Thursday, November 3, 2011

Psalm 22/9 - Surely goodness and mercy...

This week I’m looking at the second half of Psalm 22, The Lord is my shepherd, and we are up to the second last verse as said in the Office. Here is the psalm so far in the Vulgate and Douay-Rheims translations, with today’s verse highlighted:

Parasti in conspectu meo mensam adversus eos qui tribulant me;
You have prepared a table before me against them that afflict me.

impinguasti in oleo caput meum : et calix meus inebrians, quam præclarus est!
You have anointed my head with oil; and my chalice which inebriates me, how goodly is it!

Et misericordia tua subsequetur me omnibus diebus vitæ meæ;
And your mercy will follow me all the days of my life.

et ut inhabitem in domo Domini in longitudinem dierum.
And that I may dwell in the house of the Lord unto length of days.

Resuming our journey, under God's protection and guidance

The last few verses of the psalm have talked about take respite in a wonderful banquet, which might be interpreted as the Eucharist, particularly in the form of Viaticum, and anointing, but in this verse the speaker resumes his earthly journey for however long it may last, refreshed by God’s care for him, as Pope Benedict XVI explains:

“The Psalmist becomes the object of much attention for which reason he sees himself as a wayfarer who finds shelter in a hospitable tent, whereas his enemies have to stop and watch, unable to intervene, since the one whom they considered their prey has been led to safety and has become a sacred guest who cannot be touched. And the Psalmist is us, if we truly are believers in communion with Christ. When God opens his tent to us to receive us, nothing can harm us. Then when the traveller sets out afresh, the divine protection is extended and accompanies him on his journey: “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Ps 23[22]:6). The goodness and faithfulness of God continue to escort the Psalmist who comes out of the tent and resumes his journey.”

Looking at the Latin

Let’s break it down chunk by chunk. As noted in the last part, the best approach is often to find the verb first:

Et misericordia tua subsequetur me omnibus diebus vitæ meæ;

Subsequetur is a deponent verb, from subsequor, secutus sum, sequi 3, to follow close after; to follow, so

Subsequétur =it will follow

The next step is to look for the subject of the verb, and any adjectives agreeing with it – what it is that will follow? The answer is misericordia, or mercy:

Et misericórdia tua= and your mercy/loving kindness

In fact misericordia here translates the Greek reasonably literally, but the underlying Hebrew word ‘hesed’ (transliterated as checed in Strong’s concordance) arguably has a rather broader meaning than mercy, hence the alternatives to mercy often found in translations of this verse, such as ‘loving kindness’ (Coverdale), or ‘goodness and mercy’ (KJV, RSV). The neo-Vulgate (unnecessarily in my view, given the rich depth of the Christian understanding of the word) attempts to make this breadth of meaning clear by changing the phrase toEtenim benignitas et misericordia’ (ie goodness and mercy).

The third step in the translation process is to look for the object of the main action, in this case is clearly ‘me’, or me, thus, so far we have:

Et misericordia tua subsequetur me  = And your mercy will follow me.

So now we can sort out the remaining words and slot them into the sentence:

omnis, e, all, each, every; subst., all men, all things, everything
dies, ei, m. and /.; fem. a day, the natural day
vita, ae, f. , life, esp. a happy life

ómnibus diébus = all the days (ablative to express extent of time)

vitæ meæ =of my life

The Douay-Rheims translates the whole verse as:

“And your mercy will follow me all the days of my life.”. 

Or you can adopt the RSV version, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life’.

Tomorrow, on to the last verse of the psalm.

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