Friday, February 10, 2012

Are we allowed to pray for the defeat of enemies? Psalm 109/3

c. 1210 Arundel MS 157, f.93r
The British Library, London

Today’s verse of Psalm 109 alludes to Christ’s immediate victory over his enemies, in the Resurrection, as well as looking forward to the final defeat of evil at the end of the world. And so it raises the question: are we allowed to pray for the defeat of our enemies?

You often see it suggested in some quarters today that we shouldn't even accept the concept of having enemies: rather we should practise inclusiveness and tolerance.  Yet Scripture makes no bones abut the fact that the good is constantly under attack, and that we must work towards its defeat.

Here is verse 2 of Psalm 109:

Donec ponam inimicos tuos scabellum pedum tuorum.
until I make your enemies your footstool

The Latin

First let’s look at the Latin.

Donec ponam inimicos tuos

Parsing the first phrase:

Donec (conjunction) ponam (1st person present subj of ponere, to make or render) inimicos (acc pls of enemies) tuos (your, agreeing with enemies).

donec ponam inimicos tuos = until I make your enemies

The underlying Hebrew word translated by donec is less restrictive than the Latin (and Greek), and a number of the patristic commentators note that the word is not meant to imply a time limit. Similarly, St Robert Bellarmine comments that ‘while’ does not imply a temporary kingdom for Christ:

“The kingdom of Christ, then, is never to have an end, nor is there any danger of its being subverted by its enemies, God having determined to bring them all under subjection by degrees, that Christ may then reign peaceably forever after. The word, then, "until," does not imply that Christ's reign was only to hold until his enemies should be subjected; but it means that his kingdom would be always extended more and more until as much as one single enemy not bowing the knee to him would not remain; as if he said, in other words: Come on ruling with me, and cease not extending our kingdom so long as one solitary enemy shall remain unconquered.”

Scabellum pedum tuorum

scabellum (acc sing footstool) pedum (gen pl of foot) tuorum (gen pl)

scabellum pedum tuorum = the stool of your feet = your footstool or a stool for your feet.

This phrase is meant to convey the idea of the subjection and submission: the victors of a battle were often portrayed with a foot on the neck of the vanquished. St Robert notes:

“That extension of Christ's kingdom is daily going on through the conversion of some to faith and obedience, who willingly put themselves under Christ's feet, that he may rest in them as he would on a footstool, and who, after finishing their exile, set out for their country, where they felicitously rest in God: others have either been perverted, or have got hardened in their perversity and are, in the end, hurried away by death to judgment, and, on being condemned, are consigned to hell, where they are, for all eternity, trampled under the feet of Christ. The extension of Christ's kingdom will be completed on the last day, when every knee shall bend of those that are in heaven, on earth, and in hell, to Christ.”


The Monastic Diurnal translates this phrase as 'Until I make Thy footstool'.  The other standard translations vary only in variants on 'Thy' such as your and thine.


donec, conj., till, until, while
pono, posui, Itum, ere 3, to put, place, lay, set; make, render
inimicus -i m enemy
scabellum, i, n. a low stool, footstool
pes, pedis, m. the foot

The work of extending the kingdom

This verse then, tells us of the ongoing work to extend the kingdom of Christ, the very mission and purpose of the Church, to which we are all called to contribute.

The defeat of the enemy comes about firstly through the Father, as this verse makes clear, but can also be attributed to the Son, as St Robert points out:

“Everything done by the Father is also done by the Son, as he himself asserts; but the Father is made to act here, in order, as it were, to reward the obedience of the Son, as the apostle says, "Wherefore, God also hath exalted him." With that, everything implying power is usually attributed to the Father, though the Son has the same power, because the Father shares it with him, though the Son cannot share it with the Father, he having had it from the Father by generation. The Son also, as man, enjoys it but by virtue of the Hypostatic Union.”

Secondly, the Son’s triumph in his Resurrection is itself a testimony to the kingdom that converts, as Pope Benedict XVI explains:

“The king’s kingship is also brought into being in the victory over his adversaries whom God himself places at his feet. The victory over his enemies is the Lord’s, but the king is enabled to share in it and his triumph becomes a sign and testimony of divine power…Dominion over his foes, glory and victory are gifts received that make the sovereign a mediator of the Lord’s triumph over evil. He subjugates his enemies, transforming them, he wins them over with his love.”

We shouldn’t shy away then, from praying for the defeat of evil. When it comes to our human enemies, we should try to win them over, pray for their conversion. But the very purpose of Our Lord’s mission on earth is to confound those who do wrong, and there is nothing wrong at all with praying that evil actions and words be frustrated!

Psalm 109 (110)

Please do leave a comment if you have a question, query, suggestion or insight to add.

In the meantime, here is the complete psalm for reference purposes, with the verses looked at so far bolded (I've also slotted in the Septuagint Greek for those interested):

Dixit Dominus Domino meo: Sede a dextris meis,
επεν κύριος τ κυρί μου κάθου κ δεξιν μου
The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand,

donec ponam inimicos tuos scabellum pedum tuorum.
ως ν θ τος χθρούς σου ποπόδιον τν ποδν σου 
until I make your enemies your footstool

Virgam virtutis tuæ emittet Dominus ex Sion : dominare in medio inimicorum tuorum
The Lord will send forth the sceptre of your power out of Sion: rule in the midst of your enemies.

Tecum principium in die virtutis tuæ in splendoribus sanctorum: ex utero, ante luciferum, genui te.
With you is the principality in the day of your strength: in the brightness of the saints: from the womb before the day star I begot you.

Juravit Dominus, et non pœnitebit eum : Tu es sacerdos in æternum secundum ordinem Melchisedech.
The Lord has sworn, and he will not repent: You are a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech.

Dominus a dextris tuis; confregit in die iræ suæ reges.
The Lord at your right hand has broken kings in the day of his wrath.

Judicabit in nationibus, implebit ruinas; conquassabit capita in terra multorum.
He shall judge among nations, he shall fill ruins: he shall crush the heads in the land of many

De torrente in via bibet; propterea exaltabit caput.
He shall drink of the torrent in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.

And don't forget to listen to recordings until you can say the Latin aloud, to help get it into your head.

You can find the next post in this series on Psalm 109 here.

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