Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Psalm 45 - God our upholder and protector

Psalm 45: Tuesday Matins I, 1
In finem, filiis Core, pro arcanis. Psalmus.
Unto the end, for the sons of Core, for the hidden.
1 Deus noster refúgium, et virtus: * adjútor in tribulatiónibus, quæ invenérunt nos nimis.
Our God is our refuge and strength: a helper in troubles, which have found us exceedingly.
2  Proptérea non timébimus dum turbábitur terra: * et transferéntur montes in cor maris.
3 Therefore we will not fear, when the earth shall be troubled; and the mountains shall be removed into the heart of the sea.
3  Sonuérunt, et turbátæ sunt aquæ eórum: * conturbáti sunt montes in fortitúdine ejus.
4 Their waters roared and were troubled: the mountains were troubled with his strength.
4  Flúminis ímpetus lætíficat civitátem Dei: * sanctificávit tabernáculum suum Altíssimus.
 5 The stream of the river makes the city of God joyful: the most High has sanctified his own tabernacle
5  Deus in médio ejus, non commovébitur: * adjuvábit eam Deus mane dilúculo.
6 God is in the midst thereof, it shall not be moved: God will help it in the morning early.
6  Conturbátæ sunt Gentes, et inclináta sunt regna: * dedit vocem suam, mota est terra.
7 Nations were troubled, and kingdoms were bowed down: he uttered his voice, the earth trembled.
7  Dóminus virtútum nobíscum: * suscéptor noster Deus Jacob.
8 The Lord of armies is with us: the God of Jacob is our protector.
8  Veníte, et vidéte ópera Dómini, quæ pósuit prodígia super terram: * áuferens bella usque ad finem terræ.
9 Come and behold the works of the Lord: what wonders he has done upon earth, 10 making wars to cease even to the end of the earth.
9  Arcum cónteret, et confrínget arma: * et scuta combúret igni.
He shall destroy the bow, and break the weapons: and the shield he shall burn in the fire.
10  Vacáte, et vidéte quóniam ego sum Deus: * exaltábor in Géntibus, et exaltábor in terra.
11 Be still and see that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, and I will be exalted in the earth.
11  Dóminus virtútum nobíscum: * suscéptor noster Deus Jacob.
12 The Lord of armies is with us: the God of Jacob is our protector.

The songs of Sion

The first psalm of Tuesday Matins is one of the 'songs of Sion', praising the virtues of the heavenly kingdom, a strong theme of the day, given that many of the Matins psalms are also focused on the same topic, while at Terce through Vespers we sing the 'songs of Ascent'.

The psalm was, however, appropriated by Luther as the battle hymn for the Reformation in the form of the hymn 'A mighty fortress is our God', and in Germany had strong nationalistic overtones, with a line that can be interpreted very literally as referring to a very earthly kingdom, viz "The Kingdom must remain ours".

Unsurprisingly, the Fathers tend to take a different view, generally seeing it as referring to Christ and the Church triumphant.

God our susceptor

A particularly key part of this psalm from a Benedictine perspective is the reference to God as susceptor (at least in the Vulgate; the neo-Vulgate rather unfortunately substitutes refugium for susceptor), the key word which is related to suscipere, the verb of the verse used in the profession ceremony.

The Douay-Rheims translates the word as protector, but it has broader connotations then that, as St Augustine's exposition on the verse 7 makes clear:
The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our taker up: Not any man, not any power, not, in short, Angel, or any creature either earthly or heavenly, but the Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our taker up. 
He who sent Angels, came after Angels, came that Angels might serve Him, came that men He might make equal to Angels. Mighty Grace! If God be for us, who can be against us? The Lord of Hosts is with us. What Lord of Hosts is with us? If (I say) God be for us, who can be against us? 
He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all; how has He not with Him also freely given us all things.  Therefore be we secure, in tranquillity of heart nourish we a good conscience with the Bread of the Lord. 
The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our taker up. However great be your infirmity, see who takes you up. One is sick, a physician is called to him. His own taken-up, the Physician calls the sick man. Who has taken him up? Even He. A great hope of salvation; a great Physician has taken him up. What Physician? Every Physician save He is man: every Physician who comes to a sick man, another day can be made sick, beside Him. The God of Jacob is our taker up. 
Make yourself altogether as a little child, such as are taken up by their parents. For those not taken up, are exposed; those taken up are nursed. Do you think God has so taken you up, as when an infant your mother took you up? Not so, but to eternity. For your voice is in that Psalm, My father and my mother forsake me, but the Lord has taken me up.
It is worth noting that the word recurs several times in today's psalms.

 The city of God

The introductions to the psalm provided by the Fathers generally emphasise the eschatological dimensions of the psalm.

This psalm seems to me to contain the prophecy concerning the end of time. Paul, having knowledge of this end, says: 'Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father.   
Or, since our actions lead us to the end, each one to the end proper to itself, the good leading toward happiness, and the base toward eternal condemnation, and since the counsels delivered by the Spirit in this psalm lead those obeying them to the good end, therefore it has been entitled: 'Unto the end inasmuch as it is the record of the teachings for the happy end of human life. Tor the sons of Core'. 
This psalm is also said to be for the sons of Core, whom the Holy Spirit does not separate, since, as with one soul and one voice, with complete harmony toward each other, they utter the words of prophecy, while no one of them prophesies anything at all contrary to the others, but the gift of prophecy is given to them equally because of the equality of their mutual affection for the good. 
Moreover, the psalm is said to be 'for the hidden' that is to say, for secret things, and those buried in mystery. Having meditated on the expressions of the psalm in turn, you will learn the hidden meaning of the words, and that it is not the privilege of any chance person to gaze at the divine mysteries, but of him alone who is able to be a harmonious instrument of the promise, so that his soul is moved by the action of the Holy Spirit in it instead of by the psaltery. 
We know how unto the end can be referred to the Lord Christ. We have said that the sons of Core signifies Christians, in whose persons this psalm is sung. For the hidden denotes the coming of the Lord Saviour, which he has ordered in a wondrously secret way for the salvation of men. 
The sons of Core, who are to be understood as faithful Christians, proclaim in the first section of the psalm that they do not fear the troubles of life, because God is known to be their refuge and strength. 
In the second part they state that Christ appears in the midst of His Church and has deigned to build it on Himself as on the firmest of rocks. 
In the third section the mass of believers is invited to gaze on the great things of God. They say that almighty God shatters the arms of wickedness, banishes wars, and transforms the sadness of the faithful into eternal joys.... 
How brightly this short and healing psalm has gleamed forth! If we take confidence from it by the Lord's kindness, we surmount with strength of spirit the thorns of this world, and in the proverbial phrase we obtain help from tribulation. For in it all hope lies in the coming of the Lord Christ, through whom on our behalf the Church was founded and great wonders became manifest. He who said: My peace I give to you, my peace I leave to you, removed the wars caused by superstitions.
....this psalm is to be understood of the Catholic Church with regard to the victories that she has gained over her persecutors, and her stability under the protection of God.
Our ascent through and to Christ

One final point by way of a footnote.  There is in fact a little puzzle in St Benedict's construction of the Tuesday Office around the gradual psalms and Songs of Sion.

On the face of it, his starting point was the Old Testament canticle at Lauds, the canticle of Hezekiah, which is about King Hezekiah's illness, and then God's gift of fifteen additional years of life, symbolised by the turning back of the sundial.  The connection is that there are fifteen gradual psalms, and Cassiodorus, for example noted that:
 Some commentators think that the fifteen additional years accorded to king Ezechias are related to this parallel, so that the number is shown to have signified also the course of his perfect life.
But if St Benedict subscribed to this view, why does he go to some trouble to have only fourteen of the gradual psalms said on Tuesday, shifting Psalm 128 out of numerical sequence to put it on Monday, rather than on this day when all the other gradual psalms are said?

The answer I think is a play on the three groups (Tuesday is day three of the week) of fourteen 'generations to Christ' set out in Matthew 1, keying off St Augustine's comments on the psalm.  In particular, St Augustine's introduction to Psalm 145 makes the point that we need go no further than Christ:
It is called, A Psalm, to the end, for the sons of Korah, for things secret. Secret is it then; but He Himself, who in the place of Calvary was crucified, you know, has rent the veil, that the secrets of the temple might be discovered. 
Furthermore since the Cross of our Lord was a key, whereby things closed might be opened; let us trust that He will be with us, that these secrets may be revealed. What is said, To the end, always ought to be understood of Christ. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes. But The End He is called, not because He consumes, but because He perfects. For ended call we the food which is eaten, and ended the coat which is woven, the former to consumption, the latter to perfection. 
Because then we have not where to go farther when we have come to Christ, Himself is called the end of our course. Nor ought we to think, that when we have come to Him, we ought to strive any further to come also to the Father. For this thought Philip also, when he said to Him, Lord, show us the Father, and it suffices us. When he said, It suffices us, he sought the end of satisfaction and perfection. Then said He, Have I been so long time with you, and have you not known Me, Philip: he that has seen Me, has seen the Father. In Him then have we the Father, because He is in the Father, and the Father in Him, and He and His Father are One.
On Tuesday's then, our ascent is in and through Christ who perfects us.  In this life, our aim is to become true temples of Christ.  But we have to wait until Sunday, the mysterious 'eighth day' (which St Augustine repeatedly informs us added to the seven days of creation makes 15, and thus takes us to the number of psalms to be said each week) that we are to step beyond, into heaven...

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