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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. [Corpus Christi: The table of the LORD is prepared for us against all them that trouble us. Office of the Dead: He shall feed me in a green pasture.]

Monastic. The LORD governs me, and nought shall be lacking to me: He set me there in a place of pasture.

Ambrosian. My GOD, My GOD, look upon me. K. K. K.

Mozarabic. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou GOD art with me.

1 The LORD is my shepherd: therefore can I lack nothing.

In the last Psalm we heard of the Passion of CHRIST:* now we hear of the effects of that Passion. It was because He stood in need of everything, that we lack nothing. And take it either way, both are beautiful: The Lord is my Shepherd, so our version; The Lord governs me, so the Vulgate. And think of the Psalm first of all as uttered by David long before his combat with Goliath, “as he was following the ewes great with young ones.” What he then said in the ignorance and simplicity of his pastoral life, that he found true through his persecutions, through his wars, through all his troubles to the very end. These are nearly the first words of David: and among the last words of David are, “Yet hath He made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure.” But it is in two different ways that those two different families—the “travellers,” to use the mediæval expression, (D. C.) and “they that have comprehended,”—are to use this verse. Our Shepherd—we, the travellers—our Shepherd putteth forth His own sheep into all kinds of dangers, by the lions’ dens, by the mountains of the leopards; and though wherever He putteth them forth, He Himself, according to His own most sweet promise, has been before them, yet they have to wander in wastes and wilds, far away from the comfort and safeguard of any visible fold. But with them the more beautiful flocks that feed upon the celestial mountains, the LORD is their Shepherd too: He has brought them home from the danger of wild beasts, as it is written, “No lion shall be there, neither shall any ravenous beast go up thereon:”* He has brought them out of the very sound of their voices; He has brought them into that fold,* not one of the stakes whereof shall ever be removed. And yet both they and we may say, (L.) The Lord is my Shepherd. The Shepherd delivers us continually from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear; the Shepherd King feeds them for evermore in pastures, of which the human heart cannot conceive the beauty. Therefore can I lack nothing. Because that Shepherd lacked everything; because He had not where to lay His head; because there was no room for Him in the inn; because He sat thirsty on the well; because He was taken even as He was in the ship; because He was an hungered in the wilderness; therefore shall we lack nothing,—His need supplying our wants,* as His righteousness atones for our guilt. “What can GOD deny us, when He has given us His own SON? asks S. Paul: and what can the SON of GOD deny us, when He gives us Himself? He gives us His Body, He gives us His Soul, He gives us His Divinity, and will He deny us bread? Oh, fear and cowardice, unworthy of faith! GOD had not as yet given Himself to be our food, and had only revealed this mystery to the same David, who had so often suffered from poverty, and at once He scoffs at it, and says for us that which we knew not how to say for ourselves. And what is that? The Lord is my Shepherd: therefore can I lack nothing. One thing follows the other. The rich shall fall into want, they who put their confidence in inconstant possessions, to-day possessed, to-morrow lost; but the poor who betakes himself to that LORD, Who is LORD of all things, shall have enough and to spare, as saith the same Prophet, ‘The rich men do lack and suffer hunger, but they that seek the LORD shall not want anything that is good.’ ”

2 He shall feed me in a green pasture: and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort.

Come unto Me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” And with what refreshment?* The green pasture: the waters of comfort. In its widest and broadest sense, the green pasture is the Church. Green, as constantly refreshed with the dew of the HOLY GHOST: green, as shaded from the burning sun of temptation. And notice how it follows,* “There was much green grass in the place: so the men sat down,”* There we have the freshness and verdure of—there also we have the rest to be found inthe Church, But the greater number of the Fathers refer this Psalm altogether to the Sacraments. The waters of comfort, therefore, are the waters of Baptism; just as presently we shall find the oil to be Confirmation, and the cup to be the Blessed Eucharist. But Rupert takes these* waters of comfort to be the rivers of pleasure which are at GOD’s right hand; of comfort imperishable, unchangeable, eternal. Lysimachus deplored that for a draught of water he had lost a kingdom: whoso drinketh of this water,* which proceedeth from the throne of GOD and of the Lamb, (L.) shall reign for ever and ever. And these waters of comfort were purchased for us by that bitter cry of our LORD on the Cross, “I thirst.” Therefore, because of that thirst,* ye shall draw water with joy out of the wells of salvation. And these wells or fountains, S. Bernard says, are five in number:* four belonging to the earthly paradise, the four wounds of our LORD while yet living in the flesh: the fifth, which pertains to the celestial land, the wound inflicted on His side. And they beautifully interpret, of these fountains, that which is said in Genesis of the four rivers of Eden. The first “compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold, and the gold of that land is good.” Havilah is by interpretation,* “He that suffers pain;” and by means of the wound in our LORD’s right hand, the gold produced by the region of pain will be good indeed. The second encompassed the whole land of Ethiopia; that land which originally lay under a curse; as the wound of our LORD’s left hand may be said to have turned the curse arising from the sin of man—the left hand being the type of sin—into a blessing: and so of the rest. Mediæval writers rejoiced to heap together all the characteristics, real or feigned, of various rivers: of the Cephissus, which makes the fleece of black sheep white: of the Xanthus, which turns them red; and so on. There are not wanting those who understand the waters of comfort of Holy Scripture: (D. C.) and quote appositely that saying of S. Paul’s, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our consolation.”*

3 He shall convert my soul: and bring me forth in the paths of righteousness, for His Name’s sake.

And now notice how admirably the miracle of the passage of Jordan figures the effect of Baptism; (G.) its savour of life unto life, and of death unto death. That part which remained nearest to the fountain head “rose up on an heap,”—that is, those who remain true to their LORD in Baptism are drawn up towards heaven: that part which ran into the Dead Sea “failed and was cut off,” having no more connection with the original source of the stream, (G.) but utterly lost in those dark and noisome waters. And notice also how admirably the usual course of GOD’s dealing with a Christian soul is here set forth. In the last verse we have Baptism: we are to understand the usual sad falls after Baptism. And then it follows, He shall convert my soul. Never let us be afraid, because the word has been so sadly misused and misapplied, to dwell boldly on this truth, and to enjoin it with all our might,—that in most instances a second grace is necessary after that of Baptism has been given and has been abused. And then, when this grace of conversion has been given, and has been received and acted upon, (L.) then He shall lead us forth in the paths of righteousness. Others see in this verse an admirable declaration of the blessings of the New Covenant. When the waters of comfort had once been opened, then the servants of GOD should be led forth in the paths of righteousness: for before the institution of that blessed Sacrament, the greatest Saints were only led forth in the paths of the ceremonial law. I cannot do better than quote the admirable words of Lorinus on the subject: “They,” says he, “were led forth in the paths of ceremonies,* carnal commandments, the works of the law; which could not justify,* and made nothing perfect.* ‘But in His days,’ says David,* ‘shall righteousness flourish:’ He,* namely, Who is the LORD our Righteousness;* the Righteous Man Who is raised up from the east;* the Righteous Man Whom the ‘clouds rain down;’* Who is made righteousness to us; Who came to teach us righteousness; Who Himself fulfilleth all righteousness; Who goeth in the way of righteousness; Who, finally, alone justifies and leads to blessedness them who walk according to the laws that He has prescribed to them, and teaches the Divine knowledge of the things which have to be believed as well as done.* These are the ‘ways of wisdom,’ of which Solomon speaks; these are the ‘right paths’ to which he invites.” For His Name’s sake. And here once more is the Name that is above every name; the Name, “great, wonderful, and holy,” which is to be the strength of GOD’s people here, and the everlasting subject of their praise hereafter.

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff comfort me.

Here we have the reason why this Psalm is one of those employed in the Office for the Dead. And see how beautifully the whole corresponds to it. The grave, the fold, in which the LORD’s sheep are penned safely till the morning of the Resurrection. And the Shepherd Himself had tasted of the same trials which He permits His sheep to know. The green pasture will be, as ancient Liturgies so often make it, the state of blessed souls, that have departed out of this world, but have not yet been admitted to the Beatific Vision. “They have departed,” says James of Edessa,* in his Liturgy, “with true hope, and the confidence of the faith which is in Thee, from this world of straits, from this life of misery, to Thee. Remember them and receive them, and cause them to rest in the bosom of Abraham, in tabernacles of light and rest, in shining dwelling-places, in a world of pleasures, in the city Jerusalem, where there is no place for sorrow or for war.” “They have been set free,” says Ignatius BarMaadn,* of Antioch, “they have been set free from this temporal life, according to the sentence constituted by their iniquity, and have returned to Thee, O GOD, as to the first Almighty cause. Spare them by Thy mercy; reckon them in the number of Thine elect; cover them with the bright cloud of Thy saints; cause them to dwell in the blessed habitations of Thy kingdom; to be invited to Thy banquet in the region of exultation and joy, where there is no place of sorrow or misery.” Then the “convert my soul” must be taken of that final conversion, when sin snail be destroyed for ever, as it is written, “He that is dead is freed from sin.”* “The paths of righteousness,” what are they but those streets of gold, of which it is written, “The nations of them which are saved shall walk in it?* The table will be at the eternal wedding feast; and then how does the “All the days of my life,” and “I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever,” rivet the Psalm as it were to this, as its natural meaning! But to return to our verse. Why the valley of the shadow of death? What Eusebius taught long ago,* let Laud on the scaffold explain at greater length: “LORD, I am coming as fast as I can. I know I must pass through the shadow of death before I can come to see Thee. But it is but umbra mortis, a shadow of death, a little darkness upon nature; but Thou, LORD, by Thy goodness, hast broken the jaws and the power of death.” Yes: our LORD passed through the valley of death; (A.) we through the valley of the shadow of death. He tasted of death, that we might never taste of it; He died, that we might fall asleep. Thy rod and Thy staff comfort me. Holy men have discussed at length what is the difference between these two. Some will have it that the rod denotes GOD’s punishments for lighter offences; (R.) the staff, (B.) His chastisements for heavier sins. But it is better to take the one of His punishment when we go wrong, (Lu.) the other of His support when we go right. Thus they will answer to the wine and the oil in the parable of the Good Samaritan;* the wine the salutary chastisement, the oil the no less salutary comfort. But there is yet a deeper meaning in it than this: the rod and the staff together make the blessed Cross;* just as the two sticks that the widow was gathering have always been considered typical of the same tree of salvation. And it may well be said that, (Z.) in our valley of the shadow of death,* that Cross is to be our comfort on which our LORD passed through His own valley of misery. For notice how the two join together: For Thou art with me—“I determined to know nothing among you save JESUS CHRIST”—Thy rod and Thy staff comfort me—“and Him crucified.”* There are other beautiful significations for these words. Some will have the rod to signify the Incarnation:* (“There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse:”) and by the staff the Passion: as if, in our passage through death, we require both the one and the other to console us; according to that saying,* “Thou makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to praise Thee.” And yet once more: still taking the staff for the Cross, we may understand the rod of the Virgin Mother, here joined with the Cross itself, because it is written. “Now there stood by the Cross of JESUS His mother.” Once more: Dionysius regards the verse as the thanksgiving of the blessed for the loving kindness which has led them through all the dangers and miseries of this world; and thus beautifully writes: (D. C.) “The rod and the staff with which in the Way Thou didst visit me, have brought me to this celestial consolation. For corrections inflicted for sin, here spoken of under the name of the rod, so purify the soul, as to unite it to the Divine light. And the glorious consolations, bestowed by GOD upon earth, enkindle the soul to desire the perfect sweetness of their country. But it might seem that this verse cannot apply to the blessed, because it implies their remembering in Paradise what they suffered on earth; whereas it is written in Isaiah,* ‘The former troubles shall be forgotten, shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.’ We answer that the Saints in their country do remember the ills which they suffered in their journey,* in so far as such a remembrance is to them a matter of joy. For CHRIST in His most glorious Body has retained the marks of His Five Wounds, not only that in the Day of Judgment He may manifest to the ungrateful that which He suffered for them, but that the Saints in their country may for ever behold that which He endured for their salvation, and by this means may be inflamed with inestimable praise and giving of thanks.”

5 Thou shalt prepare a table before me against them that trouble me: thou hast anointed my head with oil, and my cup shall be full.

By far the greater number of commentators take it—and how could it be otherwise?—of the Blessed Eucharist. “This is the table,” (Z.) says S. Cyril, (C.) in his Catechetical Lectures, (B.) “prepared by GOD,* in opposition to the table prepared before him by Satan;” clearly meaning that,* before the Advent of CHRIST, the enticements and allurements of Satan to sin were, so to speak, a table of poisonous delicacies, to which there was then no such remedy as the table of the LORD. S. Cyprian and the Bishops assembled with him at one of the Councils of Carthage, exhort all those who were likely to be called to suffer martyrdom to prepare themselves for it by the reception of the Holy Eucharist.* “Those whom we excite,” says the Synodal letter, “and exhort to the battle, let us not leave weak and unarmed, but let us fortify with the protection of the Body and Blood of CHRIST. And since the Eucharist is celebrated to this end, that it may be a safeguard to them who receive it, let us arm with the defence of the LORDs banquet those whom we desire to make safe against the adversary.” Then the sense of against them that trouble me may be threefold. Either in opposition to their wishes, and in defiance of their endeavours; or that we by receiving it may be strengthened in opposition to them; or that they, beholding the delicacies GOD provides for us, may be the more enraged and thrown into despair. They give multitudes of instances in which the reception of the Blessed Sacrament has at once set free from some particular temptation; like the story related of S. Macarius, who delivered one who was possessed by a devil,* and told her that the reason of the demon acquiring that power over her was her having abstained for so long a time from receiving.

Nevertheless, there are not wanting those who understand this table of Holy Scripture: as Bede,* S. Jerome, and Peter of Blois. Others, again, take it of the remembrance of the LORD’s Passion; but the most singular interpretation is that of S. Remigius, who takes the table to refer to the rod and the staff mentioned just before, as if David said, Whatever other consolation I might have looked for, Thou hast prepared this; the chastisement that for the present seemeth not joyous, but grievous, but afterwards yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness, which fruit is here called the table. Gerhohus, after dwelling on the blessedness of the Holy Eucharist, well concludes by quoting the prayer ascribed to S. Ambrose: “I pray Thee, O LORD, by that holy and quickening mystery of Thy Body and Blood, by which we are daily fed in Thy Church, of which we are daily given to drink, by which we are cleansed and sanctified, and made partakers of Thy Divinity, give me Thy holy virtues, filled with which I may approach to Thine altar, so that these celestial Sacraments may be to me salvation and life. For Thou hast said,* by Thy holy and blessed mouth, ‘The bread which I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. I am the Living Bread that came down from heaven: if any man eat of this Bread, he shall live for ever.’ O most sweet Bread, heal the taste of my heart, that I may perceive the sweetness of Thy love; cleanse it from all languor, that I may be conscious of no sweetness but Thine. O most pure Bread, having all delight in Thyself, which always refreshest us and never failest, let my heart feed upon Thee, and let the very innermost parts of my soul be filled with Thy sweetness.” And then he tells us how the Chaldæans still make out three bands against us:* the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life; and how each and all of these are to be repulsed by the Sacrament.

Thou hast anointed my head with oil. And here again the commentators devise all sorts of explanations, as indeed Holy Scripture itself invites them to do. But the best and truest seems to be that which sees in this oil both royal and priestly unction: according to that saying,* “Thou hast made us unto our GOD kings and priests;” and again, “ye are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people.” Others again, (Z.) not unfitly,* understand it of Confirmation: which indeed suits well with the mention of Baptism in the second verse,* and also that of the Blessed Eucharist in this. Or mystically: it is the boast of every Christian,—“Thou anointest my head with oil.” For so S. Bernard understands that command,—Thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head. For what is our Head but our Blessed LORD and SAVIOUR? and what is oil but the graces of the HOLY GHOST, That SPIRIT not given by measure unto Him? And there may also be a reference to the unction of our LORD by the hands of S. Mary Magdalene.

And my cup shall be full. Or, as it is in the Vulgate: (L.) And my inebriating chalice, how excellent it is!* And here again we see that glorious and excellent chalice,* filled, not with the blood of bulls and goats, but with the precious Blood of CHRIST, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot. And S. Cyprian even uses this verse as an argument against the Aquarii, who used water in the oblation: “for how can water,” says he,* “inebriate?” “With this cup,” cries Augustine, “were the martyrs inebriated, when, going forth to their passion, they recognised not those that belonged to them,—not their weeping wife, not their children, not their relations: while they gave thanks and said, (A.) I will take the Cup of salvation!”

Ave,* sacer CHRISTI Sanguis!

Iter nobis rectum pandis

Ad cœli sedilia!

Ave, potus salutaris!

Nullus unquam fuit talis

Bonitatis copiâ!

6 But thy loving-kindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

And here, as the conclusion of this Psalm of graces, (Ay.) comes the last and highest of all graces, that of final perseverance: the end and result of all the Sacraments. I will dwell in the house of the Lord. It may be taken in two senses: (P.) the religious as opposed to the secular life here; or the true life, the life that is life indeed, in the true house of the LORD hereafter. But why is it said, shall follow me, rather than, (Z.) shall go before me? For certainly we need that preventing grace of GOD, for which the Church prays, to remove obstacles, to face dangers, to overthrow difficulties. Because, say the Greek Fathers, the idea is that, though we of our own will and nature would forsake and forget GOD, (L.) He sends out after us, follows us, chases us, as it were, till He overtake us, and seizes us for Himself. We need not here enter into the disputes of the schools about prevenient, subsequent, co-operating, concomitant, grace. It suffices us to know what David so often declares, and the celebrated Council of Orange teaches from his words, that we need grace on every side, grace before and behind, grace on the right hand and on the left, if we ever hope to enter the kingdom of GOD at all. Prevenient and subsequent grace are beautifully set forth in the Canticles: when the Bride first says, “My Beloved is mine, and I am His,” and then, “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine.” The former being signified by the first verse, (D. C.) the latter by the second. That I may dwell: there we have the heavenly home-sickness; S. Paul’s desire to depart and to be with CHRIST, which is far better; the change of the light of grace, here often clouded and obscure, for the light of glory that can never be darkened, that can never fade away, that grows brighter and more perfect to ages of ages.*

Nos ad sanctorum gloriam

Per ipsorum suffragia

Post præsentem miseriam

CHRISTI perducat gratia!

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, Who anoints our head with oil; and to the SON, the Shepherd of His people: and to the HOLY GHOST, Who provides for us that inebriating chalice which is so excellent.

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

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