Thursday, March 1, 2012

Psalm 118 (119): Daleth, Part I - The importance of confession

Today we have reached the fourth stanza of Psalm 118, marked by the Hebrew letter Daleth, and I want to linger over this set of verses for two days, because the last verse is particularly important to Benedictine spirituality, which I happen to favour! Accordingly, today I'll provide some notes on verses 25 to 31, and tomorrow I'll focus in on Verse 32 of the psalm.

St Robert Bellarmine summarises this stanza as follows:

“In the next eight verses David [the psalmist] still assumes the person of one imperfect, who is kept back by the concupiscence of the flesh from the perfect observance of the commandments, and asks for grace and help to observe them.”

Here are the verses:

25 Adhæsit pavimento anima mea : vivifica me secundum verbum tuum.
26 Vias meas enuntiavi, et exaudisti me; doce me justificationes tuas.
27 Viam justificationum tuarum instrue me, et exercebor in mirabilibus tuis.
28 Dormitavit anima mea præ tædio : confirma me in verbis tuis.
29 Viam iniquitatis amove a me, et de lege tua miserere mei.
30 Viam veritatis elegi; judicia tua non sum oblitus.
31 Adhæsi testimoniis tuis, Domine; noli me confundere.
32 Viam mandatorum tuorum cucurri, cum dilatasti cor meum.

25 My soul has cleaved to the pavement: quicken me according to your word.
26 I have declared my ways, and you have heard me: teach me your justifications.
27 Make me to understand the way of your justifications: and I shall be exercised in your wondrous works.
28 My soul has slumbered through heaviness: strengthen me in your words.
29 Remove from me the way of iniquity: and out of your law have mercy on me.
30 I have chosen the way of truth: your judgments I have not forgotten.
31 I have stuck to your testimonies, O Lord: put me not to shame.
32 I have run the way of your commandments, when you did enlarge my heart.

Clinging to God

This section of Psalm 118 effectively traces the path we must take if we wish to attain happiness with God.

First consider the starting and end points. If you look at the Latin of verses 25 and 31 of this psalm, both begin with the same verb, ‘adherere’, to cling, cleave or adhere to. But the two verses contrast two different states of being. In verse 35, the speaker clings to the dust of the earth, weighed down by fleshly concupiscence, and pleading to be rescued from this state. In verse 31, by contrast, the soul is now clinging desperately to God’s testimonies, and pleading to be kept in that happy state by the aid of grace.

In between comes confession of our sins (v. 26, I have declared my ways); openness to instruction and penance (v27); contrition and a genuine commitment to perseverance even in the face of difficulties and our natural tendancy to lukewarmness (v28); absolution (v29); and a positive choice for Christ, who is the way, the truth and life (v30).

A look at the verses
25. Adhæsit (pf) pavimento (dative, ground, dust) anima mea : vivifica (imperative: revive) me secundum verbum tuum.
My soul clung to the dust: revive me according to your word.

St Augustine comments here that the literal meaning of pavimentum, or pavement, here refers to earthly things:

“If we look upon the whole world as one great house, we see that the heavens represent its vaulting, the earth therefore will be its pavement. He wishes therefore to be rescued from earthly things, and to say with the Apostle, Our conversation is in heaven. To cling therefore to earthly things is the soul's death; the contrary of which evil, life is prayed for, when he says, O quicken Thou me.”

The neo-Vulgate ‘pulveri’ perhaps makes the meaning clearer here. The Monastic Diurnal and a number of other translations make the first phrase present tense rather than perfect: ‘My soul cleaveth to the dust, revive me according to thy word’.

St Augustine though goes on to suggest why the text implies that this state of affairs is completed:

“The body itself also, because it is of the earth, is reasonably understood by the word pavement; since, because it is still corruptible and weighs down the soul, Wisdom 9:15 we justly groan while in it, and say unto God, O quicken Thou me. For we shall not be without our bodies when we shall be for evermore with the Lord; 1 Thessalonians 4:17 but then because they will not be corruptible, nor will they weigh down our souls, if we view it strictly, we shall not cleave unto them, but they rather unto us, and we unto God....”

The first stage, then, is to acknowledge that we are sinners. Indeed, it is claimed that the Emperor Theodosius I (347-395) quoted this verse, when he begged St. Ambrose to absolve him after committing a massacre for which the saint had threatened him with excommunication.

adhaereo, haesi, haesum, ere 2, (1) to adhere to, cleave to. (2) intensive, to cling to, hold fast to.
pavimentum, i, n. the earth, ground, dust, pavement

26. Vias (acc. pl) meas enuntiavi (pf, to tell, disclose), et exaudisti (2nd person pf) me; doce (imperative, teach) me justificationes tuas.
I have disclosed my ways and you have heard me: teach me your justifications.

A number of the translations, reflecting St Augustine’s view of the verse, take ennutiavi here as implying confession of sins:

“For he seems to me to say this; I have confessed my sins, and You have heard me; that is, so that You would remit them. O teach me Your statutes. I have acknowledged my ways: You have blotted them out: teach me Yours.”

Coverdale for example, makes it ‘I have acknowledged my ways’, while the Monastic Diurnal says ‘My ways I have confessed and Thou hast heard me’.

enuntio, avi, atum, are, to tell, declare, disclose.
exaudio, ivi, Itum, ire, to hear, hearken to, listen to, give heed to; to regard, answer.
doceo, docui, doctum, ere 2 to teach, instruct..

27. Viam justificationum tuarum instrue (imperative, instruct) me, et exercebor (future passive) in mirabilibus tuis.
Instruct me in the ways of your justifications: and I will be exercised with your wondrous works.

The Diurnal translates the verse as ‘Teach me to walk according to thy precepts and I will meditate upon Thy wondrous works’, but one could argue that the sense is more active then that: the verse reiterates the previous pleas for help in actually observing the commandments.

instruo, struxi, structum, ere 3, (1) instruere in, to teach, instruct. (2) With double ace
exerceo, cui, citum, ere 2 (ex and arceo), to exercise ;ponder to meditate on, be occupied or employed
mirabilis, e wonderful, marvellous. (2) subst., mirabilia, mm, wonders, wonderful works, marvellous things.

28. Dormitavit (pf) anima (nom, soul) mea præ (prep +abl, because of) tædio (weariness, sorrow): confirma (imperative, strengthen, confirm) me in verbis tuis.
My soul has slept because of weariness: confirm me in your word

Brenton translates the Greek as ‘My soul has slumbered for sorrow; strengthen thou me with thy words’. The RSV follows the Neo-Vulgate, ‘My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to thy word!’ The Monastic Diurnal, however, perhaps best conveys poetically the sense of the verse: ‘My soul is weary from distress, strengthen thou me with thy word’.

We are being told here that doing good is a struggle, we all too readily become tired and tepid in our efforts, needing to be strengthened again, as St Robert Bellarmine suggests, by the fervor of God’s good grace, that we may be able to persevere.

dormito, avi, atum, are to be sleepy, to slumber.
lacrimo – to weep
prae, prep, with abl., through, from, for, because of, on account of;
taedium, ii, n. , (1) weariness. (2) disgust, loathsomeness
maeror: mourning, grief
confirmo, avi, atum, are, (1) to strengthen, confirm, establish. (2) in the passive, to be sustained, supported, stayed

29. Viam iniquitatis (genitive: sin, iniquity) amove (imperative, remove, take away) a me, et de (de+abl, about, concerning) lege tua miserere (imperative+gen) mei.
Put away from me the ways of iniquity: and from your law have mercy on me.

In the second phrase, Miserere could technically be an infinitive, or present subj passive, but the imperative fits best. Brenton probably gives the clearer, relatively literal translation than the Douay-Rheims: ‘Remove from me the way of iniquity; and be merciful to me by thy law’. The Neo-Vulgate follows the Hebrew Masoretic Text, suggests way of falsehood (mendacii) instead of way of evil or sin (iniquitatis) in the first phrase. The Monastic Diurnal reflects this with its translation: ‘Keep me away from the path of evil graciously bestow on me Thy law’.

Cassiodorus casts this verse in the light of St Paul’s admonition that no one will be justified by the law, but rather, the enemy is dislodged by our faith in Christ:

“Now that they are borne upwards to that contemplation of truth, they ask for what was vital in this world: that the way of iniquity, in other words, the devil, should be dislodged from his attacks on them, and that they might find the mercy which they desire in the Lord's law…So they justly ask for mercy in the state in which they believed that they were not forgiven by reason of the bonds of the law.”

iniquitas, atis, f iniquity, injustice, sin.
amoveo, movi, motum, ere 2, (1) to remove, put away. (2) to turn away, reject.
misereo, miserui, seritum, ere 2 to pity, have mercy on. It is followed by the gen. or dat. (passive forms are deponent)

30. Viam (acc.) veritatis (gen.) elegi (first person pf); judicia tua (nom.) non sum oblitus (deponent: perfect active indicative).
I have chosen the way of truth: I have not forgotten your judgments.

Those using the Monastic Diurnal should note that its choice of tenses to translate this verse is rather creative in relation to the Vulgate: The way of truth have I chosen, Thy judgments I shall not forget. The Neo-Vulgate’s decision to change ‘non sum oblitus’ to ‘proposui mihi’ reflects the Hebrew Masoretic Text rather than the older Greek Septuagint. Coverdale’s version reflects this text variant: I have chosen the way of truth, and thy judgements have I laid before me. Cassiodorus reminds us of the important Christological content of this verse: “The way of truth is the Lord Christ; as He Himself says: I am the way, the truth and the life.”

veritas, atis, truth. grace, kindness ,goodness, fidelity to promises, Faithfulness
eligo, legi, lectum, ere 3 , to choose, pick out, select.
obliviscor, oblitus sum, oblivisci to forget; non obliviscor, I will not forget, I will not be unmindful of Thy law, precepts, etc. I will strictly observe.

31. Adhæsi (pf) testimoniis tuis (dative pl), Domine (vocative); noli (imperative, takes a complementary infinitive to express a negative direct command) me confundere (infinitive, ‘do not let me be confounded’/’do not let me be put to shame’)
I have adhered to your testimonies Lord: do not let me be confounded.

This verse expresses a progression in the spiritual life: in the first verse of the stanza the psalmist confessed his sins, ‘adhering’, or clinging to the dust of the ground; now he clings instead to God’s testimonies. Even so, there is no room for complacency the verse reminds us: only through grace can we can stay in this happy state.

adhaereo, haesi, haesum, ere 2, (1) to adhere to, cleave to. (2) intensive, to cling to, hold fast to.
nolo, nolui, nolle to be unwilling, not to wish, to refuse
confundo, fudi, fusum, ere 3, to put or bring to shame, to discomfit. The passive is more common.

And you can notes on the last verse of this stanza of Psalm 118 here.

1 comment:

  1. We cannot begin to express how very much meat there is for us in this as well as all your other blog articles. We are most grateful to you. The music adds even more to your already rich posts. What labor has gone into this, and love of God! We pray for you daily and in the nights as well.