Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Psalm 129: verses 3-5a

Image: Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry, folio 71v* 

The middle verses of Psalm 129 focus on God's saving mercy: no sin is too great to be forgiven, for through Christ the law of God is the law of love.

Notes on the verses

Si iniquitátes observáveris, Dómine: * Dómine, quis sustinébit?

ἐὰν νομίας παρατηρήσ κύριε κύριε τίς ποστήσεται

Si (if) iniquitátes (iniquities) observáveris (you will observe/take note) Dómine (O Lord) Dómine (O Lord), quis (who/what) sustinébit  (he/she/it will endure/stand)?

The sense of observaveris here is not just passive watching, but critically observing and clocking up our sins for punishment.

iniquitas, atis, f (iniquus), iniquity, injustice, sin.
observo, avi, atum, are, to watch, observe, regard
sustineo, tinui, tentum, ere 2  to bear, bear with, endure, stand

If you, O Lord, will mark iniquities: Lord, who shall stand it.
If thou, O Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?
If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it?
If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?

The psalm now turns to a plea for mercy and forgiveness over justice.  The point is that no human deserves heaven, for we are all tainted by original sin, that evil compounded by our own thoughts and actions: we are all of us sinners. 

Yet this verse also, as Chrysostom points out, a demolition of the excuse offered by many, that there sins are too great to approach God:

"In other words, in case anyone were to say, "I am a sinner, I am full of sins beyond counting, I cannot approach and pray and call on God," he strips away this pretext by saying, If you were to take note of crimes, Lord, Lord, who would stand? Who here means "no one," you see. It is impossible, after all, it is impossible for anyone to under a meticulous account of one's affairs and ever attain mercy and loving kindness. We say this, not to drive souls to indifference, but to comfort those who have fallen into despair." 

Indeed, Pope St Leo the Great used this psalm to instruct a bishop that absolution should not be withheld from those who express penitence, no matter what the circumstance, or what doubts there may be around the case.

Quia apud te propitiátio est: * et propter legem tuam sustínui te, Dómine.
Quia apud te propitiatio est, ut timeamus te. Sustinui te, Domine
Quia tecum est propitiatio, cum terribilis sis. Sustinui Dominum

τι παρ σο  λασμός στιν  νεκεν το νόμου σου πέμεινά σε κύριε

Sustinuit ánima mea in verbo ejus:
sustinuit anima mea, et uerbum eius expectaui.

πέμεινεν  ψυχή μου ες τν λόγον σου 

Quia (for) apud (with) te (you) propitiátio (forgiveness/atonement) est (there is) et (and) propter (by reason of) legem (the law) tuam (your) sustínui (I have endured/waited for) te (you), Dómine (O Lord) Sustinuit (it has waited/endured) ánima (soul) mea (my) in verbo (on the word) ejus (his) 

This is one of those verses that differs substantially in the two main surviving text traditions, namely the Septuagint/Vulgate and the (medieval) Hebrew Masoretic Text.  Because the official Vatican Neo-Vulgate text was prepared before contemporary scholarship had fully assimilated the Dead Seas Scrolls, and thus come to a full appreciation of the integrity of Septuagint tradition, it deletes the reference to the law, and 'that thou mayest be feared' (ut timeamus te).  

More recent scholarship suggests that this may well be a first century Jewish revision to the text made in direct reaction to Christian uses of the verse, for the propitiation referred to here is clearly Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, the true fulfillment of the law.

It is worth noting too that the Knox translation (echoed by the NAB) renders this verse as: 'Ah, but with thee there is forgiveness; be thy name ever revered'.

quia, for, because, that. truly, surely, indeed;  nisi quia, unless, if not. 
apud +acc: at, near , by, with, in the presence of
propitiatio forgiveness, atonement, ie Christ’s sacrifice
propter,  with ace. In stating a cause: on account of, by reason of, because of, from, for, for the sake of.
lex, legis,  a law; the Law of God. the will of Go
anima, ae, soul
verbum, i, n.,word, command, edict, also a promise; saying, speech; Law, the Eternal Son. 

For with you there is merciful forgiveness: and by reason of your law, I have waited for you, O Lord.
For with thee is forgiveness: for thy name’s sake have I waited for thee
For there is mercy with thee; therefore shalt thou be feared
But [there is] forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.

My soul has relied on his word
O Lord, my soul has waited for thy word.
My soul trusteth in His word, my soul hopeth in the Lord.
I look for the Lord; my soul doth wait for him.
I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait,

St Augustine's commentary on the verse points to St Paul's analysis of the law given to the Jews not as a source of salvation, but rather of condemnation since none could live up to it without the help of grace.  The point of the law, he argues was not to give life but to 'show his sins to the sinner'.   Christ changes this, for he teaches us the law of love that blots out fear:

"There is therefore a law of the mercy of God, a law of the propitiation of God. The one was a law of fear, the other is a law of love. The law of love gives forgiveness to sins, blots out the past, warns concerning the future; forsakes not its companion by the way, becomes a companion to him whom it leads on the way...Therefore, For the sake of Your law I have waited for You, O Lord, because you have condescended to bring in a law of mercy, to forgive me all my sins, to give me for the future warnings that I may not offend."

God's should in turn invoke in us a sense of reverent awe, as Pope Benedict XVI has pointed out:

“It is significant that reverent awe, a sentiment in which respect and love are mingled, is not born from punishment but from forgiveness. Rather than sparking his anger, God's generous and disarming magnanimity must kindle in us a holy reverence. Indeed, God is not an inexorable sovereign who condemns the guilty but a loving father whom we must love, not for fear of punishment, but for his kindness, quick to forgive.”


*For a key to the abbreviations and links to full texts see the Notes on the psalm notes post.  Those used here are: V=Vulgate; NV=Neo-Vulgate; JH=St Jerome's translation from the Hebrew; Sept=Septuagint; DR=Douay-Rheims; Brenton=Brenton's translation from the Septuagint; Cover=Coverdale; KJV=King James Bible

Psalm 129: De Profundis

Canticum graduum.
Canticum graduum.
De profúndis clamávi ad te, Dómine: * Dómine, exáudi vocem meam :
Out of the depths I have cried to you, O Lord:
2  Fiant aures tuæ intendéntes: * in vocem deprecatiónis meæ.
2 Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.
3  Si iniquitátes observáveris, Dómine: * Dómine, quis sustinébit?
3 If you, O Lord, will mark iniquities: Lord, who shall stand it.
4  Quia apud te propitiátio est: * et propter legem tuam sustínui te, Dómine.
4 For with you there is merciful forgiveness: and by reason of your law, I have waited for you, O Lord.
5  Sustinuit ánima mea in verbo ejus: * sperávit ánima mea in Dómino.
My soul has relied on his word: 5 My soul has hoped in the Lord.
6  A custódia matutína usque ad noctem: * speret Israël in Dómino.
6 From the morning watch even until night, let Israel hope in the Lord.
7  Quia apud Dóminum misericórdia: * et copiósa apud eum redémptio.
7 Because with the Lord there is mercy: and with him plentiful redemption.
8  Et ipse rédimet Israël: * ex ómnibus iniquitátibus ejus.
8 And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities

And for the next set of notes on this psalm, go here.

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