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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. The King * shall rejoice in Thy strength, O LORD. [Ascension Day: Be Thou exalted, LORD, in Thine own strength, we will sing and praise. Alleluia. Holy Cross: The King is exalted on high, when the noble trophy of the Cross is adored by all Christians through the ages. Common of One Martyr: Thou hast set, O LORD, upon his head a crown of precious stone. Common of Confessors: He asked life of Thee, and Thou gavest it him, O LORD. Glory and great worship hast Thou laid upon him. Thou hast set upon his head a crown of precious stone.]

Mozarabic. Be Thou exalted, LORD, in Thine own strength.

1 The King shall rejoice in thy strength, O LORD: exceeding glad shall he be of thy salvation.

Who is King but CHRIST, according to His Manhood? (Ay.) The Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief shall not always travel through the vale of Baca: shall not always be despised and rejected of men: shall not always go on His way weeping, and bearing forth good seed. This “Man” also “goeth forth to His work and to His labour until the evening;”* but not beyond. (Z.) Then shall come the time of joy; the exceeding gladness of that bursting the bars of the grave, and by death crushing death. Of Thy salvation. “For Him hath GOD raised up the third day;” raised by Himself in so far as He was GOD; raised by the FATHER, in so far as He was Man.* Shall rejoice: shall be exceeding glad. “Rejoice,” exclaims the Eastern Church, “rejoice, O ye peoples, and leap for joy! The Angel hath rolled away the stone of the cave; he hath given us the glad tidings and hath said,—CHRIST hath arisen from the dead, the SAVIOUR of the world, and hath filled all things with sweetness. Rejoice, O ye peoples, and leap for joy!”

[Again,* you may take it of the human nature of CHRIST, rejoicing in its hypostatic union with the Eternal WORD,* and glad at being the bringer of salvation, to His brethren.]

2 Thou hast given him his heart’s desire: and hast not denied him the request of his lips.

That desire which led Him down from the songs of the Angels to the blasphemies of Calvary: (B.) that heart’s desire which led to the piercing of His heart, the source of all love, by the Centurion’s spear: to which, and not to the earthly anguish of mortal fever, holy men have not dreaded to refer the words, “I thirst.”

JESU, wondrous to the last! What was Thine intention?

Thou wast silent of the Cross, but of thirst mad’st mention:*

Not that this Thou feltest more than Thy bitter tension;

But that thirst Thou wouldst express for lost man’s invention.

Request of His lips. The “FATHER, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory:”* or, (Ay.) if we carry on our thoughts from the Cross to the Throne, then the continual request that those lips, “full of grace,” and “blessed for ever,”* offer to the FATHER for us: Given to Him, indeed, however much it seemed as if “all these things were against” Him, as if the Prince of Life were subdued by the King of Death, yet in and by all these sufferings, the desire of the heart, the prayer of the lips, were being won. “LORD,” exclaims the Eastern Church, “though Thou wast presented before the tribunal, and judged by Pilate, yet wast Thou not separated from the Throne, sitting there together with the FATHER; and arising from the dead, Thou didst free the world from the slavery of an alien, gracious and merciful. LORD, though the Jews laid Thee as dead in the sepulchre, yet the soldiers guarded Thee as a sleeping monarch, and sealed Thee as a treasure of Life with a seal.”

[His heart’s desire. For Himself, that petition which He twice made,* “FATHER, glorify Thy Name,”* “And now, O FATHER, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self.” For us, that He might not leave us even by His Ascension, but remain with us sacramentally under the veils of Bread and Wine. “With desire have I desired to eat this Passover with you,”* because, as is elsewhere written of Him, the Eternal Wisdom, “My delights are with the sons of men.”*]

3 For thou shalt prevent him with the blessings of goodness: and shalt set a crown of pure gold upon his head.

Thou shalt prevent Him. S. Jerome takes this in the sense of those blessings given by CHRIST,* and given to CHRIST before His Incarnation. “That is,” says he, “long before, when Melchisedec blessed Abraham; and in all the other benedictions which were in the times of the Patriarchs, and until the Advent of CHRIST, CHRIST was blessed in them before. Thou hast prevented, Him with the blessings of sweetness. (Vulg.) The Jews offered Him vinegar and gall; and when He had tasted thereof, He would not drink. He tasted, because He underwent our death; He would not drink, because He remained not in the state of death.” We may also take these words of the servant as well as of the Master, and understand them of prevenient grace. “For,” says S. Bernard, “grace prevents, not only them that had no merits, but them that had evil merits; so that,* while we are yet children of wrath, and are working the works of death, the thoughts that our LORD thinks towards us are thoughts of peace, and not of bitterness; and to us who do not even pray to Him, but who are impenitent,—to us who do not invoke, but provoke,—to us who do not intercede, but recede, He giveth the good Spirit, the Spirit of Life, the Spirit of adoption.” (Ay.) And hast set a crown of pure gold upon His head. They fail not to remind us how often CHRIST was crowned. First, with a crown of flesh, at His Incarnation; and of this it is that Bernard understands that, “Go forth, O ye daughters of Sion, and behold King Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him.”* By His step-mother, the Synagogue, He was crowned with a crown of thorns; by His own faithful people He is crowned with a crown of righteousness; and finally by His FATHER at the Ascension, He was crowned with a crown of glory.

Signum præfert victoriæ

Corona triumphalis:*

Simul et excellentiæ

Dignitatis regalis:*

Sub umbrâ legis veteris

Præsignata per cidaris

Typum sacerdotalis.

Of pure gold: or, as the Vulgate has it, of precious stones. That is, the multitude of the redeemed, each a gem more or less bright, according to his greater or fewer merits, and, (Ay.) brilliant above and beyond the rest, the twelve precious stones of the Apostolic band,—not only the foundation stones of New Jerusalem, but jewels in the diadem of its King. And they also take it of the crown of righteousness laid up for every one who shall have fought the good fight, finished his course, kept the faith. Innocent III. will have it to consist of seven precious stones: four corporeal gifts of the transfigured body,—agility, subtilty, impassibility, immortality,—and three of the glorified spirit,—love, knowledge, happiness. Others reckon up twelve; explaining in this sense the twelve stones of the breastplate, and those which S. John beheld in the Apocalypse. Thus this crown, taken from the King of the Children of Ammon (for no doubt the Psalm was composed on that occasion,) and set upon David’s head,* is the delight and teaching of the Church of GOD to all ages,—nay, rather, beyond all ages.

4 He asked life of thee, and thou gavest him a long life: even for ever and ever.

Literally, He asked life of Thee, for the child whom “the LORD struck, that it was very sick:”* and though not heard with respect to that infant, he was heard with regard to himself: “the LORD also hath put away thy sin: thou shalt not die.”* But the literal sense is lost in the beauty of the mystical signification. He asked life of Thee, (Ay.) when He said, “FATHER, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.”* And this is what S. Paul also tells us when it is written that “He was heard in that He feared.”* And Thou gavest Him a long life: not only in Himself, according to His Manhood, as it is written, “As the FATHER hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the SON, to have life in Himself;”* but life also in His followers: to whom, when their bodies were killed, the enemy had nothing more that he could do: life, the true life, after this valley of the shadow of death: life, the perfection of life, even the Beatific Vision.

5 His honour is great in thy salvation: glory and great worship shalt thou lay upon him.

We must understand it of the glory of the Ascension. For though the Incarnation was glorious, (Ay.) and though the glory of the conqueror was still further manifested in the Resurrection, yet not till that day when He had done with this world for ever, and a cloud received Him out of sight of the Apostles, did they understand fully what was that glory,—the glory as of the Only-begotten of the FATHER. Didymus well observes that the double repetition,* His honour is great—glory shalt Thou lay, answers exactly to that voice of the FATHER, “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” Shalt Thou lay upon Him, as upon an immoveable foundation; causing Him to bear up, as it were, all the glory of His Martyrs and His other servants, from S. Stephen to the end of all things.

6 For thou shalt give him everlasting felicity: and make him glad with the joy of thy countenance.

Or rather, as it is in the Vulgate, Thou shalt give Him to be an everlasting benediction. (G.) And they compare very ingeniously the blessing pronounced by GOD upon the first Adam, “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it.”* For though, while our LORD still dwelt in this world, His time was not yet come, that the multitude of the Gentiles should be converted to Him, and though after His Ascension the number of the names together at Jerusalem was but about a hundred and twenty, yet no sooner had the HOLY GHOST descended at the Day of Pentecost, than the preaching of the Gospel was indeed fruitful, and the number of the faithful did indeed multiply; than the Apostles, by their labour and their blood, did subdue the earth. For He indeed is the true Abraham,* of whom it is written. “In Thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”* Cardinal Hugo understands it of the blessing that shall be pronounced,—“Come, ye blessed of My FATHER:”* and of this he sees a type in the blessing pronounced by Isaac over Jacob, with its twelve particulars: “particulars,” says he, “which every true blessing, more especially the great and final one, must contain.”* I mark them for the reader’s study: “See, the smell of my son, is as (1) the smell of a field (2) which the LORD hath blessed: therefore GOD give thee (3) of the dew of heaven (4) and the fatness of the earth: (5) and plenty of corn (6) and wine: (7) let people serve thee (8) and nations bow down to thee: (9) be lord over thy brethren, (10) and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee: (11) cursed is every one that curseth thee, (12) and blessed is he that blesseth thee.” And make Him glad with the joy of Thy countenance. And here, as the key-stone and essence of that everlasting felicity, he speaks of the Beatific Vision. And so one of our poets well writes:

In the midst of this city celestial,*

Where the eternal temple should have rose,

Lightened the idea beatifical:

End and beginning of each thing that grows,

Whose self no end nor yet beginning knows:

That hath no eyes to see, nor ears to hear,

Yet sees and hears, and is all eye, all ear:

That nowhere is contained, and yet is everywhere.

7 And why? because the King putteth his trust in the LORD: and in the mercy of the Most Highest he shall not miscarry.

The first Adam, placed in Paradise by the mercy of GOD, (G.) lost it, almost as soon as he obtained it. The second Adam, having won for Himself and for us, with His own Right Hand and with His holy arm, a better Paradise, shall not miscarry. Even as they, who shall once have been counted worthy to enter into that place, shall no more be cast out. The King, even when He held the reed for His sceptre, even when He was invested with the purple robe for His royal garment, even when He hung on the Cross, beneath the title of His accusation, “the King of the Jews,” nevertheless put His trust in the LORD; nevertheless knew that the affliction which was but for a moment,* was working out for Him and for His a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Of the Most Highest. This word is not used here without a deep sense: for the same expression, (עֶלְיֹון) was first used by Melchisedec, (L.) when he was blessing Abraham: and by him twice: “Blessed be Abraham of the Most High GOD; and blessed be the Most High GOD:* and therefore it was fit, that He Who on the Cross was made a Priest after the order of Melchisedec, should use the same phrase regarding His victory over that.

8 All thine enemies shall feel thy hand: thy right hand shall find out them that hate thee.

By the Hand of GOD,” says S. Ambrose,* “we understand His power of punishment. This Hand scourged the King of the Egyptians, by reason of his detention of Sarah. This Hand overwhelmed the chariots and people of the Egyptians in the deep of the Red Sea. This Hand phrensied the mind of King Saul, so that he hated the grace of Him That would have preserved him, so that he fell on his own sword, and could not endure to survive his sons and his kingdom.” As before, we have the effect of our LORD’s victory as regarded His followers, so here we have its consequences as respects His enemies. But others take the former part of the verse in a happier sense, and say with Gerhohus, “O LORD JESU, let me, who going down from Jerusalem to Jericho have fallen among thieves,—who from Thy son have become Thine enemy, (G.) feel Thy hand of mercy and love: Thy hand, that will pour in the wine of comfort, and the oil of pardon.”* Thy Right Hand shall find out them that hate Thee. And why? Because they would never find Him out first: “I am found of them,” says He, “that sought Me not.”* “I like it well,” says Bishop Andrewes, “that it is written,* ‘Then said JESUS again. Peace be unto you:’ for if we had had to wait till it could have been said, ‘Then answered JESUS,’ we might have waited for ever, and never obtained His peace at all.”

9 Thou shalt make them like a fiery oven in time of thy wrath: the LORD shall destroy them in his displeasure, and the fire shall consume them.

For when, in its fullest and most terrible meaning, (Ay.) His Right Hand shall have found out them that hate Him, then shall be brought to pass that which is written, “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.* But S. Jerome will take it in another sense, and understands this fiery oven of the earnestness of true penitence:* the oven presupposes the fire and the wood, and they look back to the Lamb offered on Mount Calvary for a burnt offering. But generally speaking, mediæval writers understand it of the pains of hell: which they here enumerate and detail with a fulness of description that reminds one of the paintings of those on the left hand, in the Great Doom of mediæval churches. But take it in the words of Dionysius the Carthusian:

Ignis, frigus procellarum,*

Sulphur, fetor tenebrarum,

Jugis luctus animarum,

Pars earum calicis.

Sempiterna mors, dracones,

Fames, demones, bufones,

Amarissimos agones

Superaddunt miseris.

Tot sunt loca tenebrosa,

Tot tormenta monstruosa,

Quot hæc terra spatiosa,

Atque visibilia.

Quamvis parum sint miranda;

Nec ad illa comparanda;

Ista quippe enarranda,

Hæc indicibilia.

10 Their fruit shalt thou root out of the earth: and their seed from among the children of men.

Their fruit. All their counsels, all their acts against the righteous: all those times of which the wise man writes, “The ungodly said, reasoning with themselves, but not aright;”—all their temporary victories, shalt Thou root out of the earth: out of this earth, because even here, “the poor shall not alway be forgotten,—the patient abiding of the meek shall not perish for ever,” and much more out of that “new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” From among the children of men. (G.) They take it of the saints, (L.) because they have been renewed from that first nature which they had as men, by that second and better principle infused into them by Him who was truly the Son of Man.

11 For they intended mischief against thee: and imagined such a device as they are not able to perform.

They intended mischief against Thee: when “the Kings of the earth stood up,* (G.) and the rulers took counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed:”* when they led Him to the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, and would have cast Him down headlong:* when they took up stones again to stone Him: when they took counsel against JESUS to put Him to death:* finally, when Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required. But we may take it in even a more comforting sense: that not against the Saints in their several generations,—that not against us now, does Satan intend mischief: but against the Saint of Saints, the Author and Finisher of our salvation. “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou ME?”* The Vulgate translates it, “They declined their sins upon Thee:” that is, they said, as the heretics of old,—“Why doth He yet find fault, for who hath resisted His will?”* Or as Adam in the garden, “The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”* The same wicked reasoning which we have heard far nearer our own days:

Can that offend great Nature’s GOD

Which Nature’s self inspires?

12 Therefore shalt thou put them to flight: and the strings of thy bow shalt thou make ready against the face of them.

Nothing can be more different than the Vulgate rendering of this verse: “Therefore Thou shalt turn them back: in their remnants Thou shalt make ready Thy countenance.” It must be confessed that the commentators seem hardly able to make any sense out of that obscure translation. Thou shalt put them to flight, or as others take it, “shall bow down their backs to receive the yoke.” The strings of Thy bow. Not like the certain man who drew a bow at a venture,* and smote the King of Israel between the joints of his harness, but that unerring aim which cannot be turned aside, and cannot miss:

τέλειαι γὰρ παλαίφατοι ἀραὶ

βαρεῖαι καταλλαγαὶ.*

τὰ δʼ ὁλοὰ πελόμενʼ οὐ παρέρχεται.

If there be any sense in the other reading, it is this: (Ay.) that on the remnant, those who should turn to GOD out of the mass of the Jewish nation and should be saved, on them He should lift up the light of His Countenance; them He should prepare to receive His likeness here, and to be transfigured to His glory hereafter.

[Thou shall turn them back from Thyself, (A.) to gaze instead on those mere earthly things which they prefer, Thou shalt make ready their countenance by suffering them to be so blinded with their thought of the mere temporal kingdom of Israel,* that kingdom which was but the leavings of CHRIST, Who refused to be made a King, that they will become the ready instruments of the Passion. His leavings in another sense, (C.) as the mystery of salvation kept until the last time. Yet again, the Jews not only suffered once, but their distant posterity,* the leavings of GOD’s vengeance, continued to feel His wrath. Origen sees here a promise of final restoration. The sinners are turned back for a time, that they may be corrected, but their countenance shall be prepared for that which remains, namely,* to return to GOD. The true meaning of the Hebrew is, however, Thou shalt put them to flight, but, even as they fly, Thine arrows shall not merely wound their backs, but meet them in their faces also.]

13 Be thou exalted, LORD, in thine own strength: so will we sing, and praise thy power.

For Thou art the Sun of Righteousness, (G.) Who knowest Thy time for rising as well as setting: Who when by Thy death on the Cross Thou madest darkness that it was night,—then all the beasts of the forest,—those evil spirits that sought the destruction of man,—went abroad: the young lions, Satan and his followers, strong as in renewed youth, roaring after their prey, sought their meat from GOD: that is, by tearing away His people from GOD’s protection. These are the beasts of which Daniel wrote: “I saw in my vision by night, and behold the four winds of the heavens strove upon the great sea, and four great beasts came up from the sea.”* But now is the time, O Light, O Sun of our souls, to be exalted in Thine own strength, (Ay.) that these may get them away together, and lay them down in their dens. So will we sing and praise Thy power, the power exerted around us to protect us from our enemies,—the power exerted within us to guard us against ourselves. Gerhohus concludes his comment with some verses, which, though rude enough, are so beautiful that I quote them here:

Redde tuam faciem, videant ut secula lumen,

Redde diem qui nos te moriente fugit.

Legibus inferni oppressis super astra meantem

Laudent rite Deum lux polus arva fretum.

Fiat festa dies toto venerabilis ævo:

Sedant letitiæ nubila tristitiæ.

Sitque dies pura, sit nunquam lux nocitura:

Noxia nox pereat: lumine cuncta cluant.

[And the Carthusian bids us note the fulfilment of this prophecy in the fact that Christian hymnody and psalms begin immediately after the Ascension of CHRIST, (D. C.) and the descent of the Paraclete, never ceasing since throughout the ages.]

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, Who preventeth the SON with the blessings of goodness; and to the SON, on Whose Head a crown of pure gold is set; and to the HOLY GHOST, the joy of the Countenance of GOD.

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

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