Friday, September 30, 2016

Psalm 1 verse 4 - The healing of nations

Mausoleum M in the pre-fourth-century necropolis under St Peter's Basilica in Rome

Et folium eius non defluet et omnia quaecumque faciet, prosperabuntur.
et folium eius non decidet et omnia quaecumque fecerit prosperabuntur
et folium eius non defluet ; et omne quod fecerit prosperabitur. 

κα τ φύλλον ατο οκ πορρυήσεται κα πάντα σα ν ποι κατευοδωθήσεται

Et (and) folium (foliage) eius (its) non (not) defluet (it falls off) et (and) omnia (all) quaecumque (whatsoever) faciet (he does/makes), prosperabuntur (it will prosper).

folium, ii, n. , a leaf, coll., foliage.
defluo, fluxi, ere 3, to flow down;  to fall, as a leaf
prospero, avi, stum, are,  to succeed, prosper , flourish, thrive

And his leaf shall not fall off: and all whatsoever he shall do shall prosper.
and its leaf shall not fall off; and whatsoever he shall do shall be prospered.
And whose leaves shall not wither: and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper
and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
His leaf also shall not wither; and look, whatsoever he doeth, it shall prosper.
not a leaf faded; all that he does will prosper.
and whose leaves shall never fade; and all that he does shall prosper.

The previous verse focused on the fruit of the tree, but as Jerome puts it, 'The leaves of this tree are by no means useless'.

The leaves as 'the healing of nations'

Many of the explanations of this verse refer back to the image of the tree in Revelation 22, whose leaves bring health to all the nations.

St Hilary, for example, sees the leaves as the teaching of Christ, the fruit the product of its application:
Now the spiritual significance of the leaves is made clear by a comparison based upon material objects. We see that leaves are made to sprout round the fruits about which they cluster, for the express purpose of protecting them, and of forming a kind of fence to the young and tender shoots. What the leaves signify, then, is the teaching of God's words in which the promised fruits are clothed. For it is these words that kindly shade our hopes, that shield and protect them from the rough winds of this world. These leaves, then, that is the words of God, shall not fall: for the Lord Himself has said: Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away, for of the words that have been spoken by God not one shall fail or fall.
Jerome takes a similar line but suggests that the fruit is the spiritual meaning of Scripture, and the leaves are the literal meaning.  He then argues that even this alone is useful:
Even if one understands Holy Writ only as history, he has something useful for his soul.
Other of the Fathers though, offer I think, rather richer interpretations.

Words and actions

St Augustine interprets the leaves as words (since the words of the Lord last forever) and the fruit as deeds, an interpretation that Cassiodorus explains as follows:
In other words, under no circumstance does his word abandon the truth.  Just as the leaves of a palm-tree are evergreen, so these words implanted in the truth abide with unfailing promises, as the gospel says: Heaven and earth shall pass, but my words will not pass.
Evagrius, on the other hand, sees it going the other way around, with the leaves as the daily tasks and signs of the just person, including a smiling face:
The trees brings forth leaves, and the just one his daily tasks.  And the leaves are tokens of a good soul achieved by means of the body, like the appearance of clothes,  a foot’s stride,  a smiling face.
Similarly, Theodoret of Cyrus stresses cheerfulness as a virtue represented by the foliage of the tree:
You see, champions of virtue reap the fruit of their labours in the future life; but like a kind of foliage they bear sound hope constantly within them, flourishing and exulting, and by their cheerfulness they overcome the rigours of their labours.  They have the generous Lord constantly abetting their enthusiasm: To those who love God, says the divine Apostle, all things work together unto good.  
The promise of God's help

St Thomas Aquinas sees this verse as a promise of God's assistance:
Some trees are kept alive in their underlying substance, but not in the leaves, and others are also kept alive in their leaves: so also the just, whence he says: and his leaf shall not fall off that is, he will not be deserted by God even in the smallest exterior works. "But the just shall spring up as a green leaf." The blessed prosper in all things, and this is when they achieve the intended end with respect to all that they desire, because the just attain blessedness.  
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 of this series can be found here.

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