Friday, March 23, 2012

Psalm 118 (119) Ayin: Time for action

Today’s stanza of Psalm 118 focuses on a call for God to act: to protect those who seek to do good from their enemies; for God to send his salvation in the form of Christ; and above all to stop evil doers from continuing to break God’s laws.

The central verse is 126:

‘It is time for the Lord to act for thy law has been broken’ (RSV)

How does God act?

Cassiodorus suggests that the answer is by sending us the Saviour:

It is time to do, in other words, time to appear as Saviour to the world, to loosen sins, to conquer death, and to lay low the devil with his troop. This is what the Lord's doing is, to come at the prophesied time. In the words of the prophet: In an acceptable time I have heard thee, and in the day of salvation I have helped thee; and as Paul says: Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

Whether you see this salvation primarily in terms of the Incarnation, Cross, Resurrection or Second Coming, I think, depends on your particular spirituality. In verse 123, the psalmist says that he faints after [the desire of] God’s salvation, which St Augustine sees as the Cross, prefigured by Moses’ holding aloft the image of a serpent on a pole. Cassiodorus, however, points to the Incarnation.

Acting through us
But there is an alternative interpretation to the Latin (albeit one corrected in the neo-Vulgate) as Haydock’s classic commentary points out: the Latin could be read as suggesting that it is time for us to act for the Lord, for example ‘by striving to repair the injuries done to his name and worship’.

Textual ambiguities aside it is a useful reminder that God acts in history through us: we cannot just sit back and wait for the Second Coming, we must do what we are called to do in the world now.

Of course action for Christ calls forth reaction, and the stanza reminds us of the ‘almost but not yet’ dimension of salvation: even though the Messiah has come, as we celebrate this coming Easter, we must still beg God daily, with the psalmist, for protection against those who slander us here and now (verses 121-122); for knowledge, understanding and the grace to do God’s will (verses 124-125); and above all for mercy rather than judgment on our sins when it comes to our end (verse 124).

Verse by verse

121 Feci judicium et justitiam : non tradas me calumniantibus me.
I have done judgment and justice: give me not up to them that slander me

judicium, i, n. judgment, decrees; law, commandment; the power, or faculty of judging wisely; justice.
justitia, ae, f. justice, righteousness, innocence, piety, moral integrity
trado, didi, ditum, ere 3, to give up, hand over, deliver up or over, abandon.
calumnior, atus sum, ari to oppress, to speak against unjustly.

Feci judícium et justítiam = I have done/made judgment and justice

The Greek here, dikaiosunen is often translated as righteousness, hence the Monastic Diurnal makes it ‘justice and righteousness’. The RSV translation perhaps best conveys the real sense here though: I have done what is just and right.

non tradas me calumniántibus me = do not hand me over/abandon me to [those] oppressing/slandering me

122 Suscipe servum tuum in bonum : non calumnientur me superbi.
Uphold your servant unto good: let not the proud calumniate me.

suscipio, cepi, ceptum, ere 3 to guard, protect, uphold, support; receive, accept; to seize.
superbus, a, um raising one's self above others, proud, haughty, arrogant, insolent.

Súscipe servum tuum in bonum = Uphold/receive your servant unto good/with favour

The Neo-Vulgate changes suscipe to sponde – give assurance, promise.

Non calumnientur me superbi= Let not the proud oppress/calumniate me.

123 Oculi mei defecerunt in salutare tuum, et in eloquium justitiæ tuæ.
My eyes have fainted after your salvation: and for the word of your justice

deficio, fed, fectum, ere 3 to fail, to be wasted, spent, consumed, cease to be, come to an end, vanish, long for, pine for,

eloquium, ii, n. a word, oracle, speech, utterance, promise.

Oculi mei defecérunt = my eyes have failed/longed for

in salutáre tuum = in your salvation

St Augustine sees this as the Cross, prefigured by Moses’ holding aloft the image of a serpent on a pole; Cassiodorus points to the Incarnation. The Neo-Vulgate makes it ‘with the desire of your salvation’.

et in elóquium justítiæ tuæ = and in the promise of your justice

124 Fac cum servo tuo secundum misericordiam tuam, et justificationes tuas doce me.
Deal with your servant according to your mercy: and teach me your justifications.

Fac cum servo tuo =do/deal with your servant

secúndum misericórdiam tuam =according to your mercy

That is, not on our merits; not as we deserve because of our sins.

et justificatiónes tuas doce me = and teach me your justifications

Cassiodorus: They continue with their diligent entreaties, for there must be no weariness in petitioning, since the generosity of the Donor cannot be exhausted. They made unlimited requests, for they asked that blessings be granted them according to God's mercy, and just as that mercy is unending, so His gifts are known to be never-failing. They did well to add: With thy servant, for one who desires another as master at once gives way. According to their custom, they invariably beg for the justifications which in their piety they have already obtained. This incessant demand is likewise indicated by the Lord's prayer, where it says: Give us this day our daily breads. It is right to make continual entreaty of Him, for He is offended if He is not petitioned.

125 Servus tuus sum ego : da mihi intellectum, ut sciam testimonia tua.
I am your servant: give me understanding that I may know your testimonies.

intellectus, us, m. understanding, insight.
scio, ivi and li, Itum, Ire, to know.

Servus tuus sum ego = I am your servant

da mihi intelléctum = give me understanding

Cassiodorus: Though we must beg the Lord with continual prayers for everything helpful to us, we must regularly beseech Him most of all for an understanding of the divine Scriptures, for the more they are apprehended, the sweeter they are found by holy minds.

ut sciam testimónia tua = that I may know your testimonies

Augustine notes that: For it suffices not to have received understanding, and to have learned the testimonies of God, unless it be evermore received, and evermore in a manner quaffed from the fountain of eternal light. For the testimonies of God are the better and the better known, the more understanding a man attains to.

126 Tempus faciendi, Domine: dissipaverunt legem tuam.
It is time, O Lord, to do: they have dissipated your law.

tempus, oris, n. time,
dissipo, avi, atum, are scatter, disperse; frustrate, bring to naught; break, annul, make void

Tempus faciéndi, Dómine = Time of making/doing O Lord = It is time [for you] to do/make/act O Lord OR It is time O Lord for action

The Vulgate is ambiguous in Latin. Haydock points out that it could be interpreted as 'it is time for us to act for the Lord', for example, ‘by striving to repair the injuries done to his name and worship’.

Most, however, interpret the phrase as ‘it is time for the Lord to act’. This is certainly consistent with the most obvious translation of the Greek, which makes Lord dative (to/for) rather than vocative (O Lord) as in the Latin, and the change of case to Domino in the neo-Vulgate reflects this.

The reason for the ambiguity though is that the Greek verb form (ποισαι) can have several meanings – it could be an infinitive (aorist infinitive active, to do/make/act), imperative (be done/made, aorist imperative middle) or third person aorist optative active (he/she/it-happens to do/make).

 díssipavérunt legem tuam = they have frustrated/broken/ your law

127 Ideo dilexi mandata tua super aurum et topazion.
Therefore have I loved your commandments above gold and the topaz.

ideo, adv., therefore, on that account.
aurum, i, n., gold
topazion, Ii, n. the topaz, a precious stone.

Ideo diléxi mandáta tua = therefore I have loved your commandments

Augustine: Grace has this object, that the commandments, which could not be fulfilled by fear, may be fulfilled by love...

super aurum et topázion = above gold and precious stone/topaz

The NV changes topaz to ‘obyryzum’ or fine gold, to align with the Hebrew MT. The argument is that topaz, regarded as the finest of precious stones, was a later discovery. In this view, the Greek topazios was probably in fact a yellow crystal now called chrysolite.  Hmm, maybe!

128 Propterea ad omnia mandata tua dirigebar; omnem viam iniquam odio habui.
Therefore was I directed to all your commandments: I have hated all wicked ways.

propterea, adv., therefore, on that account, for that cause; but now
dirigo, rexi, rectum, ere 3 to direct, guide, set aright; to prosper, to be established.
odio habere, to have hatred towards, to entertain hatred against, to hate

Proptérea = Therefore
ad ómnia mandáta tua = to all your commandments
dirigébar = I was guided by/directed by

omnem viam iníquam =all the ways of wickedness
ódio hábui = I have hated



And you can find the next part in this series here.

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