Friday, February 28, 2014

Psalm 136 verses 11-12

Isaiah's vision of the destruction of Babylon
Gustave Dore
The final verses of Psalm 136 are perhaps most importantly interpreted for the Christian as relating to the spiritual warfare we must all wage against the world, the flesh and the devil, as the commentaries below explain.

Fília babylónis mísera: * beátus, qui retríbuet tibi retributiónem tuam, quam retribuísti nobis.
Filia Babylonis devastans, beatus, qui retribuet tibi retributionem tuam, quam retribuisti nobis;
Filia Babylonis uastata ; beatus qui retribuet tibi uicissitudinem tuam quam retribuisti nobis.

θυγάτηρ Βαβυλῶνος ἡ ταλαίπωρος μακάριος ὃς ἀνταποδώσει σοι τὸ ἀνταπόδομά σου ὃ ἀνταπέδωκας ἡμῖν

Filia (the daughter) Babylonis (of Babylon) misera (miserable)! beatus (happy/blessed) qui (who) retribuet (he shall repay) tibi (to you) retributionem (the reward/recompense) tuam (you) quam (which) retribuisti (you have rendered) nobis (to us) 

miser, era, erum, wretched, miserable
beatus, a, um happy, blessed ,fortunate
retribuo, tribui, tributum, ere 3, to repay, requite, reward, recompense, render; give back, return; make requital for
retributio, onis, f.  reward, recompense, requital, either as a reward or punishment

O daughter of Babylon, miserable: blessed shall he be who shall repay you your payment which you have paid us.
O daughter of Babylon, wasted with misery, yea, happy shall he be that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
Wretched daughter of Babylon! blessed shall he be who shall reward thee as thou hast rewarded us. 
Babylon, pitiless queen, blessed be the man who deals out to thee the measure thou hast dealt to us;

Cassiodorus comments:

"Our flesh is aptly called the daughter of Babylon, for it is known to heap confusion of sins upon us. The appropriate epithet is bestowed upon her; she is called wretched. What more wretched outcome could there be than that our frail possession should wax haughty after deeds so monstrous, and by means of unlawful lusts should pierce our souls with the wounds of sins? As Paul says: The flesh lusteth against the spirit.' But having mentioned the daughter of Babylon, they maintain that a most just repayment is to be rendered to her, so that just as unbridled living rouses us to vices, so when the flesh is subdued by fasting and afflictions, we can make it subject to the virtues. We render a worthy repayment to the flesh so that it may perform under compulsion what it neglects to fulfil in its pleasures. It is the blessed who render such retribution to the flesh, so that after it has impelled them to sin it may by God's help be guided to glory."

Beátus qui tenébit, * et allídet párvulos tuos ad petram.
Beatus qui tenebit et allidet paruulos tuos ad petram.

μακάριος ὃς κρατήσει καὶ ἐδαφιεῖ τὰ νήπιά σου πρὸς τὴν πέτραν

Beatus (blessed/happy) qui (who) tenebit (he will hold/seize), et (and) allidet (he will strike/dash against) parvulos (the little ones/children) tuos (your) ad (at/against) petram (the rock)

teneo, ui, tentum, ere 2, to hold, hold fast, seize.
allido lisi lisum ere 3 1. to strike or dash against 2. to cast down through misfortune or affliction
parvulus, a, um , small, little. Of age: little, youthful, young. children, little ones,  the simple, the guileless,
petra -ae f 1.  rock 2. place of safety

Blessed be he that shall take and dash your little ones against the rock.
Blessed shall he be that taketh thy children, and throweth them against the stones.
Blessed shall he be who shall seize and dash thine infants against the rock.
blessed be the man who will catch up thy children, and dash them against the rocks!
Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!

I noted in the introduction to this psalm that St Benedict cites this verse in teaching us how to deal with temptations.  He was here, I suspect, drawing particularly on St Augustine's exposition which sees the 'children' in question as evil thoughts or temptations:

"What are the little ones of Babylon? Evil desires at their birth. For there are, who have to fight with inveterate lusts. When lust is born, before evil habit gives it strength against you, when lust is little, by no means let it gain the strength of evil habit; when it is little, dash it. But you fear, lest though dashed it die not; Dash it against the Rock; and that Rock is Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:4"

And it is this interpretation, I think, that makes this psalm so appropriate for Wednesday in the Office: we are all potential Judas'; our salvation lies in resisting evil with the help of Christ, not succumbing to it.

All the same, we shouldn't altogether lose sight of its literal meaning, for St Robert Bellarmine's commentary should put us in mind of the dreadful fate of Judas, as a prototype of all those who seek to tear down the Church:

"All this has a spiritual meaning. First, in an allegorical sense, looking upon the Idumeans as the Jews, and the Babylonians as the pagans; for, in point of fact, it was the pagans that principally sought to tear up the Church of Christ from its very foundations, and that on the suggestion, counsel, and exhortation of the Jews; for it was upon the charges made by the Jews, that the pagans passed sentence of death on Christ. Herod put St. James to death, and bound St. Peter with chains, "seeing it was agreeable to the Jews;" and the same Jews did all that in them lay, to get the Romans to put St. Paul to death. In various other places, and at various other times, the same Jews "stirred up and incensed the minds of the Gentiles against the brethren," as we read in the Acts; but God "remembered" both Jews and Gentiles, to punish the one and the other. He razed their chief city, upset their kingdom, and scattered themselves all over the world..."

Psalm 136 – Super flumina
Psalmus David, Jeremiæ

1 Super flúmina Babylónis, illic sédimus et flévimus: * cum recordarémur Sion:
Upon the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept: when we remembered Sion:
2  In salícibus in médio ejus, * suspéndimus órgana nostra.
2 On the willows in the midst thereof we hung up our instruments.
3  Quia illic interrogavérunt nos, qui captívos duxérunt nos, * verba cantiónum.
3 For there they that led us into captivity required of us the words of songs.
4  Et qui abduxérunt nos: * Hymnum cantáte nobis de cánticis Sion.
And they that carried us away, said: Sing to us a hymn of the songs of Sion.
5  Quómodo cantábimus cánticum Dómini * in terra aliéna?
4 How shall we sing the song of the Lord in a strange land?
6  Si oblítus fúero tui, Jerúsalem, * oblivióni detur déxtera mea.
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten.
7  Adhæreat lingua mea fáucibus meis, * si non memínero tui.
6 Let my tongue cleave to my jaws, if I do not remember you:
8  Si non proposúero Jerúsalem, * in princípio lætítiæ meæ.
If I make not Jerusalem the beginning of my joy.

9  Memor esto, Dómine, filiórum Edom, * in die Jerúsalem.
7 Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom, in the day of Jerusalem:
10  Qui dicunt: Exinaníte, exinaníte * usque ad fundaméntum in ea.
Who say: Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.
11  Fília Babylónis mísera: * beátus, qui retríbuet tibi retributiónem tuam, quam retribuísti nobis.
8 O daughter of Babylon, miserable: blessed shall he be who shall repay you your payment which you have paid us.
12  Beátus qui tenébit, * et allídet párvulos tuos ad petram.
9 Blessed be he that shall take and dash your little ones against the rock.

And that is the last post on Psalm 136.  You can find some notes on the final psalm of Wednesday Vespers, Psalm 137, here.

No comments:

Post a Comment