Thursday, March 29, 2012

Psalm 118 (119) Resh: Fight for truth and everlasting life

We are on the home stretch now in our study of Psalm 118: this is the first psalm section said at None on Monday in the Benedictine Office.

Today’s verses can be seen as about why we must wage the spiritual warfare, both against our own weaknesses and against the forces of evil.

Truth and everlasting life

The last verse of this stanza presents us with the reason we must fight:

160 Princípium verbórum tuórum, véritas: * in ætérnum ómnia judícia justítiæ tuæ.
The beginning of your words is truth: all the judgments of your justice are for ever.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (215) quotes this verse and comments:

God is Truth itself, whose words cannot deceive. This is why one can abandon oneself in full trust to the truth and faithfulness of his word in all things. The beginning of sin and of man's fall was due to a lie of the tempter who induced doubt of God's word, kindness and faithfulness.

And each of us make a decision for or against that truth, as St Augustine points out:

From truth, he says, Your words do proceed, and they are therefore truthful, and deceive no man, for in them life is announced to the righteous, punishment to the ungodly. These are the everlasting judgments of God's righteousness.

Many arise against us

The path we must follow is not an easy one, though, but rather a narrow one. Verse 157, echoes Psalm 3, used daily as a Matin Invitatory in the Benedictine Office:

Multi qui persequúntur me, et tríbulant me: Many are they that persecute me and afflict me

In Psalm 3 the speaker expresses confidence that no matter how many rise up against him, God will protect him in the daily battle. Here, the psalmist is similarly confident that he will not depart from God’s testimonies:

a testimóniis tuis non declinávi. but I have not declined from your testimonies

The verse can be read as of the individual speaker, as St Robert Bellarmine applies it:

It is not without reason that I ask you to quicken me; for the visible enemies, and the invisible ones who outnumber them, and seek to destroy me, are very numerous, yet nevertheless, through the help I have had from you, "I have not declined" to one side or the other, "from thy testimonies;" from thy commandments, the only straight and direct road.

But it can also be interpreted collectively, as speaking of the Church grounded on the rock that is Christ, and growing through the blood of the martyrs, as St Augustine points out:

“The whole earth has been crimsoned by the blood of Martyrs; heaven is flowery with the crowns of Martyrs, the Churches are adorned with the memorials of Martyrs, seasons distinguished by the birthdays of Martyrs, cures more frequent by the merits of Martyrs.”

Yet why is he so confident of God’s help?

The psalmist contrasts himself with sinners here who cannot expect salvation unless they amend on several grounds. First, he has grounded himself in humility (v153) and strived to do the good:

Vide humilitátem meam, et éripe me: * quia legem tuam non sum oblítus.
See my humiliation and deliver me for I have not forgotten your law.

Secondly, he may not be perfect, but he can legitimately distinguish himself from those who have failed to find out and tried to do what God wants, and cut themselves off from salvation through their contempt for the law:

155 Longe a peccatóribus salus: * quia justificatiónes tuas non exquisiérunt.
Salvation is far from sinners; because they have not sought your justifications.

Thirdly, he has already the gift of charity:

159 Vide quóniam mandáta tua diléxi, Dómine: * in misericórdia tua vivífica me.
Behold I have loved your commandments, O Lord; quicken me in your mercy.

But above all, he is confident that God will grant him the grace he needs, will revive or quicken him because of God’s mercy, manifested in the Word that is Christ:

156 Misericórdiæ tuæ multæ, Dómine: * secúndum judícium tuum vivífica me.
Many, O Lord, are your mercies: quicken me according to your judgment.

154 Júdica judícium meum, et rédime me: * propter elóquium tuum vivífica me.
Judge my judgment and redeem me: quicken me for your word's sake.

Verse by verse

153 Vide humilitátem meam, et éripe me: * quia legem tuam non sum oblítus.
See my humiliation and deliver me for I have not forgotten your law.

Vide (imperative) humilitátem meam = See my humiliation/affliction/misery

Humility is always the foundational virtue: everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and vice versa. St Bellarmine suggests that he is also saying that though he has fallen into sin, he continues to try to learn and observe the law.

et éripe me= and free/deliver/rescue me

quia legem tuam non sum oblítus = for your law I have not forgotten

154 Júdica judícium meum, et rédime me: * propter elóquium tuum vivífica me.
Judge my judgment and redeem me: quicken me for your word's sake.

Júdica judícium meum= Judge my judgment = Plead my cause

The Neo-Vulgate changes it to ‘Judica causam mean’ or judge my cause

et rédime me =and redeem/ransom/deliver me

propter elóquium tuum vivífica me = for the sake of your word revive me

155 Longe a peccatóribus salus: * quia justificatiónes tuas non exquisiérunt.
Salvation is far from sinners; because they have not sought your justifications.

Longe a peccatóribus salus = Far from sinners [is] salvation

quia justificatiónes tuas non exquisiérunt = because they have not sought your justifications

The important thing is to seek to know what is right and do it; those who refuse to do this, often showing outright contempt for the law cut themselves off from salvation

156 Misericórdiæ tuæ multæ, Dómine: * secúndum judícium tuum vivífica me.
Many, O Lord, are your mercies: quicken me according to your judgment.

Misericórdiæ tuæ multæ, Dómine = your mercies [are] many, O Lord

Cassiodorus comments: The Lord's mercies are those by which He deigns to aid the afflicted and the wounded in various ways. For example, Joseph who was kept enclosed in the bonds of imprisonment, or Jonah swallowed by the whale, or Susanna whom He freed through Daniel's judgment when she was labouring under a false charge, the thief whom He also saved through his spontaneous confession. Then too there were the other kinds of mercies which no man's knowledge can explain.

secúndum judícium tuum vivífica me = according to your judgment revive me

Cassiodorus continues: Judgment is quite simply what we must seek when we prostrate ourselves in humble satisfaction, when we lay aside excuses and confess our sins; for at that moment the Lord's judgment embodies pity for such suppliants, since an entreaty is meritorious if one in humble and suppliant posture asks to be quickened according to the Lord's judgment. When the Lord judges He pities, and when He pities He judges; for He neither pities without judgment nor judges without pity.

157 Multi qui persequúntur me, et tríbulant me: * a testimóniis tuis non declinávi.
Many are they that persecute me and afflict me; but I have not declined from your testimonies

Multi qui persequúntur me= [There are] many who persecute me

et tríbulant me= and trouble me

St Bellarmine comments: It is not without reason that I ask you to quicken me; for the visible enemies, and the invisible ones who outnumber them, and seek to destroy me, are very numerous, yet nevertheless, through the help I have had from you, "I have not declined" to one side or the other, "from thy testimonies;" from thy commandments, the only straight and direct road.

a testimóniis tuis non declinávi = from your testimonies I have not swerved

Reading this at the collective level, St Augustine comments that “The whole earth has been crimsoned by the blood of Martyrs; heaven is flowery with the crowns of Martyrs, the Churches are adorned with the memorials of Martyrs, seasons distinguished by the birthdays of Martyrs, cures more frequent by the merits of Martyrs.”

158 Vidi prævaricántes, et tabescébam: * quia elóquia tua non custodiérunt.
I beheld the transgressors, and pined away; because they kept not your word.

Vidi prævaricántes, et tabescébam= I have seen [those] transgressing and I was fainting/pined away/am grieved

The neo-Vulgate changes tabescebam to taeduit me, to reflect the Hebrew Masoretic Text’s implication of disgust or loathing.

praevaricor, atus sum, ari to walk crookedly in a lit. or fig. sense, not to act uprightly; to transgress, to break the law
tabesco, tabui, ere 3 to pine away, waste away, melt away, faint.

quia elóquia tua non custodiérunt = for your words they have not kept

We should grieve at the sins of others, first for the offence given to God and secondly because unless they repent, they will not enjoy everlasting life.

159 Vide quóniam mandáta tua diléxi, Dómine: * in misericórdia tua vivífica me.
Behold I have loved your commandments, O Lord; quicken me in your mercy.

Vide quóniam mandáta tua diléxi, Dómine = See that your commandments I have loved O Lord,

Differentiating himself from the sinners of the previous verse. The point is that charity makes all the difference, as Cassiodorus notes:

“But once they had recounted the savagery of the persecutors, and the punishments imposed, they pass to the charity which commends all things; for if they had endured such treatment without living the Lord's commandments, they would not have had a blessed crown, but merely have exhibited sinful boasting. As Paul says: If I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing? If a person grumbles as he endures the tortures of martyrdom, there is a sense in which he seems ungrateful to the Lord's law; he should love the means by which he believes he attains eternal joys. The Lord pays more favourable attention to attitudes of mind than to the pain of physical suffering, just as He witnesses almsgiving offered with a joyful heart. So they rightly begged the Lord to be enlivened, for they had spurned worldly life in a spirit of true religion.”

in misericórdia tua vivífica me = in your mercy revive me

160 Princípium verbórum tuórum, véritas: * in ætérnum ómnia judícia justítiæ tuæ.
The beginning of your words is truth: all the judgments of your justice are for ever.

Princípium verbórum tuórum, véritas = The beginning/sum of your words [is] truth

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (215) quotes this verse and comments: God is Truth itself, whose words cannot deceive. This is why one can abandon oneself in full trust to the truth and faithfulness of his word in all things. The beginning of sin and of man's fall was due to a lie of the tempter who induced doubt of God's word, kindness and faithfulness

principium, ii, n. the beginning; the sum, substance, content; sovereignty, princely, power, dominion

in ætérnum ómnia judícia justítiæ tuæ = forever/eternal [are] all the judgments of your justice

St Augustine takes this as a reference to our everlasting fate: From truth, he says, Your words do proceed, and they are therefore truthful, and deceive no man, for in them life is announced to the righteous, punishment to the ungodly. These are the everlasting judgments of God's righteousness.


And for the next part in this series continue on here.

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