Saturday, October 29, 2011

Psalm 22/6 - Thy rod and staff; the root of Jesse and the Cross

c3rd, Catacombs of Priscilla
I want to end the week with the last verse of the first half of psalm 22, that closes off the shepherd allegory:

Virga tua, et baculus tuus, ipsa me consolata sunt.
Your rod and your staff, they have comforted me.

Why rod and staff?

I noted yesterday that Pope Benedict XVI’s catechesis on the psalm depicts the person walking under dark shadow, accompanied by the comforting reminder of God's presence in the sound of the shepherd’s staff.

But it is also worth drawing attention to St Alphonsus Liguori’s note that:

Some commentators understand by this the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was called Virga de radice Jesse a rod out of the root of Jesse (Is. xi. i), of whom was born Jesus. In the same mystical sense by baculus is understood the cross, which was the instrument of our salvation...”

Here is where today's verses sit in the context of the whole psalm:

Psalmus David.
Dominus regit me, et nihil mihi deerit: in loco pascuæ, ibi me collocavit.
Super aquam refectionis educavit me; animam meam convertit.
Deduxit me super semitas justitiæ propter nomen suum.
Nam etsi ambulavero in medio umbræ mortis, non timebo mala, quoniam tu mecum es.
Virga tua, et baculus tuus, ipsa me consolata sunt.
Parasti in conspectu meo mensam adversus eos qui tribulant me;
impinguasti in oleo caput meum : et calix meus inebrians, quam præclarus est!
Et misericordia tua subsequetur me omnibus diebus vitæ meæ;
et ut inhabitem in domo Domini in longitudinem dierum.

Phrase by phrase

Let’s look at the verses phrase by phrase:

Virga tua =your rod (nominative first declension noun agreeing with adjective)

et báculus tuus =and your staff (nominative second declension noun agreeing with adjective)

ipsa me consoláta sunt =they themelves (ipse, ipsa ipsum, intensive pronoun, referring back to rod and staff) have comforted me/given confidence to (deponent, 3rd person plural, perfect) me (personal pronoun)

That is, Thy rod and thy staff have comforted me.

There is some dispute about the interpretation of rod and staff here: are they two different things, or two aspects of the one?  In any case, rod seems here to mean the shepherd's crook with which he guides the sheep, while the staff is a stout stick used either to defend the sheep or for his own support.   Both are symbols of God’s guidance and loving solicitude.  St Thomas Aquinas, for example, saw the rod as a reference to God's guidance in our life, to corporal punishment to correct us, as well as the sceptre symbolising his kingdom; while a staff is a prop or aid to standing up.

St Robert Bellamine comments:

"The sixth benefit conferred on the sheep, their being supported when weary. He now drops the simile of the sheep, and takes up the shepherd, for sheep are not supported, when weary, by a staff, but are carried on the shoulders of the shepherd; which God is always ready to offer his faithful souls when weary."


virga, ae, f., a rod, staff, scepter, a shepherd's crook.
baculus, i, m. a stick, staff, a shepherd's staff, a walking-stick.
consolor, atus sum, ari, Active, to comfort, console, encourage

Next week, I'll look at the second half of the psalm.  Meanwhile, enjoy a lovely setting of the psalm by Carl Nielson.

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