Thursday, October 27, 2016

Psalm 89 - Seventy years in this life; eighty years old to eternity...


Image result for psalm 89 Dómine, refúgium factus es nobis
William Blake

Psalm 89: Domine refugium factus es nobis - Thursday Lauds
Vulgate
Douay-Rheims
Oratio Moysi, hominis Dei.
A prayer of Moses the man of God.
1 Dómine, refúgium factus es nobis: * a generatióne in generatiónem.
 Lord, you have been our refuge from generation to generation.
2  Priúsquam montes fíerent, aut formarétur terra et orbis: * a sæculo et usque in sæculum tu es, Deus.
2 Before the mountains were made, or the earth and the world was formed; from eternity and to eternity you are God.
3  Ne avértas hóminem in humilitátem: * et dixísti: Convertímini, fílii hóminum.
3 Turn not man away to be brought low: and you have said: Be converted, O you sons of men.
4  Quóniam mille anni ante óculos tuos, * tamquam dies hestérna, quæ prætériit.
4 For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday, which is past.
5  Et custódia in nocte, * quæ pro níhilo habéntur, eórum anni erunt.
And as a watch in the night,  things that are counted nothing, shall their years be.
6  Mane sicut herba tránseat, mane flóreat, et tránseat: * véspere décidat, indúret et aréscat.
6 In the morning man shall grow up like grass; in the morning he shall flourish and pass away: in the evening he shall fall, grow dry, and wither.
7  Quia defécimus in ira tua, * et in furóre tuo turbáti sumus.
7 For in your wrath we have fainted away: and are troubled in your indignation.
8  Posuísti iniquitátes nostras in conspéctu tuo: * sæculum nostrum in illuminatióne vultus tui.
8 You have set our iniquities before your eyes: our life in the light of your countenance.
9  Quóniam omnes dies nostri defecérunt: * et in ira tua defécimus.
9 For all our days are spent; and in your wrath we have fainted away.
10  Anni nostri sicut aránea meditabúntur: * dies annórum nostrórum in ipsis, septuagínta anni.
Our years shall be considered as a spider:  The days of our years in them are threescore and ten years.
11  Si autem in potentátibus, octogínta anni: * et ámplius eórum, labor et dolor.
But if in the strong they be fourscore years: and what is more of them is labour and sorrow.
12  Quóniam supervénit mansuetúdo: * et corripiémur.
For mildness has come upon us: and we shall be corrected.
13  Quis novit potestátem iræ tuæ: * et præ timóre tuo iram tuam dinumeráre?
11 Who knows the power of your anger, and for your fear  can number your wrath?
14  Déxteram tuam sic notam fac: * et erudítos corde in sapiéntia.
So make your right hand known: and men learned in heart, in wisdom.
15  Convértere, Dómine, úsquequo? * et deprecábilis esto super servos tuos.
13 Return, O Lord, how long? And be entreated in favour of your servants.
16  Repléti sumus mane misericórdia tua: * et exsultávimus, et delectáti sumus ómnibus diébus nostris.
14 We are filled in the morning with your mercy: and we have rejoiced, and are delighted all our days.
17  Lætáti sumus pro diébus, quibus nos humiliásti: * annis, quibus vídimus mala.
15 We have rejoiced for the days in which you have humbled us: for the years in which we have seen evils.
18  Réspice in servos tuos, et in ópera tua: * et dírige fílios eórum.
16 Look upon your servants and upon their works: and direct their children.
19  Et sit splendor Dómini Dei nostri super nos, et ópera mánuum nostrárum dírige super nos: * et opus mánuum nostrárum dírige.
17 And let the brightness of the Lord our God be upon us: and direct the works of our hands over us; yea, the work of our hands do you direct.

Psalm 89, it seems to me, is the high point of this set of Lauds psalms, and key to understanding the whole set.  Attributed to Moses, it not only contains many references to morning and light, it also provides the link between these and the truth and mercy theme.

Truth and mercy

The overarching theme is God's eternity, compared to the ephemeral nature of our life on this earth.  And against this background God confronts us with the truth about ourselves:
You have set our iniquities before your eyes: our life in the light of your countenance.
Sinful and doomed to die, mankind lies suffering, awaiting God's mercy; then the Lord indeed arrives on this earth, creating for us a morning that is the dawn of the new creation, where in we can live forever with God:
We are filled in the morning with your mercy: and we have rejoiced, and are delighted all our days.
What is necessary for this to occur: that we cultivate humility, and allow the Lord to direct the works of our hands:
We have rejoiced for the days in which you have humbled us: for the years in which we have seen evils....and direct the works of our hands over us; yea, the work of our hands do you direct.
Cassiodorus and many others saw this is as a key prayer, perhaps used daily by the people in their desert wanderings, and in his introduction to it, he offers a mini-treatise on the effects of prayer:
 A prayer, by which the Lord's anger is deferred, pardon gained, punishment avoided, and generous rewards obtained when he speaks to the Lord, gossips with the Judge, and pictures before his eyes Him whom he cannot see. 
By his prayer he placates Him whom he eagerly exalts by his actions. 
Prayer in some sense affords clois­tered converse with the Lord, and offers an opportunity for intimations; the sinner is granted access to the Judge's inner sanctum, and the only person rejected is he who is found lukewarm in his prayer. 
He seeks what he desires, he acquires more than he deserves. He approaches his prayer with melancholy, but departs from it in glad­ness. 
Prayer which is holy saves the committed and makes them blessed; it also welcomes the wicked. There are countless examples of this blessing, but it must suffice that the Lord Himself in giving us precepts for living deigned to pray. So it is appropriate that a prayer was placed before this noble and great man, who often softened the angry Lord with a marvellous mode of entreaty for us to follow.
 Cassiodorus summarises the content of the psalm as follows:
Moses, a most holy man remarkable for his achievements, and ven­erable because of his converse with God, begins in the first section with praise of the Judge, briefly recounting His kindnesses and His power. Next he asks for support for our weakness, which he demon­strates with many instances. Thirdly, he begs that the coming of the Lord Saviour may become known more quickly, for he knew that it would afford benefits for the human race.
Life expectancy and the number of the psalms

Cassiodorus offers another reason for seeing this psalm as a key to the others, and that goes to the life expectancy of men (70 year or 80 if...) and the number of the psalms (ie 70+80=150).

The Fathers viewed numbers as part of the divine law, inherent in creation, as Cassiodorus explains here:
Let us ponder, men of the greatest wisdom, how many mysteries of the sacred law are revealed to us by the various numbers. ..Other mysteries of the divine law are contained in various numbers. We read that the grains of sand of the sea, the drops of rain, the hairs of men's heads are counted. So that we may in brief grasp the praise and power of the discipline of number, Solomon says that God has ordered all things in measure and number and weight. Thus it becomes clear and indubitable to all that the discipline of arithmetic is pervasive every­where. 
In this particular case, he notes:
Moses here by computation of the numbers seventy and eighty draws the lives of men together. The entire sequence of psalms is embraced by that number... 
Cassiodorus also alludes to the number symbolism here as referring to the combination of Old and New Testaments - the old symbolised by the seven days of creation (and perhaps also the 70 translators of the Septuagint); the new by the eighth day of the new creation.

Light

This psalm includes several references to the illuminating power of God, from lux, lucis (light), including:

8  Posuísti iniquitátes nostras in conspéctu tuo: * sæculum nostrum in illuminatióne vultus tui.
8 You have set our iniquities before your eyes: our life in the light of your countenance.

and

19  Et sit splendor Dómini Dei nostri super nos, et ópera mánuum nostrárum dírige super nos: * et opus mánuum nostrárum dírige.
17 And let the brightness of the Lord our God be upon us: and direct the works of our hands over us; yea, the work of our hands do you direct.

It is worth noting that the expression that St Benedict uses in his rule (in the received text) on the time for Lauds is 'qui incipiente luce agendi sunt', or when light begins, starts to take hold.  He also uses a word frequently used in these psalms to describe the hour itself: matutinis.

In Scripture, first light and dawn are often described by reference to light for example: before the light (ante lucem, Psalm 62); at first light (prima luce, 1 Esdras 9:41); morning light  (lux matutinas); lux aurora; light shining in the darkness; and so forth.

The most beautifully poetic of these is surely that of Psalm 18 (Prime on Saturday):

5  In sole pósuit tabernáculum suum: * et ipse tamquam sponsus procédens de thálamo suo.
He has set his tabernacle in the sun: and he as a bridegroom coming out of his bridechamber,
6  Exsultávit ut gigas ad curréndam viam, * a summo cælo egréssio ejus.
Has rejoiced as a giant to run the way: His going out is from the end of heaven,

I've also written about this psalm in the context of the psalms for Thursday and Tenebrae of Maundy Thursday.

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