Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Penitential Psalms - Psalm 50/2 - verses 1-4

Today I want to take a more detailed look at the opening verses of Psalm 50, which are King David's profession of guilt, and plea for mercy.

Notes on the notes

In the notes below, I've provided some comparisons between various translations, and definitions for some of the key vocabulary in the Vulgate version of the text. for those interested.

But you can also skip straight to the notes on the text, and the commentaries after them if you prefer!

The comparisons I've included are generally between the Vulgate (V); 1979 Neo-Vulgate (NV); St Jerome's translation from the Hebrew (JH) and the Septuagint.  I'll also provide some comments on how these compared to the (medieval) Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT).  The  definitions of key words in the Latin (mainly taken from Dom Matthew Britt's Dictionary of the Psalter).  The English translations provided are from the Douay-Rheims (DR), Brenton's translation from the Septuagint (Brenton), Coverdale (Cover), and the Monastic Diurnal (MD).

You can find further details of my sources, with links, here and you can also find introductions to the key patristic commentaries on the psalms I've drawn on elsewhere on this blog.

Notes on the verses

Miserére mei Deus, * secúndum magnam misericórdiam tuam.
Miserere mei, Deus, secundum misericordiam tuam

λέησόν με  θεός κατ τ μέγα λεός σου

Text notes: Misericordia is a translation of the Hebrew ‘hesed’, meaning loving kindness.  Boylan notes that the underlying Hebrew of ‘miserere’ means more be gracious to me.

misereor, sertus sum, eri 2  to pity, have mercy on.
misericordia, ae, mercy, kindness, favor, compassion, loving-kindness.
secundus, a, um  following in time or order; the next, the second; in accordance with, as befits
magnus, a, um, great, mighty; elders

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your great mercy.
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy great mercy
Have mercy upon me, O God, after thy great goodness;

Cassiodorus puts this verse in its historical context:

"When that most powerful king, an outstanding victor over many na­tions, heard himself rebuked by the prophet Nathan, he did not blush to confess his sins openly or have recourse to the harmful excuses to which men hasten in their utter shamelessness. He at once prostrated himself with salutary humility, offered himself to God, and repentant in his prince's purple made entreaty with holy tears. The faithful servant does not cling to brash denials, but quickly realises the faults which he has committed. What a marvellous beginning! By saying to the Judge: Have mercy on me, he is seen to have removed the need for a trial." 

Why does he accept his guilt with such alacrity, having persisted in sin so egregiously?  St Thomas Aquinas suggests that it is becauses the depth of unhappiness that is caused by a state of sin:

Therefore, he seeks first the mercy of God when he says: Have mercy on me, O God. Whence it must be known that, as it is said in Proverbs 14, "sin maketh nations miserable." Indeed, just as he is not truly happy who abounds in riches, delights in pleasures, possesses honours in abundance, but he who delights in God; so, he is not miserable who is poor, wretched and feeble and weak, but he who is a sinner; and therefore the one who is a sinner says: Have mercy on me, O God, Thou, namely who "hast mercy upon all and hatest none of the things which thou hast made" (Wisdom 11) and, according to the Apostle, you have mercy on whom you wish. Romans 9 "I shall have mercy on whom I wish." 

Et secúndum multitúdinem miseratiónum tuárum, * dele iniquitátem meam.
Iuxta multitudinem miserationum tuarum dele iniquitates meas.

κα κατ τ πλθος τν οκτιρμν σου ξάλειψον τ νόμημά μου

Text notes: The MT uses three words in this psalm for sin, what is referred to here is pesha, the fundamental sin of personal rebellion against God.

multitudo, inis f, a large number, multitude. abundance, greatness; as an adjective, great, mighty
miseratio, onis,   kindness, compassion, mercy
deleo, levi, letum, ere 2, to destroy, blot out, annihilate.
iniquitas, atis,   iniquity, injustice, sin.

And according to the multitude of your tender mercies blot out my iniquity.
and according to the multitude of thy compassions blot out my transgression
And according to the great bounty of Thy mercies, blot out my guilt.
According to the multitude of thy mercies do away mine offences

St Augustine points out that David needed to draw on God's great mercy, because he acted not out of ignorance, which is more easily forgivable, but in the full knowledge that what he did was a sin.  Still, we know that God's mercy is indeed great, as Bellarmine draws out:

Those words, then, "According to the multitude of thy tender mercies," give us to understand how unbounded is the mercy shown by God to his beloved children; for the Hebrew word, strictly speaking, signifies the tender love of a father, which the Scripture is wont to express by, "The bowels of mercy;" and the Church, in the Collect of the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, thus expresses, "O God, who, through the excess of your love, go farther than even the merits and even the prayers of your supplicants." For, in fact, so great is the love of God for us, that he not only grants much more than we deserve, but even more than we dare to hope for. He shows that in the parable of the prodigal son. The father not only for­gives the penitent but he runs to meet him, embraces him, kiss­es him, orders the most valuable clothes, and a precious ring for him, kills the fatted calf in compliment to him; and, finally, shows more marks of favor and love to him, after squandering all his property, than if he had returned after having achieved a signal victory over his enemies. 

The reference to blotting out our sins is important too, for sin has two effects, as Bellarmine expounds:

"Blot out my iniquity," refers to the sin and the stain left after it. David knew that he had not only incurred the punishment of everlasting death by his sin, but that it also left a stain on his soul that rendered it dark, deformed, and hateful to God; and the expression, "Blot out," refers to both. When a debt is forgiven, the deeds are said to be cancelled, or blotted out; and stains are said to be blotted, when the thing stained is washed and purified. David, then, begs of God not to deal with him in the rigor of his justice, but with the mercy of a father, to forgive the sin, and wash away the stain left by it, by restoring the brightness of his grace.

Acts 3:19 draws on this verse, saying 'Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord'.

Amplius lava me ab iniquitáte mea: * et a peccáto meo munda me.
Multum laua me ab iniquitate mea, et a peccato meo munda me.

π πλεον πλνόν με π τς νομίας μου κα π τς μαρτίας μου καθάρισόν με

Text notes: Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea is ‘Wash me yet more’, or more and more, completely, thoroughly), from my iniquityThe MT adds two more types of sins in this verse, ‘awon’, or moral evil in general, all sins purposely committed in the first phrase; and hatta’th, or sins of imprudence.  Ladouceur suggests that the three words for sin are intended to suggest the comprehensiveness of the speaker’s guilt.  The idea of washing away sins almost certainly alludes to Jewish purification rituals, though Ladouceur notes that both the Greek and Hebrew words refer to the washing of clothes (to launder or tread upon).

amplius more, yet more.
peccatum, i, n. sin.
mundo, avi, atum, are to cleanse
lavo, lavi, lautum or lotum, are, to wash

Wash me yet more from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
Wash me throughly from my wickedness, and cleanse me from my sin.

Bellarmine points out that though our sins can be forgiven, our human nature means that we will still be prone to it.  Accordingly, we must counteract our bad habits through growth in virtue, with the aid of the grace pleaded for here.

Quóniam iniquitátem meam ego cognósco: * et peccátum meum contra me est semper.
Quoniam iniquitates meas ego noui, et peccatum meum contra me est semper. 

τι τν νομίαν μου γ γινώσκω κα  μαρτία μου νώπιόν μού στιν δι παντός

quoniam, conj.,  for, because, since, seeing that, whereas.
cognosco, gnovi, gnitum, ere 3, to know, see, learn, perceive, be come acquainted with, acknowledge
contra, prep, with ace. before, in the presence of; against, in a hostile sense;
semper, adv., ever, always, at all times.

For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me.
For I am conscious of mine iniquity; and my sin is continually before me.
For I acknowledge my faults, and my sin is ever before me.

Bellarmine instructs us on the importance of freely acknowledging our sin:

The second reason assigned by him for obtaining forgiveness is, that he admits it, confesses it, and punishes himself keeping it constantly before him. Pardon me, "For I know my iniquity;" I neither excuse nor deny it, I freely acknowledge it and I am constantly grieved in thinking of it; for it "is before me," staring me in the face, and piercing me like a javelin. An example for us in the recitation of the penitential Psalms.  We should be able truly to say, "My sin is always before me.” This we can do by keeping up a recollection of the sins that, through God's goodness, have been forgiven, for thus we will be constantly reminded of our great ingratitude to so great a benefactor.

Psalm 50: Miserere me Deus 
In finem. Psalmus David cum venit ad eum Nathan propheta, quando intravit ad Bethsabee.
Unto the end, a psalm of David, 2 when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had sinnedwith Bethsabee.
1 Miserére mei Deus, * secúndum magnam misericórdiam tuam.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your great mercy.
2  Et secúndum multitúdinem miseratiónum tuárum, * dele iniquitátem meam.
And according to the multitude of your tender mercies blot out my iniquity.
3  Amplius lava me ab iniquitáte mea: * et a peccáto meo munda me.
Wash me yet more from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
4  Quóniam iniquitátem meam ego cognósco: * et peccátum meum contra me est semper.
For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me.
5  Tibi soli peccávi, et malum coram te feci: * ut justificéris in sermónibus tuis, et vincas cum judicáris.
To you only have I sinned, and have done evilbefore you: that you may be justified in your words, and may overcome when you are judged.
6  Ecce enim in iniquitátibus concéptus sum: * et in peccátis concépit me mater mea.
For behold I was conceived in iniquities; and in sins did my mother conceive me.
7  Ecce enim veritátem dilexísti: * incérta et occúlta sapiéntiæ tuæ manifestásti mihi.
For behold you have loved truth: the uncertain and hidden things of your wisdom you have made manifest to me.
8  Aspérges me hyssópo, et mundábor: * lavábis me, et super nivem dealbábor.
You shall sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed: you shall wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow.
9  Audítui meo dabis gáudium et lætítiam: * et exsultábunt ossa humiliáta.
To my hearing you shall give joy and gladness: and the bones that have been humbled shall rejoice.
10  Avérte fáciem tuam a peccátis meis: * et omnes iniquitátes meas dele.
Turn away your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
11  Cor mundum crea in me, Deus: * et spíritum rectum ínnova in viscéribus meis.
Create a clean heart in me, O God: and renew a right spirit within my bowels.
12  Ne projícias me a fácie tua: * et spíritum sanctum tuum ne áuferas a me.
Cast me not away from your face; and take not your holy spirit from me.
13  Redde mihi lætítiam salutáris tui: * et spíritu principáli confírma me.
Restore unto me the joy of your salvation, and strengthen me with a perfect spirit.
14  Docébo iníquos vias tuas: * et ímpii ad te converténtur.
I will teach the unjust your ways: and the wicked shall be converted to you.
15  Líbera me de sanguínibus, Deus, Deus salútis meæ: * et exsultábit lingua mea justítiam tuam.
Deliver me from blood, O God, you God of my salvation: and my tongue shall extol your justice.   
16  Dómine, lábia mea apéries: * et os meum annuntiábit laudem tuam.
O Lord, you will open my lips: and my mouth shall declare your praise.
17  Quóniam si voluísses sacrifícium dedíssem útique: * holocáustis non delectáberis.
For if you had desired sacrifice, I would indeed have given it: with burnt offerings you will not be delighted.
18  Sacrifícium Deo spíritus contribulátus: * cor contrítum, et humiliátum, Deus non despícies.
A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humbled heart, O God, you will not despise.
19  Benígne fac, Dómine, in bona voluntáte tua Sion: * ut ædificéntur muri Jerúsalem.
Deal favourably, O Lord, in your good will with Sion; that the walls of Jerusalem may be built up.
20  Tunc acceptábis sacrifícium justítiæ, oblatiónes, et holocáusta: * tunc impónent super altáre tuum vítulos.
Then shall you accept the sacrifice of justice, oblations and whole burnt offerings: then shall they lay calves upon your altar.

And you can find the next part in this series here.

No comments:

Post a Comment