Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Psalm 2 - verses 1&2: Why do the nations rage?

 Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, musée Condé, ms.65, f.45v

I want to continue my mini-series on Psalm 2 today with an offering for the second day of Christmas.

As I noted in the introduction, the opening verses of Psalm 2 will be very familiar to anyone who knows Handel's Messiah.  They are also interpreted for us by Scripture in Acts 4, which applies them to the treatment of Christ by the Roman and Jewish authorities.

As today is the feast of St Stephen we can see in these verses a reference to the Jewish leaders first attempts to suppress the Christian cult through his martrydom.  But of course, in the context of Christmas, the very first of the rebellious kings referred to in verse 2 is Herod, in his massacre of the Holy Innocents.

Verse 1: Why do the nations rage?

Looking at the translations

It is worthwhile, I think, to start by looking briefly at how the various translations differ. 

Quare fremuérunt gentes: * et pópuli meditáti sunt inánia?
Jerome's from the Hebrew
Quare turbabuntur gentes, Et tribus meditabuntur inania ?

ἵνα τί ἐφρύαξαν ἔθνη καὶ λαοὶ ἐμελέτησαν κενά

A word by word breakdown for the Vulgate text is:

Quare (why) fremuérunt (they have raged) gentes (the peoples/nations): * et (and) pópuli (the people) meditáti sunt (they have devised/planned/contemplated) inánia (worthless/empty/vain) [things]?

Key vocab:

quare, adv.  interrogative, why? wherefore? from what cause? on what account?
fremo, ui, itum, ere 3  to rage, clamor
gens, gentispeople, nation, the chosen people, the Israelites; gentes, the heathen, the gentiles, i.e., all non-Jewish peoples.
populus, i,., people,  the chosen people; a heathen nationwarlike peoples
meditor, atus sum, ari, to think, plan, devise, meditatecontemplate, murmur
inanis, eempty, vain, worthless; Empty: the Hebrew has longing. St. Jerome has vacua, empty; helpless, powerless. 

Why have the Gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things?
Wherefore did the heathen rage, and the nations imagine vain things?
Monatic Diurnal
Why do the heathens rage and the peoples devise vain things?
Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?
Why do the heathen so furiously rage together? and why do the people imagine a vain thing?
Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
What means this turmoil among the nations? Why do the peoples cherish vain dreams?
Why this tumult among nations, among peoples this useless murmuring?

Rage or turmoil?

The modern Latin neo-Vulgate here sticks with the older Latin traditions, while St Jerome's translation from the Hebrew makes some subtle changes reflected in the Knox and Grail translations, which convey the idea of disruption and turmoil rather than active plotting against the good.

That seems to me an unfortunate emphasis since the verb fremere  used here recurs only once in the psalms, in Psalm 111 (Sunday Vespers), where it has a very similar context to Psalm 2, viz the rebellion of the wicked in the face of God’s action:
Peccator videbit, et irascetur; dentibus suis fremet et tabescet : desiderium peccatorum peribit.  
The wicked shall see, and shall be angry, he shall gnash with his teeth and pine away: the desire of the wicked shall perish.
It is probably also relevant that St Mark uses the same Greek verb to describe (14:5) of Judas’ anger at Mary Magdalene’s use of expensive ointment.

The nations or the Jewish people?

Gentes (the plural of the noun) most often means gentile nations, or, all of the nations of the earth, and several of the translations reflect this.

The Fathers, however, generally interpret this case as a reference to the Jews, albeit acting in this case in collusion with the Romans, against Christ.   The verse arguably serves as rebuke to those who should have understood the numerous prophesies of the Messiah that Christ fulfilled.

Verse 2 picks up this theme.

Verse 2 - The text

A(d)stitérunt reges terræ, et príncipes convenérunt in unum * advérsus Dóminum, et advérsus christum ejus.
consurgent reges terrae et principes tractabunt pariter  adversum Dominum et adversum christum eius

παρέστησαν οἱ βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς καὶ οἱ ἄρχοντες συνήχθησαν ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ κατὰ τοῦ κυρίου καὶ κατὰ τοῦ χριστοῦ αὐτοῦ διάψαλμα


A(d)stitérunt (they stood up) reges (the kings) terræ,(of the earth) et (and) príncipes (the leaders/princes) convenérunt (they assembled) in unum (together) advérsus (against) dóminum (the Lord), et (and) advérsus (against) christum (the anointed) ejus (his).

Key vocab:

asto (adsto), stiti, are. stand,  to stand at, up, by, or near; to stand by the side of to help, to assist; to wait upon; to be, remain; challenge
rex, regism. (rego), a king, ruler; used frequently of men and of God. Of men, Of God, Of the Messias.
terra, ae, f  the earth, in both a lit. and a fig. sense.  orbis terrae, the world;  a country, esp. the Land of Israel
princeps, cipis, m.  prince, ruler, sovereign, leader
convenio, veni, ventum, ire, to come or meet together, to assemble.
unus, a, um, unius, uni, one. in unum = together, into a single group, in concert, unity
adversus or adversum, prep, with ace. against, in an unfriendly sense; Of position, in the presence of, over against, before.
Dominus, i, m. a master, lord, ruler, owner, possessor
Christus, i, m. (xpt(rr6s), Christ, the Messias, the Messianic King, 
is, ea, id,  he, she, it.

The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together, against the Lord, and against his Christ.
The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers gathered themselves together, against the Lord, and against his Christ;
The kings of the earth rise up and the princes take counsel together against the Lord and against his anointed.
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and his anointed, saying
The kings of the earth stand up, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against his Anointed.
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying,
See how the kings of the earth stand in array, how its rulers make common cause, against the Lord, and against the King he has anointed,
They arise, the kings of the earth, princes plot against the Lord and his Anointed.

The leaders against the Church

The kings of the earth and princes means all leaders who stand against the Church, starting with Herod's attempt to murder the infant King, as St Benedict's contemporary Cassiodorus pointed out:
By kings of the earth the psalmist wants us to understand the Herod who in prosecuting the Lord murdered the Innocents, and the other Herod, his grandson, who with Pontius Pilate agreed on the death of the Saviour.  So they are rightly said to have stood up, for they shared the one crime with the harmony of sacrilegious minds.  The psalmist uses the word princes with reference to the Pharisees for the word princeps sometimes means kings and sometimes leaders, princeps literally meaning he who takes first place.  
Cassiodorus particularly, though, interpreted this verse as a reference to the crucifixion: the kings stand up not literally, but but rather than in taking their 'stand' against Christ:
Stood up denotes not physical presence but intention, for at His passion the Lord was clearly in no way in the presence of kings. 
And their assembly, he suggests, was in intent, not meaning physically in one place:
They met together not in one assembly but in one desire
Unity in evil

The verb convenire often has a negative connotation, of plotters coming together to do evil in Scripture (such as the murmerers against Moses and Aaron in Numbers 20:2), and the phrase convenerunt in unum is used in exactly this way in several other places, including to describe the plotting of the Pharisees to try and trap Jesus in Matthew 22:34.

Psalm 47 also uses the phrase, but this time the 'kings of the earth' are confronted with the sight of the new Jerusalem:

4  Quóniam ecce reges terræ congregáti sunt: * convenérunt in unum.
5 For behold the kings of the earth assembled themselves: they gathered together.
5  Ipsi vidéntes sic admiráti sunt, conturbáti sunt, commóti sunt: * tremor apprehéndit eos.
6 So they saw, and they wondered, they were troubled, they were moved: 7 Trembling took hold of them.

The verses have an ongoing application though, as St Liguori makes clear:
By these kings and princes are meant not only Herod, Pilate, and the chief priests of the Jews, but also all the emperors and all the kings of the Gentiles who have persecuted the Church of Jesus Christ. The prophet intimates thereby that the enemies in persecuting Christ have also made war against God; for the Messias, by his miracles had proved that he was the Son of God....
Dom Maurus Wolther, Abbot of Beuron in the nineteenth century, provided a more comprehensive list of those who rage against Christ:
Like the raging billows of the sea, the hostile legions press onward.  Already the prophet discerns the various leaders - in the background, he sees Herod, Pilate Nero, Julian, Mahomet; and, far in the distance, Antichrist; these stand also in his view, Judas Iscariot,Simon Magus, Arius, Photius, Frederick II the Staufer, Luther.
Dom Wolther argues monasteries will always be a particular target of such men, since in them all subject their will perfectly to Christ, standing always in opposition to the raging world of his enemies.

Psalm 2: Quare fremuérunt Gentes
Douay Rheims
Quare fremuérunt Gentes: * et pópuli meditáti sunt inánia?
Why have the Gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things?
2  Astitérunt reges terræ, et príncipes convenérunt in unum * advérsus Dóminum, et advérsus Christum ejus.
The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together, against the Lord, and against his Christ.
3  Dirumpámus víncula eórum: * et projiciámus a nobis jugum ipsórum.
Let us break their bonds asunder: and let us cast away their yoke from us.
 4. Qui hábitat in cælis, irridébit eos: * et Dóminus subsannábit eos.
He that dwells in heaven shall laugh at them: and the Lord shall deride them.
5  Tunc loquétur ad eos in ira sua, * et in furóre suo conturbábit eos.
Then shall he speak to them in his anger, and trouble them in his rage.
6  Ego autem constitútus sum Rex ab eo super Sion montem sanctum ejus, * prædicans præcéptum ejus.
But I am appointed king by him over Sion, his holy mountain, preaching his commandment.
7  Dóminus dixit ad me: * Fílius meus es tu, ego hódie génui te.
The Lord has said to me: You are my son, this day have I begotten you.
8  Póstula a me, et dábo tibi Gentes hereditátem tuam, * et possessiónem tuam términos terræ.
Ask of me, and I will give you the Gentiles for your inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for your possession
9  Reges eos in virga férrea, * et tamquam vas fíguli confrínges eos.
You shall rule them with a rod of iron, and shall break them in pieces like a potter's vessel.
10  Et nunc, reges, intellígite: * erudímini, qui judicátis terram.
And now, O you kings, understand: receive instruction, you that judge the earth.
11  Servíte Dómino in timóre: * et exsultáte ei cum   tremóre.
Serve the Lord with fear: and rejoice unto him with trembling.
12  Apprehéndite disciplínam, nequándo irascátur Dóminus, * et pereátis de via justa.
Embrace discipline, lest at any time the Lord be angry, and you perish from the just way.
13  Cum exárserit in brevi ira ejus: * beáti omnes qui confídunt in eo.
When his wrath shall be kindled in a short time, blessed are all they that trust in him.

And you can find the next part in this series here.

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