Sunday, October 21, 2012

Psalm 110 vs 6: Fairness and punishment

Hieronymous Bosch 1500-1525
Today's verse of Psalm 110, with its allusion to the ejection of the Canaanites from the 'Promise Land' of the Jews, invites us to meditate on why some are saved, yet others are not:

"Ut det illis hereditátem géntium: ópera mánuum ejus véritas, et judícium.
That he may give them the inheritance of the Gentiles: the works of his hands are truth and judgment"


Ut det illis hereditátem géntium = so that he may give them the inheritance of the gentiles

Note that this is an ‘Ut+subjunctive’ construction, meaning in order that/so that…may. It can also be rendered as ‘to give them’, or ‘in giving them’. Note that in the Vulgate ille is frequently used for is (he, she, it).

But what constitutes the ‘inheritance of the gentiles’? In the Old Testament it was interpreted literally as the land of Canaan, the promised land given to the Jews. But metaphorically it stands for heaven.

ópera mánuum ejus véritas, et judícium = the works of his hands [are] truth and justice

Hand here is, of course, meant metaphorically rather than literally.


In this verse, we are asked to consider the Old Testament situation, namely God’s promise of the land of the Canaanites to the Jews. Wasn’t this unfair dispossession?

This psalm is alluded to in Revelation 15:3-4, where it highlights the concept that God’s judgments of our actions that are currently hidden will be revealed to all. Justice, in other words, requires that the good be rewarded, those who do evil and refuse to repent will be condemned. The psalmist’s answer to the question of fairness is that in fact the dispossession of the Canaanites was a work of God’s justice, a punishment for their sins, as St Robert Bellarmine explains:

“As God promised Abraham, then, that he would give that country to his posterity, he acted in truth or faithfulness; and as he did not expel the Chanaaneans until "the measure of their sins was filled up," for which they deserved to be expelled, he also acted in justice; and, therefore, "the works of his hands are truth and justice."


We should join with the angels and saints in the praise of God:

“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! Who shall not fear and glorify thy name, O Lord? For thou alone art holy. All nations shall come and worship thee, for thy judgments have been revealed." (Rev 15:3-4)


Bellamine’s commentary on the verse continues with a warning as to the need for our personal conversion:

“That the Chanaaneans deserved to be punished, and to be expelled from the land of promise, the Prophet proves, by reason of their not having observed the natural law, that is common to all, binding all and immutable, for they contain the first principles of justice; for, when God, in Lev. 18, prohibits incest, adultery, sins against nature, idolatry, and the like, he adds— "For all these detestable things the inhabitants of the land have done that were before you, and have defiled it. Beware, then, lest in like manner it vomit you also out if you do the like things, as it vomited out the nation that was before you."

Next verse

Notes on the next verse can be found here.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Psalm 110 vs 5: God's covenant with man

Today's verse of Psalm 110 reminds us that the heavenly food referred to in the previous verse is the sign of God's testament with his people:

Memor erit in sæculum testaménti sui: virtútem óperum suórum annuntiábit pópulo suo:

He will be mindful for ever of his covenant: He will show forth to his people the power of his works.


Memor erit in sæculum testaménti sui = he will be mindful/remember forever of his covenant

virtútem óperum suórum =the power of his works = his mighty works

annuntiábit pópulo suo = he will make known/announce/show forth/will declare to his people


We can see this verse as summarizing both the Old and New Testaments.

First let us consider the Old. St Robert Bellarmine points to the carrying through of God’s Covenant with Abraham chronicled there:

“…that is, by his constant providence and protection, he will show that he is mindful of his covenant and his promises. The principal point in the treaty that God made with Abraham was, that he should give his posterity the land of the Chanaaneans, which was, consequently, afterwards called the land of promise. He, therefore, shows how "he is mindful of his covenant," when he says, "he will show forth to his people the power of his works;" that is to say, bearing his promise in mind, he will display his power to his people, by turning back the waters of the Jordan, by levelling the walls of Jericho with the sound of the trumpet, by stopping the sun and moon at the command of Joshua, by raining down stones from heaven on the enemies of the Jews, and by many other similar miracles.


But of course, the New Testament is the more complete fulfillment of the Old, and one can pray this daily as we say the Benedictus (Luke 1:72) at Lauds: “to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant”.


Cassiodorus takes up this theme, and argues that the verse is fulfilled in the Gospel with the miracles Christ performed, and communicated to St John the Baptist:

The thought contained in the three verses is here filled out. The power of his works is that which he states in the gospel: The blind see, the deaf hear, the lepers are cleansed, the dead rise again, and blessed is he that shall not be scandalised in me. He has announced, in other words, made plain, that is to the Christian people whom He redeemed with His precious blood. They express this with the spirit of prophecy, for with holy faith they believed in the Lord before His coming. He gave them the inheritance of the Gentiles when He fashioned the Catholic Church from living stones from all nations. This is the inheritance promised to Abraham: I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand that is by the sea-shored They revealed the reason why he announced to his people the power of his works; it was to give them the inheritance of the Gentiles. It was the purpose of the miracles that they should believe, and by believing obtain the promised rewards.”


memor, oris mindful of, thoughtful of; to remember, call to mind, think of, take thought for, recall, recount, etc.
testamentum, i, n. a covenant, testament
virtus, utis, f strength, power, might; an army, host; annuntio, avi, atum, are to announce, proclaim, publish, make known.
populus, i, people; the chosen people; a heathen nation

Next Verse

Notes on the next verse can be found here.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Psalm 110 vs 4 - Our heavenly food

Sant'Angelo in Formis (Capua)

Today's verse of Psalm 110 is deeply Eucharistic, and perhaps explains to us what this psalm is particularly focusing in on when it talks about God's wonderful works.
First, here are the verses we have looked at so far in this series once again:
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.

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.

And today's verse:

Memóriam fecit mirabílium suórum, miséricors et miserátor Dóminus: escam dedit timéntibus se.
He has made a remembrance of his wonderful works, being a merciful and gracious Lord: He has given food to them that fear him.

Lectio: What does the text mean

Memóriam fecit mirabílium suórum = he has made/caused/effected a remembrance of his wonderful works

The word memoria is important here, as the Decree on the Eucharist from the Council of Trent explains:

“Our Savior, therefore, when about to depart from this world to the Father, instituted this sacrament in which He poured forth, as it were, the riches of His divine love for men, "making a remembrance of his wonderful works", and He commanded us in the consuming of it to cherish His "memory", and "to show forth his death until He come" to judge the world….

miséricors et miserátor Dóminus = merciful and gracious/compassionate is the Lord

St Thomas Aquinas explains that mercy and graciousness, in reference to God, are not emotions:

“Mercy is especially to be attributed to God, as seen in its effect, but not as an affection of passion. In proof of which it must be considered that a person is said to be merciful [misericors], as being, so to speak, sorrowful at heart [miserum cor]; being affected with sorrow at the misery of another as though it were his own. Hence it follows that he endeavors to dispel the misery of this other, as if it were his; and this is the effect of mercy.”

escam dedit timéntibus se = he has given food to those [who fear] fearing him

The food referred to here is generally interpreted as the Eucharist, foreshadowed by the gift of manna in the desert, as St Robert Bellarmine explains:

“He now discusses a special work of divine providence, the raining of manna from heaven, which was a work of great mercy, not only to those who were then fed by it in the desert, but also to those who succeeded them, to whom he left an urn full of it as a memorial of the miracles he performed in the desert, see Exod. 16, and Heb. 9. That manna was a type of the Eucharist, that he gave Christians for their spiritual food, and in memory of the wonderful things Christ did while on earth, the most wonderful of which was his glorious passion, that destroyed death itself by death, and triumphed over the prince of this world; and he, therefore, says, "He hath made a remembrance of his wonderful works, being a merciful and gracious Lord." The food named here is the manna that God rained from heaven, and gave, "to them that fear him;" to the Jews who worship him; for; though there were many sinners among them, still they worshipped the true God, and fearing and worshipping signify the same thing in the Scriptures. And as he wished the people to bear in mind the wonderful things he did when he brought them out of Egypt, and led them through the desert to the land of promise…”


Pope Benedict XVI sees this verse as referring to the signs of the covenant between a compassionate and loving God and his people:

“Therefore, the heart of the Psalm becomes a hymn to the covenant (cf. vv. 4-9), that intimate bond which binds God to his people and entails a series of attitudes and gestures. Thus, the Psalmist speaks of "compassion and love" (cf. v. 4) in the wake of the great proclamation on Sinai: "The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity" (Ex 34: 6). "Compassion" is the divine grace that envelops and transfigures the faithful, while "love" is expressed in the original Hebrew with the use of a characteristic term that refers to the maternal "womb" of the Lord, even more merciful than that of a mother (cf. Is 49: 15).”


We must ask that God's love transfigure us, particularly as we receive the sign of the New Covenant, the Eucharist.


Yet there is a sting in the tail of this verse, in the reference to those who fear God.  It should perhaps, call to mind the dire warnings of Scripture on those who presume to receive the blessed Sacrament while not in a state of grace, or without the proper dispositions.  It is a reminder that while the grace available for the reception of Holy Communion is infinite, the actual effect on us depends on our receptivity.  We must therefore cultivate fervour!


memoria, ae, f memory, remembrance
mirabilis, e wonderful, marvelous; subst., mirabilia, mm, wonders, wonderful works, marvellous things.
misericors, cordis merciful, abounding in mercy.
miserator, oris, m. merciful, one who shows mercy
esca, ae, f food for men or beasts.
timeo, ere 2, to fear, be afraid of.

Notes on the next verse can be found here.