strength. That was literally the case with David. He had to fly, without any provision whatever, to the most desert places; not only on foot, but even barefooted; and there to remain until relieved by his friends.

11 Another misfortune, consequent on his notorious persecution, the neighboring people, “enemies” of his, having heard of his base flight, began to despise him. His “acquaintances,” too began to fear that Absalom, should he succeed, may wreak his vengeance on them for having proved friendly to David. “They that saw me without;” an explanation of a fear to my acquaintance. Many of my acquaintance, when they saw me an outcast and afflicted, “Fled from me,” ran, fearing for their lives, should they be found to have come near me; and thus,

12 Their heart neither remembers me nor thinks of me, no more than if I were dead and buried, for they consider I am just as if such had been the case with me. “I am become as a vessel that is destroyed.” My friends and acquaintances have not only abandoned and forgotten me; but even the people around me despise and look down upon me, as they would upon a broken vessel, of no use or value, which is evident from the abuse they heap upon me. He evidently alludes here to Semei’s abuse, who, not content with abusing him, sought to stone him; looking upon him as an outcast and an exile, and as a broken vessel, that should be thrown into the sewer. And though the Scripture makes mention of Semei alone abusing him, it is probable that others did the same, and that they are here alluded to, when he says, “I have heard the blame of many.”

13 After the abuse of Semei, a conspiracy was entered into, in the presence of Absalom, to take David’s life, which is here alluded to. I am abused to my face; behind my back a conspiracy is entered into at Jerusalem to have my life.

14 The holy soul, in all his troubles, shows he did not despond, because he did not put his trust in the fallacious help of man, but in the all powerful God, whom no one can resist. “But I have put my trust in thee, O Lord.” Why? Because “I said” in my heart, “Thou art my God.” I have a great protector, without whose consent no one can take my life, because,

15 My life does not depend on lot or chance, but depends on your will and power. “Deliver me out of the hands of my enemies.” The meaning is quite plain, and needs no explanation.

16–17 The same petition renewed, but with additional arguments, calculated to move God to mercy. “Make thy face to shine upon thy servant;” that means, show me your face, or look on me, which is the same. For as God, when he is angry with us by reason of our sins, is said to turn away his face, or to put a cloud between him and us, and not to look on us; so, on the contrary, when he is reconciled, he is said to turn his face to us to regard us, and make “it shine upon us, so as to make us, too, a mass of light. He, therefore, first asks to be reconciled to God, in case he should have been angry with him; and assigns as a reason, his being a servant most ready at all times to do God’s behest and commands. He then adds, “Save me,” which is only the consequence of reconciliation; and to move him thereto, he adds, “In thy mercy,” not through my merits, but through your own pure mercy; and he adds a third argument, “Let me not be confounded, for I have called upon thee.” For it is the duty of a good and faithful master, who has promised to help those that confide in him, not to suffer one who so unceasingly and so confidently invoked him to be confounded. “Let the wicked be ashamed, and be brought down to hell.”

A prophetic imprecation, and one fulfilled immediately after; for Achitophel, the principal minister of Absalom, who had advised the most impious proceeding against David, was so confused, on his plans being defeated by divine Providence, and being unable to bear up against the confusion consequent thereon, hanged himself; and thus, “The wicked became ashamed, and was brought down to hell.”

18 Achitophel’s lips are called deceitful, because for a long time he pretended to be the fast friend of David; but the moment he got the opportunity, he betrayed his perfidy. “Which speak against the just;” against David, who had offered no injury to either Achitophel or to Absalom; and they spoke “Iniquity;” gave advice full of injustice, “With pride and abuse;” that is, with the greatest contempt and arrogance.

19 The holy prophet, feeling that he had been heard, and having felt a gleam of heavenly consolation, exclaims in admiration, as above. The verse may be thus explained. In the time of tribulation, God conceals the “Multitude of his sweetness;” that is, the unbounded rewards he has in store for the just, in order to prove them; but in a little time after he displays those very prizes and rewards, “In the sight of the sons of men,” that his servants may learn from thence to have greater hope in him. Thus, for a time he concealed his sweetness from David, while he was flying from his son’s persecution; but soon after he displayed the extent of his goodness to him, when he restored his kingdom to him in the greatest triumph. The very same thing happens to all the just, whose reward is now hid, but will appear to all on the day of judgment. It may be interpreted differently; thus, Truly manifold are the consolations, O Lord, that you pour into the inmost recesses of the hearts of those that fear you—that fear you with a filial, fond, and loving, not a servile, fear. For this is “The hidden manna which no man knoweth but he that receiveth it.” Such as was felt by David, when, in Psalm 93, he said, “According to the multitude of my sorrows in my heart, thy comforts have given joy to my soul.” And, as St. Paul, 2 Cor. 7, says, “I am filled with comfort, I exceedingly abound with joy in all our tribulation.” And if, in time of tribulation, such be the “Multitude of the sweetness” in the heart of the exile, who can conceive the amount of the joy in his heart when his triumph shall have been accomplished! “Which thou hast wrought for them that hope in thee, in the sight of the sons of men.” The sweetness “Thou hast wrought” for those who refuse all consolation but yours is perfect, most copious, most abundant; and all this “In the sight of the sons of men;” that is, in spite of them all, before their face; because the more pain they inflict externally, the more consolations you multiply internally. This sweetness is infused into the hearts of the just, “In the sight of the sons of men,” in another way, when the sons of men, who persecute the children of God, see what and how they suffer; for, carnal as they are, with the palate of their soul infected by sin, they cannot feel, nor even have an idea of the sweetness, though they see its effects in the meekness, patience, nay, even hilarity and peace of the just; and thus, their sweetness is, to a certain extent, hidden in the sight of the sons of men, though its effects are apparent.

20 He gives a description of the manner in which the just feel the sweetness of God in the day of tribulation; for, by love and contemplation, they are carried up to God; and in him find a house of refuge, as he says in this very Psalm, “Be thou unto me a God, a protector, and a house of refuge;” for those who know how to take refuge in God, think as little of all manner of tribulation as if it did not at all belong to them. “Thou shalt hide them,” those that fear thee, “In the secret of thy face;” in that hidden place, that is, in thy face; for the soul wrapt up in contemplation, feeling that God is attentively looking on it, observant of God’s slightest expression, burning with love at the idea of God’s beauty that is lodged, in dwelling, proof against “The disturbance of men;” that is, from all manner of evil that usually disturbs man. “Thou shalt protect them in thy tabernacle;” the same just will be protected in the very house in which yourself is lodged, for God has no house capable of containing him, he is his own house; and those who, in love and contemplation, dwell in God, “Make the Most High their refuge. No evil shall come to them, nor shall the scourge come near their dwelling,” as it is beautifully expressed in Psalm 90. In this tabernacle they are protected, not only from evil doers, as was explained in the preceding verse, but also from evil speakers, for such is the meaning of “The contradiction of tongues,” for they who can call upon God as a witness, care little for what man can say. And if the face of the Lord be such a retreat and a refuge to the elect, in the time when he is seen only “Through a glass in an obscure manner,” how will matters be when we shall see him as he really is? Then truly will our dwelling be in Jerusalem, the vision of peace, of which is written, in Psalm 147, “Who hath placed peace in thy borders.”

21 He now applies to himself, as being one of the just, what he had said in general, touching the consolation they feel in their troubles, and thanks God for it. “Blessed be the Lord, for his wonderful mercy to me in a fortified city,” because he “So hid me in the secret of his face,” which is like “a fortified city,” that my enemies could do me no harm.

22 He accuses himself of the despondence he was in when his persecution commenced. When I was almost idiotic through fear, I said to myself, “I am cast away from before thy eyes;” that is, you wish me no longer to govern; or no longer to live, as appears from your withholding that look of benignity and kindness, and that help with which you were wont to countenance me. As we read, in 2 Kings 15, of David, “If I shall find grace in the sight of the Lord, he will bring me again. If he shall say to me, Thou pleasest me not, I am ready, let him do that which is good before him.”

23–24 He now encourages all pious people, similarly suffering, not to cease loving God, and putting their trust in him; for, though the wicked may seem to persecute them with impunity for a while, they will ultimately suffer the bitterest punishment for it.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 146

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 25, 2017


1–2 This Psalm commences in the shape of a dialogue. The exile finding his flesh beginning to groan in the hardships of his exile, exhorts his soul, just beginning to taste of happiness in hope, to praise God, and thereby to refresh the entire man. Addressing his soul; then, he says, “praise the Lord, O my soul.” The soul answers, “In my life I will praise the Lord.” I will praise him when I come to enjoy the true life, because here below, instead of singing and praising him, we must rather weep and pray to him; for though we do praise him, even at present, to some extent, it is not praise properly so called, or full praise, but is mingled with prayers and with tears; but when we come to the true life, then, indeed, will our praise deserve the name of praise, for it will be pure, everlasting, and most delightful. He repeats the same when he adds, “I will sing to my Lord as long as I shall be,” when I shall have come to eternal life I will sing unceasingly to my God. At present I cannot sing while I have so many things to interrupt me, but when I shall have been disengaged and free from all care, “I will sing to my God as long as I shall be,” or during the whole space of that true life; and as I shall never have any fear of dying, I shall sing forever without failing. “Put not your trust in princes,” seeing that many are retarded on the road to salvation by their admiration of place and power. As if such things could confer happiness on those who enjoy such positions, in pity for their blindness, he exclaims, “Put not your trust in princes,” which he explains, by calling them “the sons of men,” mere mortals like yourselves, there being only one true prince, the Creator of mankind, in whom we should put our trust: and he assigns a reason why we should place no trust in them when he adds, “in whom there is no salvation,” because the princes of this world, when they cannot save others, have no salvation in themselves, nor are they saved themselves, but must be saved like all others, if they deserve it. If such be the case, how did Christ, who was man, and the “Son of Man,” as he was wont to style himself, save the whole human race? He saved them through his divinity.

3-4 The prophet might have adduced many arguments to prove that “there is no salvation in the children of men,” inasmuch as they are infirm, variable, deceitful, often aiming at what they are unable to accomplish, and as often refusing to accomplish what they are equal to; but he puts forward one simple reason alone, one that no one can contradict, one taken from death that is common to us all, for how can he save others who cannot save himself? for, beyond aye or nay let him shut himself in a fortified tower, let him surround it with a powerful army for protection, were he even monarch of the universe, “his spirit shall go forth” from his body, and then his body shall “return into his earth,” of which it was composed, and then, “in that day all their thoughts shall perish,” the thoughts of all those who put their hope in him, depended on him, expected riches, places, appointments from him; but the moment God takes away the spirit, that is, the life of him on whom they so depended, all their castle building tumbles to the ground, and thus, “all their thoughts shall perish.”

5-6 The prophet now tells us that the person who will sincerely desire to arrive at true and everlasting salvation will have to place no confidence whatever in the princes of this world, but in the only true God alone. “Blessed is he,” at least in hope, and in the safe and direct road to actual happiness, “who hath the God of Jacob for his helper,” who has the one true God to assist and to protect him in this world. He calls the true God “the God of Jacob,” by reason of Jacob’s people adhering to God, while the Moabites, Ammonites, Philistines, and the other surrounding nations, worshipped false gods. And he tells at once whom God will help, when he says, “whose hope is in the Lord his God,” or, God will help all who hope in him, of which there is abundant testimony in the Scriptures, “No one hath hoped in the Lord, and hath been confounded,” Eccli. 2; and in Psalm 113, “The house of Israel hath hoped in the Lord, he is their helper and their protector.” He then proves the advantage of hoping in the Lord, because it was he “who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all things that are in them.” Whence it follows that there are no bounds to his power, that he is Lord of all things, and that all things are subject to him, and therefore, that anyone protected by him has no reason for fear from any quarter.

7 As the exile might have said, in reply, I know God is all powerful, and that he can, if he choose, protect and assist me, but how do I know that he will? the prophet takes him up, and proves that God will do it, by reason of his justice, and of his mercy. By reason of his justice, “he keepeth truth forever;” that is to say, he always stands to what he has promised, and he has promised help to those who put their trust in them. In like manner, in consequence of his being supremely just, “he executes judgment for them that suffer wrong;” that is to say, he gives just judgment in favor of the just against the wicked, by punishing the latter, and rewarding the former; and inasmuch as he is merciful, “he gives food to the hungry,” providing for the temporal as well as the spiritual wants of those who trust in him, in a most extraordinary and wonderful manner.

8 As it would not be enough for the exiles, on their return to their country, to be ensured safe conduct from robbers, and wherewithal to support them on the journey, if their feet were not at liberty, and themselves wide awake, besides being in rude health, he therefore, in order to show how determined God is to assist those who put their trust in him, adds, “The Lord looseth them that are in fetters,” the fetters of concupiscence, which he does gradually, by destroying all their evil desires; and as concupiscence always blinds us, “the Lord enlighteneth the blind,” by giving them the light of wisdom and of interior prudence; and as sin was the cause, not only of concupiscence and blindness, but also of human infirmity, man having been brought, by means of sin, to the condition of him, who going down from Jericho, fell in with robbers who despoiled him, and left him more dead than alive, the prophet therefore adds, “he lifteth up them that are cast down,” and finally, he adds, “the Lord loveth the just,” in order, that man, after having been healed, set free, and enlightened through grace, may look forward to perseverance through the goodness of God.

9 He now repeats that God will both help and protect the pilgrims who move along “the narrow way” to their country. “The Lord keepeth the strangers,” they who do not belong to Babylon, nor to this world, but the true pilgrims in a strange land. “He will support the fatherless and the widow.” The fatherless are the just who have no one to protect them, who have no father in this world, and who put their hope in nothing in this world. The widow is the Church, who is truly a widow, so long as she is separated from her spouse, and subject to all the trials and troubles daily pouring in upon her. These orphans and this widow will be all taken into God’s house at the fitting time, and then “he will destroy the ways of sinners,” the prosperous ways in which they walk being so many broad ways that lead to destruction, all of which God will, in the end of the world, thoroughly upset and destroy.

10 Finally, on the termination of the exile, and on the ways of the wicked, as well as the wicked themselves having been exterminated, Christ’s eternal kingdom shall commence, for “the Lord shall reign” with his saints, “forever.” Your God, I repeat, O holy Sion, will reign with his children forever and ever. Amen.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 37

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 22, 2017

An exhortation to despise this world, and the short prosperity of the wicked; and to trust in Providence

1–2 The prophet, in the character of a spiritual physician, admonishes the faithful, when they see the wicked prospering, not to be tempted to imitate them, or to be indignant or angry with God, as if he were treating them unjustly; because the prosperity of the evil doer will not be of long duration; nay, it will even have but a very brief existence; and then will God’s justice and providence, in not allowing them to exult and rejoice for any length of time, be made manifest to all. “Be not emulous of evil doers.” Do not imitate them; do not seek to do as they do. If they do wrong, do not the same. “Nor envy them that work iniquity.” When you see the wicked prosper, be not troubled, nor be angry with God for allowing them so to thrive in the world, as it is more clearly expressed in Psalm 72, “How good is God to Israel, to them that are of a right heart! But my feet were almost moved; my steps had well nigh slipt, because I had a zeal on occasion of the wicked seeing the prosperity of sinners;” that means, God seems good to those who know and love him; but, poor creature as I am, I fell into doubt and misgiving, burning with zeal, as I thought, for justice sake, and with anger at seeing the prosperity of the wicked, who, while more deserving of torments and punishment, abound in all the temporal blessings of this world. “For they shall shortly wither away as grass.” A most appropriate idea for showing how short will be their prosperity. Grass and green herbs do not send their roots very deep into the earth, like the cedar and the palm tree, to which the just are usually compared. “The just shall flourish like the palm tree; he shall grow up like the cedar of Libanus.” Hence, the grass and green herbs wither and rot in a short time; the cedar and the palm tree come to an immense age. And the prophet does not confine himself to their prosperity, which, he says, will be very brief in this world; but, he goes further, and says, themselves will be very quickly destroyed; and when they are gone, their happiness and prosperity is gone with them. And though they may enjoy many and prosperous years here, they are nothing compared to the lengthened, the everlasting happiness of the just. For “the just shall live forever,” Wisdom 5; and “the just shall be in everlasting remembrance.” Any one that wishes to see the brevity and the velocity of all things temporal, painted to the life, let him refer to Wisdom, chap. 5, “All those things are passed away like a shadow, and like a post that runneth on, and as a ship that passeth through the waves; whereof when it is gone by, the trace cannot be found, nor the path of its keel in the waters: or as when a bird flieth through the air; of the passage of which no mark can be found, but only the sound of the wings beating the light air, and parting it by the force of her flight; she moved her wings, and hath flown through; and there is no mark found afterwards of her way: or as when an arrow is shot at a mark, the divided air presently cometh together again, so that the passage thereof is not known: so we also being born, forthwith ceased to be; and have been able to show no mark of virtue; but are consumed in our wickedness.”

3–4 After seeking to frighten us out of our evil ways, David now tries to encourage us to do good. If you wish to be happy and blessed, understand who is the author of all happiness, look to him for it, and to no one else. “Trust in the Lord,” he, being master of all things, can alone give us what we want; but that our hope may be certain, and that we may not be confounded, “do good;” do what God’s commandments direct you; for he cannot put his trust in him he knows to be incensed against him; and then in perfect security you will “dwell in the land,” for who can turn you out when you are known to be the friend of him to whom the earth, and “the fullness thereof” belongs? nay, more, “you will be fed with its riches,” for it will throw up its fruits in abundance to feed you. But to work, to be in God’s peace, so that one may securely confide in him, they must have love; and, therefore, he says, “Delight in the Lord;” love God from your heart, let him be your delight, and then you will be safe, because, “he will give thee the requests of thy heart,” whatever your heart shall desire. An objection—we know many who “trusted in the Lord,” who “did good,” and who “delighted in the Lord,” and still were not allowed “to dwell in the land,” nor “to be fed with its riches,” nor to get “the requests of their heart:” to say nothing of the countless multitudes of holy souls who are in extreme want. Certainly St. Paul “trusted in the Lord,” and “did good;” and yet, according to himself, 1 Cor. 4, “He was hungry and thirsty, and was naked, and was cast out as the refuse and the off scouring of this world:” and though “he delighted in the Lord,” the Lord did not grant him “the request of his heart;” for, though he asked three times to “be delivered from the sting of his flesh,” yet he was not heard. The answer is: the greater part of those who are in extreme want do not “trust in the Lord” as they ought, do not observe his commandments as he requires, much less are they “delighted in the Lord;” for, to say nothing of the promises contained in this Psalm, Christ himself most clearly says to us, “Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they? Seek ye, therefore, first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all those things shall be added unto you.” There can be no doubt, then, but that God will provide all necessaries for his own, if they really put their trust in him, and keep his commandments. If the contrary sometimes happens, as was the case with St. Paul, the reason is, because God chose to give them something better, with which they are more contented, and that is the great merit of patience; for the very same Paul, who so described his want and his other tribulations, wrote in another place, “I am filled with comfort, I exceedingly abound with joy in all our tribulation;” and thus, though God did not grant “the requests of his heart,” by removing “the sting of his flesh,” he gave him an abundance of grace to convert that sting into a powerful source of triumph. He, therefore, withheld a thing of trifling value, that he may confer one of immense value, which he knew was the real “request of his heart.”

5–6 The prophet, in the capacity of a skilful physician, had prescribed a remedy for the internal disease of hunger, thirst, and the like; he now prescribes for the external disease of persecutions and calumnies. When such things happen, we are not forbidden to defend ourselves, and to repel the calumnies; but prayer to God, confidence in God, should be our principal resource and remedy, as was the case with Susanna, who, when condemned to death, through swearing of false witnesses, with tears in her eyes looked up to heaven, “for her heart had confidence in the Lord.” “Commit thy way to the Lord, and trust in him, and he will do it.” In prayer before God disclose all your actions to him, confide in him, commit your whole case to him, “and he will do it.” He will do justice to you. He will find out a means of detecting the falsehood of the witnesses who swore against you, so as to establish your innocence. That is more clearly expressed in the following, “and he will bring forth thy justice as a light.” God, in his wonderful providence, will cause your justice that was, as it were, buried in darkness, by the calumnies of your persecutors, to emerge and be refulgent in great brightness, as light is seen when enkindled, or brought out from a closed and darkened lantern. He repeats it, saying, “and thy judgment as the noon day.” He will establish your innocence as clearly, and make it to be seen as conspicuously as the sun is seen at noon. A thing literally carried out in the case of Susanna. At first her justice and her innocence were in darkness, she was convicted on the testimony not only of two witnesses, but even of two who professed to be together when they saw the thing, and whose character put them beyond suspicion; however, God at once raised up the spirit of Daniel, who, from the very lips of the same witnesses, so clearly establishes their own infamy, and the innocence of Susanna, that she was at once set at liberty, and they were consigned to an ignominious death.

7 The meaning of this passage, which may be considered as the fourth general spiritual rule, is, take care, and be always obedient to God; pray to him constantly, for fear the idea of seeing an unjust man successful in the world may tempt you and lead you to injustice. In fact, the success of the bad is a great temptation; but easily overcome by having God constantly before us, and clinging to him through prayer and obedience. Whoever will so unite himself to God stands, as it were, on an eminence; and, seeing the happiness of the sinner to be transient and temporary, has no difficulty in spurning and despising it. He therefore, says, “Be subject to the Lord, and pray to him.” Be obedient to God in all simplicity and honesty, and through prayer frequently converse and commune with him. “Envy not the man who prospereth in his way.” Do not seek to rival the man who is prosperous in life; that is, the man who is dishonestly so.

8–9 This verse is a repetition and explanation of the first verse. Throughout the whole Psalm the same idea is frequently repeated and inculcated, to explain it more clearly, and thereby to fix it more firmly on the memory. In the first verse he said, “Be not emulous of evil doers.” He now repeats, in clearer language, “cease from anger, and leave rage;” that is, when you see a bad man thriving, don’t get vexed or angry, don’t say, Why does this villain so prosper? Where is God’s justice? Where his providence? In the eighth verse he said, “have no emulation to do evil.” Do not seek to rival the wicked in their evil ways; do not imitate the enormities of those whose happiness you so envy, and adds, “for the evil doers shall be cut off,” to confirm what he had said before, “for they shall wither away as grass.” He then adds, “but they that wait upon the Lord shall inherit the land,” to repeat and confirm what he had said before, “trust in the Lord, and dwell in the land.” They wait on the Lord who patiently expect his promises, and expect them confidently, knowing the Lord, who made the promise, being both able and sure to carry it out; and thus, there is no doubt that the evil doers, though they may seem to flourish for a while, will not long flourish, but will be “cut off” from the land, and shoved into hell for eternal punishment; while those who keep themselves from sin, and expect their reward from God, “they shall inhabit the land,” for they shall get permanent hold of the land, of which they will never be deprived. In truth, when holy souls go to God, instead of losing possession of the land, they acquire both it and heaven along with it, when it is said of them, “that he will put them over all his property.”

10–11 Having said, that “the evil doers shall be cut off,” he now adds, that it will soon happen. “For yet a little while” and that “wicked” man, who seemed so happy, “shall not be,” cannot be found; “and thou shall seek his place and shalt not find it.” There will be no trace of him, like a barren tree torn up from the roots. “But the meek,” they who are neither indignant nor angry with God when they see the wicked prosper; but, on the contrary, patiently bear and take from God’s hand what it may please him to send, they will “inherit the land,” not only this land of exile, but that land that only deserves the name, that fixed and firm land, of which the Lord speaks in Mat. 5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the land;” and as that land is called the Jerusalem, which means, the vision of peace, and whereas all its enemies are far removed from it, therefore “they shall delight in the multitude of peace;” they shall have great peace, because the number of inhabitants will be great to enjoy it; and the peace will be of long duration, or rather forever; and thus they shall enjoy the pleasure that peace always brings with it.

12–13 The just man is here advised to be in no great fear of the wicked, as God is guarding him. “The sinner shall watch the just man;” shall attentively look after everything he does, to see could he find any opening for destroying him; “and shall gnash upon them with his teeth;” like a dog, shall howl for his destruction, and through anger and fury expose his teeth, like a dog. “But the Lord shall laugh at him.” God, who beholds everything, in whose hand are all things, so that even a leaf does not fall to the ground without his order or permission, “shall laugh at him, for he foreseeth that his day shall come;” he will laugh at him, because he sees the end of the wicked man is just at hand; and that he will be taken off before he can put any of his designs against the just man into execution. Though God may sometimes allow the wicked to slay the just, the wicked, however, kills himself first, for he kills his own soul; and since the death of the just is precious in the sight of the Lord, his death, instead of being a loss, is to him a gain; on the other hand, the death of the sinner is the very reverse—is the commencement of his eternal punishment; and thus the sinner is always hurried off before he can injure the just. He is, therefore, justly “to be laughed at,” who, while he lies in wait for another, sees not his own impending destruction.

14–15 The prophet explains here, what he had more obscurely expressed in the twelfth verse. He said there, “The sinner shall watch the just man,” which he explains here, by saying, “The wicked have drawn out the sword, they have bent their bow.” The wicked stand with drawn swords, and bended bow, biding their time to shoot with the arrow, and slay with the sword the just man, “who is poor and needy,” but “upright of heart.” But God, who from on high beholds everything, causes their “swords to enter into their own hearts,” and “their bows to be broken,” and to injure themselves alone; and thus, “he will laugh at them.” What is said here of the real sword and quiver, may be also applied to the sword and quiver of the tongue, that sinners, perhaps oftener, make use of against the just. The just man is here designated as “the upright of heart,” because his heart is most conformable to the law of God, which is most upright; and as that law is the right way in which we must needs walk, the “upright of heart” is said to be right in his way, because he never departs from the right path, which is the law of the Lord. Observe also that the just man is called “the poor and needful,” because all the just are poor in spirit, and though they sometimes possess the riches of this world, they understand them not to be their own, since they have to render an account of them to God; or certainly David does not speak of all the just, but only of the poor and the needy, who are oppressed by the rich. Between the “poor” and “needy,” there is this difference, that the former signifies the humbler, the afflicted, the meek; while “needy” signifies, properly speaking, the one in want, who wishes for everything, because he is thoroughly destitute. Finally, the expression, “Let their sword enter into their own hearts, and let their bow be broken,” is more a prophecy than an imprecation. The sword of the sinner, drawn against the just, then enters into his own heart; when, while seeking to destroy the just, he really destroys himself. While he despoils the just man perhaps of his clothes, he robs himself of faith and charity; and while he deprives the just of his life, he deprives himself of the grace of God, which is the life of the soul; and while, by calumny, he shuts the just man up in prison, he precipitates himself into hell.

16–17 For fear the just should envy the rich wicked, and should, therefore, forsake justice to do evil, David encourages them in these two verses. “Better is a little to the just, than the great riches of the wicked;” that means, a trifling income will be of more value to the just man than an immense fortune to the sinner; and, therefore, the just man, with small means, is much happier than the sinner with a large revenue; and, therefore, justice, with little wealth, is more to be sought after than much wealth with justice. The reason is, because the just man, being guided by God, knows how to turn his riches to proper account: he is not avaricious, nor is he prodigal, and he is, therefore, neither needy, nor is he in want; he is not in debt, neither is he burdened with useless riches, to stimulate his pride or excite his passions. On the other hand, the sinner is both proud and prodigal, and knows not the use of money; hence he is always in want, always in debt, and cannot hold his position long, as appears from what follows, “For the arms of the wicked shall be broken into pieces; but the Lord strengtheneth the just;” that means, the power and strength of the sinner will easily fail, because he depends on the arm of the flesh, and his riches can afford him no help; but the strength and power of the just cannot fail, because he depends on the arm of God, who, being the friend of the just, confirms and supports him. Finally, the sinner, in spite of all his riches, will not escape everlasting death; because, when he shall die, he will carry nothing with him, nor will his glory descend with him, while the just man, who, instead of trusting in the riches of this world, trusted in God, shall live forever.

18–19 The prophet now confirms what he said a while ago, as to the happiness of the just, however scanty their fortune may be. “The Lord knoweth the days of the undefiled.” God approves of their life, favors and blesses them; and, therefore, their days will be prolonged, and their inheritance shall be protected for a long time. “They shall not be confounded in the evil time.” In the time of want and penury they will not be in confusion, because they will not be forced to beg; “and in the days of famine they shall be filled.” So far from there being any fear of their dying of hunger in time of famine, they will be so supplied that they may eat to satiety; things that often happen in this life, but most certainly will in the next. For, after this life, a most unheard of season of sterility will set in, when no one can either sow or reap; and the rich man in hell will thirst for one drop of water even, without getting it. Then, indeed, the immaculate, who stored nothing on earth, but put up everything in heaven, shall find their everlasting inheritance, and will not be confounded with the begging of the foolish virgins, “give us of your oil,” but will be fully satiated when the glory of the Lord shall have appeared.

20 A reason why “the inheritance of the just should be forever;” and why “they shall be filled in the days of famine.” That will be the case, “because the wicked,” who were wont to harass them, and deprive them of their property, “shall perish.” The remainder of the verse corresponds with the two last verses, and the meaning is, Holy souls, as being friends of God, shall have the “eternal inheritance,” and in the “evil day will not be confounded;” but the enemies of the Lord, as all sinners are, on the contrary, shall enjoy a very brief felicity; for, so soon as ever they come to be exalted, they will vanish like smoke, which the more it is exalted, the more it is scattered, leaving not even a track of itself behind.

21–22 He confirms what he had stated in verse 16, viz., “Better is a little to the just than the great riches of the wicked.” It frequently happens that the sinner, however rich, may borrow money without returning it, because they want to live, to be dressed, or to have finer houses than they can afford; hence, they are always in debt; while the just man, however limited in his fortune, knows how to make use of that little; and hence, can afford to “have mercy on the poor,” and “shall give without expecting to get it back.” “For such as bless him,” that is God, “shall inherit the land;” and thus will always have something to give—“but such as curse him;” the ungrateful, the blasphemer, “shall perish,” so that even if they wished to give, they won’t be able to do so.

23–24 He now begins to relate God’s singular providence in regard of the just, in order to confirm them, for fear the prosperity of the wicked may induce them to commit sin. He states, then, that the life of the just is guided and guarded by God. “With the Lord shall the steps of a man be directed.” The Lord, who made the just man, will direct his words and actions. “And he shall like well his way;” that is, either the just man shall like well and follow God’s way, or God shall like his, that is, the path he is pursuing. “When he shall fall, he shall not be bruised.” This may be referred to the disasters of the body as well as of the soul. For, should the just man meet any corporeal affliction or trouble, such as the falling down a precipice or into a pit, “he shall not be bruised;” he will not be entirely destroyed; for the “Lord putteth his hand under him,” assists him through his providence. Should he fall into the temptation of sin, “he shall not be bruised;” that is, he will not give full consent to mortal sin, nor will he lose his patience, his faith, or any other virtue, because God, by the assistance of his grace, will “put his hand under him.”

25–26 He proves, from his own experience, that the just “shall not be confounded in the evil time;” and also, that “in the days of famine they shall be filled.” I have been young, and now am old;” and in all that space of time “have not seen the just forsaken;” so as to be pinched by want; nor have I seen “his seed seeking bread;” that is, his children begging or seeking bread. On the contrary, I have seen the just man “showing mercy and lending;” so abounding in the riches of the world as to be able either to bestow altogether, or certainly to lend to his neighbors in their necessities; and, therefore, “his seed,” his descendants, not only shall feel no want, but they “shall be in blessing;” that is, blessed by God, they will abound in the goods of this world, or they will be blessed by all, as the children of the best of parents. Observe that the mendicant religions do not come under the sentence so pronounced here, because their mendicancy is voluntary, done through a love of poverty; nor can they be said to be forsaken by God, when he supports them by a wonderful providence. Other mendicants, generally speaking, are not the children of those who were wont “to show mercy and to lend;” to whom the promise was specially made. Very often they are neither just themselves nor the children of the just. Lastly, as we have already said, the truly just, and they who trust in God, though they may seem to be deserted by God, seeking a morsel of bread, like Lazarus, they have got something better than the goods of this world; nor would they give the virtue of patience they have got in exchange for all the riches of this world.

27–28 From what he had said of his experience from his youth to his old age, he concludes by an exhortation to “decline from evil and do good,” which are the two primary precepts of justice—“and dwell forever and ever;” be just, and you will, in security, “dwell in the land” forever. He assigns a reason why. Because “the Lord loveth judgment;” his just and holy servants; and I, therefore, assert that “they shall be reserved forever.” This promise, to a certain extent, applies to this world, where the just, through various successions, are wont to “dwell in the land” for a long time; but, properly and absolutely speaking, it applies to the future life, which, in the land of the living, will be everlasting.

29 This verse, as well as the latter part of the preceding verse, are so clear as to need no explanation.

30–31 Having previously said that divine Providence was on the watch to see that the just should not be oppressed by the wicked, he now adds, that the just themselves, by their own wisdom, which, too, is a gift of God, would enable them to save themselves from “their steps being supplanted” by the wicked. “The mouth of the just shall meditate wisdom.” The just man will speak with so much wisdom, that he will not be caught in his language. To “meditate wisdom” means to be discreet in our conversation, as we have explained before; which he repeats when he adds, “and his tongue shall speak judgment;” that is, the tongue of the just man will not scatter words at random, but will speak what is right, and at the right time, which is the essence of speaking with wisdom; and he assigns a reason for it, saying, “the law of God is in his heart.”

The just man’s conversation is naturally seasoned with wisdom, because he has “the law of God in his heart;” and, therefore, while he is speaking he has the commandments of God before him, that he may not offend by his tongue; and, besides, “the law is a light,” Prov. 6; and, as the same David says, Psalm 18, “The law of the Lord enlighteneth the heart, giving wisdom to little ones;” and it is, therefore, no wonder if the just man, who has it in his heart, who loves to think on it should speak with wisdom—“and his steps shalt not be supplanted.” To supplant means to tumble another by tripping him, and that more by cunning and dexterity than by strength; but, as the just man always thinks wisely and acts wisely, he is always on his guard, and, therefore, his “steps shall not be supplanted.”

32–33 These two verses are an explanation of the two preceding. “The wicked watcheth the just man, and seeketh to put him to death,” carefully observes what he says and what he does, in order “to supplant him,” “and seeketh to put him to death;” first to trip him up, then to kill him, a thing that very often happens in unjust prosecutions, when the judge or a false accuser seeks first to entrap an innocent person, and then to put him to death. “But the Lord will not leave him in his hands.” The Lord will not allow the sinner so to keep the just man in his power, but will inspire him with wisdom, to detect the machinations of his enemies, and to speak with such wisdom as will enable him to elude them; “nor condemn him when he shall be judged.” The judge will not condemn the just man, when he shall come before him, for God will not permit justice to be so perverted.

34 An exhortation to the just to hope in God, and persevere in justice. “Expect the Lord.” Hope in God, even though he may seem to be tardy in his promise; “and keep his way,” observe his law, and turn not from the path of holiness and justice in which you have set out; “and he will exalt thee to inherit the land,” when his promises shall be fulfilled, that you may obtain the land of the living as your inheritance of right; “when the sinners shall perish, thou shalt see.” When all sinners, condemned by the judgment of God, shall have perished you will see what you now hope for.

35–36 Having said that, “when the sinners shall perish, thou shalt see;” the just man may naturally ask, when that will happen? and he therefore now says it will be immediately, for “I have seen the wicked highly exalted, and lifted up like the cedars of Libanus,” and placed in the highest degree of dignity and power, so abounding in wealth, subjects, friends, and the like, that one would say his happiness must needs be everlasting; nevertheless, scarcely “I passed by, and lo, he was not;” that is, in my way, I saw that man raised and rooted like the cedars of Libanus; I had scarcely passed him, when I looked back, and he had disappeared. “I sought him,” asked where he was, looked for some traces of his greatness, “and his place was not found,” as if he had never been there. These things are now of daily experience. To say nothing of petty kings and princes, where are those most powerful monarchs of the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans? Had history not recorded them, we would be in ignorance of their very existence. Thus, while the merest traces of such powers have disappeared, yet such is human pride, and so does it blind men up, that they cannot see what they actually touch; and will not acknowledge what they must, in spite of them, feel and experience.

37–38 A continuation of the exhortation. “Keep innocence,” by keeping yourself so, and “behold justice,” judge what is right towards your neighbor; “for there are remnants for the peaceable man,” because God will reward him, so that he will leave children after him. Or, in a higher meaning, because many good things are in store for the just after death, “For their good works follow those who die in the Lord,” Apoc. 14; on the contrary, “the unjust shall be destroyed together,” without any exception, and “the remnants of the wicked shall perish;” they will neither leave any property nor children to enjoy it, when they shall have consumed everything in their crimes and concupiscence.

39–40 A recapitulation of the whole Psalm sufficiently clear and perspicuous.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 117

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 22, 2017

All nations are called upon to praise God for his mercy and truth

1 He addresses the whole Church, and exhorts it to praise God. “All ye nations” is directed to the converted gentiles, who are named first by reason of their being in the majority, and the people nearer those of the Jews who had been converted to the faith; and the Apostles themselves, in alluding to a similar expression in the second Psalm, “Why have the gentiles raged, and the people meditated vain things,” apply the former to the gentiles, and the latter to the Jews.

2 The reason assigned for praising God is, “for his mercy is confirmed on us,” by the arrival of the Messias to Jews and gentiles; “and the truth of the Lord remaineth forever;” for the Church was established, “Against which the gates of hell shall not prevail,” and his kingdom was established, of which there will be no end.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 40

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 22, 2017


Christ’s coming, and redeeming mankind

Ps 40:1 Christ, in the person of his people, declares how long the redemption was expected. It was looked for during four thousand years; while, in the meantime, mankind was promised deliverance from the miseries into which they had fallen by the sin of our first parents, sometimes through the prophets and patriarchs, sometimes through figures and oracles. “With expectation I have waited for the Lord,” for a long time, without any intermission. I have been expecting the Lord to have mercy, to visit and to free his people, “and he was attentive to me.” I have not been disappointed, for he has heard me.

Ps 40:2 He now explains the expression in the last verse, “he was attentive to me,” for “he heard my prayers;” and the consequence was, that “he brought me out of the pit of misery and the mire of dregs.” The Hebrew for “pit of misery” conveys the idea of a deep dark place, full of the “mire of dregs,” into which many have fallen, from whose groans and lamentations the greatest disorder and confusion ensue. Such is the state of the wicked, who have not known God and his commandments; and are stuck in the mud of their carnal desires, that renders them not only incapable of arriving at eternal happiness, but causes them to quarrel and wrangle perpetually with each other. The grace of the Redeemer brings us out of this pit, so soon as we begin, through faith, to know the true God, the real and eternal happiness; and, liberated through hope and charity from our carnal desires, we have peace with God and with ourselves. “And he set my feet upon a rock, and directed my steps.” He that had fallen into the “pit of misery,” fell from the path in which God had originally placed him, and made it a safe and easy path to the kingdom of heaven; and, therefore, he who afterwards rescued him “from the pit of misery and the mire of dregs,” put him back on a path solid and firm, and quite as straight and level; which is the meaning of, “he set my feet upon a rock,” the feet he rescued from a deep and miry pit he has put upon a high and firm rock, “and the rock was Christ;” for he says of himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He, therefore, put the feet of the just on the faith, the doctrine, and the example of Christ, that they may follow his footsteps; “and directed my steps.” He not only put me on the solid, but also on the straight road, and thus “directed my steps in the way of peace.”

Ps 40:3 The moment God put me on the straight and firm road I began to “sing a new canticle.” Theretofore, while I was the “old man,” I sung nothing but what turned upon the world and its pleasures; but once I became “renewed in the spirit of my mind,” I began to sing “a new canticle” on the love of God, one that God himself “put into my mouth,” which, therefore, is one most agreeable to him. “Many shall see and shall fear, and they shall hope in the Lord.” God’s people now delivered from the pit of misery, or Christ himself, in the person of his people, so delivered, foretells that many will be likewise delivered. “Many shall see” the pit of misery, and those that have been saved from it, “and will fear and will hope in the Lord;” will fear the pit, and put their trust in the deliverer, for the first step to salvation is, when God, by his grace, begins to open the eyes of the sinner, to see his miserable state, and to feel through whom he can be delivered, and thence begins “to fear and to hope in the Lord.”

Ps 40:4 He invites, exhorts, and encourages all to imitate those who have been delivered. “Blessed is the man whose trust is in the name of the Lord.” Truly happy is he who has really placed all his hope in the Lord, who alone is all powerful and merciful; and, therefore, is both willing and able to deliver from every trouble, all those that put their trust in him. To make the matter clearer, he adds, “and who hath not regard to vanities, and lying follies;” who looked for help from no one, especially from vain, empty things, that can save no one; “and lying follies.” Such fallacious helps as have just been alluded to, including astrology, incantations, witchcraft, etc., in which many believe and confide, but which may be justly designated as “lying follies.”

Ps 40:5 He now proceeds to explain that most profound mystery of man’s redemption, through which many have been, and many more will be, brought out of “the pit of misery and the mire of dregs;” and he first states, in general, that the works of God are wonderful. “Thou hast multiplied thy wonderful works, O Lord my God, and in thy thoughts there is no one like to thee.” There is no one like thee in thy thoughts, or the forecasting of thy wisdom, not one to be compared to thee. “I have declared, and I have spoken; they are multiplied above number.” A reason assigned, why no one can be compared to God in regard of his wonderful works and profound thoughts; and he says, “I have declared, and I have spoken;” I have made known some of his wonderful works, through the prophets, through the wise, through the very elements of the world; for, “the heavens show forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the works of his hands.” “They are multiplied above number;” they are so numerous that they are past counting, and, therefore, cannot be properly announced or explained.

Ps 40:6 Truly “wonderful are all God’s works;” in all of them “the depth of his thoughts” most splendidly appear, but far and away, and beyond, and above all, in his work of the redemption: what can be imagined more marvelous than for God to stoop to the form of a servant, to become a beggar and a pauper, to rescue man from the “pit of misery,” and raise him to the enjoyment of heaven? To have the same God, in the form of a servant, scourged with rods, and crucified between robbers, that he may place his servants in the choir of Angels? and to carry out all these things with the greatest wisdom, the greatest justice, without offering the slightest injury to the Divinity, nay, even thereby augmenting his glory?! Christ himself, using the pen and the language of David, explains this mystery in the following verses. “Sacrifice and oblation thou didst not desire;” you would not be appeased by the sacrifice of cattle, nor by the oblation of bread and incense, but by a victim of infinite price; you, therefore, wished me to assume a mortal body, that by my “obedience even unto death,” I may atone for the disobedience of the first man; and since you refused “sacrifice” of cattle and “oblation” for sin, “then said I: Behold, I come,” that I may be the priest and the sacrifice; and thus satisfy for the human race, and “bring them out of the pit of misery and the mire of dregs.” Observe here, that by “sacrifice and oblations” we are rather to understand the victim or matter offered, than the rite or ceremony. Observe also, that though the prophet says, “sacrifice and oblations thou didst not desire,” we are not thence to infer the sacrifices of the old law were of no value; what he conveys is, that they were of no value in regard of making satisfaction for sin, as the Apostle says to the Hebrews, “For it is impossible that with the blood of oxen and goats, sins should be taken away.” “But thou hast pierced ears for me.” There are a variety of versions of this sentence, some conveying the idea of Christ having his ears ready for his father’s command to save man; the present reading conveying the idea, that he was in the hands of his father, like a slave who had his ears pierced, ready, at a moment’s notice, to do his master’s bidding.

Ps 40:7–8 He said, “Behold, I come;” he now tells us why, “that I should do thy will;” and the will of God was, that he should sanctify us by the oblation of his body, by his passion and death; so the Apostle explains this passage in Hebrews 10, where he quotes it, and adds, “by the which will we are sanctified by the oblation of the body of Jesus Christ once.” “In the head of the book it is written of me.” What book? Some will have it, Genesis; some, the First Psalm; some, the Prophets; others, the Gospel of St. John; others, the Book of Life; all defensible; but I look upon the most simple and most literal interpretation to be, the summary, or the whole of the Holy Scriptures. The Hebrew favors this interpretation; instead of “the head of the book,” it is in the Hebrew, “in the volume of the book,” that is to say, in the whole volume, because the whole Scripture has reference to Christ. Hence, the Lord himself says, “what is written in the law of Moses, and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled;” and in the same gospel we read, “He interpreted to the two disciples; all that was written of him in the Scriptures, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets.” And our Lord, speaking of the Scriptures in general, said, “Search the Scriptures, for they bear testimony of me;” “In the head of the book,” then, does not mean the first chapter or title page of the book; but the substance and the true meaning is, All the Scriptures testify that I came into the world “that I should do thy will,” by obedience to you in the most trifling matters. Turning, then, to the Father, he adds, “O my God, I have desired it,” I have most cheerfully accepted your decree; “and thy law in the midst of my heart;” I have put thy law in the midst of my heart; there is nothing I have been more desirous, more anxious for, than to obey your law. Speaking of the just, David says, “God’s law is in his heart;” but; speaking of Christ, the head of the just, he says, “his law is in the midst of his heart,” and those who belong to Christ should have his Spirit, so that they may prefer his law to everything, so as to have it constantly before their memory, their will, and their understanding.

Ps 40:9 Though God’s principal object in the death of Christ was, that he should atone for mankind, he willed also that Christ should previously announce the Gospel; that his preaching may be the path to his passion; and that he may be not only a Redeemer, but also a teacher and a preacher to man; and he, therefore, says now, “I have declared thy justice;” I have announced thy most just law, and the works it requires, and that publicly, before countless crowds of people, of which yourself are witness. And, in fact, Christ never ceased preaching. From his infancy he preached, by example, contempt of the things of this world, modesty, temperance, humility. From his baptism, from the time that the Father said, “Hear ye him,” he began to preach, and never ceased to the day of his death, which he continued through his Apostles, and will continue, through their successors, to the end of the world.

Ps 40:10 Many preach while they expect any benefit thereby, or fear no injury in consequence; but when they cease to hope, or fear presses, they keep their preaching to themselves, and will not let it out. Not so with Christ; and, by his example, he tells us what to do thereon, and he, therefore says, “I have declared thy justice,” and “have not hidden it in my heart,” through negligence, fear, or any unworthy motive. His remarks on the justice that God requires from us, that is, that he announced it, and did not “hide it,” are now applied, in like manner, to God’s justice and mercy, for he calls justice truth; that is, the fidelity with which he gives to every one according to his works; and he calls mercy salvation, which he mercifully holds out to those who hope in him. He says, then, “I have declared thy truth and thy salvation;” that is to say, I have announced “the truth” that is in you, declaring to all how faithfully and how inexplicably you reward the good, and terribly punish the wicked; and I have, at the same time, announced “thy salvation;” that is, with what mercy you save all those that trust in thee. “I have not concealed thy mercy and thy truth from a great council.” What he called “salvation,” in the preceding sentence, he now expressly calls “mercy,” and connects it with truth, meaning justice. “I have not concealed,” through any fear whatever, “from a great council,” from any number however great, “thy mercy and thy truth,” but have publicly and boldly announced them. A fact easily proved from the Gospels.

Ps 40:11 He (Christ) passes now from his preaching to his passion; and, as well as he made known the justice and the mercy of the Father to mankind, he now prays to the Father not to defer the same mercy and justice towards himself, but by a speedy resurrection to deliver him from his death and passion. “Withhold not thou, O Lord, thy tender mercies from me.” Father, you see how bitter are my sufferings for having made known your justice and mercy to man; do you, therefore, “withhold not your mercies from me,” by immediately raising me up, as hitherto “thy mercy and thy truth have always upheld me.”

Ps 40:12 A reason for having said, “withhold not, O Lord, thy tender mercies from me,” because “evils without number have surrounded me.” Christ’s sufferings were truly without number, and seemed to crowd in upon him designedly. And they were thus innumerable, because our sins, for which he undertook to make satisfaction, were so. “My iniquities,” the iniquities of mankind, “which the Father placed upon him,” Isaias 53, and which he, therefore, looked upon as mine, “that I may bear them in my body upon the tree;” all those evils “have overtaken me, and I was not able to see.” They were so numerous that they blinded me up. For “they are multiplied above the hairs of my head;” exceed my hairs in number; and thus, overwhelmed by their number, I fainted, “and my heart hath forsaken me;” my strength, my very life, forsook me. This expression of Christ’s, “I was unable to see,” is not to be taken literally, as if the Lord could not see the number of the sins, by reason of their being so extremely numerous; for he certainly had a most accurate knowledge of all the sins, past, present, and future; but he uses the expressions in ordinary use, to signify how numerous were the sins he undertook to satisfy for. We have a similar expression in St. Mark 6, “And he could not do any mighty work there, and he wondered because of their unbelief.” He could have done any works he pleased there, but he is said not to have been able to do them, to give us an idea of the incredulity of the people that prevented him from doing them.

Ps 40:13 He now returns to the prayer he commenced in verse 11, and prays to be delivered, by a speedy resurrection, from such evils. “Be pleased, O Lord,” Father, whom I must, by reason of the form of a servant I have assumed, call Lord, be pleased “to deliver me” from the many troubles that have surrounded me. “look down, O Lord, to help me;” you seem as if you had for some time abandoned me, “and turned your face away from me,” leaving me to go through the sufferings of the cross without the slightest consolation; but now “look down to help me,” that you may at once replenish me in the joy of a glorious resurrection.

Ps 40:14 Christ’s enemies, who thought him entirely destroyed, were terribly confused at his resurrection. That he now prophesies in the form of an imprecation, a thing usual with the prophets. “Let them be confounded and ashamed together.” Let them be overwhelmed with confusion “that seek after my soul to take it away;” who seek to take away my life by putting me to death, and totally extinguishing me. Such was the intention of the Jews, a thing they thought they had accomplished when they nailed him to the cross. But immediately after, when they heard of his resurrection, saw it confirmed by signs and wonders, and believed by the mass of the people, “they were confounded and ashamed;” and will be infinitely more so on the last day, then they shall see him whom they impiously presumed to judge, and against whom they suborned false witnesses, judging the whole world with the greatest justice. “Let them be turned backward and be ashamed that desire evils to me.” A repetition of the preceding sentence, as if to strengthen it. “Let them be turned back,” retire in confusion, “and be ashamed,” blush with shame, “that desire evils to me; not only those who seek to kill me, but all who seek for my disgrace or confusion.

Ps 40:15 He repeats the same thing a third time, saying, “Let them immediately bear their confusion that say to me: It is well, it is well.” Let not their confusion be deferred, but after three short days let them be confounded, as they were, “who say to me, It is well, it is well;” that is, those who gloried in having triumphed over me, and congratulated each other thereon.

Ps 40:16 As he prophesied confusion to his persecutors in the form of an imprecation, so he now predicts joy to his subjects in the same form. “Let all that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee.” All those who seek the glory of God, who love him and put their trust in him, “will rejoice and be glad” in God; that is, with divine and unspeakable joy, “and say always, the Lord be magnified.” Let them not attribute any good they may have to themselves, but say, May “the Lord be magnified” by all “who love thy salvation;” who love the Savior you sent them, Christ Jesus; or who love and desire the true and everlasting salvation that you alone can confer.

Ps 40:17 He now returns to the state he was in at the time of his passion, (Christ,) and says, “but I am a beggar and poor;” needy and destitute of all human help. In the Hebrew, the first conveys the idea of poverty; the second of affliction; quite applicable to Christ, especially when he hung naked on the cross; but, however poor and afflicted he may have appeared to man, he was rich in the protection of his Father; and, therefore, he adds, “the Lord is careful for me.” The Lord is concerned for me. He calls his Father “the Lord,” because he speaks in the person of a servant; that is, as the Son of Man, in which nature he hung upon the cross. “Thou art my helper and my protector: O my God, be not slack.” What he had briefly expressed when he said, “the Lord is careful for me,” he now explains at greater length, saying, “Thou art my helper and my protector.” For God the Father was “careful” for his Son, by helping and protecting him, helping him in overcoming past dangers, protecting him by removing future ones. “O my God, be not slack;” namely, to deliver me from all trouble by a speedy resurrection.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 78

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 31, 2016

God’s great benefits to the people of Israel, notwithstanding their ingratitude

Psa 78:1 Understanding for Asaph. Attend, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

David, being about to exhort the people, in rather a long discourse, endeavors, at the outset, to arrest their attention by saying he is going to speak on matters of utility and importance. “Attend to my law;” to my precepts, which, like good and most wise laws, will direct you to happiness. And he repeats the same at greater length when he says, “incline your ears;” and what he expressed at first by the words, “my law,” he now expresses by the words, “to the words of my mouth;” thereby insinuating that when he mentioned the law, he did not mean the law of Moses, though often called simply the law, but his own words, with which he meant to instruct and to exhort his people; in which sense Christ himself uses the term when he said, John 15, “But that the word may be fulfilled, which is written in their Law, they have hated me without cause.” To incline the ear, when applied to the people, means to hear with humility and obedience, but, when applied to God, means to hear with clemency and mercy. Some will have this Psalm spoken in the person of God, others, of Christ; but verse 3, “and our fathers have told us’ ” shows that David speaks in his own person, and no other.

Psa 78:2 I will open my mouth in parables: I will utter propositions from the beginning.

The reason why David asks that what he says may be listened to with attention and humility is, that he is about to enter on difficult and obscure matters, that require attention and humility. By parables is understood here proverbs or similes that are usually short and figurative. Propositions mean enigmas that are most obscure, for such is the meaning of the word in Hebrew, as is clear from that passage in the book of Judges, where Samson’s enigma, “out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness,” is called an enigma, and in Greek a problem. There are many proverbs and enigmas in this Psalm, as we shall see hereafter; but the one particularly alluded to here seems to be the kingdom of Christ, of which David’s kingdom is the figure; and the Church, of which Mount Sion is the figure. The words, “from the beginning,” looking at the text of the Psalm, would seem to apply to the date of the liberation of the people from the captivity of Egypt, when the people of Israel began to assume the form of a republic, and to be subject to laws and judges; and verse 5, “and he set up a testimony in Jacob; and made a law in Israel,” favors that view; but Mt. chap. 13, in quoting this passage, says that “the beginning” refers to the beginning of the world; for he says, “That the word might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world.” The meaning, then, is, I will lay before you ideas that were hidden, and like so many enigmas, from the beginning of the world; for, though the mysteries of Christ were at all times foretold and foreshadowed, still they were veiled, and openly revealed to very few. St. Paul, writing of them, says, Ephes. 3, “To me, the least of all the saints, is given this grace to preach among the gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to enlighten all men what is the dispensation of the mystery which hath been hidden from eternity in God who created all things.”

Psa 78:3 How great things have we heard and known, and our fathers have told us.
Psa 78:4 They have not been hidden from their children, in another generation. Declaring the praises of the Lord, and his powers, and his wonders which he hath done.

Being about to write a history of matters that had within them mysteries hidden from the beginning of the world, he tells us he got the history of these from the fathers, who got them from their ancestors; I will, he says, utter propositions from the beginning. “What great things we have heard and known,” because “our fathers have told us,” both by their writings and word of mouth, for they did not wish them “to be hidden from their children” they were to leave after them “in another generation;” and what they had to tell was God’s praises and virtues; that is, his wonderful power and his wonderful works, for which he deserves the highest meed of praise. “They have not been hidden.” St. Matthew says “I will utter things hidden,” which would seem like a contradiction, but it is not, for the things that were done were not hidden from the children of those who related them, though their mystical signification was.

Psa 78:5 And he set up a testimony in Jacob: and made a law in Israel. How great things he commanded our fathers, that they should make the same known to their children:
Psa 78:6 That another generation might know them. The children that should be born and should rise up, and declare them to their children.

He now begins to relate the things done by God, as he heard from the fathers, and he places first the fact of God’s having given the people of Israel the law and the commandments through Moses, and having ordered that law to be given by the parents to their children, and so to be handed down to posterity. The law of God is called a “testimony,” because it testifies God’s will to man, as we have explained at length in Psalm 19, “Setting up a testimony in Jacob;” that is, God gave his law to the children of Jacob, who was also called Israel. The expression, “how great things he commanded,” means no more than what he commanded, according to the Hebrew, from which we gather that “the law” does not simply mean here, the decalogue, but all the commands, both moral, ceremonial, and judicial in the five books of Moses.

Psa 78:7 That they may put their hope in God and may not forget the works of God: and may seek his commandments.
Psa 78:8 That they may not become like their fathers, a perverse and exasperating generation. A generation that set not their heart aright: and whose spirit was not faithful to God.

He now explains why God gave the law to his people, and ordered the parents to teach it to children, and the children to hand it down to their posterity. To make them put no trust in false gods, or the idols of the gentiles, but to trust alone in the true God, who gave them a holy law from heaven, accompanied by great signs and prodigies; and also that they should not forget God’s wonderful doings in delivering them from the bondage of Pharao; furthermore, that they should anxiously seek to know, and studiously put into practice, God’s wishes; and, finally, that they should not imitate the ingratitude and the infidelity of their fathers, who, after all the favors conferred on them through Moses, proved most ungrateful. For, while they were in Egypt, they could hardly be brought to trust Moses, and after having left Egypt, they several times rebelled against Moses and against God; were forever murmuring, and (what is much worse) adoring the golden calf: “A generation that set not their heart aright,” did not keep their heart firmly directed to God, but rather regarded other help. “Whose spirit was not faithful to God,” for it often fell away from faith and obedience.

Psa 78:9 The sons of Ephraim who bend and shoot with the bow: they have turned back in the day of battle.

Many suppose that some unsuccessful battle of the tribe of Ephraim is alluded to here; now, there is no trace of any such battle in Holy Writ, nor is it probable that the prophet, in giving a general description of the vices of the people, miraculously brought out of Egypt, and freed from slavery, would digress to an isolated fact such as this. It is, therefore, much more probable that he explains, by a sort of simile, how inconstant the Hebrews were, in their faith and their obedience to God, making the meaning of the passage to be “the sons of Ephraim;” that is, the Israelites were like soldiers who began to fight with the enemy, and at once turned their backs and fled; so the Israelites, in the desert, more than once promised God they would obey him, and observe his commandments, and in a minute they would change their minds, think of returning to Egypt, and murmur against Moses and against God. David specifies the sons, that is, the tribe of Ephraim, by it meaning the whole assembly of the Israelites; for, next to Juda, the tribe of Ephraim was most numerous and powerful, and thus a rival of Juda, and in the Scripture Ephraim is generally censured, while Juda is praised; and thus the calamities of the whole people were attributed to Ephraim rather than to any of the other tribes, and in the end of this very Psalm, he says, “And chose not the tribe of Ephraim, but he chose the tribe of Juda.” See Osee the prophet.

Psa 78:10 They kept not the covenant of God: and in his law they would not walk.
Psa 78:11 And they forgot his benefits, and his wonders that he had shewn them.
Psa 78:12 Wonderful things did he do in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Tanis.

He now explains what he had figuratively expressed, that the children of Ephraim, the Israelites, were turned back; for when they undertook to obey God, they did not keep the compact, nor did they observe the law of God; and they at once forgot God’s kindness to them, and the wonderful works he did for them in Egypt, which had been related to them by their fathers. The field of Tanis means Egypt, of which Tanis was the royal residence, to show that the wonderful things done by Moses were not done in a nook or corner, but in a most public place, up to the king’s palace.

Psa 78:13 He divided the sea and brought them through: and he made the waters to stand as in a vessel.
Psa 78:14 And he conducted them with a cloud by day: and all the night with a light of fire.
Psa 78:15 He struck the rock in the wilderness: and gave them to drink, as out of the great deep.
Psa 78:16 He brought forth water out of the rock: and made streams run down as rivers.
Psa 78:17 And they added yet more sin against him: they provoked the most High to wrath in the place without water.

Having touched upon the wonderful things that were done in Egypt before Pharao; he now describes the other miracles that were performed in the departure of the Israelites, viz., the separation of the waters of the Red Sea, to afford them a dry passage through it; and, then, after their departure from Egypt, the miracles that were performed in the desert, viz., the pillar of cloud to precede, and show them the way by day, and the pillar of fire by night; and the abundance of water drawn from the rock to slake their thirst. And he adds, that, notwithstanding all those miracles, the incredulous people again provoked God to anger, when they found themselves without water in the desert, which had to be struck a second time for them from the rock; for the first supply of water was given them the year before, as we read in Num. 17, while mention is made of the second in Num. 20. “He made the waters to stand as in a vessel;” means, that God made the waters of the sea to stand up at both sides, as perpendicularly as if they were shut up in a vessel, while the children of Israel were passing through. “And gave them to drink as out of the great deep;” means, that when the rock was struck, as great a quantity of water issued from it as if the rock had been turned into a deep lake or a great ocean of water.

Psa 78:18 And they tempted God in their hearts, by asking meat for their desires.
Psa 78:19 And they spoke ill of God: they said: Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?
Psa 78:20 Because he struck the rock, and the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed. Can he also give bread, or provide a table for his people?
Psa 78:21 Therefore the Lord heard, and was angry: and a fire was kindled against Jacob, and wrath came up against Israel.
Psa 78:22 Because they believed not in God: and trusted not in his salvation.
Psa 78:23 And he had commanded the clouds from above, and had opened the doors of heaven.
Psa 78:24 And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them the bread of heaven.
Psa 78:25 Man ate the bread of angels: he sent them provisions in abundance.
Psa 78:26 He removed the south wind from heaven: and by his power brought in the southwest wind.
Psa 78:27 And he rained upon them flesh as dust: and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea.
Psa 78:28 And they fell in the midst of their camp, round about their pavilions.
Psa 78:29 So they did eat, and were filled exceedingly, and he gave them their desire:

The prophet unites the miracles of the bread from heaven and the water from the rock; they being types of Christ’s passion, and of the Eucharist, as the Lord himself explains in John 6, and the Apostle in 1 Cor. 10. Water from a rock, is the same as bringing wisdom from folly; for wisdom is no less opposed to folly than is a rock, a hard and solid substance, to water, which is a fluid. The mystery of the crucifixion is wisdom, it is the rock which was struck; a folly to the gentiles, and a scandal to the Jews; but the height of wisdom to the faithful, as St. Paul writes 1 Cor. 1, “For seeing that in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God; it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe.” Now the real bread from heaven was not the manna that fell from the sky, but the flesh of Christ that comes from the heaven of heavens, and gives life to the world. The manna, however, was a type of this true bread, and the prophet had that in view when he said, in the beginning of the Psalm, that he was about to speak in parables and propositions. Now to explain the passage. Having alluded to the miracle of the water brought from the rock and the infidelity of the people, he comes to the miracle of the bread and the meat, another incredulity of theirs. We must bear in mind that the Israelites got meat in a miraculous manner twice, once along with manna, Exodus 16, and a second time without any manna, Numbers 11; and that they got the meat and manna previous to the water from the rock, and the meat alone subsequent to the water. David, however, unites both miracles, and thus renders the matter somewhat confused; but, bearing what we said in mind, it will be easily understood. “And they tempted God in their hearts.” They wished to try if God was really omnipotent and was concerned for his people; and, therefore, “they asked meat for their desires;” bread and meat they were longing for, as we read in Exodus 16 and Num. 11. “And they spoke ill of God,” doubting whether he could give them to eat as well as he gave them to drink in the desert; this alludes to the second time they murmured, for the first murmur was previous to striking water from the rock. “Therefore the Lord heard” their murmurs, proceeding from their incredulity, “and was angry;” so that he sent fire into their camp, and destroyed numbers of them. Yet, he wished to convince an unfaithful people, and to prove his power; and, therefore, “he commanded the clouds from above, and had opened the doors of heaven. And had rained down manna upon them to eat; and had given them the bread of heaven. Man ate the bread of Angels.” This refers to the first time they murmured; for they got the manna before they got the water. The manna is called bread from heaven, having fallen from thence; and it is called the bread of Angels, being made and produced by them. The word manna is derived from two Hebrew words, that mean, “What is it?” which the Jews said when first they saw it.

Psa 78:30 they were not defrauded of that which they craved. As yet their meat was in their mouth:
Psa 78:31 And the wrath of God came upon them. And he slew the fat ones amongst them, and brought down the chosen men of Israel.
Psa 78:32 In all these things they sinned still: and they behaved not for his wondrous works.
Psa 78:33 And their days were consumed in vanity, and their years in haste.
Psa 78:34 When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned, and came to him early in the morning.
Psa 78:35 And they remembered that God was their helper: and the most high God their redeemer.
Psa 78:36 And they loved him with their mouth: and with their tongue they lied unto him:
Psa 78:37 But their heart was not right with him: nor were they counted faithful in his covenant.

The prophet goes on to show in these verses that God, to satisfy the Jews, showed his great power by great miracles; still, that he did not let their contumacy and infidelity go unpunished; and, that the Jews were brought to faith and to obedience, both by the miracles and the punishments inflicted on them, but still, without that perseverance, or that sincerity of heart that God required. “As yet their meat was in their mouth.” They had scarcely finished the quails, “and the wrath of God came upon them,” and destroyed such a number of them, that the place got the name of “The graves of lust.” The Scripture does not tell us how God destroyed them, but, it is likely, through some disease arising from gluttony. And the Lord singled out “the fat ones,” and “the chosen men of Israel;” those most devoted to pleasure, they who exulted in their youth and their strength; “and brought down,” laid them so prostrate by disease, that they could not possibly escape. All this came upon them by reason of their infidelity, for they did not believe that the quails were sent by providence, but came by chance. They were, therefore, punished so quickly, that “their days were consumed in vanity,” and “their years in haste;” for they passed away like a shadow or like smoke, without a trace after them. But they, “when he slew them,” when they were scourged by God, and put to death by him, “they returned” to their senses, and asked God’s help, and that “early in the morning;” as soon as ever they felt the scourge they came to implore God’s mercy, converted, but through fear; and their conversion was feigned, for “with their mouth they called to mind God’s previous goodness; but while they so professed their devotion to him, they lied in their heart; “for their heart was not right with him, nor were they counted faithful in his covenant.” Would that we Christians would not imitate this inconsistency of the Jews. How many among us, when in danger of death, promise God and his saints to amend our lives, and the moment they recover resume their old habits? But God will not be mocked; and such people will not escape his judgment.

Psa 78:38 But he is merciful, and will forgive their sins: and will not destroy them. And many a time did he turn away his anger: and did not kindle all his wrath.
Psa 78:39 And he remembered that they are flesh: a wind that goeth and returneth not.
Psa 78:40 How often did they provoke him in the desert: and move him to wrath in the place without water?
Psa 78:41 And they turned back and tempted God: and grieved the holy one of Israel.
Psa 78:42 They remembered not his hand, in the day that he redeemed them from the hand of him that afflicted them:

The prophet now compares God’s goodness with man’s wickedness, and says, that though God scourged his people, he did not forget his mercy; and, therefore, that he did not chastise them as heavily as their sins deserved, for he had mercy on them, and did not utterly destroy them. They certainly deserved utter extermination, but, through the mercy of God, some were spared; as, in fact, of those that left Egypt, two, Josue and Caleb, survived, types of the elect, who will be saved; for, as the Apostle says, “God hath not cast away his people, which he foreknew, but there is a remnant saved, according to the election of grace.” This verse, then, does not contradict the dispersion of the Jews that we daily see, for the promise was fulfilled in the Apostles, who were Jews; and, so far from being dispersed, have gathered together a great multitude of people, elect in God, a fact foretold by Osee, chap. 1, and explained by 1 St. Peter 2, where he says, “Who in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” The prophet goes on and says, “And many a time did he turn away his anger;” for he forgave a great share of the punishment due to their sins, and thus turned away his anger; because he “did not kindle all his wrath,” as he may justly have done. “And he remembered that they are flesh: a wind that goeth and returneth not.” In addition to his motives for mercy, man’s infirm nature, weakened by the fall of our first parents, mortal and subject to concupiscence, presented itself. For he knows what we are made of; “that they are flesh,” carnal, weak, and feeble; and that we are “a wind that goeth and returneth not;” that is, that our life is a passing one—passing from boyhood to youth, without ever coming back to boyhood; passing from youth to old age, without ever returning to youth, but quickly ending in death. Thus, it is like the flowers and other perishable things, and not like the sun, moon and stars that revolve in their orbits, and are always the same by reason of their being solid and eternal. By the word “wind” we are to understand that spirit or breath of life that quickens and enlivens us, which in its progress grows weaker, and is frail and changeable; and that such is the life of man, the prophet proves in the following verse, “How often did they provoke him in the desert? and move him to wrath in the place without water?” by their want of purpose, promising faith and obedience at one time, and, in a moment after, by heaping obloquy on him, and by rebellion; for, “they turned back” from all their faithful promises, “and tempted God,” to try if he were truly omnipotent; and thus “grieved” God, who is “the Holy One of Israel.” The God of Israel is called “the Holy One,” not only by David, but by Isaias, in various places; for God alone is truly holy, that is, pure and inviolate; while the gods of the gentiles are unclean demons. Finally, such was the fickleness and folly of the Jews so brought by God out of Egypt, that they at once forgot the countless and most wonderful signs and prodigies that God wrought in their favor while he was bringing them out from the bondage of Egypt.

Psa 78:43 How he wrought his signs in Egypt, and his wonders in the field of Tanis.
Psa 78:44 And he turned their rivers into blood, and their showers that they might not drink.
Psa 78:45 He sent amongst them divers sorts of flies, which devoured them: and frogs which destroyed them.
Psa 78:46 And he gave up their fruits to the blast, and their labours to the locust.
Psa 78:47 And he destroyed their vineyards with hail, and their mulberry trees with hoarfrost.
Psa 78:48 And he gave up their cattle to the hail, and their stock to the fire.
Psa 78:49 And he sent upon them the wrath of his indignation: indignation and wrath and trouble, which he sent by evil angels.
Psa 78:50 He made a way for a path to his anger: he spared not their souls from death, and their cattle he shut up in death.
Psa 78:51 And he killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt: the firstfruits of all their labour in the tabernacles of Cham.
Psa 78:52 And he took away his own people as sheep: and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
Psa 78:53 And he brought them out in hope and they feared not: and the sea overwhelmed their enemies.

Having said, in verse 42, that the Jews forgot all the miracles God wrought in their favor, when he was bringing them out of the land of Egypt, he now describes, in the above verses, how God afflicted Pharao, until he ultimately overwhelmed him and his whole army in the sea, all of which is to be found in Exodus, from chaps. 7 to 14. Now, David does not record all the miracles, he merely gives the principal ones, and that in a different order from that in which they happened. “They remembered not,” meaning the Jews in the wilderness, “his hand,” the power of the Lord that delivered them from Pharao in his persecution. “How he wrought his signs in Egypt.” They did not remember the wonderful miracles, signs of his power, that he wrought in Egypt, especially those he did in the fairest part of it, Tanis, nigh the royal residence. “And he turned,” for he turned “their rivers into blood, and their showers that they might not drink,” Exod., chap. 7. By the rivers of Egypt we understand the branches of the Nile that flow through it; by their showers we are not to understand the rain that falls, which seldom happens in Egypt, but the water itself, and it is not unusual with David to repeat the same idea, and thus, what he calls their rivers in the first part of the verse, he calls showers in the second. “He sent among them diverse sort of flies which devoured them, and frogs which destroyed them,” Exod., chap. 8. He goes on to enumerate the principal scourges inflicted on the Egyptians; and, finally, to include any he may have omitted, as, in fact, he did, he says in verse 49, “And he sent upon them the wrath of his indignation: indignation and wrath and troubles which he sent by evil angels.” Touching, in the latter part of it, on the most grievous of all the plagues, the slaughter of the first born by the destroying angel. From this, we infer, that the plagues of Egypt, especially the slaughter of the first born, was effected through the agency of the fallen angels, who cannot injure us, but as far as God will suffer them, they being his ministers. The holy Angels even may be called evil angels, from the punishments they inflict when God so employs them. The impure demons may also be called evil angels, they being so in reality, and hostile to man, and God employs both; for, through the former he punished the Sodomites, by fire from heaven; and through the latter, with similar fire, he chastised Job. “He made a way for a path to his anger.” A beautiful figure. It means, God’s anger prompting him to revenge, was restrained by his mercy, urging him not to destroy them entirely, but at length he set aside his mercy, and “made a way for a path to his anger,” and he did not spare them, for he killed all the first born of men and beasts, which were the first fruits of their labor; that is, of the Egyptians, for men generally labor in rearing their children and their cattle, but the first of their labor is directed to their first born, which thus get the appellation of the first fruits of their labor. “In the tabernacle of Cham;” means, in Egypt, which was so called after Mizraim the son of Cham, the son of Noe, he having been the first to inhabit and possess Egypt. “And he took away his own people like sheep.” Upon the slaughter of the first born of Egypt, Pharao allowed the Jews to go away, and then God brought them into the desert of Arabia. “And he brought them out in hope, and they feared not;” they went out with great confidence, “and the sea overwhelmed their enemies;” the last plague inflicted on the Egyptians, and the end of the captivity of the children of Israel.

Psa 78:54 And he brought them into the mountain of his sanctuary: the mountain which his right hand had purchased. And he cast out the Gentiles before them: and by lot divided to them their land by a line of distribution.
Psa 78:55 And he made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tabernacles.
Psa 78:56 Yet they tempted, and provoked the most high God: and they kept not his testimonies.
Psa 78:57 And they turned away, and kept not the covenant: even like their fathers they were turned aside as a crooked bow.
Psa 78:58 They provoked him to anger on their hills: and moved him to jealousy with their graven things.

The prophet now passes to the facts related in the books of Josue and Judges, and shows that the Jews were brought by God into the land of promise, which he calls “the mountain of his sanctuary,” because it was a mountainous country, and one which God had sanctified and dedicated to himself to be worshipped there by his people; he also calls it “the mountain which his right hand had purchased,” because God caused the Israelites under Josue, to conquer the old inhabitants who were most devoted to idolatry, and to banish them by the aid of most signal miracles. He adds, however, that the Jews so introduced by God into the land of promise, proved to be not a whit better than their fathers who had perished in the desert, for they too “tempted and provoked the Most High God,” by abandoning his worship, and by the service of idols. The expression, “They were turned aside as a crooked bow,” means that they were like a bow out of shape, sending the arrows where they should not be sent; for the Jews promised to observe God’s commandments, and apparently directed their arrows to the worship of the true God, while they were, meanwhile, offering sacrifices to false gods; which the prophet expresses in plain language, when he says, “They provoked him to anger on their hills; and moved him to jealousy with their graven things:” for it was on lofty hills, especially wooded ones, that they erected altars to their idols, and sacrificed thereon to them.

Psa 78:59 God heard, and despised them, and he reduced Israel exceedingly as it were to nothing.
Psa 78:60 And he put away the tabernacle of Silo, his tabernacle where he dwelt among men.
Psa 78:61 And he delivered their strength into captivity: and their beauty into the hands of the enemy.
Psa 78:62 And he shut up his people under the sword: and he despised his inheritance.
Psa 78:63 Fire consumed their young men: and their maidens were not lamented.
Psa 78:64 Their priests fell by the sword: and their widows did not mourn.

The prophet now enters into the vengeance inflicted by God on the sins of his people, making special mention of the time when the Philistines routed the Jewish army, and carried the Ark of the Lord away with them, after having slain the priests who were in charge of it, 1 Sam 4. “God heard,” or rather he knew the sins of his people crying unto heaven, “and despised them,” as an useless people, and deserving of death, “and he reduced Israel exceedingly,” humbled them to nothing, allowing their enemies to triumph over them. “And he put away the tabernacle of Silo.” He rejected the tabernacle containing the Ark, which was then in Silo, in which tabernacle, God, to a certain extent “dwelt among men;” because from thence he gave his answers to men. “And he delivered their strength into captivity, and their beauty into the hands of the enemy;” he allowed that people that he had chosen for his inheritance, as his own and favored people to be surrounded and circumvented by the swords of the enemy. “Fire consumed their young men;” the fire of war, or the fire of God’s anger destroyed the flower of them, for such are always the young; “and their maidens were not lamented,” because there was nobody left to deplore them. “Their priests fell by the sword,” Ophni and Phinees the sons of Heli, who are specially named among the dead; “and their widows did not mourn,” for all were occupied in their own private and peculiar losses.

Psa 78:65 And the Lord was awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that hath been surfeited with wine.
Psa 78:66 And he smote his enemies on the hinder parts: he put them to an everlasting reproach.
Psa 78:67 And he rejected the tabernacle of Joseph: and chose not the tribe of Ephraim:
Psa 78:68 But he chose the tribe of Juda, mount Sion which he loved.
Psa 78:69 And he built his sanctuary as of unicorns, in the land which he founded for ever.
Psa 78:70 And he chose his servant David, and took him from the flocks of sheep: he brought him from following the ewes great with young,
Psa 78:71 To feed Jacob his servant and Israel his inheritance.
Psa 78:72 And he fed them in the innocence of his heart: and conducted them by the skilfulness of his hands.

In this, the latter part of the Psalm, David shows that God was pleased at his people being punished as they were, inasmuch as their sins called for such punishment; but that he was not pleased with the pride and malice of the Philistines, who so afflicted them; and, therefore, that he signally punished the Philistines, as we read in the same second book of Samuel chap. 5. God often uses the wickedness of some to punish others, and then punishes the wicked for doing so, not looking to the good effected through them, but to the malicious motives that prompted them, in which he had no share. He then goes on to say that God would not have the tabernacle any longer in Silo, a city of the tribe of Ephraim, nor that the supreme power should be in the tribe of Joseph; but that he wished the tabernacle to be placed on mount Sion, and that the supreme rule should belong to the tribe of Juda, from which tribe he had chosen David to be king over his people; a prophecy regarding Christ and his Church, as we said in the beginning of the Psalm. For, as St. Augustine well remarks, God did not reject Joseph, and select Juda by reason of their personal merits; had he done so, he would have chosen Joseph, who excelled very much, whether one regards his chastity, his patience, his wisdom, his prudence, or his love of his enemies; but he chose Juda on account of David, and David on account of Christ, and he destroyed the synagogue to build up the Church. To come now to the explanation of the text. “And the Lord was awaked as one out of sleep.” The Philistines had overpowered the Jews, not by their own strength, nor by reason of want of strength on the part of the Lord, but because he slept, and slept, too, “like a mighty man that hath been surfeited with wine;” wine makes one sleep. But when he was awaked from that sleep, he made a grand display of his power against the Philistines. God is said, figuratively, to sleep when he does not seem to notice the evil doings of the wicked; and he is said to sleep “like one surfeited with wine,” when he deals with the most grievous sinners as if he were in a profound sleep, and was insensible to the grievous injuries offered him, such as the taking away of the Ark. “And he smote his enemies on the hinder parts.” He afflicted them with a most painful disease, that of the emerods in their private parts; “he put them to an everlasting reproach;” for God, in his wisdom, caused them to make golden emerods, and hang them on the Ark, to their own everlasting shame, to hand down the disease with which God had afflicted them. “And he rejected the tabernacle of Joseph;” he would not have the tabernacle in which was kept the Ark, to remain any longer in Silo, a city in the tribe of Ephraim, the son of Joseph; “and chose not the tribe of Ephraim;” when about to establish a sovereignty in his people, he did not choose a king from Ephraim, the most numerous and powerful of the tribes, “But he chose the tribe of Juda, mount Sion which he loved.” He chose the tribe of Juda, from which his rulers were to be selected, and mount Sion on which to place his tabernacle, and afterwards his temple, to hold his Ark, and to offer his sacrifices therein. “And he built his sanctuary as of unicorns in the land which he founded forever;” God built on mount Sion, or in Jerusalem, which is to exist, his sanctuary, as firm as the horn of a unicorn. Here is the principle, or parable, or, rather, enigma, which the prophet promised in the beginning of the Psalm; for the sanctuary of the Old Testament was not as firm as the horn of a unicorn, only inasmuch as it was the type of the sanctuary of the New Testament; nor was mount Sion or Jerusalem founded, (for it was soon after destroyed,) only inasmuch as it was the type of the Church of Christ, “against which the gates of hell shall not prevail,” and whose worship and sacraments will suffer no change to the end of the world. “And he chose his servant David, and took him from the flocks of sheep; he brought him from following the ewes great with young.” He passes over the reign of Saul, for it was to be a short time, and, in a manner, extorted from God by the clamors of the people; but he mentions the kingdom of David, who was a type of Christ, and which, through the pure will of God, was to last. He, therefore, “chose his servant David” from a humble position, for fear he should attribute his elevation to any merits of his own; “he took him from the flocks of sheep;” from being a shepherd, as he really was, “to feed Jacob his servant, and Israel his inheritance;” from feeding sheep, took him to feed men; for he placed him over the kingdom of Israel and of Jacob, his people and his inheritance. “And he fed them in the innocence of his heart; and conducted them by the skillfulness of his hands.” The event proved the soundness of God’s judgment, for David fed and governed God’s people in the innocence of his heart, and the wisdom of his acts. In the innocence of his heart, because, with a pure and immaculate heart, he never sought his own glory, but that of God; not his own benefit, but that of the people; he was more anxious to serve than to rule; he fed the sheep, not as his own, but as belonging to his Master, as a servant, and not as an heir. In his wisdom, or, as he expresses it, “in the skillfulness of his hands,” he guided the people; because, whatever he did, he did it on due reflection, not rashly, not without taking counsel, or inconsiderately. All which perfections, however applicable they may be to David, are, absolutely speaking, to be found completely in Christ alone. Had David been so perfect in them, he would not have been so severely condemned for coveting the wife of another, for the commission of murder and adultery, for wantonly making a census of the people; for condemning Mephiboseth, and giving his property to the false informer, without any manner of trial. Christ, though, was truly innocent in heart, and wise in his works, “for he committed no sin, nor was there guile found in his mouth;” and he alone could boldly say, “Which of you shall convince me of sin?”

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