Saturday, March 24, 2012

Psalm 118 (119) Phe: Joy and the law

Today’s stanza of Psalm 118 (Phe, verses 129-136) is the first ‘psalm’ of Monday Sext in the Benedictine Office; Sunday None in the Roman.

And it is a stanza that I think brings us back to the opening verses of the psalm: Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.

Joy and the law

It is often suggested these days that focusing on God’s law, whether in the broadest use of that term, or in the form of moral, judicial and ceremonial codes of either the Old Law or the Church, somehow stands in opposition to joy and thus evangelization.

This psalm repeatedly asserts that the very opposite is the case.

The first verse of this stanza is a restatement of this key theme:

Mirabilia testimonia tua : ideo scrutata est ea anima mea.
Your testimonies are wonderful: therefore my soul has sought them.

St Augustine sees testimonies here as above all a reference to the wonder of creation, through which alone we can reason our way to God. But it can equally be interpreted (and has been) as including the detailed code of the old Law contained in the Torah, to the working out of God’s providential plan in history, and above all to the coming of Christ and the institution of his Church.

Consider for example the Old Testament laws, most of which Christians do not follow. St Robert Bellarmine comments that on the face of it they are not wonderful, but rather articulated so no one can claim ignorance of what was required. Yet they are wonderful, he argues, especially the Decalogue, in that they contain and foreshadow all the (proper) laws of the world:

“But as regards the mystic meaning, especially of the ceremonial laws, they are wonderful and most obscure, foreshadowing, as they do, all the mysteries of the Christian religion, to which the Prophet alludes here. With that, the Decalogue that principally contains God's law, is wonderful for being written in such plain and intelligible language, though it contains, in the smallest possible space, all the principles of justice on which all the laws that ever have been, or will be made, are based. All other laws are innumerable, have filled, and are still filling, many large volumes, and yet they are all conclusions or inferences from the laws of the Decalogue. Thus, as small seeds are wonderful by reason of their having within them the germs of large trees, so the Decalogue is wonderful by reason of its essentially comprising all the laws of the world.”

Truth is the true freedom

This stanza goes on to explain just why seeking and studying the law should be so freeing, so joyful.

First, they shed light on our path, so that we do not have to walk in darkness:

Declaratio sermonum tuorum illuminat, The declaration of your words gives light (v129)

They allow God to direct us in our way (v133), and bring his blessings on us (v135, Make you face shine upon me).

Secondly, they give understanding to those who are prepared to become like little children as the Gospel enjoins us, rather than insisting on our own path in the name of an ‘adult faith’:

et intellectum dat parvulis : and gives understanding to little ones.

Thirdly, following them allows us to call for God’s justice (whether realized now or in the next life) in the face of attacks by evildoers (v134).

Joy mixed with pain

Yet the psalmist also reminds us that in this life, the joy of God’s law can never be entirely pure, never be entirely unmixed with pain, for we are all sinners who are yet to be fully purified. Attempting to follow God’s law gives us the right to ask, as Verse 132 suggests, to ask for his mercy, and to ask for him to prevent us falling to the forces of evil (v133).

Thus the stanza reminds us that the wonder of the law should call forth not just longing for it, and for the grace that we need (v131), but also repentance (v136):

Exitus aquarum deduxerunt oculi mei, quia non custodierunt legem tuam.
My eyes have sent forth springs of water: because they have not kept your law.

In this stanza, the repentance is for our own sins. In the next stanza (verses 137-144), as we shall see next week, the psalmist speaks of the zeal called forth by the lapses of others.

Verse by verse

129 Mirabilia testimonia tua: ideo scrutata est ea anima mea.
Your testimonies are wonderful: therefore my soul has sought them.

mirabilis, e wonderful, marvelous; subst., mirabilia, mm, wonders, wonderful works, marvellous things.
ideo, adv., therefore, on that account
scrutor, atus sum, ari, to search, examine, scrutinize; to search out, examine carefully

Mirabilia testimonia tua =your testimonies [are] wonderful

Testimonia here corresponds to the Greek marturia, from which the word martyrdom is derived; Hebrew eduwth (a precept of God). The Fathers and Theologians offer varying interpretations of the testimonies being referred to: St Augustine points to the wonder of creation; St Bellarmine to the moral, judicial and ceremonial law (of the Torah).

ideo scrutata est ea anima mea = therefore my soul has sought/searched/examined them

The power of God’s law naturally attracts the soul to it, by virtues of its marvelous nature inclines us to try understand and keep it.

130 Declaratio sermonum tuorum illuminat, et intellectum dat parvulis.
The declaration of your words gives light: and gives understanding to little ones.

Declaratio sermonum tuorum illuminat = the declaration/statement of your words/commands/edicts enlightens/gives light

The ‘sermonum’ translates the Greek logos, Hebrew dabar.

declaratio, onis, f a declaration, an open and clear statement
sermo, onis, m. words; a command, edict word, speech, saying, discourse; scheme, plan, proposal
illumino, avi, atum, are , to make or cause to shine, to enlighten, illuminate. to shine forth, to shine.

et intellectum dat parvulis = it gives understanding to little ones

intellectus, us, m. understanding, insight.
parvulus, a, um , small, little. Of age: little, youthful, young. children, little ones, the simple, the guileless,

This verse provides some context and continuity to two key NT concepts, namely the Word as the light of the world (cf Jn 1), and the importance of becoming humble and receptive, as little children, if we truly wish to understand God’s teaching. The ‘manifestation/declaration of your words’ can clearly be interpreted, as Cassiodorus points out, as a reference to the Incarnation of Our Lord.

131 Os meum aperui, et attraxi spiritum: quia mandata tua desiderabam.
I opened my mouth, and panted: because I longed for your commandments

Os meum aperui, et attraxi spiritum = I have opened my mouth and drew breath/panted

This phrase has both a literal explanation and a spiritual one: literally he took a deep breath, or panted; or spiritually, as St Augustine suggests, he reached out for grace and drew in the Holy Spirit. The underlying idea is that though we ourselves can cultivate our desire for God, we cannot do it alone, nor can we actually follow his ways, without his breath or grace from the Holy Spirit.

os, oris, n., the mouth.
aperio, perui, pertum, ire, to open
attraho, traxi, tractum, ere 3 to draw to; of persons, to drag; to draw breath
spiritus, us, m. breath; wind; breath of life, vital spirit; the soul; spirit, disposition; Divine assistance, grace

quia mandata tua desiderabam = for I was longing for your commandments

desidero, avi, atum, are, to long for, desire, earnestly wish for

132 Aspice in me, et miserere mei, secundum judicium diligentium nomen tuum.
Look upon me, and have mercy on me according to the judgment of them that love your name.

Aspice in me = Look upon me

aspicio, spexi, spectum, ere 3 to look at, behold, see.

et miserere mei = and have mercy/pity on me

secundum judicium = according to the judgment

diligentium nomen tuum = loving your name = of them that love your name

nomen, mis, n. name; God himself; the perfections of God, His glory, majesty, wisdom, power, goodness,

ie, Bellarmine says, the same mercy on me that you have on those friends of yours that truly love you.

133 Gressus meos dirige secundum eloquium tuum, et non dominetur mei omnis injustitia.
Direct my steps according to your word: and let no iniquity have dominion over me.

Gressus meos dirige = direct my steps

gressus, us, m. , steps, stride, goings, the whole course of one's life
dirigo, rexi, rectum, ere 3 to direct, guide, set aright; to prosper, to be established.

secundum eloquium tuum = according to your promise

et non dominetur mei omnis injustitia =and do not let any sin have dominion of me

dominor, atus sum, ari to rule over, have dominion over, lord it over; to rule, reign
injustitia, ae, f. injustice, iniquity, sin..

Ligurori summarises the verse aptly: “Make me conduct myself according to Thy law, and permit not that any unjust passion should have dominion over me”.

134 Redime me a calumniis hominum ut custodiam mandata tua.
Redeem me from the calumnies of men: that I may keep your commandments.

Redime me a calumniis hominum = save me from the false accusations/oppression of men

redimo emi emptum ere 3 to redeem, buy back, ransom, rescue, set free, save
calumnia, ae, f. oppression, false accusation.

ut custodiam mandata tua=in order that I may keep your commandments

The good often attract false accusations; this verse asks for the grace to get through such trials unscathed. Bellarmine says: “Direct my steps, then especially, when, confused by calumnies, there may be danger of straying from the right way, for "Calumny troubleth the wise, and shall destroy the strength of his heart." "Redeem me from the calumnies of men." Deliver me from their calumnies, that my mind being at rest, "I may keep thy commandments."

135 Faciem tuam illumina super servum tuum, et doce me justificationes tuas.
Make your face to shine upon your servant: and teach me your justifications.

Faciem tuam illumina = Your face shining =let/cause your face to shine

facies, ei, f. face, countenance, appearance; presence.
illumino, avi, atum, are , to make or cause to shine, to enlighten, illuminate. to shine forth, to shine.

super servum tuum = on your servant

super +acc=above, upon, over, in, on;+abl= about, concerning; with, on, upon, for, because of.

et doce me justificationes tuas = teach me your justifications

136 Exitus aquarum deduxerunt oculi mei, quia non custodierunt legem tuam.
My eyes have sent forth springs of water: because they have not kept your law.

Exitus aquarum =water going out

exitus –us m a going out, going forth, departure

deduxerunt =they have lead

deduco, duxi ductum, ere 3, to lead or bring down; to guide, lead, conduct

oculi mei = my eyes

=tears have run down from my eyes

quia non custodierunt legem tuam = because they have not kept your law

And this series continues on here.

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