Saturday, September 10, 2016

Psalm 106 and 1962isms


The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt van Rijn

As well as more general 'tidying up' (clearing out assorted added prayers etc), the 1962 reforms of the Office made a number of changes to the traditional division points in some of the psalms.

I haven't been able to find out what the ostensible rationale for these changes was, so have been taking a look at them to see what I can discover.  Some of them I think I have a pretty good idea what the motivation was, and it is not good news.  Some are less obvious though, and I would put the change to Psalm 106, which I want to look at today, in this category.

St Benedict's divisions of the psalms

In the case of the day hours, St Benedict specifies which psalms are to be divided, presumably because they are not always the longest ones.  In the case of the Night Office though, he just says:
Having arranged the order of the office, let all the rest of the psalms which remain over, be divided equally into seven night offices, by so dividing such of them as are of greater length that twelve fall to each night.
This makes it sound as if the psalms to be divided, and the division points in them, are random and unimportant.  In reality though, I'm not convinced this is the case.  For one thing, if it was entirely random, wouldn't the division point be more or less in the middle of each psalm, or perhaps at some obvious point that fits the structure of the psalm?  In fact that is not necessarily the case as we shall see in the case of Psalm 106.

The structure of Psalm 106

Psalm 106 is said as the third and fourth psalm in the second nocturn of Matins on Saturdays in the Benedictine Office.  Its three opening lines provide the context for the psalm:

Vulgate
Douay-Rheims
Alleluia

1 Confitémini Dómino quóniam bonus: * quóniam in sæculum misericórdia ejus.
Give glory to the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endures for ever.
2  Dicant qui redémpti sunt a Dómino, quos redémit de manu inimíci: * et de regiónibus congregávit eos:
2 Let them say so that have been redeemed by the Lord, whom he has redeemed from the hand of the enemy: and gathered out of the countries.
3  A solis ortu, et occásu: * ab aquilóne, et mari.
3 From the rising and from the setting of the sun, from the north and from the sea.

In these verses the psalmist urges all those redeemed by God, believers gathered from the four corners of the world, and redeemed through baptism (symbolised by the sea), to praise God for his great mercy.

The psalm then divides into  four sections, dealing with a series of afflictions, each of which contains a version of two refrains:

6  Et clamavérunt ad Dóminum cum tribularéntur: * et de necessitátibus eórum erípuit eos.
6 And they cried to the Lord in their tribulation: and he delivered them out of their distresses.


8  Confiteántur Dómino misericórdiæ ejus: * et mirabília ejus fíliis hóminum.
8 Let the mercies of the Lord give glory to him: and his wonderful works to the children of men.

Interpretations

There are two broad lines of interpretations of this psalm, one seeing it as being primarily about the crises of the individual soul, the other as dealing with the salvation of mankind (though of course both lines can be held simultaneously).

St Robert Bellarmine, for example, takes the first approach, and interprets it primarily as literally dealing with the physical afflictions of hunger and thirst, captivity, disease or sickness, and shipwreck; spiritually, they are 'ignorance, concupiscence, bad temper and malice'.

St Alphonsus Liguori adopts the second approach:
In the literal sense this psalm sets forth the sufferings that the Jews endured in their captivity and in the desert, and it exhorts them to return thanks to God for having delivered them therefrom. In the figurative sense it represents the miseries from which Jesus Christ has delivered Christians. In it, moreover, the prophet clearly announces the ruin of the Synagogue, the vocation of the Gentiles, and the establishment of the Church.
The psalmist begins by an invitation to praise the goodness and the mercy of God. He then describes four examples of recourse to the Lord in affliction, and at the end of each repeats his invitation: verses 6-8, 13-15, 19-21, and 28-31. He concludes by an eulogium and a prophecy of the all-powerful and ever-merciful Providence of the Most High towards his servants, or his Church.
Psalms 104 to 106 in the Benedictine Office

St Benedict's contemporary Cassiodorus follows the second approach, seeing the psalm as linked to the two that immediately precede it, not least because they all start with the same title (Alleluia) opening words, viz  Confitémini Dómino (Give glory to the Lord).  That linkage arguably provides the clue to the traditional division point in the psalm.

Psalms 104 and 105 are both long psalms that are also divided in the Office, and chronicle salvation history.  

Psalm 104 starts from Abraham and the promises made to him and takes us through Joseph; the second half in the Office starts 'And Israel went into Egypt' and describes the exit from Egypt under Moses.  

Psalm 105 focuses on the sins of the Israelites under Moses, and associates the reader with them, but ends with their repentance and a plea for God to save his people:

45  Salvos nos fac, Dómine, Deus noster: * et cóngrega nos de natiónibus:
47 Save us, O Lord, our God: and gather us from among the nations:
46  Ut confiteámur nómini sancto tuo: * et gloriémur in laude tua.
That we may give thanks to your holy name, and may glory in your praise.

The division point

Looked at in this context, Psalm 106 can be seen as recapitulating the events of the previous two psalms, but also attesting to God's answer to this prayer.

The traditional division point, at verse 25/43, highlights God's action, and in fact can be seen as relating to the harrowing of hell, a particularly appropriate subject for meditation on a Saturday:

25  Dixit, et stetit spíritus procéllæ: * et exaltáti sunt fluctus ejus.
25 He said the word, and there arose a storm of wind: and the waves thereof were lifted up.
26  Ascéndunt usque ad cælos, et descéndunt usque ad abyssos: * ánima eórum in malis tabescébat
26 They mount up to the heavens, and they go down to the depths: their soul pined away with evils.

It is worth noting that Romans 10:6-7 makes this allusion explicit, albeit in a slightly different context (it contrasts the justification from the Old law, with the justification by faith of the new):
But the justice which is of faith, speaketh thus: Say not in thy heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? that is, to bring Christ down; Or who shall descend into the deep? that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead....
The 1962 change

The 1962 breviary, however, changes the division point to two verses earlier.

15  Confiteántur Dómino misericórdiæ ejus: * et mirabília ejus fíliis hóminum.
15 Let the mercies of the Lord give glory to him, and his wonderful works to the children of men.
16  Quia contrívit portas æreas: * et vectes férreos  confrégit.
16 Because he has broken gates of brass, and burst iron bars.
17  Suscépit eos de via iniquitátis eórum: * propter injustítias enim suas humiliáti sunt.
17 He took them out of the way of their iniquity: for they were brought low for their injustices.
18  Omnem escam abomináta est ánima eórum: * et appropinquavérunt usque ad portas mortis.
18 Their soul abhorred all manner of meat: and they drew near even to the gates of death.
19  Et clamavérunt ad Dóminum cum tribularéntur: * et de necessitátibus eórum liberávit eos.
19 And they cried to the Lord in their affliction: and he delivered them out of their distresses
20  Misit verbum suum, et sanávit eos: * et erípuit eos de interitiónibus eórum.
20 He sent his word, and healed them: and delivered them from their destructions.
21  Confiteántur Dómino misericórdiæ ejus: * et mirabília ejus fíliis hóminum.
21 Let the mercies of the Lord give glory to him: and his wonderful works to the children of men.
22  Et sacríficent sacrifícium laudis: * et annúntient ópera ejus in exsultatióne.
22 And let them sacrifice the sacrifice of praise: and declare his works with joy.

new divisio

23  Qui descéndunt mare in návibus, * faciéntes operatiónem in aquis multis
23 They that go down to the sea in ships, doing business in the great waters:
24  Ipsi vidérunt ópera Dómini, * et mirabília ejus in profúndo.
24 These have seen the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.

old divisio

25  Dixit, et stetit spíritus procéllæ: * et exaltáti sunt fluctus ejus.
25 He said the word, and there arose a storm of wind: and the waves thereof were lifted up.
26  Ascéndunt usque ad cælos, et descéndunt usque ad abyssos....
26 They mount up to the heavens, and they go down to the depths...
....et dedúxit eos in portum voluntátis eórum
....and he brought them to the haven which they wished for.
31  Confiteántur Dómino misericórdiæ ejus: * et mirabília ejus fíliis hóminum.
31 Let the mercies of the Lord give glory to him, and his wonderful works to the children of men.
32  Et exáltent eum in ecclésia plebis: * et in cáthedra seniórum laudent eum...
And let them exalt him in the church of the people: and praise him in the chair of the ancients....

It is a logical division point in some respects.  It arguably follows the structure of the psalm more closely, particularly if you follow the more literal line of interpretation.  It also has the advantage, perhaps, of highlighting the verse on the sacrifice of praise (although given that in choir everyone will be scrambling to stand up, maybe it actually obscures it?!), as well as the section of the psalm popularised by the nineteenth century Anglican hymn Eternal Father Strong to Save (aka For those in peril on the sea).

None of those reasons seem all that compelling though.  Accordingly, you really have to wonder why they felt it so important to make this change in emphasis.

Was it just change for change's sake, a general anti-tradition gesture in the absence of awareness of the Christological interpretation of the psalm?

Was it perhaps that they wanted to downplay the emphasis on the action of Christ?

Or was it, perhaps, that the reformers wanted to downplay the idea that the Benedictine Office contains a mini-Triduum each week and expunge all references to it, in the interest of  reordering the psalms according to their own whims?

But maybe I'm missing something...

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