Sunday, June 18, 2017

Those who walk in darkness: Psalm 126 v3

Mosaic of Christ as Sol

Verse 3 of Psalm 126 arguably takes us to that time after Christ's death but before the Resurrection.

Vanum est vobis ante lucem súrgere: * súrgite postquam sedéritis, qui manducátis panem dolóris.
Vanum est vobis ante lucem surgere et sero quiescere, qui manducatis panem laboris,
Frustra uobis est de mane consurgere : postquam sederitis, qui manducatis panem dolorum:

ες μάτην μν στιν το ρθρίζειν γείρεσθαι μετ τ καθσθαι ο σθοντες ρτον δύνης

Vanum Vain) est (it is) vobis (for you) ante (before) lucem (the light) súrgere (to rise): * súrgite (arise) postquam (after) sedéritis (pf subjunctive or fut pf indic - you have been sitting), qui (who) manducátis (you eat) panem (the bread) dolóris (of sorrow).

The Hebrew and Greek texts of this verse that have come down to us diverge quite sharply, whether because of mistranslation, as some commentators speculate, or not.  The Monastic Diurnal follows the Hebrew here, the sense being that it is a waste of time to toil unless God assists.

But the Septuagint/Vulgate seems to be trying to convey a slightly different message, namely that going through the motions of getting up early etc is all to no avail if one is in a state of mortal sin; thus take the time to rest and return to God.  Certainly this second meaning is implied in the liturgy where during certain penitential seasons of the year, the Matins Invitatory is a play on this verse, promising a reward to those who arise early…

ante, prep, with the ace, before, used both of place and time, ante lucem surgere, to rise before the dawn,
lux lucis light
surgo, surrexi, surrectum, ere 3,  rise, stand up; to awake; to rise, to get up from bed or from sleep.
sedeo, sedi, sessum, ere 2, to sit; to rest
manduco, avi, atum, are (mando 3, to chew), to eat.
panis, is, m. bread, food in general
dolor, oris, m.  pain whether of body or of mind, grief, sorrow, affliction. Sin
postquam, conj., after

It is vain for you to rise before light, rise after you have sitten, you that eat the bread of sorrow
It is vain for you to rise early: ye rise up after resting, ye that eat the bread of grief
It is vain that you rise early, and late to retire to rest, ye who eat the bread of toil
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil;
It is but lost labour that ye haste to rise up early, and so late take rest, and eat the bread of carefulness;
Vain, that you should be astir before daybreak, and sit on over your tasks late into the night, you whose bread is so hardly won
In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat

St Augustine summarises the verse as a whole as follows:
If we wish to be guarded by Him who was humbled for our sakes, and who was exalted to keep us, let us be humble. Let no one assume anything unto himself. No man has any good, except he has received it from Him who alone is good. But he who chooses to arrogate wisdom unto himself, is a fool. Let him be humble, that wisdom may come, and may enlighten him. 
To see how he arrives at this, let us look at each of the key phrases in this verse.

Rising before the light/early

Several of the Fathers interpret this as relating to the Resurrection: Christ is the light; we cannot rise until he does; we cannot truly rise to eternal life unless through him. St Augustine, for example, says:
For all indeed shall rise, but not as His beloved. There is a resurrection of all the dead; but what says the Apostle? We shall all rise, but we shall not all be changed.  They rise unto punishment: we rise as our Lord rose, that we may follow our Head, if we are members of Him....Hope for such a resurrection; and for the sake of this be a Christian, not for the sake of this world's happiness. For if you wish to be a Christian for the sake of this world's happiness, since He your Light sought not worldly happiness; you are wishing to rise before the light; you must needs continue in darkness. Be changed, follow your Light; rise where He rose again: first sit down, and thus rise, when He gives His beloved sleep.
Cassiodorus makes the point more succinctly:
It is the person who longs to be granted blessedness in this world who rises before light, whereas the true Light, the Lord Christ, endured many sufferings here, deigning to undergo the gibbet of the cross for our salvation. 
But Cassiodorus also argues that this verse can be seen as referring to the Second Coming:
This psalm says that no joys are to be taken before light, that is, before the Lord's second coming; while Jeremiah warns the people to abandon wickedness before dawn, that is, before Christ's first coming, so that they cannot be found on crooked paths. So the two prophets have touched upon the Lord's two comings. 
Those for whom it is in vain

St Augustine makes it clear whose labour is for nought:
Who rise before Christ? They who choose to prefer themselves to Christ. And who are they who wish to prefer themselves to Christ? They who wish to be exalted here, where He was humble.
Cassiodorus adds:
The person who rises before light still walks in darkness, and cannot advance his journey because of the blackness of the night... 
 Rise after being seated

Cassiodorus explains this as pointing to the need for humility:
They are told: Rise after you have been seated, in other words, endure being humbled first, and after your ascension seek the rewards of joys; for the seating mentioned denotes humility and not distinction.
Some of the early versions of this verse though, in both Greek and Latin, say 'rest' rather than sit, making the connection to the harrowing of hell more obvious.

The bread of sorrow

The bread of sorrow should, according to Cassiodorus, be interpreted as our work of repentance: is perfect Christians who eat the bread of sorrow, for another psalm says of them: Tears were my bread day and night, and: Thou wilt feed us with the bread of tears, and give us for our drink tears in measure. Their sorrow is indeed their bread, since they refresh themselves with affliction, and console themselves with this world's sadness. Bread nourishes us, and this is the effect of the purity with which the faithful consider that punishment is in­flicted on them not for death but for salvation.

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

The next part in this series provides notes on verse 4 of Psalm 126.

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