Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

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

The Gregorian Antiphons to this Psalm vary not only for every day in ordinary weeks, but for every festival, and are therefore too numerous to set down.

Monastic. Alleluia.

Parisian. GOD * my GOD, I wake to Thee from the light; my soul thirsteth for Thee.

Lyons. Thus will I bless Thee * while I live, I will lift up my hands in Thy Name.

Ambrosian. As preceding Psalm.

Mozarabic. In the wilderness, in the pathless, in the dry place, GOD, my GOD, I wake to Thee from the light.

1a (1) O GOD, thou art my GOD: early will I seek thee.

Because of these opening words, this Psalm has been set apart from the infancy of the Church for morning use. Its daily recitation is enjoined in the Apostolical Constitutions, is urged by S. Athanasius and S. Chrysostom,* and has never failed in either the East or the West in all the ages since. My God. The repetition of the Name of GOD, and the claiming Him for the Psalmist’s very own, denotes, observes S. Chrysostom, deep love and eager pressing towards GOD, to the neglect of all earthly things. It is therefore taken chiefly of Him Who alone could with truth call GOD His own, as being One with Him, Consubstantial, Co-eternal. Early will I seek Thee. “In the beauty of holiness, from the womb of the morning,”* it is said of the SON, Who created the light, Who Himself rose from the dead very early in the morning. And it is spoken also of the faithful soul which turns eagerly to the first rays of the light, and opens its petals to the Sun. There is a sleep of the soul, (A.) says S. Augustine, there is a sleep of the body. Sleep of the body we all ought to have; but of this let us take heed, that our soul sleep not, for evil is the sleep of the soul. Good is the sleep of the body, whereby is recruited the health of the body; but the sleep of the soul is to forget her GOD. Therefore the Apostle saith, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and CHRIST shall give thee light.”* Was the Apostle waking up one sleeping in body? Nay, but he was waking a soul sleeping, in order that she might be enlightened by CHRIST. And therefore the Bride in the Canticles answers to this appeal, “I sleep, but my heart waketh.”* Sleep, free from all temporal anxiety,* waketh to the contemplation of GOD.

1b (2) My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh also longeth after thee: in a barren and dry land, where no water is.

It is the cry of David, cut off in exile from the public rites of the Jewish Church, either (as the great majority of commentators prefer) when he was hiding from Saul in the wilderness of Ziph, which lay sufficiently near the borders of Edom to be called indifferently “of Judah”* and “of Idumea;” or, as Agellius,* almost alone amongst the commentators,* takes it, in the flight from Absalom, “in the plain of the wilderness.”* There are two reasons for adopting this view. First, the reference in the third verse to previous access to the sanctuary, which fits in with David’s parting from the Ark, saying, (R.) “Carry back the Ark of GOD into the city: if I shall find favour in the sight of the LORD, He will bring me again, and show me both it and His habitation.” Secondly, the title of king assumed by David in the last verse, which points to a time after the death of Saul. My soul thirsteth for Thee, the Fountain of living waters: it thirsts not for any gifts in this wilderness, but for everlasting rest, everlasting blessedness, which are nowhere save in Thee. My flesh also longeth after Thee. The LXX. and Vulgate here read, In how many ways my flesh [thirsteth] for Thee. Much more than even the soul; for the soul is immortal and impassible, the body mortal, and subject to passions, and therefore more in need.* And its longing is for the Resurrection,* that man may say, “In my flesh I shall see GOD.” Wherefore S. Bernard observes, citing this Psalm, (Ay.) the soul of the Prophet desired the first Advent, whereby it knew that it should be redeemed; but much more did his flesh desire the second Advent, and its own glorification. In a barren and dry land, where no water is. For dry the LXX. and Vulgate read pathless. (R.) The world is desert because the saints dwell not therein, since they are not of it; it is pathless, because it knows not CHRIST, Who is the Way; it hath no water, because the Fountain of Grace for cleansing is not there. (A.) Evil is the desert, and horrible, and to be feared; and, nevertheless, GOD hath pitied us, and hath made a Way in the desert, Himself, our LORD JESUS CHRIST; and hath made to us a consolation in the desert, in sending to us preachers of His Word; and hath given unto us water in the desert, by fulfilling with His HOLY SPIRIT His preachers, in order that there might be created in them a well of water springing up unto life everlasting. And lo! we have here all things, but they are not of the desert.

2 (3) Thus have I looked for thee in holiness: that I might behold thy power and glory.

The LXX. and Vulgate read, Thus have I appeared to Thee in the Holy [Place.] The Rabbins understand it of the Ark of the Covenant, and the splendour of the Hebrew ritual, from which David was now cut off. And they compare 1 Kings 8:8, where “holy place” occurs, with 2 Chron. 5:9, where “ark” is the parallel word in the description of the dedication of Solomon’s temple. And this agrees with the Authorized Version: As I have seen Thee in the sanctuary. It may then be taken of the LORD JESUS in the wilderness of this world, speaking of the glory which He had with His FATHER before the world began, and ere He emptied Himself of that glory, to take on Him the form of a servant. And, spoken of His servants, we may take it literally,* as S. Athanasius does, of those compelled to fly to the desert because of their religion, and longing there for the solemn services of the Church. In this wise it is especially true of those early Confessors who were driven into the Thebaid under the persecuting reigns of Valerian and of Maximian. Mystically, it tells of the longing to depart and be with CHRIST, to be free from fleshly sin, to enjoy the vision of GOD, no more as in a glass darkly, but face to face. Where note, says the Carmelite, (Ay.) that we are taught in Exodus how we should appear before GOD.* Thrice in a year should all males come unto Him; so we also, thrice in our year of mortal life, should do the same. In the past, by recalling with grief our former sins, and repenting of them; in the present by doing good works while there is yet time, according to that saying of the Apostle, “Behold, now is the accepted time;”* in the future by a firm resolve to persevere in holiness, saying with Job, “Till I die, I will not remove mine integrity from me. My righteousness will I hold fast, and will not let it go.”* In these three periods of the year, then, every male,—that is, every perfect man,—ought to appear before GOD; which if he do, then GOD will appear to him, so that he will see GOD even as he is seen by GOD. And then he will say to GOD, In holy desire I have appeared to Thee, that I might behold Thy honour and glory.

3 (4) For thy loving-kindness is better than the life itself: my lips shall praise thee.

The LXX. and Vulgate here read, (A.) better than lives. Better than all the lives we men choose for ourselves, however various these may be; better than the active and contemplative lives, figured by Leah and Rachel,* Martha and Mary; better than the four kinds of life typified in Ezekiel’s vision,—the face of man, that of married persons; the face of a lion, the dweller in deserts, that of hermits; the face of an ox, which tilleth the earth, that of prelates; the face of an eagle, that of the cloistered, soaring in contemplation. And reading in the singular, with S. Hilary and Cassiodorus, we shall find a reference to the martyrs, who counted not their lives dear unto themselves, so that they might finish their course with joy; and of whom it is accordingly written, “Right dear in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.”* My lips shall praise Thee. So it proved to be when the language of praise and thanksgiving to CHRIST the Victor went up from the lips of the martyrs as their bodies suffered under the hands of torturers. Such is the triumphal prayer of S. Laurence in the Peristephanon,* such the cheering words addressed to each other by the great forty martyrs on the frozen lake of Sebaste. And no fitter gloss can be found than the dying words of S. Polycarp of Smyrna:* “GOD of Angels, GOD of Archangels, our Resurrection and Deliverance from sin, Ruler of all the elements and the whole habitable world,* sheltering all the generation of the just who live in Thy sight, I, Thy servant, bless Thee, Who hast deemed me worthy of this passion, that I should receive the lot and crown of martyrdom, the beginning of the Cup, through JESUS CHRIST, in the unity of the HOLY GHOST; that when this day’s sacrifice is ended, I may receive Thy true promise. “Wherefore I bless Thee in all things, and make my boast in Thee, through the Eternal High Priest Almighty, JESUS CHRIST, by Whom and with Whom, and with the HOLY GHOST, glory be to Thee now and henceforth to ages of ages. Amen.”

4 (5) As long as I live will I magnify thee on this manner: and lift up my hands in thy Name.

Rather with the Authorized Version, LXX., (D. C.) and Vulgate, Thus will I bless Thee while I live. Not only by constant praise and thanksgiving, as it is written, “Bless the LORD thy GOD alway,”* but I will so live that my conversation shall be a blessing of Thy Name, because I will rule my whole life to the honour, praise, and glory of that Name. For GOD is not less blessed by a righteous life than by a clear voice. And lift up my hands in Thy Name. Firstly, as Moses did during the battle with Amalek;* as Jeremiah counsels,* “Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto GOD in the heavens;”* and as S. Paul directs, adding, that the hands should be “holy.”* Next, in almsgiving through compassion, “She stretcheth out her hand to the poor, yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.”* Lastly, by general zeal and diligence in well-doing, “that ye study to work with your own hands.”*

5 (6) My soul shall be satisfied; even as it were with marrow and fatness: when my mouth praiseth thee with joyful lips.

It is true of that Heavenly Banquet of the Eucharist, wherein the Church makes her glad offering to GOD, truly a “feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.”* Wherefore in that hymn of thanksgiving it is said,

Saturatus ferculis

Et cibis sacrosanctis,

Saginatus epulis

Deliciisque tantis.

Jam confectus macie,

Hoe pane impinguatus,

Fortis sum in acie,

Nam bene sum armatus.

So, too, in the Antiphon for Corpus Christi, taken from Jacob’s blessing of Asher, “The bread of CHRIST is fat, and He shall yield royal dainties.”* Again, (Ay.) it holds of those graces wherewith GOD cherishes the soul with warmth,* and especially those typified by chrism or unction, because fat gives heat to the body; and therefore it is written in the Law, “All the fat is the LORD’S.”* “Whereby we learn that all good desires come from Him, and must return to Him. And as the fat is parted from the flesh in sacrifice, so the saints are severed from among sinners; as it is written, “As is the fat taken away from the peace-offering, so was David chosen out of the children of Israel.”* Finally, the verse tells us of the endless rejoicing at the marriage-supper of the Lamb, whereof S. Peter Damiani tells us,

Ever full, but hungry ever,

What they have,* they still desire;

Never suffer surfeit’s loathing,

Nor yet famine’s torments dire:

Hungering still, they eat, and eating,

Still the Sacred Food require.

6 (7) Have I not remembered thee in my bed: and thought upon thee when I was waking?

Or, with the LXX. and Vulgate, If I have remembered, &c. And so S. Bernard in that loveliest hymn:

Jesum quærens in lectulo,*

Clauso cordis cubiculo.

That is, (B.) as S. Bruno teaches, in the peaceful quiet of a pure conscience, and as Richard of Hampole wisely adds, also in the time and place of sickness and pain.* Yet again, notes S. Albert,* the ease and quiet of the bed denotes a time of temporal prosperity, when it specially behoves the Christian to think on his GOD. And rising from the servant to the Master, let us hear the Carthusian, (D. C.) “On the Cross where I hung weak and dying, I remembered Thee, O My FATHER, saying, ‘Why hast. Thou forsaken Me?’ and, ‘FATHER, forgive them;’ and yet further, ‘FATHER, into Thy Hands I commend My Spirit.’ ” And thought upon Thee when I was waking in the early morn of My Resurrection. The Hebrew, however, does not speak of the morning, but of watches, to wit, of the night. And then we are reminded of those words of the Bride: “By night on my bed I sought Him whom my soul loveth. I sought Him, but found Him not.”* It is not thus He is to be found. Let the sentinels shake off their slumbers, arise, and watch, and they shall be blessed when the LORD cometh and findeth them so doing, for then (and note the bearing on the previous verse of the Psalm,) “He shall gird Himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.”*

7 (8) Because thou hast been my helper: therefore under the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.

Here S. Augustine beautifully observes, (A.) that we are the chickens under the hen’s wings, but whereas the young of a hen do not need her protection when they are full grown, we, the more we are grown, more need the shadow of CHRIST’S wings. I will rejoice. So the Bride: “I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste.”*

8 (9) My soul hangeth upon thee: thy right hand hath upholden me.

So the Hebrew: The A. V. is different. My soul followeth hard after Thee, as it is written, “Draw me, we will run after Thee.”* The Vulgate has adhæsit, (A.) hath clung after Thee; the LXX., strongest of all, ἐκολλήθη, hath been glued behind Thee. What is that same glue? asks S. Augustine;* the glue itself is love, which fastens us behind GOD, that we may follow Him. And S. Chrysostom compares this close and binding union to the nails of the Cross, to the hold which the roots of a tree have of the earth. But the Prayer Book Version in this place seems to be entitled to the preference, and we shall best come at its full meaning by comparing the prophecy of Isaiah concerning Eliakim, prefiguring CHRIST. “The key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut and none shall open. And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father’s house. And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father’s house, the offspring and the issue, all vessels of small quantity, from the vessels of cups even unto the vessels of flagons.”* So we hang on Him, because we are the jewels of His FATHER’S House, and are used to deck the Heir in His majesty, deriving ourselves all our own honour from our place as His ornaments, those ornaments wherewith “the Bridegroom decketh Himself.”* Thy right hand hath upholden me. Of this the very heathen had a type. In the right hand of Jupiter’s statue often stood a figure of a winged Victory, shadowing forth the victory of that Right Hand which hath the pre-eminence, a victory which enables man to soar above the sky. Wherefore the hymn fitly says:

Ave dextra manus CHRISTI,*

Perforata plagâ tristi,

Nos ad dextram jube sisti,

Quos per crucem redemisti.

10 These also that seek the hurt of my soul: they shall go under the earth.

11 Let them fall upon the edge of the sword: that they may be a portion for foxes.

The LXX. and Vulgate are slightly different from the first of these verses. They read: In vain have they sought after my soul they shall go into the lower [LXX. lowest] parts of the earth. Not merely falling to the ground, as they did in Gethsemane, but going under it,* into the grave of second death. It was fulfilled even in this life, (A.) remarks S. Augustine. Earth they were unwilling to lose, when they crucified CHRIST; they have gone into the lower places of the earth. What are the lower places of the earth? Earthly lusts. For every one that in prejudice of his salvation desireth earthly things, is under the earth; because earth he hath put before him, earth he hath put upon himself, and himself he hath laid beneath. Fearing to lose earth, they said of the LORD JESUS: “If we let Him thus alone, the Romans will come, and take away our place and nation.”* Behold, they have lost at the hands of the Romans the place, because they slew CHRIST.

Let them fall upon the edge of the sword. (Ay) The sword wielded in this life by Titus and by Hadrian, the more terrible two-edged sword of judgment to come, proceeding out of the mouth of CHRIST. That they may be a portion for foxes. They would not have the Lamb for their King, and therefore they have been given up to the will of crafty and worldly princes, like that Herod whom the LORD called a “fox.”* Nay, more, they themselves have degenerated in character, and become wily and deceitful, and thus have had their portion with foxes. And it is written, “Foxes have holes, (C.) and the birds of the air have nests, (Ay.) but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head,”* because the demons of craft and of pride are freely allowed room in the heart of the sinner, while he closes it against CHRIST, (L.) and therefore “He shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites.”* The Hebrew word שֻׁעָלִים however, more probably here means jackals, (which devour dead bodies, rather than foxes, which rarely do so,) and thus warns us against casting in our lot with the angels of him who goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.*

11 (12) But the King shall rejoice in GOD; all they also that swear by him shall be commended: for the mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped.

That King, Whose kingdom, (G.) though it be not of this world, is yet in this world, as it is in heaven, CHRIST the King; King of the Jews, Who hath on His vesture and on His thigh a name written, “King of kings, and Lord of lords,”* Who shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end;* the King, I say, crowned with a diadem of thorns, and sorrowful unto death in the desert of Edom, now raised up from death, shall rejoice in GOD, for in that He liveth, He liveth unto GOD, and is Himself GOD in GOD, as He hath said, “I am in the FATHER, (P.) and the FATHER in Me.”* And whereas He also saith, “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth,”* He ever had that power in His Godhead, but in His Manhood the King hath received it from GOD, and therefore rightly He shall rejoice in God. Then follows the reward of loyalty, bestowed on those faithful ones who followed their King into the desert, when His enemies held His city against Him: All they that swear by Him shall be commended, who shall pledge themselves to Him in His Sacraments, the oaths of His military service, to be His faithful soldiers and servants unto their lives’ end. And so it is written, “And all Judah rejoiced at the oath; for they had sworn with all their heart, and sought Him with all their desire, and He was found of them, and the LORD gave them rest round about.”* Nor are we at a loss to know what are the words of commendation; they run: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy LORD.”* For the mouth of all them that speak lies shall be stopped. Even in this world,* when they see the glory of the faith of the Saints, they will have nothing to allege against the truth of GOD, or the pure lives of His servants. But the perfect silence of slanderous tongues will not be till evil is overcome in the final victory of CHRIST, when He bars out of the Heavenly City “whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.”*


Glory be to the FATHER, Whom we seek early; and to the SON, Who watcheth in Himself and in His members, and by His watches intreats for His members mercy better than the life itself; and to the HOLY GHOST, Himself the mercy in judgment to be extolled above all life.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com