Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Psalm 114/2 - I have loved

Jean Fouquet, 1452-60

Today, a look at the first verse of Psalm 114. The literal translation of this verse is very straightforward. Penetrating its true meaning, however, takes a little more work.

The verse is, in the Vulgate:

Diléxi, quóniam exáudiet Dóminus vocem oratiónis meæ.

The Douay-Rheims translates it as ‘I have loved, because the Lord will hear the voice of my prayer’.

So just who is it that the speaker has loved – does he mean God or someone or something else? And does the verse really mean to suggest that this love really dependent on God hearing - and favourably answering - his prayer?

Phrase by phrase

Diléxi = I have loved

Dilexi comes from the verb third conjugation verb, diligo, dilexi, dilectum, diligere 3 to love, to be pleased.

quóniam exáudiet Dóminus = because the Lord will hear

The key words here are:

quoniam, for, because, since, seeing that, whereas.
exaudio, ivi, itum, ire, to hear, hearken to, listen to, give heed to; to regard, answer.

The neo-Vulgate actually changes the tense of the verb here, to ‘you have heard’ (exaudit).

vocem oratiónis meæ = the voice of my prayer

vox, vocis, f., the voice of a person, or, the sound of an instrument, thunder
oratio, onis, f prayer, supplication

I have loved the Lord?

From the breakdown above it can be seen that the Douay-Rheims translates the Latin fairly literally, and in this case that reflects both the Greek and the Latin. The Coverdale translation for example (from the Hebrew) makes it: ‘I am well pleased that the Lord hath heard the voice of my prayer’, while Brenton’s translation from the Greek renders the verse: ‘I am well pleased, because the Lord will hearken to the voice of my supplication’.

A number of other translations, however, give the verse a rather different emphasis, for example :

I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my supplications (RSV); and
I love the Lord because He hath heard the voice of my prayer (Collegeville, Monastic Diurnal).

In fact St Basil the Great’s sermon on the psalm suggests that in fact these are legitimate (if less than attentive to the actual text) interpretations.  He says:

“It is not in the power of everyone to say: 'I have loved,' but of him who is already perfect and beyond the fear of slavery, and who has been formed in the spirit of adoption as sons. He does not add to ‘have loved’ the word 'someone’ but we supply in thought 'the God of the universe’. For, that which is properly beloved is God, since they define 'beloved' as that at which all things aim. Now, God is a good, and the first and most perfect of good things. Therefore, I have loved God Himself who is the highest of objects to be desired, and I have received with joy sufferings for His sake.”

Similarly, St Robert Bellarmine comments that:

“His soul burning with desire for the Lord, absolutely says, "I have loved," and does not say whom, taking it for granted that all others are equally in love with one so deserving of love, and, therefore, that they know whom he means. In like manner, when Mary Magdalen, at the sepulchre, was asked, "Whom seekest thou?" she answered, "Sir, if thou hast taken him away, tell me," without saying for whom she was looking, or for whom she was weeping, supposing that everyone shared in her love as well as in her sorrow, and knew the object of both. And, in fact, when we all seek for happiness, which, without any sprinkling of evil, we can find in God alone, as St. John intimates, when he says, "God is light, and in him there is no darkness;" man should absolutely love God alone, and when they hear the expression, "I have loved," they ought to understand it as applying to the love of the supreme good alone.”

Because he heard my prayer?

The second part of the verse serves as a reminder of the basic dynamic of the Christian life: God’s love for us calls us to him, encouraging us to respond with our prayers; and in turn, he listens.

It is, first of all, a call for those who are far from God at the moment to return to him, as St Augustine argues:

“Let the soul that is sojourning in absence from the Lord sing thus, let that sheep which had strayed sing thus, let that son who had "died and returned to life," who had "been lost and was found;" let our soul sing thus, brethren, and most beloved sons. Let us be taught, and let us abide, and let us sing thus with the Saints: "I have loved: since the Lord will hear the voice of my prayer."

But it is the assurance that God is with us, is listening, and acting in our best interests (even if those interests might not be apparent to us at the moment) the Fathers argue, that can get us through the trials and tribulations of life. Cassiodorus, for example, comments:

“We know that the Lord's love comes to men under two heads. The first is when He is loved and praised even by the unfaithful for the benefits He has bestowed; as we read of the sinner in another psalm: He will praise thee when thou shall do well to him. The other is the most certain and perfect, when the mind of one devoted to Him is cast down by no adversity caused by the ills befalling him, but in his love of the Lord is ever fired in the course of his miseries by hope of what is to come. As Paul says: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? Or distress? Or persecution? Or famine? Or nakedness? and the rest. So the prophet later explains the attitude of showing love in the midst of afflictions and hardships, because the tribulations and pains bestowed on him the merit of calling on the Lord. So David joyfully exults not in the breadth of his kingdom, and not in worldly happiness, which he knew would fade; but he rejoices that his prayer uttered in hardship has been heard by the most merciful Lord, and he realised that this was of enduring benefit to him….”

Psalm 114

Here is the complete psalm, with today’s verse highlighted:

Diléxi, quóniam exáudiet dóminus vocem oratiónis meæ.
I have loved, because the Lord will hear the voice of my prayer.
Quia inclinávit aurem suam mihi: et in diébus meis invocábo.
Circumdedérunt me dolóres mortis: et perícula inférni invenérunt me.
Tribulatiónem et dolórem invéni: et nomen Dómini invocávi.
O Dómine, líbera ánimam meam: miséricors Dóminus, et justus, et Deus noster miserétur.
Custódiens párvulos Dóminus: humiliátus sum, et liberávit me.
Convértere, ánima mea, in réquiem tuam: quia Dóminus benefécit tibi.
Quia erípuit ánimam meam de morte: óculos meos a lácrimis, pedes meos a lapsu.
Placébo Dómino * in regióne vivórum.

Notes on the next verse continue here.

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