Friday, October 28, 2011

Psalm 22/5 - Yea though I walk in the midst of the shadow of death

Crimean war photo by Roger Fenton
Today I want to look at the verse of Psalm 22, which is probably the most familiar, and most clearly suggests why the psalm is part of the Office for the Dead:

Nam etsi ambulavero in medio umbræ mortis, non timebo mala, quoniam tu mecum es.
For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for you are with me.

Pope Benedict’s recent catechesis on this psalm (on which more below) focuses here on the imagery of walking in dark shadow, suggesting that the previous verse pointed to God’s guidance of us on the path’s of righteousness. For this reason, Pope Benedict XVI suggests, ‘the Psalmist can declare his calm assurance without doubt or fear’.”

Here is where the verse sits in the first half of the 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 et si ambulavero in medio umbræ mortis, non timebo mala, quoniam tu mecum es.
Virga tua, et baculus tuus, ipsa me consolata sunt.

Phrase by phrase

Let’s look at the verses phrase by phrase:

nam, et si ambulávero = for even if I shall walk

in médio umbræ mortis=in the midst (in medio) of the shadow (umbrae) of death

non timébo mala=I will not fear evils

quóniam tu mecum es=for you are with me

Many of the protestant translations of this verse change ‘shadow of death’ to the ‘valley of the shadow of death’, reflecting the Hebrew of the Masoretic Text, and indeed the neo-Vulgate does likewise, making the verse:

Nam et si ambulavero in valle umbrae mortis, non timebo mala, quoniam tu mecum es, or as the Coverdale translation makes it, Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.

Pope Benedict on walking in the dark shadows of death

Pope Benedict drew out the imagery in his recent catechesis on the psalm:

“Those who walk with the Lord even in the dark valleys of suffering, doubt and all the human problems, feel safe. You are with me: this is our certainty, this is what supports us. The darkness of the night frightens us with its shifting shadows, with the difficulty of distinguishing dangers, with its silence taut with strange sounds. If the flock moves after sunset when visibility fades, it is normal for the sheep to be restless, there is the risk of stumbling or even of straying and getting lost, and there is also the fear of possible assailants lurking in the darkness.

To speak of the “dark” valley, the Psalmist uses a Hebrew phrase that calls to mind the shadows of death, which is why the valley to be passed through is a place of anguish, terrible threats, the danger of death. Yet the person praying walks on in safety undaunted since he knows that the Lord is with him. “You are with me” is a proclamation of steadfast faith and sums up the radical experience of faith; God’s closeness transforms the reality, the dark valley loses all danger, it is emptied of every threat. Now the flock can walk in tranquillity, accompanied by the familiar rhythmical beat of the staff on the ground, marking the shepherd’s reassuring presence.”


nam for
et si, yea, even if, in case that; O that! would that!; if, whether, if perchance;
ambulo, avi, atum, are to walk; the manner in which one orders one's life;
in +abl in, on, among
medius, a, um in the middle, midst
umbra, ae, /., a shadow, a shelter, cover, protection
mors, mortis, /., death
non - not
timeo, ere 2, to fear, be afraid of.
malus, a, um, adj., bad, evil, wicked; grievous, sore, severe; subst., malum, i, n., evil, sin; woe, harm, misfortune.
quoniam, conj., for, because, since, seeing that, whereas.
tu – pronoun, you
mecum – with me
es – you are (s)

The next post looks at last verse of the shepherd allegory.

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