Thursday, September 1, 2011

St Alphonse Liguori on the psalms/2

Yesterday I provided some background on the saint himself.  Today a quick look at his commentaries.

A practical aid

St Alphonse Ligouri's psalm commentaries are very much directed at providing practical assistance to those saying the Divine Office.  They are not, too my mind at least, particularly original, but rather provide notes to aid translation, drawing where relevant on the views of other mostly near contemporary commentators (few of which remain influential or even readily available today).  That said, the summations are often pithy and to the point.

The work is ordered around (pre-1911) Roman Office.  Unfortunately of course, the Roman Office has been completely reordered twice since he wrote!

All the same, the commentary is still useful, and is readily available for download online (see the sidebar on psalm commentaries).  For each psalm (and canticle), St Alphonse provides a short paragraph summarising what it is about, and then short notes on selected verses.

A sample summary

You can get a feel for the style of summaries St Alphonsus provides from ths note on Psalm 75, said at Thursday Matins in the pre-1911 Roman Breviary, Thursday None in the 1962 Roman Breviary, and Friday Lauds in the traditional Benedictine Office:

"This psalm is a canticle of praise and thanksgiving which the Jews address to God for having aided them to be victorious over their enemies. Some Fathers believe that it was composed after the victory gained over the Assyrians and the defeat of the army of Sennacherib (4 Kings, xix. 35), the title of it being according to the Vulgate: Canticum ad Assyrios. But Grotius and Xavier Mattei think that David composed it after his victory over the Ammonites (2 Kings, x.), and that afterward Ezechias recited it after the defeat of the Assyrians. It may be used by Christians to thank God for having delivered them
from their enemies."

These summaries are extremely useful as quick overviews to refresh the memory.

Verse by verse notes

The verse notes, I would suggest, are often less useful to the modern reader.  St Alphonse provides notes on all but two verses of this particularly important psalm. 

Many of the notes simply provide information on Masoretic Text and/or St Jerome's  from the Hebrew translation, which may or may not be helpful depending on your view of those versions of the psalms.  Much of this has arguably been overtaken by editions drawing on the dead sea scrolls and other sources, and modern scholarship on the texts.  Nonetheless, where verses are obscure, St Alphonse generally summarises the competing views that he is aware of (generally focusing on his near contemporaries amongst commentators), and states his preferred reading.

Other notes, though, are paraphrases of the verse into less poetic language, a useful contribution indeed: understanding meaning of the individual Latin or English words of the psalms is one thing; understanding what the sentence is actually trying to say is often quite another! 

And occasionally, St Alphonsus distills out a gem of wisdom for our consideration. 

All in all, this is a work that, though dated in some respects, is still worth a look at for the serious student of the psalms.

No comments:

Post a Comment