In any commentary on a portion of the Old Testament by a writer unacquainted with Hebrew, exact criticism, and freedom from mistake, must not be expected. But the Psalms have been so in the mouth and in the heart of God's people in all languages, that it has been necessary often to find an explanation suitable to imperfect translations. And no doubt it is intended that we should use such explanations for the purpose of edification, when we are unable to be more accurate, though in proving doctrine it is necessary always to remember and allow for any want of acquaintance with the original, or uncertainty with respect to its actual meaning. However, the main scope and bearing of the text is rarely affected by such points as vary in different translations, and the analogy of the faith is sufficient to prevent a Catholic 4 mind from adopting any error in consequence of a text seeming to bear a heterodox meaning. Perhaps the errors of translation in the existing versions may have led the Fathers to adopt rules of interpretation ranging too far from the simple and literal; but having such translations, they could hardly use them otherwise. Meanwhile St. Augustin will be found to excel in the intense apprehension of those great truths which pervade the whole of Sacred Writ, and in the vivid and powerful exposition of what bears upon them. It is hardly possible to read his practical and forcible applications of Holy Scripture, without feeling those truths by the faith of which we ought to live brought home to the heart in a wonderful manner. His was a mind that strove earnestly to solve the great problems of human life, and after exhausting the resources, and discovering the emptiness, of erroneous systems, found truth and rest at last in Catholic Christianity, in the religion of the Bible as expounded by St. Ambrose.
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The Expositions On The Psalms
St. Augustine of Hippo
Saint Augustine – A Biography
The Expositions On The Psalms
Prayer of St. Augustin.
The Expositions On The Psalms, St. Augustine
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
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Augustine(Aurelius Augustinus) was a Saint, a doctor of the Latin church, born at Tagaste, a small town of Numidia in Africa, not far from Carthage, Nov. 13, 354, died Aug. 28, 430. His father, Patricius, was a pagan nobleman of moderate 'fortune, while his mother, Monica, who has been canonized by the church, was an earnest Christian. Augustine was sent to the best schools of Madaura and Carthage. His own "Confessions" tell us that his conduct at this period of his life was far from exemplary. His studies, chiefly in the heathen poets, were more favorable to the development of his fancy and his style than to his Christian growth. The death of his father, which threw him upon his own resources, and the influence of some philosophical works, especially the Hortensius of Cicero, roused him to a diligent search after truth. Unable to find this in the writings of the Greek and Roman sages, and dissatisfied with what seemed to him the crude and fragmentary teachings of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, he adopted the dualism of the Manichgeans. At the age of 29 he went to Rome. There his reputation as a teacher of eloquence soon rivaled that of Symmachus, then at the height of his renown. On the recommendation of that orator, he was called to Milan as a teacher of rhetoric.
Ambrose was then bishop of Milan, and Augustine's first care was to know so famous a preacher. After repeated interviews with Ambrose, the conversion of his own illegitimate son, and the entreaties of his mother, he resolved to embrace Christianity. The history of his conversion forms the most striking chapter in his "Confessions." After eight months of seclusion, which he spent with his mother and brother and son, preparing for his confirmation in the church, and maturing his plans for the future, Augustine in the Easter week of 387 was baptized, together with his son and brother, by the hand of Ambrose. He at once set out on his return to Africa. On the way his mother died, and a small chapel among the ruins of Ostia marks the traditional spot of her burial. The death of his son, which took place soon after his return, confirmed his inclination to the monastic life. He retired to Tagaste, and passed nearly three years in studious seclusion, varied only by occasional visits to the neighboring towns. On one of these visits, when he was present at the church in Hippo, a sermon which the bishop Valerius delivered, asking for a priest to assist him in his church, turned all eyes toward this famous scholar. No refusals were allowed, and Augustine was ordained.
Preaching was soon added to his duties, an exception being made in his case to the usual rule, and the periods of the African orator, in harsh Latin or the harsher Punic tongue, were received with vehement applause. He was soon called to be assistant bishop, and then, on the death of the elder prelate, the whole charge of the church of Hippo was entrusted to his care. He retained the office until his death, a period of 35 years. The details of his episcopal life are minutely related by his friend Possidius. He preached every day and sometimes twice in the day; was frugal in his domestic arrangements, being a strict ascetic, and requiring of his attendant priests and deacons an equal simplicity of diet and dress; given to hospitality, yet without display; warmly interested in every kind of charity; courteous in his bearing, welcoming even infidels to his table; bold against all wickedness and wrong, whatever the rank of the transgressor; and untiring in his visits to widows and orphans, to the sick and the afflicted. He disputed with Manichajans, Arians, the followers of Priscillian, of Origen, and Tertullian, the Donatists, and the Pelagians, and allowed no doubtful utterance of doctrine to pass without his questioning.
To his industry in controversy must be added his vast correspondence with emperors, nobles, doctors, missionaries, bishops, in every quarter of the globe, on questions of dogma, of discipline, and of policy his solid works of commentary, criticism, morality, philosophy, and theology, and even his poetry, for to him are attributed several of the sweetest hymns of the Catholic anthology. The titles alone of the works of Augustine make a long catalogue. The single volume of "Sermons" contains nearly 700 pieces, shorter indeed and less ornate than the celebrated sermons of Basil and Chrysostom, but justifying Augustine's reputation for sacred oratory. The volume of "Commentaries on the Psalms" is more rich in practical remarks than in accurate learning. His remarks upon the "Four Gospels" are more valuable. His work on the "Care that should be taken for the Dead" contains some striking views concerning the relation of the living to disembodied souls. The volume of his "Epistles" is remarkable, as illustrating his best style and the finest traits in his character.
The name of Augustine, in the dogmatic history of the church, is best known in connection with the heresy of Pelagius; but his works which are most widely known are the "Confessions" and "The City of God." In the former, written just after his conversion, he gives a history of his life up to that time, not so much in its outward circumstance as in its inward experience and change. It has been translated into every Christian tongue, and is classed with the choicest memorials of devotion, both in Catholic and Protestant oratories. His treatise on "The City of God" (De Civitate Dei) is the monument of highest genius in the ancient church, and in its kind has never been surpassed. Its immediate purpose was to vindicate the faith of the gospel against the pagans, who had just devastated Rome. The first five books confute the heathen thesis that the worship of the ancient gods is essential to human prosperity, and that miseries have only come since the decline of this worship. The five following books refute those who maintain that the worship of pagan deities is useful for the spiritual life.
The remaining twelve books are employed in setting forth the doctrines of the Christian religion, under the somewhat fanciful form of "two cities," the city of the world and the city of God. The influence of Augustine upon his own age, and upon all succeeding ages of Christian history, cannot be exaggerated. It is believed that he was at once one of the purest, the wisest, and the holiest of men; he was equally mild and firm, prudent and fearless; at once a philosopher and a mystic, a student and a ruler. Of his singular humility manifold instances are recorded. His severe self-discipline matches the strictest instances of the hermit life. In his " Retractations," begun after the close of his 70th year, he reviews his writings, taking back whatever is doubtful or extravagant, and harmonizing discordant opinions. The aid of a coadjutor relieved Augustine in his latter years of a portion of his responsibility; yet questions of conscience were constantly presented to him. When Genseric and his Vandals showed themselves on the coasts of Africa, the question was put to him if it were lawful for a bishop at such a season to fly and leave his flock. The answer which he made was illustrated by his own course.
He calmly waited for the threatened approach, and when the fleet of the foe was in the bay of Hippo, and the army was encamped before the walls, exerted himself only to quiet the fears and sustain the faith of his brethren. He died of fever before the catastrophe. The bishop Possidius, who watched at his bedside, gives an edifying account of his last days, and of the grief of the people at his loss. His relics were transported to Italy, and mostly rest at present in the cathedral of Pavia. Within the present century the bone of his right arm has, with solemn pomp, been returned to the church of Bona in Algeria, which occupies the site of ancient Hippo. The best edition of Augustine's works is that of the Benedictines, published at Paris and at Antwerp' at the close of the 17th century, in 11 vols, folio. An edition in 11 volumes was also published in Paris in 1836-'9. An additional volume of sermons, before unpublished, found at Monte Casino and Florence, was published at Paris in 1842. An English translation by various hands has been undertaken at Edinburgh, under the editorship of the Rev. Marcus Dods, the 3rd and 4th volumes of which appeared in 1872.
Thedelightful task of editing these Enarrations, which was what I undertook, became, indeed, a very painful one when the general editor informed me that the whole work must be comprised in a single volume of the series. This allowed but one hundred pages to each one of the six volumes of the Oxford translation. But I felt that my learned friend was right (1) in deciding that St. Augustin’s treatment of the Psalms must not be wanting to the series, and (2) that the exposition is so diffuse and digressive, that it readily admits of abridgement, if these exceptional features supply the material for retrenchments. In working out the result, I have “done what I could.” I have preserved the African Psalter entire, with as much of the comment as was possible; even so overrunning, at the publishers’ cost, the six hundred pages which were all subscribers might expect. The only means of avoiding this was to omit entirely the CXIX Psalm, an expedient to which I could not consent.
To the primitive believers came the Psalter, like an aftermath, wet with the dews of a new birth as from the womb of the morning. The Spirit had descended upon it anew, as showers upon the mown grass; and it had sprung up afresh, sweeter than before, for the pasture of flocks. The Church received it as full of Christ, as the inheritance of a nobler and truer Israel, for which His coming had illuminated it with a genuine interpretation, painting even its darker and clouded surfaces with the bow of promise, now made the symbol of an everlasting covenant and of all promises fulfilled in Him. Hence the local and temporary meanings of the Psalms were regarded as insignificant. Their Sinaitic comminations and their conformities to the Law were but prophecies which the Jews had voluntarily appropriated by rejecting the Son of David. They were types of what had been fulfilled in their rejected Messiah. The Church received the Psalter from the temple and the synagogue, and adopted it into liturgic use, “with hymns and spiritual songs,” all magnifying the crucified and glorified Christ. With the fulfillment of prophecy by the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the Jews, everything pertaining to the law was sloughed from its ripened stalk; and the Psalter blossomed with the consummate flowers and fruitage which were its deeper intent, and which had waited so long to be disclosed. The true David had come, and little thought of the typical David was to be entertained: the true Israel was to be seen everywhere, and the dead images of legal rites and symbols were to be interpreted only by the Gospel. To bring out its hidden meanings, the reading and chanting of the Psalter received the accentuation of antiphons and doxologies, and constantly elevated the worshippers into the newness of the spirit out of the oldness of the letter. Thus the whole book breathed a sweetness unknown to the Hebrews, but for which kings and prophets had patiently waited. The name of Jesus disclosed itself in every reference to salvation, and perfumed these sacred odes with a flavour that could come only from “the Root and the Offspring of David.” Such was the Psalter to the primitive faithful: the walk of Emmaus had opened their eyes to behold the Lord. To the true interpretation of the Psalms St. Paul had supplied the key, and from the beginning of the Church’s institutions we find evidences of the enthusiasm with which the Psalter was appropriated in all of the richness of its evangelic import. The earliest Fathers are full of what the genius of Augustin has embodied in his Enarrations, which nobody must confound with works of scientific exegesis. The author’s one idea was widely different from that of modern critics. His “accommodations” of Scripture, as they would now be called, are part of the system which the Church had received, of which Christ was the Alpha and the Omega, and in which the foreshadowing David was nowhere. He who comes to this volume with any other conception of its uses will be sadly disappointed. In the critical study of the Psalms, with all of the modern helps, such as Delitzch and others have so richly supplied, let us not fail to exercise ourselves day and night; but if, as Christians, we wish to catch the living Spirit that animates the “wheels” or mechanical structure of the Psalms, let us learn from Augustin that indeed in every sense a greater than David, a “greater than Solomon, is here.” The fanciful ingenuity with which our author interweaves the New Testament with the Psalms will at first provoke a smile. His ideas seem often overstrained and unnatural. But let us reflect that he is animating the Church of Christ with the true “spirit of prophecy,” which is the “testimony of Jesus;” that his object is to hang Gospel associations upon every stem and twig that come from the root of Jesse, and to wean even the Hebrew Christians from their instinctive references to the Law. Let us adopt these joint conceptions of the work, and we shall find in it a glorious illustration of the Apostle’s assurance, “Ye are not come unto the mount that burned with fire, …but unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, …and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.”
In every way the divine and the student will find this work, even as here presented, a noble introduction to patristic studies. Let us observe also what it proves. It gives us the old African psalter in all its rude and uncouth conceptions of the Septuagint, and teaches us how much we owe to the erudition and labours of St. Jerome. First of all, the dignity of the Holy Scriptures, and their importance to all Christians, are assumed. Its historical values are very great: it shows the absolute freedom of the early Church fro the corruptions of mediaevalism. The Pentecostal unity of Christendom, the Catholic and Apostolic system as defined in the constitutions of Nicaea and Constantinople, the autonomy of national Churches, the independence of the African Church (illustrated by the personal history of Augustin, who rejected communion with the Bishop of Rome when he stretched his claims beyond seas), and the dogmatic primacy of the patriarchate of Carthage in Latin Christendom as the mother of its theology, are assumed in every reflection upon the Donatists, and in the tone and voice of the great preacher himself, to whom the Western Churches owe all that survives their schism and corruptions, even to our own day. But the ethical and doctrinal teacher will find the charm of these pages, (1) in their correspondence with the evangelical precepts of the Sermon on the Mount, and their freedom from the tainted distinctions and dilutions of modern casuists; (2) in their perpetual enforcement of the Pauline ideas of justification, harmonized successfully with those of St. James; (3) in the faithful exhibition of the doctrines of grace; (4) and in the loyalty to Jesus Christ of every word; abasing human merit, and presenting Him as “the end of the law for righteousness,” with an uncompromising tenacity, and a persevering reiteration of this fundamental verity which seems to foresee the gross departure of Western Churches from their original purity, and to “lay an anchor to windward” for their restoration to orthodoxy.
The readers of this volume will need little reference to the innumerable commentaries which have been devoted to the Psalter; but I must mention the exceptional work of the late erudite J. Mason Neale, D.D., because it throws light on the liturgical history of the Psalter the Western Churches. The learned commentary of the late Bishop of Lincoln, Dr. Wordsworth, will be found to combine in a remarkable degree, with critical exposition, the Augustinian spirit of devout evangelical associations and elevations.
The editor of this volume blesses God for much spiritual help and comfort afforded by the review of these “songs of our pilgrimage,” with which his task has enriched the latest years of that period of our mortality beyond which all is but labour and sorrow.
May 10, 1888.
A. C. C.
Itremains to note that I have had the Benedictine edition in the types of Louvain and of Migne constantly at hand, and have referred to them not only in all cases of doubt, but for general refreshment of mind; the epigrammatic beauty and consonance of Augustin’s Latin being untranslatable. From the Oxford translations I have rarely departed, and in all important instances have noted the wherefore in the margin. It was not the design of this series to give the reader any other than the masterly work of the scholars to whom we owe its appearance. Other instances have been such inconsiderable adaptations as are demanded in the suture of parts dislocated by abridgment. My brief annotations are always bracketed and marked by an initial of my name.
Itseems necessary to give the following outline of the history of this Oxford translation. It was undertaken as part of the great series of original translations which appeared “under the patronage of William, Archbishop of Canterbury, from its commencement, a.d. 1836, until his Grace’s departure in peace, a.d. 1848.” It proposed to include all the “Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church before the division of the East and West,” and this exposition was dedicated as a memorial of Archbishop Howley in the following words:—
“To the memory of the most reverend father in God, William, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of all England, formerly Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford, this Library of ancient bishops, fathers, doctors, martyrs, confessors, of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church, undertaken amid his encouragement, and carried on for twelve years under his sanction, until his departure hence in peace, is gratefully and reverently inscribed.”
The preface to the first volume was by the saintly Charles Marriott of Oriel College, with whom I enjoyed some acquaintance. It is well worth preserving here, and is as follows:—
Inany commentary on a portion of the Old Testament by a writer unacquainted with Hebrew, exact criticism, and freedom from mistake, must not be expected. But the Psalms have been so in the mouth and in the heart of God’s people in all languages, that it has been necessary often to find an explanation suitable to imperfect translations. And no doubt it is intended that we should use such explanations for the purpose of edification, when we are unable to be more accurate, though in proving doctrine it is necessary always to remember and allow for any want of acquaintance with the original, or uncertainty with respect to its actual meaning. However, the main scope and bearing of the text is rarely affected by such points as vary in different translations, and the analogy of the faith is sufficient to prevent a Catholic mind from adopting any error in consequence of a text seeming to bear a heterodox meaning. Perhaps the errors of translation in the existing versions may have led the Fathers to adopt rules of interpretation ranging too far from the simple and literal; but having such translations, they could hardly use them otherwise. Meanwhile St. Augustin will be found to excel in the intense apprehension of those great truths which pervade the whole of Sacred Writ, and in the vivid and powerful exposition of what bears upon them. It is hardly possible to read his practical and forcible applications of Holy Scripture, without feeling those truths by the faith of which we ought to live brought home to the heart in a wonderful manner. His was a mind that strove earnestly to solve the great problems of human life, and after exhausting the resources, and discovering the emptiness, of erroneous systems, found truth and rest at last in Catholic Christianity, in the religion of the Bible as expounded by St. Ambrose. And though we must look to his Confessions for the full view of all his cravings after real good, and their ultimate satisfaction, yet throughout his works we have the benefit of the earnestness with which he sought to feed on the “sincere milk of the word.”
His mystical and allegorical interpretation, in spite of occasional mistakes, which belong rather to the translation than to himself, will be found in general of great value. It is to a considerable extent systematic, and the same interpretation of the same symbols is repeated throughout the work, and is indeed often common to him with other Fathers. The “feet” taken for the affections, “clouds” for the Apostles, and many other instances, are of very frequent occurrence. And it is evident that a few such general interpretations must be a great help to those who wish to make an allegorical use of those portions of Holy Scripture which are adapted for it. Nor are they adhered to with such strictness as to deprive the reader of the benefit of other explanations, where it appears that some other metaphor or allegory was intended. Both St. Augustin and St. Gregory acknowledge, and at times impress on their readers, that metaphorical language is used in Holy Scripture with various meanings under the same symbol.
The discourses on the Psalms are not carried throughout on the same plan, but still are tolerably complete as a commentary, since the longer expositions furnish the means of filing out the shorter notices, in thought at least, to the attentive reader of the whole. They were not delivered continuously, nor all at the same place. Occasionally the author is led by the circumstances of the time into long discussions of a controversial character, especially with respect to the Donatists, against whose narrow and exclusive views he urges strongly the prophecies relating to the universality of the Church. Occasionally a Psalm is first reviewed briefly, so as to give a general clew to its interpretation, and then enlarged upon in several discourses.
For the present translation, as far as the first thirty Psalms, the editors are indebted to a friend who conceals his name; for the remainder of the volume, with part of the next which is to appear, to the Rev. J. E. Tweed, M.a., chaplain of Christ Church, Oxford.
After the first two volumes edited by Mr. Tweed of Christ Church, the third volume (carrying the work down to the end of Psalm lxxv.) appeared with this announcement signed by Mr. Marriott: “The whole of it, as well as a few Psalms at the end of the former and the beginning of the following volume, is translated by T. Scratton, Esq., M.A., of Christ Church, Oxford.” The fifth volume appeared in April, 1853, with the name of the Rev. H. M. Wilkins, M.a., of Merton College, as translator. In December, 1857, came forth the last volume, with the following advertisement from the pen of Dr. Pusey:—
Thefirst hundred pages of this volume were printed, when it pleased God to withdraw from all further toil our friend, the Rev. C. Marriott, upon whose editorial labours the Library of the Fathers had for some years wholly depended. Full of activity in the cause of truth and religious knowledge, full of practical benevolence, expanding himself, his strength, his paternal inheritance, in works of piety and charity, in one night his labour was closed, and he was removed from active duty to wait in stillness for his Lord’s last call. His friends may perhaps rather thankfully wonder that God allowed one, threatened in many ways with severe disease, to labour for Him so long and so variously, than think it strange that He suddenly, and for them prematurely, allowed him thus far to enter into his rest. To those who knew him best, it has been a marvel how, with heath so frail, he was enabled in such various ways, and for so many years, to do active good in his generation. Early called, and ever obeying the call, he has been allowed both active duty and an early rest.
This volume, long delayed, has been completed by the Rev. H. Walford, Vice-Principal of St. Edmund’s Hall. The principal of St. Edmund Hall, Dr. Barrow, has, with great kindness, allowed himself to be referred to in obscure passages.
St. Augustin’s Commentary on the Psalms, then, is now, by the blessing of God, completed for the first time in an English garb. Although, as a commentary, it from time to time fails us, because it explains minutely and verbally a translation of Holy Scripture different from and inferior to our own, yet, on this very ground, it is the more valuable when the translations agree. For St. Augustin was so impressed with the sense of the depth of Holy Scripture, that when it seems to him, on the surface, plainest, then he is the more assured of its hidden depth. True to this belief, St. Augustin pressed out word by word of Holy Scripture, and that, always in dependence on the inward teaching of God the Holy Ghost who wrote it, until he had extracted some fullness of meaning from it. More also, perhaps, than any other work of St. Augustin, this commentary abounds in those condensed statements of doctrinal and practical truth which are so instructive, because at once so comprehensive and so accurate.
May He under whose gracious influence this great work was written, be with its readers also, and make it now, as heretofore, a treasure to this portion of His Church.
1. “Blessed is the man that hath not gone away in the counsel of the ungodly” (ver. 1). This is to be understood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord Man. “Blessed is the man that hath not gone away in the counsel of the ungodly,” as “the man of earth did,” who consented to his wife deceived by the serpent, to the transgressing the commandment of God. “Nor stood in the way of sinners.” For He came indeed in the way of sinners, by being born as sinners are; but He “stood” not therein, for that the enticements of the world held Him not. “And hath not sat in the seat of pestilence.” He willed not an earthly kingdom, with pride, which is well taken for “the seat of pestilence;” for that there is hardly any one who is free from the love of rule, and craves not human glory. For a “pestilence” is disease widely spread, and involving all or nearly all. Yet “the seat of pestilence” may be more appropriately understood of hurtful doctrine; “whose word spreadeth as a canker.” The order too of the words must be considered: “went away, stood, sat.” For he “went away,” when he drew back from God. He “stood,” when he took pleasure in sin. He “sat,” when, confirmed in his pride, he could not go back, unless set free by Him, who neither “hath gone away in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of pestilence.”
2. “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law will he meditate by day and by night (ver. 2). The law is not made for a righteous man,” says the Apostle. But it is one thing to be in the law, another under the law. Whoso is in the law, acteth according to the law; whoso is under the law, is acted upon according to the law: the one therefore is free, the other a slave. Again, the law, which is written and imposed upon the servant, is one thing; the law, which is mentally discerned by him who needeth not its “letter,” is another thing. “He will meditate by day and by night,” is to be understood either as without ceasing; or “by day” in joy, “by night” in tribulations. For it is said, “Abraham saw my day, and was glad:” and of tribulation it is said, “my reins also have instructed me, even unto the night.”
3. “And he shall be like a tree planted hardby the running streams of waters” (ver. 3); that is either Very “Wisdom,” which vouchsafed to assume man’s nature for our salvation; that as man He might be “the tree planted hard by the running streams of waters;” for in this sensecan that too be taken which is said in another Psalm, “the river of God is full of water.” Or by the Holy Ghost, of whom it is said, “He shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost;” and again, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink;” and again, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that asketh water of thee, thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water, of which whoso drinketh shall never thirst, but it shall be made in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” Or, “by the running streams of waters” may be by the sins of the people, because first the waters are called “peoples” in the Apocalypse; and again, by “running stream” is not unreasonably understood “fall,” which hath relation to sin. That “tree” then, that is, our Lord, from the running streams of water, that is, from the sinful people’s drawing them by the way into the roots of His discipline, will “bring forth fruit,” that is, will establish Churches; “in His season,” that is, after He hath been glorified by His Resurrection and Ascension into heaven. For then, by the sending of the Holy Ghost to the Apostles, and by the confirming of their faith in Him, and their mission to the world, He made the Churches to “bring forth fruit.” “His leaf also shall not fall,” that is, His Word shall not be in vain. For, “all flesh is grass, and the glory of man as the flower of grass; the grass withereth, and the flower falleth, but the word of the Lord abideth for ever. And whatsoever He doeth shall prosper” that is, whatsoever that tree shall bear; which all must be taken of fruit and leaves, that is, deeds and words.
4. “The ungodly are not so,” they are not so, “but are like the dust which the wind casteth forth from the face of the earth” (ver. 4). “The earth” is here to be taken as that stedfastness in God, with a view to which it is said, “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance, yea, I have a goodly heritage.” With a view to this it is said, “Wait on the Lord and keep His ways, and He shall exalt thee to inherit the earth.” With a view to this it is said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” A comparison too is derived hence, for as this visible earth supports and contains the outer man, so that earth invisible the inner man. “From the face of” which “earth the wind casteth forth the ungodly,” that is, pride, in that it puffeth him up. On his guard against which he, who was inebriated by the richness of the house of the Lord, and drunken of the torrent stream of its pleasures, saith, “Let not the foot of pride come against me.” From this earth pride cast forth him who said, “I will place my seat in the north, and I will be like the Most High.” From the face of the earth it cast forth him also who, after that he had consented and tasted of the forbidden tree that he might be as God, hid himself from the Face of God. That his earth has reference to the inner man, and that man is cast forth thence by pride, may be particularly seen in that which is written, “Why is earth and ashes proud? Because, in his life, he cast forth his bowels.” For, whence he hath been cast forth, he is not unreasonably said to have cast forth himself.
5. “Therefore the ungodly rise not in the judgment” (ver. 5): “therefore,” namely, because “as dust they are cast forth from the face of the earth.” And well did he say that this should be taken away from them, which in their pride they court, namely, that they may judge; so that this same idea is more clearly expressed in the following sentence, “nor sinners in the counsel of the righteous.” For it is usual for what goes before, to be thus repeated more clearly. So that by “sinners” should be understood the “ungodly;” what is before “in the judgment,” should be here “in the counsel of the righteous.” Or if indeed the ungodly are one thing, and sinners another, so that although every ungodly man is a sinner, yet every sinner is not ungodly; “The ungodly rise not in the judgment,” that is, they shall rise indeed, but not that they should be judged, for they are already appointed to most certain punishment. But “sinners” do not rise “in counsel of the just” that is that the may, judge, but peradventure that they may be judged; so as of these it were said, “The fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall then suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”
6. “For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous” (ver. 6). As it is said, medicine knows health, but knows not disease, and yet disease is recognised by the art of medicine. In like manner can it be said that “the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous,” but the way of the ungodly He knoweth not. Not that the Lord is ignorant of anything, and yet He says to sinners, “I never knew you.” “But the way of the ungodly shall perish;” is the same as if it were said, the way of the ungodly the Lord knoweth not. But it is expressed more plainly that this should be not to be known of the Lord, namely, to “perish;” and this to be known of the Lord, namely, to “abide;” so as that to be should appertain to the knowledge of God, but to His not knowing not to be. For the Lord saith, “I Am that I Am,” and, “I Am hath sent me.”
1. “Why do the heathen rage, and the people meditate vain things?” (ver. 1). “The kings of the earth have stood up, and the rulers taken counsel together, against the Lord, and against His Christ” (ver. 2). It is said, “why?” as if it were said, in vain. For what they wished, namely, Christ’s destruction, they accomplished not; for this is spoken of our Lord’s persecutors, of whom also mention is made in the Acts of the Apostles.
2. “Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yoke from us” (ver. 3). Although it admits of another acceptation, yet is it more fitly understood as in the person of those who are said to “meditate vain things.” So that “let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yoke from us,” may be, let us do our endeavour, that the Christian religion do not bind us, nor be imposed upon us.
3. “He that dwelleth in the heavens shall laugh them to scorn, and the Lord shall have them in derision” (ver. 4). The sentence is repeated; for “He who dwelleth in the heavens,” is afterwards put, “the Lord;” and for “shall laugh them to scorn,” is afterwards put, “shall have them in derision.” Nothing of this however must be taken in a carnal sort, as if God either laugheth with cheek, or derideth with nostril; but it is to be understood of that power which He giveth to His saints, that they seeing things to come, namely, that the Name and rule of Christ is to pervade posterity and possess all nations, should understand that those men “meditate a vain thing.” For this power whereby these things are foreknown is God’s “laughter” and “derision.” “He that dwelleth in the heavens shall laugh them to scorn.” If by “heavens” we understand holy souls, by these God, as foreknowing what is to come, will “laugh them to scorn, and have them in derision.”
4. “Then He shall speak unto them in His wrath, and vex them in His sore displeasure” (ver. 5). For showing more clearly how He will “speak unto them,” he added, He will “vex them;” so that “in His wrath,” is, “in His sore displeasure.” But by the “wrath and sore displeasure” of the Lord God must not be understood any mental perturbation; but the might whereby He most justly avengeth, by the subjection of all creation to His service. For that is to be observed and remembered which is written in the Wisdom of Solomon, “But Thou, Lord of power, judgest with tranquillity, and with great favour orderest us.” The “wrath” of God then is an emotion which is produced in the soul which knoweth the law of God, when it sees this same law transgressed by the sinner. For by this emotion of righteous souls many things are avenged. Although the “wrath” of God can be well understood of that darkening of the mind, which overtakes those who transgress the law of God.
5. “Yet am I set by Him as King upon Sion, His holy hill, preaching His decree” (ver. 6). This is clearly spoken in the Person of the very Lord our Saviour Christ. But if Sion signify, as some interpret, beholding, we must not understand it of anything rather than of the Church, where daily is the desire raised of beholding the bright glory of God, according to that of the Apostle, “but we with open face beholding the glory of the Lord.” Therefore the meaning of this is, Yet I am set by Him as King over His holy Church; which for its eminence and stability He calleth a mountain. “Yet I am set by Him as King.” I, that is, whose “bands” they were meditating “to break asunder,” and whose “yoke” to “cast away.” “Preaching His decree.” Who doth not see the meaning of this, seeing it is daily practised?
6. “The Lord hath said unto me, Thou art My Son, to-day have I begotten Thee” (ver. 7)., Although that day may also seem to be prophetically spoken of, on which Jesus Christ was born according to the flesh;. and in eternity there is nothing past as if it had ceased to be, nor future as if it were not yet, but present only, since whatever is eternal, always is; yet as “today” intimates presentiality, a divine interpretation is given to that expression, “To-day have I begotten Thee,” whereby the uncorrupt and Catholic faith proclaims the eternal generation of the power and Wisdom of God, who is the Only-begotten Son.
7. “Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the nations for Thine inheritance” (ver. 8). This has at once a temporal sense with reference to the Manhood which He took on Himself, who offered up Himself as a Sacrifice in the stead of all sacrifices, who also maketh intercession for us; so that the words, “ask of Me,” may be referred to all this temporal dispensation, which has been instituted for mankind, namely, that the “nations” should be joined to the Name of Christ, and so be redeemed from death, and possessed by God. “I shall give Thee the nations for Thine inheritance,” which so possess them for their salvation, and to bear unto Thee spiritual fruit. “And the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession.” The same repeated, “The uttermost parts of the earth,” is put for “the nations;” but more clearly, that we might understand all the nations. And “Thy possession” stands for “Thine inheritance.”
8. “Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron,” with inflexible justice, and “Thou shall break them like a potter’s vessel” (ver. 9); that is,“Thou shalt break” in them earthly lusts, and the filthy doings of the old man, and whatsoever hath been derived and inured from the sinful clay. “And now understand, ye kings”(ver. 10). “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,” ye 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 chasteningyour bodies, and bringing them into subjection.” “Be instructed, all ye who judge the earth.” This again is a repetition; “Be instructed” is instead of “understand; and” ye who judge the earth instead of ye kings.For He signifies the spiritual by “those who judge the earth.” For whatsoever we judge, is below us; and whatsoever is below the spiritual man, is with good reason called “the earth;” because it is defiled with earthly corruption.
9. “Serve the Lord with fear;” lest what is said, “Ye kings and judges of the earth,” turn into pride: “And rejoice with trembling” (ver. 11). Very excellently is “rejoice” added, lest “serve the Lord with fear” should seem to tend to misery. But again, lest this same rejoicing should run on to unrestrained inconsiderateness, there is added “with trembling,” that it might avail for a warning, and for the careful guarding of holiness. It can also be taken thus, “And now ye kings understand;” that is, And now that I am set as King, be ye not sad, kings of the earth, as if your excellency were taken from you, but rather “understand and be instructed.” For it is expedient for you, that ye should be under Him, by whom understanding and instruction are given you. And this is expedient for you, that ye lord it not with rashness, but that ye “serve the Lord” of all “with fear,” and “rejoice” in bliss most sure and most pure, with all caution and carefulness, lest ye fall therefrom into pride.
10. “Lay hold of discipline, lest at any time the Lord be angry, and ye perish from the righteous way” (ver. 12). This is the same as, “understand,” and, “be instructed.” For to understand and be instructed, this is to lay hold of discipline. Still in that it is said, “lay hold of,” it is plainly enough intimated that there is some protection and defence against all things which might do hurt unless with so great carefulness it be laid hold of. “Lest at any time the Lord be angry,” is expressed with a doubt, not as regards the vision of the prophet to whom it is certain, but as regards those who are warned; for they, to whom it is not openly revealed, are wont to think with doubt of the anger of God. This then they ought to say to themselves, let us “lay hold of discipline, lest at any time the Lord be angry, and we perish from the righteous way.” Now, how “the Lord be angry” is to be taken, has been said above. And “ye perish from the righteous way.” This is a great punishment, and dreaded by those who have had any perception of the sweetness of righteousness; for he who perisheth from the way of righteousness, in much misery will wander through the ways of unrighteousness.
11. “When His anger shall be shortly kindled, blessed are all they who put their trust in Him;” that is, when the vengeance shall come which is prepared for the ungodly and for sinners, not only will it not light on those “who put their trust in” the Lord, but it will even avail for the foundation and exaltation of a kingdom for them. For he said not, “When His anger shall be shortly kindled,” safe “are all they who put their trust in Him,” as though they should have this only thereby, to be exempt from punishment; but he said, “blessed;” in which there is the sum and accumulation of all good things. Now the meaning of “shortly” I suppose to be this, that it will be something sudden, whilst sinners will deem it far off and long to come.
1. The words, “I slept, and took rest; and rose, for the Lord will take me up,” lead us to believe that this Psalm is to be understood as in the Person of Christ; for they sound more applicable to the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord, than to that history in which David’s flight is described from the face of his rebellious son. And, since it is written of Christ’s disciples, “The sons of the bridegroom fast not as long as the bridegroom is with them;” it is no wonder if by his undutiful son be here meant that undutiful disciple who betrayed Him. From whose face although it may be understood historically that He fled, when on his departure He withdrew with the rest to the mountain; yet in a spiritual sense, when the Son of God, that is the Power and Wisdom of God, abandoned the mind of Judas; when the Devil wholly occupied him; as it is written, “The Devil entered into his heart,” may it be well understood that Christ fled from his face; not that Christ gave place to the Devil, but that on Christ’s departure the Devil took possession. Which departure, I suppose, is called a flight in this Psalm, because of its quickness; which is indicated also by the word of our Lord, saying, “That thou doest, do quickly.” So even in common conversation we say of anything that does not come to mind, it has fled from me; and of a man of much learning we say, nothing flies from him. Wherefore truth fled from the mind of Judas, when it ceased to enlighten him. But Absalom, as some interpret, in the Latin tongue signifies, Patris pax, a father’s peace. And it may seem strange, whether in the history of the kings, when Absalom carried on war against his father; or in the history of the New Testament, when Judas was, the betrayer of our Lord; how “father’s peace” can be understood. But both in the former place they who read carefully, see that David in that war was at peace with his son, who even with sore grief lamented his death, saying, “O Absalom, my son, would God I had died for thee!” And in the history of the New Testament by that so great and so wonderful forbearance of our Lord; in that He bore so long with him as if good, when He was not ignorant of his thoughts; in that He admitted him to the Supper in which He committed and delivered to His disciples the figure of His Body and Blood; finally, in that He received the kiss of peace at the very time of His betrayal; it is easily understood how Christ showed peace to. His betrayer, although he was laid waste by the intestine war of so abominable a device. And therefore is Absalom called “father’s peace,” because his father had the peace, which he had not.
2. “O Lord, how are they multiplied that trouble me!” (ver. 1). So multiplied indeed were they, that one even from the number of His disciples was not wanting, who was added to the number of His persecutors. “Many rise up against me; many say unto my soul, There is no salvation for him in his God” (ver. 2). It is clear that if they had had any idea that He would rise again, assuredly they would not have slain Him. To this end are those speeches, “Let Him come down from the cross, if He be the Son of God;” and again, “He saved others, Himself He cannot save.” Therefore, neither would Judas have betrayed Him, if he had not been of the number of those who despised Christ, saying, “There is no salvation for Him in His God.”
3. “But Thou, O Lord, art my taker.” It is said to God in the nature of man, for the taking of man is, the Word made Flesh. “My glory.” Even He calls God his glory, whom the Word of God so took, that God became one with Him. Let the proud learn, who unwillingly hear, when it is said to them, “For what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?” “And the lifter up of my head” (ver. 3). I think that this should be here taken of the human mind, which is not unreasonably called the head of the soul; which so inhered in, and in a sort coalesced with, the supereminent excellency of the Word taking man, that it was not laid aside by so great humiliation of the Passion.
4. “With my voice have I cried unto the Lord” (ver. 4); that is, not with the voice of the body, which is drawn out with the sound of the reverberation of the air; but with the voice of the heart, which to men speaks not, but with God sounds as a cry. By this voice Susanna was heard; and with this voice the Lord Himself commanded that prayer should be made in closets, that is, in the recesses of the heart noiselessly. Nor would one easily say that prayer is not made with this voice, if no sound of words is uttered from the body; since even when in silence we pray within the heart, if thoughts interpose alien from the mind of one praying, it cannot yet be said, “With my voice have I cried unto the Lord.” Nor is this rightly said, save when the soul alone, taking to itself nothing of the flesh, and nothing of the aims of the flesh, in prayer, speaks to God, where He only hears. But even this is called a cry by reason of the strength of its intention. “And He heard me out of His holy mountain.” We have the Lord Himself called a mountain by the Prophet, as it is written, “The stone that was cut out without hands grew to the size of a mountain.” But this cannot be taken of His Person, unless peradventure He would speak thus, out of myself, as of His holy mountain He heard me, when He dwelt in me, that is, in this very mountain. But it is more plain and unembarrassed, if we understand that God out of His justice heard. For it was just that He should raise again from the dead the Innocent who was slain, and to whom evil had been recompensed for good, and that He should render to the persecutor a meet reward, who repaid Him evil for good. For we read, “Thy justice is as the mountains of God.”
5. “I slept, and took rest” (ver. 5). It may be not unsuitably remarked, that it is expressly said, “I,” to signify that of His own Will He underwent death, according to that, “Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me; I have power to lay itdown, and I have power to take it again.” Therefore, saith He, you have not taken Me as though against My will, and slain Me; but “I slept, and took rest; and rose, for the Lord will take me up.” Scripture contains numberless instances of sleep being put for death; as the Apostle says, “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep.” Nor need we make any question why it is added, “took rest,” seeing that it has already been said, “I slept.” Repetitions of this kind are usual in Scripture, as we have pointed out many in the second Psalm. But some copies have, “I slept, and was cast into a deep sleep.” And different copies express it differently, according to the possible renderings of the Greek words,egw de ekokoimhQhn kei upnwse. Unless perhaps sleeping may be taken of one dying, but sleep of one dead: so that sleeping may be the transition into sleep, as awakening is the transition into wakefulness. Let us not deem these repetitions in the sacred writings empty ornaments of speech. “I slept, and took rest,” is therefore well understood as “I gave Myself up to My Passion, and death ensued.” “And I rose, for the Lord will take Me up.” This is the more to be remarked, how that in one sentence the Psalmist has used a verb of past and future time. For he has said, both “I rose,” which is the past, and “will take Me up,” which is the future; seeing that assuredly the rising again could not be without that taking up. But in prophecy the future is well joined to the past, whereby both are signified. Since things which are prophesied of as yet to come in reference to time are future; but in reference to the knowledge of those who prophesy they are already to be viewed as done. Verbs of the present tense are also mixed in, which shall be treated of in their proper place when they occur.
6. “I will not fear the thousands of people that surround me” (ver. 6). It is written in the Gospels how great a multitude stood around Him as He was suffering, and on the cross. “Arise, O Lord, save me, O my God” (ver. 7). It is not said to God, “Arise,” as if asleep or lying down, but it is usual in holy Scripture to attribute to God what He doeth in us; not indeed universally, but where it can be done suitably; as when He is said to speak, when by His gift Prophets speak, and Apostles, or whatsoever messengers of the truth. Hence that text, “Would you have proof of Christ, who speaketh in me?” For he doth not say, of Christ, by whose enlightening or order I speak; but he attributes at once the speaking itself to Him, by whose gift he spake.
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