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.

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