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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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St Robert Bellarmine’s First Preface to His Commentary on the Psalms

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 9, 2018

Preface I

1. Before we come to the explication of the individual Psalms, it seems that a few things should be explained. First, concerning the excellence of the Psalms; second, concerning the terms “Psalm” and “Psaltery”; third, concerning the division and ordering of the Psalms; fourth, concerning the author.

2. Their excellence, to be sure, can be understood to derive both from the subject matter and also from the form and kind of the writing. The Book of Psalms, in fact, is a sort of compendium and summation of the entire Old Testament; whatever Moses either handed down in history or taught in the Law, and whatever the other Prophets wrote, either exhorting men to virtue or foretelling the future, all of this is contained in the briefest compass in the Psalms of David. For in Psalms 8, 78, 104, 105, 135 and others, the creation of the world, the deeds performed by the patriarchs, the Egyptian captivity, the plagues in Egypt, the wandering of the people in the desert, the entrance into the Promised Land and other things are splendidly set forth by this kind of writing. In Psalm 118 the Law given by God is extolled with wonderful praises, and all men are incited to keep it. In Psalms 2, 15, 21, 44, 68, 71 and others, Christ’s kingship, His origin, His preaching and miracles, His Passion, Resurrection and Ascension, and the growth of the Church are so manifestly foretold, that the sacred author seems to have been an evangelist rather than a prophet. Finally, in Psalm 1 and in almost all of those following, he exhorts the listeners to virtue, restrains them from vice, invites, attracts, threatens and frightens them; and all of these things are not simply set down in a narrative, but in various sorts of songs, with poetic phrases and many admirable metaphors, until at last this new form of expression snatches up souls in such love and praise of God, that nothing sweeter, nothing more salutary could ever be sung or heard. Therefore Saint Basil is correct when he writes in his commentary on the first Psalm, that the Psalms of David draw tears even from a heart of stone; and Saint John Chrysostom rightly affirms in his commentary on Psalm 137 that those who sing the Psalms properly lead choirs together with the angels and, as it were, vie with them in the praise and love of God.

3. We come now to the terms Psalm and Psaltery. To us Psaltery means the book of the Psalms; Saint Augustine, for instance, uses the term thus in Letter 140 to Audax when he says, “I do not have the Psaltery translated from the Hebrew by Saint Jerome.” So too Saint Jerome, in the Letter to Sophronius on the Order and Titles of the Psalms, remarks: “I know that some people think the Psalter is divided into five books.” But in the Sacred Scriptures, Psaltery is a musical instrument drawn up with ten strings, which in Hebrew is called nebel. Saint Basil in his commentary on the first Psalm and Saint Augustine in his commentary on Psalm thirty-two inform us that the psaltery differs from the harp and the lyre in that the harp and the lyre emit sound from their lower part, whereas the psaltery produces tones in its higher part. Saint Hilary, in his Prologue to the Psalms, adds that the psaltery was a straight instrument, without any curve or bend. Very frequent mention is made of this instrument in the Holy Bible, and Psalm 33 speaks of it in verse 2: Sing to [the Lord] with the psaltery, the instrument of ten strings.

Psalm, in Hebrew mizmor, means song or tone; it is derived from the verb zamar, which signifies both to sing and also to play the harp or the psaltery, in precisely the same way as the verb psallô in Greek. As for the meaning of psallendi manibus, that is, “striking an instrument”, we find an instance of the phrase in 1 Kings 16:16: “Thy servants … will seek out a man skilful in playing on the harp, that when the evil spirit from the Lord is upon thee, he may play with his hand, and thou mayest bear it more easily.” The same is found in chapters 17, 18 and elsewhere. As for the meaning of psallendi voce, that is, “singing”, we find it in Psalm 33:3, “Sing well unto Him with a loud noise”; it is also used by the Apostle in 1 Cor. 14:15, “I will sing with the spirit; I will sing also with the understanding,” that is, I shall sing with the spirit or breath of my mouth, singing in a bodily voice the praises of God; and I shall sing with the spirit of my heart, desiring and loving the glory of the selfsame God. Moreover, according to Saint Hilary and Saint John Chrysostom, each of whom authored a Prologue to the Psalms, there is this difference between Psalm and Canticle, and between Psalmum Cantici and Canticum Psalmi: that a Psalm is the sound of a musical instrument alone without any human voice singing, whereas a Canticle is the voice of a singer without instrumental accompaniment; Psalmus Cantici [“psalm of a canticle”] is said when the canticle is sung first and the psalm tone follows: Canticum Psalmi [“canticle of a psalm”] when a singing voice is heard imitating the instrumental tone which went before. Furthermore, not any song or musical tone whatsoever can be termed “Psalms of David”, but rather those by which are sung either the praises of God or prayers to God or an exhortation to virtue, and not empty fables or wanton loves or the flattery of princes. Hence the Book of Psalms is entitled in Hebrew sepher thehillim, that is, book of hymns or divine praises; and after the conclusion of Psalm 72, the last of all those which David sang, we read: The praises of David are ended, that is, David’s prayers. The Psalms, as a whole, contain either the praises of God or prayers to God, or both at once; although there are some which are entirely devoted to exhorting men to virtue, such as the first and second Psalms, etc.

4. Now as for what pertains to the division and order of the Psaltery: the Hebrews divide the Psaltery into five books, as Saint Jerome testifies both in the Prologue Galeato and also in the Letter to Sophronius cited above [in no. 3]; wherever Amen, Amen is written at the end of a Psalm, they reckon that a book is ended at that place; Amen, Amen is written at the end of Psalms 41, 72, 89 and 106, and to these four books they add a fifth extending from Psalm 107 to Psalm 150. Yet this Hebrew tradition is not in conformity with Sacred Scripture, and therefore it is refuted by the same Saint Jerome in the Letter to Sophronius which we have mentioned above, and also by Saint Hilary in his Prologue to the Psalms. The title at the head of the Psaltery, both in the Hebrew Bible and in the Septuagint edition, is the book of hymns; and in Luke 20:42 the Lord Himself speaks, saying, “David himself saith in the book of Psalms: The LORD said to my Lord …”; and in Acts 1:20 Saint Peter speaks, saying, “It is written in the book of Psalms: Let their habitation become desolate, etc.” Furthermore the order of the Psalms is not arranged according to the time at which they were written. It suffices to note that Psalm 3 was written when David was fleeing persecution by his son Absalom; indeed, Psalm 51 had been written much earlier, evidently when the same David was rebuked by Nathan for his crime of adultery and murder; Psalm 142, moreover, had been written still earlier, undoubtedly when the same David was lying hidden in a cave for fear of King Saul; and Psalm 144 had been written long before, to wit, when David fought Goliath the giant: finally it is probable, or almost certain, that Psalm 72 is the latest of all chronologically, since it was written when Solomon had already begun to reign, and after this Psalm is added: The praises of David, son of Jesse, are ended; and nevertheless we see this Psalm, not in the last place, but situated almost in the middle. Therefore it is not easy to discern why the Psalms are arranged as we now find them. Nevertheless we should not reject the opinion or suspicion of those who say that the first fifty Psalms, of which the last is Have mercy on me, O God, pertain to penitents or beginners in the spiritual life; the next fifty, which end with the Psalm, Mercy and judgment I will sing to Thee, O Lord, pertain to the just or the proficient; and the final fifty which conclude with the Psalm, Praise ye the Lord in His holy places, pertain to men who are accomplished or the perfect: the Psalms were so arranged either by Esdras, as Saint Athanasius seems to think in his Synopsis, or else the Septuagint translators, as Saint Hilary teaches in his Prologue to the Psalms.

5. The question remains as to the author of the Psalms. There are two opinions among the Church Fathers: on the one hand Saint Athanasius in his Synopsis, Saint Hilary in the Prologue to the Psalms, and Saint Jerome in his Letter to Sophronius on the Order of the Psalms and in his Letter to Cyprian in which he interprets Psalm 90, maintain that there are various authors of the Psalms, for instance all those who are named in the titles, David, Moses, Solomon, Asaph, Idithun and others. To the contrary, Saint John Chrysostom, Theodoret, Euthymius and Cassiodorus in the Preface to the Commentaries on the Psalms, and Saint Augustine in Book 17 of The City of God, Chapter 14, acknowledge David to be the sole author of all the Psalms. We can be sure of three things. First, the primary author of all the Psalms is the Holy Spirit; the Apostle Peter testifies to this in Acts 1:16, and likewise the Apostle Paul in Hebrews 3:7; and David himself in 2 Kings 23:1 says, “The Spirit of the Lord hath spoken by me, and His word by my tongue”; and in Psalm 45:1, “My tongue is the pen of a scrivener that writeth swiftly.” Therefore, whether David or Moses or someone else composed the Psalms, they themselves were like writing instruments, whereas the Holy Spirit was the One Who wrote by means of them. Truly, what need is there to dispute about the pen, when one is sure about the writer? Second, to me it seems certain that the greater part of the Psalms are by David; for at the end of Psalm 71 we read: “The praises of David, son of Jesse, are ended.” In the same way in the Second Book of Kings, Chapter 23, verse 1 it says: David was “the excellent psalmist of Israel”; finally in 2 Paralipomenon, Chapter 5 it says: “Singers had been appointed to sing the Psalms which David made.” Third, it appears to me to be proven that the Psalms lacking titles are by David, as well as all those which bear the name David in their titles, whether it is written Of David or For David; for Psalm 2 lacks a title, and nevertheless in Acts 4:25 the Apostles affirm that it is a Psalm composed by David: and Psalm 94 lacks a title in the Hebrew version, and the Apostle attributes it to David in Hebrews 4:7. Furthermore, the Psalms which lack titles in the Hebrew codex are ascribed in the Greek text to David; accordingly it may be believed that the titles which were in the Hebrew codex were excised when the Septuagint translators rendered the Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek language. Finally the rule of the Hebrews, who say that a Psalm which lacks a title is by the author who wrote the previous one, is proven to be false; for according to this rule, the first and second Psalms would have no author, since both lack a title. Besides, Psalm 90 is ascribed to Moses, and the ten following Psalms, which lack titles, would have to be ascribed to Moses as well. But this cannot be done, since Psalm 99 makes mention of Samuel, who was born quite a long time after the death of Moses. Several difficulties of this sort appear when one tries to explain the title of Psalm 90. That not only those Psalms are by David which have Of David in the title, but also those which have For David, is proved by Saint Augustine from Psalm one hundred nine, which has: tô Davíd, ipsi David; and yet Our Lord says in Matthew 22:43: “How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying: The Lord said to my Lord?”

And so these things concerning the author of the Psalms seem to me to be certain. As for the remaining Psalms which bear the title Moses or Solomon or Asaph or Idithun or Ethan or the sons of Core: I consider as acceptable the opinion of Athanasius, Hilary and Jerome, but more probable that of Chrysostom, Augustine, Theodoret and of others who followed them. Why do I think that the later opinion is preferable? The reason is that it is more common and was even more common a thousand years ago. Saint Augustine testifies to this in Book 17 of The City of God, Chapter 14, and Theodoret in the Preface to the Psalms. Similarly, since it is sufficiently well established that Asaph, Idithun, Ethan and the sons of Core were singers rather than prophets, it follows that the Psalms were attributed to them in the titles because they were given to them to sing, not because they themselves had composed them; which can be understood from the fact that in the same title sometimes the name David is placed with that of Idithun, or of another, as can be seen in the titles of Psalms 39, 62, 65, 136, 138 and 139. In conclusion let it be added that in Luke 20:41, where the Lord says, “David himself saith in the book of Psalms,” that He seems to attribute the entire book of the Psalms to David.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 14

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 9, 2018

PSALM 14
THE GENERAL CORRUPTION OF MAN BEFORE OUR REDEMPTION BY CHRIST

1 Unto the end, a psalm for David. THE fool hath said in his heart: There is no God. They are corrupt, and are become abominable in their ways: there is none that doth good, no not one.

To such a pitch of folly has human nature, corrupted in our first parent, arrived, that one can be found, without daring to express it, yet to “say in his heart there is no God.” David does not convey here, that one particular person said so, but that men in general, through the corruption of their intellect, had come to such a pitch of blindness, as to become entirely regardless of their last end, and to think there was no God who regarded mankind, or to whom they would be accountable. “The fool,” that is, the man bereft of all sense, “said in his heart, There is no God;” that is, began to think God had no existence, and not only was the mind become corrupt and foolish, but also, so was the will; so that men, in general, leaned to sin, never to good; for the avoiding of sin, and the doing good, are very different things, when we speak of an act absolutely and perfectly good. For men without faith or grace, acting on the strength of corrupt nature alone, generally fall into sin; yet sometimes produce certain moral good works, which cannot be called sin; yet are not perfectly and absolutely good, when they do not bring man to the chief good. David, therefore, says, “They are corrupt and become abominable in their ways;” that is, in their desires or affections: hence themselves are corrupted and abominable. “There is none that doeth good; no not one.” Mankind is so corrupted in desire and in iniquity, but still not so generally that all their desires and actions should be considered corrupt and unjust. For surely when an infidel, moved by compassion, has mercy on the poor or cares their children, he doeth no evil. But nobody depending on the strength of corrupt nature alone, can perfectly and absolutely produce a good action. Hence, we see, that this passage, when properly understood, proves nothing for the heretics who abuse it, to prove that all the acts of a sinner, or of a nonregenerated, are sins.

2 The Lord hath looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there be any that understand and seek God.
3 They are all gone aside, they are become unprofitable together: there is none that doth good: no not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they acted deceitfully: the poison of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and unhappiness in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes.

Having said that human nature was corrupt in mind and in will, he shows now whence he had such knowledge: namely, from revelation. For God, who knows everything, saw it, and revealed it to his prophets. He describes God looking down from heaven, as if he were a mortal from his lofty look out, to see “If there be any that understood;” that is, not corrupted in his mind; “Or seeking God;” that is, not corrupted in his will, who could understand and love, and thus seek God, who is the supreme good. What God knew, that is, made us know, he explains in those words: “They are all gone aside;” that is, he saw they had all become useless to God, inasmuch as they neither serve, worship, nor render him any tribute of praise; and, finally, that he saw none to do a work perfectly and absolutely good. “Their throat is an open sepulchre.” The remainder of this verse is not in the Hebrew, nor in the Septuagint, nor in the Latin edition of Psalm 52, where the same passage occurs; but, whereas St. Paul, in Romans 3, quotes all these expressions consecutively, as if they belonged to one Psalm, we may consider they did originally belong to it, and were accidentally lost or omitted from it. These verses give us an idea of the malice of the wicked, who by word and deed do harm to their neighbor. “Their throat is an open sepulchre.” For, as the stench of the putrid corpse exhales from an opened tomb, so from their mouth issues filthy language, the exhalation of their corrupted heart. “With their tongues they acted deceitfully:” that is, by making use, not only of filthy but deceitful language. “The poison of asps is under their lips;” which words are not only filthy and deceitful, but, furthermore, poisonous, and deadly, and leading to sin. “Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood.” Those abandoned characters not only rail and fiercely contend in language; but are involved in evil action, and injure every one. For they whose mouths are full of maledictions and railing, are always ready to run swiftly to slaughter and bloodshed. “Destruction and unhappiness in their ways and the way of peace they have not known:” that is, all their thoughts turn upon destruction, devastation, and affliction, of the neighbor, because “The way of peace they have not known;” that is, what belongs to peace. “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” The root of all the aforesaid evils; because they clearly cast overboard all fear of God, saying in their hearts, “There is no God.”

4 Shall not all they know that work iniquity, who devour my people as they eat bread?

Here we can justly infer, that this universal corruption of human nature is to be understood of human nature in itself and depending on its own natural strength alone. For, through the grace of God, men become truly just and pious, and they are designated here as “My people” who are despised and persecuted by the wicked. “Shall all they know that work iniquity;” addressed to the wicked, by way of reproof, as if he said, will they be always insensible, will they ever open their eyes, will they ever begin to learn? “Who devour my people as they eat bread;” which means, that the wicked may, from such evils, be warned of their iniquity. For as bread, though eaten daily, is always relished; So the wicked take pleasure in daily harassing the poor, and never tire of it.

5 They have not called upon the Lord: there have they trembled for fear, where there was no fear.

A reason assigned for such wickedness, namely: “They have not called upon the Lord:” they put their trust not in God, but in things created; and, therefore, “There have they trembled for fear, where there was no fear;” and, therefore, not knowing in whom to hope, or whom to fear, they trembled at encountering adversity, or going back in their prosperity; things of small moment, and transitory, which should have been above their consideration: whereas, had they put their trust in God, “And sought the kingdom of God and his justice, all these things shall be added unto you.”

6 For the Lord is in the just generation: you have confounded the counsel of the poor man; but the Lord is his hope.

Another reason for the wicked being seized with fear, when there is no ground for fear, “For the Lord is in the just generation;” which means, as the wicked neither invoked nor trusted in God, he deserts them, and takes up with “The just generation:” and once deserted by God, the true light, truth itself they walk in darkness, and therefore fear when they have no cause for fear. He then appeals to the wicked themselves. “You have confounded the counsel of the poor man, but the Lord is his hope.” Are you so blind as not only to abandon God yourselves, but even to mock those who have not? For you “Have confounded;” that is, derided, made the poor man blush, for doing what you call a foolish thing, the putting his hope in God, whereas he entirely depends on him. For to the worldly it seems a foolish thing to put our trust in God whom we don’t see; and not to trust in the riches of this world and other things we do see.

7 Who shall give out of Sion the salvation of Israel? when the Lord shall have turned away the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.

This last verse is a prayer to God for the speedy coming of the Savior, to deliver mankind from that captivity of the devil, in which all the wicked and perverse, whose sins and enormities he had just described, were bound. “Who shall give out of Sion the salvation of Israel?” That is, would that salvation to Israel should quickly come from Sion; “For salvation is from the Jews;” as the Lord said to the Samaritan woman, John 4; and not only from the Jews, that is, from the tribe of Juda, but from the family of David, whose city was named Sion. Salvation, therefore, or the promised Savior, was promised and expected from Sion, the city of David; that is, from the stock of David, who was to save Israel; that is, his people. Christ is called “Savior of Israel his people;” because, though in reality he came to save the whole world, he did not actually save beyond a certain number, who are called the people of God and spiritual Israel. “When the Lord shall have turned away the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.” As much as to say, I beseech and pray for “salvation from Sion;” and, therefore, for the Savior “to free us from captivity;” because, when that shall be effected, then truly and perfectly, “Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad;” that is, the people of God, who are spiritually called Jacob and Israel, for both names belong to one person. And that such promises, and similar ones, belong not exclusively to the carnal Jews, but to God’s people, composed of Jews and gentiles, is clearly established by St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 10

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 9, 2018

PSALM 10

1 Why, O Lord, hast thou retired afar off? why dost thou slight us in our wants, in the time of trouble?

This verse, according to the Hebrew version, is the first of Psalm 10, but not recognized as such by the Septuagint; and it is most likely that such division of the Psalm was made in later times, by those who considered that the matter of the latter part of the Psalm was quite different from the first part; because, in the first part, hitherto the Church was exulting in the victory of God over his and her own enemies; and in the succeeding part she mourns over the success of the same enemies over the Church. The whole difference, though, consists, not in the matter, but in the times of which David prophesies. In the beginning of the Psalm, David exulted in spirit on account of the secret mysteries of the Son of God, who by his death subdued the evil spirits and paganism, and destroyed their idols; and then in the end of the said part, and the beginning of this part, foretells the persecutions that will be raised by the gentiles, and by the evil minded persons, assuming betimes such a magnitude that it would appear God had entirely forgotten the people he had delivered with such glory to himself; and as he said previously, “The Lord is become a refuge for the poor; a helper in due time in tribulation:” having before him another time, namely, that in which God permitted the poor to be oppressed by the more powerful, he says, “Why, O Lord, hast thou retired afar off?” that is to say, permitted such a raid of the unjust on the just, as if you were not present, and had “retired afar off. Why dost thou slight us in our wants, in the time of trouble?” Why not help us when we need help; and that is most in the time of trouble?

2 Whilst the wicked man is proud, the poor is set on fire: they are caught in the counsels which they devise.

Rather a difficult verse, but the sense would seem to be, “Whilst the wicked man is proud,” that is, while in his prosperity he appears full of vain boasting, “the poor is set on fire;” that means, is scandalized, and lights internally with anger: “They are caught in the counsels which they devise;” that is, both one and the other are caught; the impious man, by attributing all his happiness to himself, and thus deceiving himself; and the just man, seeing such prosperity, and not understanding it, equally deceives and involves himself. The expression, “The counsels which they devise,” is a Graecism, and has been translated literally, and merely signifies their thoughts. This verse would seem to supply a reason for the preceding one, showing that the prophet had implored of God “not to slight their wants in the time of trouble,” because the prosperity of the wicked is equally hurtful to the sinner and to the just, contributing, as it does, to the pride of the former, and the scandal of the latter.

3 For the sinner is praised in the desires of his soul: and the unjust man is blessed.

The reason assigned why prosperity makes “the wicked man proud,” and “the poor is set on fire;” because, when the sinner doeth evil, and by reason of his being in power, and having riches, he is praised by many, as if he were doing right; and his desires, however sinful and unjust, are applauded; and hence it comes that “The unjust man is blessed,” when he rather deserved to be cursed and reviled.

4 The sinner hath provoked the Lord, according to the multitude of his wrath, he will not seek him:

He goes on to explain the malice of the proud sinner: “He hath provoked the Lord,” at a time that he should have, with all his might, sought for a reconciliation with him; but, “According to the multitude of his wrath he will not seek him;” that is, his extravagant anger towards the afflicted poor will not let him seek God to be reconciled to him. For his mind has been so blinded by arrogance, that he never reflects how great an evil it is to provoke Almighty God.

5 God is not before his eyes: his ways are filthy at all times. Thy judgments are removed from his sight: he shall rule over all his enemies.

The blind sinner thinks not of God. The Hebrew puts it more expressively, “God is not in all his thoughts,” meaning in none of his thoughts, however numerous they may be, he never turns on God. “His ways are filthy at all times,” a consequence of the preceding; for, when he never thinks of God, never directs his steps to God, or to ought but gratifying his carnal desires, all his ways, therefore, that is, all his actions are filthy with the mire of concupiscence. “Thy judgments are removed from his sight.” The only thing that could turn him from his evil ways, the dreadful reflection on thy judgments, is far from his heart; and he, therefore, fearless of God, “Rules over all his enemies;” that is, tyrannically oppresses all he considers as such.

6 For he hath said in his heart: I shall not be moved from generation to generation, and shall be without evil.

The vain confidence of the wicked man! who thinks that nothing can harm him. “He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved;” nobody can disturb me, or bring me down from my station, forever and ever; I shall meet no evil.

7 His mouth is full of cursing, and of bitterness, and of deceit: under his tongue are labour and sorrow.

Having described the heart of the wicked man that never thinks on God, or his judgments, nor fears anything from them, he now describes his mouth, and afterwards his actions. Under the head of malediction, “or cursing,” may be classed blasphemies against God, and railing against men; under “bitterness” come detraction, contention, murmuring, and such like, indicative of hatred and rancor; finally, “to deceit” belong calumnious lies, and perjuries. The expression, “under his tongue are labor and sorrow,” explains the effect of the evils so enumerated; for the effect of all the evil words of the impious “is labor and sorrow, under his tongue;” that is, the labor and sorrow of wretched mortals, and the matter on which his tongue is constantly exercised.

8 He sitteth in ambush with the rich, in private places, that he may kill the innocent.

He comes now to describe the evil works, the oppression of the poor, making use of a metaphorical expression, taken from those who, when they meditate assassination, conceal themselves in a house for the purpose of observing the ingress and egress of those whose lives they are bent upon; and the meaning is, that those wicked and powerful people enter into a conspiracy with other rich and powerful people, to circumvent the poor by various arts and stratagems, and so destroy them entirely.

9 His eyes are upon the poor man: he lieth in wait, in secret, like a lion in his den. He lieth in ambush, that he may catch the poor man: so catch the poor, whilst he draweth him to him.
10 In his net he will bring him down, he will crouch and fall, when he shall have power over the poor.

The metaphor used in the twenty eighth verse is here explained by different metaphors. In that verse he compared the oppressor of the poor, to one man lying in ambush for another. In verse twenty nine he compares him to a lion, lying in wait for the weaker beasts; and finally, to a man laying snares for wild beasts, and catching them. “He lieth in wait to catch the poor,” which he does by enticing him, when off his guard, and draws him to himself. “In his net he will bring him down;” that is, will oppress and trample on him; will fall down, and rush upon him. “When he shall have power over the poor;” when he shall have made himself entirely their master. These verses contain a beautiful allusion to the wicked man’s intention, who then dreadfully comes into the slavery of the devil, when he seems to have made poor people slaves to himself.

11 For he hath said in his heart: God hath forgotten, he hath turned away his face, not to see to the end.

The cause of all the impiety being the wicked man’s thinking within himself, that God was, and ever would be, indifferent to human affairs.

12 Arise, O Lord God, let thy hand be exalted: forget not the poor.

A prayer to God to curb the wicked. “Arise,” as if from sleep, “and let thy hand be exalted,” to strike; for the hands of a passive man, or of one asleep, are either hanging down, or folded.

13 Therefore hath the wicked provoked God? for he hath said in his heart: He will not require it.

He again repeats the cause of the wicked man’s offending God: namely, thinking that God will not punish him.

14 Thou seest it, for thou considerest labour and sorrow: that thou mayst deliver them into thy hands. To thee is the poor man left: thou wilt be a helper to the orphan.

He contradicts the above by saying: you “do see it,” and you “will require it,” O God, because, “Thou considered the labor and sorrow” of the poor, and in due time you will “deliver into thy hands” the wicked to be punished; and justly, because to you, the Father of all, belongs the special care “of the poor man and the orphan.”

15 Break thou the arm of the sinner and of the malignant: his sin shall be sought, and shall not be found.

“Break thou the arm;” that is, the power and strength of the sinner, that so humbled, he may repent and sin no more; so that afterwards “his sin shall be sought, and shall not be found:” as Isaias has it, 28, “Vexation alone shall make you understand what you hear;” and in Ps. 83, “Fill their faces with shame, and they will seek thy name.”

16 The Lord shall reign to eternity, yea, for ever and ever: ye Gentiles shall perish from his land.

He predicts the fulfillment of his prayer. “The Lord shall reign;” that is, always will reign in spite of his enemies; nay, his enemies even shall “Perish from his land;” that is, shall be exterminated from this world, for the world is God’s land, as we read in Ps. 24, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.”

17 The Lord hath heard the desire of the poor: thy ear hath heard the preparation of their heart.

He uses the past for the future tense, on account of the certainty of the thing being done; and the word “Desire,” instead of prayer, to show how sure and quickly they would be heard; as if he said, God, the searcher of hearts, will not wait for their prayers, but will even hear their desires, that usually precede prayer. “Desire” and “Preparation of their heart” are the same, desire being a preliminary to prayer.

18 To judge for the fatherless and for the humble, that man may no more presume to magnify himself upon earth.

“The Lord hath heard the desire of the poor,”—“to judge for the fatherless and for the humble;” that is, to protect the fatherless and the humble against their oppressors, in order that man, who is upon earth, a creature, should not “Presume to magnify himself” against God, who is in heaven, and man’s Creator. All these denunciations of the oppressors of the poor are considered, by a figure, to apply to Antichrist. So St. Jerome and St. Augustine say: but if they are applied, as I consider they ought, in the literal sense, to the oppressors of the poor in general, they prove how great is the sin of such oppression, when the Holy Spirit denounces it at such length, and in such expressive language.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Commentary on Psalm 9

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 9, 2018

PSALM 9
THE CHURCH PRAISETH GOD FOR HIS PROTECTION AGAINST HER ENEMIES

1 Unto the end, for the hidden things of the Son. A psalm for David.

2 I will give praise to thee, O Lord, with my whole heart: I will relate all thy wonders.

The matter of the Psalm is here proposed, viz., the praise of God for his wonderful works. The words, “With my whole heart,” signify the subject to be praised is one of the highest importance, and, therefore, to be done with all his might and affections. The words, “All thy wonders” imply that the subject of his praise is so expansive as to comprehend in one view all the wonderful works of God. Such, in reality, was the redemption of man; a work of infinite mercy, in which are comprehended all the beneficent acts of God, as the apostle has it, Ephesians 1, “To establish all things in Christ;” that is, to comprehend, to reduce everything into one sum through him.

3 I will be glad, and rejoice in thee: I will sing to thy name, O thou most high.

The same sentiment, in different language, or, perhaps, rather an explanation; as if he said, with exultation and joy will I confess to thee, with joy in my heart and exultation in my exterior, thus confessing with all my affections. Playing on the harp before thee, O Most High, will I relate all thy wonders, chanting them to thy glory.

4 When my enemy shall be turned back: they shall be weakened, and perish before thy face.

He begins to narrate the victory of Christ over the devil and his satellites, and speaks in the person of the entire Church. “When my enemy shall be turned back,” that means, when my enemy, the devil, flying from your face, shall begin to turn back, then all his soldiers “Shall be weakened, and perish;” that is to say, the moment they see their leader to fly, they will become unnerved, will fly, scatter as if they had been actually destroyed. Of such flight the Lord himself speaks in the gospel, Jn. 12, “Now is the judgment of the world, now shall the prince of this world be cast out.”

5 For thou hast maintained my judgment and my cause: thou hast sat on the throne, who judgest justice.

A reason assigned for the devil’s flight and the scattering of his forces; for you, my Lord, the Son of God, “hast maintained my judgment and my cause;” that is, you have put an end to the litigation, the struggle, and the contest between mankind, or the Church and the devil. For the devil maintained that mankind was justly held in bondage by him, and therefore harassed it in a most tyrannical manner, until Christ, by his sufferings on the cross, thereby atoning for man, put an end to the struggle; hence the expression, “Thou hast sat on the throne, who judgest justice,” meaning the cross, as St. Leo has it, in his eighth Sermon on the Passion of our Lord: “O unspeakable glory of the passion, in which are united the judgment seat of God, the judgment of the world, and the power of the crucified;” and these are in reality the occult things of the Son, which by some are prefixed as a title to this Psalm. For he who, to all appearance, seemed to be guilty and was suffering punishment in the greatest ignominy, at that very moment was sitting on his throne, “judged justice,” that is, judged most justly, inasmuch as now that the price had been paid, man was delivered, and the devil despoiled of his dominion over him, and actually, as the apostle has it, Col. 2, “Blotting out the handwriting of the decree which was against us, which was contrary to us, and the same he took out of the way, fastening it to the cross.”

6 Thou hast rebuked the Gentiles, and the wicked one hath perished; thou hast blotted out their name for ever and ever.

The devil having been subdued through the cross, Christ our Lord, through his apostles, “rebuked the gentiles,” “convicting the world of sin, of justice, and of judgment,” as the Lord himself foretold: and in such manner “The wicked one hath perished;” that is the wickedness of idolatry perished, and man from impiety was brought to love God. Which was effected not only among the impious of that time, but Christ so entirely destroyed idolatry and the religion of the gentiles forever, that it can never appear again, having been plucked out from the roots. A thing we see already fulfilled, the Jews themselves, who were most prone to idolatry, having never attempted to return to it. “Forever and ever,” to signify true, real eternity, having no end, for fear any one should suppose that a very long time, but still a definite one, was intended.

7 The swords of the enemy have failed unto the end: and their cities thou hast destroyed. Their memory hath perished with a noise:

A reason assigned for idolatry not being likely to return, inasmuch as the power of the devil and his strongholds had disappeared, and he has no means of carrying on an offensive or a defensive warfare, “His swords having failed”—“unto the end;” that is, thoroughly, without a single exception—not one remaining. By “the swords of the enemy” we may also understand the temptations, or suggestions, which may be looked upon as the words of the devil, in the same sense that the apostle calls the word of God, “The sword of the Spirit.” The same apostle calls the temptations of the devil, “weapons of fire;” and such weapons are said “to have failed,” because they cannot injure those armed in the faith of Jesus Christ. In which sense, St. Anthony, in his life of St. Athanasius, quoted this very passage, proving therefrom that the temptations of the devil are most easily repulsed by the sign of the cross. By “their cities” may be understood all infidels, in whom the devil dwells without disturbance; these were destroyed by Christ when he put down idolatry. Our Lord himself seems to have this in view when he says, in Lk. 11, “When a strong man armed keepeth his court, those things which he possessed are in peace. But if a stronger than he come upon him, and overcome him, he will take away all his armor, wherein he trusted, and will distribute his spoils.” When the devil held possession, everything he possessed was in peace; because, while man is in a state of infidelity, he is always in the power of the devil, however morally good his life may have been, as has been the case with many pagan philosophers. But Christ, having got possession, by the extirpation of infidelity and the introduction of the knowledge of the true God, the devil lost his all. “Their memory has perished with a noise;” that is to say, the memory of idolatry, idolaters, and of the whole kingdom of Satan has perished amidst much noise and confusion. For the whole world resisted Christ; the most powerful kings and emperors sought to stand up for and defend their idols; but the more the world raged, the more idolatry tottered, and the remembrance of it was being blotted out; and, finally, the cessation of persecution was succeeded by a total destruction of idolatry.

8 But the Lord remaineth for ever. He hath prepared his throne in judgment:

Christ’s memory, on the contrary, will never fade after his death and resurrection. “All power in heaven and on earth was given to him,” which David alludes to here; as if he said, after such contest with the devil, the Lord “Hath prepared,” or, as the Hebrew has it, established “His throne in judgment;” that is, for the purpose of judging; and he, the Prince of the kings of the earth, “Shall judge the world;” meaning the people of the whole world, “In equity and justice,” two words used synonymously. Christ is said to sit in judgment on the world, though there may be many wicked and infidel princes in the world in rebellion against him, but who can, however, devise nothing—do nothing against his will and permission.

9 And he shall judge the world in equity, he shall judge the people in justice.
10 And the Lord is become a refuge for the poor: a helper in due time in tribulation.

From the fact of Christ’s being the future ruler, to govern with supreme justice, he infers the poor, who are usually oppressed by the great, will have great consolation. Let the poor fear no longer, for the Lord, sitting in heaven, “Is become a refuge” to them; and, furthermore, “A helper in due time in tribulation;” that is, when necessity may require it. For the divine help never comes so opportunely, as when we are overwhelmed in trouble, with no human being to console us; and this promise will be most surely fulfilled to all who truly seek and fear God; and therefore, he adds:

11 And let them trust in thee who know thy name: for thou hast not forsaken them that seek thee, O Lord.

The prophet speaks now in the third, instead of the first person, a thing he often does, from some new inspiration. With great justice can all “Who know your name;” that is to say, not only by the sound of it, but in reality; and fully understand the significance of it, and thence know the power and the mercy of God, put their confidence in you in all their difficulties. Much more so can your friends, “Since thou hast not forsaken;” that is, you never have forsaken “Those that seek thee.” By those “That seek him” he means those that covet his grace, and with all their heart seek to please him.

12 Sing ye to the Lord, who dwelleth in Sion: declare his ways among the Gentiles:

After a fervent appeal to God, he makes one to man in the same spirit; exhorting them too, to praise God, and to bring others to do so. The Lord is said “To dwell in Sion,” for there was the “Ark of the testament,” and “The place of prayer;” and this is put in here by way of apposition, that the true God may be distinguished from the false, who dwell in caves and the shrines of the gentiles. The word “ways” comprehends the thoughts, counsels, plans, inventions, the wonderful works of God, that are so resplendent in the redemption of man. Thus the meaning of the whole verse is: Sing to God a hymn of praise; announce to the gentiles his wonderful designs, his wonderful wisdom; and, in consequence, his wonderful works, that all nations, when they hear them, may unite in his praise.

13 For requiring their blood, he hath remembered them: he hath not forgotten the cry of the poor.

The prophet returns to what he previously asserted: namely, that the Lord was a “Just Judge,” the “Refuge of the poor in tribulation;” and takes up an objection that may be possibly raised, to wit, the fact of our seeing the poor, however pious, persecuted by the wealthy, sometimes even unto death. The answer is, “Praise God,” says he, “for though he sometimes seems to forget his poor,” such is not the case. “For requiring;” that is to say, inquiring into their daily actions, and examining them severally. “Their blood he hath remembered, he hath not forgotten the cry of the poor,” who, in their persecutions, had appealed to him; which recollection of their sufferings will appear in its own time, when the punishment of the oppressors and the glory of the oppressed shall be declared.

14 Have mercy on me, O Lord: see my humiliation which I suffer from my enemies.

Having thanked God for past favors, he now asks his assistance, in present and future difficulties. The prayer of the Church against her visible and invisible enemies. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, see my humiliation,” that is, my total prostration, caused by my enemies.

15 Thou that liftest me up from the gates of death, that I may declare all thy praises in the gates of the daughter of Sion.

The first part of this verse has a connection with the verse preceding. The meaning is, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, see my humiliation;” you, O Lord, “That liftest me up from the gates of death,” meaning you that keep me far removed from the gates of death. Those gates are supposed to be very deep; for the prophet does not allude to the death of the body, but to the death of the soul by sin, or everlasting death; and, therefore, he makes use of the word “Exalt,” to be far removed from the said gates. By the “Gates of death,” or of hell, the multitude of our infernal enemies would seem to be implied. The great body of the Jewish people were wont to assemble at the gates, whether for matters of justice or any other public business, and thus the word “Gates” got to signify a large assemblage of the people. Hence, we have in Matthew, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against her;” and in the last chapter of Ecclesiasticus, “From the gates of tribulation that have encompassed me.” And here we may note the beauty of the contrast between the gates of death, and the gates of the daughter of Sion or Jerusalem; the former are in the lowest bottom; the latter, on a high mountain: in the former are assembled the evil spirits; in the latter the people of God: from the gates of the former come forth nothing but temptations and war, that lead to death; the gates of the latter “Are built on peace;” for Jerusalem “Has put peace as its boundary;” and it is named as “The vision of peace.” The Church, then, “Is lifted up from the gates of death,” to announce God’s praise, “In the gates of the daughter of Sion;” which means being delivered from all temptations that may lead her to eternal death; to acknowledge the great grace conferred on her by her liberator, and to praise him with the Angels of God, who are in the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem.

16 I will rejoice in thy salvation: the Gentiles have stuck fast in the destruction which they prepared. Their foot hath been taken in the very snare which they hid.

Having been liberated from the “gates of death,” “I will rejoice in thy salvation;” that is, in the salvation you bestowed on me; since “the gentiles who laid a snare for me” have been caught in the very snare they laid, as they would in the deepest mud, from whence they cannot extricate themselves; in other words, their persecution did much harm to them, none to me; and the same may be said not only of their open and avowed persecution, but also of their private persecution, which, “like a snare, they laid for me.” May be too, that the avowed persecutions of Diocletian and others of the Roman emperors, and the disguised persecutions of Julian the Apostate, and other heretical emperors, are here intended.

17 The Lord shall be known when he executeth judgments: the sinner hath been caught in the works of his own hands.

From this wonderful dispensation of Providence, who turns the arms and the wiles of the wicked on themselves, David gathers that God will come to be known. “The Lord shall be known when he executeth judgment;” that is, his judgments will be so admired that he will be known to be the true and supreme God; and mainly, through his providence in causing the sinner “to be caught in the works of his own hands:” namely, when he falls into “the destruction he had prepared for others,” and “the snare which he had hid for them.”

18 The wicked shall be turned into hell, all the nations that forget God.

To be taken as a prophecy, not as an imprecation. “Shall be turned,” means in the Hebrew, “shall return;” which is applied to sinners, inasmuch as the devil, when he seduced them, made them his slaves; and, therefore, they will return to him. For God created man in innocence: the devil made him a sinner. As our Savior, in Jn. 8, says, “You are from your father, the devil.” The latter part of the verse, “all the nations that forget God,” declares who the sinners are that “will return to hell:” namely, all those “who forget God.” For the forgetting of God is the root of all sin; for he who sins turns away from God unto the creature.

19 For the poor man shall not be forgotten to the end: the patience of the poor shall not perish for ever.

Sinners, therefore, who are in the habit of oppressing the poor will be cast into hell; for God, sooner or later, will avenge their wrongs; for, though he may seem to forget them for a time, “he does not forget them to the end,” but will one time remember them; and, therefore, “the patience of the poor shall not perish forever.” When the patience of the poor is said not to perish, it does not mean that their patience in itself will be everlasting; but that it will in its effects, inasmuch as its reward will be everlasting.

20 Arise, O Lord, let not man be strengthened: let the Gentiles be judged in thy sight.

Having predicted the final ruin of the wicked, he now asks for their coercion. “Arise, O Lord, let not man be strengthened;” that is, let not man, a handful of dust, prevail against God, his Creator. “Let the gentiles be judged in thy sight;” meaning, let judgment issue against them, as we have in another Psalm, “Judge them, O God.”

21 Appoint, O Lord, a lawgiver over them: that the Gentiles may know themselves to be but men.

The judgment that issued against the gentiles, who persecuted the Church, was quite manifest when they became subject to a Christian prince. They then plainly saw they were weak mortals, and could not prevail against Christ. That the prophet predicts, but in the shape of a prayer. The word “lawgiver,” in the Hebrew, means a teacher, or a terrible character. And as the prophet spoke of a terrible teacher, who was to teach and to command with authority, the Septuagint, most properly, used the word legislator. By the legislator, many have said Christ is meant; many more say, Antichrist is alluded to. Let every one have their own opinion. Mine is, that he alludes to Jovinianus, Valentinian, Theodosius, and such characters.

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St Robert Bellarmine’s Psalm 33

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 8, 2018

PSALM 33
AN EXHORTATION TO PRAISE GOD, AND TO TRUST IN HIM

1 REJOICE in the Lord, O ye just: praise becometh the upright.

The rejoicing asked for here, includes the praising of God in joy; that is, praise him in rejoicing, not against your will, or in a sad or negligent manner, but with great affection, rejoicing and exulting in your hearts; and praise him not only internally but externally; because, “praise becometh the upright;” in other words, I specially invite you, ye just, to praise God, because it is the special duty of the just, who are called here the upright, as naturally they are; and with whom God, as being all righteousness, is always pleased. God is never pleased with the crooked or distorted; because his judgments and his actions are always straight and direct, and by no means square with the crookedness of the wicked; and hence, instead of freely praising God, they rather offend and blaspheme him.

2 Give praise to the Lord on the harp; sing to him with the psaltery, the instrument of ten strings.

He again exhorts the just to give God his tribute of praise, not only with their voice, but also with the musical instruments then used by the Jews; in which there is a mystical meaning, that we should praise God, not only by our words, but by our conduct; and, especially by the strict observance of the decalogue, signified by the instrument of ten strings; “That men, seeing our good works, may glorify our father who is in heaven.” Mt. 6.

3 Sing to him a new canticle, sing well unto him with a loud noise.

By way of epilogue he joins the substance of the two preceding verses in this one. He had said that we should praise him with our voice, and sing to him with our instruments, and reminded us that we should do everything accurately and carefully. “Sing to him a new canticle;” that is a repetition of “rejoice in the Lord, O ye just;” and we are ordered to sing to him, not in one of the old chants, but in “a new canticle;” composed expressly for the occasion. “Sing well unto him with a loud noise,” is a repetition of “Give praise to the Lord on the harp;” and he orders it to be done, not in the ordinary way, not carelessly, or coldly, but with great music and effect, to show the importance of the occasion; thus, the word, loud voice, does not refer to the human voice, but to the noise of the instrument. The holy fathers justly direct our attention to the difference between the old and the new chant of praise. The old canticle was the one sung by the old man, “who born of the flesh, is flesh,” has a taste for things of the world, and is delighted with them; he praises God when fortune smiles on him; but the new man, who, renewed in the spirit of his mind, longs after the things of the other world, and takes pleasure in those things alone that appertain to heaven; he, too, praises God, praises him always, even in his persecutions, knowing as he does that they tend to his good. We are also warned by the words, “Sing well to him with a loud voice,” that when we do sing to him, we must do it with great care, attentively, devoutly, and with great affection, and interior joy. St. Benedict, in his Rule, lays down that Psalmody is a divine work, and should be preferred to any other work. St. Bernard has:—“My dearly beloved, I advise you to assist at the Divine Office, with a pure intention and an active mind; I say active, because I wish you to be active, as well as reverent; neither lazy, nor drowsy, nor nodding; nor sparing your voice, or clipping the words, not skipping sentences, nor in a weak and tremulous voice, full of sloth and effeminacy, but in an open and manly tone, vigorous, as well as affectionate, give out the language of the Holy Spirit.

4 For the word of the Lord is right, and all his works are done with faithfulness.

He now assigns the reasons why God should be praised with so much affection, taken from his goodness, his power, and his wisdom. Of his goodness he says, “For the word of the Lord is right;” that is, both words and acts of the Lord are most just, most faithful, and most holy, as he expresses in different language, in Psalm 144, “The Lord is faithful in all his words; and holy in all his works.” By the “word of the Lord,” is meant what he commands, prohibits, promises, or threatens; and all these are most “right and done with faithfulness.” For, he commands nothing but what is good, prohibits nothing but what is bad; and, whatever he promises or threatens, he will most faithfully carry out. Therefore, “The word of the Lord is right,” and he is “faithful in all his words.” And his acts agree with his words; and, therefore, are said to be done in faithfulness; that is, they are faithful, just, and holy; and God is said to be holy in all his works.

5 He loveth mercy and judgment; the earth is full of the mercy of the Lord.

The sanctity of the Lord in respect of words and actions, arises from his sanctity of will or of purpose, for “He loveth mercy and judgment; that means, he wishes first to give us the gifts of his grace, and then, according to the use we have made of them, to reward, or to punish us; and thus, all the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth. In the first part of this verse we are informed of the goodness of God, arising from his mercy and justice; in the second, we are told that his mercy exceeds his justice, and is, as we have it in Psalm 117, “above all his works;” for to his mercy belongs the removal of every defeat and misery; and, as there are no created things that do not suffer some defect, there is nothing that does not need the mercy of God. Corruptible things of this world, however, suffer more and greater defects than the incorruptible things, that do not belong to this world; so that, when compared to them, they seem to have no defects; therefore, the prophet says, “The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord;” for by the earth he means, all corruptible things, for the earth is the dwelling place, not only of all mankind, all animals and plants, but also of birds and fishes; for though the former fly through the air, and the latter “perambulate the paths of the sea,” yet, both one and the other, rest on the earth. Now all corruptible things need the manifold mercy of God, to create, uphold, move, nourish, and repair them; but man, in addition, needs his mercy to go before him, to accompany him, to follow him, to forgive his sins, to arm, direct, and protect him, against the devil; and, therefore, he most justly says, “The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord.” We are to consider here also, that the perfect mercy that can remove all defects, belongs to God alone, for no one, having any defect whatever, can remove those of others, and thus, God is a pure, everlasting, all powerful, impersonation of infinite perfection; with justice, then, doth the Church sing, “O God whose province it is to have mercy.”

6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were established; and all the power of them by the spirit of his mouth:

From praising his goodness, he comes now to praise his power, the principal and most conspicuous effect of which is the creation of heaven; the magnitude of which is increased by the reflection of its having been made by God without labor; in no time, without men or machinery, by his single word, and forever. He evidently alludes to the creation of the world, in Genesis 1, where “God said: let the firmament, be, and the firmament was made, and He called the firmament heaven.” The second part of the verse, “and all the power of them by the spirit of his mouth,” would seem to be a mere repetition of the first part. For “the word,” and “the spirit of his mouth,” would seem to be much the same. By “The power of them,” is meant the stars, which, like a heavenly host, or celestial army, ornament the heavens to a wonderful degree, and shed their influence on things below. And though, by the “Word of the Lord,” and “the spirit of his mouth,” God’s orders are clearly understood, such is the meaning of both; there is no doubt but the Holy Ghost meant to glance at the mystery of the Holy Trinity to be revealed in the New Testament. We are not to notice the objection, that the prophet attributes the creation of heaven to the Word, and the creation of the stars to the Holy Ghost, as if God the Father made the heavens through the Son, and the stars through the Holy Ghost; because the acts of the Trinity cannot be separated, by reason of the unity of essence, which is the working power: and, therefore, when God the Father is said to have made the heavens through the Son, the Holy Ghost is not excluded; and when the power, or the celestial host, is said to have proceeded from the spirit of the mouth of the Lord, they are understood also to have proceeded from the Word, who proceeded from the mouth of the same Father, and from which Word the Spirit himself proceeded.

7 Gathering together the waters of the sea, as in a vessel; laying up the depths in storehouses.

He goes on explaining God’s power, who not only created the heavens and the stars by one word, but collected all the waters that, at the creation, covered the whole globe, and shut them up in the deepest caverns and recesses of the earth; just as easy as one would fill a vessel with water, or shut up his money in a chest. “Laying up the depths in storehouses.” Shutting up the immense depths of waters that were on the earth and reached to the very heavens, with as much ease as one would shut up a sum of money in a safe. That the “depths” mean the mass of water that covered the earth is clear from Genesis 1, where it is said, “Darkness was over the depths.” By “treasures” is sometimes meant an abundance of gold, silver, or precious stones, as, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.” Sometimes it means the place in which such things are kept, as, “Every learned scribe produces from his treasure the new and the old;” and we read of the Magi, that “They opened their treasures, and offered unto him gold, frankincense, and myrrh,” in which latter sense the word “treasure” is to be understood here.

8 Let all the earth fear the Lord, and let all the inhabitants of the world be in awe of him.

From what he has said of God’s power, he takes the occasion of exhorting all men to fear him, and have a horror of breaking his commandments.

9 For he spoke and they were made: he commanded and they were created.

The very best reason that could be offered for fearing God alone; because anything but God cannot harm us without God’s permission; and, on the other hand, there is nothing outside God that can defend us from his anger; because all things depend upon him for existence, God made everything by one word; for this reason, that his word is all powerful, full of authority, and cannot be resisted; and he, therefore, adds, “He commanded, and they were created.”

10 The Lord bringeth to nought the counsels of nations; and he rejecteth the devices of people, and casteth away the counsels of princes.

The prophet now comes to wisdom, to show that God deserves our praise in every respect. “He brings to naught the counsels of nations.” The wisdom of God is so far beyond and above, the wisdom of mankind that God, in one moment, blasts, blights, renders null and void all the plans and plots of men, however wisely and deliberately they may seem to have been laid. He repeats that in the words, “He rejecteth the devices of people;” he rejects all their devices as if they were so many fools, and deals in like manner with their princes, whose counsels, however wise they may seem to be, and framed by counselors abounding in wisdom and learning, are still “cast away” as of no value or importance. Truly wonderful is the wisdom of God, that catches the wise in their own cunning, and by some inexplicable dealing, so infatuates them, that what they judge will be of the highest importance and value to them, turns out to be the readiest road to their injury and destruction.

11 But the counsel of the Lord standeth for ever: the thoughts of his heart to all generations.

By an inscrutable wisdom, God mars the counsels of man, and does not allow them to accomplish what they purpose. Whereas, on the contrary, the wisdom of man is quite powerless against that of God; for, once he has decreed anything it is fixed to eternity. “Every counsel of mine will stand, and every will of mine shall be done, saith the Lord,” Isaias 43. Now, by “counsel,” as regards God, we are not to understand a consultation previous to election, for God has not to think a matter over, but, by one most simple act of his will, he decreed from eternity all he should ever do or carry out. The Scripture merely accommodates itself to our weakness and our usual manner of speaking, when it says, “The counsel of the Lord standeth forever;” that means, that what God in his wisdom has once decreed, cannot be disturbed nor be prevented being put into execution. He repeats that, when he says, “The thoughts of his heart to all generations;” that means, that whatever God once thought of doing can never be prevented, but will certainly be carried out, and in the way he intended. The Scripture, however, does not go so far in accommodating itself to our weakness as to exclude truth altogether, for, though there is no counsel with God previous to election, there is in his counsel what is most perfect, that is, the knowledge of all the means necessary to accomplish the most useful end; and though there may be in God one only, and that a most simple thought, that one, however, is equivalent to numberless ones.

12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord: the people whom he hath chosen for his inheritance.

From what he had said of the power, wisdom, and goodness of God, the prophet concludes that blessed must the people be, whose God is not an empty idol, but a Lord, most powerful, most wise, and most benevolent, on whose praises he had just been descanting; and then are we truly and perfectly happy, and blessed, when we have that great Lord for our God, and he has us for His peculiar people; the prophet then unites both when he says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord;” that is, blessed are they who acknowledge no God but the one Lord, “by whose word the heavens were established;” and in like manner, “blessed are the people whom he hath chosen for his inheritance;” that means, blessed are they whom the same great Lord hath chosen to be his own peculiar people, and as it were his own property and inheritance. These two things are so united that they cannot be separated, for they alone have the true God for their God, who worship him through faith, hope, and charity; and they only, whom he has chosen for his inheritance, whom he has preordained by his grace, called, and justified, and who worship him through faith, hope, and charity, and his people: a thing we should never lose sight of, for, whatever man may have, even though he may gain the entire world, he is still poor and wretched if he want God, who alone can fill up the bosom of his soul; and, on the other hand, he who possesses God, however poor he may be, is still happy and rich because, with God he has everything. Besides, man is God’s image; now, the beauty and great perfection of an image is to be like the original as possible; and then he will be really like to God, and therefore most happy, “when we shall see him as he is,” Jn. 3; for God’s happiness consists in seeing himself as he is; and thus, those who will never see him will be always most unlike him, and, therefore, truly miserable. Finally, anything beneath God is either meaner than man, as all corporal things, or equal to man, as the Angels are, for in the resurrection we will be equal to them. Now, nothing can make us more perfect, blessed, or happy, but something better and more perfect than ourselves; they, then, alone who cling to God, who become one spirit with him, are the only really happy; that is, they who love God, and are loved by him; who are happy here in hope, and are, in point of fact, happy when they cling to God by so happy a tie that can never be broken.

13 The Lord hath looked from heaven: he hath beheld all the sons of men.
14 From his habitation which he hath prepared, he hath looked upon all that dwell on the earth.

He proves what he said, namely, that, blessed is that people that have for their God the Lord, who made the heavens; because when God, looking down from heaven, as he would from an observatory, and seeing man, and knowing that no man, however brave or powerful he may appear to be, could be saved by his own merits; he looks upon his own people with the eye of a father, helps him and saves him, so that the just were deservedly called upon in the beginning of the Psalm to “Rejoice in the Lord, O ye just.” He, therefore, says, “The Lord hath looked down from heaven; he hath beheld all the sons of men;” that means, the Lord in heaven, from whom nothing can be concealed, sees not only his own people, but all mankind, and their various capabilities. The following verse has the same meaning.

15 He who hath made the hearts of every one of them: who understandeth all their works.

He tells us now, that when God saw the “sons of men” from heaven, it was not in the dim, confused, and uncertain way that we see objects placed at a great distance, but that he saw most distinctly and minutely all their actions; that is, what they were doing, or might do, in mind or body; and thus, he saw all the thoughts, desires, words, acts, past, present, and future, of all men in general, and of each in particular; and he proves God’s power to see them thus, because “he made the heart of every one of them;” that is, he created their souls, and, therefore, their hearts; that is, their minds and will, from which all human actions spring; for he that could make the heart, could certainly search it. “Of every one of them;” that is, of every one of them separately, and, therefore he ought to understand all their works.

16 The king is not saved by a great army: nor shall the giant be saved by his own great strength.

He explains what the all seeing eye really saw, and that was, that no one, by his own merits or exertions, could be delivered from the evils that surround us on all sides; and that we all need the mercy of God. He gives as an instance, that of the one most likely to boast of and confide in his own strength, the king. God saw that “the king is not saved by a great army;” great power, a great army, a great deal of money will not save or protect the king. “Nor shall the giant be saved by his own great strength;” his own strength will be as unserviceable to the strong, brave man, as is the great army to the king.

17 Vain is the horse for safety: neither shall he be saved by the abundance of his strength.

There are three things to rescue one from imminent danger; the strength of others, such as guards of soldiers; one’s own strength; a swift horse; the two former to meet the danger, the latter to fly from it. The psalmist had already said that the two former were insufficient, he says now that the third is equally so; and we have examples of all in the Book of Kings. An immense military force was unable to protect Saul; Goliath, the great giant, was slain by the youth David; Joram, the son of Achab, flying away in a swift chariot, was killed by a swifter arrow. “Vain is the horse for safety.” The man who depends on the velocity of his horses is greatly deceived; because such velocity may he impeded or overcome in a variety of ways, and is, therefore, very deceitful. “Neither shall he be saved by the abundance of His strength.” The horse, whose power is principally in his swiftness, will not save himself and his rider by means of it.

18 Behold the eyes of the Lord are on them that fear him: and on them that hope in his mercy.
19 To deliver their souls from death; and feed them in famine.

The conclusion of the argument, whereby the prophet undertook to prove the happiness of the nation who had God for their Lord. For God sees all men, and sees what little they can do of themselves, without his assistance. He has, however, peculiar regard to the just, to help them, to deliver them from the danger of death, and to find fair support for them in this world. “Behold, the eyes of the Lord are on them that fear him.” The truly just and the friends of God are beautifully described, as those who fear him and trust in him. For fear, without hope, is servile fear; hope, without fear, is presumption. Fear, combined with hope, is the mark of real love; that is, the generous love whereby God is loved, as a friend, a father, a spouse; such love, while it greatly fears doing anything that may possibly offend the beloved, still securely hopes and trusts that the mercy of the beloved will never be wanting. “To deliver their souls from death, and feed them in famine.” God’s reason for regarding with the eye of a father those who so fear him, while they trust in him, is to confer those two blessings on them, viz., to free them from the fear of death, and to support them while they live. As the just are afraid to offend God, he delivers them from the fear of being offended, that is, of their lives being endangered, which is a great blessing. To those who trust in his mercy, he shows perpetual mercy, “while he feeds them in famine;” and those two blessings can be understood of our corporal and temporal salvation, as well as of our spiritual and everlasting happiness. “He delivers their souls from death.” Our corporal salvation is looked after, since God, by a singular providence, delivers us from the various dangers of death, we could never escape of ourselves, or through any human agency. And after thus delivering us, he provides us with all the necessaries of life, especially in time of famine, when so many others are in extremes. In a spiritual sense, he “delivers their souls from death,” when he either prevents their falling into sin, which is a spiritual death, or, if they have sinned, brings them back by wholesome penance to grace, which is the spiritual life of the soul; and thus, in both ways, he delivers their souls from everlasting death. And those who are living to God, by means of the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, “he feeds in famine;” while, in this desert, “a desert barren and without water,” on our journey to the land of promise, he feeds us with manna raining from heaven, and with water bursting from the rock; that is, while he supports and refreshes us by his heavenly consolations, he feeds, without satiating; he cools, without quenching our thirst; because the one and the other are reserved for the day when the glory of the Lord shall appear, when “we shall be inebriated with the plenty of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of thy pleasure.”

20 Our soul waiteth for the Lord: for he is our helper and protector.

Hitherto he had addressed the just, the servants of God, exhorting them to “exult in the Lord,” and to praise God as a most indulgent and most merciful father. He now gives the reply of the just, who say, “Our soul waiteth for the Lord.” The just understand what the Holy Spirit wants when he invites them to exult and praise; that he wants them to do so, that they may thereby be encouraged to persevere in justice; to cling to God Almighty, not to turn from him through any amount of persecution; and, finally, to praise God more through their actions, than with their lips; and they reply that, marked as they have been by so many of God’s signal favors, they will most steadily remain in his fear and his love. “Our soul (say they) waiteth for the Lord.” Whatever may happen, it will not separate us from the love of God, nor will we look for any other to console us; but will patiently expect consolation from heaven, knowing it has been written, Habac. 2, “If it make any delay, wait for it: for it shall surely come, and it shall not be slack.” The soul is said to wait, by a Hebraism, by which the soul is used for the entire man, especially in spiritual matters. Thus, in Isaias 26, “Thy name and thy remembrance are the desire of the soul. My soul hath desired thee in the night;” and, Lamentation 3, “The Lord is good to them that hope in him, to the soul that seeketh him;” and the most Blessed Virgin says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” The just herein assign a reason for their having determined to wait for the Lord so long; because they know, from experience, that he always helped them in their prosperity, and protected them most faithfully and effectually in their adversity.

21 For in him our heart shall rejoice: and in his holy name we have trusted.

The just having responded to the first desire of the Holy Spirit, they now respond to the second, viz., that they should “rejoice in the Lord,” as has been explained in the first verse of the Psalm. They say they will do so most willingly. “In him our heart shall rejoice;” having hoped in the Lord, they have been assisted and protected by him, and, therefore, having learned from experience, how good and how powerful he is, they “rejoice in him,” and “trusting his name.”

22 Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, as we have hoped in thee.

The Psalm, as is frequently the case, concludes with a prayer, one quite apposite to the last verses, and to the entire Psalm, because it having been repeated that God has mercy on those that confide in him, and the just assert they did confide in him, and by reason of continuous danger, always need continuous mercy, they therefore conclude by, “Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us;” let it not cease, but continue; nay, even let new mercies be poured upon us, “as we have hoped in thee,” as your goodness led us to expect, and we promised to ourselves.

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