Sunday, November 18, 2012

Psalm 110 vs 9: Fear of the Lord

Moses and the burning bush, c1450

Verse 9 of Psalm 110 reminds us of the fear and awe we should feel at the divine:

Sanctum, et terríbile nomen ejus: inítium sapiéntiæ timor Dómini.
Holy and terrible is his name: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.


Sanctum (holy) et (and) terríbile(terrible) nomen (name) ejus (His)

sanctus, a, um,  holy, holy person
terribilis, terrible, dreadful, fearful. Often used of God and of His works
nomen, mis, n. name; God himself; the perfections of God, His glory, majesty, wisdom, power, goodness,

inítium (the beginning) sapiéntiæ (of wisdom) timor (fear) Dómini (of the Lord) 

initium, ii beginning, commencement.
sapientia, ae, f wisdom.
timor, oris, m. fear; an object of fear.

‘Beginning’ here doesn’t literally mean elementary wisdom, but rather the chief part, basis or foundation of it, hence St Jerome’s from the Hebrew translation uses ‘principium’ instead of initium here.    

Pope Benedict XVI notes: 

Next, quoting a sapiential saying (cf. Prov 1: 7; 9: 10, 15: 33), the Psalmist invites every member of the faithful to cultivate "fear of the Lord" (Ps 111[110]: 10), the beginning of true wisdom. It is not fear and terror that are suggested by this word, but serious and sincere respect which is the fruit of love, a genuine and active attachment to God the Liberator.”


The Incarnation of Our Lord poses for us a tension.  

On the one hand, God becomes man, making him more approachable to us, someone with whom we can have a genuine personal relationship.

Yet he remains always omnipotent God, someone who invokes a sense of awe, as numerous stories in the Gospels attest.  St John Chrysostom summarises it thus:

“Holy and fearsome is his name, that is, instilling amazement, com­plete wonder. Now, if his name has that effect, how much more so his being? But in what way is his name holy and fearsome? De­mons tremble at it, ailments quail before it, the apostles invoked this name to set all the world at rights…


Pope Benedict XVI comments: 

The end of Psalm 111[110] is sealed by contemplation of the divine face, the Lord's very person, symbolized by his holy and transcendent "name".”

And for the final part in this series on Psalm 110, click the link here.

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