Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Psalm 138/2 verses 1-2

The opening verses of the second half of Psalm 138 focus on the image of night and day, perhaps echoing the reminder of God's creation of it in Psalm 73 at Matins today, and the darkness of hades depicted in Psalm 87 at Lauds.

Et dixi: fórsitan ténebræ conculcábunt me: * et nox illuminátio mea in delíciis meis.
Si dixero: “ Forsitan tenebrae compriment me, et nox illuminatio erit circa me ”,
Si dixero, Forte tenebrae operient me ; nox quoque lux erit circa me ;

καὶ εἶπα ἄρα σκότος καταπατήσει με καὶ νὺξ φωτισμὸς ἐν τῇ τρυφῇ μου 

Et (and) dixi (I said): Forsitan (perhaps/surely) tenebræ (the darkness) conculcabunt (they will trample on/conceal/hide) me; et (and) nox (night) illuminatio (the light) mea (my) [it will be] in deliciis (in the pleasures) meis (my). 

The meaning of this verse is obscure and disputed. In the first phrase, conculcabunt is used to translate a Hebrew verb that appears only in Genesis 3:15 and Job 9:17, to mean crush or bruise.  But in this context it is often suggested that it is a text corruption.  St Jerome translated the Hebrew as operient, or they cover/conceal, but the neo-Vulgate goes with compriment, they check or restrain.  In the second phrase, the Neo-Vulgate changes this verse to say 'the light of the night will be around me' reflecting the Hebrew.

forsitan, adv. (fors sit an, it may happen that), (1) perhaps, perchance, peradventure. (2) surely
tenebrae, arum, f.  darkness; ignorance; Sheol; misfortune. danger; horror, shuddering.
conculco, avi, atum, are to trample upon, tread under foot; fig., to despise, treat with contempt; to cover, conceal.
nox, noctis, f.  night
illuminatio onis f light
deliciae arum f delight, pleasure

And I said: Perhaps darkness shall cover me: and night shall be my light in my pleasures.
When I said, Surely the darkness will cover me; even the night was light in my luxury. 
If I say, "Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,"
If I say, Peradventure the darkness shall cover me, then shall my night be turned to day.
Or perhaps I would think to bury myself in darkness; night should surround me, friendlier than day;
If I say: "Let the darkness hide me and the light around me be night,"

Cassiodorus provides the explanation of this verse read as from the mouth of Christ: 

The first part of this verse is to be spoken ironically.  We often make certain statements ambivalently, though we can be in no doubt about them.  Take for example the words of another psalm, Perhaps they had swallowed us alive. and the rest.  How could darkness oppress Him, when it had no dominion over such great glory?  As He himself says: I am the light of the world.  Rather, He oppressed the darkness when by the light of His mercy He overcame the first man's blindness which was passed on to his descendents.  So in this sentence...those who had the temerity to suspect dark clouds of fear around him are being mocked; an explanation of this meaning follows when he says...How could He be oppressed by darkness when night was His light in His pleasures?  Night denotes the prison of hell, which He indeed illuminated when he shattered the devil's power and freed by His pity mankind whom he deigned to form to His image and likeness.  In my pleasures refers to Paradise, from which sins expelled the first man; but by the Lord's gift the souls of the saints through the resource of confession have returned to its pleasant haunts.  The thief who believed was told: Amen I say to you, this day thou wilt be with me in paradise.  Paradise means a most lovely place, and the eternal tranquility of the most blessed sweetness.

Quia ténebræ non obscurabúntur a te, et nox sicut dies illuminábitur: * sicut ténebræ ejus, ita et lumen ejus.
etiam tenebrae non obscurabuntur a te, et nox sicut dies illuminabitur sicut tenebrae eius ita et lumen eius -.
nec tenebrae habent tenebras apud te, et nox quasi dies lucet : similes sunt tenebrae et lux.

ὅτι σκότος οὐ σκοτισθήσεται ἀπὸ σοῦ καὶ νὺξ ὡς ἡμέρα φωτισθήσεται ὡς τὸ σκότος αὐτῆς οὕτως καὶ τὸ φῶς αὐτῆς

Quia (but) tenebræ (darkness) non obscurabuntur (it will not be darkened) a te (with you), et (and) nox (night) sicut (like) dies (day) illuminabitur (it will shine forth) : sicut (like/as/alike) tenebræ (the darkness) ejus (of him/it), ita  (so/thus) et (and) lumen (the light) ejus (of him/it).

quia, conj. for, because, that. truly, surely, indeed;  nisi quia, unless, if not
tenebrae, arum, f.  darkness; ignorance; Sheol; misfortune. danger; horror, shuddering.
obscuro are avi atum to make dark, darken, obscure
nox, noctis, f.  night.
dies, ei, m. and f fem.   a day, the natural day
illumino, avi, atum, are , to make or cause to shine, to enlighten, illuminate. to shine forth, to shine.
ita so, thus, even, in this manner

But darkness shall not be dark to thee, and night shall be light as day: the darkness thereof, and the light thereof are alike to thee.
Yea, the darkness is no darkness with thee, but the night is as clear as the day; the darkness and light to thee are both alike.
but no, darkness is no hiding-place from thee, with thee the night shines clear as day itself; light and dark are one.
even darkness is not dark for you and the night is as clear as the day.

This verse has attracted a wide range of interpretations.  Cassiodorus gives this verse a mystical interpretation, on the nature of infused knowledge:

Darkness denotes the mystical and deep content of the divine Scriptures; as we read in Proverbs: He understands also a parable and a dark saying, and in another psalm: Dark waters in the clouds of the air.  So this darkness shall not be darkened, but rather illuminated by the Lord, for the prophets' proclamation was fulfilled at His coming.  It is his custom to ascribe His own action to the Father, so that the joint work of the holy Trinity can be grasped.  Next comes: And night shall be light as the day.  The statements which had been like a dark night in their mystical complexity became bright as day when the words of the prophets were made clear...for the truth is in both, whether in apparent obscurities or in bright clarity.

St John Chrysostom's take is on the same lines, but focused less on the mystical, and more on the hidden, and often contradictory seeming nature of God's workings in his history, most especially the Cross:

Here darkness implies tribulationNow what he means is this: I was hemmed in with troubles, and I said to myself, Troubles will prevail over me...but all of a sudden trouble was turned into good - or, rather, it was not that trouble was turned into good, but that though trouble persisted I enjoyed great well-being.  He did not say, note, Night vanished, but Night was shining - that is while night remained night, it was obvious the troubles and disasters (he refers to these by the term night you see) did not succeed in trampling me underfoot; instead, light shone in the night, that is, support enveloping me.  Things turn into their opposites and appear so, after all, when God wishes..."Most of his works, in fact, are veiled in secrecy."  Did you not note that though it was day the Egyptians groped about as if in darkness, and though darkness covered everything the Israelites could see, and in the beginning when likewise it was dark the light shone in the midst?  The creator, you see, is lord of the nature of things everywhere, not for producing non-existent things but for causing existing things to give evidence of behaviour different from the natural...

St Augustine draws from this a moral for our own reaction to both prosperity and adversity:

Day to us is worldly prosperity, night adversity in this world: but, if we learn that it is by the desert of our sins that we suffer adversities, and our Father's scourges are sweet to us, that the Judge's sentence may not be bitter to us, so shall we find the darkness of this night to be, as it were, the light of this night....But when Christ our Lord has come, and has dwelt in the soul by faith, and promised other light, and inspired and given patience, and warned a man not to delight in prosperity or to be crushed by adversity, the man, being faithful, begins to treat this world with indifference; not to be lifted up when prosperity befalls him, nor crushed when adversity, but in all things to praise God, not only when he abounds, but also when he loses; not only when he is in health, but also when he is sick.. ..As is His darkness, so is also His light. His darkness overwhelms me not, because His light lifts me not up.

Pope Benedict XVI builds on this to remind us of the importance of God's presence to us:

The gaze and the manifestation of the Lord of being and time even penetrates the darkness, in which it is difficult to move about and see. His hand is always ready to grasp ours, to lead us on our earthly journey (cf. v. 10). This is not, therefore, a judgmental closeness that inspires terror, but a closeness of support and liberation. And so we can understand what the ultimate, essential content of this Psalm is:  it is a song of trust. God is always with us. Even in the darkest nights of our lives, he does not abandon us. Even in the most difficult moments, he remains present. And even in the last night, in the last loneliness in which no one can accompany us, the night of death, the Lord does not abandon us. He is with us even in this final solitude of the night of death. And we Christians can therefore be confident: we are never left on our own. God's goodness is always with us. 

Psalm 138/2 (139) – Et dixi: forsitan 
1  Et dixi: Fórsitan ténebræ conculcábunt me: * et nox illuminátio mea in delíciis meis.
11 And I said: Perhaps darkness shall cover me: and night shall be my light in my pleasures.
2  Quia ténebræ non obscurabúntur a te, et nox sicut dies illuminábitur: * sicut ténebræ ejus, ita et lumen ejus.
12 But darkness shall not be dark to you, and night shall be light all the day: the darkness thereof, and the light thereof are alike to you.
3  Quia tu possedísti renes meos: * suscepísti me de útero matris meæ.
13 For you have possessed my reins: you have protected me from my mother's womb.
4  Confitébor tibi quia terribíliter magnificátus es: * mirabília ópera tua, et ánima mea cognóscit nimis.
14 I will praise you, for you are fearfully magnified: wonderful are your works, and my soul knows right well.
5  Non est occultátum os meum a te, quod fecísti in occúlto: * et substántia mea in inferióribus terræ.
15 My bone is not hidden from you, which you have made in secret: and my substance in the lower parts of the earth.
6  Imperféctum meum vidérunt óculi tui, et in libro tuo omnes scribéntur: * dies formabúntur, et nemo in eis.
16 Your eyes did see my imperfect being, and in your book all shall be written: days shall be formed, and no one in them.
7  Mihi autem nimis honorificáti sunt amíci tui, Deus: * nimis confortátus est principátus eórum.
17 But to me your friends, O God, are made exceedingly honourable: their principality is exceedingly strengthened.
8  Dinumerábo eos, et super arénam multiplicabúntur: * exsurréxi, et adhuc sum tecum.
18 I will number them, and they shall be multiplied above the sand, I rose up and am still with you.
9  Si occíderis, Deus, peccatóres: * viri sánguinum, declináte a me.
19 If you will kill the wicked, O God: you men of blood, depart from me:
10  Quia dícitis in cogitatióne: * Accípient in vanitáte civitátes tuas.
20 Because you say in thought: They shall receive your cities in vain.
11  Nonne qui odérunt te, Dómine, óderam? * et super inimícos tuos tabescébam?
21 Have I not hated them, O Lord, that hated you: and pined away because of your enemies?
12  Perfécto ódio óderam illos: * et inimíci facti sunt mihi.
22 I have hated them with a perfect hatred: and they have become enemies to me.
13  Proba me, Deus, et scito cor meum: * intérroga me, et cognósce sémitas meas.
23 Prove me, O God, and know my heart: examine me, and know my paths.
14  Et vide, si via iniquitátis in me est: * et deduc me in via æterna.
24 And see if there be in me the way of iniquity: and lead me in the eternal way

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