Monday, March 10, 2014

The Penitential Psalms - Psalm 31/3: Admitting our faults

Folio 66v*
I want to pick up my Lenten series on the Seven Penitential Psalms today with a look at verse 6 of Psalm 31, which picks up a major theme of the psalm, namely our unfortunate tendency to refuse to not to simply accept that we have sinned, confess it, and move on.

Instead, human nature means that we either continue blithely ignoring the fact of our sin; try and persuade ourselves that we haven't sinned really; or persuade ourselves that our sin is not really that serious.

The sentiment also though has application for most of us, I think not just in relation to serious sins, but also in relation to those personality faults, failures and weaknesses that we all know we should work on - but do our best to try not to think about!

The verse

Dixi: confitébor advérsum me injustítiam meam Dómino: * et tu remisísti impietátem peccáti mei.
Dixi, Confitebor scelus meum Domino; et tu dimisisti iniquitatem peccati mei.

τὴν ἀνομίαν μου τῷ κυρίῳ καὶ σὺ ἀφῆκας τὴν ἀσέβειαν τῆς ἁμαρτίας μου διάψαλμα

Note that the Neo-Vulgate (NV) is identical to the older form of the text, despite it differing somewhat from St Jerome's take on the Hebrew (JH).

adversus or adversum, prep, with ace against; in the presence of, over against, before.
confiteor, fessus sum, eri 2 to praise, give thanks; to confess, acknowledge one's guilt.
injustitia, ae,   injustice, iniquity, sin..
remitto, misi, missum, ere 3,  to forgive, pardon, remit; to send or give back, return
impietas, atis, sin, misdeed, transgression; impiety, wickedness.
peccatum, i, n. sin, failure, error , perversion, going astray

I said I will confess against my self my injustice to the Lord: and you have forgiven the wickedness of my sin.
I said, I will confess mine iniquity to the Lord against myself; and thou forgavest the ungodliness of my heart.
I said: I will confess to the Lord my injustice And thou forgavest the guilt of my sin.
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"; then thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin.
I said, I will confess my sins unto the Lord; and so thou forgavest the wickedness of my sin.
Fault of mine, said I, I here confess to the Lord; and with that, thou didst remit the guilt of my sin

A literal translation is: "I said: I will confess (confitebor) against myself (adversum me) my injustice (injustitiam meam) to the Lord: and you have remitted (tu remisisti) to me the impiety/wickedness (impietatem) of my sins."  The Douay-Rheims, and translations that mainly follow the Septuagint/Vulgate, translate the second phrase as God forgiving the 'wickedness' of the sin; those taking greater note of the Hebrew Masoretic Text, such as the Monastic Diurnal (MD), Revised Standard Version and Knox, see it as remitting the guilt of the sin involved.

The process of conversion

By way of commentary on the verses, I want to offer first St John Chrysostom's take on this verse in the process of conversion:

"Would you like me to list also the paths of repentance? They are numerous and quite varied, and all lead to heaven.  A first path of repentance is the condemnation of your own sins: Be the first to admit your sins and you will be justified. For this reason, too, the prophet wrote: I said: I will accuse myself of my sins to the Lord, and you forgave the wickedness of my heart. Therefore, you too should condemn your own sins; that will be enough reason for the Lord to forgive you, for a man who condemns his own sins is slower to commit them again. Rouse your conscience to accuse you within your own house, lest it become your accuser before the judgment seat of the Lord..."

The renewal of our baptism

Secondly, Pope Benedict XVI stressed in a message for Lent the connection between Lent and our baptism. In his catechesis on this psalm Pope John Paul II reflects this idea, saying:

"St Cyril of Jerusalem (fourth century) uses Psalm 32[31] to teach catechumens of the profound renewal of Baptism, a radical purification from all sin (cf. Procatechesi, n. 15). Using the words of the Psalmist, he too exalts divine mercy. We end our catechesis with his words: "God is merciful and is not stingy in granting forgiveness.... The mountain of your sins will not rise above the greatness of God's mercy, the depth of your wounds will not overcome the skilfulness of the "most high' Doctor: on condition that you abandon yourself to him with trust. Make known your evil to the Doctor, and address him with the words of the prophet David: "I will confess to the Lord the sin that is always before me'. In this way, these words will follow: "You have forgiven the ungodliness of my heart'" (Le Catechesi, Rome, 1993, pp. 52-53)."

And you can find the next part of this series on Psalm 31 here.

*(Illustration at top: Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry, 1405–1408/9. Herman, Paul, and Jean de Limbourg (Franco-Netherlandish, active in France by 1399–1416). French; Made in Paris. Ink, tempera, and gold leaf on vellum; 9 3/8 x 6 5/8 in. (23.8 x 16.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 
New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1).)

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