Monday, November 18, 2013

Psalm 128: Verses 1-2

In the previous post I provided an introduction to Psalm 128.

The first two verses set the scene by pointing us to the enemy.  Here is the complete text of the psalm again for reference purposes, with the relevant verses bolded.

Canticum graduum.
A gradual canticle.
1 Sæpe expugnavérunt me a juventúte mea, * dicat nunc Israël:
Often have they fought against me from my youth, let Israel now say.
2  Sæpe expugnavérunt me a juventúte mea: * étenim non potuérunt mihi.
2 Often have they fought against me from my youth: but they could not prevail over me.
3  Supra dorsum meum fabricavérunt peccatóres: * prolongavérunt iniquitátem suam.
3 The wicked have wrought upon my back: they have lengthened their iniquity.
4  Dóminus justus concídit cervíces peccatórum: * confundántur et convertántur retrórsum omnes, qui odérunt Sion.
4 The Lord who is just will cut the necks of sinners: 5 Let them all be confounded and turned back that hate Sion.
5  Fiant sicut fœnum tectórum: * quod priúsquam evellátur exáruit:
6 Let them be as grass upon the tops of houses: which withers before it be plucked up:
6  De quo non implévit manum suam qui metit: * et sinum suum qui manípulos cólligit.
7 Who with the mower fills not his hand: nor he that gathers sheaves his bosom.
7  Et non dixérunt qui præteríbant: Benedíctio Dómini super vos: * benedíximus vobis in nómine Dómini.
8 And they that passed by have not said: The blessing of the Lord be upon you: we have blessed you in the name of the Lord.

Notes on the verses

Sæpe expugnavérunt me a juventúte mea, * dicat nunc Israël Often have they fought against me from my youth, let Israel now say (DR)
sæpe expugnaverunt me a juventute mea: etenim non potuerunt mihi. 
Often have they fought against me from my youth: but they could not prevail over me. 

1a&2a:Sæpe (often) expugnavérunt (they have oppressed/fought against/afflicted) me (me) a (from) juventúte (youth) mea (my)

saepe, adv., often, oftentimes, frequently.
expugno are avi atum to fight against, to oppress, afflict
juventus, utis,. youth.

The Douay-Rheims translation (provided above) is fairly literal, and the Coverdale translation is similar; the (Farnborough edition) Monastic Diurnal makes it instead "They have hard pressed me from my youth...'  The Knox translation is more poetic: 'Sore have they beset me even from my youth'. 

1b:  dicat (let he/she/it say) nunc (now) Israël

This phrase can be interpreted two ways: firstly we can lament at the Church's constant persecution; but secondly, as the Knox ('let this be Israel’s boast') as a badge of honour.

dico, dixi, dictum, ere 3, to say, speak;  to sing; in the sense of to think, plan, desire; to command; to praise.
nunc, adv. at present, at this moment

2b: étenim (and/yet/truly) non (not) potuérunt (they have prevailed) mihi (to me/against me)

etenim, conj., a strong et; and, yea, indeed, truly;  as an adversative.
possum, potui, posse   to be able, can, to have power; +dat= prevail over, prevail against

The inclusion of 'let Israel say' suggests that these two verses can be viewed as a lament for the persecution that the people of Israel - and the Church - has always suffered, from its very beginnings.

Some claim we currently live in a time of emergency for the Church.

That is true in a sense.

Yet the Fathers remind us that this has more often been the case than a state of peace!  St Augustine for example, in his commentary on this verse provides a long list of struggles within the Church, starting with Abel and Cain.  Yet despite its torrid history of internal division and external persecution, the Church, founded on the rock, has always prevailed.

The verses can also be taken as a reference to the individual spiritual combat we must all engage in, modelled for us in the temptations Christ faced in the desert.

Notes on the next set of verses can be found here.

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