Tuesday, September 6, 2016

St Basil on Psalm 33: Many are the tribulations of the just

St Basil the Great's Homily on Psalm 33 is, I think, one of the great ones and it seems to me to be one of the two commentaries (the other being St Augustine) St Benedict drew on in constructing the Prologue to his Rule.

I may provide some more extracts from it in due course, but for now, as I was reading this commentary this morning, some of it seemed to me particularly helpful in relation to something someone said to me yesterday.

Psalm 33
15  Oculi Dómini super justos : * et aures ejus in preces eórum...
16 The eyes of the Lord are upon the just: and his ears unto their prayers...
17  Clamavérunt justi, et Dóminus exaudívit eos : * et ex ómnibus tribulatiónibus eórum liberávit eos.
18 The just cried, and the Lord heard them: and delivered them out of all their troubles...

18  Juxta est Dóminus iis, qui tribuláto sunt corde : * et húmiles spíritu salvábit.
19 The Lord is near unto them that are of a contrite heart: and he will save the humble of spirit.
19  Multæ tribulatiónes justórum : * et de ómnibus his liberábit eos Dóminus.
20 Many are the afflictions of the just; but out of them all will the Lord deliver them.
20  Custódit Dóminus ómnia ossa eórum : * unum ex his non conterétur...
The Lord keepeth all their bones, not one of them shall be broken..
22  Rédimet Dóminus ánimas servórum suórum : * et non delínquent omnes qui sperant in eo.
23 The Lord will redeem the souls of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall offend.

St Basil: 

...the Lord also says to His disciples: 'In the world you have affliction. But take courage, I have overcome the world´. 

So that, whenever you see the just with diseases, with maimed bodies, suffering loss of possessions, enduring blows, disgraces, all defect and need of the necessities of life, remember that, 'Many are the afflictions of the just; but out of them all will the Lord deliver them. 

Overcoming adversity

And he who says the affliction is not proper to a just man says nothing else than that an adversary is not proper for the athlete. But, what occasions for crowns will the athlete have who does not struggle? 

Four times already in this Psalm it has been told in what manner the Lord delivers from affliction whomever He wishes to deliver. First, 'I sought the Lord, and he heard me; and he delivered me from all my troubles´. Second, 'This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him: and saved him out of all his troubles Third, 'The just cried, and the Lord heard them: and delivered them out of all their troubles.' And lastly, 'Many are the afflictions of the just; but out of them all will the Lord deliver them.

Is it necessary to hold fast to the word and to be satisfied with the thought which readily falls upon our ears, that these bones of the just, the props of the flesh, will not be broken because of the protection given to them by the Lord? Or, will only the bones of the just man who is alive and engaged in life be guarded unbroken? Or, when the bonds of the body have been loosened, will it happen that there will be no cause of breaking for the just man? 

Physical bodies vs spiritual bones

And truly, we have learned by experience that many bones of the just have been broken, when some among them handed themselves over to all forms of punishment for the sake of giving testimony for Christ. Already the persecutors have broken the legs of some and have frequently pierced hands and heads with nails. 

And yet, who will deny that of all, it is the most just who were brought to perfection in the testimony? 

Perhaps, just as the term man is used for the soul and the human mind, so also his members are similarly named in accordance with the members of the flesh; thus, frequently Scripture names the members of the inner man, for example, 'The eyes of a wise man are in his head that is, the hidden part of the wise man is foreseeing and farseeing. And again, it means equally the eyes both of the soul and of the flesh, not only in that saying which we have set forth, but also in the statement that 'the commandment of the Lord is lightsome and enlightening the eyes.'  

But, what should we say concerning this: 'He who has ears to hear, let him hear'?  It is evident, indeed, that some possess ears better able to hear the words of God. 

But, to those who do not have those ears, what does he say? 'Hear, ye deaf, and, ye blind, behold´ Also I opened my mouth, and panted’ and Thou hast broken the teeth of sinners.'  All these things were said in reference to the faculties which render service for spiritual food and spiritual doctrines. Such also is this saying, 'My bowels, my bowels are in pain’ and this, 'And the foot' of the wise man 'shall not stumble’. All such expressions are used in reference to the inner man.

According to the same reasoning there should also be certain bones of the inner man in which the bond of union and harmony of spiritual powers is collected. Just as the bones by their own firmness protect the tenderness of the flesh, so also in the Church there are some who through their own constancy are able to carry the infirmities of the weak. 

And as the bones are joined to each other through articulations by sinews and fastenings which have grown upon them, so also would be the bond of charity and peace, which achieves a certain natural junction and union of the spiritual bones in the Church of God. 

Heal me O Lord for my bones are troubled

Concerning those bones which have been loosened from the frame and have become, as it were, dislocated, the prophet says: 'Our bones are scattered by the side of hell.'  And, if at any time disturbance and agitation seizes upon them, he says in prayer: 'Heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled’.

When, however, they preserve their own systematic arrangement, protected by the Lord, not one of them will be broken, but they will be worthy to offer glory to God. For, he says: 'All my bones shall say: Lord, Lord, who is like to thee?' Do you know the nature of intellectual bones? Perhaps, in reference to the mystery of our resurrection, the Church might use this expression, 'All my bones shall say.' 

Indeed, it is said: 'Thus saith the Lord to these bones: Behold, I will send spirit of life into you, and I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to grow over you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord’ So, these bones, having taken on life and giving thanks for their resurrection, will say, 'Lord, Lord, who is like to thee?'...

The Lord will redeem the souls of his servants

 'The Lord will redeem the souls of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall offend. 'Since those who were created to serve the Lord were being held fast by the captivity of the enemy, He will redeem their souls by His precious blood. Therefore, no one of those who hope in Him will be found in sin. 

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