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.

Gregorian. Ferial: As preceding Psalm. [Corpus Christi: From Thine Altar * O LORD, we receive CHRIST, in Whom our heart and flesh rejoice. Dedication: This is none other * than the House of GOD, and the gate of Heaven. Sacred Heart: GOD loveth mercy and truth * the LORD will give grace and worship.]

Monastic. Ferial: Thou hast blessed * O LORD, Thy land. [Corpus Christi: As Gregorian. Dedication: The temple of GOD is holy, it is GOD’S husbandry, it is GOD’S building.]

Parisian. I believe * verily to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

Ambrosian. As Psalm 82.

Mozarabic. My heart and my flesh rejoice in the living GOD.

1 O how amiable are thy dwellings: thou LORD of hosts!

2 My soul hath a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living GOD.

For dwellings, the A. V. more exactly, with LXX. and Vulgate, reads tabernacles, and thus suggests a contrast between these moveable tents and the permanent courts of the second verse. “There are,”* observes S. Bernard, commenting on this passage, “three conditions of holy souls; to wit, first in the corruptible body; secondly, without the body; thirdly, in the glorified body. First in warfare, next in rest, thirdly in perfect blessedness; first, that is to say, in tabernacles, secondly, in courts, thirdly in the House of the LORD. O how amiable are Thy tabernacles, Thou Lord of Hosts! But His courts are much more desirable, so that he adds, My soul hath a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord. Yet as even in these courts there is some imperfection, altogether blessed are they who dwell in Thy House, O LORD.” Some, (Cd.) however, reading the whole of the first verse in close connection, see in the tabernacles the abiding place of the armies of heaven,* for we read in another psalm, “The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.”* Heaven is like a camp, (R.) for it is strong and secure from the enemy, and because there, as in an earthly army in time of warfare, there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage. And this is the view most dwelt upon by the earlier commentators.* As the Jews in their captivity at Babylon longed for a sight of the Holy City,* for its feast of tabernacles, and its solemn rites in the Temple; so the saints, exiles here on earth from their country,* long to flee thither and be at rest. Hence it is that this Psalm has been so often on the lips of dying Christians, (A.) eager to depart and be with CHRIST, for they “know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of GOD, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”* Accordingly,* these verses were recited by S. Paula as she lay on her death-bed, and they form still a part of the Burial Office for Priests in the Western Church. (Ay.) Note too that the plural tabernacles points to the “many mansions” in our FATHER’S House, while the word courts, implying size and spaciousness, assures us that there will be room there for all who desire to enter in. Wherefore it is written of Solomon’s house, that “the great court round about was with three rows of hewed stones,”* because the circular form is the most capacious of all. There are other senses,* too, in which we may take the words. The tabernacles may well denote the Churches of GOD; the outer courts here on earth of His great temple in the heavens,* plural, as locally separate, just as were the various detached portions of the great House in Sion, and yet one, as belonging and united to it only. Again; just as Gentiles who are struck with the beauty of the Gospel, and desire to enter into the Church of GOD,* so devout Christians look with admiration and love upon the Religious life,* the warrior tents of the active Orders, the peaceful courts of the contemplative ones; exclaiming with Balaam, “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel.”* Yet again, as GOD is pleased to dwell within His Saints,* all those who have made their souls a fitting habitation for Him, are tabernacles which excite the love, the longing, and the emulation of less perfect followers of the Lamb. Finally, the words may be taken by us in that primary sense which they bore for the Jews, love for the house wherein we worship GOD,* and desire not only to seek Him therein,* but to show our zeal by costly adornment and sedulous decoration of His shrines.*

Give all thou canst,* high heaven rejects the lore

Of nicely-calculated less or more;

So deemed the man who fashioned for the sense

These lofty pillars, spread that branching roof

Self-poised, and scooped into ten thousand cells,

Where light and shade repose, where music dwells

Lingering—and wandering on as loth to die;

Like thoughts whose very sweetness yieldeth proof

That they were born for immortality.

My soul hath a desire and longing. Here once more the Prayer Book version is too weak. The A. V. rightly translates, with all the old versions, instead of longing, My soul faints.* Not from weakness doth she faint, observes an early writer, but because of passionate love, for this is the wont of lovers parted from those they love. We may desire heavenly things, and yet not faint for them, comments S. Gregory the Great,* so long as we are held back by earthly pleasures, but we both desire and faint when our eagerness for the highest blessings causes us to die to ourselves. And this fainting, which causes us to lose our own strength, is the true means for acquiring the strength of GOD.* We fail, and cease to be what we were before, but become something better and stronger, as the grape, forced out of its form and nature in the presses of which the title speaks, becomes rich wine fit for storage in the cellars.* They remind us how often in Holy Writ we read of the bodily suffering which great spiritual visions entail, (L.) how the Queen of Sheba had “no more spirit in her,”* when she beheld Solomon in all his glory,* how “Daniel fainted and was sick certain days” after Gabriel’s revelation to him; how Peter “knew not what he said,”* as he looked on his transfigured LORD;* how Paul could not tell whether his trance were in the body or out of the body. They count up seven reasons for this eager longing after the heavenly Jerusalem, namely,* its freedom, its pure and perfect joy, its bestowal of wishes, its endless and unbroken peace, its complete security, its unvarying health, its glorious companionship. Many a divine and many a poet has endeavoured to give some faint expression to this craving of the soul, and perhaps none more effectively than the Cluniac monk:

Jerusalem the glorious!*

The glory of the elect!

O dear and future vision

That eager hearts expect:

Even now by faith I see thee:

Even here thy walls discern:

To thee my thoughts are kindled,

And pant, and strive, and yearn.

Jerusalem the only,

That lookest from heaven below,

In thee is all my glory,

In me is all my woe;

And though my body may not,

My spirit seeks thee fain,

Till flesh and earth return me

To earth and flesh again.

My heart and my flesh. That is,* my soul and my body. And the words prove the grade of saintliness which the true disciple may reach even here,* that the flesh can be so subdued to the spirit as not to rebel, but to obey its higher impulses. Rejoice, but how, (A.) if desire and fainting precede? The Apostle will tell us, “Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing instant in prayer.”* Yet again, the Wise Man teaches us that “hope deferred maketh the heart sick.”* How can we then justly use the word rejoice? The reply is twofold, or rather but one. First, that GOD gives His faithful ones, who are patient in tribulation,* a foretaste of future glory, enough to sustain and gladden them, that they may continue in prayer. Next, as a great Saint observes, the soul “doth not rejoice in this world, in riches, in honour, in luxury, in drunkenness, in dead vanities, nor in vanities which will quickly die,* together with the love of them,* but in the living God. Why did he not say simply ‘in GOD,’ instead of adding, ‘in the living GOD?’ In order to show that everything which belongs not to the worship of GOD we ought to account as dead.” And, finally, we may take these verses as spoken in the person of CHRIST Himself,* eaten up with zeal for the House of GOD, and Whose unstained Body coincided with every volition of His perfect soul, while both were inseparably joined to the Godhead of the WORD in hypostatic union.

3 Yea, the sparrow hath found her an house, and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young: even thy altars, o LORD of hosts, my King and my GOD.

There is some variation of the readings here, as regards the particular birds named.* The Targum explains them as the dove and the turtle, and interprets the reference to the altar as merely denoting the use of these in sacrifice. The other ancient versions agree with the English as regards the first word, (A.) but translate the second as turtle, like the Chaldee. S. Augustine allegorizes the verse, not without beauty, as follows: He has been speaking of two things which rejoice, his heart and his flesh, and he has set over against these, two parables drawn from birds, the sparrow and the turtle; the one denoting the heart, and the other the flesh. The sparrow hath found her an house; my heart hath found her an house. She plies her wings with the virtues of her life, faith, hope, and charity, wherewith she may fly to her house; and when she comes thither, she will abide there, and the complaining note of the sparrow which is here, will not be there. For the sparrow is a complaining bird, of which is said in another Psalm, “As a sparrow that sitteth alone upon the house-top.”* She flieth from the house-top to the house. Only let her be on the top, and spurn her carnal dwelling, she will then have a heavenly, an eternal house, and there will end her moan. He ascribes young to the turtle, that is, to the flesh. The turtle hath found a nest where she may lay her young. The house is for ever, the nest but for a while; and that nest is the Church militant on earth, the true faith, the Catholic faith, wherein Christians bring forth the fruit of good works. Again;* some explain the sparrow of the Saints of active life, reminding us that it leaves the barren wood to dwell close to the houses of men, and that it is the bird, צִפּו̇ר,* used in the rite of atonement for leprosy, and thus a type of the abandonment of sin and pursuit of holiness; while the turtle, (D. C.) as the constant emblem of chaste love and yet of mournfulness, (Ay.) denotes the penitent Saints of the contemplative life. Cardinal Hugo, according to his wont, sums up the qualities which make the sparrow a fit type of devout souls, in a distich, thus:

Prole potens, hominum vicinus, et hostia lepræ,

Callidus, et cantans, hyemans, cibus est, volat, ignit.

Fruitful, a friend of man, the leper’s sacrifice,

Wise, tuneful, migrates not, is food, flies, fires.

One other interpretation sees in the sparrow, with its lofty flight, CHRIST Himself,* seeking, at the Ascension, His house in the highest heavens, while His faithful spouse, the Church, sighing for Him in her exile here, lovingly brings up her young in the nest of peaceful meditation. And with the former of these two notions agrees that old hymn addressed to Our LORD.

Ave passer salutaris,*

Qui frequenter immolaris

Super tuis sacris aris,

Nunquam tamen consummaris.

Hail, O sparrow of salvation,

Thou which oft art made oblation

At Thine holy altar’s station,

Rite which hath no termination.

S. Augustine gives another reason than this, taking, as he does in another place, both sparrow and turtle as types of CHRIST. Our SAVIOUR, observes he, is compared to a sparrow, because it is a very insignificant bird, as He first taught us humility, and as the turtle is the chastest of birds,* so He first taught us purity.

If we translate the word דְּרו̇ר meaning “freedom,” as swallow, which seems the most exact rendering, we then get a mystical contrast of another kind. The sparrow, keeping close at all times to the houses, denotes the faithful soul abiding steadfastly in the Church on earth; the swallow, a migrating bird, and the swift, a variety of it, which is in perpetual motion, and rarely touches the ground, will serve as the type of ransomed pilgrim souls which seek a better country, and seldom come in contact with earthly and carnal thoughts. Thine altars. The altar, as the most sacred part of the temple, is put for the whole building, around and about which the sparrows and swallows made their nests and fluttered in security. We are told how even heathens looked on the birds which so trusted themselves, as it were, to divine protection as sacred and inviolate; how one man was slain for harming a sparrow which had sheltered itself in a temple of Æsculapius;* how another drove out the sparrows from a sacred fane as a parable in action to shame those who proposed to deliver up a suppliant to his enemies; and we may well believe that not less reverence was exhibited by the Jews.

Interpreting the two birds of Christian souls,* we may take the altars here in the most literal sense, with a true and deep meaning, as referring to the tables whence the heavenly banquet is dispensed for our refreshment, whereon lies that Body which gathers the eagles together.* Or we may take the altars as denoting the human Soul and Body of CHRIST, on which the sacrifices of the faithful are daily offered, and wherein we shall have our eternal mansions, as we shelter in His side.* And so the last of the Fathers exclaims: “O happy clefts, which build up faith in the Resurrection and in the Divinity of CHRIST! ‘My LORD,’ saith Thomas, ‘and my GOD:’ Whence came this oracle, save out of the clefts of the Rock? Herein the sparrow hath found her an house, and the turtle a nest where she may lay her young.* Herein the dove guards herself, and fearlessly looks on the wheeling hawk.” As there were two principal altars in the Temple, that of burnt-offering and of incense, so CHRIST represents both to us, inasmuch as we offer up in Him our active works and the sacrifice of our animal passion, as well as the perfume of meditation and prayer.* Or we may extend the word to denote all the sacraments and holy rites of the Church, which are the nest wherein devout souls abide, and where they raise their young.* And as CHRIST suffered on the altar of the Cross, so all those who take up that Cross, and offer on it their affections and lusts, being crucified to the world, and imitating His Passion, make it their nest, where they shelter under His outspreading wings. Yet again; when they pass from the sufferings of this world, (Ay.) their souls await their consummation and final bliss under the golden altar of GOD in heaven,* their safe haven after a stormy ocean. But if CHRIST be the speaker, and we are to look for His abiding-place, more than one interpretation is open to us. His altars will be, (B.) first, the will of His FATHER, on which He offered up His own will and His life; next, they will be His Saints, whose life is a daily sacrifice, and in whom He is pleased to dwell; and finally, we may take the altars, as in the case of His people, of the heavenly country itself. Note, then, the various epithets by which it is described in the psalm.* It is styled tabernacles, because of the indwelling; courts, by reason of spaciousness; house, as a place of quiet; nest, because of security; altars, by reason of the perfect oblation. And the delightsomeness of this happy land consists not even in all these, but because there is the palace of my King and my God, in Whose presence is the fulness of joy.

Yes, GOD my King and portion,*

In fulness of His grace,

We there shall see for ever,

And worship face to face.

4 Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be alway praising thee.

In the literal sense,* this expresses the longing of the exiles in a heathen land for the solemn rites of the Temple, and contrasts the happiness of those Priests and Levites who served in the sanctuary with the misery of such as are cut off from all participation in the daily service of GOD.* The words may then fitly be applied by us to the happiness of those who are faithful members of the Church on earth, and especially, as some will have it, to the inmates of Religious houses,* whose special task is the continual offering of the sacrifice of praise. But the highest sense is that which sees in the house that heavenly dwelling which is for all time, vast, spacious, and unshaken; not like the frail and narrow nest in which we make our abode here on earth.* And observe, remarks S. Augustine, (A.) that all earthly happiness springs out of action or possession. Necessity is the mother of all inventions, and we are unable to imagine any riches or any felicity which does not depend on our doing or obtaining something. What then does heaven offer us? The possession of GOD, and the unceasing task of praising Him. Our business there will be the unending Alleluia.* Nor let any one fear that weariness and satiety must come of this; for praise can only cease when love ceases,* or when wonder ceases. But as our love and knowledge of GOD will grow to all eternity, inasmuch as the subject matter is infinite, the praise will be always new, always ardent, always delightful.

5 Blessed is the man, whose strength is in thee: in whose heart are thy ways.

As the preceding verse taught us the blessedness of fruition,* so this one teaches the blessedness of hope. They are blessed who need no more help, who have attained their crown and rest, but he is blessed too in his degree, who is toiling onwards, leaning on the everlasting Arm, towards his home.* In whose heart are Thy ways. The word Thy is not in the Hebrew, and though giving a very true sense, adopted by many, limits unnecessarily the scope of the meaning here. The literal rendering is,* Highways are in their heart.* The highway, a paved and solid road, contrasted with a mere path, miry, uneven, and short, is taken by the Chaldec paraphrast as denoting confidence in GOD. But a somewhat wider meaning is given by comparing the words of the two great Prophets: of whom the one, speaking of CHRIST’S kingdom, says: “And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called, The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it, but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there.”* Jeremiah, calling on his nation to repent, cries aloud, “Set thee up waymarks, make thee high heaps: set thine heart towards the highway, even the way which thou wentest; turn again, O virgin of Israel, turn again to these thy cities.”* It is thus the way of salvation, the whole course of obedience to the will of GOD in self-denial and holiness of life; the chart of which must be indelibly printed in the pilgrim’s heart, that he may not stray from the one track which leads to the heavenly city.* And with this squares very well that literalist interpretation, not without its fitness and beauty, which sees here a reference to the Jews in distant places,* setting their faces towards Jerusalem as the three great festivals drew on,* and making their preparations to take the road which led thither. And remembering what is in truth the King’s highway, Who it is that hath said, “I am the Way,” we come to the truest and deepest sense of all, for blessed are they who have Him in their hearts. But the LXX. and Vulgate turn the latter clause of the verse, He hath appointed goings-up (ἀναβάσεις, ascensiones) in his heart. Here too we have a literal meaning assigned, not very different in its force from that already cited, that these goings-up, instead of applying to the elevated roadways, mean here the “terraces” or “stairs”* which Solomon made for the temple with the algumtrees,* for which the same word מְסִלּו̇ת is used. But what these goings-up may mean for us, let us hear. (A.) One tells us that we ascend by love, (C.) and love only; another that each sin repented and conquered is a fresh step on which we tread as we leave it behind in mounting;* while a third specifies three great terraces of ascent, to wit, humility, works of mercy, and contemplation, which have severally ten, six, (according to the older computation of the works of mercy,) and seven grades.* There are various other interpretations given of these steps, (Ay.) but they differ only by indicating divers virtues and good works as specially intended, and may well be summed up under the three heads of the purgative, illuminative,* and unitive ways of salvation. And man can appoint in his heart such a going-up by the co-operation of grace and free-will. He can appoint it,* that is, set his resolve towards it, but he cannot accomplish it of himself. No one can do so, save He Who hath said, “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man, which is in heaven.”* And He too is that Blessed One,* Whose strength was in His FATHER, and Who, even here in the valley of weeping, had already ordained His going-up on high to reign.

6 Who going through the vale of misery, use it for a well: and the pools are filled with water.

The LXX. and Vulgate are at variance here with the English version. Both agree in coupling the first part of the verse with the preceding one, as explaining the place of going-up, and read In the valley of weeping. That is, (A.) in this present life of humiliation and suffering; the press where in the grapes must be crushed into wine, the depth whence we must commence to climb to the mountain’s summit. (C.) Then follows, in the place which he appointed. That is, (R.) as they severally take it, in the place which man, by his sin, has made what it now is, a place of sorrow and pain; or if we take he to mean GOD, then this world is the place which He has appointed for our education and cleansing. They take also a further and more beautiful view, by turning the phrase, into the place which He appointed. That is,* we are going through the valley of weeping, as mere passing travellers, not to abide there, but we are going into the kingdom prepared for us from the beginning of the world, there to dwell for evermore. The true sense of the passage seems to point to the zeal and resolution which overcame all obstacles in the way. The valley through which the pilgrims journey to Jerusalem is arid and waterless, and there is therefore no use in sinking wells. But cisterns or tanks can be formed on the surface by diligent toil, so as of the whole valley to make a well, and the early rain (Heb.) then covers with blessing (Heb.) this valley with its pools and fills them. And this holds especially of those who are set in some place where there is a dearth of the Word and Sacraments of the Church,* but who set themselves at all costs to obtain the water of salvation to quench the thirst of their souls. It is not on earth, so far as they are concerned, but must come to them from heaven; all they can do is to make ready in faith for its reception, and trust to GOD so to bless them with His rain, that they who have gone forth weeping, and bearing good seed, may come again with joy, and bring their sheaves with them.* With this agree the words that follow in the Vulgate and LXX. which, instead of the pools are filled with water, read for the lawgiver will bestow blessing. He Who gave the Law as a press and a burden to afflict us, (A.) will give us grace and blessing in its stead, that after our trouble we may have joy. There is a curious Jewish interpretation of the whole passage to the effect, that sinners,* when beginning to repent, as they pass through the valley, will weep so copiously as to make the whole place a well of water, and will then break out into blessings upon the LORD Who taught them the way by which they refused to go, and hath now afflicted them for their correction.

7 They will go from strength to strength: and unto the GOD of gods appeareth every one of them in Sion.

From strength to strength.* These words have been frequently translated troop to troop,* and explained of the zeal of the new pilgrims, who hasten on so fast along the way, as to overtake and pass company after company of their predecessors, who at first had left them far behind. Thus the publicans and harlots pressed before the priests and lawyers into the kingdom of heaven; thus weak women, like S. Faith, advanced into the noble army of Martyrs when men shrank back afraid; thus too, the great array of the Saints grows ever larger, according to that saying, “At that time day by day there came to David to help him, until it was a great host, like the host of GOD;”* until the number of the elect is complete,* and all appear together in Sion. But a more usual interpretation of the passage is to see here a special blessing promised to the pilgrims, that whereas in other journeys men became weaker and weaker as they drew near the close, those who seek Jerusalem will grow in vigour as they march, and will reach the Holy City in perfected strength. (C.) They will go from the strength of the Law to that of Grace; (R.) they will ascend the ladder of holiness, (A.) adding one virtue to another; they will pass from the strength of action to that of contemplation; they will pass from humility to grief for sin,* and so to full repentance and amendment, (Z.) from the strength of conflict in this world to the strength of sinlessness in the world to come. So again,* we may pass from the lower stages of holiness, from the commoner virtues, necessary for all men to salvation, to the higher practice of those Evangelical counsels addressed to but a few; we are to go on “growing up unto Him in all things, which is the Head, even CHRIST.”* And observe that it is said They will go,* showing that not the will and affection alone, but the actions of our life must co-operate with GOD’S grace in this ascent of the soul. Wherefore the LORD saith in one place, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell all thou hast, and give to the poor, … and come, and follow Me;”* and again in another, “Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.”* And the immediate goal of such progress is the vision of GOD. Even here, in Sion,* the place of expectation,* we can spiritually contemplate Him, and still more perfectly in the open vision of the heavenly Sion, where we may see Him face to face. To those under the Law the words telling of the God of gods in Sion, (D. C.) were a prophecy of the visible appearance of the Incarnate SAVIOUR in the earthly Jerusalem, to those under Grace they are no less clear in Promising His presence in Jerusalem which is above, the mother of us all, to see Him Who is God of gods on earth, that is, of those true Saints of His, (Cd.) who are gods in their likeness unto Him; Who is God of gods in heaven, Eternal above the seraphim.

In a glass,* through types and riddles,

Dwelling here, we see alone:

Then serenely, purely, clearly,

We shall know as we are known,

Fixing our enlightened vision

On the glory of the Throne.

There the Trinity of Persons

Unbeclouded shall we see;

There the Unity of Essence

Perfectly revealed shall be:

While we hail the Threefold Godhead,

And the simple Unity.

And therefore,* in his eagerness for this full enjoyment of the Beatific Vision, the singer bursts into a rapture of prayer:

8 O LORD GOD of hosts, hear my prayer: hearken, O GOD of Jacob.

9 Behold, O GOD our defender: and look upon the face of thine Anointed.

The words of this verse have been taken to signify that the Anointed himself is the speaker in the Psalm,* and this, in connection with the possible Babylonian date, on which the Greek Fathers dwell,* has suggested the idea that the imprisoned Jehoiachin may be the author. But the Jewish commentators,* for the most part, look on it as a mere appeal to the memory of David, and a prayer for help, for his sake, perhaps especially to his descendant, Zerubbabel, Prince of the Captivity, and thus, in a sense, the Anointed of the LORD. My prayer, my one longing, is for Thee;* hearken then, O GOD of Jacob, God of the wrestling, struggling soul which strives after Thee, and turn Jacob into Israel, prevalent with Thee, a prince of Thy kingdom, a spectator of Thy glory. Be our Defender in our contests with the enemy who would fain keep us back from Thee; and if we be unworthy to make our petition, look upon the face of Thine Anointed, as He stands, our great High Priest, before the mercy-seat, and for His dear merits, (P.) grant the longing of our hearts. And while some dwell on the word face in this verse as especially denoting the Manhood of CHRIST, by which He became known to His brethren, others,* especially of the Eastern Fathers, (L.) apply the words to Christians, who are the body of the LORD, members of Him, flesh of His Flesh, and who have put on Him at Baptism; and thus interpret the words of a prayer that the FATHER will behold His SON in us, and be gracious to us for His sake. (A.) Or, as the FATHER always looks upon CHRIST the SON, CHRIST desires us to pray that He may so look on Him as to cause Him to be looked upon by others, (C.) to be known, believed, and worshipped by them, so that men may go from strength to strength, till they at last see the GOD of gods in Sion. So again, we may take the words as our own prayer to our dear Master Himself, Who hath made us His Anointed, with regal and sacerdotal unction, true kings and priests, and then the cry is that He, Who hath given us so much, may give us more. Thus, one of His truest servants exclaims:

JESU,* Whom thus veiléd I must see below,

When shall that be granted which I long for so;

That at last beholding Thine uncovered face,

Thou wouldst satisfy me with Thy fullest grace?

10a (10) For one day in thy courts: is better than a thousand.

10b (11) I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my GOD: than to dwell in the tents of ungodliness.

Better, (C.) because the one day of Heaven hath neither yesterday nor to-morrow, because no night dims its brightness, no end overtakes it. Observe too, that the words may not be merely applied in general fashion to the attractions of GOD’S service in His Church here on earth, to the Jew of old, or the Christian now,* but they may be taken in a special way as looking to CHRIST’S first Advent. The number a thousand not only stands often in Scripture to denote totality and perfection, and thus a dispensation of GOD, but it almost precisely marks the number of years which elapsed from the completion of Solomon’s Temple till the Nativity of the LORD; only one day in the sight of GOD. But the single day on which the heavenly hosts chanted their anthem over the manger in Bethlehem was better than all the festivals and rejoicings of the Mosaic code in its fourteen centuries of previous existence. A door-keeper. Literally, I had rather stand on the threshold. But the Prayer Book version gives the true sense.* This is a Korhite Psalm, and the descendants of Korah were,* in fact, porters, and “keepers of the gates of the tabernacle, and keepers of the entry,” as well as being permitted to swell the chorus of the inspired singers of Israel. On the love which the Saints have shown for the lowliest tasks in GOD’S house, let us hear S. Paulinus of Nola:

Illic dulce jugum, leve onus,* blandumque feremus

Servitium sub te Dominc, etsi justus iniquis

Non eges servis: tamen et patiere et amabis

Qualescunque tibi, Christo donante, dicatos,

Et foribus servire tuis, tua limina mane

Mundieie curare sines, et nocte vicissim

Excubiis servire piis et munere in isto

Claudere promeritam, defesso corpore, vitam.

There easy yokes, light burden, service soft

We shall have with Thee, LORD, although no need

Hast Thou, the Righteous, of ungodly slaves;

But Thou wilt suffer and wilt love all those

Vowed to Thee by CHRIST’S gift to serve at morn,

Cleansing Thy gates and thresholds, and at night

Keeping pure watch by turns, and in this charge

Closing a holy life with worn-out frame.

Even heathens were not insensible to this kind of happiness. The Greek poet makes his hero sing, as he sweeps the threshold of Apollo’s temple:

*καλόν γε τὸν πόνον, ὦ

Φοῖβε, σοὶ πρὸ δόμων λατρεύω

τιμῶν μαντεῖον ἕδραν

κλεινὸς δʼ ὁ πόνος μοι,

θεοῖσιν δούλαν χερʼ ἔχειν,

οὐ θνατοῖς, ἀλλʼ ἀθανάτοις.

εὐφάμοις δὲ πόνοις μοχθεῖν

οὐκ ἀποκάμνω.

A pleasant task, O Phœbus, I discharge

Before thine house, in reverence of thy seat

Of propheey, an honoured task to me,

To give my hand in service of the gods,

Not unto mortals, but immortal ones,

And labouring in such blessed tasks as these

I weary not.

And in the humility of this saying of the Korhites, which contrasts so forcibly with the grasping ambition of their forefather,* we have a type of Christian holiness, repentant for Adam’s transgression, and eager to yield the humblest obedience to GOD. The LXX. and Vulgate, looking rather to the spirit than the letter, translate, I had rather be cast down in the house of the Lord. (Ay.) And hence they draw the lesson that this can be spoken only of suffering in the Church Militant on earth, because no one can be cast down in the Church Triumphant. But this applies only to the Vulgate reading. The Hebrew verity does not exclude the notion of content with the humblest station in heaven, beside the warders of its gate, far below the scats of the loftier powers, for “one star differeth from another star in glory.”*

Amidst the happy chorus*

A place, however low,

Shall show us Him, and showing

Shall satiate evermo.

Than to dwell in the tents of ungodliness. That is, than, to hold any station, however high, in the mere transitory and unsettled dignities of the world; tents, because of their fragility and temporary nature; of ungodliness, by reason of the vices of courts. (P.) Hence they take occasion to remind us of those persons of lofty rank and great power, now numbered among the Saints, who descended the steps of thrones and quitted the chambers of palaces,* to serve the LORD in the bare cell of a cloister, in the coarse garb of a Religious. It is a glorious catalogue, from the many royal English Saints, Kenred and Ethelred of Mercia, Ina and Sigebert, Etheldred, Eanswith and Sexburga, Edith and Ethelfled, and the memory of S. Eadegund and S. Jane in France, of S. Rlizabeth in Germany, down to the later records of the great Emperor Charles V., and two centuries further on, Louise de Valois, who fled from the most luxurious court in Europe to the stern discipline of the Carmelites.

11 (12) For the LORD GOD is a light and defence: the LORD will give grace and worship, and no good thing shall he withhold from them that live a godly life.

The first clause here is more truly and vigorously turned by the A. V. as also by Aquila and Symmachus, The Lord God is a sun and a shield, for in His dealing with His Saints, it is evermore according to His true promise that “upon all the glory shall be a defence.”* But the LXX. and Vulgate translate, God loveth mercy and truth. This comes mystically to the same thing,* as an old commentator says very well, for GOD, in that He is our sun, is full of mercy, as it is written, “He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and the good:”* in that He is our shield, He is truth, for it is written in another place, “His faithfulness and truth shall be thy shield and buckler.”* Thus His mercy enlightens us in the illuminative way,* and His truth crowns us in the unitive. Because He loveth mercy, (A.) He comes to our aid; because He loveth truth, He will give us what He promises; as He showed in His dealings with His great Apostle, “who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious,”* that in him “JESUS CHRIST might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting.” He gave him grace, for it is written, “By the grace of GOD I am what I am.”* He gave him glory,* for he saith “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the LORD, the righteous Judge, shall give me in that day.” When it is said He will withhold no good thing from them that live a godly life, (Ay.) we are to bear in mind that only spiritual good things are intended. Temporal good things, which may be evils in disguise, are by no means either always promised or bestowed. Earthly riches may be seen abundantly with robbers, (A.) with ungodly sinners, with men steeped in the worst crimes of profligacy and violence, but these have no real wealth. As the world calls no man poor who has a chest full of gold, so Saints call no man poor who has a heart full of innocence, and to whom GOD has given the Death of His SON. From such He will withhold no good thing, for it is written by the Apostle, “He that spared not His own SON, but delivered Him up for us: all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”* A godly life. The Vulgate reads innocence, and the commentators dwell on its various tokens and attributes. But one, pointing to S. Jerome’s rendering, perfection (which is also that of Aquila and Symmachus, and the Targum) seasonably reminds us that innocence by itself is but one imperfect virtue,* and needs prudence as its complement, according to that saying of the LORD, “Be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”*

12 (13) O LORD GOD of hosts: blessed is the man that putteth his trust in thee.

And that by fully-formed hope, as Isaiah confesseth, (D. C.) “For the LORD is a GOD of judgment, blessed are all they that wait for Him.”* So too it is written in another place, “Did any ever trust in the LORD, and was confounded? or did any abide in His fear, and was forsaken? or whom did He ever despise, that called upon Him?”*


Glory be to the FATHER, the LORD GOD of Hosts; glory be to the SON, His Anointed, on Whose Face He ever looketh; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, the light and defence of the Saints.

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

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com