Sunday, August 27, 2017

Psalm 127 verse 1 - Walking in the way of Christ

Image result for psalm 128 beati omnes
Morgan Library
The first verse of Psalm 127, as I noted in the introductory post, is something of a recapitulation of the key message of St Benedict's ladder of humility, reminding us also that we need both faith and good works. 

Beáti omnes, qui timent Dóminum,* qui ámbulant in viis ejus.
Beatus omnis, qui timet Dominum, qui ambulat in viis eius.

μακάριοι πάντες ο φοβούμενοι τν κύριον ο πορευόμενοι 
ν τας δος ατο
Beáti (Blessed) omnes (all those), qui (who) timent (they fear) Dóminum (the Lord),* qui (who) ámbulant (walk) in viis (the ways) ejus (his).

beatus, a, um  happy, blessed ,fortunate.
omnis, e, all, each, every; subst., all men, all things, everything.
timeo, ui, ere 2 fear, be afraid of
ambulo, avi, atum, are  to walk
via, ae, a way, road, path, street ; fig., God's way; way of life, action, or conduct

Blessed are all they that fear the Lord: that walk in his ways.
Blessed are all they that fear the Lord; who walk in his ways
Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in His ways.
Blessed is every one who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways!
Blessed are all they that fear the Lord, and walk in his ways.
Blessed thou art, if thou dost fear the Lord, and follow his paths!
O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!

Fear of the Lord

The opening phrase takes us back to the first step of humility (St Benedict's Rule chapter 7), fear of the Lord.  The psalm is not, I think, talking just of fear of hell here (though that is sufficient), but rather filial fear based on our acknowledgement that he is God.  Cassiodorus explains it as follows: 
In his first words he has distinguished fear of the Lord from the terror of this world. His words: Blessed are all they that fear the Lord, reveal that those who with troubled mind are apprehensive of the world's dangers in loss of temporal possessions are not blessed. These dangers make men wretched, torturing them with empty fear, so that they experience no growth but a diminution, no ascent but a headlong fall. By contrast, fear of the Lord is the offspring of love, is born of charity, is sprung from sweetness. What devoted fear, consoling the timorous, refreshing the afflicted, experiencing no absence of joy unless the benefit of such fear is laid aside!
Many or one?

The Vulgate puts ‘beatus’ (happy, blessed, fortunate) in the plural, implying many fear the Lord, and follow ‘the way’.  The version from the Hebrew however makes it singular rendering the translation of ‘omnis’ a little more complex.  The RSV preserves the sense quite well with ‘blessed is everyone, but other versions just ignore the ‘all’.  The logic of the latter translation is perhaps to match the next verse, which is in the singular, but St Augustine provides an interpretation that explains the reason for the distinction that is worth considering: 
He speaks to many; but since these many are one in Christ, in the next words he speaks in the singular: For you shall eat the labours of your fruits....When I speak of Christians in the plural, I understand one in the One Christ. You are therefore many, and you are one; we are many, and we are one. How are we many, and yet one? Because we cling unto Him whose members we are; and since our Head is in heaven, that His members may follow....Let us therefore so hear this Psalm, as considering it to be spoken of Christ: and all of us who cling unto the Body of Christ, and have been made members of Christ, walk in the ways of the Lord; and let us fear the Lord with a chaste fear, with a fear that abides forever....
Walking in the way

The second phrase, on walking in’ the way’ (the term the early Christians used to describe our faith) brings us back to the pilgrim theme of this set of psalms.  It is an important reminder that our faith is not true faith if it is not put into practice – even the devil, after all, believes in Christ, hence: 
Not everyone that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. But in every nation, he that feareth him, and worketh justice, is acceptable to him. (Matthew 7:21)
 What is required then, Cassiodorus instructs us, is that we love God with all our heart and soul, and keep his commandments with devoted minds.  In fact St Hilary of Poitiers tells us, fear of the Lord and working in his ways is really the same thing: 
For us, fear of the Lord is a part of love; and its expression is the practice of perfect charity: obey the counsels of God, hold fast to his commandments, trust in his promises.
Psalm 127
Canticum graduum.

1 Beáti omnes, qui timent Dóminum,* qui ámbulant in viis ejus.
Blessed are all they that fear the Lord: that walk in his ways.
2  Labóres mánuum tuárum quia manducábis: * beátus es, et bene tibi erit.
2 For you shall eat the labours of your hands: blessed are you, and it shall be well with you.
3  Uxor tua sicut vitis abúndans: * in latéribus domus tuæ.
3 Your wife as a fruitful vine, on the sides of your house.
4  Fílii tui sicut novéllæ olivárum: * in circúitu mensæ tuæ.
Your children as olive plants, round about your table.
5  Ecce sic benedicétur homo, * qui timet Dóminum.
4 Behold, thus shall the man be blessed that fears the Lord.
6  Benedícat tibi Dóminus ex Sion: *  et vídeas bona Jerúsalem ómnibus diébus vitæ tuæ.
5 May the Lord bless you out of Sion: and may you see the good things of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
7  Et vídeas fílios filiórum tuórum: * pacem super Israël.
6 And may you see your children's children, peace upon Israel.
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

And for the next part in this series go here.

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