Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The reviving power of God's law: Introduction to Psalm 118/1

As I foreshadowed in my last post,, I want to start today a new series on Psalm 118.  In fact this is a return to the original concept of the series for this blog, of looking at those psalms covered by Pope Benedict XVI in his series of General Audiences on praying with the psalms.

The first four posts in this series will be an introduction to Psalm 118 drawing mainly on the Pope's catechesis; I'll then provides more detailed notes on each stanza and verse.

Today's Latin notes include some key vocabulary to learn in preparation for Psalm 118, namely some of the terms it uses to speak about the Law.

Pope Benedict XVI on Psalm 118

"In today’s Catechesis I would like to reflect on Psalm 119, according to the Hebrew tradition, Psalm 118 according to the Greco-Latin one.

It is a very special Psalm, unique of its kind. This is first of all because of its length. Indeed, it is composed of 176 verses divided into 22 stanzas of eight verses each. Moreover, its special feature is that it is an “acrostic in alphabetical order”, in other words it is structured in accordance with the Hebrew alphabet that consists of 22 letters. Each stanza begins with a letter of this alphabet and the first letter of the first word of each of the eight verses in the stanza begins with this letter. This is both original and indeed a demanding literary genre in which the author of the Psalm must have had to summon up all his skill.

However, what is most important for us is this Psalm’s central theme. In fact, it is an impressive, solemn canticle on the Torah of the Lord, that is, on his Law, a term which in its broadest and most comprehensive meaning should be understood as a teaching, an instruction, a rule of life. The Torah is a revelation, it is a word of God that challenges the human being and elicits his response of trusting obedience and generous love.

This Psalm is steeped in love for the word of God whose beauty, saving power and capacity for giving joy and life it celebrates; because the divine Law is not the heavy yoke of slavery but a liberating gift of grace that brings happiness. “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word”, the Psalmist declares (v. 16), and then: “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it” (v. 35). And further: “Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (v. 97).

The Law of the Lord, his word, is the centre of the praying person’s life; he finds comfort in it, he makes it the subject of meditation, he treasures it in his heart: “I have laid up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (v. 11), and this is the secret of the Psalmist’s happiness; and then, again, “the godless besmear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts” (v. 69)."

Learning the Latin of Psalm 118

Psalm 118 has 176 verses, and they mostly go to very similar themes, so you would think that the vocabulary demands of the psalm would not be great.  But that is far from being the case! 

To help you get in front of the learning curve then, over the next few days I'll provide some short vocab lists of key words worth learning in advance.  Today, five of the fifteen terms the Vulgate translation uses as synonyms for the law.  The definitions come mainly from Britt's Dictionary of the Psalter.

lex, legis, f a law; the Law of God. the will of God as manifested in His commandments or ordinances; authoritative teaching, the instruction of the Mosaic code.

via, ae, f the Law of God indicates to man the way he must walk to attain his final goal. A man's way is his moral conduct; God's way is the moral order He has established. (1) a way, road, path, street. God's way, God's policy or attitude towards men, or dealings with them, God's truths and precepts according to which He requires men to live. (3) Man's way of life in a moral sense; his regular course or habitual method of life, action, or conduct; how he walks before God. (4) viam facere. (5) case, cares (7) the way of life, i.e., the way of salvation, the way to eternal life.

testimonium, ii, n. testimonies, commands, decrees; the perceptive part of the Law, esp. the Decalogue. witness, testimony; in the psalms, precepts, commandments, ordinances, statutes, judgments, testimonies. The word, strictly, expresses the declarations of the divine will, to which man must conform.

eloquium, ii, n. , a word, oracle, speech, utterance, promise. It has special reference to divine revelation; but it frequently implies a promise.

judicium, i, n. the Law which makes manifest the will of God and inflicts punishment on those who disobey it. (1) judgment, decrees. (2) law, commandment. (3) the power, or faculty of judging wisely (4) justice. Judicium is here the law of God, or God's wisdom shown in particular cases—God's verdict as it were (B). (5) cause.  

And you can find the next part in this series here.

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