Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Righteous zeal or 'spiritual warmongering'?: Psalm 118 (119) Tzade

Resuming today our study of Psalm 118, we are now up to the eighteenth stanza of this longest of the psalms. And following the alphabetical progression of the Hebrew alphabet, it is headed up Tzade.

It is often suggested that the Church needs to be more inclusive and welcoming of sinners, rather than calling on them to repent from their sins.

Standing up and fighting for our faith is even labeled by some as ‘spiritual warmongering’!

Yet such attitudes aren’t easy to reconcile with the Gospel, for Christ calls us to turn away from sin, not to embrace it, and to fight for what is right.

Zeal consumes me

In the previous stanza, the psalmist ended up weeping for his own sins. Here however the psalmist is concerned over the actions and fate of others. The central verse is 139:

Tabéscere me fecit zelus meus: quia oblíti sunt verba tua inimíci mei.
My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget thy words

So today I want to look at the delicate balance between a healthy zeal, that embraces the spiritual works of mercy advocated in today’s stanza of Psalm 118, of instructing the ignorant and admonishing sinners; the sin of cowardice in failing to teach at all; and the evil zeal of bitterness.

Zeal for the law of the Lord is a virtue

Verse 139 echoes the verse of Psalm 68(69) applied to Our Lord in the New Testament in relation to his cleansing of the Temple:

In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade." His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume me." Jn 2

But zeal can be both good and bad:

Cassiodorus comments:

“Zeal is used in both the bad sense and the good sense; in the bad sense, as in: "Zeal and envy have devoured the house of Jacob"; and again, we read in the Acts of the Apostles: When they saw this, the Jews -were filled-with zeal, and they laid their hands on the apostles. This kind of zeal always leads to sins, lays ambushes, cuts off the path to salvation.

Too often we see this evil zeal today in those who attack the bishops when they are actually defending the faith, and claim some superior knowledge to that of the Pope as to what Vatican II is meant to mean to us.

Yet good zeal can seem extremist at times, as Cassiodorus comments:

“The word is used in the good sense: The zeal of thy house has consumed me and Elias says: With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord God of hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant,." Then too Phineas the priest, on seeing the Israelite engaged in sexual intercourse with the Moabite woman, in zeal for the Lord's command ran them both through with the sword." His zeal was so effective that it alone diverted the Lord's anger. Indeed, this kind of zeal bestows salvation, keeps faith, maintains chastity and protects God's Church with splendid vigour.”

The marks of good zeal

The verses of this stanza point to some of the distinguishing marks of a healthy zeal for God, namely that it starts from the realization that we are all sinners (previous stanza), who need God’s truth and justice as a guide (v137-138, 142) and is fired up by love of God and meditation on his law (140-144).

Verse by verse

137 Justus es, Dómine: * et rectum judícium tuum.
You are just, O Lord: and your judgment is right.

Justus es, Dómine = you are just o Lord

et rectum judícium tuum = and your justice is righteous

The starting point for our assessment of our own and others state is God’s justice, which is broader than his meeting of punishments and rewards.

justus, a, um just as a subst., a just man, the just.
judicium, i, n. judgment, decrees; law, commandment; the power, or faculty of judging wisely; justice
rectus, a, um, part. adj. just, right, righteous, upright; the just, just men, the good; steadfast, stable, steady.

138 Mandásti justítiam testimónia tua: * et veritátem tuam nimis.
You have commanded justice your testimonies: and your truth exceedingly.

Mandásti justítiam testimónia tua = you have commanded justice [in] your testimonies

et veritátem tuam nimis = and your truth exceedingly

=You have ordained your testimonies [to be] justice and truth beyond measure.

mando, avi, atum, are to enjoin, order, command.
testimonium, ii, n. testimonies, commands, decrees; commandments, ordinances, statutes, judgments, testimonies
nimis, adv., exceedingly, greatly, beyond measure.

139 Tabéscere me fecit zelus meus: * quia oblíti sunt verba tua inimíci mei.
My zeal has made me pine away: because my enemies forgot your words.

Tabéscere me fecit zelus meus = My zeal makes me [to] pine away [consumed me]

The Neo-Vulgate changes the verb here to ‘consumpsit’, or it consumed’ which reflects both the Hebrew and the New Testament citation of this verse.

quia oblíti sunt verba tua inimíci mei = for my enemies have forgotten your words

tabesco, tabui, ere 3 to pine away, waste away, melt away, faint.
zelus, i, m. zeal; jealousy,indignation, displeasure.
obliviscor, oblitus sum, oblivisci to forget
inimicus, i, m., a foe, enemy

140 Ignítum elóquium tuum veheménter: et servus tuus diléxit illud.
Your word is exceedingly refined: and your servant has loved it.

Ignítum elóquium tuum veheménter = Your word [is] exceedingly pure/refined/fire-tried

Cassiodorus: “The Lord's word is ablaze, for it cleanses men's hearts when they are befouled with worldly grime. Just as the blazing heat of the furnace melts down metals and burns out their faults by necessary purification, so the Lord's word cleanses the thoughts of the humble by wiping away the stains of sins. The heart of Cleophas burned with this fire when she said: Was not our heart burning within us when he opened to us the scriptures?”

et servus tuus diléxit illud = and your servant has loved it

ignitus, a, um fire-tried, purified from dross, very pure
eloquium, ii, n. a word, oracle, speech, utterance, promise.
vehementer, adv. greatly, exceedingly, very much.
diligo, lexi, lectum, ere 3 to love; to flatter, make pretence of loving.
ille, ilia, illud, demon, pron., that; also he, she, it In the Vulgate ille is frequently used for is or ipse

141 Adolescéntulus sum ego et contémptus: * justificatiónes tuas non sum oblítus.
I am very young and despised; but I forget not your justifications

Adolescéntulus sum ego et contémptus = I am young and despised

St Augustine comments that: The younger seems to grieve for those older than himself who had forgotten the righteousnesses of God, while he himself had not forgotten. For what means, I am young, yet do I not forget? save this, Those older than me have forgotten. For the Greek word is νεώτερος, the same as that used in the words above, Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? This is a comparative, and is therefore well understood in its relation to some one older.

Can also be seen as a reference back to verses 99-100 I have more understanding more than my teachers and elders.

justificatiónes tuas non sum oblítus = I have not forgotten your justifications

adolescentulus, i, m. youth, young man from 13 to 20 years of age, or even more
contemptus, a, um, part, adj: despised.

142 Justítia tua, justítia in ætérnum: * et lex tua véritas.
Your justice is justice for ever: and your law is the truth.

Justítia tua = your justice

justítia in ætérnum = [is] justice forever

et lex tua véritas = and your law [is the] truth

143 Tribulátio, et angústia invenérunt me: * mandáta tua meditátio mea est.
Trouble and anguish have found me: your commandments are my meditation.

Tribulátio, et angústia invenérunt me = trouble and hardship have found me

mandáta tua meditátio mea est = your commandments are my meditation

angustia, ae, f prop, narrowness of circumstances, scarcity, want, poverty, hardship; anguish, afflictions, difficulties
invenio, veni, ventum, ire, to find

144 Æquitas testimónia tua in ætérnum: * intelléctum da mihi, et vivam.
Your testimonies are justice for ever: give me understanding, and I shall live.

Æquitas testimónia tua in ætérnum = Your testimonies are justice forever

intelléctum da mihi, et vivam = give to me understanding and I will live

aequitas, atis, f justice, fairness, uprightness, goodness
vivo, vixi, victum, ere 3 to live, to have life, be alive,

And for the next post in this series, continue on here.

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