Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Eighth day of Christmas: Psalm 2 - v9 King or shepherd?

MS Laud Misc 165 fol 59.png
Jacobus le Palmer (c1350):
MS Laud Misc 165 fol 59

Reges eos in virga férrea, * et tamquam vas fíguli confrínges eos.
pasces eos in virga ferrea  ut vas figuli conteres eos 
ποιμανεῖς αὐτοὺς ἐν ῥάβδῳ σιδηρᾷ ὡς σκεῦος κεραμέως συντρίψεις αὐτούς

Reges (You shall rule/guide) eos (them) in (with) virga (the rod) férrea ([of] iron) et (and) tamquam (like) vas (vessel) fíguli (potter) confrínges (shatter/destroy) eos (them)
You shall rule them with a rod of iron, and shall break them in pieces like a potter's vessel.
Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces as a potter's vessel.
Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron, and thou shalt shatter them as a potter’s vessel
You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel."
Thou shalt bruise them with a rod of iron, and break them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
Thou shalt herd them like sheep with a crook of iron, break them in pieces like earthenware.
With a rod of iron you will break them, shatter them like a potter's jar."

rego, rexi, rectum, ere 3  to rule, govern, as a shepherd;  to lead, guide; to rule.. Reges: St. Jerome has pasces eos, Thou shalt rule them (as a shepherd).
virga, ae, a rod, staff, scepter, a shepherd's crook.
ferreus, a, um  iron, made of iron
tamquam adv. of comparison, sometimes followed by sic or ita, as, just as, like, as it were.
vas, vasis, n., pi. vasa, orum, a vessel, a utensil of any kind, instrument  
figulus, i, m. a worker in clay, a potter.
confringo, fregi, fractum, ere 3 to break in pieces, shatter; to destroy, bring to naught

The translation issue

This verse confronts us with an interesting translation issue in that while rego generally means to rule or govern, Scripture sometimes uses the Greek equivalent (ποιμαίνω or poimainō ) to mean to shepherd or guide.  St Jerome's translation from the Hebrew interprets the verse as shepherding (Christ the priest?) rather than ruling (Christ the King), and a number of twentieth century translations, including the Knox, follow him here, and translate the 'rod of iron' as a shepherd's crook.

Interestingly, the Hebrew version that has come down to us (ie the Massoretic Text) doesn't really reflect St Jerome's version, hence the King James Version, so familiar to us from Handle's Messiah, translates the verse as 'Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel'.  Here is the MT Hebrew for reference purposes:

תְּרֹעֵם בְּשֵׁבֶט בַּרְזֶל כִּכְלִי יֹוצֵר תְּנַפְּצֵֽם׃

The Kingship of Christ?

I have to say that personally, the image of the potter breaking a flawed creation into pieces, and effectively starting again, doesn't strike me as terribly consonant with the shepherd image.  And it isn't the way the Fathers interpreted the verse, seeing it rather as talking about Christ's kingship.

Cassiodorus, for example, suggests that the rod in question is not the shephard's crook but a symbol of kingly power:
Next the manner of his kingship is described...Rod signifies royal power by which the punishment of His correction is banished to sinners.  It is iron, not because God uses a metal rod for vengeance, but iron’s hardness is apt to describe the rigour of justice.  The rod is that of which the psalmist is to speak in Psalm 44: The rod of thy kingdom is a rod of uprightness.  He subsequently explains what he does with this rod; it is the rod which shatters to bring life, the stick which restrains the weak, the scepter which brings the dead to life.  As applied to humans, a rod (virga) is so called because it governs by its force (vi) and does not allow those who strain to break lose.  
Knox, however, having adopted the shepherd image for this verse, then has to carry it through in the three uses of the verse in the book of Revelation, where it it seems to me that the image fits even less well (in each case the left hand column is the Vulgate; middle the Douay-Rheims-Challoner, right hand side the Knox, sourced from Catholicbible.online.

Revelation 2:
26 Et qui vicerit, et custodierit usque in finem opera mea, dabo illi potestatem super gentes,
26 And he that shall overcome, and keep my works unto the end, I will give him power over the nations.
26 Who wins the victory? Who will do my bidding to the last? I will give him authority over the nations;
27 et reget eas in virga ferrea, et tamquam vas figuli confringentur,
27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron, and as the vessel of a potter they shall be broken,
27 to herd them like sheep with a crook of iron, breaking them in pieces like earthenware;
28 sicut et ego accepi a Patre meo: et dabo illi stellam matutinam.
28 As I also have received of my Father: and I will give him the morning star.
28 the same authority which I myself hold from my Father. And the Star of morning shall be his.

Revelation 12:
Et peperit filium masculum, qui recturus erat omnes gentes in virga ferrea: et raptus est filius ejus ad Deum, et ad thronum ejus,
And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with an iron rod: and her son was taken up to God, and to his throne.
She bore a son, the son who is to herd the nations like sheep with a crook of iron; and this child of hers was caught up to God, right up to his throne,

Revelation 19:

14 Et exercitus qui sunt in cælo, sequebantur eum in equis albis, vestiti byssino albo et mundo.
14 And the armies that are in heaven followed him on white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.
14 the armies of heaven followed him, mounted on white horses, and clad in linen, white and clean.
15 Et de ore ejus procedit gladius ex utraque parte acutus, ut in ipso percutiat gentes. Et ipse reget eas in virga ferrea: et ipse calcat torcular vini furoris iræ Dei omnipotentis.
15 And out of his mouth proceedeth a sharp two edged sword; that with it he may strike the nations. And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God the Almighty.
15 From his mouth came a two-edged sword, ready to smite the nations; he will herd them like sheep with a crook of iron. He treads out for them the wine-press, whose wine is the avenging anger of almighty God.
16 Et habet in vestimento et in femore suo scriptum: Rex regum et Dominus dominantium.
16 And he hath on his garment, and on his thigh written: KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.
16 And this title is written on his cloak, over his thigh, The King of kings, and the Lord of lords.

Reshaping the clay

The vivid imagery of the verse, comparing Christ's work to that of someone shaping a pot is given a rather positive spin by St Augustine, who interprets as the work of conversion.  For him, it is our sins and false desires that are broken; the potters work to reshape us through grace:
That is, You shall break in them earthly lusts, and the filthy doings of the old man, and whatsoever has been derived and inured from the sinful clay. And now; that is, being now renewed, your covering of clay worn out, that is, the carnal vessels of error which belong to your past life, now understand, you who now are kings; that is, able now to govern all that is servile and brutish in you, able now too to fight, not as they who beat the air, but chastening your bodies, and bringing them into subjection.
The broken pot, in other words, Origen argues, symbolizes the contrite spirit described in Psalm 50.

St Thomas Aquinas focuses on the work of grace in this process:
Newly made pots easily broken if in defective form, but can be remade correctly. 
There is a strong warning embedded in this verse though, in its reminder of Christ's power, and the choice all must make to choose good or evil.  As St Aloysius Liguori comments:
This is understood of the power that Jesus Christ has to reward the good and to punish the wicked as easily as the potter can break with a rod of iron his vessels of clay. The rod of iron signifies, moreover, the righteous and inflexible justice of Jesus Christ, which no one can resist.

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.

You can find notes on the next verse of Psalm 2 here.

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