Sunday, September 30, 2012

Psalm 110 vs 3: God's judgment deferred

St Alban's psalter

So far in this series we've looked at the first two verses of Psalm 110, the second psalm of Sunday Vespers:

Confitébor tibi, Dómine, in toto corde meo: in consílio justórum, et congregatióne.

I will praise you, O Lord, with my whole heart; in the council of the just, and in the congregation.

Magna ópera Dómini: exquisíta in omnes voluntátes ejus.
Great are the works of the Lord: sought out according to all his wills.

Today a look at Verse 3:

Conféssio et magnificéntia opus ejus: et justítia ejus manet in sæculum sæculi.
His work is praise and magnificence: and his justice continues for ever and ever.
Neo-Vulgate: Decor et magnificentia opus eius, et iustitia eius manet in saeculum saeculi
Lectio: looking at the text
Conféssio et magnificéntia opus ejus = Splendour and majesty his work = splendid and magnificent/glorious his work

The first issue with this verse is the omitted words!  The Douay-Rheims makes opus (work) the subject, so translates this phrase as 'His work is praise and mangificence'.  A more obvious translation though would be 'his work is splendid and glorious'.  A third possibility, followed by a number of translations, is to interpret the phrase along the lines ‘his work is worthy of thanksgiving and honour’.  

The problem arises from the use of two nouns (confessio et magnificentia) as adjectives, in imitation of the Hebrew; the Neo-Vulgate has accordingly changed the first to an actual adjective (décor), reflecting a translation approach is less concerned with conveying the linguistic flavour of the original text.

et justítia ejus manet in sæculum sæculi = and his justice abides forever and ever

The Greek translated as justitia here is actually δικαιοσύνη, which is more often translated as righteousness in English, and this is reflected in the RSV and other translations.

Meditatio: What is the text saying to us?
St John Chrysostom sees this verse as reminding us of the praise and thanksgiving that naturally pours out from us when we are conscious of the wonder of creation, and the working out of God’s providential plan in history:

“Each of the visible realities, in fact, is sufficient to prompt the observer to thanksgiving, to hymnody, to praise, to giving glory. You are not allowed to ask, "Why is this?" "For what purpose is this?" Instead, both darkness and daylight, famine and feast, desert and wilderness, fertile fields and productive, life and death, and all visible things are for those studying them with precision sufficient and capable of prompting them to thanksgiving.”

The Fathers argue that even the exercise of his justice contains a kind of terrible beauty, evident above all in his saving redemption through the Cross, and even in his punishments, such as the destruction of Sodom and Gemorrah.

Help us to see the greatness of God's work in the Government of the world, including the exercize of his justice.  Help us O Lord, to learn well the lesson you set in all that happens to us; help us say with Solomon: "The one the Lord loves, you see, he disciplines; he chas­tises every son he welcomes. His righteousness endures for ages of ages."


St Benedict instructs us God withholds his judgment for a time, allowing us the grace to repent:

"Having given us these instructions, the Lord daily expects us to make our life correspond with his holy admonitions.  And the days of our life are lengthened and a respite allowed us for this very reason, that we may amend our evil ways."

And the next part in the series can be found here.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Psalm 110 vs 2: The wonder of God's saving works

Adam and Eve
Lucas Cranach c1530

Verse 1 of Psalm 110 placed us in the midst of the Church, praising God.  Verse 2 of Psalm 110 tells us what we are to praise God for:

Vulgate: Magna ópera Dómini: exquisíta in omnes voluntátes ejus.
Neo-Vulgate: Magna opera Domini, exquirenda omnibus, qui cupiunt ea.
Douay Rheims: Great are the works of the Lord: sought out according to all his wills.

Lectio: What does the text mean?

Magna (nom pl of magnus a um, great, agreeing with opera) ópera (nom pl opus –eris n work) Dómini (gen) = great [are] the works of the Lord

The first phrase is a complement: 'sunt' is understood.

exquisíta (perfect participle passive) in (in +acc) omnes (acc pl) voluntátes (acc pl) ejus = sought out/studied for all his plans/will(s)

The verb is the passive perfect participle, and both Brenton (from the Greek) and the Douay-Rheims (from the Latin) translate this as “sought out according to his will”; the sense, according to Boylan, is that “the works of the Lord are specially chosen and wrought so as to declare them accurately his will.” In order to discover God’s will, study it, in other words. The neo-Vulgate, however, changes this to an ablative absolute.

Note however that Hugh Ballantyne’s Latin vocabulary listing for the psalms suggests an alternative translation, interpreting it as exquisitus a um, excellent, well-wrought.  While it certainly makes sense of the verse (including that puzzling plural for voluntas), it does not seem to me to be supported by either the Greek or Hebrew, nor is it reflected in any of the authoritative translations, Catholic or protestant, at least as far as I can find.

The verb cupio used by the Neo-Vulgate means to desire, long for, and reflects the Hebrew Masoretic Text (chephets) for the verse rather than the Septuagint. As a result of this difference, Coverdale translates the verse as ‘The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein’. Similarly, the Monastic Diurnal renders the verse ‘Great are the works of the Lord, sought by all that delight in them’.  By contrast, the sense of the Septuagint/Vulgate is more that “the works of the Lord are specially chosen and wrought so as to declare them accurately his will.”

Either interpretation, however, can fit with the broader context of the psalm, as we shall see.

Meditatio: What does the text say to us?

Revelation 15:3 puts this verse in the mouths of the just, alluded to in the previous verse of the psalm:

And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and wonderful are thy deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are thy ways, O King of the ages!...”

So what, then, are the words of the Lord spoken of here? Pope Benedict XVI to the saving interventions of God in the face of man's sin and need for redemption:

“The subject of this prayer, which also includes the rite of thanksgiving, is expressed with the word "works" (cf. vv. 2, 3, 6, 7)."Works" indicate the saving interventions of the Lord, an expression of his "justice" (cf. v. 3), a word which, in biblical language, suggests in the very first place the love from which salvation is born.”

Oratio: What do we say to God?

We too should take the time to remember God’s saving works, for his great care for us in sending his Christ, that the way to heaven might be reopened to us.

Contemplatio: What conversion is he asking of us?

St Robert Bellarmine draws attention to the tension between the way God’s creation is set out according to his will, and yet he grants us in turn free will, and thus opens up to us the possibility, say rather the inevitability of sin and its consequences:

“And not only are his works great, but "they are sought out according to all his wills;" prepared and settled previously, to be applied to any purpose he may choose, according to Psalm 118, "For all things serve thee;" for, as St. Augustine most properly observes, nothing seems to be more repugnant to the will of God, than free will, through which sins, forbidden by God, are committed; and yet, God deals as he wills with free will, for he reforms it through grace, or he punishes it in justice; and had he not given free will, there would have been no sin...”

Thus our struggle must be to conform our will to his; to bring about in ourselves the new creation made possible by grace.


magnus, a, um, great, mighty; elders
opus, eris, n., work.
exquiro quaesivi itum ere 3, to seek, seek after
omnis, e, all, each, every; subst., all men, all things, everything
voluntas, atis, f. wish, desire; good will, favor, graciousness. plan, counsel
in+acc=into, onto, against, for (the purpose of)

Verse 3

And the next part in the series can be found here.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Psalm 110 vs 1: In the midst of the Church

Church Militant and Triumphant
Andrea di Bonaiuto, c1365
The opening verse of Psalm 110 places us in the midst of both the Church Militant here on earth, and the Church Triumphant in heaven:

Confitébor tibi, Dómine, in toto corde meo: in consílio justórum, et congregatióne

I will praise you, O Lord, with my whole heart; in the council of the just, and in the congregation.

Lectio: What does the text mean?
Confitébor (deponent: 1st person fut Confiteor, to praise, give thanks, confess) tibi, Dómine = I will give praise to you O Lord
Confitebor, comes from confiteor, a deponent verb is an ambiguous word: it can mean both to confess our sins, but also to let out our praises for God. The following verses, however, make it clear that praise is what is meant here.

in (in +abl) toto (totus, -a -um whole, entire) corde (cor, cordis n heart) meo = with all my heart/with my whole heart

The speaker is giving this praise his total attention. 
in (in+abl) consílio (consilium, ii, n counsel) justórum (gen pl) = in the company of the just et congregatióne (congregation, onis f gathering, assembly, congregation) = and in the congregation/assembly

The Hebrew for consilio (cowd) implies an intimate circle of friends, thus contrasting the ‘congregation’ below (edah) meaning a large group, publicly. Cassiodorus interprets these respectively as the elect in heaven, and the Church of all regions here below.

Meditatio: What does the text say to us?

This opening verse of Psalm 110 places us immediately in the midst of the Church, both visible and invisible, for when we pray liturgically, we pray joined both horizontally to those on earth who also pray this hour of Vespers, but also with the angels and saints in heaven.

What does this then imply for us?  Well surely our wholehearted attention, as St Robert Bellarmine's commentary on this verse suggests:

"Holy David begins the hymn by an invocation, and tells us at the same time how God should be praised with advantage to ourselves. "I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart." Praise, in order to be of any value, must spring from the heart, and not only from the heart, but from the entire heart; that is, with all the affections of the heart, that praises nothing, loves nothing, so much as the thing in question. "With my whole heart;" also implies the greatest attention, thinking of nothing else, for it does not become one who is praising that God whom the Cherubim and Seraphim adore in fear, to let his mind down to unworthy matters."

Oratio: What do we say to the Lord?

The first word of this psalm states that we will confess, or praise God. 

Accordingly, let us seek to praise God as we pray this psalm.  And ask for the grace that we continue to do so in the future, not just as part of the assembly or congregation here below, but in the company of the elect hereafter.

Contemplatio: What conversion of mind, heart and life is God asking of us?

The psalm calls on us to adopt an attitude of thankfulness.  St John Chrysostom argues that the ability to praise God at all time, even in the face of constant tribulations as Job did, is something we must cultivate:

"God looks for nothing as much as this, after all: this sacrifice, this offering, this sign of a grateful spirit, this is a blow against the devil. For this Job was crowned and cel­ebrated, for not being swayed despite countless trials besetting him and despite his wife's obstructing him; instead, he persisted in thanking the Lord for everything, not when he was rich but also when poor, not when he was well but also when stricken in body, not when things went smoothly for him but also when that violent storm fell upon his whole house and his whole person. This, you see, is a particular mark of a thankful attitude, to give heartfelt thanks to God in tribulations and hardship, and remain thankful throughout - which is therefore what the psalmist him­self suggested obliquely in what follows. I mean, many people give thanks when all goes well for them, but are displeased when the contrary occurs, some even finding fault with the way things turn out."

And on to the next part in this series here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Those other psalms: Extend our lives O Lord that we may yet live!

Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry
I want to continue, today, with my look at the ferial canticles in the traditional Office, so today Isaiah 38:10-20, of the Canticle of King Hezekiah.

The imitation of Christ 

Tuesdays in the Benedictine Office, I’ve previously suggested, focus on Our Lord’s public life, when he teaches us how to make the mystical ascent to heaven through the imitation of him; when he teaches us what it means to be truly human. At the very beginning of his ministry, Our Lord asserts that he himself is the true Temple; through our worship of that true Temple we that were sick with sin can gain everlasting life.

The historical story behind today's canticle is that King Hezekiah was told by the prophet Isaiah that he was about to die. At first he resisted the message out of pride (2 Chron 32: 24). But then he repented, and prayed desperately to God for more time. His prayer was granted, a miracle confirmed by the sign of the sundial winding backwards (Is 38:7-8; 2 Kings 20).

The story of Hezekiah’s miraculous restoration to health appears three times in the Old Testament, signaling its importance: as well as Isaiah 38, the story also appears in 2 Kings 20 and 2 Chron 32.

In the liturgy, the canticle is also used in Lauds for the Office of the Dead.

Tuesday in the Office

At first blush, however, its appropriateness for Tuesday in the Office is perhaps less than obvious. Hrabanus Maurus, however, explains the significance of the Canticle for us as follows:

“On Tuesday the canticle or if prayer of Ezekiel is sung, in which recovering from his infirmity the actions of grace from God for his salvation refers, admonishing us in order that after receiving the grace of God and the sacred absolution of baptism by which we are freed from the chains of death for all the time of life, we must be diligent to give our thanks to God.”

St Benedict, I think, provides psalms for Tuesday that expand on three aspects of this canticle.

First, the sense, in the first half of the canticle, that we start off far away from God, cut off from him, condemned to a foreshortened, alienated life even, just as the psalmist bewails his exile in the first of the Gradual psalms said at Terce.

The second, more important theme, though, is the possibility of reform: in verse 16 the psalmist asks for God to correct him, that he may yet have hope of life, and this process of gradual sanctification, of spiritual ascent or deification is the major focus of the day. Christ came to earth, after all, as a physician for our souls, sent to bring us to repentance and gives us healing grace.

And for this reason, the Council of Tent cited verse 10 in its explanation of the sacrament of penance, even citing it in one of its canons:

“If anyone says that this contrition, which is evoked by examination, recollection, and hatred of sins "whereby one recalls his years in the bitterness of his soul" ( Isa. Is 38,15), by pondering on the gravity of one's sins, the multitude, the baseness, the loss of eternal happiness, and the incurring of eternal damnation, together with the purpose of a better life, is not a true and a beneficial sorrow, and does not prepare for grace, but makes a man a hypocrite, and a greater sinner; finally that this sorrow is forced and not free and voluntary: let him be anathema.”

But the third key idea, that gives meaning to the previous two is our ultimate objective: our hope is, with Hezekiah, that God will save us, so that we can worship him all the days of our life in heaven.

Extend our lives that we may yet be saved!

St Benedict, in the Prologue to his Rule, sets out, I think, exactly this theology:

“Wherefore the Lord also saith in the Gospel: He that heareth these my words and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock. The floods came and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock. Having given us these instructions, the Lord daily expects us to make our life correspond with his holy admonitions. And the days of our life are lengthened and a respite allowed us for this very reason, that we may amend our evil ways. For the Apostle saith: Knowest thou not that the patience of God inviteth thee to repentance? For the merciful Lord saith: I will not the death of a sinner, but that he should be converted and live.”

The Canticle of Hezekiah

Ego dixi: in dimídio diérum meórum * vadam ad portas ínferi.
10 I said: In the midst of my days I shall go to the gates of hell:
2  Quæsívi resíduum annórum meórum. * Dixi : Non vidébo Dóminum Deum in terra vivéntium.
I sought for the residue of my years. 11 I said: I shall not see the Lord God in the land of the living.
3  Non aspíciam hóminem ultra, * et habitatórem quiétis.
I shall behold man no more, nor the inhabitant of rest.
4  Generátio mea abláta est, et convolúta est a me, * quasi tabernáculum pastórum.
12 My generation is at an end, and it is rolled away from me, as a shepherd's tent.
5  Præcísa est velut a texénte, vita mea: dum adhuc ordírer, succídit me: * de mane usque ad vésperam fínies me.
My life is cut off, as by a weaver: whilst I was yet but beginning, he cut me off: from morning even to night you will make an end of me.
6  Sperábam usque ad mane, * quasi leo sic contrívit ómnia ossa mea:
13 I hoped till morning, as a lion so has he broken all my bones:
7  De mane usque ad vésperam fínies me: * sicut pullus hirúndinis sic clamábo, meditábor ut colúmba:
from morning even to night you will make an end of me. 14 I will cry like a young swallow, I will meditate like a dove:
8  Attenuáti sunt óculi mei, * suspiciéntes in excélsum:
my eyes are weakened looking upward
9  Dómine, vim pátior, respónde pro me. * Quid dicam, aut quid respondébit mihi, cum ipse fécerit?
Lord, I suffer violence; answer for me.
15 What shall I say, or what shall he answer for me, whereas he himself has done it?
10  Recogitábo tibi omnes annos meos * in amaritúdine ánimæ meæ.:
I will recount to you all my years in the bitterness of my soul.
11  Dómine, si sic vivítur, et in tálibus vita spíritus mei, corrípies me et vivificábis me. * Ecce in pace amaritúdo mea amaríssima
16 O Lord, if man's life be such, and the life of my spirit be in such things as these, you shall correct me, and make me to live. 17 Behold in peace is my bitterness most bitter:
12  Tu autem eruísti ánimam meam ut non períret: * projecísti post tergum tuum ómnia peccáta mea.
but you have delivered my soul that it should not perish, you have cast all my sins behind your back.
13  Quia non inférnus confitébitur tibi, neque mors laudábit te: * non exspectábunt qui descéndunt in lacum, veritátem tuam.
18 For hell shall not confess to you, neither shall death praise you: nor shall they that go down into the pit, look for your truth.
14  Vivens vivens ipse confitébitur tibi, sicut et ego hódie: * pater fíliis notam fáciet veritátem tuam.
19 The living, the living, he shall give praise to you, as I do this day: the father shall make the truth known to the children.
15  Dómine, salvum me fac, * et psalmos nostros cantábimus cunctis diébus vitæ nostræ in domo Dómini.
20 O Lord, save me, and we will sing our psalms all the days of our life in the house of the Lord.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Psalm 110 (111) - He has sent redemption to his people

Gathering of the manna, c1460-70

Some months back I started a look at the psalms for Sunday Vespers, and now I'm finally getting back to that!

I've already looked at Psalm 109 (110).  Accordingly, today an introduction to Psalm 110, the second psalm of Sunday Vespers in the traditional organisation of the psalter.  I will then look at into more detail, with a series of verse by verse posts.

And to organise my thoughts and hopefully demonstrate its efficacy, I'm going to use the lectio divina schema suggested by Pope Benedict XVI.

The Psalm

First, here is the psalm as a whole in Latin, divided into verses as it is used liturgically.

1 Confitébor tibi, Dómine, in toto corde meo: in consílio justórum, et congregatióne.
2 Magna ópera Dómini: exquisíta in omnes voluntátes ejus.
3 Conféssio et magnificéntia opus ejus: et justítia ejus manet in sæculum sæculi.
4 Memóriam fecit mirabílium suórum, miséricors et miserátor Dóminus: escam dedit timéntibus se.
5 Memor erit in sæculum testaménti sui: virtútem óperum suórum annuntiábit pópulo suo:
6 Ut det illis hereditátem géntium: ópera mánuum ejus véritas, et judícium.
7 Fidélia ómnia mandáta ejus: confirmáta in sæculum sæculi, facta in veritáte et æquitáte.
8 Redemptiónem misit pópulo suo: mandávit in ætérnum testaméntum suum.
9 Sanctum, et terríbile nomen ejus: inítium sapiéntiæ timor Dómini.
10 Intelléctus bonus ómnibus faciéntibus eum: laudátio ejus manet in sæculum sæculi.

And here is the Douay-Rheims updated version, with verse numbers as they appear in Scripture:
1 I will praise you, O Lord, with my whole heart; in the council of the just, and in the congregation.
2 Great are the works of the Lord: sought out according to all his wills.
3 His work is praise and magnificence: and his justice continues for ever and ever.
4 He has made a remembrance of his wonderful works, being a merciful and gracious Lord: 5 He has given food to them that fear him.
He will be mindful for ever of his covenant: 6 He will show forth to his people the power of his works. 7 That he may give them the inheritance of the Gentiles: the works of his hands are truth and judgment.
8 All his commandments are faithful: confirmed for ever and ever, made in truth and equity.
9 He has sent redemption to his people: he has commanded his covenant for ever.
Holy and terrible is his name: 10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
A good understanding to all that do it: his praise continues for ever and ever

Lectio: what does the text mean?
Psalm 110 is a hymn of praise to God for his wonderful work of redemption.  In the Old Testament context, it refers to the freeing of the Jewish people from Egypt; in the New, of the sending of Our Lord.
The key line is verse 9:
"He has sent redemption to his people: he has commanded his covenant for ever."
Pope Benedict XVI presents it as a prayer of contemplation on the mystery of salvation:
"In this Psalm we find a hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the many benefits that describe God in his attributes and his work of salvation: the Psalmist speaks of "compassion", "love", "justice", "might", "truth", "uprightness", "standing firm", "covenant", "works", "wonders", even "food" which God provides, and lastly his glorious "name", that is, God himself. Thus, prayer is contemplation of the mystery of God and the wonders that he works in the history of salvation."
Psalm 110 is a sapiential/praise psalm that continues the theme of the previous psalm, albeit from a different direction, namely the kingship of God. But whereas Psalm 109 prophesies the coming and victory of Christ, Psalm 110 expresses our joy as a result of that news.

The first half of the psalm looks at the wonder of creation; the second focuses on the glory of the law. After the first verse, which announces the subject, the prophet praises the works of God in general, v. 2, 3; then his benefits towards the typical people, v. 4, 5, 6; the excellence and the stability of his law, v. 7; and finally, the sending of the divine Redeemer giving salvation to the world: the last two verses form a practical conclusion, indicating the way to be followed to profit by these graces.

Psalm 110 forms a pair with the next psalm: both are alphabetic psalms, with each half line starting with a letter of the (Hebrew) alphabet; and the two are complementary in terms of content.

Meditatio: What is the text telling us?

Although Psalm 110 is joyous, titled with an Alleluia, it does in fact wrestle with some issues that are difficult for modern readers.  At its heart is a question that many struggle with, namely why do some reach heaven (the inheritance of the gentiles, vs 6) while others are excluded, and are cast down to hell? Why do some benefit from the redemption offered by Christ (vs 8), but not all?

The psalm provides, I think, three answers to this.

The first is that God’s offer of redemption is a two-way covenant, an agreement with his people. He offers, but we have to respond: we have to accept the offer and put ourselves within the ‘council of the just’ (v 1), the congregation that is the Church.

Secondly, we have to understand that each of the covenant parties undertake to do certain works. God for his side creates and sustains us (vs 2-5), but we must keep our end of the bargain and keep the commandments, for God is also truth and justice (vs 6-8). Those who fail to understand this will be dispossessed, their inheritance taken away and given to those who do respond (vs 7).

Finally, we must cultivate the right attitude: we must praise God in the liturgy (v1), and maintain an appropriate fear of God (vs 4&9) rather than presuming on our salvation.

The key to our acceptance of salvation sits at the very centre of the psalm, and is the sustaining and transforming power of the Eucharist which gives us the grace necessary for salvation: "He has made a remembrance of his wonderful works, being a merciful and gracious Lord: He has given food to them that fear him." (v4)

As Rupert of Deutz suggests:

"Since as he has said in the previous psalm that [...] You are a priest forever, like Melchisedek of old, and because he has instituted the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, in this psalm he sings in truth: He provides food for those who fear him" (De Sancta Trinitate et operibus eius, 5, in psalmo 110).

Oratio: what do we say to the Lord?
The psalm asks us to so several things: first to praise God for the things he has done for us. 
This injunction can be interpreted literally: that is, worship in Church, particularly on a Sunday, and partake of the Eucharistic food he offers.  Similarly, when we pray Vespers liturgically, even at home by ourselves, we are offering the public prayer of the Church, and we are praying along with the angels and saints, the assembly of the just indeed. 
The second injunction is to keep the commandments: and we must constantly recommit ourselves to this through our prayers for help, as we do for example, in the Lord's Prayer.  
Thirdly, we are asked to cultivate a holy fear of God, and we can pray here for that perfect, filial, fear whereby we act 'no longer for fear of hell, but for love of Christ and through good habit and delight in virtue' (Rule of St Benedict, Chapter 7).
Contemplatio: what conversion of mind, heart and life is God asking of us?

Pope Benedict XVI concluded his General Audience on this psalm with some advice on how to put into the effect the second verse of the psalm, the injunction that the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord: 

"The Christian writer Barsanuphius of Gaza (active in the first half of the sixth century) comments on this verse: "What is the first stage of wisdom if not the avoidance of all that is hateful to God? And how can one avoid it, other than by first asking for advice before acting, or by saying nothing that should not be said, and in addition, by considering oneself foolish, stupid, contemptible and of no worth whatsoever?" (Epistolario, 234: Collana di testi patristici, XCIII, Rome, 1991, pp. 265-266).

The true conversion comes though, as the Pope goes on to note, when we progress beyond servile fear:

"However, John Cassian (who lived between the fourth and fifth centuries) preferred to explain that "there is a great difference between love, which lacks nothing and is the treasure of wisdom and knowledge, and imperfect love, called "the first stage of wisdom'. The latter, which in itself contains the idea of punishment, is excluded from the hearts of the perfect because they have reached the fullness of love" (Conferenze ai monaci, 2, 11, 13: Collana di testi patristici, CLVI, Rome, 2000, p. 29). Thus, on the journey through life towards Christ, our initial servile fear is replaced by perfect awe which is love, a gift of the Holy Spirit."

You can find the next post in this series on Psalm 110 here.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Canticle of Isaiah: The Incarnation and our baptism in Isaiah 12

Having looked briefly at the variable psalms for Lauds, I want to turn now to those other 'psalms' in the Benedictine (and Roman) Office, the canticles, or psalms from books other than the book of psalms. 

The importance of the (ferial) Canticles

The ferial canticles (the festal set are a later addition) are important to St Benedict’s Office for a number of reasons.

First they represent an ancient ecclesial tradition: St Benedict simply took them over from the old Roman tradition in using them, as he makes clear in his Rule.

Secondly, though, I want to suggest that they in fact provide the key to the themes that St Benedict has used to help select which psalms should be said each day.

When I first went looking for underlying themes for the Benedictine Office each day, I was prompted to do so by the recurring phrases and ideas that seem to fill each days Office.

Hrabanus Maurus

It didn’t take much study to see the traces of a mini-Triduum in the Office each week. But my hunt through the patristic literature and elsewhere to find possible associations for Mondays and Tuesdays in particular didn’t bear much fruit until I came across the Benedictine Hrabanus Maurus’ (760-856) Commentary on the Office Canticles (it can be found in Migne's Patrologia Latina, vol 107).

Maurus’ provides, by way of an introduction to his commentary, some pithy summaries of each day’s canticles. And those summaries provide some concrete evidence of how early Benedictines understood their Office.

In particular, I’ve previously suggested that the underlying theme of St Benedict’s Office on Monday was the life from the Incarnation to his Baptism. Here is what Maurus says:

“On Monday [feria secunda], truly the second day, the canticle of Isaiah, in which the coming of the Saviour and the sacrament of baptism is preached, is prescribed to be said, because these are the beginning of our salvation.”

And of course, his commentary goes on to elaborate on these ideas, including providing some of the links (inter alia) between the psalms of the day and the canticle.

Scriptural context

In fact today’s canticle comes from Isaiah and brings to a close the section known as the ‘Book of Emmanuel, which contains the prophesies of the coming Messiah, born of a Virgin, and set to be the "Wonderful counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace".

Having foretold the coming wonderful redemption of the remnant of the people, and the coming of the son of David promised by God, Scripture gives us the lead in ‘On that day you will say:”

The canticle effectively falls into two parts. The first half thanks God for the results of the Incarnation: he rejoices that God has finally turned aside his anger, allows us to approach him not just in fear, but with confidence, and points to the graces that flow from the saviour (verses 1-3). The second half speaks of the mission of the Church to make known God’s salvation to all the world, for God has become man.

The Scriptural context would perhaps point us to the Incarnation dimension of this canticle in any case. But it is the repeated use of the word ‘salvation’ that the Fathers drew attention to. Robert Wilken’s introduction to the Patristic commentaries on these verses (Isaiah Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentaries, pp154-5), for example, notes that the Hebrew of v. 2, God is my salvation, was translates by the LXX (and versions dependent on the LXX) as ‘my Savior’, allowing a direct application to Christ. Irenaeus of Lyons, for example says:

“The knowledge of salvation does not consist in believing in another God, nor another Father ... but the knowledge of salvation consists in knowing the Son of God who is called I and truly is "salvation" and Savior and "bringer of salvation" (salutare). "Salvation," as in the passage: I waited for your salvation, O lord (Gen 49:18). And again, Behold, my God, my Savior, I will put my trust in him (12:2). As for "bringer of salvation": God has made known his salvation in the sight of the nations (Ps 98:2). For he is indeed Savior as Son and Word of God; "bringer of salvation" as Spirit, for he says: The Spirit of our countenance, Christ the Lord (Lam 4:20 LXX). And "salvation" as being flesh: The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). This knowledge of salvation John made known to those who repented and who believed in the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world! (John 1:29).”

The waters of baptism

The references to drawing water from the fountain of joy in verse 3 have obvious connections to the imagery used in St John’s Gospel, and to the idea of the living water flowing from Christ’s side from the Cross, and thus to the font/sacrament of baptism. Indeed Pope Pius XII used the opening words of Verse 4 in his Encyclical encouraging devotion to the Sacred Heart.

Perhaps the most important message of the canticle though, is that God has become man: Emmanuel or God-with-us makes it possible for us to deal confidently with God, to obtain that living water and make a fresh commitment to the God that is our salvation, strength and joy.

Isaiah 12
And you shall say in that day:
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for you were angry with me: your wrath is turned away, and you have comforted me.
2 Behold, God is my saviour, I will deal confidently, and will not fear: because the Lord is my strength, and my praise, and he has become my salvation.
3 You shall draw waters with joy out of the saviour's fountains:
4 And you shall say in that day: Praise the Lord, and call upon his name: make his works known among the people: remember that his name is high.
5 Sing to the Lord, for he has done great things: show this forth in all the earth.
6 Rejoice, and praise, O habitation of Sion: for great is he that is in the midst of you, the Holy One of Israel.

Et dices in die illa :
Confitebor tibi, Domine, quoniam iratus es mihi; conversus est furor tuus, et consolatus es me.
2 Ecce Deus salvator meus; fiducialiter agam, et non timebo : quia fortitudo mea et laus mea Dominus, et factus est mihi in salutem.
3 Haurietis aquas in gaudio de fontibus salvatoris.
4 Et dicetis in die illa : Confitemini Domino et invocate nomen ejus; notas facite in populis adinventiones ejus; mementote quoniam excelsum est nomen ejus.
5 Cantate Domino, quoniam magnifice fecit; annuntiate hoc in universa terra.
6 Exsulta et lauda, habitatio Sion, quia magnus in medio tui Sanctus Israël.