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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.

Gregorian. Thou shalt keep * us, O LORD, Thou shalt preserve us.

Parisian. Help me, LORD, * for the faithful are minished from among the children of men.

Mozarabic. For the comfortless troubles of the needy, and because of the deep sighing of the poor, I will up, saith the LORD.

1 Help me, LORD, for there is not one godly man left: for the faithful are minished from among the children of men.

There is not one godly man left. Rather, The righteous hath failed. He, the only Righteous, hath failed,—not in making good His promises, not in loving His own to the end, not in humbling Himself for us unto death, even the death of the Cross; but hath failed in the weakness of death; those blessed Hands, nailed to the Cross, and no more able to cast out devils, (G.) to heal the sick, to raise the dead: those dear Feet, in like manner fastened to the same tree, now no more able to go forth on their missions of love. The faithful are minished. They are indeed. Of the twelve that had so vehemently said, “Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee,”* but one only, and he at a distance, remains faithful: one betrays, and one denies with an oath. And well may the Church, therefore, pray, Help, Lord. “We trusted, that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel.”* The Prince of Life dying the death of a malefactor: the King of Ages suffering the punishment of a slave: the One Star of a dark night, as S. Chrysostom beautifully says, blotted out by the wintry clouds. Help, Lord: for human help is here indeed vain. “If the LORD do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? Out of the barn floor, or out of the wine-press?”*

[The faithful. The LXX. and Vulgate render the Hebrew literally, truths. The Uncreated Truth is One, but created truth is threefold,* that of life, of doctrine, and of righteousness, and may be minished by error, which makes light darkness, and sweet to be bitter. It is true also of heretics, explaining away one Christian tenet after another, and thus minishing the truths of the Creed.]

2 They talk of vanity every one with his neighbour: they do but flatter with their lips, and dissemble in their double heart.

So they talked on that first Easter Eve. “Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, After three days will I rise again.”* “Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.” Miserable flattery indeed, whereby they brought themselves to think that the Omnipotent GOD could be “made sure” by a little wax; (Ay.) that the four soldiers could avail against the mission, if need were, of more than twelve legions of Angels! And dissemble in their double heart. And well they fulfilled this prophecy, when they gave large money to the soldiers, and sent them forth with the tale that that precious Body had been stolen while they slept. And the wise man may well say, “Woe be to the sinner that goeth two ways:”* the Apostle may well teach us, “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.”* For it follows,

3 The LORD shall root out all deceitful lips: and the tongue that speaketh proud things.

All deceitful lips. And oh, how many they were! that spake concerning the Passion, “I am innocent of the blood of this Just Person;”* and the Catholic Creed replies, from one end of the world to the other, (Ay.)—replies by the baptismal font, in the village school, in the assembly of the faithful, by the bed of the dying, “Suffered under Pontius Pilate:”* “Himself He cannot save:” “I am He that liveth and was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and have the keys of death and hell.”* Yes: Pilate, Herod, Pharisees, Elders, Scribes, people, deceitful lips have they all; and of all of them long since has it been said,* “So let all Thine enemies perish, O LORD.” “Let the Jews say,” exclaims the exulting office of the Oriental Easter, “let the Jews say how the soldiers lost the King Whom they were appointed to guard. Either let them exhibit the Body that was interred, or worship the Monarch that has arisen.”1 And the tongue that speaketh proud things. For what prouder saying than that spoken in the hall of most unrighteous judgment, “Knowest Thou not that I have power to crucify Thee, and have power to release Thee?”* What more arrogant decree than that, the dogmatic decree of the whole Jewish Sanhedrim, “Give GOD the praise, we know that this man is a sinner!”* Truly they have been rooted out. Disperdet: that is, as Cardinal Hugo, with a mediæval play upon words, observes, Bis perdet: with the double destruction of body and soul.

4 Which have said, With our tongue will we prevail: we are they that ought to speak; who is lord over us?

So it was: twelve poor and unlearned men on the one side, all the eloquence of Greece and Rome arrayed on the other. From the time of Tertullus to that of Julian the Apostate, every species of oratory, learning, wit, lavished against the Church of GOD: and the result like the well-known story of that dispute between the Christian peasant and the heathen philosopher, when the latter, having challenged the assembled Fathers of a synod to silence him, was put to shame by the simple faith of the former, “In the Name of our LORD JESUS CHRIST, I command thee to be dumb.” Who is lord over us? “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?”* “What is the Almighty, that we should serve Him?”* “Who is that GOD that shall deliver you?”*

5a (5) Now for the comfortless troubles’ sake of the needy: and because of the deep sighing of the poor,

5b (6) I will up, saith the LORD: and will help every one from him that swelleth against him, and will set him at rest.

Comfortless! Yes, they were indeed comfortless, those poor trembling ones, when they were waiting for the departure of that long, weary Sabbath; when their one poor longing was to anoint for its burial the Body that they had fondly hoped to see exalted upon the throne of Israel. Comfortless indeed, when Peter was despairing of pardon; (Ay.) when James had bound himself by a great oath that he would neither eat nor drink till he had seen the LORD; when, go which way they might, everywhere was there the exultation of the Pharisees over their fallen enemy, everywhere taunts and jeers at “that Deceiver!” Deep sighing: for they dared not openly to lament; the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews. And poor they were, if ever any one could be called poor. They had lost Him That was altogether lovely: (G.) they had lost that one Pearl of countless value; and what had they left but the faint remembrance of His Words, and the shaken and shattered faith, that was yet not wholly destroyed?

And therefore, I will up, saith the Lord. “Heaviness may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”* Easter has come at last: “destruction,” as the Eastern Church joyfully exclaims, “has been exiled, immortality has blossomed forth: the long galling chain has been broken in sunder: let the heavens rejoice: let the earth and the things under the earth be glad: for CHRIST hath arisen, and death is spoiled.”1 From him that swelleth against him. For as the serpent had no sooner triumphed over the woman than the promise of salvation was given to the human race; so Satan no sooner seemed to have completed his victory, (C.) on the Cross, than his power was crushed for ever, and they over whom he had tyrannized set at rest, by the sure and certain support of a Risen LORD in this world, and the hope of a perfect and unending rest in the next. Notice that the reading of the Vulgate gives quite a different sense: I will place him in My salvation, I will act faithfully (or as the Septuagint has it, παῤῥησιάσομαι) in him. And set in GOD’s salvation we are, when, as doves, we take refuge in the “Great Rock:” faithfully He has dealt with us in accomplishing all the promises, all the types, all the sayings “that He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began.”*

6 (7) The words of the LORD are pure words: even as the silver, which from the earth is tried, and purified seven times in the fire.

Pure. They fail not to remind us that they are pure in three ways: (L.) as cleansing us from impurity, properly so called, from pride, from avarice. And no sooner had the LORD risen from the tomb, than His words were spoken and written by His servants for the support of the Church to the end of time: no sooner had this true Naphtali, this stricken and persecuted Hind, been “let loose” from the chains of death, than He gave goodly words to His Apostles and Evangelists. And notice how in this very first sermon, His words were emphatically pure words, when He proclaimed the blessedness of the pure in heart, and restored marriage to its first and original purity. Well says S. Ambrose,* “Let us beware not to mingle anything earthly, anything secular, anything corporeal, anything light and mutable, in these celestial sentences. For the words of the LORD are chaste words: that in these, the immaculate and modest sincerity of celestial mysteries may shine forth by a spiritual interpretation. Let us not mingle earthly with Divine things, and injure that inviolable Sacrament of the prophetic vision, or the everlasting oracles by the false estimation of our nature. Therefore he adds, Even as silver, &c., to the end that we, like good money-changers, may examine the coin of prophetic writings, separating the LORD’s money, and purging it from every earthly pollution.” Seven times. As infusing in us the sevenfold graces of the SPIRIT; set forth both in the words of Isaiah, and in those of the Sermon on the Mount.

[From the earth. Because all the prophecies and types of the Old Testament are now purged from the earthly and carnal surroundings of the ceremonial Law, (P.) and set in their true light and beauty. Modern critics agree in turning the words thus,* in the earth; that is, in a crucible or furnace of clay;* not very dissimilarly from S. Chrysostom, who explains it of running the molten ore into clay moulds.* And then we are reminded, taking the words still of Holy Writ, of that passage, “Thus saith the LORD of Hosts, the GOD of Israel, Take these evidences, this evidence of the purchase, both which is sealed, and this evidence which is open; and put them in an earthen vessel, that they may continue many days.”* The oracles of GOD, prophecy fulfilled and unfulfilled, evidence of our ransom, that we may be our Master’s “purchased possession,”* confided first to the Jews and then to the Church Militant, were indeed in a vessel of earth. And as regards each of us, the Apostle warns us that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels,”* so that we must undergo stern probation that “the Word of GOD may have free course”* within our hearts, which it cannot till the fire of Divine love frees it from all dross. Seven times in the fire. So, in the Beatitudes, after seven blessings have been pronounced on the poor, the mournful, the meek, the righteous, the merciful, the pure, and the peacemakers, the eighth, summing up all these into one, pronounces a blessing on those who are persecuted, and have thus reached the final stage of purification from things of the earth, (A.) because the eighth Beatitude, as the octave of eternal life, does but repeat the first note in a higher interval.]

7 (8) Thou shalt keep them, O LORD: thou shalt preserve him from this generation for ever.

Keep them: that is, not as the passage is generally taken, (Ay.) Keep or guard Thy people, but Thou shalt keep, or make good, Thy words: and by so doing, shalt preserve him—him, the needy, him, the poor—from this generation. Thou shalt keep Thy word,*—“Cast Thy burden upon the LORD, and He shall nourish thee;” Thy word,—“I will inform thee, and teach thee in the way wherein thou shalt go;”* Thy word,—“Fear not, little flock; it is My FATHER’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom;”* and so, preserving him from this generation, shall hereafter give him a portion with that happier generation, the general assembly of the First-born which are written in heaven.

8 (9) The ungodly walk on every side: when they are exalted, the children of men are put to rebuke.

And we are reminded of the LORD’s own words, “I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves;”* and of the Apostle’s warning, “That ye may be blameless and harmless in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.”* But starting from the literal sense of the Vulgate, The ungodly walk in a circuit, it is a favourite idea of S. Bernard’s to contrast their crooked ways with the straight-going path of the servant of GOD; their turning aside from the right straight road, with the “I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed”* of the follower of CHRIST.1 Walk on every side. Compare it with S. Peter’s warning, “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about, seeking whom he may devour;”* and say with S. Cyril, in his extreme peril before the Council of Ephesus, “That wicked one, the sleepless beast, walketh about, plotting against the glory of CHRIST; from whom He only can deliver us, from whom we know that He will deliver us.” When they are exalted. The ten persecutions may witness to the truth of this saying. When the children of men, fearing man rather than GOD; dreading them that killed the body, rather than Him that hath power to destroy the soul; fell away from the faith, and denied the LORD that bought them: while the children of GOD, standing firm against seductions and threats, obtained the glory of martyrs as their reward. Notice that here again the Vulgate widely differs from our translation,—According to Thy loftiness, Thou hast multiplied the sons of men: or as it is better in the LXX.,—Thou hast made much of the children of men. And they remind us how the human race has been indeed made much of, in that it has been exalted in the Person of our LORD, to a height far above all height, and to a participation in the very Throne of GOD.

[The sons of men were minished,* observes Arnobius, when the LORD descended to the grave, for His disciples forsook Him and fled, but they were multiplied by His Ascension, because He sent down the HOLY SPIRIT, through Whom three thousand souls were in a moment added to the Church.]

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, Who is our help when godly men fail; and to the SON, of Whom it is written, “I will up, saith the LORD;” and to the HOLY GHOST, Whose words are pure words.

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








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