Saturday, October 1, 2016

Psalm 1 verse 5 - The wicked man as dust blown about in the wind

File:The "Ozymandias Collossus", Ramesseum, Luxor, Egypt.jpg
The Ozymandias Colossus, inspiration for Shelley's poem 

The second section of Psalm 1 contrasts the happy state of the blessed man with that of the wicked man who rejects God, and refuses to repent: first we are instructed on the rewards that come from following Christ, then warned of the perils of failing to do so.  We are invited, as St Jerome says, to to 'meditate on the future life and on eternity'.

Non sic impii, non sic; sed tamquam pulvis quem proiicit ventus a facie terrae.
Non sic impii, non sic, sed tamquam pulvis, quem proicit ventus.
Non sic impii; sed tamquam puluis quem proicit uentus.

οὐχ οὕτως οἱ ἀσεβεῖς οὐχ οὕτως ἀλλ' ἢ ὡς ὁ χνοῦς ὃν ἐκριπτεῖ ὁ ἄνεμος ἀπὸ προσώπου τῆς γῆς

Non (not) sic (like/so) impii (the wicked) non (not) sic (like); sed (but) tamquam (like) pulvis (the dust) quem (that) proiicit (it sweeps away) ventus (the wind) a facie (from the face) terrae (of the earth).

sic, adv., so, thus, in this manner, in such a manner
impius, ii, m. sinners, the wicked, the godless
tamquam adv. of comparison,  as, just as, like, as it were.
pulvis, eris, m., dust.
projicio, jeci, jectum, ere 3  to cast, cast away, off, down or forth, cast;  cast upon, i.e., commit to the care of;  drive away, scatter, or sweep away, as wind does dust, reject.
ventus, i, m., the wind
facies, ei,  face, countenance, appearance; presence; from, from before, from one's presence, sight, eyes, etc. (a) because of.

Not so the wicked, not so: but like the dust, which the wind drives from the face of the earth.
Not so the ungodly; not so: but rather as the chaff which the wind scatters away from the face of the earth.
Not so the impious not so!  Rather they are like the dust that the wind flings from off the land.
Not so the wicked not so.  They are like the chaff that the wind sweepeth from the earth.
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff which the wind drives away.
As for the ungodly, it is not so with them; but they are like the chaff, which the wind scattereth away from the face of the earth.
Not such, not such the wicked; the wicked are like chaff the wind sweeps away.
Not so are the wicked, not so! For they like winnowed chaff shall be driven away by the wind.

The wicked vs the sinner

St Jerome draws an important distinction in this section of the psalm, between the wicked and the sinner:
The psalmist did not say, not so the sinners, for if he had said sinners we would all then be excluded from reward…There is a difference between the wicked and sinners.  The wicked deny God altogether; the sinner acknowledges God and in spite of his acknowledgement commits sin…
The objective of this section of the psalm is to encourage us to turn away from sin, and avoid joining the company of the atheist.


The Septuagint and Vulgate use the word dust (pulvis), which Britt notes in his Dictionary of the Psalter has a number of figurative meanings in Scripture, including as a symbol of a low and wretched condition; to denote that which is unstable, a symbol of the wicked and of their works; the dead; and the dust, from which frail mortal man is made. Certainly, the Fathers made great use of the  
The promises offered to the just  are now contrasted with the fate of those who fail to heed the call to conversion, as St Robert Bellarmine explains:
…the wicked, wanting the divine grace, dry and barren, like the finest dust scattered by the wind, leave no trace of themselves, and not only lose glory, wealth, and pleasure – but even themselves, in the bargain, for all eternity.
St Thomas Aquinas explains the significance of the comparison to dust further: 
They are compared properly to dust, because dust has three things that are said of the just man; that dust does not stick to the earth, but it is on the surface, but a planted tree has roots. Again a tree is held together in itself, and it is moist; but dust is divided, dry and arid; through this we have a sign that good men are united like a tree by charity. Again, good men cling as with roots in spiritual things and divine goods, but evil men are sustained in exterior goods. Again, they are without the water of grace, "For dust thou art" etc And so all their malice flows away.
Cassiodorus offers a slightly different take on the image, seeing it as the wicked man storm tossed by his vices:
Dust is loosened earth, and the earthly man when puffed up with the seductive wind of pride is cast away like dust from the solid land of the living.  Because he could not maintain his stance on the firm ground of the commandments through lack of weight, the wicked man is rightly called dust, for like a thin substance he is tossed in the air by the blasts of vices…
Either way, the Hebrew Masoretic Text offers a different image, that of the chaff separated from the wheat by the action of the winds.

And for the next part of this series, continue on here.

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