Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Rebuilding the Church with God's aid: Psalm 126 - v1

Translating the verse

First, focus in the text of the verse.

Nisi dominus aedificaverit domum:* in vanum laboraverunt qui aedificant eam.
Nisi Dominus aedificaverit domum, in vanum laborant, qui aedificant eam.

ἐὰν μ κύριος οκοδομήσ οκον ες μάτην κοπίασαν ο οκοδομοντες ατόν

Nisi (unless) dominus (the Lord) aedificaverit (he will build)  domum (the house):* in vanum (vain) laboraverunt (they have laboured) qui (who) aedificant (they build) eam (it).

nisi, conj. (ne and si), if not, unless.
aedifico, avi, atum, are  to build.
domus, us, /.  house, structure.
vanus, a, um vain, idle, profitless, deceptive, null, empty as to purpose or result.  
laboro, avi, atum, are to toil, labor.

Unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.
Except the Lord build the house, they that build labour in vain
Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.
Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
Except the Lord build the house, their labour is but lost that build it.
Vain is the builder’s toil, if the house is not of the Lord’s building
If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor;

The literal sense of the verse is, toil is useless without God’s help, a sentiment echoed in John 15:5:
I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 
It can be interpreted, though as applying at both the individual and collective levels.

God's guidance of history

St John Chrysostom, for example, interprets it as referring to God's providential guidance of history in relation to the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Exile (as described in Ezra and Nehemiah):
This psalm has to do with the state of affairs after the return. You see, when they were freed from captivity and had returned from the savage country, the city they took possession of was in ruins, and they endeavored to rebuild the walls knocked down along with the towers. But many attacked them from many quarters and hindered the work, envying the prosperity of the Jews and fearful of their success. Then time was spent on doing these things, and so much time that over forty years was devoted to the construction of the Temple, as the Jews also indicated in saying, "The building of this Temple took forty-six years," referring not to the former build­ing of Solomon but to this later one, after the freedom from the Persians. Since, then, much time was spent in building Temple, city and walls (the building of the city, in fact, took much longer), the inspired author wanted to teach them once more to have re­course to God, and so went through all this in detail to show that everything happened without any other rhyme or reason than winning grace from God. That is to say, not only freedom from captivity but also erection of the walls by the recently released was impossible without the grace of God.
If we read the psalm Christologically, though, in the context of the crucifixion, this psalm reminds us that Christ's death was necessary in order to build the Church, which is no longer a physical entity like the Temple of old, but rather the body of Christ, which can never be destroyed: though it be destroyed in a particular time and place, it can be rebuilt through Christ.  Indeed, the Church is always in this constant process of rebuilding.

The work of sanctification

This is not something that can be done apart from Christ though. St Augustine, for example, sees the verse as a reference to the Churches ongoing work of sanctification:
The Lord, therefore, builds the house, the Lord Jesus Christ builds His own house. Many toil in building: but, except He build, their labour is but lost that build it. Who are they who toil in building it? All who preach the word of God in the Church, the ministers of God's mysteries. We are all running, we are all toiling, we are all building now; and before us others have run, toiled, and built: but except the Lord build, their labour is but lost...We, therefore, speak without, He builds within. We can observe with what attention ye hear us; He alone who knows your thoughts, knows what ye think. He Himself builds, He Himself admonishes, He Himself opens the understanding, He Himself kindles your understanding unto faith; nevertheless, we also toil like workmen; but, except the Lord build...
St Hilary of Poitiers sees the verse as directed at us each individually:
 This, then, is the temple of God, filled with his doctrine and his power, able to provide the Lord with room in the sanctuary of the heart. It was of this that the prophet spoke in the psalm: Holy is your temple, made marvellous by his justice. Holiness, justice and righteous­ness are a temple for God, and God ought then to build his house. If it were built by the hands of men, it would not stand; strengthened only by worldly knowledge, it would not hold firm; supported only by our ineffective watchfulness and useless works, it would not be secure. This house must be built and guarded in a very different way: it should not be founded on the earth or on shifting sands, but estab­lished on its proper base, the prophets and the apostles. This house should be built with living stones; with Christ to hold it together as the corner stone, it should grow by the ties that bind all the elements that go to make it up, until it becomes the perfect man and is made perfect as the body of Christ; it should be decorated with the jewels of spiritual graces and shine forth with his beauty" (Tractatus super Psalmos, 126,7-8).
Origen makes the point that our dependence on God does not mean that we are excused from hard work ourselves:
By which words he does not indeed indicate that we should cease from building or watching over the safe keeping of that city which is within us; but what he points out is this, that whatever is built without God, and whatever is guarded without him, is built in vain, and guarded to no purpose.  For in all things that are well built and well protected, the Lord is held to be the cause either of the building or of its protection. 
 ...Of God in Christ Jesus, unless this very good will of ours, and ready purpose, and whatever that diligence within us may be, be aided or furnished with divine help.  And therefore most logically did the apostle say, that “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy;” in the same manner as if we were to say of agriculture what is actually written:  “I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.  So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” First Principles

Psalm 126: Nisi Dominus 
Canticum graduum Salomonis.
A gradual canticle of Solomon.
1.  Nisi Dominus aedificaverit domum:*
 in vanum laboraverunt qui aedificant eam.
Unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.
2.  Nisi Dominus custodierit civitatem:*
frustra vigilat qui custodit eam.
Unless the Lord keep the city, he watches in vain that keeps it.
3.  Vanum est vobis ante lucem surgere:*
surgite, postquam sederitis, qui manducatis panem doloris.
2 It is vain for you to rise before light, rise after you have sitten, you that eat the bread of sorrow.

4.  Cum dederit dilectis suis somnum:*
ecce hereditas Domini, filii merces, fructus ventris.
When he shall give sleep to his beloved, 3 behold the inheritance of the Lord are children: the reward, the fruit of the womb.
5.  Sicut sagittae in manu potentis:* ita filii excussorum.
4 As arrows in the hand of the mighty, so the children of them that have been shaken.
6.  Beatus vir, qui implevit desiderium suum ex ipsis:* non confundetur cum loquetur inimicis suis in porta.
5 Blessed is the man that has filled the desire with them; he shall not be confounded when he shall speak to his enemies in the gate

And for the next part on this series, click on the link for notes on verse 2

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