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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.

FROM the time that I was called, at College, to a necessary attendance at Daily Service, I began to apply myself to a more special study of the Psalms. My first attempt that regarded them in a literary way, was a translation of S. Bernard’s Commentary on the 90th, (91st,) which, to my no small pride at the time, was thought worthy of a place in one of the ecclesiastical magazines of the day.

In the December of 1843, being admitted by the kindness of the Canons of Funchal to the use of the Cathedral library, a collection which, though rather small, contains the best mediæval writers, as well as nearly all the Fathers, I commenced (what had been some time definitely in my mind) a Commentary on the Psalms, finishing seven in the course of the winter. These, on my return to England, were published in the Churchman’s Companion; and some inquiry having been made whether the series was to be continued, the publisher of that periodical requested me to go on with what I had commenced. I accordingly so far complied with his request, as to begin the more diligent study of the regular commentators on the Psalms; as well as to open a commonplace book for detached references in the Fathers, and in such mediæval writers as I might happen to peruse.

The work had not been advertised, when Mr. Parker’s Commentary on the Psalms was announced. I had resolved to give up my own, when my publisher urged me to continue it, on the plea that there was room enough for the two works,—that Mr. Parker’s was of a more popular character than mine would be,—and that the Clergy might well be disposed to go more deeply into the mystical interpretation of the Psalter than that had done. At the same time a paper which I furnished to the Christian Remembrancer on Mr. Parker’s Commentary, was the occasion of my receiving several earnest solicitations to undertake one myself.

To this I may add, that my connection with the Sisterhood of S. Margaret’s, at East Grinsted, involving the weekly recitation of the Psalter, tended to make me more willing to persevere in the task in real earnest: and the first part of the result is before the reader. I mention these facts, principally for the sake of excusing myself from the charge of presumption in undertaking a work for which so many and such varied attainments ought to be requisite.

I wish, in the first place, to warn the reader that the following commentary is not, in the slightest degree, critical. My acquaintance with the Hebrew is far too limited to enable me to offer anything of value in that way. My design has been quite different. To treat the Psalms in the same way and in the same spirit in which the mediæval commentators approached them, themselves entirely unacquainted with Hebrew, is the height of my ambition; employing them in the sense in which the Church has used them, and endeavouring to trace, above all things, their mystical meaning.

The mystical interpretation of Holy Scripture has fallen so completely into abeyance with us, that it is no unusual thing to hear authors, like Bishop Horne, who barely entered on it, called fanciful and crotchety in virtue of those partial attempts. I know that very much in the following pages will appear beyond measure wild and unreal to persons who are not used to primitive and mediæval commentators. To those who are, I would merely state, that not one single mystical interpretation through the present Commentary is original; and (if I may venture on the term) that fact constitutes its chief value.

The Dissertation on the principles of mystical interpretation was intended to be prefixed to the second volume; but as I was unwilling that the present should appear without it, it will be found at the conclusion of the 30th Psalm.

The authors from whom I have taken the following pages are mentioned at length in the Second Essay. But, as I wished to take the Psalms as the Church has taken them, I thought that one of the most valuable sources of assistance would be in the various responses and versicles, the Psalmelli, the Graduals, the Communions, the Sacrificia, and other anthems of the like kind made from the Psalms, but more especially from the Antiphons. Of these, therefore, the reader will find considerable use made; and it is my perpetual reference to these, as well as to the Hymns of the Church, which is the most novel feature in my book.

Very, very seldom do we find any reference, in other expositors, to Western hymns: to Eastern, never. I cannot but hope that the reader will be thankful for having his attention called to some of the magnificent bursts of poetry which are to be found in the Odes and other Troparia of S. John Damascene, S. Cosmas the Melodist, S. Andrew of Crete, S. Theophanes, and even S. Theodore and S. Joseph of the Studium.

With respect to the references in the margin of my Commentary, the following explanation may not be out of place. 1. Where a capital letter, as subsequently explained, is used, it means that the writer so quoted makes the particular observation referred to in his Commentary on the verse of the Psalms then under consideration. Thus in Psalm 19:7, the G. in the margin shows that the paragraph in question is taken from the Commentary of Gerhohus on that particular verse. 2. (And this I beg may be particularly noticed.) Where a reference is made to any other writer without particularising book or page, it means that the quotation is taken from that writer’s Commentary on the particular part of Scripture to which allusion is there made. If I had not employed this abbreviated method of reference, my whole margin would have been a confused mass of figures. Thus in Psalm 19:7, which I have just quoted, the following passage occurs: “This is the mantle which fell from our ascending Elijah:” and the name printed in the margin is Rupert. This means that Rupert of Deutz makes the same observation in his Commentary on Elijah’s ascension into heaven, namely, as related in 2 Kings 2.

With respect to the Collects given at the end of each Psalm, and of the Introduction at the commencement of each, it is to be observed that the general meaning, rather than an exact translation is to be looked for.

Reference is sometimes made in the Commentary to a Fourth Dissertation. This, if GOD give me life and health, will be found in the Second Volume.

I cannot conclude better than in the words of the great hymnologist of modern Germany: “Faxit autem Dominus Ecclesiæ Christianæ O. M., cujus honorem omnes hymni celebrant, quem cantica prædicant et sequentiæ cum antiphonis certatim extollunt, ut hic etiam studiorum nostrorum fructus ad salutem Ecclesiæ Christianæ valeat. Offerimus opus nostrum tanquam donum omnibus quicunque nomen Christi sancte colunt; offerimus sanctissimo Redemptori pro unitate atque amabili Ecclesiæ concordia sacrificium, neque aliud quid ex intimo animo precamur, nisi ut ipsi quoque sentiamus illud quod de sanctissimo patriarcha scriptum legimus: Respexit Dominus ad munera ejus.”

SACKVILLE COLLEGE,

Feast of the Epiphany, 1860.








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