Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Gradual Psalms - Introduction to Psalm 123

The second psalm of weekday Sext in the Benedictine office, Psalm 123, makes clear our total dependence on God.

In the previous psalm, the speaker has had enough, is sick of being treated with being an object of derision.  Here the psalmist rejoices because God has heard his plea and intervened to strengthen the souls of the people with faith and patience, and bring them safely through the raging waters and the hunter’s trap.

The psalm contrasts the helplessness of man in the face of his enemies, with God, the Creator of all and saviour of the people under attack.

Psalm 123: Nisi quia Dóminus erat in nobis 
Vulgate
Douay-Rheims
Canticum graduum

 Nisi quia Dóminus erat in nobis, dicat nunc Israël: * nisi quia Dóminus erat in nobis,
If it had not been that the Lord was with us, let Israel now say: 2 If it had not been that the Lord was with us,
2  Cum exsúrgerent hómines in nos, * forte vivos deglutíssent nos:
When men rose up against us, 3 perhaps they had swallowed us up alive.
3  Cum irascerétur furor eórum in nos, * fórsitan aqua absorbuísset nos.
When their fury was enkindled against us, perhaps the waters had swallowed us up.
4  Torréntem pertransívit ánima nostra: * fórsitan pertransísset ánima nostra aquam intolerábilem.
5 Our soul has passed through a torrent: perhaps our soul had passed through a water insupportable.
5  Benedíctus Dóminus * qui non dedit nos, in captiónem déntibus eórum.
6 Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us to be a prey to their teeth.
6  Anima nostra sicut passer erépta est * de láqueo venántium.
7 Our soul has been delivered as a sparrow out of the snare of the fowlers.
7  Láqueus contrítus est, * et nos liberáti sumus.
The snare is broken, and we are delivered.
8  Adjutórium nostrum in nómine Dómini, * qui fecit cælum et terram.
8 Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth

In the Hebrew Masoretic Text version (but not the Septuagint) this psalm, the fourth of the gradual psalms, is attributed to David.

There are also a number of minor differences in this psalm between the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint.

How to face trials

The psalm opens with a a formula that is an exhortation to prayer: ‘dicat nunc Israël’,  or 'let Israel say'.   It then provides two images of the dire straits the pilgrims finds themselves in: first a sea monster intent on swallowing them alive as they struggle, caught up in a raging flood (verses 2-5); and secondly of birds caught in a trap set by hunters (verses 6-7).

It seems to me to conjure up the image of a people facing certain death, a challenge faced by all too many Christians in our time.  And in this situation, it argues, what counts is not our own virtues, planning or resources, but God’s mercy and aid.

As in the previous psalm, the emphasis here is on cultivating patience and self-abandonment to God.

St John Chrysostom adds another key dimension to this message, stressing the importance of trials in building our character and virtue, and thus helping us progress towards perfection: great troubles bring forth great good for us and from us.

Song of the martyrs

Above all, the psalm reminds us that, in facing our noonday demons, it is the fate of the soul, not the body that counts: St Augustine portrays this psalm as the song of the martyrs, rejoicing that they have passed through the torrents and traps that afflict the body only, their souls resting safe with the Lord in heaven.  Pope Benedict XVI summarises his view thus:

St Augustine comments clearly on this Psalm. He first observes that it is fittingly sung by the "members of Christ who have reached blessedness". In particular, "it has been sung by the holy martyrs who, upon leaving this world are with Christ in joy, ready to take up incorrupt again those same bodies that were previously corruptible. In life they suffered torments in the body, but in eternity these torments will be transformed into ornaments of justice". However, in a second instance the Bishop of Hippo tells us that we too, not only the blessed in Heaven, can sing this Psalm with hope. He declares: "We too are enlivened by unfailing hope and will sing in exaltation. Indeed, the singers of this Psalm are not strangers to us.... Therefore, let us all sing with one heart: both the saints who already possess the crown as well as ourselves, who with affection and hope unite ourselves to their crown. Together we desire the life that we do not have here below, but that we will never obtain if we have not first desired it".’

The psalm contains a threefold profession of faith: faith that the Lord is with us in our trials (verse 1); that he will not abandon us to temptations (verse 6); and above all in that final triumphant statement, that the God who is creator of all things will save us (verse 8).

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Psalm 122 verses 4-5

The final verses of Psalm 122 describe that state of mind we have all surely felt at some point, of just having had enough!

4
V/NV
Miserére nostri, Dómine, miserére nostri: * quia multum repléti sumus despectióne:
JH
Miserere nostri, Domine, miserere nostri : quoniam multum repleti sumus despectione. 
Sept
λέησον μς κύριε λέησον μς τι π πολ πλήσθημεν ξουδενώσεως

Text notes: Have mercy on us, Lord (Miserere nostri Domine) is a very familiar prayer, but here in the plural, not the singular as in Psalm 50 and elsewhere, giving the appearance of a communal plea.  The RSV perhaps best conveys the sense of the second phrase: ‘for we have had more than enough of contempt’.  The Knox translation provides a nice sense of the text of the second phrase and the next verse: "we have had our fill of man’s derision. Our hearts can bear no more to be the scorn of luxury, the derision of the proud".

multus, a, um, much; many, numerous; much, great.
despectio, onis, a looking down upon; fig., a despising, contempt, shame
repleo, plevi, pletum, ere 2, to fill, sate, satisfy.

DR
Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us: for we are greatly filled with contempt.
Brenton
Have pity upon us, O Lord, have pity upon us: for we are exceedingly filled with contempt.
MD
Have mercy on us, O Lord, be gracious to us, for we are overfilled with reproach.
RSV
Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Cover
Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us; for we are utterly despised.

The solution to the contempt of the world, the psalmist tells us, is to pray for God's mercy.  St John Chrysostom comments:

"Do you see a contrite mind? They beg to be saved for mercy's sake -and not even mercy deservedly, but for having paid a heavy pen­alty, as Daniel too said, "We are reduced in numbers by compari­son with all the nations on earth," which is exactly what they say in their petition. We have endured the ultimate tragedy: we were driven from homeland and freedom, made slaves of savages, passed our days in reproach, overcome by hunger and hardship and thirst, spending all the time spat upon and trampled under­foot. For these reasons, then, spare us and have mercy on us." 

The cultivation of this sense of contrition, and constant petition for God's help is vital, because the world will inevitably persecute those who embark on the pilgrimage to heaven, as Bellarmine reminds us:

Because man, created to God's image, placed over all created things by him, very often even adopted by him as a son, and predestined to enjoy the kingdom of heaven, is so despised in this our pilgrim­age, not only by men and demons, and so constantly annoyed, not only by the aforesaid, but even by animals, even to the minut­est of them, and even by the very elements, that the Prophet could say with the greatest truth, not only that we are despised, but that we are "greatly filled with contempt." For what is there that does not look down upon man, even on the just and the holy, in this valley of tears? However, the contempt principally meant by the Prophet here is that which the just suffer from the unjust, and the good from the bad; because most true and universal is that expression of the apostle, "And all who live piously in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution;" as well as those words of the Lord, "If you had been of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, therefore the world hateth you." This is easily understood; for good and evil, being essentially opposed to each other, they cannot possibly be at peace. And, as the just are patient and mild, and have learned of their Master to turn the other cheek to him who strikes on one, and thus to make no resistance to injuries, they are, in consequence, proudly despised, harassed, and ridiculed by the wicked.

5
V
Quia multum repléta est ánima nostra: * oppróbrium abundántibus, et despéctio supérbis.
NV
quia multum repleta est anima nostra derisione abundantium et despectione superborum.
JH
Multum repleta est anima nostra obprobrio abundantium, et despectione superborum.
Sept
π πλεον πλήσθη  ψυχ μν τ νειδος τος εθηνοσιν κα  ξουδένωσις τος περηφάνοις

Text notes: The first phrase repeats the sentiment of the previous verse.  The second phrase is rather ambiguous.  If one assumes a verb in the present tense, sumus, it could be either ‘we are filled with reproaches from the proud and carefree’, a line followed by the Diurnal, RSV and Coverdale translations, and adopted by the Neo-Vulgate.  But the Greek implies it is a curse, so the verb would be ‘sit’, the line taken by the Douay-Rheims.  Boylan translates it as ‘let there be contempt for the wealthy, and mockery for the proud’. The second interpretation seems a more satisfactory way of ending the psalm!

quia, conj. for, because, that. truly, surely, indeed;  nisi quia, unless, if not.
anima, ae soul
opprobrium, ii, n. a reproach, taunt, byword; an object of scorn, mockery, derision; a disgrace.
abundantia, ae, /.  greatness, abundance; prosperity, abundance.
superbus, a, um raising one's self above others, proud, haughty, arrogant, insolent.

DR
 For our soul is greatly filled: we are a reproach to the rich, and contempt to the proud
Brenton
Yea, our soul has been exceedingly filled with it: let the reproach be to them that are at ease, and contempt to the proud.
MD
We are overfilled with the taunts of the rich, and with the contempt of the proud.
RSV
Too long our soul has been sated with the scorn of those who are at ease, the contempt of the proud.
Cover
Our soul is filled with the scornful reproof of the wealthy, and with the despitefulness of the proud.

St John Chrysostom provides a number of different versions of the text which perhaps help provide a better sense of it:

"...The reproach of the prosper­ous, the scorn of the arrogant. A different version, "Our soul has had its share of many things, the mockery of the prosperous, the dis­paragement of the arrogant;" another, "the sneering of the over­bearing;" another, "of reproach of those who are prosperous," whereas the Septuagint says something else, "Let these things change in their case, and let them have a taste of their actions, and their conceit and gall be checked.

Disasters, he argues, a meant as a remedy for us:

"In fact, you could often see this happening: God is accustomed to do this without fail, repress­ing those who have fallen victim to conceit and bringing down those whose passions are out of control so as to remove them from the way leading to evil. Nothing, after all, is worse than arrogance: it is the reason for trials and tribulations, a body subject to death, and the many difficult situations; it is the reason for ailments and illnesses, so that many curbs may be applied to the soul easily car­ried away and lifted up to self-importance. Consequently, do not panic if temptation comes, dearly beloved; rather, recall the words of the inspired author, "It was good for me that you humbled me so that I might learn your decrees," accept disaster as a medicine, use temptation properly, and you will suc­ceed in attaining greater relief." 

Psalm 122 - Ad te levavi
Vulgate
Douay-Rheims
Canticum graduum

1  Ad te levávi óculos meos, * qui hábitas in cælis.
To you have I lifted up my eyes, who dwell in heaven.
2  Ecce sicut óculi servórum, * in mánibus dominórum suórum.
2 Behold as the eyes of servants are on the hands of their masters,
3  Sicut óculi ancíllæ in mánibus dóminæ suæ: * ita óculi nostri ad Dóminum, Deum nostrum, donec misereátur nostri.
As the eyes of the handmaid are on the hands of her mistress: so are our eyes unto the Lord our God, until he have mercy on us.
4  Miserére nostri, Dómine, miserére nostri: * quia multum repléti sumus despectióne:
3 Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us: for we are greatly filled with contempt.
5  Quia multum repléta est ánima nostra: * oppróbrium abundántibus, et despéctio supérbis.
4 For our soul is greatly filled: we are a reproach to the rich, and contempt to the proud

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Psalm 122 verses 1-3

The opening verses of Psalm 122 instruct us to cultivate a sense of our total dependence on God.

1
V/NV/JH
Ad te levávi óculos meos, * qui hábitas in cælis.
Septuagint
πρς σ ρα τος φθαλμούς μου τν κατοικοντα ν τ οραν

Text notes: ‘Ad te’ (To you) is emphatic, that is, ‘to you only’.  Lifting the eyes (levavi oculos) suggests an attitude of prayer.

levo, avi, atum, are  to rise, lift up, elevate.
oculus, i, , the eye.
habito, avi, atum, are  to dwell, abide, live.
caelum, i, n., or caeli, orum, m.  heaven, the abode of God; the heavens as opposed to the earth; the air;

DR
To you have I lifted up my eyes, who dwell in heaven.
Brenton’s Septuagint
Unto thee who dwellest in heaven have I lifted up mine eyes.
MD
Unto Thee I lift up mine eyes, Who art enthroned in heaven
RSV
To thee I lift up my eyes, O thou who art enthroned in the heavens!
Cover
Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the
heavens.

St Augustine puts the text in the context of the pilgrimage of life:

"What makes the heart of a Christian heavy? Because he is a pilgrim, and longs for his country. If your heart be heavy on this score, although you have been prosperous in the world, still thou dost groan: and if all things combine to render you prosperous, and this world smile upon you on every side, thou nevertheless groanest, because you see that you are set in a pilgrimage; and feelest that you have indeed happiness in the eyes of fools, but not as yet after the promise of Christ: this you seek with groans, this you seek with longings, and by longing ascendest, and while you ascend dost sing the Song of Degrees..."

The saint pictures our ascent in terms of Jacob's ladder:

"Where then are the ladders? For we behold so great an interval between heaven and earth, there is so wide a separation, and so great a space of regions between: we wish to climb there, we see no ladder; do we deceive ourselves, because we sing the Song of Degrees, that is, the Song of ascent? We ascend unto heaven, if we think of God, who has made ascending steps in the heart. What is to ascend in heart? To advance towards God. As every man who fails, does not descend, but falls: so every one who profits does ascend: but if he so profit, as to avoid pride: if he so ascend as not to fall: but if while he profits he become proud, in ascending he again falls. But that he may not be proud, what ought he to do? Let him lift up his eyes unto Him who dwells in heaven, let him not heed himself…

Our ascent is, of course, spiritual, not literal.   Though we only truly dwell in heaven after we die, there is a sense in which heaven can dwell in us even now:

"If, my brethren, we understand by heaven the firmament which we see with our bodily eyes, we shall indeed so err, as to imagine that we cannot ascend there without ladders, or some scaling machines: but if we ascend spiritually, we ought to understand heaven spiritually: if the ascent be in affection, heaven is in righteousness. What is then the heaven of God? All holy souls, all righteous souls. For the Apostles also, although they were on earth in the flesh, were heaven; for the Lord, enthroned in them, traversed the whole world. He then dwells in heaven. How?...How long are they the temple according to faith? As long as Christ dwells in them through faith; as the Apostle says, That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. But they are already heaven in whom God already dwells visibly, who see Him face to face; all the holy Apostles, all the holy Virtues, Powers, Thrones, Lordships, that heavenly Jerusalem, wanderers from whence we groan, and for which we pray with longing; and there God dwells."

2
V
Ecce sicut óculi servórum, * in mánibus dominórum suórum.
NV
Ecce sicut oculi servorum ad manus dominorum suorum,
JH
Ecce sicut oculi seruorum ad manum dominorum suorum, 
Sept
δο ς φθαλμο δούλων ες χερας τν κυρίων ατν

ecce, adv.  lol see! behold
sicut, adv., as, just as, like.
servus, i, m., a slave, servant; servants of the Lord, devout men who keep the law; the people, i.e., the Israelites
in+abl - into , onto, against, for (the purpose of)
manus, us, ,  hand
Dominus, i, m. a master, lord, ruler, owner, possessor

DR
Behold as the eyes of servants are on the hands of their masters,
Brenton
Behold, as the eyes of servants are directed to the hands of their masters,
Cover
Behold, even as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters,

Pope Benedict XVI sought to explain the analogy for modern readers:

The gaze of the Most High who "looks down on the sons of men to see if any are wise, if any seek God" (Ps 14[13]: 2), is often mentioned in the Psalter. The Psalmist, as we have heard, uses an image, that of the servant and slave who look to their master, waiting for him to make a decision that will set them free. Even if this scene is connected with the ancient world and its social structures, the idea is clear and full of meaning: the image taken from the world of the ancient East is intended to exalt the attachment of the poor, the hope of the oppressed and the availability of the just to the Lord. The person of prayer is waiting for the divine hands to move because they will act justly and destroy evil. This is why, in the Psalter, the one praying raises his hope-filled eyes to the Lord. "My eyes are always on the Lord; for he rescues my feet from the snare" (Ps 25[24]: 15), while "My eyes are wasted away from looking for my God" (Ps 69[68]: 4).

3
V
Sicut óculi ancíllæ in mánibus dóminæ suæ: * ita óculi nostri ad Dóminum, Deum nostrum, donec misereátur nostri.
NV
sicut oculi ancillae ad manus dominae suae, ita oculi nostri ad Dominum Deum nostrum,

donec misereatur nostri.
JH
sicut oculi ancillae ad manum dominae suae, sic oculi nostri ad Dominum Deum nostrum, donec misereatur nostri. 
Sept
ς φθαλμο παιδίσκης ες χερας τς κυρίας ατς οτως ο φθαλμο μν πρς κύριον τν θεν μν ως ο οκτιρήσαι μς

Text notes: The sense is of complete dependence – just as the female slave (ancilla) is dependent (in the hands of) her mistresses’ whims, so we wait for God to have mercy on us.

ancilla, ae, a handmaid, maidservant.
ita – so, thus, even, in this manner
donec, conj., till, until
misereor, sertus sum, eri 2 to pity, have mercy on.

DR
As the eyes of the handmaid are on the hands of her mistress: so are our eyes unto the Lord our God, until he have mercy on us.
Brenton
and as the eyes of a maidservant to the hands of her mistress; so our eyes are directed to the Lord our God, until he have mercy upon us.
Cover
and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress, even so our eyes wait upon the Lord our
God, until he have mercy upon us.

St John Chrysostom points to the importance of the reference to mercy:

Note how those who had previously been summoned to direct their steps to God, and had been halfhearted and recalcitrant, now were made so much better by the experience of disaster as to be unwilling to desert him, and instead persisted in his service and sought his interests until he has pity on us. The psalmist did not say, "Until he pays," or "Until he gives a reward," but until he has mercy. You for your part, then, human being that you are, persist without fail, whether you receive or do not receive, and if you do not re­ceive, do not give up and you will receive. After all, if the importu­nity of a widow wore down that inflexible official, what excuse would you have for giving in, losing heart and becoming supine? Do you not see how the maidservants hang on the words of their mistresses, not permitting thought or eye to be distracted? Do like­wise in your case, too: follow God alone, ignore everything else, be one of his, and in every respect you will receive everything you ask to your advantage.


Cassiodorus provides an interesting commentary on the feminine imagery:

Some com­mentators wish to attach this verse too to the Lord, to the point of identifying the mistress with the Lord God, because of the text: Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. But in case the difference of sex may alienate some people, the passage can perhaps be understood like this: earlier he made the comparison with servants and masters, and so that the female sex should not consider itself excluded, another parallel is provided for them, for the handmaid attends on the hands of her mistress as do male servants on the hands of their masters. Then follows the statement embracing both sexes, So are our eyes unto the Lord our God, until he have mercy on us. The preceding parallel is clarified by the use of so. Whether we seek some success from the Lord, or when we bear torments of mind or body, we always raise our eyes to the Lord. He also added our to eyes, so that both sexes could interpret this as spoken of themselves. He appended: Until he have mercy on us, to show that both men and women should patiently seek divine blessings, and continually make entreaty to Him. 

Psalm 122 - Ad te levavi
Vulgate
Douay-Rheims
Canticum graduum

Ad te levávi óculos meos, * qui hábitas in cælis.
To you have I lifted up my eyes, who dwell in heaven.
2  Ecce sicut óculi servórum, * in mánibus dominórum suórum.
2 Behold as the eyes of servants are on the hands of their masters,
3  Sicut óculi ancíllæ in mánibus dóminæ suæ: * ita óculi nostri ad Dóminum, Deum nostrum, donec misereátur nostri.
As the eyes of the handmaid are on the hands of her mistress: so are our eyes unto the Lord our God, until he have mercy on us.
4  Miserére nostri, Dómine, miserére nostri: * quia multum repléti sumus despectióne:
3 Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us: for we are greatly filled with contempt.
5  Quia multum repléta est ánima nostra: * oppróbrium abundántibus, et despéctio supérbis.
4 For our soul is greatly filled: we are a reproach to the rich, and contempt to the proud

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Gradual Psalms - Introduction to Psalm 122

In the previous Gradual Psalm, the last psalm of Terce, the speaker focuses his attention on the holy city.

Now, with the first psalm of Sext, Psalm 122, we are invited to look even higher, lifting our eyes towards God himself.  There may be something programmatic about this, for Sext of course, was traditionally said at (solar) midday when the Sun is at its highest point.

Psalm 122 - Ad te levavi
Vulgate
Douay-Rheims
Canticum graduum

1  Ad te levávi óculos meos, * qui hábitas in cælis.
To you have I lifted up my eyes, who dwell in heaven.
2  Ecce sicut óculi servórum, * in mánibus dominórum suórum.
2 Behold as the eyes of servants are on the hands of their masters,
3  Sicut óculi ancíllæ in mánibus dóminæ suæ: * ita óculi nostri ad Dóminum, Deum nostrum, donec misereátur nostri.
As the eyes of the handmaid are on the hands of her mistress: so are our eyes unto the Lord our God, until he have mercy on us.
4  Miserére nostri, Dómine, miserére nostri: * quia multum repléti sumus despectióne:
3 Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us: for we are greatly filled with contempt.
5  Quia multum repléta est ánima nostra: * oppróbrium abundántibus, et despéctio supérbis.
4 For our soul is greatly filled: we are a reproach to the rich, and contempt to the proud

Attempts to assign this psalm to a particular time period in Israel’s history are entirely speculative, and probably unhelpful.  A more important question is why it fits in with the psalms of Ascent.  But perhaps the answer is that it speaks of the normal state of the earthly pilgrim: beset by the effects of our own sins and the attacks of enemies, we wait anxiously and pray for God to show us the signs of his forgiveness.  Some commentators also suggest that the psalm alludes to the hope of the second coming.

The opening verses set before us the idea of our total dependence of God for his gifts - and punishments - just as a slave is on his or her master/mistress.  The analogy of the slave or servant’s relationship to their master or mistress is not one that has many resonances to a modern Western reader, perhaps.  Accordingly, we might better think of the psalm as being firstly about self-abandonment: the slave is totally dependent on his master for food, clothing, instructions on what to do, punishments and rewards; so too should we think of our relationship to God, acknowledging that nothing truly comes from our own efforts, but all requires his grace.  St Ambrose writes, Christ is everything for us.

The second dimension of the slave/servant analogy that is worth considering is the implication of the reverent awe with which we should raise our eyes to God.  It is true of course, that we are invited to progress from fear of God based on the threat of punishment and dread of hell, to a filial fear based on love.  But as the Rule of St Benedict makes clear in Chapter 7, on humility, we do need to ground ourselves in the fear of punishment first, and remind ourselves of it from time to time even when we have progressed.  And no matter how far we progress, we should never forget that our salvation is God’s free gift, not a right, or something we can ever merit through our own efforts.

The sense of verses 4 and 5 is that we are fed up with being looked down on by the rich and proud - noting that rich and proud doesn't just mean material wealth, but rather evildoers in general who pursue their own pleasure at everyone else's expense (though the two conditions often coincide). The psalm serves as reminder that adherence to the good is somehow affronting to many, and brings forth attempts to humiliate those who pursue truth.  The moral truth pointed to here is that we must bear our sufferings with patience, knowing that God will fill us up with good things.