Thursday, September 29, 2016

Psalm 1 verse 3 - Christ as the tree of life

Cod St Peter perg 139 Scherenberg-Psalter 8r.jpg
Badische Landesbibliothek, Cod. St. Peter perg. 139, Blatt 8r

Continuing this series on Psalm 1, with a look at verse 3.

Et erit tamquam lignum quod plantatum est secus decursus aquarum, quod fructum suum dabit in tempore suo.
Et erit tamquam lignum transplantatum iuxta riuulos aquarum, quod fructum suum dabit in tempore suo,

καὶ ἔσται ὡς τὸ ξύλον τὸ πεφυτευμένον παρὰ τὰς διεξόδους τῶν ὑδάτων ὃ τὸν καρπὸν αὐτοῦ δώσει ἐν καιρῷ αὐτοῦ

Et (and) erit (he will be) tamquam (like/just as) lignum (a tree) quod (that) plantatum est (is established) secus (beside) decursus (the downward course/running) aquarum (of waters), quod (that) fructum (fruit) suum (his) dabit (it will give) in tempore (in time) suo (his).

tamquam adv. of comparison,  as, just as, like, as it were.
lignum, i, n., a tree; wood
planto, avi, atum, are, to plant; to establish 
secus, prep, with ace by, beside, along, near, on
decursus, us, m.  a running down. Of water, a downward course, descent
fructus, us, m. fruit, produce; the fruit of the soil, trees, etc;  reward;  the fruit of the womb, children, posterity.
tempus, oris, n.  time; in tempore suo, in due season. 

And he shall be like a tree which is planted near the running waters, which shall bring forth its fruit, in due season.
And he shall be as a tree planted by the brooks of waters, which shall yield its fruit in its season
And he shall be as a tree that is planted by running waters, that yieldeth its fruit in due season.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season,
And he shall be like a tree planted by the waterside, that will
bring forth his fruit in due season.
He stands firm as a tree planted by running water, ready to yield its fruit when the season comes
He is like a tree that is planted beside the flowing waters, that yields its fruit in due season

The literal meaning

The literal meaning of the verse is, as St Jerome, explains, that "just as a tree, if planted near water, will take root and grow and not wither away because it has enough moisture, so in like manner one who meditates on the law of God will derive strength and life from his meditation."  Jerome goes on to explain though, that there is an important additional spiritual level of interpretation that needs to be extracted here.

Christ is the tree of life

The Fathers invariably interpret the tree as Christ.  They point to a number of key connections between the image of the tree of life in Paradise (Genesis 2:9) and in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22), and the wood of the cross.

St Hilary, for example, sees the tree as depicting the tree of life in Paradise, beside which flow out the four rivers (ie the Gospels): 
In the book of Genesis, where the lawgiver depicts the paradise planted by God, we are shown that every tree is fair to look upon and good for food; it is also stated that there stands in the midst of the garden a tree of Life and a tree of the knowledge of good and evil; next that the garden is watered by a stream that afterwards divides into four heads.
The Prophet Solomon teaches us what this tree of Life is in his exhortation concerning Wisdom: She is a tree of life to all them that lay hold upon her, and lean upon her.  This tree then is living; and not only living, but, furthermore, guided by reason; guided by reason, that is, in so far as to yield fruit, and that not casually nor unseasonably, but in its own season. 
And this tree is planted beside the rills of water in the domain of the Kingdom of God, that is, of course, in Paradise, and in the place where the stream as it issues forth is divided into four heads...
He goes own to note that Jesus compares himself to a tree in various places in Scripture and notes that:
 This tree is planted in that place whither the Lord, Who is Wisdom, leads the thief who confessed Him to be the Lord, saying: Verily I say unto you, today shall you be with Me in Paradise. And now that we have shown upon prophetic warrant that Wisdom, which is Christ, is called the tree of Life in accordance with the mystery of the coming Incarnation and Passion...
Running waters

St Augustine points to the running water as referring both to baptism, as well to Christ's teaching:
In another Psalm, "the river of God is full of water." Or by the Holy Ghost, of whom it is said, "He shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost;" and again, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink;" and again, "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that asketh water of thee, thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water, of which whoso drinketh shall never thirst, but it shall be made in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life."
The fruit

Evagrius Ponticus suggests that the fruit refers to the fruits of the spirit, that is love,  joy and peace  and so on (Galatians 5:22 lists them as: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, forbearance, gentleness, faith, courtesy, temperateness, and purity), and St Thomas Aquinas takes the same view.  St Jerome suggests it refers to understanding Scripture.  Many of the other Fathers though, suggest that the fruits refer to Christ's establishment of churches.

Due season

The key point here is that fruit does not appear at all times, but at the proper time, when it is time to act.  St Augustine, for example, suggests, it means the establishment of churches "after He hath been glorified by His Resurrection and Ascension into heaven."  An alternative view is that it refers to the harvest that will be brought in on the day of judgment.

The imitation of Christ 

Patrick Reardon, in Christ in the Psalms nicely draws out a key application of the text to us:
The habit of prayer, this incessant meditation on God’s law, is not supposed to be something immediately useful. Trees do not bear fruit right away. They first must eat amply of the earth and drink deeply of its water. Such nourishment must serve first to build up the tree. The fruit will come later on, when it is supposed to. The life of Christian prayer and meditation knows nothing of instant holiness; it is all a matter of perseverance and patience. Some trees do not even begin to bear fruit for many years….(pg 2)
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.

The next part in this series can be found here.

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