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A Commentary On The Psalms From Primitive and Mediæval Writers Volumes 1 To 4 by Rev. J.M. Neale D.D.

THE circumstances under which this second volume of the Commentary on the Psalms is issued seem to call for a few words of explanation.

The long interval which has elapsed since the appearance of the earlier portion is due in part to the necessarily slow progress involved by the complicated plan of the work, in part to the unceasing activity of Dr. Neale in other fields of literary toil, and in part, unhappily, to the failure of physical power which began to tell upon him several months before his fatal illness disclosed itself.

He had reached only to the fifth verse of Psalm 59 when he was struck down, and the fragment thus prepared was scarcely large enough for separate publication.

It was his earnest desire that his plan should not remain incomplete, and he indicated an accomplished friend, poet and scholar like himself, as his successor in the task. That friend was obliged, by the pressure of other claims, to decline the undertaking; and the call was next made upon me.

I believed that I should better carry out the wishes of my dear friend by attempting to continue those labours which had so often formed the subject of discussion between us, than by declining the responsibility, as I well might have done, on the double ground of the inherent difficulty of the task, and my own very inadequate powers of grappling with it. But I was engaged, at the time of my acceptance of the proposal, with literary work of my own, which occupied all my available time. Further, it was essential for me to accumulate the necessary books, as only a few of them were in my possession, and Dr. Neale’s library was no longer accessible to me. By the time that this obstacle was overcome, and that I was ready to begin my part of the work, the autumn of 1867 was already far advanced; and the portion now laid before the public has been completed, amidst many long interruptions and incessant ill-health, since that date.

My editorial duties began with the tenth sheet of the volume, at p. 217, as the earlier part had all been worked off at press before I was called upon. They continued only to the close of that sheet, for Dr. Neale’s MS. ceases abruptly on the first page of the succeeding one; and I alone am responsible for what thenceforward follows.

My account of my stewardship, however, is not yet ended. I have to remark upon the non-appearance of a Dissertation promised several times in the first volume, and once again in this, to be the fourth in order. It was to have treated the whole subject of the divisions, diction, and mystical character of the Psalter, and to have discussed the causes of the frequent discrepancies between the Hebrew, Greek, and Vulgate. Of that Dissertation, so far as I can ascertain, no part has ever been put into writing; nor am I capable of supplying its place from my own stores. In its stead appears a table of the supposed chronological order and occasion of the Psalms, which I have printed in discharge of my editorial duty, but not from any belief in its critical value. My dear friend, unsurpassed in several departments of theological learning, unrivalled in not a few, and profoundly intimate as he was with the letter, and still more with the spirit, of Holy Scripture, had yet given but slight attention to that part of Biblical study, for which we have no definite name, but which German scholars call Einleitung. I have therefore not hesitated to depart widely from the conclusions of this Dissertation whenever I have had occasion to discuss the date of any Psalm.

One other Dissertation he had projected, and had even written its introductory paragraphs. It was to have described the English metrical versions of the Psalter. I do not know whether he was aware that the task had already been (in some degree, at least) accomplished, nor if he had fully realized the extent of the undertaking. The number of these versions is not much under three hundred, and a dissertation upon them must therefore be either a mere bibliographical catalogue, or a larger book than a volume of the Commentary itself. I have, consequently, determined to leave this also unessayed, and to content myself, should a further instalment of this work be called for, with a liturgical discussion of the use of the Psalter in the Sacraments and Occasional Offices of the Eastern and Western Churches, as a pendant to the first Dissertation, which treats of its employment in the daily recitation of the Canonical Hours.

With regard to my own portion of the book, I am fully conscious of its marked inferiority to the model I have attempted to follow. Continuations are proverbially unsuccessful, even when the artist himself makes the effort, and even when that artist is a Cervantes, a Bunyan, or a De Foe. Much more is failure to be expected when a feeble copyist takes up the pencil of a great master. It is true that as this Commentary is chiefly a mosaic from old writers, the peril seems at first sight less. But it is not really so. Two jewellers may have identical piles of gold and gems given them as materials, and the one will produce with them a wonder of art, while the other obscures their beauty by coarse and tasteless workmanship. Here, moreover, the heaps are not equal. The vast stores of Dr. Neale’s learning were hardly less remarkable than the readiness and certainty with which he could draw on them, the ease with which he could illustrate any subject he treated, with apt classical allusion, parallels lying hid in history or legend, hymn or song, of ancient or modern times. Any one coming after him in the many paths of his labours is at a disadvantage in comparison, but especially in a field so peculiarly his own as the mystical interpretation of Scripture.

Yet, as I have not attempted to bend the bow of Ulysses out of any spirit of boastfulness or rivalry, but in fulfilment of the wishes of the departed, I may commit my work to the lenient consideration of those who will not expect a mere student to equal in a few months’ labour that which cost a great teacher more than as many years. The chief merit of my work is that there is so little original matter in it. Some there is, for I have thought it desirable to follow the example of my predecessor, who admitted, though sparingly, in the latter part of his labours, passages not drawn from the text-books before him. They are introduced in the following three cases only: (1.) When they are really ancient, but cannot be identified (at least by me) for want of reference. (2.) When they are natural deductions and expansions of trains of thought already set down. (3.) When, as sometimes happens, all the commentators simultaneously become jejune and prosaic in the treatment of a passage capable of better things.

I have used several authorities which were either unemployed by Dr. Neale, or which he began to quote after the Second Dissertation was printed, and which are thus omitted there. They are as follows:

(1.) Arnobius of Gaul, (+ circ. 460) whose Commentary on the whole Psalter is published in the eighth volume of the Bibliotheca Maxima Patrum.

(2.) Peter Lombard, Bishop of Paris, (+ 1164) the famous Master of the Sentences, compiled a Commentary on the Psalms, chiefly from S. Augustine, Cassiodorus, Venerable Bede, and Haymo of Halberstadt, not without occasional pithy remarks of his own. This is commonly known as the “Gloss,” and is cited more than once under that name by Dr. Neale. My copy bears date, Paris, 1541.

(3.) S. Bonaventura (+ 1250) has scarcely maintained his high reputation in his Commentary on the Psalms, which is brief, and more didactic than mystical. But a few gleanings from it will be found in these pages.

(4.) Hugo of S. Cher, Cardinal of S. Sabina, (+ 1268) to whose industry the first division of the Bible into chapters, and its result, the first concordance, are due, has left Commentaries on the whole Bible, amongst which those on the Psalms, frequently quoted in this work, hold the foremost place.

(5.) Richard Rolle of Hampole, (+ 1349,) the Yorkshire hermit, preacher, poet, and saint, author of the “Pricke of Conscience,” wrote a terse mystical paraphrase of the Psalter, which often comes very little short in beauty and depth of Dionysius the Carthusian himself. I have cited it with frequency proportioned rather to its merit than its bulk.

(6.) Richard of Le Mans, a Franciscan, and Doctor of Theology of Paris, (+ circ. 1550,) in editing the Gloss of Peter Lombard, has added several notes of his own on each Psalm, often of value, and displaying a knowledge of Hebrew as rare as it was creditable in those days.

(7.) Simeon de Muis, Archdeacon of Soissons, and Professor of Hebrew at Paris, (+ 1654,) has left a Commentary mainly critical, exhibiting the version of S. Jerome, the Vulgate, and a new translation of his own in parallel columns, with copious notes bearing chiefly on the Hebrew text, and on Rabbinical interpretations of the Psalter. The work is still cited with respect by critics, and the edition I use, (2 Vols. 4 to. Louvain, 1770,) is further enriched with comments by the famous Bossuet.

(8.) Reinhard Bakius, a Lutheran, and Pastor of the Cathedral of Magdeburg, (+ circ. 1660,) compiled a Commentary which, though violently controversial, and full of reference to mere passing politics and gossip, yet contains some more valuable ore, to which I have been sometimes indebted. I quote the second edition, fol. Frankfort, 1683.

(9.) Thomas Le Blanc, a Jesuit, Professor at Rheims and Dijon, and Provincial of Champagne, (+ 1669,) produced three immense double-columned folios of Comment on the Psalter, (Cologne, 1744,) which I have used a little, though deterred by their homiletic prolixity and ponderous learning.

Of more modern books, it will suffice to say that I have freely availed myself of the works of De Wette, Olshausen, Hupfeld, and Delitzsch, though as the scope of this book is to show the current of mystical interpretation of the Psalter in the Church, and not to discuss the critical exegesis of the original text, most of their matter is beside my purpose. I have drawn more than one useful hint from Mr. Thrupp’s work on the Psalms, and have consulted also, with less result, Archdeacon Wordsworth’s rapidly executed Commentary. My perfect unacquaintance with Slavonic has made it impossible for me to continue Dr. Neale’s occasional references to that version, but I have endeavoured to make amends by citing other and earlier ones, wherever their variants seemed important for the object in hand.

Should my labours in this unaccustomed field meet with approval, I will endeavour to complete the task I have undertaken, but if an unfavourable verdict be recorded, I will content myself with having done what I could to give effect to the dying wishes of him to whom the conception of this work is due, and will gladly consign its fulfilment to abler and worthier hands. I am not without hope that the sweet perfume of many of the flowers I have culled here, (however I may have overlooked lovelier blossoms, and unskilfully wreathed the garland,) may prove grateful to those who delight in the pleasaunce of Holy Writ, and I would fain usher in my attempt to show how Saints of old found their Master in the songs of His great ancestor, with the quaint words of a mediæval poet:

Rithmis et sensu verborum consociatum

Psalterium JESU, sic est opus hoc vocitatum.

Qui legit intente, quocunque dolore prematur,

Sentiet inde bonum, dolor ejus et alleviatur;

Ergo pius legat hoc ejus sub amore libenter,

Cujus ibi Nomen scriptum videt esse frequenter.

R.F.L.

LONDON,

Feast of S. Augustine of Hippo, 1868.








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