Saturday, April 15, 2017

The way to heaven reopened: St Benedict and the Gradual Psalms

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William Blake

Today, the final part of this Lenten series on the Gradual Psalms with some comments from St Jerome, and St Bede.

St Jerome

Today we recall the harrowing of hell, when Christ freed the holy souls to enter heaven.  In this light, St Jerome's comments on the Gradual Psalms emphasises the role of Christ in our ascent of Jacob's Ladder:
These gradual psalms...are called songs of ascent because in them we mount step by step to greater heights...Jacob saw a ladder set up on the ground with its top reaching to heaven, and in heaven the Lord was leaning upon it...
 It is very difficult, indeed, to ascend from earth into heaven.  We fall more easily than we rise.  We fall easily; it requires great labor, a great deal of sweat to climb upwards...
Do not give up hope though the climb is arduous, and difficult, and engenders despair.  Do not lose confidence O man,: the Lord is up there on the fifteenth step.  He is watching over you; he is helping you...Mark what it [Scripture] does say: Jacob saw Him leaning over the ladder.  Just realise what that means: from where He was standing, He stooped down and lowered Himself that we might ascend.  The Lord stooped down; for your sake he humbled himself; climb up, therefore with safety and confidence.
He therefore instructs us to 'meditate upon the mystical significance of Jacob's ladder', for he argues, to climb from earth to heaven requires great pain, severe effort.

St Bede on St Benedict's ladder of humility

Finally, a few comments from St Bede, who takes us back to St Benedict's teaching on the psalms of ascent:
They arrive as far as the steps that come down from the city of David when one has learned to advance by means of spiritual desires from the common life of the faithful to the things of heaven.  For the steps that come down from the city of David to the lower parts of the city of Jerusalem are the aids of divine inspiration or protection by which we should ascend to his kingdom. For David made the steps by which we should ascend to his city when divine mercy taught us the order of the virtues by which we may seek heavenly things and when it granted us the gift of seeking these same virtues.  Doubtless it is about these steps that the psalmist said: Blessed is the man whose help is from you O Lord; he has placed ascents in his heart., and so on until he says: They will walk from virtue to virtue; the God of gods will be seen in Zion. (Ps 83:6-8).  
The builders of the holy city arrive at these steps, therefore, after building the walls of the Pool of Siloa and the King's Garden when, after the mysteries of the Lord's incarnation have been revealed whereby the Gentile world blind from birth  has been cleansed and illuminated, and after the sprouts of good action have begun to grow through faith, holy teachers at the appropriate moment more diligently reveal the progress of the virtues to their hearers, whereby they may ascend to the vision of their Creator, namely him 'of the strong hand' or 'the desirable one', which is the meaning of the name David.   
Benedict, a father very reverend both in his name and in his life, realized that these steps especially consist in humility when, interpreting our journey to celestial things to be designated by the ladder shown to the Patriarch Jacob, by which angels ascended and descended, he distinguished in a very careful and pious examination the steps of the ladder itself as the increments and stages of good works that are performed through humility...(On Ezra and Nehemiah, trans  deGregorio, pp171-2)
I hope you have found this series of use, and wish you a joyous Easter.  Please if you would, remember me in your prayers.

William Blake The Three Maries at the Sepulchre but503-sm.jpg
William Blake The three Marys at the tomb

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