Friday, January 10, 2014

Psalm 6/5: Verse 6** - a baptism of tears


In the first section of Psalm 6,  King David (picture above from the Paris psalter) implored God to take pity on him and heal him from his illness: from his aching bones, and troubled soul.  He then goes on to give some reasons for God to have mercy on him.  Verse 6 provides another reason for God to have mercy on him, namely his tears of contrition.  Tears are out of fashion these days, yet in truth there is nothing wrong with acknowledging our emotions. And indeed seeking to stir up the proper ones within us as the occasion requires.

The meaning of the text

Laborávi in gémitu meo lavábo per síngulas noctes lectum meum : * lácrimis meis stratum meum rigábo.
Laboravi in gemitu meo, lavabam per singulas noctes lectum meum; lacrimis meis stratum meum rigabam.
Laboraui in gemitu meo ; natare faciam tota nocte lectulum meum; 
lacrimis meis stratum meum rigabo. 

κοπίασα ν τ στεναγμ μου λούσω καθ' κάστην νύκτα τν κλίνην μου ν δάκρυσίν μου τν στρωμνήν μου βρέξω

The washing of the hands was a declaration of innocence. Washings, ablutions, or purifications were common among the Jews. In the Hebrew, the verse becomes progressively more intense, so ‘flood and drench…’

laboro, avi, atum, are  to toil, labor; to be tired, weaned, worn out, or exhausted, worn out
gemitus, us, m. a sigh, sighing, groaning.
lavo, lavi, lautum or lotum, are,  to wash.
singuli, ae, a, a distributive numeral adj., each, each one, every, several, each separately
nox, noctis,  night.
lectus, i, m. (from lego, a gathering or collecting together), a couch, bed.
lacryma, ae, a tear.
stratum, i, n.  bed, couch.
rigo, avi, atum, are, to wet, water, moisten, bedew

I have laboured in my groanings, every night I will wash my bed: I will water my couch with my tears
I am wearied with my groaning; I shall wash my bed every night; I shall water my couch with tears.
Wary with my groans, every night I bathe my bed, with tears I drench my couch
I am weary of my groaning; every night wash I my bed, and water my couch with my tears.
I am spent with sighing; every night I lie weeping on my bed, till the tears drench my pillow.

The key words in this verse all point to the idea that letting lose tears (lacryma) of contrition constitutes hard work, a work of penance. Laborare means to work, toil, be tired out or exhausted; while gemitus means sighs or groanings. So the Douay-Rheims gives the first phrase as ‘I have laboured in my groanings’.

The verse is a classic example of the parallelism often used in the psalms, so that both halves of the verse essentially mean the same thing: lavare means to wash, while rigare means to wet, water or moisten; lectus and stratus both mean bed or couch.

There is some dispute over tense here: the Vulgate translates as ‘I have laboured...I will wash my bed: I will water my couch with my tears. The neo-Vulgate changes the text to the imperfect, reflecting the more forceful Hebrew: the couch is positively swimming with the flood of tears the psalmist lets loose. Thus the Revised Standard Version translates the verse as “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.”

God does not punish those who punish themselves…

The importance of David’s outpouring of tears, finally accepted in verse 9, is the allusion to a positive aspect of the doctrines around sin and penance, namely that if our sorrow for sin, and thus detachment from it, is sufficiently intense, we can be purified of even the remaining temporal punishment due to us.

Serious sin has two main effects: it cuts us off from God, thus meriting eternal punishment, and it causes harm which we must repair (‘temporal punishment’). The sacrament of penance heals our breach with God, cancelling out eternal punishment, but it does not necessarily wipe out all of the temporal punishment due to our sins, which must be worked off either in this life (through good works such as prayer, almsgiving and fasting), or in purgatory.

St Robert Bellarmine therefore comments on this verse that: “For, as the apostle has it, 1 Cor. 11, "If we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged;" that is to say, if we would condemn and punish ourselves, God would not condemn nor punish us. For he spares those who do not spare themselves.”

In Scripture, St John the Baptist offered a (non-sacramental) baptism of water to show repentance for sins.  This verse of the psalm echoes that idea, which is continued in the Church for us through sacramentals such as the use of holy water and the Asperges before Mass.

A continuing work

I mentioned above that the Neo-Vulgate makes the psalmists work of tears each night ongoing - and this might be one of those cases where even a traditionalist could prefer the neo-Vulgate, at least from a theological point of view! There is a tendency today, even amongst the most conservative and traditionalists of us, to underestimate, at least compared to the perspective of earlier ages, just how serious our sins are, and therefore just how much time in purgatory we might yet face! So to avoid this, we should take St Benedict’s advice, and ‘daily in our prayer, with tears and sighs, confess our past sins to God’ (RB4).

Psalm 6 (Prime Monday): Domine ne in furore tuo arguas me

Magistro chori. Fidibus. Super octavam. PSALMUS. David.
Unto the end, in verses, a psalm for David, for the octave.
Dómine, ne in furóre tuo árguas me, * neque in ira tua corrípias me.
O Lord, rebuke me not in your indignation, nor chastise me in your wrath.
2  Miserére mei, Dómine, quóniam infírmus sum : * sana me, Dómine, quóniam conturbáta sunt ossa mea.
Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak: heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
3  Et ánima mea turbáta est valde : * sed tu, Dómine, úsquequo?
And my soul is troubled exceedingly: but you, O Lord, how long?  
4  Convértere, Dómine, et éripe ánimam meam : * salvum me fac propter misericórdiam tuam.
Turn to me, O Lord, and deliver my soul: O save me for your mercy's sake.
5.  Quóniam non est in morte qui memor sit tui : * in inférno autem quis confitébitur tibi?
For there is no one in death that is mindful of you: and who shall confess to you in hell?
6  Laborávi in gémitu meo, lavábo per síngulas noctes lectum meum : * lácrimis meis stratum meum rigábo.
I have laboured in my groanings, every night I will wash my bed: I will water my couch with my tears
7  Turbátus est a furóre óculus meus : * inveterávi inter omnes inimícos meos.
My eye is troubled through indignation: I have grown old amongst all my enemies.
8  Discédite a me, omnes, qui operámini iniquitátem : *  quóniam exaudívit Dóminus vocem fletus mei.
Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity: for the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping.
9  Exaudívit Dóminus deprecatiónem meam, *  Dóminus oratiónem meam suscépit.
The Lord has heard my supplication: the Lord has received my prayer.
10  Erubéscant, et conturbéntur veheménter omnes inimíci mei : * convertántur et erubéscant valde velóciter.
Let all my enemies be ashamed, and be very much troubled: let them be turned back, and be ashamed very speedily.

And the next set of notes can be found here.

**Reposted from Australia Incognita blog

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