Monday, October 17, 2011

Psalm 3: Ego dormivi (v5)

Gustave Dore: Death of Absalom

This post continues my verse a day look at Psalm 3, drawing on the catechesis on prayer around this psalm given by Pope Benedict XVI, as well as the commentaries of the Fathers and Theologians.

Psalm 3: Domine quid multiplicati sunt

First a short reminder of what the psalm is about from St Benedict’s contemporary Cassiodorus, who puts it in a Christological perspective:

"When Absalom was cruelly attacking his father David, the speed of his mule caused him to collide with a thick oak-tree, and the branches wound round his neck so that he was suspended high in the air. This was a prefiguration of the Lord's betrayer...The deliver­ance of David fittingly signifies the Lord's resurrection, so that the minds of Christians may be strengthened and encouraged in con­stancy at times of adversity. The whole of this psalm is aptly attributed to the person of Christ the Lord. His person is the strength of the almighty Godhead and the humility of the humanity which he embraced; but the two do not mix through intermingling, but exist in indivisible unity. To begin with, He addresses the Father with chiding of His persecutors who were uttering impious words against Him. Secondly, the faithful people were instructed not to fear death, when He consoles them with the hope of most certain resurrection following the precedent of their Maker.”

And here is the whole of the psalm (with the translation of the verses we’ve already looked at by way of a reminder), with today’s verse highlighted:

Dómine quid multiplicáti sunt qui tríbulant me? * multi insúrgunt advérsum me.
Why, O Lord, are they multiplied that afflict me? many are they who rise up against me.

Multi dicunt ánimæ meæ: * Non est salus ipsi in Deo ejus.
Many say to my soul: There is no salvation for him in his God.

Tu autem, Dómine, suscéptor meus es, * glória mea, et exáltans caput meum.
But thou, O Lord art my protector, my glory, and the lifter up of my head.

Voce mea ad Dóminum clamávi: * et exaudívit me de monte sancto suo.
I have cried to the Lord with my voice: and he hath heard me from his holy hill.

Ego dormívi, et soporátus sum: * et exsurréxi, quia Dóminus suscépit me.
I have slept and taken my rest: and I have risen up, because the Lord hath protected me

Non timébo míllia pópuli circumdántis me: * exsúrge, Dómine, salvum me fac, Deus meus.
Quóniam tu percussísti omnes adversántes mihi sine causa: * dentes peccatórum contrivísti.
Dómini est salus: * et super pópulum tuum benedíctio tua.

Verse : Ego dormivi

Here is a phrase by phrase literal translation:

Ego dormívi  =I, I have slept/laid down to rest

Note that the neo-Vulgate changes the verb here to 'obdormivi' (I have fallen asleep).

et soporátus sum = and gone to sleep/slept

et exsurréxi = and I have risen

quia Dóminus suscépit me = because the Lord protected me

‘I laid me down to rest, and slept’ – something hard to do when being hunted as David was, or when we are worrying about things! Pope Benedict XVI comments that:

“The divine response that hears his prayer totally reassures the Psalmist; even his fear is no more and his cry is soothed in peace, in deep inner tranquility. “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the Lord sustains me. I am not afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me round about” (vv. 6-7). The praying person, even in peril, in the midst of battle, can sleep serenely in an unequivocal attitude of trusting abandonment. His foes have pitched camp around him, they are numerous, they besiege him, they rise up against him, taunting and trying to make him fall; instead he lies down and sleeps, calm and serene, sure of God's presence.”

It is worth noting though that sleep is also frequently used in the psalms as a figure for death, and thus the Fathers frequently also interpret this verse (as suggested by the quote from Cassiodorus above) as a reference to Our Lord’s death, descent into hell, and resurrection.

Key words

dormio, ivi or li, Itum, ire, to sleep, to lie down to rest.
soporor, atus sum, ari to go to sleep.
exsurgo, surrexi, surrectum, ere 3, to rise up, arise, i.e., to come to the aid of
quia, conj. for, because, truly, surely, indeed.
suscipio, cepi, ceptum, ere 3 to guard, protect, uphold, support; receive, accept; to seize.

And on to the next part in this series.


  1. For comparison, here is Psalm 3 in the version of the Roman Psalter (Jerome's first attempt, according to the traditional understanding, at revising the Latin of the Psalms):

    3.2 Domine quid multiplicati sunt qui tribulant me multi insurgunt adversum me
    3.3 multi dicunt animae meae non est salus illi in Deo eius
    3.4 tu autem Domine susceptor meus es gloria mea et axaltans caput meum
    3.5 voce mea ad Dominum clamavi et exaudivit me de monte sancto suo
    3.6 ego dormivi et somnum cepi et resurrexi quoniam Dominus suscepit me
    3.7 non timebo milia populi circumdantis me exsurge Domine salvum me fac Deus meus
    3.8 quoniam tu percussisti omnes adversantes mihi sine causa dentes peccatorum contervisti
    3.9 Domini est salus et super populum tuum benedictio tua.

  2. Thanks for this Joshua, the old Roman psalter is certainly of interest given that it was the version used until the Carolingian era (and much later in some places including Rome).

    I'm curious about the basis for attributing it to St Jerome though - I had always understood it was an anonymous version that pre-dated him (and that he was in effect correcting in the 'Gallican' that eventually displaced it)?

  3. Ah, a little digging reveals that the 'roman psalter' is an ambiguous term - often used to describe St Jerome's (well probably him though some dispute it) first go at translating from the Greek, sometimes to refer to the 'vetus latina'.