Sunday, October 30, 2016

Psalm 92 and the sixth day of creation

Weltchronik Fulda Aa88 003r detail.jpg
Rudolf von Ems: Weltchronik. Böhmen (Prag), 3.
Viertel 14. Jahrhundert. Hochschul- und Landesbibliothek Fulda, Aa 88.

Psalm 92 - Dóminus regnávit, decórem indútus est - Festal Lauds/Matins Friday I, 5
Laus cantici ipsi David, in die ante sabbatum, quando fundata est terra.
Praise in the way of a canticle, for David himself, on the day before the sabbath, when the earth was founded.
1 Dóminus regnávit, decórem indútus est: * indútus est Dóminus fortitúdinem, et præcínxit se.
The Lord has reigned, he is clothed with beauty: the Lord is clothed with strength, and has girded himself.
2  Etenim firmávit orbem terræ, * qui non commovébitur.
For he has established the world which shall not be moved.
3  Paráta sedes tua ex tunc: * a sæculo tu es.
2 My throne is prepared from of old: you are from everlasting.
4  Elevavérunt flúmina, Dómine: * elevavérunt flúmina vocem suam.
3 The floods have lifted up, O Lord: the floods have lifted up their voice
5  Elevavérunt flúmina fluctus suos, * a vócibus aquárum multárum.
The floods have lifted up their waves, 4 with the noise of many waters.
6  Mirábiles elatiónes maris: * mirábilis in altis Dóminus.
Wonderful are the surges of the sea: wonderful is the Lord on high.
7  Testimónia tua credibília facta sunt nimis: * domum tuam decet sanctitúdo, Dómine, in longitúdinem diérum.
5 Your testimonies have become exceedingly credible: holiness becomes your house, O Lord, unto length of days.

The kingship of Christ

The reasons for Psalm 92's use in the festal Office are obvious: this is the first of a group of psalms (to Psalm 99) that proclaim the kingship of God, and looks forward to the establishment of his dominion over the earth.

St Alphonsus Liguori, for example, comments:
The psalmist exalts the power that God manifested in creating heaven and earth; and transporting himself in thought to the first moment of creation, he represents to himself God, who in some way proceeds from the mystery of his eternal existence, in order to reveal himself in the production of creatures.
The reasons for its omission in St Benedict's original version of the Benedictine Office perhaps rather less so.

It is true of course that it contains no clear references to morning prayer or dawn.  Still, verses 1-2 and 6 are certainly interpreted by the Fathers as references to the future after the Resurrection, so it fits in well with the general themes we have identified in the psalms of Lauds, thus perhaps explaining its ready acceptance in later versions of the Office.

The days of creation in the Office

One possibility is that St Benedict felt its particular relevance to the day of the week, suggested by the title, outweighed its relevance to his Lauds themes.  

In the past I've mainly talked about a cycle around the life of Christ built into the Benedictine Office, but there are also traces, I think, of a (not unrelated) cycle around the seven days of creation.

St Augustine provides the explanation of how this psalm fits with that:
It is entitled, The Song of praise of David himself, on the day before the Sabbath, when the earth was founded. 
Remembering then what God did through all those days, when He made and ordained all things, from the first up to the sixth day (for the seventh He sanctified, because He rested on that day after all the works, which He made very good), we find that He created on the sixth day (which day is here mentioned, in that he says, before the Sabbath) all animals on the earth; lastly, He on that very day created man in His own likeness and image. For these days were not without reason ordained in such order, but for that ages also were to run in a like course, before we rest in God. But then we rest if we do good works....
And because these good works are doomed to pass away, that sixth day also, when those very good works are perfected, has an evening; but in the Sabbath we find no evening, because our rest shall have no end: for evening is put for end. As therefore God made man in His own image on the sixth day: thus we find that our Lord Jesus Christ came into the sixth age, that man might be formed anew after the image of God. 
For the first period, as the first day, was from Adam until Noah: the second, as the second day, from Noah unto Abraham: the third, as the third day, from Abraham unto David: the fourth, as the fourth day, from David unto the removal to Babylon: the fifth period, as the fifth day, from the removal to Babylon unto the preaching of John. The sixth day begins from the preaching of John, and lasts unto the end: and after the end of the sixth day, we reach our rest. The sixth day, therefore, is even now passing. And it is now the sixth day, see what the title has; On the day before the Sabbath, when the earth was founded.
In this light, Cassiodorus, for example, sees this psalm as primarily celebrating the Incarnation of Christ rather than the Resurrection.  He suggests that:
The first topic describes His beauty, the second His strength, the third His deed, the fourth His power, the fifth praises of the whole creation, the sixth the truth of His words, and the last praise of His house which fittingly basks in eternal joy...
It is worth noting that while some of the Fathers (including St Benedict in my view) seem to place the Incarnation on Sunday or Monday in their schemas, others linked the Incarnation with the creation of man on the sixth day and our redemption through the cross in their commentaries on the Hexameron.

In any case, St Benedict perhaps preferred to focus Lauds on Friday on the major theme of the day, namely the Passion, and on Sunday, to psalms with a more overt focus on the Resurrection, such as Psalm 117.

And you can notes on the last psalm in this series on Lauds, Psalm 99, here.

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