Sunday, February 12, 2012

Are we there yet? When will Christ's kingdom be established? Ps 109/4

Van der Weyden, c1445

Today’s verse of Psalm 109 puts before us a paradox. Here is the verse in the Vulgate Latin, Greek Septuagint, and English Douay-Rheims versions:

Virgam virtutis tuæ emittet Dominus ex Sion : dominare in medio inimicorum tuorum
ῥάβδον δυνάμεώς σου ἐξαποστελεῖ κύριος ἐκ Σιων καὶ κατακυρίευε ἐν μέσῳ τῶν ἐχθρῶν σου
The Lord will send forth the sceptre of your power out of Sion: rule in the midst of your enemies.

What is the nature of the paradox? Well on the one hand, it seems to talk about God establishing Christ’s rule, something that is in fact eternal without any beginning, as St Augustine explains:

“It appears, brethren, it most clearly appears, that the Prophet is not speaking of that kingdom of Christ, in which He reigns for ever with His Father, Ruler of the things which are made through Him: for when does not God the Word reign, who is in the beginning with God?”

Yet on the other hand, this clearly is a Christological psalm!

The paradox is resolved by the Fathers, in seeing this verse as reference to the culmination of Christ’s earthly mission, in the establishment of the Church, and the instruction to go out and make disciples of all nations. St Augustine continues:

“…but, nevertheless, that reign of temporal government, by which, through the mediation of His flesh, He called us into eternity, begins with Christians; but of His reign there shall be no end.

Let’s look at the verse more closely in order to penetrate further into the meaning.

The Latin

The scepter from Sion

Parsing out the phrase:
Virgam (acc of virga, a rod, staff or scepter) virtútis (genitive of virtus, strength, power) tuæ (your, agreeing with virtus)

Virgam virtútis tuæ = the scepre of your power =your mighty sceptre

The sceptre is often interpreted as a reference to the Cross.

The Neo-Vulgate translation of the psalm (used in the Liturgy of the Hours) changes virtutis to potentiae (power).

Out of Sion

Parsing the phrase:
emíttet (future indicative 3rd person of emitto, I send) Dóminus ex (ex, out of) Sion (=Jerusalem)

emíttet Dóminus ex Sion = the Lord will send from Sion

St Robert Bellarmine comments:

“…The scepter of his power was sent out of Sion, as if it grew on that mountain; for it was in Jerusalem that the spiritual kingdom of Christ commenced, as there were the first believers, and there the faith began to be propagated by the apostles.”


Parsing the phrase:
Domináre (imperative of dominor, rule) in médio (in +abl, medius in the midt, middle) inimicórum (gen pl of enemy) tuórum (your, agreeing with enemies)

domináre in médio inimicórum tuórum = rule in the midst of your enemies

This phrase points to the tension implicit in this ‘almost but not yet’ time after Christ’s Resurrection, but before the Second Coming, as St Augustine explains:

“First, Be Thou ruler in the midst of Your enemies: in the midst of the raging heathen. For shall He rule in the midst of His enemies at a later season, when the Saints have received their reward, and the ungodly their condemnation? And what wonder if He shall then rule, when the righteous reign with Him for ever, and the ungodly burn with eternal punishments? What wonder, if He shall then? Now in the midst of Your enemies, now in this transition of ages, in this propagation and succession of human mortality, now while the torrent of time is gliding by, unto this is the rod of Your power sent out of Sion, that You may be Ruler in the midst of Your enemies. Rule Thou, rule among Pagans, Jews, heretics, false brethren. Rule Thou, rule, O Son of David, Lord of David, rule in the midst of Pagans, Jews, heretics, false brethren. Be Thou Ruler in the midst of Your enemies. We understand not this verse aright.”

Other translations

The Monastic Diurnal translates the whole verse as “The scepter of Thy power the Lord sendeth forth from Sion: Rule Thou in the midst of Thy enemies”.

The Coverdale translation renders it “The Lord shall send the rod of thy power out of Sion; be thou ruler, even in the midst among thine enemies.”

The Revised Standard Version prefers sceptre to rod: “The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your foes!”

Extending the sceptre of Christ’s power

This verse, then can be seen as encapsulating Our Lord’s mission and instruction to spread the Gospel to the whole world, through his Cross, as St Alphonsus Liguri explains:

“Here David speaks to Jesus Christ, and says to him: The Lord, that is, Thy eternal Father, will cause to come forth from Sion, or from Jerusalem, the sceptre of Thy power, and Thy reign shall extend over the whole earth. This accords with the command given by the divine Master to his disciples to go to preach salvation to all nations beginning with Jerusalem…That penance and remission of sins should be preached in his name, . . . beginning at Jerusalem (Luke, xxiv. 4). Mattei observes that by Virgam many of the holy Fathers understand the cross, which is the sceptre of Jesus Christ.”

When then is the kingdom established? St Robert Bellarmine explains:

“All success, triumph, and happiness to you on the way; extend your kingdom to all nations; carry the banner of your cross in the midst of Jews and pagans; plant it where they are thickest and strongest; "rule everywhere in the midst of them;" and in spite of them, and in opposition to them, set up your kingdom. That was very soon accomplished; for within a few years, in spite of both Jews and pagans, many Christian churches were established, for the apostle writes to the Colossians, chapter 1, "The truth of the Gospel is in the whole world, and bringeth forth fruit and groweth;" and St. Ireneus, who lived in the century after the apostles, writes, "The Church has been planted through the entire world, even to the ends of the earth;" and he specifies the Churches of Germany, Spain, Libya, Egypt, France, the East, and the churches he calls those in the middle of the world, meaning Greece and Italy. The Psalm most appropriately adds, "in the midst of thy enemies;" because, however prosperous and triumphant the Church may be, she will always be surrounded by enemies—by pagans, Jews, heretics, and bad Christians—as long as she sojourns here below. But at the end of the world, when the good shall come to be separated from the bad, the kingdom of Christ will be no longer in the midst of her enemies, but will rise above, and be exalted over all her enemies.”

Key vocab

virga, ae, f, a rod, staff, scepter, a shepherd's crook.
virtus, utis, f. strength, power, might; an army, host; the angels.; the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon, and stars
emitto, misi, missum, ere 3 to send out or forth; to stretch forth, put forth
dominor, atus sum, ari to rule over, have dominion over, lord it over; to rule, reign
medius, a, um in the middle, midst
inimicus, i, m., a foe, enemy

Psalm 109 (110)

Dixit Dominus Domino meo: Sede a dextris meis,
donec ponam inimicos tuos scabellum pedum tuorum.

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.
Juravit Dominus, et non pœnitebit eum : Tu es sacerdos in æternum secundum ordinem Melchisedech.
Dominus a dextris tuis; confregit in die iræ suæ reges.
Judicabit in nationibus, implebit ruinas; conquassabit capita in terra multorum.
De torrente in via bibet; propterea exaltabit caput.

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

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