Friday, November 11, 2011

Psalms verse by verse - Psalm 114/4 - The pains of death

Today at look at verse 3 of Psalm 114 (116), which tells us that the speaker is in peril of his life, suffering from the pain of dying.

Here are the verses we have looked at so far, plus today’s:

1. Diléxi, quóniam exáudiet Dóminus vocem oratiónis meæ.
I have loved, because the Lord will hear the voice of my prayer.

2. Quia inclinávit aurem suam mihi: et in diébus meis invocábo.
Because he has inclined his ear unto me: and in my days I will call upon him.

3. Circumdedérunt me dolóres mortis: et perícula inférni invenérunt me.
The sorrows of death have compassed me: and the perils of hell have found me

The sentiments are very similar to those of Psalm 17:5-7, which says:

The sorrows of death surrounded me: and the torrents of iniquity troubled me.
The sorrows of hell encompassed me: and the snares of death prevented me
In my affliction I called upon the Lord, and I cried to my God

Phrase by phrase

First a look at the Latin:

circumdedérunt me = They have surround/compass me

dolóres mortis = the pains/sorrows of death

The neo-Vulgate changes this to 'the cords of death’ (funes mortis), giving the image of someone being pulled down to hell.

et perícula inférni = the perils/dangers of hell

Again the neo-Vulgate makes a change here, from pericula (dangers or perils) to angustia (want, scarcity or distress).

invenérunt me = they have found me/seized upon me/overtaken me

In other words, ‘The sorrows of death have surrounded me: and the dangers of hell have found me’. Perhaps the most vivid translation of this verse remains that of Coverdale:

“The snares of death compassed me round about, and the pains of hell got hold upon me.”

Here are the key words used in the verse:

circumdo, dedi, datum, are, to surround, beset, encompass with a hostile intent; to gather round
dolor, oris, m. , pain whether of body or of mind, grief, sorrow, affliction. Sin
mors, mortis, f., death
periculum, i, n., peril, danger.
infernus, i, m. hell, the nether world, the underworld, the grave, the kingdom of the dead,
invenio, veni, ventum, ire, to find

Death is not easy!

These days, many people feel that the best kind of death happens suddenly, quietly in our sleep. Indeed, we do our best to avoid pain of any kind, if necessary drugging someone to death to avoid the realities of death. This verse, though, does not shirk from seeing some nobility in suffering, as St Basil the Great points out:

“…the name of these pains to those which besiege the animal in the division of soul and body at death. He says that he has suffered nothing moderately, but that he has been tried even to the sorrows of death and has arrived at the peril of the descent into hell. Now, did he endure only these things for which he is exalted, or did he endure these things frequently and unwillingly? Nothing that is forced is praiseworthy. But, look at the nobility of nature of the athlete. When 'the sorrows of death compassed me, and the perils of hell found me’ I was so far from succumbing to these trials that I willingly proposed to myself even much greater trials than these.”

The dangers of death though, are not just physical but even more importantly, spiritual as St Robert Bellarmine argues:

“He now tells us on what his prayers turned; on the dangers and temptations in regard of his eternal salvation, the only subject worth the notice of a soul that truly loves God…When he says, then "The sorrows of death have compassed me," he means, I am tormented with such dreadful temptations that I am compelled to cry out with the apostle, "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" He explains it more fully, when he adds, "The perils of hell have found me," for it is through fear of that peril the greatest of all perils, that those near death conceive the greatest fear and alarm. In the Hebrew the expression is, "The narrow ways of hell," giving us the idea of one walking on the edge of a precipice, in danger every moment of falling, and of being dashed to pieces, unless they tread with the greatest care and caution; and such is the way of salvation, difficult and narrow, so that they who walk without extreme caution run every risk of being precipitated into hell.”

Psalm 114

Diléxi, quóniam exáudiet dóminus vocem oratiónis meæ.
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.

This mini-series on Psalm 114 continues here.

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