Friday, March 30, 2012

Psalm 118 (119) Shin: Rebuilding the walls of the city of God

Today we come to the penultimate stanza of Psalm 118.  There is a lot that could be said on this stanza, but I just want to briefly touch on three not entirely unrelated points, namely the peace offered through Christ; the law as a stumbling block (v165); and the importance of symbolism in worship.

The peace of Christ

The psalm opens with a reminder that princes – or these days perhaps we should speak of Prime Ministers and Presidents – will persecute the Church without reason. But it goes on to assert that the person who loves the law will nevertheless enjoy peace:

161 Príncipes persecúti sunt me gratis: Princes have persecuted me without cause…
165 Pax multa diligéntibus legem tuam: Much peace have they that love your law

What does he mean here by peace? It is not the false peace of toleration of sin that the psalmist is pointing to here, but rather the peace of mind that comes from the hope of salvation. As Cassiodorus comments:

“Much peace is to be understood as purity of mind and abundance of faith, which we aptly set against vices. But the person who proclaims himself the servant of the Lord is subject in this world to hardships and dangers. The Lord says to the apostles who were to be ravaged by various forms of persecution: My peace I give to you, my peace I leave to you, so that it may become clear that the Lord's servants always enjoy peace of mind in spite of appearing to be molested by various physical tribulations.”

When the law seems a stumbling block…

The second half of verse 165 deals with a subject of particular contemporary relevance, namely the idea that God’s law can be a stumbling block to some. Today many Catholics stumble indeed at the law as passed down to us, often deeming it as scandalous for example in its requirements around sexual morality.  Yet the psalmist asserts that the law can never be a stumbling block to one who looks to God for salvation:

et non est illis scándalum = and to them there is no stumbling block/scandal

St Augustine provides an important explanation of just why this should be the case, arguing that one who truly loves the law of God, when confronted with a law that seems absurd to him, must assume not that the law is a bad one, but rather that his own reaction is due to a lack of understanding on his part:

“Does this mean that the law itself is not an offense to them that love it, or that there is no offense from any source unto them that love the law? But both senses are rightly understood. For he who loves the law of God, honours in it even what he does not understand; and what seems to him to sound absurd, he judges rather that he does not understand, and that there is some great meaning hidden: thus the law of God is not an offense to him...”

This approach has of course been echoed down the centuries by the Magisterium of the Church, and applied to areas such as Scriptural interpretation and more. It is a counsel of humility, of appreciating that we are limited beings who can never hope, at any particular point in time to know everything, whereas God is infinite and all-knowing…

Seven times a day I have praised you….

Thirdly, I wanted to draw attention to a key verse in this psalm from the point of view of the Divine Office:

164 Sépties in die laudem dixi tibi, * super judícia justítiæ tuæ.
Seven times a day I have given praise to you, for the judgments of your justice.

Seven is a number symbolizing completeness (viz the creation of the world), perfection (viz metal refined seven times), or an infinite number of times (viz the number of times we should forgive sins). St Benedict cites this verse as the reason for the seven day hours of his Office, and the Roman Office followed him on this.

It is true of course that the verse can also be interpreted spiritually, as a call to continuous praise.

But one does not have to be a traditionalist to appreciate that the seven day hours of the Office, particularly in monastic usage where it was said in choir at set times each and every day, served symbolically to convey the spiritual message, and in a way far more effective than just saying that we are called to pray constantly. Fr Michael Casey of Tarrawarra Abbey, for example, certainly no traditionalist, suggests in his book Strangers to the City that it is regrettable that ‘secularization theology’ was unthinkingly incorporated in the ‘process of reformation and renewal’ following Vatican II (p174). Certainly the new ‘Liturgy of the Hours’ achieved what the fourteenth century heretic Wycliff and the reformation’s Luther could not, namely the abandonment of this long ecclesial tradition. Haydock comments:

“The Church has enjoined matins to be said at night, lauds in the morning, prime, tierce, sext, none, vespers and complin, in the course of the day. (St. Benedict, reg. 8., and 16.) (Calmet) --- This ecclesiastical office consists of hymns, psalms, &c. (St. Isidore) --- Against it some have risen up, particularly against that part which was said in the night, pretending that God had made the night for rest; and hence they were called nuctazontes, or "drowsy" heretics. (St. Isidore, Of. i. 22.) --- St. Jerome styles Vigilantius Dormitantius, for the same reason; as if it were better to sleep than to watch. Wycliff (Wald. iii. Tit. iii. 21.) and Luther have oppugned the same holy practice, though it be so conformable to Scripture and to the fathers. (St. Basil, reg. fus. 37.; St. Gregory, dial. iii. 14.; Ven. Bede, Hist. iv. 7., &c.)”

The Office, the law and genuine peace

Is there a connection between these three threads? Well yes, I would argue that there is.

I would argue that the drastic reduction in the number of times of prayer each day, and the length of those times of prayer - and above all consequent reduction of what was once a weekly cycle of saying all the psalms to a monthly one omitting all the 'hard bits' - has undermined the spiritual lives of priests and religious. It has weakened the walls of what Catherine Pickstock has called the 'liturgical city' to the point where they are but ruins.

And the consequences we see all around us.

We see it in the bishops and priests who no longer accept the natural law as a starting point for Christian morality, who see God's law as a stumbling block, not a means to salvation, but think in their arrogance that they know best.

We see it in the bishops and priests who faced with the persecution of princes have continued to compromise and crumble rather than standing up for the faith, able to draw on a true inner peace.

We see it in the many who left the priesthood and religious life despite their promises and vows, no longer sufficiently nourished in their lives by Sacred Scripture.

Recovery will take a long time. But it has to start from somewhere.

Verse by verse

161 Príncipes persecúti sunt me gratis: et a verbis tuis formidávit cor meum.
Princes have persecuted me without cause: and my heart has been in awe of your words.

Príncipes persecúti sunt me gratis = Princes/the mighty have persecuted me without cause

Old Testament history contains numerous examples of persecution without good reason that foreshadow Our Lord’s own persecution. And in our own age, Western Christians are once more starting to feel the heat…

gratis – without cause, unjustly

et a verbis tuis formidávit cor meum = and/but from/at your words my heart has trembled/been afraid

Note that formido takes a with the ablative; most translations make it of.

But all facing persecution should remember the words of the Gospel, as Cassiodorus points out: Fear not them that kill the body and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both body and soul in hell.

formido, avi, atum, are. to fear, be afraid, tremble at. (formido +a)

162 Lætábor ego super elóquia tua: sicut qui invénit spólia multa.
I will rejoice at your words, as one that has found great spoil.

Lætábor ego super elóquia tua = I will rejoice/exult over your words/promises

sicut qui invénit spólia multa = like [one] who has found great spoils/riches

The comparison here is to the victors of an earthly battle. The spoils found include our reward in heaven, but also the conversion of persecutors moved to pity as occurred so often in the early years of Christianity (Augustine).

spolium, ii, booty, spoil.

163 Iniquitátem ódio hábui, et abominátus sum:  legem autem tuam diléxi.
I have hated and abhorred iniquity; but I have loved your law.

Iniquitátem ódio hábui, et abominátus sum (deponent) = Sin/iniquity/evil-doing I have hated and detested/abhorred

The neo-Vulgate changes sin (iniquitatem) to lies (mendacium) which reflects the Masoretic Hebrew Text’s flavour of falsehood/lies in particular rather than evil-doing in general.

iniquitas, atis, f iniquity, injustice, sin.
odio habere, to have hatred towards, to entertain hatred against, to hate
abominor, atus sum, ari to abhor, loathe, detest.

legem autem tuam diléxi = but your law I have loved

St Augustine’s commentary on this verse draws attention to the tension between fear and love of something or someone, arguing that we can and should do both: the wife loves her husband for example, but fears losing him. He quotes Hebrews 12:6: Let the Father's judgments therefore be praised even in the scourge, if His promises be loved in the reward.

164 Sépties in die laudem dixi tibi, super judícia justítiæ tuæ.
Seven times a day I have given praise to you, for the judgments of your justice.

Sépties in die laudem dixi tibi = Seven times in the day I have given [literally said] praise to you

Seven is a number symbolizing completeness (viz the creation of the world), perfection (viz metal refined seven times), or an infinite number of times (viz the number of times we should forgive sins). St Benedict cites this verse as the reason for the seven day hours of his Office. Interestingly, his contemporary Cassiodorus has to stretch things a little to achieve a similar literal interpretation, for his monastery evidently didn’t include Prime in its regime:

“Should we wish to interpret this number literally, it denotes the seven offices with which monks in their devoted piety console themselves, namely, matins, terce, sext, none, vespers, compline, nocturn; the hymn of saint Ambrose, sung at the sixth hour, also attests this.”

St Benedict, like some of the prophets of old such as Hosea, modelled this literally.  Cassiodorus, however, points to the spiritual interpretation of the verse:

“But if you seek a spiritual significance, you more wisely interpret this as the expression of continuing activity, like: I shall bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall be ever in my mouth.”

septies, num. adv. seven times.

super judícia justítiæ tuæ = for/because of the judgments of your justice/righteous judgments

165 Pax multa diligéntibus legem tuam: et non est illis scándalum.
Much peace have they that love your law, and to them there is no stumbling block.

Pax multa diligéntibus legem tuam = Much peace loving the law = those who love the law have much peace

What do we mean by peace? Cassiodorus suggests this is about our state of mind, not the external state of affairs: Much peace is to be understood as purity of mind and abundance of faith, which we aptly set against vices. But the person who proclaims himself the servant of the Lord is subject in this world to hardships and dangers. The Lord says to the apostles who were to be ravaged by various forms of persecution: My peace I give to you, my peace I leave to you, so that it may become clear that the Lord's servants always enjoy peace of mind in spite of appearing to be molested by various physical tribulations.

et non est illis scándalum = and to them there is no stumbling block/scandal

Today many Catholics stumble indeed at the law as passed down to us, often deeming it as scandalous for example in its requirements around sexual morality. St Augustine comments: Does this mean that the law itself is not an offense to them that love it, or that there is no offense from any source unto them that love the law? But both senses are rightly understood. For he who loves the law of God, honours in it even what he does not understand; and what seems to him to sound absurd, he judges rather that he does not understand, and that there is some great meaning hidden: thus the law of God is not an offense to him...

scandalum, i, n. lit., a trap, snare, that which causes one to stumble, a stumbling-block.

166 Exspectábam salutáre tuum, Dómine: et mandáta tua diléxi.
I looked for your salvation, O Lord: and I loved your commandments.

Exspectábam salutáre tuum, Dómine = I was waiting/looked for/waited/hoped for your salvation O Lord

The Fathers see this as a reference to the two comings of Christ, first in the Incarnatin, and next in the Second Coming.

exspecto, avi, atum, are, to wait for a person or thing, to await, trust; to look for, expect

et mandáta tua diléxi = and I have loved your commandments

The neo-Vulgate changes mandata to praecepta and dilexi to feci (ie I have kept your precepts) to reflect the MT.

167 Custodívit ánima mea testimónia tua: et diléxit ea veheménter.
My soul has kept your testimonies and has loved them exceedingly

Custodívit ánima mea testimónia tua = My soul has kept your testimonies

et diléxit ea veheménter = and it has loved them greatly/exceedingly

vehementer, adv. greatly, exceedingly, very much.

168 Servávi mandáta tua, et testimónia tua: * quia omnes viæ meæ in conspéctu tuo.
I have kept your commandments and your testimonies: because all my ways are in your sight.

Servávi mandáta tua, et testimónia tua = I have observed your commandments and your testimonies

servo – preserve, protect, guard; keep, obey, observe

quia omnes viæ meæ in conspéctu tuo = for all of my ways in your sight

Bellarmine comments:

Whatever I did was done as if your eyes were fixed on me, being fully satisfied of your seeing and knowing everything. Such thoughts have a wonderful effect in controlling men's actions; for, if the presence of a prince of this world has the effect of preventing the subject from transgressing, nay, even more, of making them blush to be found lazy or careless, timid or fearful, what must not the effect be of having constantly before one's eyes the presence of a heavenly and all-powerful ruler? Hence the Lord said to Abraham, "Walk before me, and be perfect." And Elias and Eliseus said, "The Lord liveth, in whose sight I stand."

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

4 comments:

  1. I have found your blog looking for something else, but am so glad I did. I have been praying the divine office, for Lent at first but I'm continuing. May I ask a quick question, or try to? I use the Collegeville edition and prefer those translations to the ones to be found at Divinum Officium. But I use the latter as a guide, especially through Matins, but don't rely on it because I just can't understand some of the translated results. During Lent Psalm 22, the Good Shepherd psalm, I hope I have the number correct, was prayed, and I noticed the translation was further out of whack than usual between the two versions, and when I looked at the Latin to see if I could understand why one version translated the God as Shepherd and the other as Lord--it was different words in the Latin--so it was not the fault of translation but of some kind of different source! Could you perhaps explain it to me, without a ton of work for yourself? When I got my Collegeville set ten years or so ago, some people I knew were disdainful of the translation but didn't say why (it wouldn't have mattered, the Collegeville was all I could find!). Up to now I've thought it was the thee/you thing, but now am wondering if it isn't more!

    I plan to come back to your blog. I love the psalms. I do not like the liturgy of the hours at all, however, for example the changes in the readings at Matins.

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  2. Jan - Glad you are finding the blog useful.

    The differences stem I think from a number of different factors. The two big ones are:

    1. Translation from the Greek or the Hebrew. In theory the base text for official or semi-official catholic translations is the Latin (prior to 1979 the Vulgate, after it the 'neo-Vulgate').

    In practise, many catholic translators from the nineteenth century onwards have adopted the Hebrew Masoretic Text as their starting point, on the assumption that as Hebrew was the original language they were composed in, it must be a better base text than the Greek Septuagint, which was thought to be riddled with errors and corrupt. The Collegeville translators were certainly in this school, as were the constructors of the 1979 official neo-Vulgate.

    As it turns out, based on the evidence of the Dead Seas Scrolls, this assumption was wrong, and the Greek is often if not always superior to the much later and clearly often corrupt and re-edited in the light of Christianity Hebrew version of that has come down to us.

    As a result, if you listen carefully to the Pope's expositions of the psalms, you will often here him say things like 'the ancient Graeco-Roman tradition' and using the Septuagint-Vulgate in preference to the Hebrew based versions of the texts.

    2. Translation methodology

    There are a number of competing schools on the subject of how to translate texts.

    The original Vulgate for example generally folllows the Septuagint Greek very literally indeed, as did the Septuagint itself in relation to the Greek, to the point of inserting 'Hebraisims' in imitation of grammatical structures that are not standard Greek or Latin, and trying to have exactly the same number of words etc as far as possible.

    For much of the twentieth century an almost diametrically opposite principle prevailed, called 'dynamic equivalence', favouring less literal renderings to promote intelligibility to a modern reader. The Collegeville translators often adopted a little shall we say more than a little poetic license in their versions of verses!

    But in more recent times, the Vatican has rejected this approach to translation, and insisted that translators actually follow the underlying text as much as possible.

    The bottom line is that no translation is ever going to be completley satisfactory, and one simply needs to be aware of its biases. I think the Collegeville remains an attractive and useful guide to the text, but in my own study notes I've been collecting up alternative versions of the Latin (Vulgate, neo-Vulgate, St Jerome's translation from the Hebrew, Vetus Latina), Septuagint Greek and MT Hebrew,Dead Sea Scroll version of the Hebrew; and a selection of the available English translations for comparison purposes.

    Sooner or later someone will hopefully put together yet another base text of the psalms based on the latest research, including the outcomes of the new lease of life given to Septuagint studies by the Deasd Seas Scrolls. But there seems to be a way to go yet in assimilating all of the Dead Seas Scroll material and its implications, so probably a while off yet!

    And in the meantime, looking at those comparisons, I think the Latin Vulgate remains the best overall text, and the Douay-Rheims-Challoner the most useful (and literal) rendering of it.

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  3. Kate, thank you for this response. I have to read texts several times these days, and this is a tough one, a good summary of a large topic. I don't think I'll live long enough to assemble a collection of psalms that reflect the Dead Sea Scrolls. I'll be stuck with my Collegeville and the web sites. Of those I have found, I am going to put the links below, do you happen to know, of all the sources you mentioned, where the translations of either come from? One is a paid site but I got into it by accident googling Monday in Easter Week because my Collegeville didn't have the antiphons the one site I usually use as a guide to back up my following of the directions in the ordinary (esp. Matins with all those blessings and nocturns). The link for it that I am putting will work, I imagine, it keeps getting me in. Could you please delete it from this comment box once you see it, to keep anyone from using it to bypass their registration process? That's the second link I'll put. The first one is accessible to anyone. And thanks so much again for your detailed and clear response to my question!

    http://divinumofficium.com/cgi-bin/horas/officium.pl

    http://breviary.net/propseason/easter/propseasoneast07.htm#Matins

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  4. White Lily:

    Blogger does not, as far as I know, allow me to edit comments. I can delete it altogether if you like, but personally I have no compunction about bypassing the payment registration process since firstly they deliberately left open the option of bypassing the paid system (which gives access to a much easier to use version of the Office) and secondly I don't approve of giving money to sedevacentists. I use it myself this way quite frequently!

    As to which versions they use, off the top of my head I can't remember, but I seem to recall that they are various versions of the Douay-Rheims (but it might be that one or the other uses the Coverdale psalms) - the original is very archaic; the Challoner revision gave it a King James feel; and there are various late nineteenth and centieth century updates of it. All of these versions are online so just a matter of finding a comparison verse or two to work it out.

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