Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Feast of St Benedict: Psalm 118 Samech Pt 1

Today being the Feast of St Benedict (it’s a memorial only in Roman EF calendar, but a Solemnity in the Benedictine), I want to focus in on just one verse of today's stanza of Psalm 118, namely verse 116, which is the centerpiece of the Benedictine profession ceremony:

Súscipe me secúndum elóquium tuum, et vivam: et non confúndas me ab exspectatióne mea.

The Douay-Rheims translates the verse as ‘Uphold me according to your word, and I shall live, and let me not be confounded in my expectation’. Most Benedictine translations of the Rule, however, make it ‘Receive me O Lord and I shall live’, and that reflects a long exegetical tradition.

In the context of the Benedictine monastic profession ceremony, the verse is generally interpreted as a plea for God to accept the monk or nuns sacrifice, in the form of the renunciation of the world, and to give them the grace to persevere.

But it is applicable to all of us, for though only religious offer themselves as a total holocaust to the Lord, we are all, as Christians, called to offer ourselves to him, and all need his grace to persevere in our own proper vocation.

Monastic Profession ceremony

In the Rule of St Benedict, the profession ceremony involves the monk making his vows of ‘stability, fidelity to monastic life and obedience’. He then places a document setting out this promise on the altar.

The Rule continues:

“…and when he has placed it there, let the novice at once intone this verse: "Receive me, O Lord, according to Your word, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my hope" (Ps. 118[119]:116). Let the whole community answer this verse three times and add the "Glory be to the Father." Then let the novice prostrate himself at each one's feet, that they may pray for him. And from that day forward let him be counted as one of the community.”

The Monastic Profession ceremony is often regarded as a kind of second baptism, so one can perhaps see this verse as referring back to the reference to the oath sworn in the previous stanza, that firm commitment to do God’s will that we are all bound to by our baptism.

Doing anything under formal vow, however, elevates it to a more perfect offering (with consequent more serious consequences for breaking it), and thus makes it a referent point for us all in our daily struggles to stay on the path.

Accept and protect me

The Latin ‘Súscipe me’ is in fact rather ambiguous – it can mean either to receive/accept me or uphold/protect me

So is this a prayer for divine support or for divine acceptance?

In fact it can be interpreted as both, and we should take both meanings to heart.

St Alphonsus Liguori paraphrases the verse as “O Lord, take me under Thy protection, as Thou hast promised, that I may live to Thee; do not, I beseech Thee, permit me to fall into the confusion of being deprived of the help that I expect from Thee”.

But it can also mean on one side, to voluntarily take up or accept an obligation as a favour; and, on the other, to receive or accept: to take up a newborn child was to acknowledge them; or to adopt them as one’s own. Dom Delatte’s classic Commentary on the Benedictine Rule captures this double meaning in the context of the monastic profession ceremony saying: "Grant that I may be really 'given' and really 'received,' truly received because truly given, and that both of us may be able to keep our word.”

A prayer we can all make our own, and ask St Benedict to aid us with on this his feast day.

Verse by verse

Today the notes on verses 113 to 116; I’ll provide the notes for the rest of the stanza tomorrow.

113 Iníquos ódio hábui: et legem tuam diléxi.
I have hated the unjust: and have loved your law.

iniquus, a, um, unjust, godless, wicked; As a subst. the wicked, the godless, the unjust (man or men); evil-doers.
odium – hate, hatred
diligo, lexi, lectum, ere 3 to love; to flatter, make pretence of loving

iníquos ódio hábui = the wicked I have hatred for

The Hebrew MT suggests duplicitous rather than just wicked. St Augustine suggests that the second phrase makes it clear that it is the sin not the sinner that is being hated here: “he did not hate human nature in unrighteous men, but their unrighteousness whereby they are foes to the law, which he loves”

et legem tuam diléxi = and your law I have loved

ie they are unjust in so far as they do not love the law.

114 Adjútor et suscéptor meus es tu: et in verbum tuum supersperávi.
You are my helper and my protector: and in your word I have greatly hoped.

adjutor, oris, m. a helper.
susceptor, oris, m. a protector, helper, defender, guardian; a stay, support.
tegmen – covert, shelter, protection, refuge
scutum, i, n. a shield, buckler; defense, protection.
superspero, avi, atum, are, with prep, in with the ace. or abl., to hope or trust in greatly.

Adjútor et suscéptor meus = my help and sustainer/protector/supporter/upholder

The MT Hebrew and Greek differ here, and the Neo-Vulgate reflects the Hebrew, changing ‘help and sustainer’ to ‘protection and shield’ (tegmen et scrutum).

Susceptor and its derivatives is an important word in this stanza, and ambiguous. Lewis and Short offers four meanings for it:

1. One who undertakes any thing, an undertaker, contractor
2. A receiver, collector of taxes, etc.,
3. One who takes into his house or harbors thieves, gamesters, etc., a receiver, gaming-house keeper,
4. a guardian, protector

It is the last meaning that is most often used in the Vulgate.

Cassiodorus comments: “Helper has reference to the fulfilment of the commandments, for without His help we cannot inaugurate or succeed in completing any good action. He became our Upholder by the mystery of the holy incarnation, through the agency of which He upheld man to prevent his utter destruction by the law of sin.”

es tu = you, you are

et in verbum tuum = and in your word

supersperávi =I have hoped greatly

We are invited once more to put our trust in God.

115 Declináte a me, malígni: et scrutábor mandáta Dei mei.
Depart from me, you malignant: and I will search the commandments of my God

declino, avi, atum, are, to turn aside; go astray.
malignus, a, um adj.,evil, malicious, malignant; subst., malignus, i, m., an evil-doer, a malicious or wicked person
scrutor, atus sum, ari, to search, examine, scrutinize; to search out, examine carefully

Declináte a me = Turn aside/depart from me


Augustine: For the wicked exercise us in the fulfilment of the commandments, but lead us away from searching into them; not only when they persecute, or wish to litigate with us; but even when they court us, and honour us, and yet expect us to occupy ourselves in aiding their own vicious and busy desire, and to bestow our time upon them; or at least harass the weak, and compel them to bring their causes before us: to whom we dare not say, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?

et scrutábor = and I will examine/search out

mandáta Dei mei = the commandments of my God

Cassiodorus: When you see that a person is unwilling to be converted, the proper course is to succeed in avoiding him, for if such men are present and continually join battle with contentious malice, devising lies with sophisticated foolishness, we cannot be found adequate to search out the Lord's commandments, since we are preoccupied to the full extent of our souls' power.

116 Súscipe me secúndum elóquium tuum, et vivam: * et non confúndas me ab exspectatióne mea.
Uphold me according to your word, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my expectation.

suscipio, cepi, ceptum, ere 3 to guard, protect, uphold, support; receive, accept; to seize.
confundo, fiidi, fiisum, ere 3, to put or bring to shame, to discomfit, confound, disappoint
exspectatio – ionis f – hope, expectation

Súscipe me = Receive/accept me or Uphold/protect me

Suscipe can mean to support, sustain or defend, hence Cassiodorus explains it as: Now that they have routed the faithless and are cleansed of intimacy with wicked men, they ask to be supported by the Lord so that they can be saved by the promise of His word.

But it can also mean on one side, to voluntarily take up or accept an obligation as a favour; and, on the other, to receive or accept: to take up a newborn child was to acknowledge them; or to adopt them as one’s own.

Accordingly as the Swiss-American commentary on the ceremony points out, “the act of monastic profession is understood at least implicitly, as an oblation or sacrifice. In the suscipe the newly professed beg God to accept the offering which they make of themselves in response to his promise of eternal life (Mk. 10:28-30).”

secúndum elóquium tuum = according to your word

et vivam = and I will live (fut) or make me live (subj)

Opinions on the tense are split here – the RSV and Coverdale go with subjunctive; Douay-Rheims with future. The Greek is, on the face of it, a subjunctive, but both Brenton and NETS treat it as future tense. Cassiodorus continues: But when they say: I shall live, they speak of the time to come, for we do not truly live in this world where we sin in the frailty of the flesh. Their expectation was that in their great devotion they would encounter Christ's mercy. They ask that they realise this hope at the Judgment to come, so that they cannot be robbed of their expectation through misleading themselves and being confounded.

et non confúndas me = and [you may not (subj)] put me to shame/discomfort me = let me not be confounded/disappointed

ab exspectatióne mea = from my expectation/my hope

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