Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Psalm 1: verse 1 - Christ the perfect man

Miniatore di S Alessio in Bigiano - Leaf from Bentivoglio Bible - Walters W151250V - Reverse Detail.jpg
leaf from Bentivoglio Bible, c1270

Today I want to take a look at the first verse of Psalm 1.

Today's post will be a bit longer than most - of the rest of the series on this psalm I'll be using the same methodology and abbreviations, but without the detailed explanations.  I'm also providing somewhat more detailed notes on this psalm than I plan to in future, in order to illustrate how to make use of the material I provide such as the assorted translations.

Saying and understanding the Latin

Pronouncing and singing the Latin

First of all I want to focus on the pronunciation of the Latin.

The sound file below provides a recording of verse 1 of the psalm said slowly with lots of repetitions of phrases so you can learn it; then sung on one note; then sing it using tone 8, which is used for most Mondays in the Office at Prime.

Note: my accent and singing is far from perfect, but I've included it as a learning tool on the basis that something is (probably) better than nothing, as I've had numerous requests from those still struggling with Latin pronunciation and who find the assorted podcasts I've previously pointed to a little too fast.  Hopefully over time those concerned will graduate to better models!

The recording uses the Vulgate translation from the Greek Septuagint (also included below for those to whom it may be of interest).  For this verse, it is identical to the Old Roman version of the psalter that pre-dated the Vulgate, and continued to be used in many places until around 1000 AD.

Versions of the Latin

There are two other versions of the Latin of the psalm you may encounter and are worth noting.

The first is the 1979 neo-Vulgate, used by many monasteries who have adopted the Ordinary Form of the Mass.

In this case it follows the important version, St Jerome's translation from the Hebrew (I'm afraid I haven't quite worked out how to get the Hebrew to copy in correctly or I would have added that too, for reference purposes, but you can look at it here if you are interested).

Personally I think the move away from 'cathedra pestilentiae' (seat of pestilence) to 'conventu derisorum' (gathering of scoffers) is unfortunate, as the word cathedra has a lot more resonances for Catholics, and the notion of a pestilential infection is rather more vivid to my mind.

Vulgate (V)
Beatus vir qui non abiit in consilio impiorum et in via peccatorum non stetit, et in cathedra pestilentiae non sedit.
Neo-Vulgate (NV)
Beatus vir, qui non abiit in consilio impiorum
et in via peccatorum non stetit et in conventu derisorum non sedit
Jerome from the Hebrew (JH)
Beatus uir, qui non abiit in consilio impiorum, et in uia peccatorum non stetit, et in cathedra derisorum non sedit.
μακάριος ἀνήρ ὃς οὐκ ἐπορεύθη ἐν βουλῇ ἀσεβῶν καὶ ἐν ὁδῷ ἁμαρτωλῶν οὐκ ἔστη καὶ ἐπὶ καθέδραν λοιμῶν οὐκ ἐκάθισεν

Breaking down the Latin

Secondly, let's look at the Latin with a word by word literal translation:

Beatus (the happy/blessed/fortunate) vir (the man)  qui (who) non (not) abiit (he walked) in consilio (in the council) impiorum (of the wicked) et (and) in via (in the way) peccatorum (of the sinners) non (not) stetit (he stood), et (and) in cathedra (in the seat) pestilentiae (of pestilence)  non (not) sedit (he sat)

The key vocab for the verse is set out below (mainly taken from Britt's Dictionary of the psalter):

beatus, a, um  happy, blessed, fortunate.  Hebrew equiv to ‘O happiness of’
vir, viri, m., a man, any human being,
abeo, ii, itum, ire, to go away, depart;  die; flow;  walk,  to bear, conduct, or deport one's self
consilium, ii, n.   a taking counsel, a deliberation, consultation; His plan, counsel, design.  
impius, ii, m. sinners, the wicked, the godless,
peccator, oris, m.  a sinner, transgressor; the wicked, the godless.
sto, steti, statum, are, to stand, stand up, remain standing. continue.
cathedra, ae. F a chair, seat.
pestilentia, ae, f pestilence, plague 
sedeo, sedi, sessum, ere 2, to sit; dwell, live;  consult with others of a like mind;  to sit on a throne, to rule, reign

The box below provides a number of English translations for comparison purposes.  Note that the Monastic Diurnal and Knox essentially follow the Hebrew Masoretic Text (gathering of scoffers) rather than the Septuagint/Vulgate text tradition.

Douay-Rheims (DR)
Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the chair of pestilence.
Septuagint (Brenton)
Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, and has not stood in the way of sinners, and has not sat in the seat of evil men.
Monastic Diurnal (MD)
Blessed is the man that followeth not the counsel of the wicked, nor standeth in the path of sinners, nor sitteth in the company of scoffers.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, and hath not sat in the seat of the scornful.
Blessed is the man who does not guide his steps by ill counsel, or turn aside where sinners walk, or, where scornful souls gather, sit down to rest;

Interpreting the psalm

The first two verses of Psalm 1 can essentially be seen as another way of presenting to us the injunction, 'Turn away from evil and do good'.

True happiness

The psalter opens by asserting that the key reason for turning away from evil is to obtain happiness.

This is counter-intuitive for many: most sins are about self-indulgence and the pursuit of what people falsely perceive as sources of happiness, such as wealth and pleasure.  The Christian view, though, is different.  St Robert Bellarmine, for example, tells us that:
 …happiness, as far at is attainable in this world, is only to be had in conjunction with true justice…”For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but justice and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.”  For the truly just alone are the friends of God...happy is he who is really just...that is to say, who has not followed the counsel, laws, or opinions of the wicked, which are altogether at variance with the way, that is, the Law of God…
Christ as the perfect man who we must imitate

The Fathers (with a few notable exceptions such as SS Hilary and Jerome) generally agree that the blessed man of the psalm should be understood as meaning Christ, since perfect happiness for sinful man is only perfectly attainable in heaven.  St Augustine, for example, explains that: 
This is to be understood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord Man. For He came indeed in the way of sinners, by being born as sinners are; but He "stood" not therein, for that the enticements of the world held Him not. He willed not an earthly kingdom, with pride, which is well taken for "the seat of pestilence;" for that there is hardly any one who is free from the love of rule, and craves not human glory... "the seat of pestilence" may be more appropriately understood of hurtful doctrine; "whose word spreadeth as a canker." For he "went away," when he drew back from God. He "stood," when he took pleasure in sin. He "sat," when, confirmed in his pride, he could not go back, unless set free by Him.
But of course it also applies to those who would imitate him, as Cassiodorus makes clear:
But in Psalm 143 the prophet reminds us that the adjective has two senses: They have called the people blessed that have these things: but blessed is that people whose god is the Lord. So in the worldly sense the blessed man is he who thinks that he is supported by the greatest security, and who continues in abiding joy and worldly abundance. But the psalmist splendidly appended man to the second sense of blessed, which is deterred from its purpose by no opposition. Vir (man) derives from vires, strength.' In his endurance he admits of no failure, and in his prosperity of no proud self-inflation. Rather, he is immovable and steadfast in mind, strengthened by contemplation of heavenly things, and abidingly fearless…
He sees the rest of the verse as excluding Christ from the three faults man is prone to, viz
failings of thought, word, and deed.

The path to perdition

Several of the Fathers and Theologians provide extended explanations of the significance of the walk/stood/sit progression of the verse.

St Thomas Aquinas, for example, points to three stages in the progression of sin in relation to making the choice we all have to make between the path of good and the path of evil: 
As long as a man is deliberating, he is going; second, consent and execution, that is, in operation; He says of the ungodly, because impiety is a sin against God, and of sinners, as against one's neighbour, and in the chair; behold the third, namely to induce others to sin. In a chair thus as an authoritative teacher, and teaching others to sin and therefore he says, pestilence, because a pestilence is an infective disease…Thus there is the right way to happiness, first that we should submit ourselves to God.
St Liguori developed this 'triple gradation of sinfulness' as follows:

  • Abiit, one turns away from good - consilio means temptation and impiorum bad principles;
  • Stetit, one takes part in evil  - via means going astray, while peccatorum bad conduct; and 
  • Sedit, one settles down in it through habit - with cathedra, the giving of scandal, and pestilentia, utter corruption.

Theodoret of Cyrus ties all these ideas together nicely, I think, explaining that the title blessed refers to Christ's divinity, but is one he offers to share with the just:
Very appropriately did mighty David set forth a beatitude as the beginning of his composition, imitating him who is both his son and his Lord – I mean Christ the Saviour – who began his teaching to the holy disciples with the beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit, he said, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.   
Now, Christ the lord is son of David in his humanity according to that verse of the holy Gospels, Book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of Abraham.  But as God he is his Lord and Creator: his own words are as follows, The Lord said to my Lord, sit on my right.  So he blesses the person who neither shared the way with the ungodly, nor took seriously the counsel of sinners…but shunned the abiding contagion of the corrupt.   
Now the epithet blessed is a divine title; the divine Apostle is witness to this in his exclamation, O blessed and sole rule, King of kings and Lord of lords.  But the Lord God shared this, too, with human beings, as he did other things
Douay Rheims translation

Beátus vir, qui non ábiit in consílio impiórum, et in via peccatórum non stetit, * et in cáthedra pestiléntiæ non sedit
Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the chair of pestilence:
2  Sed in lege Dómini volúntas ejus, * et in lege ejus meditábitur die ac nocte.
But his will is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he shall meditate day and night.
3  Et erit tamquam lignum, quod plantátum est secus decúrsus aquárum, * quod fructum suum dabit in témpore suo:
And he shall be like a tree which is planted near the running waters, which shall bring forth its fruit, in due season.
4  Et fólium ejus non défluet: * et ómnia quæcúmque fáciet, prosperabúntur.
And his leaf shall not fall off: and all whatsoever he shall do shall prosper.
Non sic ímpii, non sic: * sed tamquam pulvis, quem prójicit ventus a fácie terræ.
Not so the wicked, not so: but like the dust, which the wind drives from the face of the earth.
6  Ideo non resúrgent ímpii in judício: * neque peccatóres in concílio justórum.
Therefore the wicked shall not rise again in judgment: nor sinners in the council of the just.
7  Quóniam novit Dóminus viam justórum: * et iter impiórum períbit.
For the Lord knows the way of the just: and the way of the wicked shall perish.

You can find the next set of notes in this series here.

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