Thursday, August 31, 2017

Psalm 127 verse 3 - The Church, the spouse of Christ, clinging to the walls of faith

Santa Maria in Trastevere: Christ and Maria Ecclesia enthroned

The third verse of Psalm 127 can of course be interpreted literally, as about the Christian family.  But in the context of the monastic Office in particular, the interpretation the Fathers give to it, as referring to Christ and his Church, is surely the interpretative key we should focus on.

Uxor tua sicut vitis abúndans: * in latéribus domus tuæ.
Uxor tua sicut vitis fructifera in lateribus domus tuae;
Uxor tua sicut uitis fructifera in penetrabilibus domus tuae : 

 γυνή σου ς μπελος εθηνοσα ν τος κλίτεσι τς οκίας
Uxor (the wife) tua (your) sicut (like) vitis (the grapevine) abúndans (abundant): * in latéribus (on the side) domus (the house) tuæ (your)
uxor, oris, a wife.
vitis, is, a vine, grapevine
abundans, overflowing, full, abounding, overflowing, abundant, more than enough
latus, eris, n.,  the side or flank of men or animals; The side or lateral surface of a thing.
domus, us,  a house, structure, abode, dwelling place. the inmates of a house, a family, household.

Your wife as a fruitful vine, on the sides of your house.
Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine on the sides of thy house:
Thy wife is like a fruitful vine on the walls of thy house.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house;
Thy wife shall be as the fruitful vine upon the walls of thine house
Thy wife shall be fruitful as a vine, in the heart of thy home,
The wife like a fruitful vine in the heart of your house;

The translations

The Vulgate (and neo-Vulgate), following the Septuagint, compare a good wife to a fruitful vine adorning the side of the house.  

A number of the early twentieth century commentaries, however, latched on to this verse as a kind of anti-feminist proof-text, and suggested that the Vulgate misrepresents the Hebrew word  יְרֵכָה (yĕrekah), which should be interpreted as ‘within the house’, since the ideal good fertile wife keeps seclusion, citing Proverbs 9:13-14 in support of the claim.  Both the RSV, Grail and Knox translations reflect this approach.

According to Ladouceur's notes on the verse, however, yerekah can mean side, rearside, and access at the rear as well as innermost part.  Moreover the other Scriptural uses of the word refer to the staves placed on the outside of the Ark (Exodus 25:14, 37:5) and someone addressing a person clearly outside the house (Amos 6:10).

The idea of the wife visibly adorning the house, in other words, is perfectly fine.

And this is one of those cases where changing the translation renders some of the Patristic translations incomprehensible.

The wife is the Church

This issue becomes all the more important when one considers that the traditional interpretation of the psalm proposed by the Fathers in fact interprets the wife in question not just as that of a normal family, but also as the Church, as the spouse of Christ.  St Augustine for example says:
Let us now come to the words, Your wife: it is said unto Christ. His wife, therefore, is the Church, His Church, His wife, we ourselves are.
Another possible interpretation, proposed by Cassiodorus is that wife here should be interpreted as a reference to holy wisdom:
Wife is used in the sense of sister; so we must interpret wife here as the wisdom of the blessed man. As Solomon says: He who has desired to take wisdom as his spouse, and elsewhere: Love her, and she will embrace thee.' So she is the wife of the just who grasps her husband in chaste embrace.
 Either way, the Fathers and Theologians were conscious of the dangers of an overly literal interpretation of this verse.  Cassiodorus says:
We must likewise avoid the literal interpretation here too, for you observe that numerous holy men do not have wives and children, and again that wicked men possess all these things. So how can you associate things often withdrawn from good men and assigned instead to the wicked with this aspect of blessedness which has been described?
Similarly St Robert Bellarmine, while noting the virtues and blessing of a large family goes on to comment that:
This, to be sure, is a blessing to a certain extent; but, to give us to understand that it is not so very great a blessing, God was pleased to withhold it from many of his most faithful and devoted friends in the married state, such as Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebecca, Zachary and Elizabeth; and he also inspired many with a resolution of observing holy virginity, such as it is credibly believed of the holy prophets Elias and Jeremias, and is well known of the Blessed Virgin, St John Baptist, St. Joseph, and hosts besides, who certainly would not have been deprived of the happiness had not virginity been a much superior gift.
With that, those saints who never mar­ried, or had no offspring, if they had no family in one sense they had in another, far and away beyond it. Christ, for instance, who is the head of all the saints, was never married, had no children in the flesh, yet he had the Church for his spouse, and children in the spirit, nearly innumerable. So with Abraham, who had only one child by Sara, and yet, by faith, was made the father of many nations; for all the faithful are called "children of Abraham" by the apostle.
And what is more wonderful, these holy men are not only the fathers, but they are even the mothers of those whom they have brought to the faith, or to penance; for they are their fathers by reason of their preaching to them by word and example, and they are their mothers by reason of their praying and sighing for them. The same apostle calls himself father when he says, "I write not these things to shame you, but I admonish you as my dearest children; for, if you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel;" and he calls himself their mother in another place, where he says, "My little children, of whom I am in labor again."
The fruitful vine 

If we interpret the wife as the Church though, how do we reconcile the verse with the often very tarnished public image of the Church?  St Augustine tackles this issue head on, arguing that even when the vine withers in places, it is fruitful in others:
But in whom is the vineyard fruitful? For we see many barren ones entering those walls; we see that many intemperate, usurious persons, slave dealers, enter these walls, and such as resort to fortune-tellers, go to enchanters and enchantresses when they have a headache. Is this the fruitfulness of the vine? Is this the fecundity of the wife? It is not. These are thorns, but the vineyard is not everywhere thorny. It has a certain fruitfulness, and is a fruitful vine; but in whom?
Nonetheless, even when all too many in the Church are thorns rather than fruitful, when even the highest in it are given over to scandalous behaviour, she remains the source of grace through the sacraments.  Accordingly, Cassiodorus argues:
The vine is the begetter of grapes, pouring forth sweet wine and reviving our hearts; in the same way this wife, which is wisdom, contributes glad fruits and brings joy to us with sweet delight.
The house we cling to is Christ

The Fathers made considerable play on the either that the walls of the Church hold us up, hold the vine and train it to  go where it should.  Cassiodorus for example suggests that:
The walls of this house are the two Testa­ments, affording the pious mind the strength and solidity of outside walls.
St Augustine reminds us of the fundamental point though:
Not all are called the sides of the house. For I ask what are the sides. What shall I say? Are they walls, strong stones, as it were? If he were speaking of this bodily tenement, we should perhaps understand this by sides. We mean by the sides of the house, those who cling unto Christ....
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, continue on here.

No comments:

Post a Comment