Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Deus in adjutorium...(Psalm 69:1)

In this series on the repeated psalms of the Benedictine Office, I thought it might be useful also to give some mention to the repeated verses of the Office, and since the Deus in adjutorium verse from (Psalm 69) opens each of the day hours which I'll start on in the next post, I thought this might be an appropriate point to look at it.

I want to suggest that there are actually three reasons why St Benedict may have so favoured it:first as a prayer asking for God to perfect our work of the Office, and aid us at all times; secondly to make clear the Christological nature of the Office; and finally as a prayer for perseverance.

Psalm 69

First lines of psalms, in Scripture at least, are traditionally regarded as pointing us to the consideration of the entire psalm, and I think that is particularly worthwhile in this case.  Accordingly, here is the text of the full psalm:

In finem. Psalmus David in rememorationem, quod salvum fecerit eum Dominus
Unto the end, a psalm for David, to bring to remembrance that the Lord saved him.
1 Deus, in adjutórium meum inténde : * Dómine ad adjuvándum me festína.
O God come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me.
2  Confundántur et revereántur, * qui quærunt ánimam meam.
3 Let them be confounded and ashamed that seek my soul:
3  Avertántur retrórsum, et erubéscant, * qui volunt mihi mala.
4 Let them be turned backward, and blush for shame that desire evils to me:
4  Avertántur statim erubescéntes, * qui dicunt mihi : Euge, euge.
Let them be presently turned away blushing for shame that say to me: 'Tis well, 'tis well.
5  Exsúltent et læténtur in te omnes qui quærunt te, * et dicant semper : Magnificétur Dóminus : qui díligunt salutáre tuum.
5 Let all that seek you rejoice and be glad in you; and let such as love your salvation say always: The Lord be magnified.
6  Ego vero egénus, et pauper sum : * Deus, ádjuva me.
6 But I am needy and poor; O God, help me.

7  Adjútor meus, et liberátor meus es tu : * Dómine, ne moreris.
You are my helper and my deliverer: O lord, make no delay.

Perfect our prayer

St Benedict, in the opening to his Rule, instructs that whatever good work we undertake, to start with a prayer asking God to perfect it.  This verse, I think, provides a built in means of doing this each time we pray the Office, that ultimate 'good work'.

The origin of the use of the verse has generally been attributed to Cassian, for in Conference 10, chapter 10, he provides an extended dissertation instructing the monk to employ this verse in all times and circumstances.  There is an excellent audio conference on this that you can listen to on the Norcia Monastery website, provided by Fr Cassian Folsom OSB.

The short version though, is that Cassian puts the verse in the context of cultivating a sense of continuous prayer and cultivating a sense of our total dependence on God.  In particular he sees it as the remedy against every kind of danger:

"For it embraces all the feelings which can be implanted in human nature, and can be fitly and satisfactorily adapted to every condition, and all assaults. Since it contains an invocation of God against every danger, it contains humble and pious confession, it contains the watchfulness of anxiety and continual fear, it contains the thought of one's own weakness, confidence in the answer, and the assurance of a present and ever ready help. For one who is constantly calling on his protector, is certain that He is always at hand. It contains the glow of love and charity, it contains a view of the plots, and a dread of the enemies, from which one, who sees himself day and night hemmed in by them, confesses that he cannot be set free without the aid of his defender. This verse is an impregnable wall for all who are labouring under the attacks of demons, as well as impenetrable coat of mail and a strong shield."

 Through his Incarnation and Resurrection

Fr Cassian in his series on continuous prayer notes that St Benedict interprets the Office as 'the work of Christ'.  This psalm fits very nicely with this Christological view of the Office, for the title of the psalm in the view of the Fathers, points us to the Resurrection.  St Augustine, for example, commented on it that:

"Thanks to the Corn of wheat, because He willed to die and to be multiplied: thanks to the only Son of God, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who disdained not to undergo our death, in order that He might make us worthy of His life."

That is important to keep in mind, since aside from the first verse, the psalms is essentially a repeat of the second half of Psalm 39, which is primarily focused on the Incarnation, opening a verse about waiting in hope for the coming of the Messiah.  Verses 2-4 in fact reprise a key theme of Monday in the Office, namely the promise that the devil will be defeated through Christ: you can find the words of those verses  repeated in various forms in Psalms 34, 6 and 128 in particular.  The Deus in adjutorium verse, then, can be seen as a plea for Christ's aid in our battle against the temptations that assail us.  And verses 4 and 5 perhaps invite us to draw on  Our Lady's example, for they seem to me at least to contain obvious echoes of the Magnificat.

A prayer for perseverance

The other key reason for use of this psalm though, seems to me to be as a prayer for aid in perseverance.

The final verse essentially echoes the first, but St Augustine's commentary on it puts a nice twist on it.  Rather than focusing on God's seeming delay in responding to our pleas, he puts the blame for any delay back on our poor efforts, and turns the psalm into a prayer for perseverance:

What is, delay not? Because many men say, it is a long time till Christ comes. What then: because we say, delay not, will He come before He has determined to come? What means this prayer, delay not? May not Your coming seem to me to be too long delayed. For to you it seems a long time, to God it seems not long, to whom a thousand years are one day, or the three hours of a watch. 

But if you shall not have had endurance, late for you it will be: and when to you it shall be late, you will be diverted from Him, and will be like those that were wearied in the desert, and hastened to ask of God the pleasant things which He was reserving for them in the Land; and when there were not given on their journey the pleasant things, whereby perchance they would have been corrupted, they murmured against God, and went back in heart unto Egypt: to that place whence in body they had been severed, in heart they went back. 

Do not thou, then, so, do not so: fear the word of the Lord, saying, Remember Lot's wife. Luke 17:32 She too being on the way, but now delivered from the Sodomites, looked back; in the place where she looked back, there she remained: she became a statue of salt, in order to season you. For to you she has been given for an example, in order that you may have sense, may not stop infatuated on the way. Observe her stopping and pass on: observe her looking back, and do thou be reaching forth unto the things before, as Paul was. Philippians 3:13 What is it, not to look back. Of the things behind forgetful, he says. 

Therefore you follow, being called to the heavenly reward, whereof hereafter you will glory. For the same Apostle says, There remains for me a crown of righteousness, which in that day the Lord, the just Judge, shall render to me. 2 Timothy 4:8

I can't help thinking that this particular take on the psalm fits particularly well with St Benedict's spirituality...

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