Saturday, March 31, 2012

Psalm 118 (119) Tau : All we like sheep have gone astray!


Today the final part in this Lenten series on Psalm 118, as we come to the twenty-second stanza labeled Tau.

Longing for salvation

And it is a particularly suitable ending point as we come up to Holy Week, for its theme is the longing for salvation.

Cassiodorus (c485-585) summarises the stanza as follows:

“With the Lord's help the twenty-second letter has been reached, in which the longing of the band of saints to draw near to Christ is commensurate with their proximity to the close of the psalm. The whole composition is relevant to the Lord Saviour's coming. The devotion of the faithful awaited it with an indescribable longing, so that He might deign to summon back the lost sheep through the kindness of His love; for when they begged that their prayer should draw near to the Lord's sight, they revealed that the presence of sinners is exceedingly far from Him, for only things cleansed by the purest holiness draw near to Him.”

The shepherd seeks the lost sheep

The most memorable verse of this stanza is the last, echoed several times in the New Testament:

Errávi, sicut ovis, quæ périit: quære servum tuum, quia mandáta tua non sum oblítus.
I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost: seek your servant, because I have not forgotten your commandments.

The New Testament of course, puts this verse in the context of Christ’s mission to convert and redeem sinners. St Luke 15: 4-7 for example says:

"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Everyone’s autobiography

The psalmist’s story of falling into sin is surely the story of us all.

In the opening verses of the stanza the psalmist pleads for God to hear him and grant him the necessary grace for salvation:

169 Appropínquet deprecátio mea in conspéctu tuo, Dómine: * juxta elóquium tuum da mihi intelléctum.
Let my supplication, O Lord, come near in your sight: give me understanding according to your word.

170 Intret postulátio mea in conspéctu tuo: * secúndum elóquium tuum éripe me.
Let my request come in before you; deliver me according to your word.

He states too that once he has that necessary grace he will surely be moved to rejoice, as we do at the Easter Vigil:

171 Eructábunt lábia mea hymnum, * cum docúeris me justificatiónes tuas.
My lips shall utter a hymn, when you shall teach me your justifications.

He has committed himself to God, he states, and now waits, a waiting symbolized by this Lenten period, with desperate longing for salvation to be realized for him personally:

173 Fiat manus tua ut salvet me: * quóniam mandáta tua elégi.
Let your hand be with me to save me; for I have chosen your precepts.

174 Concupívi salutáre tuum, Dómine: * et lex tua meditátio mea est.
I have longed for your salvation, O Lord; and your law is my meditation.

Almost but not yet redemption

In fact Easter is that season that should most clearly bring home to us the almost but not yet nature of our redemption – despite the assertions of fundamentalists, we cannot, in this life claim to be saved!

As St Bellarmine points out, the idea that we have all strayed from God and suffered the consequences of it applies whether or not we have personally sinned, for through Adam’s sin we have all been banished from Paradise:

“Banished from my country, and still an exile, through the sin of my first parents, that extended to the whole human race, "I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost," by seduction, and not like the devil, the roaring lion, who fell through malice.”

St Bellarmine points out that through our baptism the door to heaven has been reopened:

"Seek thy servant," for though you have already partly sought and found him, inasmuch as you justified him from sin, and reconciled him to God”

Yet still we can fall again into sin, and must seek reconciliation anew, confident in the success of our petition made possible by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross:

“…yet the lost sheep is still to be sought for, inasmuch as he expects the redemption of his body, so that he may body and soul be brought to the heavenly mountains, and those most fertile pastures, where the ninety-nine that did not stray had been left; and I confidently ask for this salvation of soul and body, "because I have not forgotten thy commandments."

I pray as we move into this Holy Week, that we can all make our own the statement that we have not forgotten God’s commandments, and therefore wait in joyful hope.

And I do hope you have found this series of interest and use….please do pass any comments or reactions you have to it to me on or offline.

Verse by verse

169 Appropínquet deprecátio mea in conspéctu tuo, Dómine: juxta elóquium tuum da mihi intelléctum.
Let my supplication, O Lord, come near in your sight: give me understanding according to your word.

Appropínquet deprecátio mea in conspéctu tuo, Dómine = may/let my supplication approach into your presence O Lord

St Bellarmine comments: “that is to say, may my prayer, that does not rely on its own merits, be raised up and ascend, through the aspirations of your grace, and come so near you, that you may deign to take a nearer view of it, and regard it with favor”

appropinquo, avi, atum, are , to draw near, approach
deprecatio, onis, f prayer, supplication, entreaty

juxta elóquium tuum da mihi intelléctum = according to your word give to me understanding

And here we have the content of the prayer, as St Bellarmine suggests: Grant me the grace, therefore, of understanding your commandments, as they are understood by those who observe them, and who, by their observance, have come to life everlasting.

170 Intret postulátio mea in conspéctu tuo: * secúndum elóquium tuum éripe me.
Let my request come in before you; deliver me according to your word.

Intret postulátio mea in conspéctu tuo = let my request/prayer/petition come into your presence

introeo, ivi or li, Itum, ire, to go into, to enter.
postulatio, onis, f., prayer, request, supplication, petition

secúndum elóquium tuum éripe me = according to your word deliver/free me

St Augustine comments: For by receiving understanding he is delivered, who of himself through want of understanding is deceived.

We can perhaps see this as relating back to the previous stanza’s comment on the law as a stumbling block to some. The lover of the law assumes that anything seems odd is simply a want of understanding on his own part, and asks God’s help to resolve it.

171 Eructábunt lábia mea hymnum, * cum docúeris me justificatiónes tuas.
My lips shall utter a hymn, when you shall teach me your justifications.

Eructábunt lábia mea hymnum = my lips will declare/utter a hymn

The sense is that God’s word naturally elicits a joyful response in song, just like belching after eating much food...

eructo, avi, atum, are, to belch, belch forth; to utter, declare, publish; overflow.

cum docúeris me justificatiónes tuas = when you [will] teach me your justifications

Grammatically this is a temporal clause, so the future tense of the Latin isn’t normally really reflected in the English meaning. If one wanted to be very literal, you could translate it (as Brenton’s from the Septuagint does) as ‘when you shall have’, but a more colloquial rendering would be something like ‘when you have taught me your justifications or commands’.

172 Pronuntiábit lingua mea elóquium tuum: * quia ómnia mandáta tua æquitas.
My tongue shall pronounce your word: because all your commandments are justice.

Pronuntiábit lingua mea elóquium tuum = My tongue will announce/proclaim your word

St Augustine sees this as speaking of the duty of all of us to preach in our own way, God’s word: When he says that he will declare these things, he becomes a minister of the word. For though God teach within, nevertheless faith comes from hearing: and how do they hear without a preacher? For, because God gives the increase, 1 Corinthians 3:7 is no reason why we need not plant and water.

pronuntio, avi, atum, are, to announce, declare, proclaim.

quia ómnia mandáta tua æquitas =because all your commandments [are] justice/righteous

173 Fiat manus tua ut salvet me: * quóniam mandáta tua elégi.
Let your hand be with me to save me; for I have chosen your precepts.

Fiat manus tua ut salvet me = let your hand be done/made in order to save me = let your hand save me

The neo-Vulgate changes ‘save’ to ‘help’ (adiuvet). Bellarmine comments: He follows up his prayer, asking for the only thing worth asking for, life everlasting, which is the object of the commandments… Let your wisdom and power be exercised to save me; and as the apostle teaches, that Christ is the power and wisdom of God, the Fathers have very properly explained this prayer to be, "Let Christ be with me to save me:"

quóniam mandáta tua elégi – for I have chosen your commandments/precepts

The Greek here is ἐντολάς which is usually translated as commandments; it is not clear why the Douay-Rheims uses precepts instead, though it may be following St Jerome’s from the Hebrew translation. In any case, the neo-Vulgate retains mandata. St Augustine comments here that the psalmist is saying that he has ‘stifled fear with love’.

eligo, legi, lectum, ere 3 to choose, pick out, select.

174 Concupívi salutáre tuum, Dómine: * et lex tua meditátio mea est.
I have longed for your salvation, O Lord; and your law is my meditation.

Concupívi salutáre tuum, Dómine = I have your longed for your salvation O Lord

Cassiodorus comments: They had longed for the Lord Christ as revealed by the prophets, for they knew that His coming birth had been foretold by them; and inevitably He was sought with great love, for they had learnt that His coming for the salvation of the human race was signified all those centuries before.

concupisco, ciiplvi or ciipii, ciipltum, ere 3 to desire eagerly, to long for or after.

et lex tua meditátio mea est = and your law is my meditation

The neo-Vulgate changes it to the law is my delight (delectatio).

175 Vivet ánima mea, et laudábit te: * et judícia tua adjuvábunt me.
My soul shall live and shall praise you: and your judgments shall help me.

Vivet ánima mea, et laudábit te =My soul will live and I will praise you

St Augustine points to the service of the martyrs here; St Bellarmine however to the joys of everlasting life:

"My soul shall live," when it shall have obtained the salvation it so longs for and "thy hand shall have been with it to save it;" and then its duty, and its only business, will be to praise you for "blessed are they who dwell in thy house, O Lord, they shall praise thee forever and ever," "and thy judgments shall help me." Your commandments, so observed by me, will help me, ultimately, when I shall rise in the resurrection to live forever.”

et judícia tua adjuvábunt me = and your justice/judgments will help me

adjuvo, juvi, jutum, are, to help, assist, support.

176 Errávi, sicut ovis, quæ périit: * quære servum tuum, quia mandáta tua non sum oblítus.
I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost: seek your servant, because I have not forgotten your commandments.

Errávi, sicut ovis, quæ périit = I have strayed like a sheep which has perished/is lost

erro, avi, atum, are, to wander, stray, rove,
pereo, li, ltum, ire, to perish, come to naught, be lost; stray, be lost.

quære servum tuum = seek your servant

cf Mt 18:12, Lk 15:4-7, 1 Peter 2:25 going after the lost sheep.

quaero, sivi, situm, ere 3, to seek, seek after; to will, desire, think upon.

quia mandáta tua non sum oblítus = for I have not forgotten your commandments


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