Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Magisterium of 'me' and Psalm 109 (Ps 109/7)

The St.Omer Psalter, c1330
Yates Thompson MS 14; f.120r
The British Library, London
Today’s verse of Psalm 109 is:

Dóminus a dextris tuis, * confrégit in die iræ suæ reges.
κύριος ἐκ δεξιῶν σου συνέθλασεν ἐν ἡμέρᾳ ὀργῆς αὐτοῦ βασιλεῖς
The Lord at your right hand has broken kings in the day of his wrath.

St Augustine poses the key question, of who is it talking about when the verse refers to kings:

“What kings, do you ask? Have you forgotten? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers took counsel together against the Lord, and against His Anointed. These kings He wounded by His glory, and by the weight of His Name made kings weak, so that they had not power to effect what they wished. For they strove again to blot out the Christian name from the earth, and could not; for Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken.”

Is this purely a historical reference, though, a prophesy entirely fulfilled? The Fathers thought not. Indeed, St John Chrysostom comments:

“You would not be wide of the mark to say this refers to the current rebels against the church and about those accountable in the future for their sins and impieties.”

I’ll come back to this point, but first a look at the verse phrase by phrase.

Looking at the Latin

The Incarnation

Dominus (nom s) a (prep +abl) dextis (abl) tuis (agreeing with dextris
Dóminus a dextris tuis = the Lord at your right hand

The first phrase of this section of the psalm takes us back to the first verse, with a reminder of the Incarnation, as St John Chrysostom points out:

“Then, having dwelt on that for as long as he wished, he touches again on the incarnation, adopting a more lowly form of language in the words, The Lord is at your right hand. Admittedly, he mentioned above that he is seated at the right hand of the Father. Do you see how the need to stay close to the expressions is not without purpose? What is the force of The Lord is at your right hand? Since he touched on the incarnation, he directs his attention to the flesh in receipt of assistance: it is seen to be struggling and sweating - and sweating to such a degree that blood flowed - and given strength. The nature of flesh is like that, you see.”

He will destroy kings

If we look at the Latin here phrase by phrase, it will quickly become evident that English requires us to change the word order in order to make sense of the verse:

confrégit = (third person indicative perfect of confringo) he has broken/destroyed/dashed in pieces

The neo-Vulgate makes this ‘conquassabit’ instead.

in (prep +abl) die (abl of dies) irae (ira, anger, gen) sueae (agreeing with ira)

in die iræ suæ =in the day of his anger/wrath

reges = kings (acc pl)


The MD makes this: The Lord at Thy right hand smiteth kings in the day of His wrath. Other versions say ‘he has broken kings’ (DR), ‘has dashed in pieces kings’ (Brenton), ‘shall wound even kings’ (Coverdale).

Key vocab

confringo, fregi, fractum, ere 3 to break in pieces, shatter; to destroy, bring to naught
dies, ei, m. and /.; fem. a day, the natural day
ira, ae, /., anger, wrath
rex, regis, m. a king, ruler, lawgiver

Who are the ‘kings’ now?

St Augustine, in the extract from his commentary on the psalm quoted above, links the reference to kings being crushed to Psalm 2. Cassiodorus repeats this sentiment in his commentary on the psalm:

“He hath broken kings denotes those of whom Psalm 2 says: The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together against the Lord and against his Christ. He broke them when He laid low their pride with the power of His omnipotence, for if they had not been broken they would have stuck fast in the harmful rigidity of their malice.”

But, St Augustine goes on, while Christ’s victory was obvious in the Resurrection, now it is hidden, to be made manifest again in the Second Coming, when all shall be judged.

St Robert Bellarmine sees it as literally referring to the various kings and emperors who have persecuted the Church:

“Having asserted that the Son was called a priest forever by the Father, the Prophet now addresses the Father, and says that Christ will be really a priest forever; for though many kings of the earth will conspire against him in order to upset his religion and his priesthood, he, however, seated at the right hand of his Father, will break his adversaries down, and, in spite of them all, will perpetuate his priesthood and his sacrifice. "The Lord at thy right hand;" Christ, as you spoke to him sitting there, when you said, "Sit thou at my right hand." "Hath broken kings in the day of his wrath;" when he shall be angry with his enemies, the kings of the earth, for persecuting his Church, he will break them, and, as far as I can foresee, has already broken them; for in the spirit of prophecy, I already see Herod stricken by the angel. Nero, in his misery, laying violent hands on him¬self; Domitian, Maximinus and Decius put to death; Valerian taken captive by the barbarians; Diocletian and Maximinus throwing up the reins of government in despair; Julian, Valens, and Honoricus, and nearly all the kings hostile to Christ meeting a miserable end here, and well-merited punishment in hell afterwards for all eternity.”

Yet others, such as St John Chrysostom and St Alphonse Liguori, suggest a rather broader interpretation of the term kings here – for just as we are all in one sense priests, we are all, in a sense kings, capable of deciding for ourselves to reject the kingship of Christ, and the teaching of his Church. Those who choose to fight actively against the Magisterium, and substitute instead the ‘Magisterium of Me’, aka FrZ's the Magisterium of Nuns, etc, should take heed!

Psalm 109

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
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 on this psalm here.

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