Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Psalm 142 pt 4: verses 13&14

Verses 13&14
The procession of St Gregory seeking an end to the plague
Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 71v
the Musée Condé, Chantilly

In the previous part of this mini-series, I looked at verses 11&12 of Psalm 142, and suggested that the psalmist’s pleas to be delivered from his enemies was to be accomplished in large part by his learning to do God’s will, and guidance by the Holy Spirit. Those verses provide some context for the verses I want to look at today by way of conclusion of this Lent series, namely the last two verses of the psalm – and thus of all of the penitential psalms – which contain a further plea for God’s help.

At first glance, verses 13 and 14 present problems to the modern reader, since they sound awfully like a request for God to do some smiting! And while we might all feel the desire for that to occur from time to time, we know full well that in fact we are called on to forgive our enemies, and to return good for evil. So how should we reconcile these seemingly conflicting messages?

The text

First let’s take another look at the verses themselves. Here is the Vulgate (which is identical to the neo-Vulgate):

Edúces de tribulatióne ánimam meam: * et in misericórdia tua dispérdes inimícos meos.
educes de angustia animam meam ;  et in misericordia tua dissipabis inimicos meos,

The key verbs here are all in the subjunctive, making them a pleas or request: educare means to lead out, bring or draw forth; disperdere means to destroy, or destroy utterly.  Hence a literal translation of this verse would be something like: ‘may you bring my soul (animam meam) out of distress/trouble (de tribulatione), and in your mercy/kindness/compassion (misericordia) destroy my enemies (inimicos meos) 
educo, duxi, ductum, ere 3,  to lead out or forth.
disperdo, didi, ditum, ere 3, to destroy, destroy utterly.

You will bring my soul out of trouble: And in your mercy you will destroy my enemies.
thou shalt bring my soul out of affliction.  And in thy mercy thou wilt destroy mine enemies,
In thy justice save me from distress, and in Thy mercy disperse my enemies
bring my soul out of trouble. And of thy goodness slay mine enemies,

Et perdes omnes, qui tríbulant ánimam meam, * quóniam ego servus tuus sum.
et perdes omnes ligantes animam meam; ego enim sum seruus tuus.

ie: And (et) you will destroy (perdes) all (omnes) those who trouble/afflict (qui tribulant) my soul, because (quoniam) I am (ego sum) your servant (servus tuus)’.

perdo, didi, ditum, ere 3, to destroy

And you will cut off all them that afflict my soul: for I am your servant.
and wilt destroy all those that afflict my soul; for I am thy servant.
And destroy all who afflict my soul: because I am Thy servant
And destroy all them that vex my soul; for I am thy servant.

Who are our enemies?

We shouldn't, in my view, back away from the idea of praying for the defeat of actual physical enemies here, whether they be personal, enemies of the Church, or of our country. The harsh reality is that evil can and does get worked through others. We shouldn’t be afraid to pray that someone who is hurting us or others be stopped from doing so!

Of course, our prayer must be, first and foremost, that they be converted.

And we must genuinely seek to forgive them for what they do to us and others.

Forgiving someone though, doesn’t mean letting them continue to sin! Accordingly, it is important to keep in mind that praying for the defeat of evil and those who oppress us by whatever direct or indirect means God chooses to employ, or helps us to employ, is perfectly legitimate.

David's Victory
Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 95r
Musée Condé, Chantilly.
Victory over sin

Nonetheless, in the context of the penitential psalms, our primary focus should be first and foremost on the mote in our own eye! The enemy in this context is not so much others: for we can accept bear their attacks as part of our penance, or offer up our sufferings at their hands for others.

But we must also focus, especially during this Lenten season, on overcoming our own weaknesses, bad habits, faults and sins. And we shouldn't hesitate to ask God's help in this most personal of battles.

The previous psalms, as well as the earlier verses of this psalm teach us the other weapons we must employ: work to develop a strong and deep sense of contrition; go to confession, tell all of our sins, and be absolved; do our penance and more; study, meditate and contemplate God's works; and submit ourselves to God's will and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Of course, in this battle, it is also important to keep in mind that not all of our faults come from within ourselves: we are also engaged in a spiritual warfare waged against powers and principalities; so call too for God's help in the form of our own guardian angel's interventions.

We should pray too, for final perseverance, for above all, these verses reminds us of God’s promise that evil will eventually be defeated and good vindicated, if not in this life, then in the next.

Psalm 142: Domine, exaudi orationem meam
Psalmus David, quando persequebatur eum Absalom filius ejus.
A psalm of David, when his son Absalom pursued him
1 Dómine, exáudi oratiónem meam: áuribus pércipe obsecratiónem meam in veritáte tua : * exáudi me in tua justítia.
Hear, O Lord, my prayer: give ear to my supplication in your truth: hear me in your justice.

2  Et non intres in judícium cum servo tuo: * quia non justificábitur in conspéctu tuo omnis vivens.
And enter not into judgment with your servant: for in your sight no man living shall be justified.
3  Quia persecútus est inimícus ánimam meam: * humiliávit in terra vitam meam.
For the enemy has persecuted my soul: he has brought down my life to the earth.
4  Collocávit me in obscúris sicut mórtuos sæculi : * et anxiátus est super me spíritus meus, in me turbátum est cor meum.
He has made me to dwell in darkness as those that have been dead of old: And my spirit is in anguish within me: my heart within me is troubled.
5  Memor fui diérum antiquórum, meditátus sum in ómnibus opéribus tuis: * in factis mánuum tuárum meditábar.
I remembered the days of old, I meditated on all your works: I meditated upon the works of your hands.
6  Expándi manus meas ad te: * ánima mea sicut terra sine aqua tibi.
I stretched forth my hands to you: my soul is as earth without water unto you.
7  Velóciter exáudi me, Dómine: * defécit spíritus meus.
Hear me speedily, O Lord: my spirit has fainted away.
8  Non avértas fáciem tuam a me: * et símilis ero descendéntibus in lacum.
Turn not away your face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.
9  Audítam fac mihi mane misericórdiam tuam: * quia in te sperávi.
Cause me to hear your mercy in the morning; for in you have I hoped.
10  Notam fac mihi viam, in qua ámbulem: * quia ad te levávi ánimam meam.
Make the way known to me, wherein I should walk: for I have lifted up my soul to you.
11  Eripe me de inimícis meis, Dómine, ad te confúgi: * doce me fácere voluntátem tuam, quia Deus meus es tu.
Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord, to you have I fled: Teach me to do your will, for you are my God.
12  Spíritus tuus bonus dedúcet me in terram rectam: * propter nomen tuum, Dómine, vivificábis me, in æquitáte tua.
Your good spirit shall lead me into the right land: For your name's sake, O Lord, you will quicken me in your justice.
13  Edúces de tribulatióne ánimam meam: * et in misericórdia tua dispérdes inimícos meos.
You will bring my soul out of trouble: And in your mercy you will destroy my enemies.
14  Et perdes omnes, qui tríbulant ánimam meam, * quóniam ego servus tuus sum.
And you will cut off all them that afflict my soul: for I am your servant.

Ne reminiscaris Domine...

I want to conclude this series not with another version of the psalm for you to listen to, but with the antiphon used at the end of the penitential psalms.  Here, it is in an English setting by Purcell.

The first half of the setting is simply a translation of the Catholic liturgical text:

Remember not, Lord, our offences,
nor the offences of our forefathers;
neither take thou vengeance of our sins:

The second part is an addition from the Book of Common Prayer, but it is so catholic in content that I strongly suspect it actually has its quasi-liturgical origins in the Sarum Rite:

spare us, good Lord, spare thy people,
whom thou hast redeemed with thy most precious blood,
and be not angry with us for ever.
Spare us, good Lord.

And that concludes this Lenten series.  I do hope you have enjoyed this series and found something in it to stimulate your prayer.

May you have a happy and holy Easter.


  1. You've done an amazing job with this series. Thank you so much and a blessed Triduum and happy Easter to you!!

  2. Why do you refer to Sarum as "quasi-liturgical"?

  3. It wasn't Sarum I was referring to as quasi-liturgical, but the particular verses. My vague recollection is that I did search and couldn't find any evidence it was part of the rite itself, but may have been part of the associated spiritual culture.