Saturday, July 19, 2014

Introduction to Psalm 138 Pt 2

I noted in a previous post that St Benedict divides Psalm 138 into two in his Office, and so I want to provide here, a brief introduction to the second half of the psalm.

Where the first half of the psalm focuses primarily on God's omniscience, this section takes up the theme of God's presence everywhere and in all things, as Benedict XVI pointed out in his commentary on it:

On the other hand, the second part of our Psalm (cf. vv. 7-12) is dedicated to the divine omnipresence. The illusory desire of human beings to flee from that presence is vividly described in it. The whole of space is steeped in it:  there is first of all the vertical axis "heaven-hell" (cf. v. 8), which gives way to the horizontal dimension which extends from dawn, that is, from the East, and reaches as far as the Mediterranean "sea's furthest end", that is, the West (cf. v. 9). Every sphere of space, even the most secret, contains God's active presence. 

This leads naturally to his works as creator, and especially as saviour, Pope Benedict explained:

…After contemplating in the first part (cf. vv. 1-12) the omniscient and omnipotent God, the Lord of being and history, this sapiential hymn of intense beauty and deep feeling now focuses on the loftiest, most marvellous reality of the entire universe:  man, whose being is described as a "wonder" of God (cf. v. 14).  Indeed, this topic is deeply in tune with the Christmas atmosphere we are living in these days in which we celebrate the great mystery of the Son of God who became man, indeed, became a Child, for our salvation.  After pondering on the gaze and presence of the Creator that sweeps across the whole cosmic horizon, in the second part of the Psalm on which we are meditating today God turns his loving gaze upon the human being, whose full and complete beginning is reflected upon. 

In fact, as for the first half of the psalm, St Benedict's contemporary Cassiodorus places the text on the lips of Christ during his prayer in the Garden, viewing it as in effect a meditation on the divine and human natures of Christ, particularly as he gets ready to confront those enemies who would cause his death.

Connections through the day?

It is worth noting, I think, that this psalm contains more than a few resonances with the opening psalm of Thursday at Matins, Psalm 73, setting the scene for many of the recurring ideas in the psalmody of the day.  Psalm 73, for example, says:

17  Tuus est dies, et tua est nox: * tu fabricátus es auróram et solem.
16 Yours is the day, and yours is the night: you have made the morning light and the sun.

Psalm 138 ponders on whether it is possible to hide from God in the darkness, but realises of course that day and night are alike to God:

1  Et dixi: Fórsitan ténebræ conculcábunt me: * et nox illuminátio mea in delíciis meis.
11 And I said: Perhaps darkness shall cover me: and night shall be my light in my pleasures.
2  Quia ténebræ non obscurabúntur a te, et nox sicut dies illuminábitur: * sicut ténebræ ejus, ita et lumen ejus.
12 But darkness shall not be dark to you, and night shall be light all the day: the darkness thereof, and the light thereof are alike to you.

Similarly, Psalm 138 raises the difficult challenges posed by God's enemies for us:

11  Nonne qui odérunt te, Dómine, óderam? * et super inimícos tuos tabescébam?
21 Have I not hated them, O Lord, that hated you: and pined away because of your enemies?
12  Perfécto ódio óderam illos: * et inimíci facti sunt mihi.
22 I have hated them with a perfect hatred: and they have become enemies to me.

On the face of it, these verses seem to run counter to the Gospel injunction to love our enemies.  The Fathers provide a number of solutions for this, the most compelling being to interpret it as meaning hate the sin even while loving the sinner.  Psalm 73, though, perhaps helps explains the context for these lines, for it is a lament for the destruction of Jerusalem, and above all, of the desecration of the Temple and attempts to suppress true religion.  Both psalms can be read as referring to those who plotted the death of Christ the true Temple, and remained unrepentant, and so condemned themselves.

Psalm 138, though, ends in a confident affirmation of salvation, and can be read as taking us back to Psalm 73's central verse:

13  Deus autem Rex noster ante sæcula: * operátus est salútem in médio terræ.
12 But God is our king before ages: he has wrought salvation in the midst of the earth.

Psalm 138/2 (139) – Et dixi: forsitan 
Vulgate
Douay-Rheims
1  Et dixi: Fórsitan ténebræ conculcábunt me: * et nox illuminátio mea in delíciis meis.
11 And I said: Perhaps darkness shall cover me: and night shall be my light in my pleasures.
2  Quia ténebræ non obscurabúntur a te, et nox sicut dies illuminábitur: * sicut ténebræ ejus, ita et lumen ejus.
12 But darkness shall not be dark to you, and night shall be light all the day: the darkness thereof, and the light thereof are alike to you.
3  Quia tu possedísti renes meos: * suscepísti me de útero matris meæ.
13 For you have possessed my reins: you have protected me from my mother's womb.
4  Confitébor tibi quia terribíliter magnificátus es: * mirabília ópera tua, et ánima mea cognóscit nimis.
14 I will praise you, for you are fearfully magnified: wonderful are your works, and my soul knows right well.
5  Non est occultátum os meum a te, quod fecísti in occúlto: * et substántia mea in inferióribus terræ.
15 My bone is not hidden from you, which you have made in secret: and my substance in the lower parts of the earth.
6  Imperféctum meum vidérunt óculi tui, et in libro tuo omnes scribéntur: * dies formabúntur, et nemo in eis.
16 Your eyes did see my imperfect being, and in your book all shall be written: days shall be formed, and no one in them.
7  Mihi autem nimis honorificáti sunt amíci tui, Deus: * nimis confortátus est principátus eórum.
17 But to me your friends, O God, are made exceedingly honourable: their principality is exceedingly strengthened.
8  Dinumerábo eos, et super arénam multiplicabúntur: * exsurréxi, et adhuc sum tecum.
18 I will number them, and they shall be multiplied above the sand, I rose up and am still with you.
9  Si occíderis, Deus, peccatóres: * viri sánguinum, declináte a me.
19 If you will kill the wicked, O God: you men of blood, depart from me:
10  Quia dícitis in cogitatióne: * Accípient in vanitáte civitátes tuas.
20 Because you say in thought: They shall receive your cities in vain.
11  Nonne qui odérunt te, Dómine, óderam? * et super inimícos tuos tabescébam?
21 Have I not hated them, O Lord, that hated you: and pined away because of your enemies?
12  Perfécto ódio óderam illos: * et inimíci facti sunt mihi.
22 I have hated them with a perfect hatred: and they have become enemies to me.
13  Proba me, Deus, et scito cor meum: * intérroga me, et cognósce sémitas meas.
23 Prove me, O God, and know my heart: examine me, and know my paths.
14  Et vide, si via iniquitátis in me est: * et deduc me in via æterna.
24 And see if there be in me the way of iniquity: and lead me in the eternal way

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