Friday, December 29, 2017

Psalm 2 - verse 4&5: Can we mock and deride evil-doers?

Christ Crowned and Mocked, c1530
Verses 4&5 of Psalm 2 invites us to see the irony in the fate of those who plotted against Christ: those who mocked Christ shall in turn be mocked and condemned, shall be the subject of God's anger and rage.

Qui hábitat in cælis, irridébit eos: * et Dóminus subsannábit eos. 
qui habitat in caelis inridebit eos  et Dominus subsannabit eos 
habitator caeli ridebit  Dominus subsannabit eos 

 κατοικῶν ἐν οὐρανοῖς ἐκγελάσεται αὐτούς καὶ  κύριος ἐκμυκτηριεῖ αὐτούς

Qui (who) hábitat (he lives) in cælis (in the heavens), irridébit (he will/shall laugh at) eos (them): et (and) Dóminus (the Lord) subsannábit (he will mock) eos (them). 

habito, avi, atum, are (freq. of habeo), to dwell, abide, live.
caelum, i, n., or caeli, orum, m. heaven, the abode of God; the heavens as opposed to the earth; the air; caelum caeli, or caeli caelorum is a Hebraism signifying the highest heavens, the heaven of heavens.
irrideo, risi, risum, ere 2 to laugh at, mock.
subsanno, avi, atum, are, to mock, deride, laugh to scorn.

He that dwells in heaven shall laugh at them: and the Lord shall deride them.
He that dwells in the heavens shall laugh them to scorn, and the Lord shall mock them.
He that dwelleth in heaven doth mock them, and the Lord doth laugh them to scorn.
He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD has them in derision.
He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn; the Lord shall have them in derision.
He who dwells in heaven is laughing at their threats, the Lord makes light of them
He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord is laughing them to scorn.

This verse points to the ridiculousness of the plot against Christ.  Cassiodorus notes that:
...they tried to set up false witnesses against the truth, they preferred to crucify the Lord of glory, and they stupidly sealed up the burial chamber of the almighty Christ.  
Their efforts are rendered futile by Christ's triumph, since, as Theodoret points out:
He who was crucified by them and given over to death is heaven, he has all things in his grasp, and he shows their plans to be vain and futile.  His Father, Lord of all things, will inflict a fitting punishment on them.
How should we view the idea that God mocks and derides the plotters though?  Is this, as some modern commentaries suggest, simply an anthropomorphism intended to convey an idea, but not something to imitate?

God's mockery and the call to repentance

The first point to note is that mockery and derision can be a tool that can make people realise the ridiculousness of their actions.  Proverbs 1:20-29, for example, instructs us to heed the warnings given now lest God refuse to help us in a time of crisis:
And all the while Wisdom is publishing her message, crying it aloud in the open streets; never a meeting of roads, never a gateway, but her voice is raised, echoing above the din of it. What, says she, are you still gaping there, simpletons? Do the reckless still court their own ruin? Rash fools, will you never learn?  Pay heed, then, to my protest; listen while I speak out my mind to you, give you open warning. Since my call is unheard, since my hand beckons in vain,  since my counsel is despised and all my reproof goes for nothing, it will be mine to laugh, to mock at your discomfiture, when perils close about you.  Close about you they will, affliction and sore distress, disasters that sweep down suddenly, gathering storms of ruin.It will be their turn, then, to call aloud; my turn, then, to refuse an answer. They will be early abroad looking for me, but find me never; fools, that grew weary of instruction, and would not fear the Lord.
The key, Cassiodorus suggests, is the spirit with which we adopt these tactics: we in our turn must avoid malice and anger, and use ridicule only as a means to advance the cause:
The words, He shall laugh and He shall deride and similar expressions are to be understood as appropriate to our own practice.  
God and emotions

The eternal Godhead, though, it should be clear, does not act out of emotion.  As Cassiodorus puts it:
But the Lord does not laugh with spleen, nor deride with his countenance, rather he carries out his purposes by his own power in the spirit.
Nonetheless, on the receiving end, we should indeed take note of what is sent to us from God, and as humans, receive it emotionally.  The challenge is to use these emotions positively, to push us into right action.

The previous verse pointed to the rebels being made to feel foolish for rebelling against God; this verse points to more serious consequences.

The previous verse pointed out the ridiculousness of plotting against an omniscient and omnipotent God; in this verse derision turns to consequences.

Tunc loquétur ad eos in ira sua, * et in furóre suo conturbábit eos. 

τότε λαλήσει πρὸς αὐτοὺς ἐν ὀργῇ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐν τῷ θυμῷ αὐτοῦ ταράξει αὐτούς

Tunc (then) loquétur (he will speak) ad (to) eos (them) in (in+ablative) ira (the anger) sua (his), et (and) in (in, with) furóre (rage) suo (his) conturbábit (he will confound) eos (them).

tunc, adv. denoting a point of time which corresponds with another; then, at that time. as a subst.
loquor - to speak, talk, say, tell, mentio
ira, ae, f anger, wrath
furor, oris, m. (furo), rage, wrath, fury, indignation
conturbo, avi, atum, are, confuse, disturb, derange, disorder, confound  to trouble, disquiet, discomfit, dismay; to disturb in mind, cause anxiety.

Then shall he speak to them in his anger, and trouble them in his rage.
Then shall he speak to them in his anger, and trouble them in his fury.
Then in his anger he sspeaketh to them, and in his wrath confoundeth them.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,
Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure
and at last, in his displeasure, he will speak out, his anger quelling them:
Then he will speak in his anger, his rage will strike them with terror.

 The Fathers generally interpreted this verse as being fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans forty years after Christ's death: the vengeance of God for their failure to repent of their rejection of Christ.  Theodoret for example says:
The fulfillment of the story teaches us the interpretation of these words: a Roman army assailed them, plundered the city and burnt down the Temple; most of them were put to death, while those who escaped the slaughter were taken captive and reduced to slavery.
In this life, God's anger - the effects of the withdrawal of his grace - can be averted by repentance and penance; there comes a point though where the consequences are unavoidable, for God is justice, as St Liguori points out:
God spoke to the wicked, and confounded them, not by words, but by the terrible punishments that he inflicted on them. We here observe that God never does anything in anger, as men do when they act through passion and with trouble of mind ; for the Lord disposes and does everything with moderation and in tranquillity. Hence, when one reads in Scripture that God becomes angry, we are to understand that he chastises sinners, not to conduct them to eternal salvation, as he often does in regard to some whom he chastises in order to bring them to repentance, but only that he is chastising them solely to punish them, and to give free course to his justice.

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 continue on to the next set of notes.

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