The Divine Lamp

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Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 17

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 6, 2019

Title. A Prayer of David.

Ven. Bede. Since many of the Psalms consist of prayers, the question may be asked why such an inscription more especially belongs to this. But though the others contain divers prayers mixed with other matters, this is a supplication through its whole course. Now David, as is known, signifies the Lord Christ, in Whose Person this Psalm is uttered for the instruction of the human race.

Argument

Arg. Thomas. That Christ, cast out of the city, was surrounded by the Jews. Christ speaketh concerning the Jews to the Father, complaining that they received Him as a lion greedy of the prey, and satiated with sins left the crime of their incredulity to their babes, when they said, “His Blood be upon us, and upon our children.”

Ven. Bede. A threefold prayer is in this Psalm uttered by Christ according to His humanity. The first is where He makes His supplication to be heard according to His righteousness: Hear the right, O Lord. The second, that His innocence may be delivered from the snares of the Jews: I have called upon Thee, O God, for Thou shalt hear me. In the third, He supplicates a speedy resurrection, to the end that the perverse people of the Jews may no longer insult over Him; and that His faithful people may not doubt concerning His Majesty, He declares that He shall remain in eternal blessedness: Up, Lord, disappoint him, and cast him down.
Eusebius of Cæsarea. A prayer of the perfect man, or of Christ Himself, for them that are to be saved by Him.

S. Jerome. This Psalm is sung in the Person of Christ against the Jews, and in the person of the Church against heretics.

1 Hear the right, O Lord, consider my complaint: and hearken unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips.

It is a very beautiful idea of Pseudo-Dionysius regarding the efficacy of prayer,* that the case is as if we, standing on board a vessel, and holding in our hands a rope fastened to the shore, were to pull lustily at it. While endeavouring as it were to bring the shore to ourselves, we should indeed be bringing ourselves to it. And thus in prayer: while we seek in appearance, to bend God’s will to us, we are indeed bringing our will to His. Here Christ prays not for Himself alone, but for the instruction of all: and the right which is to be heard is that righteousness which He offers for us, that full and complete sacrifice which He presents for our sins. And if we take the words into our mouths,* S. Gregory Nyssen tells us that he will use it in vain whose debtor is in prison: the sound of his chains, says he, will be louder than the sound of your words. Or again applying the verse to the Son of God, (G.) “While I hang in agony on the Cross, whose cross beams represent as it were a balance, I cry for justice in the sight of the Father and of the whole company of heaven, to wit, whether My misery be not sufficiently great to abolish the guilt of all that believe in Me. I, the Son of God, suffer for slaves; I, the Just, for the unjust.” Has not such a sacrifice a sweet-smelling savour by which the evil odour of sin may be destroyed? Has not such a sacrifice a voice that must be heard, not only on the part of mercy, but also of justice? That goeth not out of feigned lips. As they pray, who say, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which He commands.

2 Let my sentence come forth from thy presence: and let thine eyes look upon the thing that is equal.

My sentence, it is as if He said, in this world was, “Let Him be crucified;” “Not this Man, but Barabbas:” but let My true sentence come forth from Thy Presence, Thou Who hast said, “I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance and the utmost parts of the earth for Thy possession.”* Not the sentence of My accusation set up over My Cross, (G.) but the sentence pronounced before the world was, “Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee.” Let Thine eyes look upon the thing that is equal. It is equal or right, that, since the innocent suffered, the guilty should go free, that the innocent Lamb should atone for the wandering sheep; that since the Prince of Life submitted to the law of death, they that were all their life-time subject to his bondage should attain to everlasting life.

[From Thy presence. That is,* let men know of a surety that My condemnation to the Cross was not the work of the Jews and Pilate, to whom I said, “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above;”* but that it was done of My free-will, and according to Thy decree and foreknowledge, for the salvation of My enemies.]

3 Thou hast proved and visited mine heart in the night-season; thou hast tried me, and shalt find no wickedness in me: for I am utterly purposed that my mouth shall not offend.

Proved, visited, tried: S. Thomas thus explains their difference. God proves when He puts a man to the test whether he will keep His laws or not. He visits, when by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit, He would give him power to keep them. He tries, whether His servant will persevere to the end, or whether, having run well, he will cease to run at all. And that word try has the force of trial by fire which indeed is expressed both in the LXX.* and in the Vulgate. And that story is well known of him who, inquiring of the refiner of silver how he knew when the dross was sufficiently separated, received for answer, “When I can see my own image perfectly reflected in it.” In the night season. And what is that but saying “In the multitude of the sorrows that I have in my heart,” for night is mystically the season of affliction, “Thy comforts have refreshed my soul?”* Thou shalt find no wickedness in me. And then manifestly, He That speaks is the Son of God. But take it in the other sense: put those words into the mouth of one of the members, which only the Head can really and truly say, and then notice how the next clause follows: for I am utterly purposed that my mouth shall not offend. What is this but S. James’s “If any man offend not in word, the same is also a perfect man?”* And well might S. Pambo say when he had come to one of the elder saints of the wilderness for instruction in the ascetic life, and had heard from him that verse, “I said, I will take heed to my ways that I offend not with my tongue,”* That is enough for a whole life’s practice; let me go home and attempt it.

4 Because of men’s works, that are done against the words of thy lips: I have kept me from the ways of the destroyer.

The Vulgate is quite different: That my mouth may not speak the words of men: because of the words of Thy lips, I have kept hard paths. And taking it in that sense He would not speak the words of men Who denounced the doings and the traditions of the Scribes and Pharisees; Who exposed them for making clean the outside of the cup and the platter, while their inward parts were full of iniquity. I have kept hard paths. Hard indeed: hard, literally, in His manifold journeys among the mountains of Judæa and the plains of Galilee and the sea-coasts of Tyre and Sidon; hard, mystically, in that life which was but one sorrow from beginning to end; begun in the manger because there was no room for Him in the inn: ended between the two thieves on the Cross. And because of Thy words. Because—“Ought not Christ to have suffered these things?”—Because of the prophecies that He should be despised and rejected of men; because of the types, that He should be the Lamb sacrificed with fire, (Ay.) and together with hyssop and bitter herbs. It is to be noticed that some of the older translations give the passage thus: I have kept the ways of the transgressor: which they interpret to mean that He was numbered with them, reckoned among them, called a man gluttonous and a wine-bibber while He lived, and joined with the wicked in His death. I have kept hard paths. This is the Antiphon which the Church takes as the ordinary interpretation of the Psalm. And well it may be: for what is the whole of the Christian course but a succession of hard paths,—the strait gate and the narrow way which the martyrs and the confessors trod, and which they trod for the same reason, namely, love. Lorinus beautifully applies those words of the heathen poet:

Nam ubi amor condimentum inerit,* cuivis placiturum credo.
Neque salsum neque suave esse potest quicquam, ubi amor non admiscetur.
Fel quod amarum est, id mel faciet: hominem ex tristi lepidum et lenem.

5 O hold thou up my goings in thy paths: that my footsteps slip not.

Hold Thou up, or, as the Vulgate has it, Make perfect. That is, says Gerhohus, in the paths of eternity: because of Thy commandments, I have kept hard paths in this world; let their hardness and sorrow be turned into the joy and glory of the next. Hold Thou up my goings. And where were they so truly held up as on the Cross? There indeed stablished; (C.) there indeed made perfect. Or, again, others will have this expression of making perfect to refer to the example that He left us, that we should tread in His steps; and in this way a very beautiful meaning may be drawn forth. Hold Thou up My goings, that I may leave a pattern to them that shall come after Me to life everlasting, that My footsteps—that is, that their footsteps which are Mine, because taken in My strength, and based upon My example—slip not, notwithstanding all the infirmities of the flesh, and the assaults of the world and of Satan.

6 I have called upon thee, O God, for thou shalt hear me: incline thine ear to me, and hearken unto my words.

The Prophet, (Cd.) as Cajetan very well observes, sets us a memorable example in two respects. The one, his trust in God, Thou shalt hear me: the other, his acknowledgment that he has no merit of his own, (G.) Incline Thine ear to me, because my words have in themselves no power or force to reach it. Or, to apply these words to our Lord: I have called upon Thee, when I said, “The hour is come: glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee;” when I prayed, “Father, glorify Thy Name;” when I said, “Father, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me may be with Me where I am.” But now, as the hour of My Passion approaches, as the redemption or damnation of the human race depends upon My drinking or not drinking the cup, now in a different and deeper sense than before, incline Thine ear unto Me, and hearken unto My words, those seven words which I shall utter on the Cross; for others, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do:” for Myself, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit.”

7 Show thy marvellous loving-kindness, thou that art the Saviour of them which put their trust in thee:

First let us separate the last clause from its present awkward junction, and refer it, as it ought to be referred, to the next verse. And then we take the words on our own lips, and having spoken of the Lord’s Passion, pray for that marvellous loving-kindness by which He said to the thief, (G.) “Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise:” by which He made good the very title of His Cross—Jesus, in that He showed Himself to be the Saviour, the King: in that He accepted the prayer, “Remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” Thou That art the Saviour of them that put their trust in Thee. Where notice the condition upon which only He becomes our Saviour,—namely, that we trust in him. But yet observe how faint a degree of hope He sometimes rewards. The disciples had already got into the past tense, “We trusted that it had been He Which should have redeemed Israel,”* when He joined them in the way, and when He taught them of Himself.

Vs 7 cont. with 8 and beginning of 9. From such as resist thy right hand, 8 Keep me as the apple of an eye: hide me under the shadow of thy wings, 9 From the ungodly that trouble me. 

And they expound it of our Lord looking, (G.) in the fulness of His Omniscience, backwards and forwards, to the many times in which He, in His own people, was kept as the apple of an eye: the time when Pharaoh took counsel to oppress the chosen race with heavy burdens: when Satan moved them to murmur in the wilderness: when Saul pursued David for so many long years: when Antiochus stood up against the great and the holy people: when Herod sought to destroy the infants at Bethlehem: when, in the ten great persecutions, “the kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers took counsel together,” and at length in the fulness of their joy struck the medal which declared the execrable superstition to have been crushed: and finally, in the time of Antichrist, when, if it were possible, the very elect should perish; but because they are elect they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of His hand. Or, to take it in another sense, we ourselves ask to be kept as the pupil of God’s Eye,—that is, as the very and eternal Son of God; for the pupil of the eye,* as Hugh of S. Victor reminds us, has been from all antiquity the type of a son. Anastasius IV. found so great consolation in this expression, that Custodi me ut pupillum oculi was his motto. But, as mediæval writers love to tell us, the pupil of the eye, the true type of all God’s servants, is more especially so of those that have entered on the religious life. The eye lies, as it were, enshrined in its own little temple: so they, shut out and shut off from the cares and the allurements of this world. “The Saviour,” says Salvian,* “desirous to have followers of the purest and holiest of all, commanded that by such the most trifling sins should be avoided: that the life of a Christian should be undefined, as is the pupil of our eye: to the end that, as the one cannot abide the smallest particle of dust, (G.) so our life should reject and abhor every spot of defilement.” Under the shadow of Thy wings. “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.” There they see the two wings of which the Psalmist speaks: that which protects from temporal,* and that which shields from eternal, dangers. Others take it of the two Testaments: the promises and consolations of each. S. Basil sees in the type of wings the swiftness of God’s protection: others, from that expression, the shadow, would remind us that we are none the less safe in this world for a little temporary darkness.

[Thy right Hand.* The Right Hand of the Father is the Son, and the words therefore are spoken in His person against the Jews, (D. C.) and in that of the Church against the Pagan enemies of His Name. The apple of an eye. This type is used of Christ, because as the eye, itself very small, gives light to the whole body,* so Christ, Who appeared most lowly and obscure, is the “Light of the world”* and of His mystical body, the Church.]

Verse 9 cont. with verse 10. Mine enemies compass me round about to take away my soul.
10 They are inclosed in their own fat: and their mouth speaketh proud things. 

Compass me about. They refer very appositely to that verse, “Then came the Jews round about Him, (G.) and said unto Him, How long dost Thou make us to doubt?”* And notice that the fat was that part of the sacrifice which belonged to God only, and hence one of the sins of Hophni and Phinehas; that, when any man said, “Let them not fail to burn the fat presently, and then take as much as thy soul desireth,”* the answer was, “Nay, but thou shalt give it me now.” And thus our Lord’s enemies, (C.) instead of rendering to God the things which were God’s, (R.) inclosed themselves in, kept back for their own, (B.) those very things. “They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” “How can ye believe which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour which cometh from God only?”* Others refer it to their sensuality, and being given over to the lusts of the flesh: others, again, as Theodoret and Ludolph, to their having shut themselves up from all compassion, and so they connect it with the next verse. Or, lastly, the expression may but mean such a delicate and luxurious life, as that of the rich man who fared sumptuously every day, and of whom, and of whom only, it is written, that “in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments.”

[Their mouth speaketh proud things,* such as, “We will not have this man to reign over us,” and “We have no King but Cæsar;” and yet again, “He is guilty of death,” (D. C.) “Crucify Him.”* It is said, their mouth, (C.) because the wicked often condemn in their heart the very thing which they utter.]

11 They lie waiting in our way on every side: turning their eyes down to the ground;
12 Like as a lion that is greedy of his prey: and as it were a lion’s whelp, lurking in secret places.

[They lie waiting, &c. The LXX. and Vulgate read here, (D. C.) Casting me out, they compassed me. They cast Him out more than once, as when at Nazareth they “rose up, and thrust Him out of the city,”* intending to throw Him down a precipice.* They cast Him out of the city of Jerusalem, crucifying Him “without the gate,”* and compassing Him upon the Cross. The Syriac and Symmachus read, They praised Me, and now they have compassed Me. And this they did twice, when they tempted Him, saying, “Master, we know that Thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth;”* and again, when they mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews.”*]

Turning their eyes down to the ground: for where the treasure is, (Ay.) there will the heart be also. Or, as others take it, “Watching My steps, if perchance they might find any occasion of stumbling in Me:” as when they sent out those that feigned themselves just men, to entangle Him in His talk. S. Thomas well reminds us how often Holy Scripture bids us to lift up our eyes,—“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills:”* “Lift up your eyes to the heavens:”* “Lift up your eyes on high,* and behold who hath created these things:” and again, “Lift up your eyes, and behold the fields:”* because we are of our own nature so apt to forget our country and our home, and to fix them on the place of our exile. The lion—that roaring lion, who goeth about seeking whom he may devour; the lion’s whelp, his followers and ministers, of whom it is well said that he lurketh in secret places, because it is written, “Every one that doeth good, cometh unto the light.”*

13 Up, Lord, disappoint him, and cast him down: deliver my soul from the ungodly, which is a sword of thine;

Here, again, the Vulgate entirely differs: Deliver my soul from the ungodly; Thy sword from the enemies of Thy Hand: where they interpret the sword of the Lord Himself. How many a time,* says S. Bonaventura, has the petition, Up, Lord, been uttered by the true of heart! How many a time has it seemed for the present unheard, that it might be answered the more gloriously hereafter! Disappoint him, or rather, be beforehand with him: and S. Jerome has an epistle on the way in which God thus snatches His children from the power of the enemy at the very moment when human hope seems over. So, most wonderfully of all, they were disappointed who remembered that that Deceiver had said, (G.) while He was yet alive, “After three days, I will rise again:” and themselves endeavouring to be beforehand with Him, by the watch and the seal, only rendered more glorious and more manifest the fulfilment of His own words, “I Myself will awake right early.” And if we are to take the last clause in the sense of our own version, the ungodly, which is a sword of Thine, then it can have no better commentary than God’s own words to Sennacherib, “Now have I brought it to pass that thou shouldest be to lay waste defenced cities into ruinous heaps: therefore their inhabitants were of small power.”*

[Christ is called the Sword of God,* “sharper than any two-edged sword,”* for He is two-edged in His twofold nature of God and Man. His soul is the sword wherewith the Father, drawing it out of the sheath of His Body, conquered hell.]

14a From the men of thy hand, O Lord, from the men, I say, and from the evil world: which have their portion in this life, whose bellies thou fillest with thy hid treasure.

[From the men, I say, and from the evil world, &c. The best texts of the LXX. with the Vulgate read, quite differently,* Divide them, O Lord, in their life from the few, off the earth. Do not wait till the Judgment Day to part the sheep from the goats, (D. C.) but even now make the distinction between Goshen and Egypt. Save the little Christian flock when the guilty nation perishes in its own city, and is driven off its own land. Divide evil Christians in this life by excommunication from the Church Militant, that they may repent in time. S. Albert explains the words further of evil Bishops, who are set apart by rank and wealth from the lowly and obscure,* who heap up riches, and are guilty of nepotism.]

14b They have children at their desire: and leave the rest of their substance for their babes.

It is not without reason that they see a terrible meaning in these words. The rest of their substance, (Ay.) that is, of the possessions of the Jews, the chief enemies of Christ, who indeed had their portion in this life, though once filled with the hidden treasure of His knowledge. The rest of the substance which they left to their descendants was none other than that curse, (L.) “His Blood be on us and on our children.” It is not worth while to go through the twelve meanings, partly literal, partly mystical, which the diligence of the commentators has discovered for the very obscure Vulgate: “O Lord, from the few of the land, divide them in their life: with Thy hid treasure is their belly filled.” That is, that the great mass of the Jews, left to their deserved perdition, should be separated from the few of the land who had heard the Apostles’ message, and had repented. But if we follow our own version, the men of Thy hand must be only an amplification of that which went before, “The ungodly, which is a sword of Thine:” the men who, while they seek to carry out their own devices, and to injure Thee and Thine, are indeed but passive instruments in Thine hand. With reference to God’s thus ordering the unruly wills and affections of sinful men, Vieyra says well: (he is speaking of the disciples who went to Emmaus:) “It was the Lord’s intention to send back those disciples with joy to Jerusalem. Why then,* if He purposed to send them to Jerusalem, did He go with them to Emmaus: Et ipse ibat cum illis? The road to Emmaus and the road to Jerusalem are precisely opposite: and does Christ go with the disciples to Emmaus when He wishes to take them to Jerusalem? Yes: for these are the marvels of Divine Providence, to conduct us to its own end by our own ways. To accomplish the designs of God by the straight ways of God, this might be anybody’s providence; but to accomplish the designs of God by the erring ways of men, this is God’s Providence. To go to Jerusalem by the road to Jerusalem is the ordinary road; to go to Jerusalem by the way of Emmaus, that is God’s road.”

[They have children at their desire. The Italic version reads here, (B.) very singularly,* They are filled with swine’s flesh,1 given up, as they are, to every uncleanness, and error forbidden by the Law, and leaving all their evil ways as a legacy to their posterity.]

15 But as for me, I will behold thy presence in righteousness: and when I awake up after thy likeness, I shall be satisfied with it.

With one consent all the mediæval commentators take the righteousness in this place to mean our Lord. I shall behold Thy Presence; (Ay.) but not for any merits of my own: I shall behold Thy Presence, because, as S. Paul says, (G.) I have put on Christ. Or, if the words be spoken by our blessed Lord Himself, then it is, I, Whom they call the Seducer; I, of Whom they said, “Nay, but He deceiveth the people;”* I shall behold Thy Presence in righteousness: righteousness in fulfilling My promises, that where I am, there My faithful people shall be also; in putting down the mighty from their seat, and exalting the humble and meek; and in giving possession to the meek-spirited of the heavenly land. O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee, but I have known Thee; and therefore, all My sufferings over, all My promises fulfilled, all My glory accomplished, I shall behold Thy Presence in righteousness. And when I awake up after Thy likeness, I shall be satisfied with it. “But when,” says S. Bonaventura,* “O Lord Jesu, when shall that when be?” And S. Augustine dwells upon that word satisfied, knowing, (A.) as he says, “that, without God, all is emptiness.” “This is that glorious satisfying which leaves nothing empty or hollow, nothing which the soul can desire or pursue. Blessed satisfaction without satiety, pleasure without weariness, the use of everlasting delight without softness, continual felicity without any labour. While we live, our eyes and ears are unsatisfied with seeing and hearing; the more they receive, the more they desire. We may have pleasure, but we are never filled: our merriment rises, at it were, to the summit; the depth below is all bitter. Well, therefore, said David, Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of Thee.” So writes Drexelius; and I cannot better follow up his words, and end the Psalm, than by the beautiful verses of Bernard of Cluny:

O bona patria, num tua gaudia teque videbo?
O bona patria, num tua præmia plena tenebo?
Die mihi, flagito, verbaque reddito, dicque, Videbis.
Spem solidam gero: remne tenens ero? Die, Retinebis.
O sacer, O pius, O ter et amplius ille beatus,
Cui sua para Deus: O miser, O reus, hac viduatus!

And therefore: Glory be to the Father, Whose Presence we shall behold in righteousness; and to the Son, Who awoke up after His likeness; and to the Holy Ghost, Who is Himself that satisfaction, communicated in this world partly, that in heaven He may be bestowed fully and everlastingly.  As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

Various Uses

Gregorian. Sunday: II. Nocturn.
Monastic. Friday: Prime.
Parisian. Saturday: Lauds.
Lyons. Sunday: II. Nocturn.
Ambrosian. Monday of the First Week: III. Nocturn.
Quignon. Tuesday: Prime.
Eastern Church. Terce.

Antiphons

Gregorian. Because of men’s works* that are done against the words of Thy lips, I have kept hard paths.
Parisian. O hold Thou up my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.
Mozarabic. Hear the right, O Lord, consider my complaint: hearken with Thine ears to my prayer.

Collects

Turn,* O Lord, the eyes of our heart to behold the verity of Thy judgments, that while we are here proved by Thy spiritual fire, we may hereafter be satisfied with the fruit of righteousness by Thy Presence for ever. Through thy mercy.

Christ,* the Son of God, Whose insatiable enemies, enclosed in their own fat, surrounded Thy soul, deliver our souls from the wicked; and let Thy Passion so extinguish our passions, that we may never turn our eyes down to the ground. Amen. Through Thy mercy.

Keep us,* O Lord, as the apple of Thine eye, lest the whirlwind of carnal concupiscence should injure the eyes of our innocence: guard us under the shadow of Thy wings, that we may not be seduced by the allurements of those pleasures that lie in wait for us; that we, who, up to this day, stand firm by the help of Thy grace, may merit, when Thy glory shall appear, to be satisfied with it. Amen. Through Thy mercy.

[Show Thy marvellous loving-kindness, O God, (D. C.) hide us under the shadow of Thy wings, keep us as the apple of an eye, that our goings may be perfected in Thy paths, and we may appear with Thee in righteousness and be satisfied when Thy glory shall appear.]

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 91

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 6, 2019

PSALM 91
THE JUST IS SECURE UNDER THE PROTECTION OF GOD

Explanation of the Psalm

1 He that dwelleth in the aid of the most High, shall abide under the protection of the God of Jacob.

The first verse contains a remarkable promise, in which the Holy Ghost assures us that the divine assistance will never be wanting to those who really put their trust in God. To explain the words. “He,” no matter who he may be, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, patrician or plebeian, young or old, for “God is no respecter of persons,” but he is “rich to all that call upon him”—“that dwelleth,” to give us to understand that this liberal promise does not apply to those who put only a certain amount of trust in God, but that this trust must be continuous, constant, and firm, so that man may be said to dwell in God, through faith and confidence, and to carry it about with him, like a house, like a turtle, “in the aid,” for God’s aid is not like one of the strongholds of this world, to which people fly for defense, but consists in an invisible and most secret tower that can be found, and entered by faith alone. However, the expression in the Greek as well as the Latin conveys, that we must place the most entire confidence in God, but still we are not to neglect the ordinary means that man can avail himself of. The husbandman puts his trust in him who gives the rain from heaven, and makes his sun to rise, but in the meantime he will be sure to plough, to sow, and to reap, knowing that God helps those who help themselves. “Of the Most High,” God has been called by many names, but that of the “Most High” seems the most apposite in this passage, both because God is really most high, sits in the highest place, sees everything, and is aware of every danger around us. And again, not only is he Most High, and sees everything, but all things are subject to him, and therefore, he can deliver us from all manner of danger. “Shall abide under the protection of the God of Jacob.” The second part of the verse, in which a reward is promised to those who put their trust in God, and the meaning is, He that really trusts in the divine assistance will not be disappointed in his hope, but will be completely protected by the Lord. The several words in each member of the verse beautifully correspond with each other. The word “dwelleth” corresponds with “abide under;” the word, “in the aid,” with “protection,” and “the Most High,” with “the God of heavens.” To come now to the several words. The Hebrew for protection signifies shade or shadow, implying that God protects those that trust in him, as the hen that gathers her chickens under the shadow of her wings. Shadow may also signify the grace and favor of princes, a shade that easily, and from a great distance, affords protection, as are read of a stag that roamed about in the greatest security, by reason of its having a label on its neck, “Touch me not, I belong to Caesar;” thus, the true servants of God are always safe, even among lions, bears, serpents, fire, water, thunder, and tempests, for all creatures know and reverence the shadow of God. Even the Latin word “protection” is very significant. To protect means to cover from a distance, and one may be covered from a distance in two ways, by the person standing nigh, and warding off the weapons that are shot from a distance; or by standing afar off, and still warding off the weapons of close combat. God does both, for, abiding in us, he wards off the weapons that are shot from afar, for he sees the very first beginning of the danger; and, by his wonderful power, stifles it in the bud, if he thinks proper; he also, though seated in heaven, puts aside all dangers, however proximate to us, for he has far seeing eyes and long reaching hands, so that he can easily cut short all impending dangers, his eye is his intelligence, his hand is his power, and his power his will. “The God of heaven;” for nobody is all sufficient, needing nothing, and through and in himself omnipotent, but the true God, who made the heavens, “For all the gods of the gentiles are devils; but the Lord made the heavens;” and though the earth, and the sea, and the air are great and wonderful works of God, still, among things created there is nothing greater or more wonderful than the heavens, whether we regard its size, its beauty, its efficacy, its velocity, or its stability; and no wonder the prophet should exclaim in another place, “The heavens show forth the glory of God.”—“Shall abide.” This expression conveys that the person trusting in God will be protected by him, not now and then, or casually, but will be constantly protected by him, that the protection of God will not be like a hut on the roadsides but like one’s own or his father’s house. Here we cannot but wonder at the folly of mankind, who make so little of such a promise. Those in power spend much money on their fortresses and body guards, and yet are often betrayed by them; but here it is not frail and deceitful man, but the Almighty and truthful God that says, “Trust in me, and I will protect you,” and yet scarce can one be found to trust himself to God as he ought.

2 He shall say to the Lord: Thou art my protector, and my refuge: my God, in him will I trust.

The prophet now proves and explains his assertion by the testimony of a just man confiding in God, who gives his testimony from experience. “He shall say to the Lord;” that is, the just man, who dwells in the aid of the Most High, will acknowledge the favor of the protection he had from God. He calls God absolutely Lord, because God alone is truly and strictly Lord, both because he has neither equal nor superior, is subject to no necessity, wants nothing; as also, because all things are at his beck, without him they can neither move nor exist; and finally, because he alone can change, destroy, or repair all things as he pleases. “Thou art my protector, my refuge, my God.” These words represent three of God’s favors, for which the just man returns thanks; one, a past favor; the second, a present; and the third, a future favor. The first favor is that unspeakable mercy of God, through which he supports man after falling into mortal sin, and rushing headlong to hell; of whom is said in Psalm 117, “Being pushed, I was overturned that I might fall; but the Lord supported me;” so St. Bernard explains the passage, and says, “A sign of such support is, when the person who fell rises up more humble, more resolute, and more cautious, as did David, and Peter, and Magdalen.” The just man, then, who confides in God, mentions this favor first, not that it arises from confidence, (for it precedes instead of coming from confidence), but because he says to himself, if God be so good as to protect the enemy who does not confide in him, and to inspire him with penance and confidence, how good and kind must he not be to the friend and child who does confide in him. The second favor is one of the present time, and is contained in the expression, “and my refuge.” For, when God protects anyone through the grace of justification, he does not, at once, take him up to heaven, but he places him in the line of his soldiers, who are fighting here below, but if he trust in the Lord, he will prove “a refuge” to him in every temptation and difficulty, and a most safe and secure refuge, as the Hebrew word for refuge implies. The third favor is a future one, and the greatest of all, and is contained in the words, “my God,” for God is the supreme good, and God is always God in himself, and, therefore, the supreme good; and he will be peculiarly so “when we shall see him as he is,” for then we shall enjoy the supreme good. The just man, therefore, reflecting and allowing that God was one time his protector, then his refuge, and, after this life, will constitute his happiness, comes to the conclusion, “in him will I trust;” that is, I am firmly determined to put my trust in him, through every danger and temptation, as did holy Job, when he said, “Although he should kill me, I will trust in him.”

3 For he hath delivered me from the snare of the hunters: and from the sharp word.

Having said, in the previous verse, that he would put his trust in God, he now assigns a reason for doing so, “For he hath delivered me from the snare of the hunters, and from the sharp word,” in which he alludes to two favors conferred on him, one temporal, the other spiritual. The temporal blessing consists in immunity from snares, stratagems, and frauds of the wicked, the source of much temporal injury; the frauds being designated by the “snares of the hunters,” and the “sharp word” implies the injuries consequent on the frauds. And, as frauds and stratagems are generally effected through the tongue, Eccli. 51 says, “Thou hast preserved me from the snare of an unjust tongue.” God, then, in his singular providence, has caused, and always will cause, the frauds and schemes of the wicked to do no harm to the just, who confide in the aid of the Most High. Another favor, and much a greater one, is an exemption from the temptations of the evil spirits; for such is their craft, that men, however prudent they may be, when compared with them, may be looked upon as half fools. Those demons, then, are the hunters of whom the Apostle says, “For they who would become rich, fall into temptation, and into the snare of the devil;” and again, “And they recover themselves from the snares of the devil, by whom they are held captives, at his will.” Those demons are so numerous as nearly to fill completely the dark prison in which they are confined, and, according to St. Jerome, they are so powerful and so ferocious as to be compared, in the Scriptures, “to lions and dragons;” and they have no other study but constantly “going about roaring, seeking whom they may devour;” and, if we would seriously and attentively keep this fact before us, we would watch with as much fear and trembling in our prayers as it is probable Daniel did in the lions’ den, or the three children in the fiery furnace. All created things are so many snares, which catch the heart of man either through the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, or the pride of life. The wise man says of them, “The creatures of God are made a snare to the feet of the unwise,” Wisdom 14; and Eccli. 9 has, “For thou art going in the midst of snares,” “The sharp word” is that spiritual death incurred by the person caught in such snares, or, if you will, it may mean that sentence that will be pronounced on the wicked, “Go, ye cursed, into everlasting fire;” for what can be rougher or more severe than such a sentence, when it conveys the loss of all that is bright and good, and an accumulation of all that is evil, not for a time, but for eternity. Such sentence of a most just judge will be justly pronounced on those who voluntarily suffer themselves to be tangled in the snares of the hunters, the demons.

4 He will overshadow thee with his shoulders: and under his wings thou shalt trust.

The prophet now speaks in his own person, and addresses the just man, who spoke hitherto, saying, you were right in saying I will trust in him, for “he hath delivered me from the snare of the hunters;” for he really did deliver you, and will always deliver you from every danger, for while you will be but a little one, and no match for your enemies, he will foster you under his wings, like a hen or an eagle. God has been compared to two birds in the Holy Scriptures, the eagle and the hen; to the former in Deut. 32, “As the eagle enticing her young to fly, and hovering over them;” to the latter in Mat. 23, “How often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen gathereth her chickens under her wings.” God was an eagle before, a hen after the incarnation; or, if it be referred to Christ alone, as God he is an eagle, as man a hen; or he was a hen previous to an eagle after his resurrection. He, therefore, says, “He will overshadow thee with his shoulders.” God, like an eagle or a hen, will gather you under his wings, and will so “overshadow” and protect you, that you will have nothing to fear from the heat of the sun, nor the severity of the rain or the storm, or from birds of prey; lodged, therefore, in the greatest safety “under his wings,” under his care and protection, “thou shalt trust” for deliverance and safety.

5 His truth shall compass thee with a shield: thou shalt not be afraid of the terror of the night.
6 Of the arrow that flieth in the day, of the business that walketh about in the dark: of invasion, or of the noonday devil.

The prophet now explains another figure in regard of the more advanced in years, who can defend themselves; for God arms them with an extraordinary shield. The poets record the shields of Aeneas and Achilles, which were said to have been gifts from heaven, and through which they became invulnerable; but that was all a fable; but the shield of which David speaks is really celestial, and truly renders those invulnerable who know how to make proper use of it; and the prophet says, “He shall compass thee with a shield;” not with a helmet which protects the head only, nor with a coat of mail that protects the breast and shoulders only, but with a shield that may be used for the protection of the entire body, for it may be raised or lowered, turned to all sides, and opposed to every blow. “In all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one,” says St. Paul, Ephes. 6. That shield is truth, so the passage says, “His truth shall compass thee with a shield;” as if he said, The truth of the Lord shall encompass thee like a shield. The truth of the Lord has two acceptations in the Scripture. In one sense it means God’s strict observance of his promises, as in Psalm 88, “My truth and my mercy shall be with him;” and in another part of the Psalm, “But my mercy I will not take from him; nor will I suffer my truth to fail.” In another sense it means the truths revealed to the prophets and Apostles, on which we have, in John 17, “Thy word is truth;” and in Proverbs 30, “Every word of God is fire tried; he is a buckler to them that hope in him;” and in Ephes. 6, “In all things taking the shield of faith;” that is, of truth, which is had through faith alone, that being a supernatural truth. Both sorts of truth form the best possible shield to repel all the weapons of the enemy, whether in adversity or prosperity, for God’s promises are so fixed and unalterable, that of them may be said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away;” for the truth of God is like holding ground in which the anchor of hope is firmly fixed. While the anchor is passing through the water it does not hold the ship, for water is a liquid and unsteady element, but once the anchor takes hold in the ground, it keeps the ship in her place. Thus our hope, when it is built on the promise of man, cannot but totter and waver; but when fixed in God’s truth, it remains firm and steady; “For God is true, and every man a liar,” Rom. 3. And who can injure him who has been promised the protection of that God who cannot deceive him? The truth of faith protects us like a shield also when it gives us a certainty that eternal happiness is prepared for the just, and torments everlasting for the sinner after this life; and that judgment will be held on the last day, when all men shall have to render the most exact account of all their deeds, words, thoughts, desires, omissions; in short, of every idle word, however brief, they may have uttered. Such and similar reflections, disclosed to us by the truth of faith, would easily protect us from all temptations, both in adversity and prosperity, if we would daily use them as a shield; that is, if we daily and faithfully meditate on these truths of our religion. Who is he that would not bravely bear up against any terror whatever, by reflecting seriously on those words of our Lord? “And fear not those that kill the body, and cannot kill the soul; but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell.” And who is there that will not despise the empty pleasures of this world, and the occasions of wronging their neighbor, when they seriously reflect on the following words of our Divine Master? “For what doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”—“Thou shalt not be afraid of the terror of the night; of the arrow that flieth in the day.” He now tells us what the dangers are against which we need the shield of truth. The passage is a very obscure one, and variously explained, but of the various ones offered, we consider one to be the most simple and literal, as follows: You will have no dangers to fear, either by day or by night. “Thou shalt not be afraid of the terror of the night,” you need not fear anything that may frighten you by night; fear, here, being used for the thing that causes it; as it is also in 1 Peter 3, “And be not afraid of their terror;” just as hope is used for the thing hoped for, and desire for the thing desired, as in Titus 2, “Waiting for the blessed hope;” and in Psalm 77, “And he gave them their desire;” that is, the thing they desired. The words, “of the arrow that flieth in the day,” mean, you will have to fear no dangers in the day time; “of the business that walketh about in the dark,” is only a repetition and explanation of “the terror of the night;” “of invasion or of the noonday devil,” is a mere repetition of “the arrow that flieth in the day.” In fine, in these words we have a general promise of security, both by day and by night, to those who trust in God, and are armed with the shield of truth; “For if God be for us, who is against us?” Rom. 8; as also, “And who is he that can hurt you, if you be zealous of good?” 1 Peter 3.

7 A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand: but it shall not come nigh thee.

The prophet follows up the description of the victory of the just man who confides in God, and makes proper use of the shield of truth. He reminds the just of the great value they should set upon such a victory, it being a rare one, and that of the few over the many. For in this fight “a thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh to thee;” neither the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flieth in the day, nor the business that walketh about in the dark, nor the noon day devil shall come nigh to thee. “Thy side” means thy left side, being opposed to the right, and signifies adversity; whilst the right stands for prosperity; and many more fall from the latter than from the former; for prosperity is the source of pride, usury, licentiousness, impudence, and other like vices; while adversity renders men humble, chaste, and patient; for, as the Apostle says, “Tribulation worketh patience.” The numbers, a thousand and ten thousand, merely signify that many will fall on the left, but a great many more on the right hand; and it is in such sense these numbers are understood in Kings, “Saul slew his thousands, and David his ten thousands;” and, in Deut. 32, “How should one pursue after a thousand, and two chase ten thousand?”

8 But thou shalt consider with thy eyes: and shalt see the reward of the wicked.

A fresh source of joy to the just man, who not only has been promised a victory, but that he will, furthermore, have great pleasure in seeing his enemies laid low, and punished according to their deserts, a promise that is sometimes fulfilled even in this world. Thus, the children of Israel saw the Egyptians cast dead on the shores of the Red Sea; Moses and Aaron saw Dathan and Abiron swallowed up alive; Ezechias saw the prostrate corpses of Sennacherib’s army; and Judith, with God’s people, saw the head of Holofernes cut off, and his whole army scattered and routed; but this promise will be completely fulfilled on the day of judgment, when we shall see all our enemies prostrate on the ground, naked and unarmed, without any strength whatever, and consigned to eternal punishment. “But thou shalt consider,” not in a cursory way, or in a hurry, but with diligence and accuracy, you will consider all your enemies, their number, their position, what they deserved, and what they are suffering; “with thy eyes;” you will not take it from hearsay or report, but you shall see with those very eyes with which you saw the arms and the dangers of your enemies: for your eyes will then be your own property, a thing they are not now, while curiosity opens them, sleep closes them, old age dims them, and death destroys them; and all in spite of you. “And shall see the reward of the wicked;” you will then see plainly the reward the wicked get for all their labor. Hence will arise a beautiful order of things, that now seem in general disorder and confusion. For, while punishment should follow sin, and virtue should be rewarded, it often happens that the just are afflicted, and bad men honored; and thus sorrow comes from virtue, joy from sin; but, on the last day, all things will be righted and put in their proper place; guilt will meet its punishment, and that in proportion to its enormity; while, on the contrary, justice shall be rewarded in proportion to its merits, too; and then will be accomplished what is prophesied in Psalm 57, “The just shall rejoice when he shall see the revenge;” that is, when he shall see the sinner duly punished; not that he will rejoice in their misfortunes, but for the vindication of the divine justice and wisdom, that will appear so conspicuous in the punishment of the wicked.

9 Because thou, O Lord, art my hope: thou hast made the most High thy refuge.

This verse is very easy, as far as the words are concerned, all of which have been explained when we discussed the first and second verses; but the connection is not so apparent; because, in the preceding verse, the prophet seems to have addressed the just man; he now seems to speak to God, saying, “Because thou, O Lord, art my hope;” and we don’t see why he says so; and then the second part of the verse, “thou hast made the Most High thy refuge,” is addressed to the just man again, but without any connection between the members of the sentence. The first part of the sentence is the voice of the just man speaking to God; the second part are the words of the prophet; we have already observed that this Psalm is, to a certain extent, dramatic, in the form of a dialogue, though the characters are not named, however; that the prophet speaks at one time, the just man at another, and God at another time. The prophet, then, having said to the just man, “God will overshadow thee with his shoulders,” as the hen does her young; “will compass thee with a shield,” as a general would his soldiers; “you shall not be afraid of the terror of the night, nor of the day;” and hence many will fall on your right and left, but the danger will not come near you, but you will rather see your enemies conquered before your face—the just man, on hearing all this, turns to God, and says, “Because thou, O Lord, art my hope,” I believe every word of it; it’s all true, and that because you, O Lord, art my hope; I trust not in my own strength or arm, nor in the strength nor in the arms of my friends; but in thee alone, who art my whole and sole hope, and in whom alone I confide. Now, God is said to be the hope of the just, because they not only hope for help from him, but they hope he will prove himself a strong citadel in their regard, to which they fly for protection in time of persecution; and dwelling in which, through faith, hope, and charity, through prayer and contemplation, they can suffer no injury. The prophet understood that well, and, therefore, he adds, “thou hast made the Most High thy refuge;” as much as to say, you have acted most wisely and properly in placing your hope in God; for thus you have selected your place of refuge in the highest possible and best fortified citadel you could select, God himself, where (as will be said in the following verse) no harm can possibly reach you.

10 There shall no evil come to thee: nor shall the scourge come near thy dwelling.

The prophet now tells what good the just man is to derive from having made the Most High his refuge, and says it consists in his being most safe from all evil. Evil is two fold, that arising from sin, and that arising from the punishment consequent on sin. The evil of sin is absolutely and radically evil, and to it applies the first part of the verse, “There shall no evil come to thee;” the evil of punishment is not simply evil, and, therefore, to it applies the second part of the verse, “nor shall the scourge come near thy dwelling.” That the evil of sin is simply and absolutely evil, and that such is not the case with the evil of punishment, is clear from the fact that the former renders man absolutely evil, while the latter makes him only miserable; nobody can turn the evil of sin to good account; not so as regards the evil of punishment. The evil of sin cannot be called good, for it is not right to call it so, it being iniquity; nor is it of any use, when he who sins always loses more than he gains; the evil of punishment may be called good, for it is frequently both good and useful. God, being the author of all good, is not the author of the evil of sin; while the evil of punishment has God, as being a just Judge, for its author. That can be inferred from the words of the prophet; for; when, he says, “There shall no evil come to thee,” he speaks of the evil that is in us, and cannot be outside us; such is the evil of sin, which must of necessity be within us, that is, in the power of our free will; and when he adds, “nor shall the scourge come near thy dwelling,” he speaks of the evil that may happen to our property, our children, our house, our land; and such is the evil of punishment. A serious doubt arises here regarding the truth of this promise; for David was certainly one of those just who trusted in God, and still the evil of sin; adultery, murder, and the scourge, nay, even many scourges, “came near his dwelling;” for he says himself, “I washed my hands among the innocent, and I have been scourged all the day;” which may also be said of Job, Tobias, of the prophets and Apostles, nay, even of Christ himself, who, too, was scourged; nay, even the Lord “scourgeth every son whom he receiveth,” Heb. 12. To this objection two answers may be made; the first is, that the promise does not regard this life, but the next, when that prophecy will be fulfilled, “Thou shalt consider with thy eyes; and shalt see the reward of the wicked;” for then, when we shall have entered the heavenly tabernacle, we will be quite safe from all the evil of sin, as well as of punishment; for God’s reason for “strengthening the bolts of the heavenly Jerusalem, and “placing peace in its borders,” was that the scourge may not possibly come near it. The second answer is, that the promise does regard this life, but that is to be understood with some restriction; for the evil of sin will not come near the elect and those who trust in God; not that they cannot possibly fall into sin, but because, through God’s singular providence, their very sins will tend to their improvement, making them more humble and cautious, and more inflamed by the love of God, in proportion to the extent they are indebted to his grace and mercy. So St. Gregory applies it to St. Peter, which also holds in the case of St. Thomas, Mary Magdalen, and many others. The scourge, that is, the evil of punishment, will not “come near their dwelling,” because, in spirit, they are dwelling in the heavenly tabernacles, and, with the Apostle Paul, engrossed entirely in meditation, they scarcely feel such temporal evils, or if they do, they despise them; nay, more, so far from looking upon them as evils, they consider them positive blessings and graces, from which they hope to reap an abundant crop of glory; such were the feelings of the Apostle when he said, “I am filled with comfort. I exceedingly abound with joy in all our tribulation.”

11 For he hath given his angels charge over thee; to keep thee in all thy ways.

The just man might have said, I am quite sure that no evil can possibly happen to me, when I shall have got within that heavenly tabernacle; but I would like to know who is to guard me on the way to it, to prevent my going astray, or falling in with robbers, or into a pit? The prophet replies, Never fear, “For he hath given his Angels charge over thee: to keep thee in all thy ways.” Each word in which requires an explanation. “For” does not refer to the preceding, but to the following sentence the meaning being, whereas God gave you in charge to his Angels, to guard you on the way, the Angels will take you in their hands, for fear you should knock against a stone. “Angels”—Angels are blessed spirits, most noble princes, who guard with the greatest care, being most powerful, wise, and excellent, showing us how God values the human race in assigning such guardians to it. But why Angels, instead of an Angel? According to our Lord, we have a guardian Angel every one of us; for he says, “Their Angels always see the face of my Father;” and when St. Peter knocked at the door, those within said, “It is as Angel.” Granted; but we still have Angels who have common charge of us, such as those who are in charge of towns, states, and kingdoms; on which see chap. 10 of Daniel. “His;” they are called “his” Angels because there are fallen angels also, of whom is said in the Apocalypse, “And the dragon fought and his angels.” God, then, gave you in charge to “his Angels,” and not to those angels who, instead of protecting you, would have sought to destroy you. “Hath given charge;” the reason why the Angels take such care of us is, because God ordered them to do so, gave us in charge to them; for, though they guard us with right good will, loving us as they do, and though they have a horror of the evil angels, and wish the heavenly Jerusalem to be renewed as soon as possible; and though they know all this to be most agreeable to their King, Christ our Lord, still God’s command is uppermost, is their ruling motive for the whole; for they are conscious of being God’s servants, and there is nothing that he requires more strictly from his servants than prompt and implicit obedience; “over thee,” which means that God’s providence extends to all, and that he has given a guardian Angel to each and every human being; but still that he has a peculiar regard for the just, for those that confide in him; and, therefore, that he has given special orders to his Angels to look “over thee,” the just man, who trusts in his help, “to keep thee;” the charge God gave his Angels regarding the just was to preserve him from his enemies, the evil angels; for man, by reason of the flesh that envelopes him, can see nothing save through the eyes of the flesh, and, therefore, is no match for the evil spirits, unless he get help from someone more powerful; “in all thy ways;” not on thy way, but in all thy ways; for numerous are the ways of man, and in every one of them he needs the help of his guardian Angel. The law is the way, according to Psalm 118, “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord;” and in the same Psalm, “I have run the way of thy commandments.” The way also means the works, as in Proverbs 8, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways before he made anything.” Finally, this life is a way to a certain extent. The way of the law is varied, for there are many laws; the way of the works is equally so, for there are many works; the way of life is also varied, for there are many parts, ages, and states of life. We require assistance in every one of them, since we are liable to fall in every law, work, age, and state of our life.

12 In their hands they shall bear thee up: lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.

A verse full of metaphors, but otherwise easily explained; we, therefore, have merely to explain what he means by the “Angels’ hands,” what the “stones” and the “feet” signify. The Angels’ hands signify the intellect and the will, or wisdom and power, for it is by understanding and by willing they do everything. The stones, all the obstacles that we meet in this life, be they temporal or spiritual, such as scandals, temptations, persecutions, and the like. The feet mean our affections, that very often knock against the stones; and, as St. Augustine, treating of this passage, says, Our feet are two affections, fear and love; and, whenever man proceeds in his actions, words, or desires, he is carried by one or the other, by the desire of acquiring one thing or losing something else, or by a desire of avoiding evil, or the fear of falling into it; we then knock our foot against the stone, when we fall into sin, on an occasion offering of acquiring some temporal good, or of avoiding some temporal evil, whence we lose eternal happiness, and incur eternal punishment; but they “who dwell in the aid of the Most High” are so assisted by the Angel guardian, that the occasion is altogether removed; that is, the stone is taken out of the way, or the mind is so enlightened as to distinguish good from evil; that the feet, that is, the affections are so raised from the earth that the temporal advantage, that could not be had without sin, is easily despised; and the temporal evil, that could not be avoided without sin, is most patiently endured.

13 Thou shalt walk upon the asp and the basilisk: and thou shalt trample under foot the lion and the dragon.

Having made mention of the good Angels who have charge of the just man that trusts in God, he now alludes to the bad angels, and says, so far from their harming the just man, that he, on the contrary, will trample on and crush them, as the Apostle says, “And may the God of peace crush Satan speedily under your feet.” He calls Satan a serpent, by reason of his cunning, and a lion, by reason of his ferocity; and, as there are various sorts of serpents, he calls him an asp, a basilisk, and a dragon, for to the cunning that is common to all serpents, the asp unites obstinacy, the basilisk cruelty, and the dragon great strength and power, for all of which Satan is remarkable. This is not the only passage in which the devil is called a serpent and a lion. In Job 26, and Isaias 27, he is called “the winding snake” and “the crooked serpent.” The Apocalypse calls him “the dragon” and “the old serpent;” and St. Peter calls him “the roaring lion,”

14 Because he hoped in me I will deliver him: I will protect him because he hath known my name.

As we read in Deuteronomy, that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall stand,” the holy prophet would have three witnesses to prove what he promised in the beginning of the Psalm, viz., that all who truly trust in God would be protected by him. The first witness was the just man, who, from his own experience gave testimony to the truth of it, when he said, “For he hath delivered me from the snare of the hunters.” The second witness was the prophet himself, who, as the organ or voice of the Holy Ghost declared, “He will overshadow thee with his shoulders.” The third witness is God himself, who, in the last three verses, confirms all that had been said, and adds a great deal more, for these three verses contain eight promises of God, which most appropriately commence with deliverance from evil, and advance up to elevation, to supreme happiness. Four of them, “I will deliver him, protect him, hear him, am with him in tribulation,” belong to this life; and the four others, “I will deliver him, glorify him, fill him with length of days, and I will show him my salvation,” belong to the next life. “Because he hoped in me I will deliver him.” The deliverance that is promised here refers to deliverance from all evil, and may be referred to the deliverance previously mentioned through the Angels, or the shield, or in any other way, so that the meaning is, Let not the just man imagine for a moment that he can be delivered by the Angels, or by a shield, or by any means without me; they can do nothing without me, and it is I that will deliver him through them, and frequently without them, since it was in me principally, and not in them, that he trusted. Looking at the passage from a higher point of view, the deliverance here promised may be said to mean deliverance from the tyranny of sin, which may be said specially to be a mark of the perfect, and a most desirable one; our Savior himself, speaking thereon, says, “Whosoever committeth sin, is the servant of sin. If, therefore, the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” Now such liberty is not granted unto all, but to those that hope in God, “Because he hoped in me I will deliver him.” It is not, then, every hope, but that confidence that is the fruit of a good conscience, and springs from filial love and affection, that frees man from the vices that tyrannize over him; for, as avarice ties him down, and holds him captive, and the more he advances in charity, the more is his avarice diminished; and when his charity and attachment to the supreme good shall be most perfect, then, too, will his liberty be most complete, that liberty that is styled by the Apostles “the liberty of the glory of the children of God.” The next promise is, “I will protect him, because he hath known my name.” For he that is freed from the tyranny of vice in this world, still is not perfectly free, he needs God’s help to advance in grace until he shall have come to glory. God, therefore, promises continual protection to those “who have known his name;” that is, to those who have come to the knowledge of his power, wisdom and goodness which raises up in them the most firm hope and confidence. They, too, are said “to know his name,” who are on familiar terms with God, and know him as a pastor, a friend, and a father, speaking of which our Savior says, “I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep, and my sheep know me;” and, on the other hand, speaking of the others, he says, “I know you not;” and in 2 Thess. 1, “In a flame of fire, giving vengeance to them who know not God.” Wonderful altogether is God’s kindness to man, when he speaks to him not only as a Lord but as a friend, and no wonder David should exclaim: “Lord, what is man that thou art made known to him?”

15 He shall cry to me, and I will hear him: I am with him in tribulation, I will deliver him, and I will glorify him.

There are four promises in this verse; the first is a general promise of being heard, a promise which God alone can make; and that there is no restriction whatever to the promise of hearing the prayer of all who confide in God, is clear from the words, “and I will hear him;” other passages of Scripture confirm it. Deut. 4, “Neither is there any other nation so great, that hath God so nigh to them, as our God is present to all our petitions.” John 13, “You shall ask whatever you will and it shall be done to you;” and in Mark 11, “All things whatsoever you ask, when ye pray, believe that you shall receive, and they shall come unto you;” and finally, in 1 John 3, “We have confidence towards God, and whatsoever we shall ask we shall receive of him;” and though certain conditions are necessary to have our prayer heard, the principal one is that which is expressed here, when he says, “he shall cry to me;” which implies a vehement desire, springing from confidence and love. The three other promises come next. “I am with him in tribulation, I will deliver him, and I will glorify him.” Three promises correspond most exactly to the three most remarkable days in the year: the Friday on which the Lord, hanging on his cross, was in his greatest tribulation; the Saturday on which he rested in peace from all his troubles; and the Sunday on which, by rising from the dead, he had a most glorious triumph. All the just and the elect have three such days before them; for, with Christ, we must all go through our own tribulations on Friday, that is, in this life, which is the shortest, and is counted but as one day; we must rest in the sepulchre on the Saturday; and, finally, rise on Sunday, and be glorified with Christ. The Lord, therefore, says, “I am with him in tribulation;” for the person praying asked for the gift of patience above all things, “which is necessary for you, that you may receive the promise,” Heb. 10. Now, the Lord who said, “I will hear him,” promises him, in the first place, the gift of patience, when he says, “I am with him in tribulation,” each word of which has a peculiar force of its own. “I am,” in the present tense, whereas everything else was expressed in the future; “I will deliver, I will protect, I will hear, I will glorify, I will fill;” and this was so expressed, with a view to show us that the troubles of this world are momentary, as the Apostle, 2 Cor. 4, says, “For our present tribulation, which is momentary and light, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory;” and, therefore, God’s mercy causes our tribulations to fall upon us, as it were, drop by drop, whereas our future glory will flow upon us like the inundation of a river; as the Psalm expresses it, “Thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of thy pleasure;”—“with him” conveys that God is present with everyone, in various ways, but that he is specially, through his interior consolations, and the influx of his unspeakable sweetness, with those who are in trouble; like a fond mother, whose entire care, even to the neglect of the others, is bestowed on the child in sickness; or as we ourselves, who nurse and care the ailing members of our body, and care not for the others. “In tribulation;” this gives us to understand that, however great the consolations, whether temporal or spiritual, bestowed by God upon his friends here below, that they are not without a certain admixture of tribulation. Some, especially among sinners, have their troubles without any consolation; but none, neither just nor wicked, have their consolations without some mixture of trouble; but there is this difference between the good and the bad; that the former, with few tribulations, more apparent than real, get true and solid consolations, for “the fruit of the spirit is charity and joy,” Gal. 6; but as to those who have not the Spirit, how can they expect its fruits? “I will deliver him;” this promise regards the future life, for it is at their death that the just are delivered from all present and future troubles, as St. John has it in the Apocalypse, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, from henceforth, now and forever; that they may rest from the labors;” and again, chap. 21, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more.” The wicked appear to be delivered from the troubles of this world by death, but it is by no means the fact; for they only pass from temporary to eternal tribulation; they are no more delivered than is the wretch who is brought out of jail to the place of execution. Sometimes, however, the just, even in this life, are delivered from their tribulation. Such was the case with Joseph, Job, David, Tobias, Daniel, the three children, Susanna, and others; but it was only a short and brief delivery. The fourth promise is, “and I will glorify him;” that, to a certain extent, sometimes happens also in this life, for holy Job was not only delivered from many and grievous tribulations, but was even raised to great glory afterwards; so was the patriarch Joseph; so was king David; but, beyond yea or nay, the real and true glorification will be accomplished in the other world only, for “Then shall the just shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father,” Matt. 13; and he says to the Apostles, “you also shall sit on twelve seats, judging the twelve tribes of Israel;” and, to express their glorious position, the Psalmist says, “Their principality is exceedingly strengthened;” and the Apostle, in speaking on the matter, says, “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that shall be revealed in us.”

16 I will fill him with length of days; and I will shew him my salvation.

These are the two last favors promised to those “who dwell in the aid of the Most High,” and may be looked upon as an explanation of the sixth favor. “I will glorify him,” for the glory of the saints consists in their having secured supreme happiness; now, supreme happiness must be everlasting, for happiness, without being everlasting, is nothing more than misery; and eternity, without happiness, is eternal misery. He, therefore, describes real eternity; first, by the expression, “I will fill him with length of days,” and then true happiness by the words, “and I will shed him my salvation.” By length of days is meant a space of time, so extended as fully to satisfy man’s desire, for that is what he promises when he says, “I will fill him with length of days;” and, as man’s desires cannot be satiated but by a continuance of what he desires, this length of days must be taken to mean eternity. The Scripture makes use of such expressions to designate eternity, because it speaks to those who can form no idea of eternity, but from the length or the number of days. In eternity there is no succession of days, but one day always going on, or rather one moment lasting without change, succession, or vicissitude. But it may be said, the vicissitudes of the seasons bring their pleasure with them, and we find men beguiling the length of the day in summer, and of the night in winter; by various amusements. That arises from all the stages of this life being full of various inconveniences and troubles, which make us look forward with impatience to the future, but when the day, than which no better can be expected, shall have come, the wish, then, that it may always last, will be the wish of all. “And I will show him my salvation.” I will cause the just man to live no longer by faith, by belief in what he sees not, but that he may clearly see and feel, and know by experience the salvation I offer him. That salvation consists in the beatific vision promised to us, which renders man’s salvation both perfect and perpetual. The mind will then be cleared of all error and ignorance, when it shall have arrived at the summit of wisdom, which consists in viewing the supreme and sovereign author of all things. From such wisdom there will spring up in the will a most ardent and steadfast love of the supreme good, that will completely take the affections from anything gross or unworthy, and such salvation will have its own effect on the inferior part of man, that thus will become subject to the superior without resistance or rebellion; and on the body itself, which will rise again immortal, impassible, most beautiful, and brighter than the sun. Here we cannot but wonder at the blindness of mankind; for while all wish for eternal happiness, and cannot avoid wishing intensely for it, they will, however, for some temporal or trifling advantage, whether in grasping and hoarding riches, or obtaining and keeping honors and preferments, or in gratifying and indulging their carnal and sensual desires, leave no stone unturned, will run backwards and forwards, watch, labor, sweat, exercise all ingenuity, draw upon their eloquence, apply all their talents; and still, where true, solid, and eternal happiness, real riches, the highest honors, unspeakable happiness that has been prepared for those that love God, are in question, they are so lazy that they will not even condescend to stir one finger for them. It is dreadful to reflect that man, endowed with reason and understanding, should so devote his whole life to the pursuit of things the most likely to shut him out from eternal happiness. We should pray to God, that as he has deigned to promise us such blessings, he may infuse his Holy Spirit into us, so as to enlighten our hearts, that we may know “what is the hope of his calling, and what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,” Eph. 1.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 115

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 29, 2019

1 Not to us, O Lord, not to us; but to thy name give glory.

Having recorded the wonderful things that God did for his people on their departure from Egypt In the previous psalm), he now, in the name of the whole people, prays to him not to regard their shortcomings, but his own glory, and to continue to protect his servants. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us.” We ask not for praise or glory on our own merits, which are none; “but to thy name give glory;” protect us for the glory of your name, and not for our own merits.

2 For thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake: lest the Gentiles should say: Where is their God?

He, in a very short space, assigns three reasons why God ought to seek the glory of his name in preserving his people. First, because he is merciful; secondly, because he is true and faithful in observing his promise; thirdly, that the gentiles, seeing God’s people in a state of destitution, may have no cause for blaspheming him and them. He, therefore, says, “For thy mercy and for thy truth’s sake,” show your glory, or give glory to thy name, for it is then your glory will be exhibited when you show mercy to your people; and then you will have carried out the truth of the promises you made our fathers, “Lest the gentiles should say: Where is their God?” lest the incredulous gentiles should get an occasion of detracting from your power, and, perhaps, of ignoring your very existence.

3 But our God is in heaven: he hath done all things whatsoever he would.
4 The idols of the Gentiles are silver and gold, the works of the hands of men.
5 They have mouths and speak not: they have eyes and see not.
6 They have ears and hear not: they have noses and smell not.
7 They have hands and feel not: they have feet and walk not: neither shall they cry out through their throat.

He now, on account of his having said, “Lest the gentiles should say: Where is their God?” gives expression to a most beautiful antithesis between the true and false gods; as much as to say, The gentiles should get no opportunity of reproaching us; but if they should do so, saying, “Where is their God?” we will answer, “Our God is in heaven;” and the wonderful things he has done bear testimony to it; for “he hath done all things whatsoever he wished;” while, on the contrary, their gods are on the earth; and thus hitherto are so unable to do anything that they cannot even make use of the members they appear to be endowed with; for, though they have the shape and figure of man, and appear to have all his members and senses, they neither see, nor hear, nor smell, nor touch, nor walk, nor speak; they do not emit anything in the shape of the voice of man, nor even of beasts.

8 Let them that make them become like unto them: and all such as trust in them.

This is a prophecy in the shape of an imprecation, as is usual with the prophets; for the makers of, and the worshippers of idols, will actually become similar to the idols after the resurrection; for, though they will be possessed of feeling and members, the case will be with them as if they had none; they will even desire to have none; for they will see, hear, smell, touch nothing but what will be hateful and disagreeable; and, with their hands and feet tied, they will be cast into exterior darkness, without being able in any way to help themselves. Even in this life they are like idols, because, though they hear and see, it is more in appearance than reality; for they neither see nor hear the things that pertain to salvation, the things that only are worth seeing, so that they may be said more to dream than to see or hear; as St. Mark has it, “Having eyes ye see not, having ears ye hear not.”

9 The house of Israel hath hoped in the Lord: he is their helper and their protector.
10 The house of Aaron hath hoped in the Lord: he is their helper and their protector.
11 They that fear the Lord have hoped in the Lord: he is their helper and their protector.

Having said, Let them that make them become like “unto them, and all such as trust in them,” he adds, by way of antithesis, that the children of Israel trusted in the Lord, and that they had him, therefore, as a protector, naming the house of Israel first, which includes the whole Jewish nation; then the house of Aaron, which means the priests and Levites, the elite of God’s people, and who should, therefore, have special trust in God; and, finally, all those that fear the Lord; for at all times there were pious souls, however few they may have been, not belonging to the children of Israel who feared and worshipped God in all sincerity; such were Job and his friends, and afterwards Naaman, the Syrian, and others.

12 The Lord hath been mindful of us, and hath blessed us. He hath blessed the house of Israel: he hath blessed the house of Aaron.
13 He hath blessed all that fear the Lord, both little and great.

He now confirms what he had asserted, viz., that God would be the helper and the protector of those that trust in him. He ranks himself among the number as having got special help and protection from God. He then, in the same order, confirms his assertions of God having blessed the house of Israel, the house of Aaron, and all who fear him, great or small, without any reference to greatness or littleness, whether of age, power, wisdom, or riches. When God is said to be “mindful,” it means that he regards with a singular providence; “and blessed us,” by assisting and protecting us—“us” meaning the house of Israel, the house of Aaron, and all that fear him.

14 May the Lord add blessings upon you: upon you, and upon your children.
15 Blessed be you of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” as we read in Lk. 6; and as the heart of the holy prophet was burning with desire for the glory of God and the salvation of his neighbor, he turns over the same subject, prophesying at one time, then exhorting, and then by praying all manner of happiness on mankind, in the hope of bringing them to have a holy fear of God, and to repose all their hope in him. Turning, then, to those who fear God, whose blessing he had assured them of, he says to them, “May the Lord add blessings upon you,” and not only on you, but “upon your children.” And thus may you be blessed with a full and entire benediction from the Lord, “who made heaven and earth;” that is, by him in whose hand is the dew of heaven and the fatness of the earth. The saints of the Old Testament were very much in the habit of praying to the Lord for the dews of heaven and the fatness of the earth for their people; for all the fruits of the earth depend on them. In a more spiritual meaning, God blesses with the dews of heaven and the fatness of the earth those to whom he gives spiritual and temporal blessings in abundance; as he did to Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, and David, and such others.

16 The heaven of heaven is the Lord’s: but the earth he has given to the children of men.
17 The dead shall not praise thee, O Lord: nor any of them that go down to hell.
18 But we that live bless the Lord: from this time now and for ever.

These three verses may be differently interpreted, applying them to the Jews under the Old Testament, or to the Christians in the New. If we apply them to the Jews, the meaning is, Having said, “Blessed be you of the Lord, who made heaven and earth,” he now asserts that it is only fair that they who have been blessed by the Lord should, in return, bless him while they live upon this earth, which he gave them for a habitation, leaving to the Angels the duty of blessing him in heaven, that being his habitation and that of his servants who minister unto him. “The heaven of heavens is the Lord’s;” that is, the supreme heaven belongs peculiarly to God and to the Angels who minister unto him; “but the earth,” with the elements that surround it, “he has given to the children of men” for their habitation, and for such a splendid portion of the universe man should constantly return thanks to God as long as they live and enjoy the fruits of that earth. Because “the dead shall not praise thee, O Lord;” for the dead, being devoid of sense, and no longer in possession of the goods of this world, and being even bereft of life, cannot praise God or return him thanks for his benefits. “For any of them that go down into hell.” Not only will the dead lying in their sepulchres not praise the Lord, but also “they that go down to hell;” the spirits who have gone down to the infernal regions; they, too, will not praise God for temporal blessings they cannot now possibly enjoy. “But we that live,” and are in the enjoyment of such blessings, “bless the Lord from this time now and forever,” through all succeeding ages. Applying the passage to the Christians under the New Testament, we are to bear in mind that “the heaven of heaven” means that supreme part of heaven where the children of God reside; of which the Apostle says, “For we know that if our earthly house of this habitation be dissolved, that we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in heaven;” that house God chose for himself, “but the earth,” this visible world, “he has given to the children of men,” as distinguished from the children of God; and, therefore, he adds, “The dead shall not praise thee, O Lord;” that is, they who, though living bodily, are spiritually dead, they will not praise you; “nor any of them that go down to hell;” who have died in their sins, and have gone to eternal punishment; “but we that live” the life of grace, adhering to thee through faith and charity, citizens of our heavenly country, though we are detained here for awhile below upon earth, we, I repeat, “bless the Lord,” and we “bless him forever.”

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 26

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 29, 2019

Psalm 26
David’s prayer to God in his distress, to be delivered, that he may come to worship him in his tabernacle

1 Judge me, O Lord, for I have walked in my innocence: and I have put my trust in the Lord, and shall not be weakened.

David, having a misunderstanding with the king, appeals to the King of kings, there being none other to whom he could appeal. “Judge me, O Lord.” Be you, O Lord, my judge; let not Saul take it on him, but do it yourself. “For I have walked in my innocence,” with confidence I challenge God’s judgment, because my conscience which God alone beholds, does not reprove me, “For I have walked in my innocence.” I have led an innocent life. “I have put my trust in the Lord, and shall not be weakened.” Trusting in God’s justice, I will not fail, but will conquer.

2 Prove me, O Lord, and try me; burn my reins and my heart.

Having stated that he led an innocent life, he proves it by the testimony of God himself, who neither can deceive nor be deceived; for he does not tell God to “prove and try him,” in order to come at truth of which he was ignorant, but that he may make known to others what he in secret sees. David then, on the strength of a good conscience, and in the sincerity of his heart, speaks to the Lord, saying. “Prove me and try me;” search with the greatest diligence, examine the inmost and deepest recesses of my heart; nay more, “burn my reins and my heart,” examine my thoughts and desires as carefully as gold, when tested by the fire. I do not think David asks here to be proved and tried by adversity, or that “his reins and heart” should be scorched by the fire of tribulation, when he seems to be asking for the very contrary; but he asks, as I stated before, to be “proved and tried” by a most minute examination and inspection; and God having the most minute and exact knowledge of everything, that he may declare to the world the innocence of his servant, and thus silence the calumny of his enemies.

3 For thy mercy is before my eyes; and I am well pleased with thy truth.

He assigns a reason for wishing to be “proved and tried,” inasmuch as his conscience encouraged him therein, as if he said, I beg of you to prove me, for I have trod thy paths, for “all thy ways are mercy and truth,” Psalm 24; and “thy mercy is before my eyes,” which I always look upon and consider, in the hope of being able to imitate it, and to act by my neighbors in conformity with it; “And I am well pleased with thy truth.” It has pleased me, and I have therefore lived according to it.

4 I have not sat with the council of vanity: neither will I go in with the doers of unjust things.
5 I have hated the assembly of the malignant; and with the wicked I will not sit.

Theodoret, in my opinion, most properly says, that these words apply to the idolatrous assemblies of the gentiles in their temples, of which David had the greatest abhorrence, and which he witnessed while in exile with the king of the Philistines. Everything, he says, here appears to be put in opposition to what he says in other parts of the Psalm, for instance, “I have loved, O Lord, the beauty of thy house;” and a little before that, “I will compass thy altar, O Lord;” and herein after, “In the churches will I bless thee, O Lord.” He calls the assembly of the idolaters the “council of vanity,” for what can be more vain? What, more vain than idols, false images? As the apostle says, “We know that an idol is nothing in the world,” 1 Cor. 7. Throughout the Scriptures idols are called vain, or vanities, Deut. 32, “They have provoked me with that which was no God and have angered me with their vanities;” and 1 Kings 12, “And turned not aside after vain things, which shall never profit you, nor deliver you, because they are vain.” See also 3 Kings 16; Jeremias 2, and various other passages. The same idolaters are styled, “Doers of unjust things,” because the height of injustice is to give to creatures the worship due to God alone. “The council of vanity,” in one verse is called the “Assembly of the malignant” in the next; “Doers of unjust things” in the same verse are called the “Wicked,” a name peculiarly appropriate to idolaters, in the following verse.

6 I will wash my hands among the innocent; and will compass thy altar, O Lord:

Having expressed his hatred of the conventicles of the idolatrous infidels, among whom he was then living, he adds, that he has, on the contrary, the most intense love for the tabernacle of the Lord and the assembly of the saints; and briefly states what he means to do when, through God’s assistance, he shall have been called from exile to his own country. “I will wash my hands among the innocent; and will compass thy altar, O Lord.” Before I go into thy temple, I will do what all pious people are wont to do: “I will wash my hands,” and go about your altar joining those in the act of it, in hymns of praise. For the meaning. Some will have it, that David alludes to the washing of hands, as a proof or sign of one’s innocence, as Pilate washed his hands before the Jews, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just man;” as if he said, See, I have washed my hands, do not pollute them with the blood of this just man; and I, therefore, dare not condemn him. We often use a similar expression when we wish to get out of a thing. We say, “I wash my hands out of it.” I consider, however, the sense more likely to be, and more in keeping with the rest of the chapter, to consider David alluding to a custom of the Jews, who, previous to their entering into the tabernacle, purified both themselves and the victims they offered, which purifications or lotions, are called by the apostle Heb. 9, “Divers washings and justifications of the flesh;” and, as those external lotions ought to be the sign of internal purity, David, therefore, says, “I will wash my hands among the innocent,” as a sign of my real internal purity, as an innocent person would wash them; and not with the hypocrites, who do so with clean hands and unclean heart. The expression, “I will compass thy altar,” some understand of the number of victims; but I rather think it refers to those who in hymns of praise will go about the altar, as the following Psalm has it, “I have gone round, and have offered up a sacrifice of jubilation;” and in the very next verse to this we have, “That I may hear the voice of thy praise; and tell of all thy wondrous works.”

7 That I may hear the voice of thy praise: and tell of all thy wondrous works.

An explanation of the expression, “I will compass thy altar, O Lord,” that with the choir of worshipers I may hear, and join in singing the praises of the Lord. St. Augustine, arguing against the Pelagians, proves, with great accuracy and piety, from this passage, that they only hear the voice of God’s praise who refer all their actions, and all they possess, to God’s free gift. For the hearts of the just, “who have ears to hear,” are always devoted to God’s praise, thanking him for all their own merits and virtues; whereas, on the contrary, those who presume on their own justice, and are swollen with the idea of their own perfections, as if they had them by their own exertions, and not from God, do not hear “the voice of thy praise,” but the voice of their own praise.

8 I have loved, O Lord, the beauty of thy house; and the place where thy glory dwelleth.

Nothing gave him more trouble in his exile than the being unable to see the tabernacle of the Lord. His mind, deeply inflamed with the love of God, looked upon no spot on the earth more beautiful than that where God was wont to show himself visibly. The tabernacle that contained the ark of the covenant was called, “The house of God,” “the place of the habitation of his glory,” because a bright cloud would frequently descend thereon, to signify God’s presence there; the God “who inhabiteth light inaccessible,” Jam. 1:6, and because there, too, was the oracle from which God gave his responses.

9 Take not away my soul, O God, with the wicked: nor my life with bloody men:

Having appealed to God, at first, as a judge, and having exposed his innocence, of which God was witness, he concludes by a prayer, that judgment may be delivered in his favor, “Take not away my soul, O God, with the wicked.” Do not condemn me as you do the wicked; “My soul” means me, as it does frequently through the Scriptures; and by “Bloody men,” he means those who, like so many homicides, were persecuting him.

10 In whose hands are iniquities: their right hand is filled with gifts.

He tells us who are the wicked and the bloody men of whom he spoke in the foregoing verse; they are those who receive bribes for unfair judgments, glancing at the sins of those in power, the judges. With much point he says, “In whose hands are iniquities;” attributing the iniquity to that part of the body that touches the bribe, to show the bribe was the cause of the iniquity.

11 But as for me, I have walked in my innocence: redeem me, and have mercy on me.

He repeats his reason for not being condemned with the wicked, namely, because “He walked in his innocence;” that is, led an innocent life. “Redeem me, and have mercy on me.” Deliver me from my present troubles, and then have mercy on me, that I may not fall into them again. The words “redeem” and “deliver,” most frequently have the same meaning in the Scriptures, unless, perhaps, the Holy Ghost may insinuate that any deliverance of the elect from tribulation may be called redemption, inasmuch as such is effected through the blood of Christ our Redeemer.

12 My foot hath stood in the direct way: in the churches I will bless thee, O Lord.

These words have reference to the concluding expression in the last verse, “have mercy on me.” I have asked to be delivered from my present trouble by reason of the rectitude of my life; I ask for future mercy, because “My foot hath stood;” that is to say, is firmly fixed and planted in the direct, honest road, and, therefore, I cannot easily leave the straight path of thy law; and, in thanksgiving for it, “I will bless thee” and praise thee “in the churches,” the assemblies of the pious.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 106

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 22, 2019

PSALM 106
ALL ARE INVITED TO GIVE THANKS TO GOD FOR HIS PERPETUAL PROVIDENCE OVER MEN

Explanation of the Psalm

1–3 This is the preface of the Psalm, in which David exhorts all who have experienced the mercies of the Lord to declare his praise, and especially to give glory to the Lord himself; because he is truly good and merciful, and his mercy never fails. He specially invites the faithful, redeemed by the blood of his only begotten from the bondage of a most powerful enemy, the prince of darkness, who held them in bonds at his own discretion, whom he afterwards collected and gathered together to be one people, one Church, one kingdom, children of his delight, not from Egypt or Babylon, as formerly were the Jews, but “from the rising and the setting of the sun, from the north and from the sea;” that is, from the four quarters of the world, as we read in Jn. 10. “And other sheep I have that are not of the fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd;” and in chap. 11, “For Jesus should die for the nation, and not only for the nation but to gather together into one the children of God that were dispersed.” Though all the faithful, whether Jew or gentile, are specially invited, still the invitation applies in general to all men who may have been at any time, or in any place whatever, delivered by the Lord from any manner of trouble; for redemption is frequently used in the Scripture for any manner of delivery or salvation, without any price having been paid for it. It also applies to those who may have been delivered from the hand—that is, from the power of any enemy; and, finally, to those who may have been delivered from any exile or dispersion in any extremity of the world, and brought back to their country and reunited to their people. The whole world is included in the verse, “from the rising and from the setting of the sun, from the north and from the sea;” in other words, from east to west, from north to south.

4–9 This is the first part of the Psalm, containing an explanation of the first affliction. There are four afflictions of the body common to all, and there are also four spiritual afflictions. The corporeal afflictions are hunger and thirst, caused by the infecundity of the earth, or by want of rain; that is to say, from some natural cause extrinsic to the sufferers; secondly, captivity, caused by the violence of others, that is, from some voluntary, extrinsic source; thirdly, disease or sickness, which arises from some intrinsic source, from bad constitution; and fourthly, the danger of shipwreck, caused by an external, natural cause, as also by an internal and voluntary cause, namely, man’s curiosity, which, not content with the solidity of the earth, must needs make trial of the liquid deep. There are also four spiritual afflictions, called by theologians natural wounds, wounds left in us through original sin; they are ignorance, concupiscence, bad temper, and malice; to which are opposed prudence, temperance, patience, and justice, which are called the four cardinal virtues. In this first division of the Psalm, then, the prophet sings of God’s mercy in delivering us from the first of these afflictions, including both corporal and spiritual; and though he appears to allude barely to the hunger and thirst the Jews suffered in the desert, still, the principles laid down by him are universal, and are applicable to all; and thus, he says, “They wandered in a wilderness, in a place without water.” Many, in quest of their country, have wandered through a pathless country, and one without water, as occurred to the Jews for forty years. “They found not the way of a city for their habitation,” after straying for a long time, and in all directions, they found no way leading to a city where they may safely rest and dwell. “They were hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them.” In their wanderings they met with neither meat nor drink, and they in consequence, all but gave up the ghost. “And they cried to the Lord in their tribulation;” when all human aid failed them they appealed to God, “and he delivered them out of their distresses.” He was not found wanting when they appealed to him, but with that mercy that characterizes him, he delivered them. And he led them into the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation;” the mode he chose for delivering them was to show them the shortest possible way to the city where he dwelt himself. “Let the mercies of the Lord give glory to him.” It is, therefore, only right and just that such benefits conferred on man by God in his mercy, should be praised and acknowledged by all, as true favors from God; “and his wonderful works to the children of men;” the wonderful things he did for the liberation of mankind should also be duly praised and acknowledged. “For he hath satisfied the empty soul.” Because he provided the most extraordinary food, prepared by the hands of the Angels, for a lot of hungry people in the desert, nigh exhausted for want of food. This, as we have already said, is most applicable to the food provided for the Jews; but there can be no doubt but the prophet meant, by this example, to teach all those who have been rescued from ignorance and from the misery of thirst and hunger, that they owe their deliverance to God, and that they should, therefore, thank his mercy. And there can be no doubt but the prophet had specially before his mind that ignorance of the way of salvation, under which so many labor, and who stray about, as it were in a desert, hungering and thirsting for the knowledge of truth, the source of wisdom and of prudence. We naturally look for happiness. There is no one that does not look for it, and, therefore, for the way that leads to it; however, many, preoccupied by the thoughts and the desires of passing good, look for happiness where it is not to be found; nay, even look upon that to be happiness which is anything but happiness; and when they know not in what it consists, naturally know not the way that leads to it. Thus, in their strayings and wanderings, they never find, though they are always hungering and thirsting for the city of their true habitation; because the longings of an immortal soul, capable of appreciating supreme happiness, can never be content with the things of this world, miserable and transitory as they are; while those whom God “hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy,” and “gathered out of the countries,” beginning to feel their own blindness, through the great gift of God’s mercy, “they cry to the Lord,” and are heard by him; they are “led into the right way, that leads to the city;” they know that the kingdom of God is their ultimate end, and that justice is the means of acquiring it; “hungering and thirsting,” then, for justice, they run to the fountain of grace, and, refreshed from that fountain, they arrive at the heavenly city, where they are filled and satisfied with all manner of good things, so that they never hunger or thirst again for all eternity.

10–16 This is the second part of the Psalm, in which he reviews the deliverance from the second affliction, corporal as well as spiritual. The second corporal affliction consists in captivity, through which poor creatures are shut up in dark prisons, bound with chains, and loaded with manacles. He seems to allude to the captivity of the Jews, under various persecutors, in the time of the judges, or perhaps under Pharao; for David does not seem to have taken much trouble in relating matters chronologically; the more so as what he states here is applicable to all captives, to all in chains and fetters, who may at any time have been liberated through the mercy of the Lord. “Such as sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, bound in want and in iron;” that is to say, I have known others who were taken by the enemy and were shut up in loathsome prisons and dense darkness, and were loaded with chains and reduced to beggary, “because they had exasperated the words of God, and provoked the counsel of the Most High.” These were justly afflicted and punished in that manner, because they disregarded God’s precepts and despised his advice. “Exasperating God’s words” means provoking him to anger when he speaks or commands, which is done by those who do not keep his commandments. They, too, may be said to “exasperate God’s words” who provoke his very commandments to anger; for, as the commandments of God crown those that observe them, so they punish those that transgress them; and in this manner they who transgress the commandments provoke them against themselves. There is a certain amount of figurative language in the whole; for “God’s words” mean God, in his discourse or his commands; and the word “exasperating” means God’s punishment being as grievous as if he were capable of being exasperated. A similar figure of speech appears in the following sentence: “and provoked the counsel of the Most High;” for the “counsel of the Most High” must be understood as applying to God in his goodness, with the best intentions, irritated by those who opposed them; or “provoked” may be rendered as condemning or despising, for those who do either provoke, that is, excite to anger. “And their heart was humbled with labor;” their pride was brought down by captivity, chains, and fetters. They are just the things to do it. “They were weakened, and there was none to help them.” They were not able to resist their enemies; and thus, having no one to help them, were led off in captivity. “Then they cried to the Lord” etc.; then they began to implore the divine assistance, to free them as well from their dark prisons as from their chains and fetters; and, to show the extent of their obligations to him, he adds, “he broke gates of brass and burst iron bars,” to show how firmly secured they bad been, and what power is required to liberate them; and thus, on the whole, they are proved to have been delivered from a most severe and wretched captivity. Now, the second spiritual affliction consists in the concupiscence of this world—such as its goods, its wealth, its pleasure, which, like so many chains and fetters, so tie a man down that, though he is fully aware of true happiness existing in God alone, and that, while he remains here below, he must mortify his members, still he remains a captive, without being able to stir, if the grace of God will not set him free. The beginning of his freedom must have its source in his own humility. He must feel that he is a captive, that he has no strength in him, that his heart has been humbled in his labors, and, satisfied of there being no one able to help him but the one heavenly Father, he must, with a contrite and humble heart, with much interior sorrow, exclaim, Lord, I suffer violence; look on me, and have mercy on me. “Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” The mercy of the Father will most surely be at hand to bring the captive from his prison, to burst his fetters, so that, on gaining his liberty, he can with joy exclaim, “Lord, thou hast broken my bonds, I will sacrifice to thee the sacrifice of praise.”

17–22 The third part of the Psalm, treating of the third corporeal affliction, which is a most severe disease and languor, such as that of the children of Israel, when God afflicted them with a great plague, through the fiery serpents, so that numbers of them were constantly dying; but no sooner did they cry out to God than they were delivered; and, in like manner, no matter how anyone, or to what extent they may be struck down by sickness or disease, if they will seriously, from the bottom of their heart, in firm faith, and with the other requisites, invoke the Almighty, they will most assuredly be delivered. To enter into particulars, especially as regards expressions not explained before. “He took them out of the way of their iniquity; for they were brought low for their injustices.” We must, of necessity, supply something here; for instance, God saw some of them lying prostrate, “and took them,” that is, raised them up, “out of the way of their iniquity,” in which they were miserably plunged; “for they were brought low for their injustices,” even to the very earth; “their soul abhorred all manner of meat; and they drew nigh even to the gates of death.” The disease must have been very severe when they refused the food necessary to support life, so that death must have, in consequence, been actually at their doors. “He sent his word, and healed them.” And he explains how, by the will or by the command of God alone, without the brazen serpent, or any other created thing; not that things created, such as drugs and medicines, are of no use, but that they have their virtue and efficacy from God, and without his cooperation they are of no value; but God, of himself, without their intervention or application, by his sole word and command, can heal and cure all manner of diseases; in which sense we are to understand that passage in Wisdom, “For it was neither herb nor mollifying plaster that healed them, but thy word, O Lord, which healeth all things;” and, in a few verses before, speaking of those who had been bitten by the fiery serpents, and were cured by looking on the brazen one, he says, “For he that turned to it was not healed by that which he saw, but by the Savior of all.” David speaks figuratively when he says, “He sent his word, and healed them;” as if his word were a messenger or an ambassador on the occasion; unless, perhaps, he alludes to the mission of the Word incarnate, through whom many were healed of their corporeal diseases, and without whom nobody could be healed of their spiritual diseases. “For there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved.” The third spiritual affliction consists in the infirmity or weakness and frailty of human nature, corrupted by sin. There are many who understand thoroughly what they ought to do, and are anxious to do it; but they either have no strength, or have not sufficient strength to do it, until they get it from on high. They are also, not infrequently, so affected by a sort of languor or listlessness, that their soul loathes all manner of food; not that they are led into any error, or seduced by any evil concupiscence, but they take no delight in God’s word, they know not what it is to feel any heavenly aspirations, and they run the risk of suffering from hunger, not for want of wherewith to satisfy themselves, but from sheer fastidiousness; and such temptations are neither trifling nor uncommon. They have great need of “crying to the Lord,” to rectify their bad taste, and bring them to have a desire for the milk of divine consolation; and when they shall have begun to relish the things that are from above, and to taste how sweet is the Lord, let them not take the merit of it to themselves; but “Let the mercies of the Lord give glory to him; let them sacrifice the sacrifice of praise, and declare his works with joy;” for it clearly is the work of God, and not of man, to make man, accustomed to nothing but the things of this earth, and to what he sees, to have an ardent desire for and feel a sweet relish in the things of the other world, that are hidden from him.

23–32 This is the fourth part of the Psalm, in which God is praised for his care of those that are in danger at sea. No example of such danger, previous to David’s time, occurs in the Scriptures, but subsequent to David, we have that of Jonas, of the Apostles, and of St. Paul. “They that go down to the sea in ships.” They who cross the deep, and are engaged either in rowing, reefing, or setting the sails, know from experience many wonderful works of God, that many know nothing whatever of, or if they do, have it only from hearsay; for instance, the fury of the storm, the raging and roaring of the waves, the immense extent and depth of the sea, the constant and imminent danger that surrounds them, and the fear that will so lay hold on them betimes, as to make the hearts of the bravest quail. “He said the word and there arose a storm of wind;” God spoke, and the storm, in obedience to its Creator, at once arose, sprung up, and, in consequence, “the waves were lifted up;” so that they seemed almost to touch the skies; and, ultimately, to expose the lowest depths of the sea; “their soul pined away with evils;” fear so laid hold on them, that they became incapable of any manner of exertion; nay more, “They were troubled and reeled like a drunken man and all their wisdom was swallowed up;” a most natural description of the state of those in danger from shipwreck; they lose all presence of mind, can adopt no fixed counsel, and, consequently, cannot act upon any; “and all their wisdom,” in steering and righting a ship, if ever they had any, seems to have entirely taken leave of them. “And they cried to the Lord in their affliction.” This verse, occurring now for the fourth time, has been already explained, and the other verses do not seem to need any.—Now, the fourth spiritual affliction is that malice of the will, which principally consists in pride, that is the queen of vice. And, in fact, when the blasts of pride begin to play upon the sea of the human heart then the billows of its desires are raised up even to the very heavens. We are all acquainted with the language of the prince of the sons of pride, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will ascend above the height of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.” It was by him the giants of old were inspired to set about building the tower of Babel, that was to have reached the sky. The descendants of those people are they who seek to add kingdoms to kingdoms, and empires to empires; and to whose ambition there is no bounds; whereas, if they would enter into themselves and carefully consider the fearful storms of reflection, suspicion, fear, desires, presumption and despair, that continually harass them, and must, finally, overwhelm them, they would undoubtedly have cried to God, who would in his pity and mercy have delivered them from such a mass of evils; for he would have infused the spirit of his Son into their hearts, to teach them meekness and humility, that the raging billows of their desires, being thus composed, they may find rest for their souls, and be brought into the harbor of his good will; into that harbor of peace and tranquillity that is naturally coveted by all mankind. And this being the greatest favor of God’s mercy, they would naturally chant, “Let the mercies of the Lord give glory to him, and his wonderful works to the children of men.”

33–34 This is the second part of the Psalm. After having sung of the mercy of God in warding off the four afflictions, he now praises him for the omnipotence and providence through which he sometimes changes the nature of things, proving himself thereby to be their Maker and Ruler. He first says that God sometimes “turned rivers into a wilderness, and the sources of waters into dry ground,” that is, that when it pleased him, he dried up entire rivers, and caused the places inundated by them to become perfectly dry; “a fruitful land into barrenness,” which is intelligible enough, “for the wickedness of them that dwell therein,” as a punishment for the wickedness of its inhabitants; an example of which we have in Genesis, where we read, “And Lot lifting up his eyes saw all the country about the Jordan, which was watered throughout, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, as the paradise of the Lord,” and yet this beautiful and fertile country, a paradise in itself, was dried up by sulphur and fire from heaven, and condemned to everlasting sterility.

35–38 On the other hand, God, when he chose, “turned a wilderness into pools of waters;” caused rivers to flow in desert lands, where they were unknown, and made streams of pure water to run where they never ran before. That made the land habitable; men began to build there, to till the land, and to reap its fruits; and thus man and beast began to multiply thereon. It is not easy to determine what land the prophet alludes to; for, though God brought water from the rock for his people, they did not tarry nor settle there, nor build houses there; and when he brought them into the land of promise, there were rivers, cities, houses, and fields all ready for them. I am, therefore, of opinion that the prophet refers to some early colonization subsequent to the deluge; for, as well as he turned the fertile plains of Sodom and Gomorrah into a wilderness, so he also caused rivers to run, and cities to spring up in places that were previously waste and desolate. Isaias seems to have this passage in view when he says, “I will turn the desert into pools of waters and the impassable land into streams of waters;” and St. Jerome says that he therein alludes to the condition of the gentiles, who were at one time desert and uncultivated, without faith, without the law, without the prophets or the priesthood; but were afterwards to be highly nourished, through Christ, with the gifts of the Holy Ghost; and, therefore, St. Augustine very properly applies this passage to the synagogue, as contrasted with the Church. The synagogue, that one timed abounded in the waters of the word of God, and like a fertile soil, produced its prophets and priests, had its altars, sacrifices, miracles, and visions, now desert and barren, is turned into dry ground, with not one of those things; while, on the other hand, the Church of the gentiles, from having been dry and barren, is turned into pools of water, is become most fertile, replete with the choicest fruit, and has come to be the people of the Lord, the Church of the living God, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, where alone is to be found the true sacrifice, true priests, true miracles, true holiness, true wisdom, and, finally, all the gifts of the Holy Ghost.

39–43 The prophet now teaches us that there is nothing on earth stable or permanent, for they who have been at one time blessed by God, and multiplied through his blessing, in a little time after have been, by reason of their sins, cut away and reduced to nothing; and they who abound in all the good things of this world have, for the same reason, been driven to the direst extremities; and such has proved to be the case, not only with ordinary mortals, but even with princes whose sins have caused God to bring them to be condemned, by his having deprived them of wisdom and prudence, and thus, in consequence, making many and grievous mistakes in all their affairs. However, at the same time, men of honor and virtue were to be found, raised up by God from poverty, and fed and nourished by him as his own sheep. Hence, ultimately, divine providence caused the just to rejoice, and the wicked to be confounded. What has been said, in general, regarding God’s providence towards mankind, applies also to his special providence in regard of the Church, which grew up in a short time; and soon after was lessened, harassed, and afflicted by heresy and schisms; “her princes,” that is, her bishops and priests, were held in contempt, for numbers of them fell back from the path of their predecessors, who had set such an example of holiness and piety to the people over whom they had been placed. However, the Church was not abandoned to such an extent altogether as not to leave a considerable number of princes, and bishops, and priests, and holy laics, whom God enriched with spiritual favors, and whom, as being his own sheep, he led to the choicest pastures, and made them increase and multiply. To come now to the text. “Then they were brought to be few,” after increasing to such an extent, their numbers began to be reduced “and they were afflicted with the troubles of evil and sorrow;” after having had such a flow of prosperity they began to feel sad reverses. “Contempt was poured forth upon their princes.” One of the greatest misfortunes that could befall any people is to have their rulers, whether secular or ecclesiastical, objects of contempt. “And he caused them to wander where there was no passing, and out of the way.” The reason why they were despised was, because the princes aforesaid, having been deserted by the light of grace, in consequence of their own sins, as well as those of their people, did not walk in the right way; that is to say they led a bad and immoral life, scandalized the people by their bad example, and made bad laws in favor of the wicked, and against the just. Observe, that when God is said to procure those things, he does not do it directly: he does it indirectly, by withdrawing the light of his grace. “And he helped the poor out of poverty.” As well as he suffered the proud and haughty princes to fall, and rendered them objects of contempt, so, on the contrary, he raised up the poor and the humble, “and made him families like a flock of sheep;” multiplied his posterity, blessed and protected them as a shepherd would his own sheep. “The just shall see and shall rejoice: and all iniquity shall stop her mouth.” The consequence of this providence of God will be, that the just will rejoice and express their joy in praising and glorifying God; and “all iniquity,” all the malicious and the wicked will be struck dumb, and will not presume to offer the slightest opposition. This we sometimes see in partial instances; but it will be fully developed and made apparent only on the day of general judgment.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 86

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 3, 2019

A PRAYER FOR GOD’S GRACE TO ASSIST US TO THE END

Ps 86:1 He begins his prayer by touching on God’s greatness and his own poverty, an excellent form of prayer, and calculated to get what we want; for, “the prayer of him that humbleth himself shall pierce the clouds,” Sirach 35. “Incline thy ear,” for you sit so high, you have need to do so, in order to hear me, who lie so low, “for I am needy and poor.” As I am the beggar sitting at the rich man’s gate, incline thy ear to your poor servant, and hear him. By the poor and the needy he means the person, who, though he may abound in the riches of the world, still does not put his trust in them, takes no pride in them, does not despise others, but rather despises the wealth itself; and does not look upon himself one bit better or greater than those who are not possessed of such wealth. St. Augustine very properly remarks, that Lazarus was not taken up into Abraham’s bosom by reason of his poverty, but on account of his humility; nor was the rich glutton hurried in hell for his riches, but for his pride. Had such been the case, Abraham too, who abounded in riches, would have been buried in hell. But, as Abraham looked upon himself, and called himself “dust and ashes,” Gen. 18, and observed the commandments of God so faithfuly, that he was most ready to sacrifice, not only all his wealth, but even his only son for whom he had it in store, at the command of God, he was, therefore, not only himself brought to the place of rest after his death, but in his bosom were gathered together all who then died in the Lord. David, too, abounded in the riches of this world; but, as he took no pride in them, set no value on them, but depended entirely on God, in whom he had placed his entire hope, his strength, and his riches, and without whom he knew he was nothing, and could do nothing; he, therefore, with great truth, proclaimed himself really poor and needy.

Ps 86:2 He tells in what respect he wishes to be heard, and first proposes what is really uppermost in his mind, and which the Lord himself directed should be sought for in preference to everything, and that is, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” “Preserve my soul,” that so many enemies lie in wait for, in this my exile, “for I am holy.” I ask for the safety of my soul, because I got it from you, and you have justified me who was dead in sin, through the blood of your Son, and you have sanctified me, and enlivened me. For, as St. Augustine says, when one feels a confidence that he has been justified through the sacraments, and calls himself holy, through the grace of God; such is not to be looked upon as the pride of a vain man, but the confession of one who is not ungrateful; but if one cannot venture to say, I am justified and cleansed, he can at least say, “I am holy;” that is, I am one of the faithful, a professor of our holy faith and religion, dedicated and consecrated to God through baptism. “Save thy servant, O my God, that trusteth in thee.” A repetition of the preceding. The reason he wishes his soul to be saved is, that he may not lose life everlasting. St. Peter, in his first Epistle, uses similar language, when he says, “Who, by the power of God are kept by faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time.” He asks, then, for life everlasting, for fear of losing which, he asks for the safety of his soul, assigning a reason, when he says, “thy servant that trusteth in thee;” because, when God saves his servant, he saves what belongs to himself; and, when he saves him that trusts in him, he shows himself to be just and faithful, in carrying out what he promised.

Ps 86:3–4 He had asked, in the second verse, for supreme happiness; that is, the salvation of his soul, the object of all his desires; and he now most properly asks for the means of arriving at such an end, namely, that interior joy that manfully bears up against the temptations and the dangers of this our exile, until it comes to that harbor of safety, where there will be no temptations, no dangers. “Have mercy on me, O Lord.” In mercy hear my prayer, “for I hare cried to thee all the day;” I have put up my prayers with the greatest fervor and perseverance, for nothing is more necessary in prayer than great fervor, which the expression, “I have cried,” implies, and with perseverance, which the words, “all the day,” convey. Here is the petition, which, in mercy, he asked should be listened to, and for which he cried the whole day, “Give joy to the soul of thy servant.” I am hemmed in on all sides by temptations, nothing but what is bitter presents itself to me in this valley of tears, while my very prosperity terrifies me as much as my adversity saddens me; therefore, “Give joy to the soul of thy servant, for to thee, O Lord, I have lifted up my soul.” As I have not found rest in anything created, I have raised up my soul on the wings of thought and desire to thee my Creator. Love bears one’s soul up; and it has been truly said, that the soul is more where it loves, than where it actually is. Thought and desire are the wings of love; for he that loves is borne on to, and abides in, what he loves, by thinking constantly on, and longing for, the object of his love. Whoever truly, and from his heart, loves God, by thinking on him and longing for him, lifts up his soul to God; while, on the contrary, whoever loves the earth, by thinking on and coveting the things of the earth, lets his soul down to its level. Thus he alone, with the prophet, can truly say, “To thee, O Lord, I have lifted up my soul,” and can with justice ask for consolation, saying, “Give joy to the soul of thy servant,” who has no inordinate affection for anything created, and is in no way stuck in the mud of this world.

Ps 86:5 A reason assigned for having raised up his soul to God in order to obtain consolation; because “God is sweet and mild;” and as St. John says, “God is light, and in him there is no darkness.” So we can say God is sweet, and in him there is no bitterness; whereas in the consolations of this world there is an abundance of bitterness with little or no sweetness And not only is God sweet, but he is also mild, offering no repulse to those who approach him, and bearing with our imperfections. St. Augustine observes that God’s mildness is most remarkable in bearing with us when we pray; when, during our prayers, we divert our attention to so many different subjects. The judge would hardly have patience with the culprit who, while laying his petition before the court, would turn about to talk with his friends, especially on matters of no moment. And not only is God sweet and mild in himself, inasmuch as he repels no one approaching the fountain of his sweetness; but he is also “plenteous in mercy,” for he freely admits and receives, and offers himself to be tasted of by all that call upon him, having no regard to rich or poor, Jew or gentile “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” If he sometimes does not hear or have mercy on those who pray to him, the reason is because they do not really call upon him, or do not call upon him as they ought. He very often hears us, but at the fitting time; and he very often hears the wish of him who prays, instead of the words he utters; for instance, when the petitioner asks a thing quite unsuited to him, and which he would not have asked had he known it to be so.

Ps 86:6 A repetition of the first part of the first verse, in different language, in order to express his great desire for what he asks.

Ps 86:7 This verse would seem to have been introduced as an explanation of the preceding. He said therein, “give ear, O Lord, to my prayer,” and God may fairly have asked him, When did you pray? When will you have me give ear to your prayer? The prophet answers, I have prayed every day, and I will pray every day while I stray about in this exile. Every day of my exile is a day of trouble, for he who loves his country cannot but loathe his exile. “In the day of my trouble;” during the whole time of my exile, I found nought but trouble and sorrow; and therefore I have always “called upon thee,” and with so much confidence, “because thou hast heard me.”

Ps 86:8 He assigns a reason for flying to God alone, for invoking him, and for seeking to lift up his soul to him, because there is no one, not only among men, but even among gods, like God; either in essence or in power, or in wisdom, or in goodness. If by the word “gods” we understand false gods, idols, and demons, of which it is said in Psalm 96, “All the gods of the gentiles are devils;” then, what he says here is absolutely true; for idols have eyes and do not see, and depend on man both for motion and protection; but the true God sees without corporeal eyes, depends on no one, but all things depend on him; “For in him we live, move, and have our being.” The demons, it is true, were made to God’s image, but they lost it by sin. “And there is none according to thy works.” Not only is there no god like unto thee, O Lord, but none of them have produced any one work equal to any of yours; for God made the heavens, and the earth, and everything in them, from nothing; other gods only work from the matter which our God created.

Ps 86:9 From this verse we learn that, in the preceding one, he referred to the false gods, who were adored by the sinners as true and supreme gods; for the prophet proves that none of those gods are like our God, that their worship will one day cease, and their falsity and vanity be made perfectly clear; while the worship of our God will be everlasting, a fact partly accomplished in the Church of Christ, and fully so on the day of judgment. For, though in the days of David there were gods of the Moabites, of the Ammonites, of the Philistines, and of various nations, still, on the promulgation of the Gospel of Christ, idolatry began to disappear, and the worship of the true God to be introduced among all nations. Thus, “all the nations shall come;” that is, they came from all nations, and, after abandoning their false gods, they adored the true one; but, on the day of judgment, all men, without any exception, shall know that the gods of the gentiles were demons, or empty images, and, whether they will or will not, shall bow the knee before the Lord, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaias “For every knee shall be bowed to me,” a text applied by St. Paul, Rom. 14, and Phil. 2, to Christ as the true God. “And they shall glorify thy name;” but in a different manner; the just will from love, and with pleasure; but the wicked will through fear, and against their will, glorify the Lord on the day of judgment, and will say, “Thou, art just, O Lord, and righteous is thy judgment.”

Ps 86:10 The reason why the worship of false gods will cease, and all nations will adore and glorify the Lord is, “for he is God alone,” truly great, “and does wonderful things,” that nobody else can do; a thing that will be well known on the day of judgment, especially when, at his nod, all the dead shall arise, and be gathered before the tribunal of Christ, when, without the slightest resistance or opposition, the just shall be exalted to their kingdom, and the wicked shoved down to everlasting punishment. Hence the Apostle, when speaking of said judgment, uses the expression, “of the great God,” for it is in the last judgment that his greatness is most clearly exhibited, “waiting for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God, and our Savior Jesus Christ.”

Ps 86:11 For fear of straying from the path that leads to his country, he has again recourse to prayer, in which he asks for guidance in this his wandering and his exile, and at the same time, asks for spiritual help and succour, for fear he may faint on the way. “Conduct me, O Lord, in thy way.” Show one the way, through the assistance of your grace, not only by enlightening my mind, but by moving my will; and thus, “I will walk in thy truth,” according to the truth of your law and of your faith. “Let my heart rejoice;” he asked in the third verse “that his soul should have joy;” let it, then, rejoice when you gladden and console my heart, “that it may fear thy name;” I do not seek consolation for consolation’s sake, but in order that, being refreshed by it as if with food, I may persevere in thy holy fear. By fearing to offend you I will be sure to proceed in the direct road of your commandments, to that country where I will serve you without any fear.

Ps 86:12 To prayer he adds thanksgiving, for nothing tends more to obtain fresh favors than to appear mindful on and grateful for, the past. “I will praise thee, O Lord, my God;” I will render you the tribute of praise and thanksgiving, “with my whole heart,” with the full tide of my affections. “And I will glorify thy name;” that is, thy power, “forever,” while I live, incessantly.

Ps 86:13 The favor for which he returns thanks is, that God, in his great mercy, and not through the merits of the supplicant, should have delivered his soul from the lowest hell; that is, should have justified him from the sins that would have carried him to hell, had he not been delivered through grace. And, in truth, the mercy of God, which converts the sinner into a just man, is as great as the punishment of eternal fire from which we are saved, or the everlasting happiness to which we get a right and free access. Hence St. Peter says, “Who, according to his great mercy, hath regenerated us unto a lively hope.” Various explanations are offered of the words, “lowest hell.” We adopt that of Saints Augustine, Jerome, and Bernard, who say it means that part of hell where no one praises the Lord, and from which there is no egress.

Ps 86:14 Having returned thanks, he comes again to pray, asking to be delivered from the multitude of the enemies that sought his life; and though some make him allude to his corporal enemies, or to those of Ezechias, some will have him allude to the enemies of Christ, who caused his death; the explanation of St. Augustine is more in accordance with the rest of the Psalm; and he says it is to be understood of the members of Christ’s body of the just, or any person suffering persecution from their spiritual enemies, be they heretics or schismatics, or bad Christians. The man of God, then, delivered through the grace of Christ from the lower hell, fighting in the meantime with his spiritual enemies, in heavy groans exclaims, O my God, “behold the wicked are risen up against me;” neither few in number, nor weak in strength, but “an assembly of the mighty;” a great congregation of most powerful enemies “have sought my soul” to destroy it; and in their blindness and obduracy “have not set thee before their eyes;” have not considered that you are the protector of the just, and they presume to wage war, not with weak mortals, but with the Lord God of armies.

Ps 86:15 Having mentioned the quantity and the quality of his enemies, he now asks for help against them, and in various terms proclaims God’s goodness, to show he was not rash in hoping for assistance from so good a God. He is a God of compassion, which in Hebrew signifies the regard a parent has for his child. “Merciful,” which means a bestower of grace, or the making one acceptable, as St. Paul says, “by which he made us acceptable through his beloved Son;” that is, made us acceptable to him or received us into grace. “Patient,” the word in Hebrew signifies long nosed, not easily provoked to anger, for with the Hebrews a long nose was looked upon as a sign of much patience; “and of much mercy,” abounding in mercy, “and true,” or faithful. Hence we learn that God loves us with the affection of a father, and, therefore, most ready to forgive, most slow to be provoked, liberal, and ready to promise in his mercy, and faithful to carry out such promises; all of which afford incalculable consolation and confidence to pious souls, who, from their heart, attach themselves to God; for all this applies only to those who fear God, as is more clearly explained in Psalm 102. They who abuse God’s goodness “treasure up to themselves wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the just judgment of God,” Rom. 2; to whom he says in Heb. 10, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

Ps 86:16 Having explained God’s goodness in so many terms, he now begs that he may have a share in it. “O look on me” with the eyes of your infinite goodness, and prodigal as you are of your mercies, “have mercy on me.”—“Give thy command to thy servant.” Grant that my numerous enemies may not prevail over me, but, on the contrary, give thy servant strength and power to subdue and command them, and thereby “save the son of thy handmaid,” whether from their secret snares or open persecutions.

Ps 86:17 He concludes by asking for some external sign that may let even his enemies see that God always consoles and assists his faithful servants. “Show me a token for good;” give me some sign that will assure me of something good, that is, of your grace and favor, “that they who hate me may see,” that my enemies may see it, be confounded, and despair of subduing me, “because thou, O Lord, hast helped me and hast comforted me.” As you have really helped me in the combat, and by your interior grace consoled me in my trouble, show also some external sign of your favor, that my enemies, on seeing it, may be confounded. A question has been raised, what is the sign he asks for? St. Jerome says, it is the sign of the cross of Christ, for it is a token for good, it being the token of redemption, and when the evil spirits, who hate us, behold it, they are confounded. St. Augustine explains it of the sign that will appear on the last day, which will be for good to the elect, and on the sight of which all their enemies will be confounded. Others interpret it of the sign given by Isaias to king Achaz when he said to him, “The Lord himself will give you a sign, behold, a virgin will conceive, and will bring forth a son.” That was truly a token for good to David, to have the Messias descended from him, and to the whole world that was to be delivered, through Christ, from all its enemies. Perhaps, the token for good means that spiritual joy, which he asked for in the beginning of the Psalm, when he said, “Give joy to the soul of thy servant;” for such joy to a holy soul in tribulation is the clearest sign of the grace of God, and on the sight of it, all manner of persecutors are confounded, and then the meaning would be, “show me a token for good;” give me the grace of that spiritual joy that will appear exteriorly in my countenance, “that they who hate me may see” such calmness and tranquillity of soul, “and be confounded;” for you, Lord, have helped me in the struggle, consoled me in my sorrow, and have already converted my sadness into interior joy and gladness.

 

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Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 86

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 3, 2019

Argument

Arg. Thomas. That Christ, good and gracious, may hear the desires of them that beseech Him. The Voice of Christ to the Father. During the Fast. A Prophecy concerning Christ, and counsel always to pour forth prayer to God. Concerning laudable prayer.

Ven. Bede. David, signifies the Lord the Saviour: either because the interpretation thereof is held to be, strong of hand and desirable, or because He Who is God over all, blessed for ever, derived from David’s stem.

Throughout the whole Psalm the Lord Jesus Christ makes His prayer: in the first portion uttering words which can clearly be applied to Him only, Bow down Thine ear, O Lord, &c. In the second part, He prays yet more humbly for His members, whose Head He is: Teach Me Thy way, O Lord. In the third portion, He utters again in His own person what specially belongs to Himself: O God, the proud are risen against Me.

Syriac Psalter. Of David, when he built a house unto the Lord, and a prophecy of the calling of the Gentiles. Further, a special prayer of a righteous man.

Eusebius of Cæsarea. A Prayer of David, and a prophecy of the calling of the Gentiles.

S. Athanasius. A Psalm of address, of prayer, and supplication.

Commentary

1 Bow down thine ear, O Lord, and hear me: for I am poor, and in misery.

This Psalm, though bearing the name of David in the superscription, is held by the Greek Fathers, (Z.) S. Basil and Theodoret, to be of a much later day, and to be probably the composition of Hezekiah. There are two circumstances on the face of the matter which lend weight to this adjudication of it away from David. First, the Psalm, if Davidic, stands alone in this third book of the Psalter, with no companion. Secondly, it is in a considerable degree a cento from earlier Psalms, or at any rate borrows many of its thoughts and phrases from them, and at least three passages are derived from the Pentateuch, and thus it is structurally unlike the original Psalms of the Prophet King. Yet it is a King of Israel who speaks throughout, whether as author of the Psalm, or as having it put in his mouth by one of the Korhite poets, and therefore we may truly say with S. Augustine, (A.) that it is our Lord Jesus Christ Who prays for us, Who prays in us, and is to be prayed to by us. He prays for us, as our High Priest; He prays in us, as our Head; He is prayed to by us, as our God. Let us then recognize our own words in Him, and His words in us. He saith, then, in the form of a servant, and thou, O servant, in the form of thy Lord, sayest, Bow down Thine ear, O Lord. He boweth down the ear, if thou lift not up thy neck. For He draweth nigh to the holy, but departeth far from the uplifted, save those humble, whom He hath Himself lifted up. It is not to the rich, but to the poor and needy, (Vulg.) to the humble penitent, confessing his sin, and needing mercy, not to him who is full and haughty, who boasteth, as in want of nothing, and saith, “I thank Thee, that I am not as this publican.”* Bow down Thine ear, then, as a kind physician stoops over the couch of a sick man, too feeble to raise himself or to speak aloud,* and hear me, pouring my griefs out. It is spoken in the Person of Christ, Who asks to be heard,* first because of His voluntary humility,* so that His Father needs to bow down to Him; and next, because of His voluntary poverty, poor, in having no help from friends; needy, as lacking all earthly riches.

2 Preserve thou my soul, for I am holy: my God, save thy servant, that putteth his trust in thee.

Taking these words as the prayer of Christ on behalf of His human soul and life, (L.) that He might not be slain untimely by His enemies, before He had fulfilled His work; there is no difficulty in the words I am holy,* for in Him, the Holy One of God, was no sin at all. But how can guilty man take these words upon his lips, and make such a plea to God? Because Christ, (A.) our Head, is not only Holy in Himself, but is the cause of holiness in others. He hath given us the grace of Baptism and remission of sins, so that, as the Apostle saith, when after speaking of many kinds of sinners, he adds, “Such were some of you, but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”* Each of the faithful may therefore say, I am holy. It is not the pride of conceit, but the confession of gratitude, (Z.) and the acknowledgment that we have been solemnly dedicated to God’s service, and are therefore holy in at least the same sense that the utensils of Divine worship are so. (Cd.) And then, so far from expressing self-confidence, it is an acknowledgment of the increased peril of the Saint, of his greater need of a Saviour, because his very holiness exposes him to more malignant attacks from his spiritual foes. “The enemy,”* observes one of the most eloquent of early preachers, “aims at the general rather than at the soldier; nor does he beset the dead, but the living; so too the devil seeks not to ensnare sinners, whom he holds already as his subjects, but toils to ensnare the righteous.”* Save Thy servant. He asks for salvation, as he had just before asked for preservation and safe-keeping, lest he should lose the gift when bestowed, and then he adds the reason, by saying, that putteth his trust in Thee, because when God saves His servant, He is saving His own property; and when He saves a servant that trusteth in Him,* He proves Himself faithful and just in that He fulfils His promises. And observe how precisely, in this sense, the words agree with Hezekiah’s prayer in his sickness: “Remember me, O Lord, I beseech Thee, how I have walked before Thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in Thy sight.”* And this reference further points the fitness of the Psalm for its use in the Visitation of the Sick,* as prescribed by the Latin Church.

3 Be merciful unto me, O Lord: for I will call daily upon thee.

It is one and the same God and Man Jesus Christ, (C.) Who asks mercy, and Who bestows it; teaching us that God’s loving-kindness must be earnestly intreated by perseverance in prayer; as He saith Himself in the Gospel, “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”* Daily, (Symmachus) or with LXX., Vulgate, and margin of A. V., All the day. That is, for each of us, prayer at all periods of our lives, in the dawn of youth, in the noon of maturity, in the evening of old age; (C.) and again, as all the day embraces darkness and light, so our prayer should ascend in adversity and prosperity alike. (Ay.) We may pray with the whole day in yet another sense, with clear and enlightened minds, which have cast away the works of darkness. (R.) And though each of us cries to God in his own time, and passes away to be succeeded by another, (A.) yet each of us, as a member of Christ, does but swell the petition that goes up unceasingly from Christ’s Body, which is, as it were, but one man on earth, crying through all the day of this world till the night of the doom cometh, while our Head is, yet more unceasingly, pleading for us in the eternal day of heaven to the Father.

4 Comfort the soul of thy servant: for unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

It is He Who was forced to say, (D. C.) “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death,”* that utters this petition, that His Father may rejoice (A. V., LXX., Vulg.) His soul by the deliverance of the Patriarchs from Hades, by His own Resurrection, and by the justification of His people through that means. For us, the first and last clause have a close, yet contrasted connection. (R.) Rejoice the soul which Thou didst first sadden, by leaving it to its own miserable liberty, free to descend into the depths of sin and sorrow, abandoning Thy glorious and happy service; (A.) rejoice it, because I have lifted it up from the earth, where is nought but grief and bitterness, to Thee, where there is pleasure for evermore. Lift up your heart, then, from the earth, as you would your wheat, storing it high up, lest it should rot on the ground. How can I? asks a sinner. What cords, what engines, what ladders do I need? The steps are thine affections, the path is thy will. Thou ascendest by loving, thou descendest by neglect. Standing on earth, thou art in heaven, if thou love God.* Note, too, the going-up in these verses, how the ascent is made by prayer. The petitioner is first described as poor, then holy, next trusting, after that calling, finally, lifted up to God.* And each epithet has its fitting verb; bow down to the poor, preserve the holy, save the trusting, be merciful to the caller, rejoice the lifted-up. It is the whole gamut of love from the Incarnation to the Ascension, it tells us that Christ’s humiliation will be our glory and joy.

5 For thou, Lord, art good and gracious: and of great mercy unto all them that call upon thee.

This is what gave him courage to lift up his soul to receive consolation, for as S. John saith, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all,”* so we may say, God is sweet, (Vulg.) and in Him is no bitterness at all; while on the other hand, there is little sweetness and much bitterness in fleshly consolations.* And God is not only sweet, but gentle (Vulg.) so that He does not repel those who approach Him, but endures their imperfection. (A.) For He listens to our prayers, however unskilfully worded, and broken by wandering thoughts; nay, receives them graciously, and hearkens to them; whereas a human friend, if he saw his acquaintance, after accosting him, turn away without awaiting reply to his questions, and address some one else; and still more a judge, who found the very man who had appealed to him, turning to gossip with others in court,* would never tolerate such discourtesy. Again, God is good, in that He deals lovingly with His servants, laying few and easy commands upon them, and helping them by His grace to obey these commands; while He is gracious, in that He does not exact the full rigour of just penalty from repentant sinners, but receives them readily back into grace and favour, which is the force of the A. V. ready to forgive. And these same attributes are those of which the Apostle makes mention, beseeching his Corinthian disciples “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.”* Of great mercy. His mercy is great and plenteous,* (A. V. Vulg.) because it is sufficient for all sin and all sinners. But copious though it be, He will not waste it, for He reserves it for all them that call upon Him. Hence we gather, first the advantage of perseverance in prayer, for we shall be continually heard, and receive mercy if we enrol ourselves in that number, (C.) as there is no respect of persons, nor any stinting, with God; and next, what it is we ought to call for. (A.) Upon Thee, the Psalmist says, and this shows us the meaning of that other saying, “Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer,”* that there may be a calling in prayer which is no true calling upon God. For you call on the thing you love, for which you are inwardly crying out, which you wish to come to you; it may be money, rank, the death of an enemy; but in that case you are calling on them, not on God, and are making of Him merely an instrument for your appetites, not a hearkener to your better longings. Call on God, then, as loving Him, and as desiring Himself, and He will be of great mercy unto you.

6 Give ear, Lord, unto my prayer: and ponder the voice of my humble desires.

7 In the time of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou hearest me.

The Psalmist asks that God may not only give ear, (R.) that is, mercifully permit the supplicant to approach Him in prayer, and listen to him, but that He will ponder or attend, that His wisdom may come into operation as well as His mercy,* and the two may jointly fulfil the petition to the uttermost. (D. C.) In the time of my trouble, as respects Christ, is spoken of His suffering life, (A.) and especially of His Passion; and as regards Christians it means the whole time of their sorrowful exile and pilgrimage here on earth, far from their Country, for the more they love and long for that country, the sorer is the daily trouble of the pilgrimage. It is also true of any special persecution,* distress, or even of inward temptation, according to that saying of a Saint, Prosperity closes the mouth, adversity opens it. For Thou hearest me. (Ay.) The Carmelite reminds us in this place of the prevenient grace of God, which hears our prayers before we utter them, nay, which has heard them from all eternity, foreseeing that they would be offered, and has inspired us with the will and desire of uttering them. Observe, finally, that all the Psalm, down to this point, (P.) may be taken as the prayer of Christ in His Passion on behalf of His whole Church, for He saith Himself, (L.) “I knew that Thou hearest Me always;”* but especially “when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save him from death, and was heard for His piety.”*

8 Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord: there is not one that can do as thou doest.

If we take this Psalm as the utterance of Hezekiah,* these words will form the fitting reply to the insulting message of Rab-shakeh: “Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria. Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, by destroying them utterly, and shalt thou be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered them which my fathers have destroyed?”* The verse, if applied to the Father, refutes the Semi-Arians,* who asserted that the Son was not Consubstantial with Him, but only a Being of similar substance and nature to God, that is, like Him;* whereas confession of the co-equality of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the Undivided Trinity removes this difficulty at once. We have here, moreover, the reason for taking refuge with God,* and for calling upon Him only, because there is none like unto Him, in essence, in power, in wisdom, in goodness;* whether amongst men of exalted rank and power, as kings or judges, or amongst the purest saints and loftiest angels. Yet, we are told, “Ye are Gods;”* and again, that “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” There is no contradiction, for though we shall reflect His glory, (Ay.) as a pool reflects the sun, we shall not be like Him in essence,* for He is eternally and self-existently Almighty, all-wise, all-good, whereas we are but His creatures, deriving our faculties and graces from Him as their source. Even the Son, as speaker in this Psalm, fitly addresses these words to the Everlasting Father, because He utters them in the nature of His Manhood, whereby He is inferior to the Father, albeit co-equal with Him in Godhead.

There is not one that can do as Thou doest. (Z.) It is the voice of the Church concerning Christ. For His created works are not intended only, nor His providence over all His creatures, visible and invisible, but His restoration of His creation, His destruction of the tyrant, His slaying of death, which He effected by His own death, and that successful fishing of the whole world which He wrought by a few mean fishers, not to cite His deeds of miraculous power. (L.) Not one. And yet He promised His disciples, “He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do.”* But He clears up the difficulty later, saying, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” He wrought miracles of His own inherent power, they by derived and commissioned authority. Accordingly, the Prince of the Apostles saith, “Why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk? The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified His Son Jesus; and His Name, through faith in His Name, hath made this man strong.”*

9 All nations whom thou hast made, shall come and worship thee, O Lord: and shall glorify thy Name.

This, in its literal sense,* seems to be looking forward to the effect on the nations around of Sennacherib’s overthrow, fulfilled when “many brought gifts unto the Lord to Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah, king of Judah: so that he was magnified in the sight of all nations from thenceforth.”* But it has a deeper significance in foretelling the ingathering of the Gentiles, whence it is used as the Epiphany antiphon to the whole Psalm.* The words were uttered, remarks S. Augustine, (A.) when but a few, in the one Hebrew nation, worshipped God, and were believed in defiance of sight, and yet now that they are in process of fulfilment, men doubt them. He applies the verse himself to refutation of the Donatists, who held that the true faith of the Catholic Church was limited to one corner of Africa. (L.) All nations, not only as typified by the Wise Men from the East, but further, by the converts of many peoples and languages, made on the Day of Pentecost;* the first fruits of the commission, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.” Whom Thou hast made. That is, not merely some out of every nation under heaven, but men once more appearing as God made them, in His own image and likeness,* now restored and renewed by Christ’s redeeming grace, (L.) not as defaced by the devil and by their own free-will abused to sin. So it is written in another Psalm, “The people which shall be created, shall praise the Lord,”* created, that is, anew by the supernatural and regenerating grace of Christ, for “of His own will begat He us with the word of truth.”* Shall come and worship Thee.* Not necessarily by bodily motion from one place to another, but by believing, in whatsoever places they are, as is spoken by the Prophet: “Men shall worship Him, every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen.”* And glorify Thy Name. It is true of the Saints now, who obey the Apostle’s precept, “Glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”* It will be true of all nations at the last day,* when,* willing or unwilling, they must adore Christ sitting on His throne, worshipping Him, some in love and some in fear, but all glorifying His Name, according to the prophecy in the Song of Moses and of the Lamb chanted by the Saints on the sea of glass, saying, “Great and marvellous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of Saints. Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy Name? for Thou only art holy; for all nations shall come and worship before Thee, for Thy judgments are made manifest.”*

10 For thou art great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone.

This is the reason why the worship of false gods must cease,* and why all nations shall come and glorify the Lord, especially in the Day of Judgment, when His marvellous power shall be fully displayed, so that the Apostle dwells particularly on the word great, as betokening His manifestation then, saying,* “Looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” There is, (L.) besides, a confession of the Trinity in Unity in the verse. Thou art great, applies peculiarly to the Everlasting Father, the Lord and Source of all; and doest wondrous things, tells us of the Son, by Whom the worlds were created, the mystery of redemption effected, the miracles of the Gospel wrought; Thou art God, teaches us that the Holy Ghost is a Divine Person, not a mere influence or manifestation, (C.) while alone joins the Three together in One indivisible Godhead.

11 Teach me thy way, O Lord, and I will walk in thy truth: O knit my heart unto thee, that I may fear thy Name.

The LXX. and Vulgate translate, (L.) Lead me in Thy way, but as Lorinus truly observes, with no variation of meaning from the original, which does not signify the communication of a bare speculative knowledge, but practical instruction, and actual guidance in the paths of God’s commandments. (A.) Thy way, Thy truth, is Christ. Therefore the Body goes to Him, and comes from Him. He saith, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.”* It is one thing for God to lead us to the way, and another to lead us in the way. They who are out of the way are not Christians, or at any rate not Catholics, but are being led towards the way. But when that is done, and they have become Catholics in Christ, they are led by Himself in the way itself, that they fall not. And I will walk in Thy truth. Some,* especially of the Greek Fathers, take these words as contrasted to some extent with the preceding ones, and interpret the way as denoting action, and truth as signifying contemplation. (Z.) But it is better to take it as denoting progress in holiness, or as covering the entire ground of a devout life. The prayer is like that of the penitent sinner,* asking God to put out His hand to guide him, as a blind and sickly child asks for the help of a wayfarer to put him in the straight road. It is asked, How can words such as these be put into the mouth of Christ? They answer, (L.) for the most part, that the Head is speaking here for His members, not for Himself, just as He spoke to Saul in the vision near Damascus. (D. C.) But the Carthusian will have it that this is the prayer of the Saviour that His human soul might be led in that way of God which brought it down to the Patriarchs in Hades, thence into Paradise, next to be reunited with His Body in the Resurrection, and finally to be exalted together with it to heaven at the Ascension. O knit my heart unto Thee. This version, albeit giving a very deep and beautiful meaning, does not exactly express the original, in which the words unto Thee are not found. It is true that the heart may be so knit to God as to be interpenetrated with His fear, as an old poet tells us:

No,* self-deceiving heart, lest thou shouldst cast
Thy cords away, and burst the bands at last
Of Thy Redeemer’s tender love, I’ll try
What further fastness in His fear doth lie.
The cords of love soakéd in lust may rot,
And bands of bounty are too oft forgot:
But holy filial fear, like to a nail
Fastened in a sure place, will never fail.
This, driven home, will take
Fast hold, and make
Thee that thou darest not thy God forsake.

But the A. V., with S. Jerome and Symmachus, gives the correct rendering: Unite my heart, make it so whole and undivided that it may entirely love and fear Thee,* not partly fear Thee and partly fear the world; nor divide its worship between Thee and other gods;* and further, that whereas it is now disturbed and broken up with the waves and storms of passion, trouble, and sin, God may still it, (L.) and bring it to a perfect quiet, presenting an unruffled and tranquil surface, like the Sea in a great calm. He unites the heart of the whole Church too,* by granting it unity of faith towards God and of love towards brethren. But the LXX. and Vulgate read, Let my heart rejoice, that it may fear Thy Name. It is lest we should be ensnared by over-confidence, the Doctor of Grace warns us, (A.) that this is written, lest the excitement of unrestrained joy, even in spiritual things, should cause us to stray from the road.* Or, as another great Western Doctor comments, although the Saints are certain, even here, of their hope, yet they have reason to dread temptation, so that joy and fear are mingled in their spiritual experience. (L.) So we are to take heed that we do not find written in this place, Let my heart rejoice that it may feel secure, but that it may fear, in order that between the rejoicing of hope, and the fear of temptation we may be tried and chastened, and feel gladness in God’s pardon, yet so as never to forget that we may fall again. We need,* as has been well said, to be glad in our victory, but to fear because of the conflict.* Yet the Greek Fathers take it in a deeper and more spiritual sense, alleging that the fear of God is itself a source of true and pure delight to His Saints. (Z.) And thus one of themselves has truly said,* “The fear of the Lord is a paradise of delights, but where the fear of the Lord is not, there will the foxes dwell.” Only it must not be a servile fear lest God should punish us, which is an impure feeling;* but a loving fear, lest He should leave us, which is pure. And with this latter fear even the Lord Jesus, in His Manhood, was filled, so that we may take the words of Him, (D. C.) and explain them in the light of His bitterest cry upon the Cross.

12 I will thank thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and will praise thy Name for evermore.

The Vulgate word here for give thanks is, as usual, confess, that is, make grateful acknowledgment of bounties. But the Latin commentators constantly take it of confession of sin, and therefore one of them,* dwelling here upon that duty, tells us to lay particular stress on the words with my whole heart. (Ay.) For the heart, that is, the intellectual part of man’s being, is made up of four things, thought or imagination, memory, understanding, and will. Each of these should play its part in a good confession. There ought to be thought, in careful preparation for the Sacrament of penance; memory, in duly recalling former offences; understanding, in a full recognition of the enormity of sin, and the grievousness of one’s own faults; will, in the firm resolution to amend. But, taking the words in their more literal signification, we may note that the whole heart here is the result of the prayer in the verse before, that God may unite the heart. Henceforth it gives thanks to Him under all circumstances, in adversity as well as in prosperity, and puts its entire trust in Him, not confiding partly in temporal successes, and yielding Him but a divided confidence. And as Christ, in His human nature, gave us the most perfect example of entire devotion to God the Father; (D. C.) these words apply to Him as well as to His Saints, who plead for blessings to come in the best of all ways,* by showing themselves mindful and grateful in respect of past favours. And will praise Thy Name for evermore. This evermore is threefold. It is the whole life of the pardoned sinner,* thenceforth devoted to God’s glory and service; it is the continuous life of the Church Militant on earth, wherein, throughout succeeding ages, the praise of God never ceases, so that our Head can speak of this act of His Body as His own; it is, finally, the everlasting Alleluia of heaven, which awaits the Saints who have conquered.

13 For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the nethermost hell.

Here is the special cause for gratitude. And taking it of the Head, (A.) as so many do, we see in it a prophetic thanksgiving for the Resurrection. S. Augustine, dwelling on the word nethermost, and arguing fairly that the word implies the existence of at least two hells, urges, that when we take the whole verse of Christ, we must interpret the first hell to be this earth, so called from lying so far beneath heaven, and from being so defiled with sin, and harassed with trouble. Into this first hell the Lord came by His Nativity; into the second or nethermost, the grave and place of departed spirits, He came by His death, and was delivered thence by the Resurrection. But if the words are to be put in the mouth of one of His members, then it is a thanksgiving for being rescued from that part of Hades where the rich man lay in torments, parted by a great gulf from that happier place where Abraham carried Lazarus in his bosom.* In that nethermost hell no one gives thanks to God, nor can any come forth thence, wherefore deliverance from it is truly great mercy, seeing that it confers everlasting blessings. (Z.) And Euthymius, who ascribes the Psalm to David, in taking the nethermost hell to mean the double guilt of adultery and murder into which the king fell, so that deliverance from it means pardon of mortal sin, and may be thus applied to every penitent similarly rescued,* has warrant from the Proverbs on his side, wherein the sin of lust is more than once so described. For the Wise Man saith of a strange woman that “her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death; and again, “her guests are in the depths of hell.”*

14 O God, (C.) the proud are risen against me: and the congregations of naughty men have sought after my soul, and have not set thee before their eyes.

Here is the anticipation of the Passion, of the secret council of the Chief Priests and Pharisees, followed by the cries of the multitude for the Crucifixion of the Lord. And then, spoken of His Body the Church, it is a cry for protection against heathen persecutors, seeking the lives of Christians, and still more against heretics and false brethren,* plotting against that faith which is the very soul of the Church’s being. (A.) And the individual believer prays in these words to be delivered from the principalities and powers of evil,* those ghostly enemies which wage unceasing war against the soul.

15 But thou, O Lord God, art full of compassion and mercy: long-suffering, plenteous in goodness and truth.

Here he showeth the cause of this suffering, (Ay.) why God permitted them so to rise against Christ, and to deliver Him over to death. And he saith that this was of God’s great mercy, Who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, so that the Passion of Christ was a work of great compassion and mercy. And the Son also is here referred to, as voluntarily giving Himself as a sacrifice for us, according to His most true promise; He Who was longsuffering, in that He bore so much for ourselves, plenteous in goodness, because He came to save, plenteous in truth, because He ever taught the truth, (A.) as even His enemies acknowledged, saying, “Master, we know that Thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth.”* And therefore He is styled in the Apocalypse, “Faithful and True.”*

Note, further, that there are seven names of God set down here,* answering to seven of His energies, and as many classes of men with whom He is in certain relations. He is Lord to them who serve Him, and He demands service from all; as it is written, “The nation and kingdom that will not serve Thee shall perish.”* He is God, to them that worship Him, for “the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation.”* He is full of compassion, for “His mercies are over all His works;”* He is full of mercy, in that He helpeth the unhappy. He is longsuffering with sinners: “Therefore will the Lord wait, that He may be gracious unto you.”* Plenteous in goodness, in bestowing His eternal rewards, for “eye hath not seen, O God, what He hath prepared for him that waiteth for Him.”* And truth, in punishing the guilty, for “let God be true, but every man a liar.”*

16 O turn thee then unto me, and have mercy upon me: give thy strength unto thy servant, and help the son of thine handmaid.

Because of all the attributes of God enumerated in the previous verse, He is now called on to show His saving power. And the commentators, with almost one voice, agree in explaining this passage of the prayer of Christ for His Resurrection. In saying, Turn Thee unto Me, or as LXX.* and Vulgate have it, Look again upon Me, He asks for His Father’s protection, for “the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers.” In saying, Have mercy upon Me, He asks for deliverance from misery; in adding, Give Thy strength (or with Vulg. empire) unto Thy servant, He asks for judicial power over the world, and that because of His perfect obedience. This He foretold, earlier than His Passion, saying, “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son;”* and He confirmed it after His rising again,* when He said to His disciples, “All power is given unto Me in heaven and earth.”* In saying, Help the Son of Thine handmaid, He asks for the Resurrection, and that in His character as the offspring of that pure Virgin who answered the Angel’s message with the words, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word.”* Several of the Latins dwell on the ambiguous word puero, meaning child as well as servant, here found in the Vulgate, (C.) and remind us that it is spoken of Him touching Whom, by reason of His innocence, the Prophet saith: “Unto us a child is born,”* Who was like a child in His poverty, His holiness, His placability, and His obedience.

Each of His members,* too, can utter this prayer, who is God’s servant and child because of adoption and obedience, who is the son of His handmaid, the Church, who may look for a share in that empire of which the Lord said to His Apostles, (R.) “In the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”* For the promise is not limited to them, inasmuch as He saith in another place, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne.”* And although all Christian men are proud to bear the title of servant of God, (L.) as all Christian women, like S. Agatha before the prefect, rejoice to call themselves by the name of handmaid,* yet none is so exactly the son of a handmaid as a convert from the bondage of Paganism, who has entered into the glorious liberty of the children of God, and acquired in Baptism the strength of the Holy Ghost, (A.) strength sufficient to overcome all the spiritual enemies of the soul.* Note, moreover, the deep humility of the double expression, servant, and son of Thine handmaid. They are no mere repetition,* for a man may be reduced into a state of servitude from one of freedom, as a captive in war, albeit sprung of noble ancestry; but if he be the son of a handmaid, he is born a slave, and has had no time of liberty to look back upon. And in this sense the children born of the Church, God’s faithful handmaid, are His from the first moment of their spiritual creation.

17 Show some token upon me for good: that they who hate me may see it, and be ashamed: because thou, Lord, hast holpen me, and comforted me.

Hitherto he has asked for internal consolation,* for secret bestowal of help; but now he asks for an external sign of favour, to the dismay of his enemies. And, still applying the Psalm literally to Hezekiah, we may bear in mind two such proofs of Divine favour towards him; the destruction of Sennacherib’s army, and the going back of the shadow on the sun-dial of Ahaz. The Chaldee,* ascribing the Psalm to David, represents this as a prayer for a miracle, that of the spontaneous opening of the gates of Solomon’s temple, to be vouchsafed him for David’s sake, when bringing up the ark into its new sanctuary. Applied to Christ,* the Greek Fathers prefer to take the sign here of the Virgin-birth of the Lord, according to that saying in Isaiah, “The Lord Himself shall give you a sign. Behold, a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His Name Immanuel;”* a sign which was truly for good, (A.) and made the spiritual foes of man ashamed. But the Latins take it of the Resurrection, looking to that other saying, “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall be no sign given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas; for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”* That they who hate Me may see it, and be ashamed,* with that wholesome confusion which leadeth to repentance, (D. C.) that they may be converted and live; or, if they resist obstinately, with the final shame which awaits them at the doom, when the sign of the Son of Man shall appear in heaven, for the good of His servants, (A.) and the destruction of His foes. Applying the verse to the Christian soul,* they remind us,* on the one hand,* of that sign of the Cross which fortifies us against evil,* and affrays our enemies; and on the other, yet more deeply, that we have been “sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise.”* And both these meanings appear in that victory of the Church through the sign which Constantine is said to have beheld in heaven, on the eve of his decisive triumph over his Pagan opponent. (C.) Thou, Lord, hast holpen Me, and comforted Me. Thou hast holpen Me in the battle, comforted Me amidst the sorrows of the Passion; (R.) holpen Me when I was in the grave, comforted Me in the joy of the Resurrection. And in like manner,* the Lord shows a sign upon us for good, whenever He converts sinners by the example of Saints, or works any great deliverance for His people,* whom He helps in their life-long struggle here, and comforts with the everlasting blessedness of heaven.

Wherefore:

Glory be to the Father, Who is great, and God alone; glory be to the Son, Who is full of compassion and mercy; glory be to the Holy Ghost, Who giveth His strength unto His servants.

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

Various Uses

Gregorian. Friday: Matins. [Epiphany: II. Nocturn. Sacred Heart: III. Nocturn.]

Monastic. Friday: I. Nocturn. [Epiphany: II. Nocturn.]

Parisian. Saturday: Compline. [Epiphany: II. Nocturn.]

Lyons. Thursday: Sext. [Epiphany: II. Nocturn.]

Ambrosian. Wednesday of Second Week: II. Nocturn.

Quignon. Friday: Compline.

Eastern Church. Third Psalm at Nones.

Antiphons

Gregorian. As preceding Psalm. [Epiphany: All nations whom Thou hast made shall come and worship Thee, O Lord. So in all the other uses. Sacred Heart: Thou art good and gracious. O Lord* and of great mercy unto all them that call upon Thee.]

Monastic. Bow down * Thine ear, O Lord, and hear me.

Parisian. Be merciful unto me * O Lord, for I have called to Thee all the day long.

Ambrosian. Preserve Thou my soul, O Lord* for I am holy.

Mozarabic. For Thou, Lord, art good and gracious * and of great mercy unto all them that call upon Thee.

Collects

Make glad,* O Lord, the countenance of Thine household; and deliver our souls from the nethermost hell, that protected by looking upon Thy countenance, we may with spiritual power tread fleshly desires under foot. Through. (1.)

Lead us,* O Lord, in the way of Thy truth: that we may rejoice in fearing Thee, and give thanks to Thy holy Name, that we may be sealed with good works, and our enemies may be ashamed. Through. (1.)

O good and gracious God,* of great mercy to them that call upon Thee, bow down Thine ears to our prayer, and of the abundance of Thy mercy do away our transgressions, and that we creep not prostrate on the ground, set us upright to look on Thee. (11.)

Have mercy on us,* O Lord, who cry to Thee all the day long; and be gracious to them that call on Thee in trouble, that when we praise and worship Thy majesty, Thou mayest favourably accept us, and when we fear Thee because of our doings, Thou mayest graciously pardon. Make glad, then, our hearts with obedient fear of Thee, and comfort our doubting minds with the sweetness of Thy consolation. But as Thou art sweet and gracious, let us drink in sweetness from Thine indulgence; and find Thee loving and gracious in bestowing reward. (11.)

O Saviour and Lord,* Whom the unrighteous wickedness of them that rose against Thee smote; Whom the congregation of the ungodly, raging with its tongues, crucified; Grant that we may ever follow Thee in the deep mystery of Thy loving-kindness, that, as Thou didst for us bear the Cross and grave, we triumphing therein over a conquered world, may go our way into heaven. (11.)

O Lord our God,* save Thy servants, who put their trust in Thee, for Thou art good and gracious, and of great mercy; look upon us, and have mercy on us, that our heart may rejoice in the greatness of Thy Name, may fear Thee so as to be glad; lead us in Thy way, and as we walk in Thy truth, comfort us with Thy help, and help us with Thy consolation. (11.)

We pray Thee, O Lord,* that guarded by the sign of Thy Cross, and kept safe under its guard, we may be delivered from all the snares of the devil. For Thine.

O Lord, (D. C.) lead us Thy servants in Thy way, that we may walk in Thy truth, so that Thy great mercy may bedew us, and Thou mayest deliver our soul from the nethermost hell, and make us to share in everlasting glory. (1.)

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 20

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 9, 2018

PSALM 20
A PRAYER FOR THE KING

1 Unto the end. A psalm for David.

2 MAY the Lord hear thee in the day of tribulation: may the name of the God of Jacob protect thee.

Whereas David does not mention any one’s name, there is no doubt, but he addresses himself to him on whom all the longings of the just and the predictions of the prophets were centered. And, as if he were beholding Christ on the approach of his passion, arming himself with prayer, on coming forward to fight with the devil, he exclaims, “May the Lord hear thee in the day of tribulation:” that is, in your passion, when, as the apostle has it, Heb. 5, “Who offering up prayers and supplications, with a strong cry and tears, to him that was able to save him from death, was heard for his reverence.” He was heard, however, not by escaping death, but by dying that he may destroy death; and by rising, restore life; and so that shame may be turned into glory, and mortality into immortality, as he says himself, Jn. 17, “Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son;” and this is the hearing of which the prophet speaks, on which the following bears, “May the name of the God of Jacob protect thee.” By the word “name,” we are to understand the invocation, as we have in the last chapter of Mk. “In my name they will cast out devils.” It may also signify power or authority, as Jn. 5, “I have come in the name of my Father.” Or it may simply mean, God himself; for in the Scriptures the word “name” is used for the person to whom it belongs, as when St. Peter, Acts 4, says, “For there is no other name under heaven, given to men, whereby we must be saved.” He adds, “the name of the God of Jacob,” to signify the people of God, of whom Christ is the head; as if he said, May the God of his people protect thee; for if the head be protected, the whole body of the people will be consequently saved. We seek protection from the enemies’ weapons, for fear we may be hurt by them; and then, indeed, they would have been truly hurtful, could they have obstructed Christ’s resurrection, his name, or his religion, or the extension or propagation of his Church.

3 May he send thee help from the sanctuary: and defend thee out of Sion.

The sanctuary means Sion, as will presently appear, and was called holy by reason of the Ark of the Testament being placed on it. But another Sion, the heavenly one, would seem to be intended here, that of which the apostle speaks, Heb. 12, “But you are come to mount Sion, and to the city of the living God, that heavenly Jerusalem.” Sion is introduced here to show that God beholds everything, as if from some elevated look out, (for such is the meaning of the word Sion,) whence he can easily behold Christ in his struggles, and supply him with reinforcements; and a place so high, from whence everything can be so easily seen, is not the mountain bearing that name, but the celestial Sion and thus, “May he send thee help from the sanctuary,” means from the highest heavens whence he beholds all things; “And defend thee out of Sion,” that is, from his lofty watch tower, from which he observes you.

4 May he be mindful of all thy sacrifices: and may thy whole burnt offering be made fat.

Since our Lord, when about to combat the enemy of the human race, had recourse not only to prayer, but also to sacrifice; that is, not only prayed in words, but sacrificed in reality, and, as he had alluded to his prayer by the expression, “May the Lord hear thee;” he now touches on the sacrifice by saying, “May he be mindful of all thy sacrifices.” May he not despise them, but may he remember and regard them; “and may thy whole burnt offering be made fat.” May it be acceptable, as acceptable as the holocaust of fatted animals, for the fatter the better; and the more perfect an animal is, the more valuable is the holocaust. Hence, Daniel, chap. 3, “And as in thousands of fat lambs, so let our sacrifice be made in thy sight this day that it may please thee.” Now, Christ offered many sacrifices, and at last a holocaust, and therefore the prophet says, “May he be mindful of all thy sacrifices.” The many sacrifices are his numerous sufferings for the glory of God, whilst among us; the holocaust is that in which he ultimately offered himself up entirely, by dying on the cross; and thus, the meaning is, may the Lord always remember the passion and death of Christ. This would appear to be rather a prophecy than a prayer; in God’s sight, the passion of Christ, even from the beginning of the world, was always before him; is now, and ever will be before him; and is the source of infinite blessings to us.

5 May he give thee according to thy own heart; and confirm all thy counsels.

The object of both prayer and sacrifice declared, that is, may God hear thee, and accept of thy sacrifice; that you may come at the end you seek, and accomplish what you desire, and that there may be no one to mar you therein. “May he give thee according to thy own heart.” Give you your wish, your heart’s desire, “And confirm all thy counsels:” carry out all your plans, further all your wishes, confirm all your desires; thus the meaning will be, may God hear thee, and receive thy sacrifice; that you may upset the machinations of the devil, redeem man from bondage, and give eternal life to those that believe in thee; for that such was the desire of Christ’s heart, on such did his whole wisdom and deliberations turn, is evident from the gospel, Jn. 1:3, “For this purpose the Son of God appeared, that he might destroy the works of the devil:” and St. Paul, 1 Tim. 1, “Christ came into this world to save sinners:” and the Lord himself says, Lk. 12, “The Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.”

6 We will rejoice in thy salvation; and in the name of our God we shall be exalted.

When our prayer shall have been granted, when you shall have conquered the enemy, “We will rejoice” interiorly as well as exteriorly, “In thy salvation;” that is, for your safe return from the war, in which safety we also share. “And in the name of our Lord,” who granted such a victory, “We shall be exalted,” we shall consider and look upon ourselves as great and wonderful, not by reason of our own merit, but by reason of the great God to whom we belong.

7 The Lord fulfil all thy petitions: now have I known that the Lord hath saved his anointed. He will hear him from his holy heaven: the salvation of his right hand is in powers.

Another repetition of his good wishes. “May the Lord,” therefore, “fulfill all thy petitions,” from which so many blessings are to follow. “Now have I known that the Lord hath saved his anointed. He will hear him from his holy heaven; the salvation of his right hand is in powers.” I am, therefore, emboldened in asking again, that the Lord may hear thee, may grant all your petitions; because, by a divine revelation, I now know that they will all be granted. “For I have known that the Lord hath saved,” that he certainly will save his Christ, and by predestination has already saved him, raised him from the dead, placed him in heaven, and stretched his enemies under his feet “He will hear him from his holy heaven.” Having stated that he saved him, he now explains, that he meant by salvation, a previous degree, not yet put into execution, but one that will certainly be carried out; “for he will hear him from his holy heaven,” and thus “The Lord will save his Christ.” “The salvation of his right hand is in powers.” This may be explained in two senses. The word “powers” may mean power and strength, (and the Hebrew favors such meaning,) and then it will read, Christ, “The salvation of his right hand,” will appear in great power; or the word powers may mean, princes and kings (and the Greek and Latin favor such meaning,) and then the meaning would be, “He will hear him from his holy heaven, and in his powers;” because, in appointing princes and rulers, or protecting them afterwards, “The salvation of his right hand” is peculiarly necessary. For though princes may seem to have many safeguards, such as horses, chariots, arms and soldiers, fortresses and munitions, all these are nothing, if “The salvation of the right hand” of God be not there too with them: and he, therefore, with great propriety, adds in the next verse,

8 Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will call upon the name of the Lord, our God.

He goes on with the account of Christ’s victory, as he had foreseen, saying: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses.” Some of the enemy trusted in armed chariots, some in ferocious horses, by which he comprehends all the instruments or weapons that were formerly used in war or for fight. “But we,” with Christ for our head and king, do not confide so much in horses or in chariots, as we do “In the name of the Lord our God.”

9 They are bound, and have fallen: but we are risen, and are set upright. O Lord, save the king: and hear us in the day that we shall call upon thee.

He shows how much more profitable it is to put one’s trust in God, than in horses and chariots. They who did, “Are bound, and have fallen; we who trusted in God are risen, and set upright.” See the wonderful change! Before the victory of Christ, the enemy of the human race bore himself aloft, as if in chariots and horses, and trampled on man, prostrate through original sin; in like manner, the princes of the Jews, Herod and Pilate, and other visible enemies of Christ, in their insolence, insulted the suffering Christ and his humble disciples, but soon after, “The former were bound, and have fallen;” while the latter “have risen, and set upright,” and will remain forever.

“O Lord, save the king, and hear us in the day, that we shall call upon thee.” He concludes, by uniting the first and last verses. Having commenced with “May the Lord hear thee in the day of tribulation,” he confirms it, by directing his prayer to God. “O Lord, save the king” from his tribulation; and us too, “In the day we shall call upon thee;” that is, in our tribulation, when we shall invoke none but thee.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 18

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 9, 2018

PSALM 18
DAVID’S THANKS TO GOD FOR HIS DELIVERY FROM ALL HIS ENEMIES

1 Unto the end, for David, the servant of the Lord, who spoke to the Lord the words of this canticle, in the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul: and he said:

2 I will love thee, O Lord, my strength:
3 The Lord is my firmament, my refuge, and my deliverer. My God is my helper, and in him will I put my trust. My protector, and the horn of my salvation, and my support.

What he expressed in one word, “my strength,” he now explains by several words, “my firmament, my refuge, my deliverer:” as if he said, I may justly call him my strength, when he is all the above names to me. When I lie down, he is my firmament; when I am in danger, he is my refuge; should I fall into the hands of the enemy, he will deliver me; and thus, in every respect, he is my strength and my courage. “My God is my helper, and in him will I put my trust: my protector and the horn of my salvation;” In the height of his affection to God, he repeats the epithets he used in the preceding verse, “my helper, my protector, and the horn of my salvation;” which correspond to “my firmament, my refuge, and my deliverer.” His “helper,” because he keeps him upright, prevents him from falling, (rock being the derivation of the word in Hebrew,) according to Psalm 40, “He has put my feet on a rock;” and he therefore most properly adds, “in him will I put my trust” as being the surest of all foundations. “My protector,” in the Hebrew, “my shield,” to protect him from his enemies: “the horn of my salvation:” a most familiar expression in the Scriptures, to signify the power or means of salvation; being a metaphor, taken from horned animals, who use their horns for protection; thus, in Psalm 132, “I will bring forth a horn to David.” I will make David all powerful to conquer his enemies; like a rampant bull, with his horns full grown, and not like a sluggish calf, that has not yet got them. Ezech. 39. “In that day a horn shall bud forth to the house of Israel.” Micheas 1:4, “I will make thy horn iron.” Lk. 1, “He hath raised up a horn of salvation to us.” God, then, is called a “horn of safety” to David, and to all the just, because through him they are powerfully armed against their enemies, by putting their strength not in themselves, but in the Divine help and assistance; in the spirit of the apostle, “I can do all things in him who strengtheneth me.” The expression, “horn of safety,” corresponds with, “and any deliverer,” for God delivers us through the “horn of safety:” that is, through his own saving power. Finally, the word, “my support,” comprises all the rest, and corresponds to “my strength:” for whosoever God supports, he frees, protects, and confirms.

4 Praising, I will call upon the Lord: and I shall be saved from my enemies.

A conclusion from the preceding. I will, therefore, constantly praise God for so many benefits received; and in my difficulties, with unbounded confidence, will I apply to him, certain of being delivered from all manner of enemies.

5 The sorrows of death surrounded me: and the torrents of iniquity troubled me.
6 The sorrows of hell encompassed me: and the snares of death prevented me.

He now enters, in detail, on God’s favors to him. He was in manifest danger of death, when Saul was lying in wait for him, to kill him, which danger he describes in various metaphors. “The sorrows of death surrounded me.” I was surrounded by so many dangers, that I despaired of my corporal safety; and, therefore, depressed with the grief and trouble of mind, incident to those whose death is at hand; “and the torrents of iniquity troubled me:” The grief and trouble above named, from the number, that like a torrent invaded and “troubled me,” after the manner of those who are hurried down, and whirled about by a roaring torrent. “The sorrows of hell encompassed me,” a repetition of the first part of the preceding verse, with the substitution of “hell” for “death.” They are, however, synonymous, for before the death of Christ, all went to hell, though not the same part of it; and, therefore, death and hell meant the same; the sorrows of hell, then, mean such sorrow as those usually suffer who are about to depart from this world to the next; “and the snares of death prevented me:” a repetition of “the torrents of iniquity troubled me.” For, as David was troubled with the “sorrows of death,” by reason of the multitude of wicked ones rising up against him, so “the snares of death” that “prevented” [encompassed] him, was the cause of the pains of hell to him. By the “snares of death,” he means the conspiracies of the wicked against him; and thus the meaning of the two verses is, that David, reflecting on his imminent danger of death, from the open invasion of his enemies rushing on him, like a roaring torrent, carrying everything before it—as well as from the conspiracies of the same enemies, in lurk for him, with snares, as for the unwary—was in great trouble.

7 In my affliction I called upon the Lord, and I cried to my God: And he heard my voice from his holy temple: and my cry before him came into his ears.

Having told the extent of his danger, he now says that he had recourse to God through prayer, and that he was heard. “In my affliction.” In the height of my troubles from Saul’s persecution, and in many similar troubles, “I called upon the Lord,” in whom I am wont to put my entire confidence; “and I cried to my God.” A repetition in much use with David. “And he heard my voice from his holy temple.” My prayer reached the very summit of heaven, which is the temple of God; not made by human hands; truly holy, and can neither be violated nor polluted; “and my cry before him came into his ears.” A repetition, and to some extent an explanation, of the preceding verse; as much as to say, my importunity bursting forth with great affection, poured forth in his sight; that is, poured forth by me, with God before my eyes, has been heard.

8 The earth shook and trembled: the foundations of the mountains were troubled and were moved, because he was angry with them.

The effect of having been heard by God, for he received such help from him against his enemies as enabled him to master and destroy them, and get possession again of his kingdom. The anger of God towards his enemies is most poetically described, for as the entire kingdom is in confusion when the king is angry, and makes preparation for war; so, when the King of the whole world is angry, the whole world is confused; and especially the three visible elements, earth, air, and water. He does not mean to imply that these three elements were actually confused, though the words seem to mean so much; but he means to tell us that such is God’s anger, that it can rock the earth to its very foundations; that it can cause in the air constant storms, dark clouds, thunder and lightning; and lastly, that it can so dry up the fountains, and the rivers, and the sea itself, so as to expose the caverns and the sources of the fountains. Beginning with the earth. “The earth shook and trembled; the foundations were troubled, and were moved, because he was angry with them.” When God is angry with the earth, every bit of it shakes and trembles, not only on its surface, but to its very center. And such concussion ensues not only when God is angry, but also when he makes known his presence on earth, for the earth is then in fearful reverence, acknowledging the majesty of the Creator. Thus, on the resurrection of Christ, there was a great motion of the earth; the same happened at his death; and in another Psalm we read, “At the presence of the Lord the earth was moved.” “Because he was angry with them;” not with the earth and the mountains, but with the people living thereon, and that by reason of their sins.

9 There went up a smoke in his wrath: and a fire flamed from his face: coals were kindled by it.

A further explanation of God’s action on the earth, when he chooses to show his presence thereon, making the earth not only to tremble, but even to smoke and to burn, which, Exod. 20 and Hebrews 12, tell us happened when he gave the law on Mount Sinai, “There went up a smoke in his wrath;” that is, in his anger he kindled such a fire on earth that created an immense smoke, “and a fire flamed from his face;” heat and smoke were accompanied by a destructive fire; “coals were kindled by it;” the anger of God made it burn so as to turn the whole earth into live coals, as he says in another place, Psalm 104, “Who looketh on the earth, and makes it tremble: who touches the mountains, and they smoke.”

10 He bowed the heavens, and came down, and darkness was under his feet.

Passing from the earth to the air, he shows what happens there when God wishes to manifest his presence or his anger. God is said to bow the heavens when he lets down a cloud in which he appears. The clouds ordinarily appear as a part of the heavens, and it is in a cloud God was wont to show himself, as appears from Num. 9, 1 Sam 3:8, Mt. 17, and in other places. “He bowed the heavens, and came down;” this means he let down a cloud, and showed himself in or through it; “And darkness was under his feet.” God dwelt in the cloud, as if he had darkness under his feet; all metaphorical expressions, to give us to understand that God may be present without one seeing him.

11 And he ascended upon the cherubim, and he flew; he flew upon the wings of the winds.

He goes on describing God’s action on the air, when he means to display his anger to man. He brings before us God in the shape of a man in arms, on a chariot, moving with the greatest velocity, and discharging his weapons against his enemies. The clouds are his chariot, according to Psalm 104: “Thou makest the clouds thy chariot, who walkest upon the wings of the winds.” The swiftest winds are his horses, who carry the clouds hither and thither. His weapons are the lightning that he shoots from the clouds. A truly wonderful description! No chariot lighter than the clouds, no horse fleeter than the wind, no weapons compared to the thunder of heaven. The chariots, too, fight from a vantage ground, whence they can harm without being harmed. “He ascended upon the Cherubim;” that is, God uses not only the clouds as a house or tent, but he uses them as a chariot, with the Cherubim as charioteers, and the winds as his horses. He is said “to ascend upon the Cherubim,” and “to fly on the wings of the winds:” that we may understand that he is not governed by, but that he governs the charioteers; and that he is the principal mover and guide both of the chariot and its driver. These expressions hold too, because God uses the services of the Angels in moving the clouds, which are a sort of aerial and most rapid chariots, as being drawn by the winds, a sort of winged quadrupeds, and, therefore, instead of walking, fly, and that fleeter than any bird.

12 And he made darkness his covert, his pavilion round about him: dark waters in the clouds of the air.

Lest it may be supposed that God appeared visibly in the clouds, as he would in a chariot, he says he was invisibly present, and for that purpose made use of dark clouds, as a symbol of his being invisible. There is in these words a most elegant and poetic metaphor. “He made darkness his covert.” God so wrapped himself up in the dark clouds, that he lay as if in a hiding place, the dark clouds acting the part of a screen to him. “His pavilion round about him,” the same clouds being like a tent round about him, covering him on all sides. “Dark waters in the clouds of the air,” the tent above named being a dark cloud, as dark as those fully charged with rain, and when so dense and aqueous, may not improperly be called “dark waters in the clouds of the air.”

13 At the brightness that was before him the clouds passed, hail and coals of fire.

A description of the celestial warfare from the clouds, as if they were the armed chariots of the Deity. At the word of God the cloud opens, hail and lightning, like red hot coals, are at once projected. “At the brightness that was before him, the clouds passed.” Beautiful! The clouds burst by reason of the brightness of the latent Deity, as if they could not stand such brightness, and therefore burst and dissolve in his presence, vanish and pass away. “Hail and coals of fire” issue forth in abundance from the rupture. It happened in Pharaoh’s time, Exod, chap. 9, “And the hail and fire mixed with it drove on together.” The same happened in Josue’s wars against the five kings, Jos. 10, and on various other occasions.

14 And the Lord thundered from heaven, and the Highest gave his voice: hail and coals of fire.

A repetition of the above in different language. The cloud bursts, the dreadful crash called thunder is heard, generally followed by the thunderbolt. It is elegantly styled “His voice,” not only because God alone can produce or emit it, but because the sound is so great and so terrific, that to God alone it should be attributed as his own voice. Hence, God himself says to Job, 40, “If you have an arm like God, and if you thunder with like voice.” “And the highest gave his voice,” from which proceeded hail and lightning like red hot coals.

15 And he sent forth his arrows, and he scattered them: he multiplied lightnings, and troubled them.

An explanation of the preceding verses, particularly of the words, “coals of fire.” These coals of fire were sent out on the bursting of the clouds, because God “Sent forth his arrows,” meaning his lightning. “And multiplied” them, and in such manner “Scattered and confused his enemies.”

16 Then the fountains of waters appeared, and the foundations of the world were discovered: At thy rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the spirit of thy wrath.

God’s wonderful action on the waters next. They were suddenly and miraculously dried up. It happened in the Red Sea, and in the Jordan, as we read in Exod. 14, and Josue 4, on which occasions the bottom of the sea and of the river was exposed; which bottom is called here “The foundations of the world,” because they are so much lower than the surface of the land. “The fountains of waters appeared.” At God’s bidding, the waters were dried up, and then appeared the bottom of the fountains, and of the rivers, and of the sea; and thus “The foundations,” or the lowest parts of the earth, “Were discovered.” “At thy rebuke, O Lord.” What dried them? God’s rebuke—his order. How did he rebuke them? “At the blast of the spirit of thy wrath.” A metaphorical and poetical appellation of the wind, through whose agency, God in his anger, and for the purpose of rebuke, dried up the waters; for the Scripture tells us, Exod. 14, that it was by a scorching wind that the waters of the Red Sea were dried up. Thus, what he might have simply expressed as follows, You, Lord, by a most powerful wind, dried up the waters of the sea; he expresses in a more elegant and figurative manner, when he says, You rebuked the waters for hindering the passage of your people; you blew on them in the spirit of your wrath, and at once they fled; as he expresses it in Psalm 114, “What ailed thee, O sea, that thou didst flee?”

17 He sent from on high, and took me: and received me out of many waters.

He now returns to relate God’s kindness to him in delivering him from his enemies. From the seventh verse to the present, he dwelt entirely on the power of God; and as he commenced by saying, “The torrents of iniquity troubled me,” and spoke in the foregoing verse of God’s spirit drying up the waters, so as to expose the bottom of the sea, and of the rivers, following up the same metaphor, he says now, “He sent from on high and took me.” He reached out his hand from on high to the very depth of the torrent, and “Took me,” and thus brought me out from “Many waters;” that is to say, rescued me, drowned and overwhelmed in a multiplicity of troubles.

18 He delivered me from my strongest enemies, and from them that hated me: for they were too strong for me.

What he said in a metaphorical sense in the last verse, he now explains in ordinary language; the words, “they were too strong for me,” must be taken in an imperfect sense, according to St. Jerome; for he assigns a reason why he had more need of the assistance of God, as his enemies were stronger than himself.

19 They prevented me in the day of my affliction: and the Lord became my protector.

God’s goodness acknowledged again. My enemies, without any provocation, were the first to injure me; attacked me off my guard, “prevented,” (that is, surrounded,) me without my knowing it; but the Lord was watching for me, and rendered all their machinations harmless.

20 And he brought me forth into a large place: he saved me, because he was well pleased with me.

Again and again he brings up his delivery. To show how deeply God’s goodness was fixed in his mind. “He brought me into a large place.” When I was angustiated in a place where I may be easily overcome he brought me into “a large place,” where I may roam about at pleasure, having my enemies at a distance. “He saved me because he was well pleased with me.” My salvation from so many imminent dangers was all owing to his immense mercy in so loving me. For though David presently will put his own merits forward, he well knew that these very merits are God’s gratuitous gifts.

21 And the Lord will reward me according to my justice; and will repay me according to the cleanness of my hands:
22 Because I have kept the ways of the Lord; and have not done wickedly against my God.
23 For all his judgments are in my sight: and his justices I have not put away from me.
24 And I shall be spotless with him: and shall keep myself from my iniquity.
25 And the Lord will reward me according to my justice: and according to the cleanness of my hands before his eyes.

Having praised God for having delivered him from his enemies, he now adds that his delivery will be always sure to him, not only through mercy, but even through justice, because he not only hitherto did, but for the future will, lead the life of the just. For God, just in himself, loves, helps, and protects the just, “will reward me according to my justice.” Having done so heretofore, he will continue to reward me according to my merit, “Any according to the cleanness of my hands.” As I feel my justice not only in my heart but in my hands; that is, to just within and without, just in my heart, just in my actions, so God will reward me before himself and before men, and will guard me within and without. Is not this presumption? Why trumpet so his own merits? There is no presumption when the thing is done with sincerity, and God acknowledged to be the author of all our merit. Nehemias did so, so did Esdras, Ezechias, Isaias, and Esther. But how could David make such assertions? He who had been guilty of murder and adultery! He who exclaimed, Psalm 19, “Who can understand sins? From my secret ones cleanse me, O Lord;” and, in Psalm 114, “For in thy sight no man living shall be justified.” This objection leads some to think that David does not speak absolutely of his own justice, but of the justice of his cause, as compared with that of his enemies; others will have it that he limits his justice to his having remained in the true faith which his enemies did not, but the expressions, “Because I have kept the ways of the Lord;” “All his judgments are in nay sight;” “I shall be spotless with him,” are adverse to these opinions. We must only say, then, that David upholds his justice, inasmuch as he always had a sincere desire of serving God, and a firm purpose of never violating his law, and should he chance to slip, that he at once repented, and sincerely returned to God. The expression, “Who can understand sins?” may be understood of venial sins that are not inconsistent with justice; and the words, “For in thy sight no man living shall be justified,” may be understood of that justice which man may have independent of grace. For in such manner can no man be justified, for the just are only so through God’s sanctifying grace.

26 With the holy thou wilt be holy; and with the innocent man thou wilt be innocent:
27 And withe the elect thou wilt be elect: and with the perverse thou wilt be perverted.

A reason for his having said he would get according to his justice from God, because God gives to every one according to his works. He speaks to God here, “With the holy thou wilt be holy;” with the pious and the merciful thou wilt deal kindly and mercifully. To the man who is innocent, that is, who doeth no injury, thou wilt do no injury, nor permit others to do it. “With the elect thou wilt be elect;” with the sincere and pure minded, (for such is the meaning of the Hebrew,) you will deal sincerely and candidly; “And with the perverse thou wilt be perverted:” he who showeth not mercy shall not meet with mercy from you; who harms shall be harmed by you; who acts not honestly, but roguishly, him will you similarly deal with.

28 For thou wilt save the humble people; but wilt bring down the eyes of the proud.

He explains the two last verses, as if he said: “With the holy, thou wilt be holy; and with the innocent thou wilt be innocent:” because “Thou wilt save the humble people;” that is, because humility, the guardian of all virtues, is most pleasing to you, and to all humble souls you give your grace; but, “with the perverse thou wilt be perverted;” because you “will bring down the eyes of the proud;” that is, because pride, the queen of vices, is highly displeasing to thee, and, therefore, you always raise up the humble, and level all the proud. He makes special mention of the eyes here, because it is in them and the eyebrows that pride mostly shows itself.

29 For thou lightest my lamp, O Lord: O my God, enlighten my darkness.

Having spoken highly of his own justice and purity, he now points out their sources; and, therefore, praises God, especially as it was from him he had light, strength, and every other virtue. “For thou lightest my lamp, O Lord:” from thee I have the beginning of all good, which is light to distinguish true happiness from false, and true evils from false ones; for the first wound inflicted on human nature by original sin, was ignorance of the real good; and, therefore, the first cure begins by Divine light; “Thou lightest my lamp:” you alone light up the interior eye of my heart. “O my God, enlighten my darkness.” Father of lights, the true light, in whom there is no darkness, as you have hitherto lighted up the inward eyes of my heart, proceed now to enlighten my darkness by banishing it completely. For without the grace of God to enlighten us, all is pure darkness in our hearts, so far as supernatural mysteries are concerned.

30 For by thee I shall be delivered from temptation; and through my God I shall go over a wall.

The particle “for” is frequently redundant in the Psalms, so is the particle “and,” which requires to be noted, that a connection with something foregoing may not be looked for. The prophet having said that he had got from God that light, that is, the beginning of good works and true justice, now adds, that he got also courage and strength to do or to avoid those things such light prompted him to. “By thee I shall be delivered from temptation.” Relying on thy assistance to strengthen me, I will overcome all temptation, and conquer all evil; “Through my God I shall go over a wall.” Depending on the same divine assistance, and strengthened from the same source, I will accomplish everything, however difficult, were it even the surmounting of a lofty wall.

31 As for my God, his way is undefiled: the words of the Lord are fire-tried: he is the protector of all that trust in him.

The reason why he has received so much light and strength from God, and why he so confides in him, is because God is true, good, and the protector of all that confide in him; and because he is the only true God, true Lord, from whom such things can be expected. “His way is undefiled;” that God of mine, whose way is undefiled, who is most holy, and acts most justly. “The words of the Lord are fire tried.” As gold is tried and proved in the fire, so the promises of the Lord are most certain and proved.

32 For who is God but the Lord? or who is God but our God?

Another reason for confiding in him, for expecting light and strength from him, he alone being our true God. Whence we learn that our God alone is the true God, and as such that he is the true, firm, and solid rock in which we may safely confide and rest; and all who confide in any other thing must of necessity be deceived and confounded.

33 God, who hath girt me with strength; and made my way blameless.

He now comes to mention in particular the gifts he got from God, by means of which he got freed from his enemies, and got possession again of his kingdom. He places strength and innocence first, two virtues rarely united, for the strong are always too ready to injure the weak. David, however, was truly strong, yet truly innocent, so much so, that even though it was in his power, he would not slay his enemy Saul.

34 Who hath made my feet like the feet of harts: and who setteth me upon high places.
35 Who teacheth my hands to war: and thou hast made my arms like a brazen bow.

He gives the particulars of the expression, “Girt me with strength,” by telling us how God bestowed on him wonderful agility in his feet, dexterity in his hands, and strength in his arms. The feet of the stag were not more nimble in topping the highest mountains, as he expresses it, “In setting himself upon high places;” as he proved, when in his flight from Saul, he was obliged to shelter in the highest and most inaccessible tops of the mountains. He adds, that his hands were trained to battle; and that he had arms of brass, to signify his strength and skill in military matters, of which there can be no doubt, if we only read the First and Second Books of Kings. The stone from his sling, fixed in the very head of Goliath, bears testimony to his dexterity, as do the bears and the lions killed by the mere strength of his arms.

36 And thou hast given me the protection of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath held me up: And thy discipline hath corrected me unto the end: and thy discipline, the same shall teach me.

He declares now his innocence, of which he had already spoken, when he said, ver. 32, “Thou hast made my way blameless;” for, as God was pleased to give him the grace of living blameless, he, therefore, constantly protected him; “Thou hast given me the protection of thy salvation;” for the celerity of foot, the dexterity of hand, and strength of arm against the king and his whole army would have been of little value, had he not had “The protection of salvation” too, that is, the divine protection to save him, and “the right hand (of God) to hold him up,” and support him. “And thy discipline hath corrected me to the end, and thy discipline the same shall teach me.” This, too, goes to show the innocence or “the blameless way” of David. I not only had the benefit of your protection, but your discipline; that is, your knowledge, which is had from the study of your law, so directed me, that I could not go astray; and when there was fear I might stray, by studying and inspecting it diligently “I got corrected,” set right, and so persevered to the end. “And thy discipline the same shall teach me.” By such discipline we may also understand the correction of a father, in which spirit God sometimes chastised David by temporary calamities, when, through human frailty, he would fall into some defects.

37 Thou hast enlarged my steps under me; and my feet are not weakened.

He proceeds to relate his victories, attributing them all to God; you have made me advance at a rapid pace in enlarging my kingdom, and I am not yet tired.

38 I will pursue after my enemies, and overtake them: and I will not turn again till they are consumed.
39 I will break them, and they shall not be able to stand: they shall fall under my feet.

These expressions, spoken in the future time, do not belong to it, but to the past tense, as will appear from the following verse.

40 And thou hast girded me with strength unto battle; and hast subdued under me them that rose up against me.

Hence it appears the prophet in the two preceding verses spoke of the past. As I said, “I will pursue after my enemies and overtake them:” God helped me to do it, for “He girded me with strength” to fight, and “subdued under me;” that is, made those fall, “that rose up against me.” “Girding with strength” is a common expression in the Scripture; thus, in Psalm 65, “Being girded with power who troublest the depths of the sea;” and, in Psalm 93, “The Lord is clothed with strength, and hath girded himself;” and, Isaias 51, “Put on strength, O thou arm of the Lord;” and, finally, in Lk. 24, “But stay you in the city till you be endowed with power from on high.” He gives him to understand that, as strength and courage are of more value in a battle than the sword and helmet, the praise of the victory should be given more to the giver of the former than of the latter.

41 And thou hast made my enemies turn their back upon me, and hast destroyed them that hated me.

He returns to the same thing over and over, attributing the flight of his enemies to God’s interference entirely.

42 They cried, but there was none to save them, to the Lord: but he heard them not.

Another cause of the victory assigned, for God not only heard his prayers, but he refused to listen to those of his adversaries, though they put them up to him.

43 And I shall beat them as small as the dust before the wind; I shall bring them to nought, like the dirt in the streets.

He speaks now of the remnant of his enemies. I have conquered them; but if any handful remain, I will crush them into the smallest pieces, and scatter them as dust is carried before the wind; and sweep them from the earth, as the mud of the streets is hurried along by a vehement wind.

44 Thou wilt deliver me from the contradictions of the people; thou wilt make me head of the Gentiles.

That had been done already; for, before he wrote this Psalm, he had been delivered from the “contradictions” and rebellion “of the people;” and “was made head of the gentiles;” that is, became master of the kingdom. We are, therefore, to suppose him using the future tense for the past, a thing usual in the Hebrew, or he insinuates a continuation of past favors of that sort.

45 A people which I knew not, hath served me: at the hearing of the ear they have obeyed me.
46 The children that are strangers have lied to me, strange children have faded away, and have halted from their paths.

He had just reason for asking “to be delivered from the contradictions of his people,” having met with more fidelity and allegiance from some of the gentiles, than from the children of the people of Israel. A prophecy manifestly applying to Christ, rejected by the Jews, acknowledged by the gentiles. “The people which I knew not:” the Gabaonites, the Gethei, and others whom I knew not as brothers, “served me:” “at the hearing of the ear they have obeyed me,” at once, most promptly, the moment they heard the command. “The children that are strangers;” that is, the degenerate in their morals, “lied to me;” that is, deceived me, gave me sham obedience. “They have faded away;” fallen from me like dried leaves; that is, they have not behaved properly and fairly by me; alluding to the rebellion of Absalom, under the son of Bochrus, and others, “and have halted from their paths.” The children of adultery, who give sham service, “halt from their paths;” that is, turn from the straight path, in which they should have walked.

47 The Lord liveth, and blessed by my God, and let the God of my salvation be exalted.

A conclusion of praise. Now, it appears that the Lord does live, and as he lives, so may he always live; and “let the God of my salvation be exalted.”

48 O God, who avengest me, and subduest the people under me, my deliverer from my enraged enemies.

May that God who avenged the injuries offered me, and subdued the people who rebelled against me, and delivered me from the plots and attacks of my raging enemies, Saul and Absalom, be exalted.

49 And thou wilt lift me up above them that rise up against me: from the unjust man thou wilt deliver me.

A prayer for the continuation of the divine favors; namely, that he may be so “lifted up above them that rise up against him,” that they may struggle in vain when they cannot possibly reach so high, and thus, that he may be delivered “from the unjust man.”

50 Therefore will I give glory to thee, O Lord, among the nations, and I will sing a psalm to thy name.

Therefore, for this reason, “I will give glory;” that is, with praise will I acknowledge thy favors, not privately, but openly, before the whole body of the people, that all may learn to put their trust in the Lord.

51 Giving great deliverance to his king, and shewing mercy to David, his anointed: and to his seed for ever.

May God increase and multiply safety of body, soul, and all other things beside, to the king he hath chosen; and may he deal everlasting mercy to David who has been ordered by him to be anointed as king, and to all his successors forever. Which prayer was fulfilled in Christ Jesus our Lord, who reigneth, and will reign for all eternity. Amen.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 17

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 9, 2018

PSALM 17
A JUST MAN’S PRAYER IN TRIBULATION AGAINST THE MALICE OF HIS ENEMIES

1 The prayer of David.  HEAR, O Lord, my justice: attend to my supplication. Give ear unto my prayer, which proceedeth not from deceitful lips.

He first prays that his just cause may be heard, for with a just judge, the cause is more regarded than the person; he asks then that his prayer may be attended to; for God not only loves justice, but also the just; and, as St. James has it, “The prayer of the just availeth much.” He finally unites both justice and prayer, when he says, “Give ear unto my prayer which proceedeth not from deceitful lips;” that is, my prayer that does not proceed from deceitful lips, but is based on justice. The meaning then is, Lord, may justice move thee; may prayer, the prayer of the just, move thee.

2 Let my judgment come forth from thy countenance: let thy eyes behold the things that are equitable.

Another argument from the justice of God, as if he said: To you, O God, I appeal; by you, as being the most just of judges, I wished to be judged. “From thy countenance;” that is, from thy mouth let judgment proceed—my sentence be pronounced. “Let thy eyes behold the things that are equitable.” Close not thy eyes, and cloak not the calumnies of the wicked, but open them and see what justice demands.

3 Thou hast proved my heart, and visited it by night, thou hast tried me by fire: and iniquity hath not been found in me.

A reason assigned for wishing to be judged by God, for he alone searches the hearts, and thoroughly knows the innocence of his servants. “Thou hast proved my heart;” you have tried me where no one else can, interiorly; you have proved my sincerity, and he tells how “Thou hast visited it by night.” On two occasions one’s interior may be seen; when an opportunity offers for sinning in private, and in the time of tribulation: for there are many wicked persons, to all appearance with a fair exterior, when they have an opportunity of committing sin in private, without any fear of detection, then only show what they are made of. So in the time of prosperity, the bad cannot be distinguished from the good, but apply the fire of persecution, and the gold shines out, the stubble burns. The first is expressed by the words, “Visited it by night;” that is, in secret, when an opportunity for committing sin presented itself; the second comes under the words, “Thou hast tried me by fire;” that is, with grievous tribulations; and yet thou hast found no iniquity in me.

4 That my mouth may not speak the works of men: for the sake of the words of thy lips, I have kept hard ways.

He shows how it happened that “There was no iniquity found in him,” from the fact of his having kept to “The hard ways” of justice; not for any earthly hope or reason, but because such was agreeable to God’s commands. For those who observe God’s commandments from human motives do so exteriorly, when they are likely to be observed, and thus the latent iniquity is detected in them; but they who observe the commandments, in order to please God, keep them externally and internally, and thus no iniquity is detected in such persons. He therefore says: “I have kept hard ways;” that is, I have kept to the road of justice, however rough and rugged, nor has tribulation of any sort caused me to go out of it. “For the sake of the words of thy lips,” influenced thereto by your commandments, your threats, and your promises, “That my mouth may not speak the works of men:” that I may not be obliged to ask the help of man; that I may not put my hope in man; “Nor speak (meaning praise) the works of men.”

5 Perfect thou my goings in thy paths: that my footsteps be not moved.

Acknowledging that it was not by his own strength, but by the grace of God, that he remained in the narrow path of justice, he asks God to confirm the favor. “Perfect thou my goings in thy paths: that my footsteps be not moved:” strengthen and make sure my footsteps in this your path, for fear, if deprived of thy help, I may stray from it.

6 I have cried to thee, for thou, O God, hast heard me: O incline thy ear unto me, and hear my words.

Having explained the arguments derived from his own innocence, and from the justice of God, he again repeats the prayer in the beginning of the Psalm. Lord, to thee “I have cried, for thou hast heard me.” I have cried with confidence to thee, for on all occasions you have heard me, and now too, with your usual benignity, “Incline your ear to me, and hear my words.”

7 Shew forth thy wonderful mercies; thou who savest them that trust in thee.

A third argument derived from God’s mercy. I have proved my innocence; have appealed to your justice. I now invoke your mercy, for, however innocent I may consider myself of the crimes for which I am suffering, I may have many other sins for which I may be justly punished. “Show forth thy wonderful mercies” then. Astonish every one at the extent of them in delivering me, for to you it belongs to deliver all who put their trust in thee.

8 From them that resist thy right hand keep me, as the apple of thy eye. Protect me under the shadow of thy wings.

Protect me, as you would “The apple of your eye,” with the greatest care, from those “that resist thy right hand:” in injuring those whom you protect, or who refuse to walk where you lead. This does not contradict the passage in the book of Esther, “There is no one who can resist thy will.” For the will spoken of there, is the will of his good pleasure which is always carried out; but here is meant the will of his expression, which is not always carried out, for God permits the wicked to do many things opposed to his expressed will; that is, against his law, and afterwards punishes them according to their merits. “The apple of your eye,” a most delicate, though valuable article, requiring the greatest care, and, therefore, provided by nature with various coverings, as well as with brows and eye lashes; such are we, frail and delicate, and such is the care we stand in need of. “Protect me under the shadow of thy wings.” The same petition, under another figure. As the chickens are covered by the wings of the hen, are hidden, and lie securely under them, so that the birds of prey cannot hurt them; the just man prays to be so protected from his persecutors.

9 From the face of the wicked who have afflicted me. My enemies have surrounded my soul:

“The face of the wicked,” signifies the sight of the wicked; as the wings of the hen cover the chickens, and prevent their being seen by the birds of prey; or it may mean the bite or the anger of the wicked, for their teeth, as well as their anger, are displayed in the faces. “Who have afflicted me,” means that the just man, having been so often and so severely bitten by the wicked, appeals to God’s protection, for fear of being entirely destroyed under the repeated biting. Such similes are of frequent occurrence in the Holy Scripture. “I will rejoice under the cover of thy wings,” Psalm 62; “He will overshadow thee with his shoulders: and under his wings thou shalt trust,” Psalm 89; and the Lord himself, in Mt. 23, “How often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and thou would not.” “My enemies have surrounded my soul.” The last argument drawn from the malice of his enemies. They have surrounded, pressed in upon me on every side.

10 They have shut up their fat: their mouth hath spoken proudly.

That is, they have no mercy, though they see me reduced to the last extremities. “Shut up their fat” is synonymous with, “Closing his bowels;” that is, having no mercy, according to 1 Jn. 3, “He that hath the substance of this world, and shall see his brother in need, and shall shut up his bowels from him: how doth the charity of God abide in him?” As fat increases, the bowels generally close; and the prophet chose the former expression, that he may not only declare the fact, but the cause of the bowels being closed, namely, the increase of the fat, which means, the wealth of this world, which causes man to be proud, to despise his neighbor, and thus spiritually “Shut up his bowels.”

11 They have cast me forth, and now they have surrounded me: they have set their eyes bowing down to the earth.

In order to show the malice of his enemies, he goes on to show how they assail him, now in one way, presently in quite a different manner, yet always in a destructive manner. One time “They cast me forth;” Now “they surround me:” those who just banished me from sharing or enjoying anything with them now seek me, surround me that they may overwhelm me with injuries; and the reason is, because “they have set their eyes bowing down to the earth;” meaning they have firmly resolved not to look up to God, who is in heaven, nor to fear him; but to look down on the earth alone and seek for the things that belong to it.

12 They have taken me, as a lion prepared for the prey; and as a young lion dwelling in secret places.

They have not only surrounded me, but treated me with the greatest cruelty; with the same cruelty and avidity that a lion pounces on its prey, “and as a young lion dwelling in secret places;” the same idea repeated.

13 Arise, O Lord, disappoint him and supplant him; deliver my soul from the wicked one; thy sword

Having explained the malice of his enemies, he asks of God, who alone can do it, to come and free him. “Arise, O Lord;” do not defer your help any longer, “disappoint him;” that wicked man, who like a lion laid hold on me to devour me, disappoint his teeth, that he may not fasten them in me and kill me. And, in fact, it is God alone that can “disappoint” the action of any one or thing, however violent; as he disappointed the teeth of the lions from hurting; Daniel, and the fury of the fire from consuming the three thrown into the furnace; a source of consolation to the just, who know God’s power to be equal to protect them from either the teeth of the lion or the flames of the furnace. “Supplant him.” Deceive him; make him, by thy wonderful providence, suppose that when he is fastening his teeth in his own flesh, he is fastening them in the flesh of the just. “Deliver my soul from the wicked.” Do not allow me to be killed by the wicked, raging like a roaring lion; but save me, protect me. “Thy sword;” some connect it with the preceding; others make it the beginning of the next sentence. If we adopt the reading of the Vulgate, the meaning is, deliver my soul from the wicked; to do which you must take “thy sword” from your enemies; meaning their power of harm.

14 From the enemies of thy hand. O Lord, divide them from the few of the earth in their life: their belly is filled from thy hidden stores. They are full of children: and they have left to their little ones the rest of their substance.

A prophetic imprecation, in which is predicted separation of the wicked from the just, the former obtaining the goods of this world, the latter those of the world to come. “divide them from the few;” separate the crowd of the wicked from “your little flock,” “in their life,” not only in the world to come, which is sure to them, but even in the present, which may be properly called “their life,” which alone they love and seek, separating themselves from the just, who are dead to the world. The separation consists herein, that “their belly is filled from thy hidden stores;” that is, they fill their belly with the fruits and good things of the earth, supplied by God’s bounty, from his hidden treasures every succeeding year, and say it is their own portion. “They are full of children: and they have left to their little ones the rest of their substance.” They abound in children, to whom they leave the residue of what themselves cannot consume, for the children of this world look upon it as supreme happiness to abound in riches, and to be blessed with heirs to enjoy them.

15 But as for me, I will appear before thy sight in justice: I shall be satisfied when thy glory shall appear.

The difference herein consists, they covet an abundance of the good things of this world. “But I,” as well as the rest of the just, will “hunger after justice” here, to have satiety of glory and happiness hereafter; and, as I study to live in justice, in thy sight here, your glory will appear to me hereafter; and then will I be truly satisfied, having no more to seek or to desire.

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