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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. [Circumcision and Easter Eve: Be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in. All Saints: This is the generation of them that seek the LORD, that seek the face of the GOD of Jacob. Many Martyrs: The Saints that wait on the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall fly, and not faint. Confessors: He shall receive righteousness from the LORD, and mercy from the GOD of his salvation, for this is the generation of them that seek the LORD. Dedication: Lift up your gates, ye princes, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors.]

Parisian. He that hath not lift up his mind to vanity, nor sworn to deceive his neighbour, he shall ascend into the hill of the LORD.

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

Mozarabic. He hath founded it upon the seas and prepared it upon the floods.

1 The earth is the LORD’s, and all that therein is: the compass of the world, and they that dwell therein.

Whether or not this Psalm were composed, as is probable, for the feast of bringing up the Ark from the house of Obed-Edom to Mount Sion, at all events it was appropriated by the Jews to the first day of the week, and for many centuries continued by the Church for Sunday. At the very time when the whole earth was awaking into beauty; when

Caligo terræ scinditur,*

Percussa solis spiculo,

Rebusque jam color redit

Vultu nitentis sideris.

And nothing can be finer than the vindication of GOD’s dominion at the beginning of each new day, the earth is the Lord’s. Nor must we forget the grand effect which these words possess, when set up over the place of meeting of the merchant princes of the earth. S. Paul uses this verse to settle the controversy regarding meat offered to idols;* how that, like everything else, belongs to GOD, and could not really be affected by its pretended dedication to those idols that are nothing in the world. It is used in a very glorious sense by the Eastern Church in her Funeral Service, when at the moment in which the coffin is let down into the grave, the Priest exclaims, “The earth is the LORD’s, and the fulness thereof:” that is, the multitude of the bodies of the faithful who there are awaiting His Second Coming. And again: Innocent III. uses it as an argument for the payment of tithes;* as if it were not much for man to return the tenth to GOD, (C.) of that which belongs to GOD entirely. And all that therein is. Notice the difference between the blessing of Jacob and Esau, which at first sight seems precisely the same. “GOD,” says Isaac to Jacob,* “give thee of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine;” “Behold,” is the benediction of Esau, “thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth,* and of the dew of heaven from above.” The difference consists in this: that, in the one case, heaven is put first, as imparting a true benediction to earth: in the other it is mentioned last, as having no real lot or portion in the matter. Origen well observes that till the time of our LORD’s Advent, the earth’s fulness was not as yet: as it is written, “Of His fulness have all we received.”* The compass of the world, or “the round world,” as it is called in another Psalm; to show that the Church is not now,* as of old, confined to one land and to one nation,* but spread abroad over the whole face of the earth. The earth is the Lord’s. And therefore was this Psalm well said on the Sunday, (G.) since it is His because He made it, and He began to make it on that day, and His because He redeemed it, and He finished its redemption on that sacred day. The earth is the Lord’s. And yet the devil, the father of lies, ventured to say to its rightful owner,* “All this will I give Thee, and the glory of it, for that is delivered unto me, and unto whomsoever I will, I give it.” Be then, says Gerhohus, like Him, Who did not say in return, The earth is Mine, and the fulness of it; and not like the “great dragon, which said, “My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself.”* And notice the different way in which our LORD met two false claims of possession, Satan’s and Pilate’s. Satan’s boast, “This is mine,” was only answered by a dismissal, “Get thee hence, Satan:” Pilate’s speech, “Knowest Thou not that I have power?” was met with an argument, (G.) “Thou couldest have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee.” Satan, to whom no place was left for repentance, was not thought worthy of a reply: Pilate, who might yet have been saved, was. “The earth is the LORD’s;” and therefore, it was well and wisely ordered, just before her LORD and possessor came to visit her, that “there went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

2 For he hath founded it upon the seas: and prepared it upon the floods.

The literal sense of this verse is much disputed; but two explanations stand prominent above the rest. The one, (A.) which is that of S. Augustine, that, since by the LORD’s command the waters were gathered together into one place in order that the dry land might appear, so in a certain sense, (C.) the earth may be said to be formed by, or founded upon, this gathering together of the waters. The other explanation, which the Greek Fathers adopt is,* that of the earth’s being founded on or fashioned by the admixture of water, without which, say they, it would become dust and crumble away; (Z.) a somewhat violent and forced interpretation,* but giving the same sense as that verse of the hymn;

Firmans locum cœlestibus,*

Simulque terræ rivulis,

Ut unda flammas temperet,

Terræ solum ne dissipent.

But in the mystical sense, the seas may be taken for troubles and temptations on which the earth, that is, the Church dispersed through the earth, is founded; while the floods signify the effusion of GOD’s graces by which also she is established. The bitter water and the sweet water, says S. Albertus Magnus,* are both equally necessary for her; the waves of the sea that “are mighty and rage horribly” on the one side;* the rivers of the flood that make glad the city of GOD on the other. S. Ambrose, but less happily,* understands both the seas and floods of one and the same thing, namely, tribulation: (D. C.) In tribulation, says he, the Church is founded, in tempests and storms, in anxieties and griefs; and it is prepared in the floods of adversities.

3 Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD: or who shall rise up in his holy place?

It is as if we, (G.) yet tossed about by the waves and storms of this troublesome world, those waves in which the Church is founded, were asking the way to that mountain of heavenly peace, whither our LORD has already ascended as of old time,* to pray for us. It is the same thing that is written in Isaiah: Come ye and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the House of the GOD of Jacob. Many will say, Let us go up: but here the prophet asks, Who of all that number shall ascend? seeing that “many are called, but few chosen.” And having gone up, Who shall stand, for so it is that the Vulgate translates arise, in that holy place? But the interpretations of this hill, are endless: and may well afford matter to S. Bernard for a whole sermon.* Some will have it to be the Church Militant; some the Church triumphant; some understand it of CHRIST Himself; in which they are authorised by that prophecy of Daniel,* when Nebuchadnezzar beheld the “stone that was cut out without hands, and became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” Others, strangely enough, explain it of Satan; some of the state of perfection; and some of the Cross. But the explanation which sees in it the heavenly mountain, the mountain “in which the LORD of Hosts shall make a feast of fat things,” “Mount Sion, the city of the Living GOD, the heavenly Jerusalem,” as S. Paul writes, is by far the best and the truest. And no doubt there is an allusion to those mountains to which Moses, (L.) Lot, Aaron, Abraham, and Elijah were commanded by GOD to go up.

4 Even he that hath clean hands, and a pure heart: and that hath not lift up his mind unto vanity, nor sworn to deceive his neighbour.

Now we come to the four conditions requisite to render such an ascent possible. 1. Abstinence from evil doing: He that hath clean hands. 2. Abstinence from evil thought: and a pure heart. 3. Who does that duty which he is sent into the world to do: That hath not lift up his mind unto vanity; or, as it is in the Vulgate, Who hath not received his soul in vain. And 4. Remembers the vows by which he is bound to GOD: nor sworn to deceive. And in the fullest sense there was but One in Whom all these things were fulfilled; (L.) so that in reply to the question, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD?” He might well answer,* “No man hath ascended up into heaven, save He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man Which is in heaven.” “Therefore it is well written,” says S. Bernard, “that such an High Priest became us, because He knows the difficulty of that ascent to the celestial mountain, He knows the weakness of us that have to ascend.” It is like the ladder of S. Perpetua which she saw set upon the earth, and reaching to heaven, our LORD as a Shepherd at the summit; a fearful dragon guarding the access to it. He that hath clean hands: so clean that they cleansed the leprosy,—so clean that they not only healed all manner of sickness and all manner of disease, (G.) but were stretched out to pardon sin; so clean, that the streams which poured from them on the Cross, are to be the cleansing of all evil deeds till the world’s end. And a pure heart. “Who,” says S. Bernard, “can conceive, much more express, the purity of that shrine—that heart—where purity strove with love,* which should have the pre-eminence, in a most sweet and tender contest, never to be decided; that heart, which, being opened by the spear, gave access to all guilty, all polluted creatures; offered a hiding place in the rock from the anger that consumed a corrupted world.” That hath not lift up his mind unto vanity. No, for being in the form of GOD, and thinking it not robbery to be equal with GOD, He yet made Himself of no reputation. Nor sworn to deceive his neighbour. That promise to redeem man, that declaration that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head, was, as S. Paul says, a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation. And therefore, well says the same S. Paul, that “by two immutable things in which it was impossible that GOD should lie,* we may have strong consolation.”

5 He shall receive the blessing from the LORD: and righteousness from the GOD of his salvation.

He, whether like rich Abraham he entertained Angels unawares, or, like miserable Lazarus, (G.) was carried by the same angels into Abraham’s bosom, he shall receive the blessing from the Lord. And righteousness: that is, love and mercy, so called, because faithfully promised, and therefore righteously bestowed. Of his salvation. And notice here, again, (L.) the appropriating pronoun: the GOD of the salvation of all men spoken of as the GOD of his salvation only, (G.) who is thus blessed. A mediæval author says, “This Bishop, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, is recorded to have given His blessing, over and over again, to foes as well as friends, to evil-doers, as well as to them that work righteousness; but very rarely do we read of His pronouncing a curse. Would that the Bishops of our own day would follow His example! Would that for injuries inflicted on them they would learn not to anathematize, and to cover themselves with cursing as with a raiment!”* Righteousness. And yet S. Augustine, commenting on such passages as this and those others, “which the LORD the righteous Judge shall give me in that day,” “that they may have right unto the Tree of Life,”* and the like, says beautifully,* “He, O LORD, that enumerates to Thee his true merits, what else doth he count up but Thy gifts?” And in another place: “When GOD crowns our merits, He crowns nothing else but His own gifts.” Yet it is better to see,* in this and in the following verse, the connection of the Head with the members, of the Captain with His soldiers, of the King with His people. [And a most pathetic application of the same idea is found in the use of this Psalm, in the Western Office for the Burial of Children.] He, that is, our LORD and SAVIOUR, shall receive the blessing; and not He only, but all His faithful people together with Him; for it is written:

6 This is the generation of them that seek him: even of them that seek thy face, O Jacob.

Because this mountain is so difficult to climb,* because this law of GOD is so hard to keep, therefore it might well be thought that only two or three in an age, nay, perhaps only He Who alone is righteous, had been able to ascend it. This verse shows how mistaken is the idea: This is the generation. S. Bernard has a sermon addressed to the Cistercian brothers on this text. He distinguishes these generations: the first, those who remain yet unbaptized, who neither seek nor are sought by GOD; the second, those who are sought by GOD in Baptismal regeneration, but who seek Him not, because not crucifying, and utterly abolishing, the whole body of sin; the third, those who both seek and are sought, having been found by Him in Baptism, and finding Him every day in earnest prayer and in holy life; the fourth, those who seek Him in a more especial sense, as having given themselves up to Him entirely in the religious life; and these last he exhorts with all his own fervour from that text in Isaiah, “If ye will seek, seek ye.”* That seek thy face, O Jacob. Or, as it is written in the Vulgate, That seek the face of the God of Jacob. If we take our own translation, we may explain it, with some of the Fathers, of our LORD spoken of under the title of Jacob; to show that it is by means of His Incarnation, His becoming like us and being called as we are, that only we venture to approach Him. But Bredenbach explains it in a more ingenious manner. That seek thy face, O Jacob, means according to him, “That seek the Face which thou, O Jacob, didst behold when thou didst wrestle in that night-struggle.” And then, in allusion to this, we may very well take Jacob’s own exclamation, “I have seen GOD face to face, and my life is preserved.”* That is, we for this reason seek the face that Jacob saw, that our life may also be preserved. But, if we take the more usual translation, then He Whom we seek is called the GOD of Jacob, (Z.) to signify that we also must struggle and wrestle, if we would attain to Him: which lesson of earnestness in prayer is also taught us by the double repetition.* Them that seek Him, even of them that seek Thy face. “That seek Thy face!” exclaims Venerable Bede:* “but what shall it be when the seeking shall have passed, and the finding shall have begun! when we not only behold the goodly pearl, but, having sold all that we had, merit to purchase it! when the time of prayer is over, and that of praise shall have commenced!”

JESU,* the Hope of souls forlorn,

How good to them for sin that mourn!

To them that seek Thee, O how kind,

But what art Thou to them that find?”

7 Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors: and the King of glory shall come in.

Notice, in the first place, the difference of our version from the Vulgate: Lift up, ye princes, your gates. Yet the sense is the same in both: whether the gates are called on to lift up themselves, or those who have the charge of them to throw them open. Now there are five principal meanings which have been attached to this verse: (L.) we will take them in turn.

The first would apply to CHRIST’S triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday. There is no doubt that, originally referring to the ark, the Psalmist had an eye to its many wanderings through the forty years’ desert to Gilgal, to Shiloh,* in the land of the Philistines, to Kirjathjearim, to the house of Obed-Edom, and now finally to its appointed resting-place in the hill of Sion. In like manner, after so many journeyings from Nazareth to the house of S. Elizabeth, back to Nazareth, to Bethlehem, into Egypt, to Nazareth again, and thenceforward through Judæa, and Samaria, and Galilee, our LORD now came up to His final earthly abode in Jerusalem. This interpretation, however, has received but very small support; and indeed is very mean compared with the others.

The second, which is received by very great authorities, would refer it to our LORD’s descent into Hell,* His bursting the gates of brass, and smiting the bars of iron in sunder. To this the Latin Church would seem to appropriate it, by appointing this Psalm as one of those for the Second Nocturn for Easter Eve, with the antiphon from this verse. S. Epiphanius has a magnificent passage, in which he represents our LORD attended by an army of angels, Michael and Gabriel in the fore-ranks, demanding admission at hell-gate; bursting open the unwilling doors,* tearing them from the hinges, casting them forth into the abyss, commanding that they shall never be raised any more. “CHRIST,” he exclaims, “CHRIST, the Door, is present: unto GOD the LORD belong the issues of death.” In the same sense, Lævinus Torrentius, in one of his poems for Easter Eve, writes:

Ferali linquens pendentia stipite membra,*

Spiritus infernas Victor adibit aquas:

Debellanda illic sævi fera numina Ditis,

Magnaque de magnâ præda petenda domo.

Its Duci comites! Nondum via trita: sed ipse,

Ipse per insuetum vos bene ducet iter.

To the same effect the Eastern Church,* on the great Sabbath, exclaims: “To-day, Hades groans and cries out, It had been profitable for me if I had never received Him That was born of Mary; for, coming upon me, He hath dissolved my strength, He hath broken the gates of brass: He, as GOD, hath raised up the souls which I before held. Glory, O LORD, to Thy Cross, and to Thy Resurrection! To-day, Hades groans and cries out, My might is dissolved: I receive to myself a mortal, as one of the dead; Him I can in no way have strength to hold, but I lose with Him those over whom I rule: I detain the dead for all ages, but behold, He raiseth up all. Glory, O LORD, to Thy Cross, and to Thy Resurrection! Of this day Moses beforehand spoke mystically as in a type: ‘And GOD blessed the seventh day.’ For this is that blessed Sabbath, this is that day of rest, in which the Only-begotten SON of GOD rested from all His works, keeping Sabbath in the flesh, on account of His device which He had devised concerning death; and returning back again to that which He was by His Resurrection, He hath bestowed on us the life which is eternal, as only good, and the Lover of men.”

Therefore,” (G.) exclaims Gerhohus, “O infernal princes, at whose persuasion the Innocent suffered unjustly, now ye must lose even them whom ye appeared to possess by a kind of justice. Away, then, with your gates! speak no more of the cause which ye seem to have of justly detaining them! keep silence when He is at hand in Whom your prince, when he came, found nothing. Be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in. It is a reiteration of the command: Let Pharaoh hear whose princes ye are. For our true Joseph, though sold, is yet alive, and hath dominion over all the land of Egypt, not only in the world, but also in hell. On His part we command you, be ye lift up, ye gates, that were subject to the hard bondage of the Egyptians; for they that were retained by them shall no longer groan under that domination, but, baptized in the Red Sea of the Blood of CHRIST, shall enter into the land of promise.”

The third signification would see in this verse the exclamation of the angels attending our ascended LORD.* None can express this meaning more beautifully than our own Giles Fletcher:

Lift up your heads,* ye everlasting gates,

And let the Prince of Glory enter in!

At Whose brave volley of sidereal states,

The sun to blush, and stars grow pale, were seen;

When leaping first from earth He did begin

To climb His angel flight; then open hang

Your crystal doors: so all the chorus sang

Of heavenly birds, as to the stars they nimbly sprang.

Out leap the antique patriarchs all in haste,

To see the powers of hell in triumph led;

And with small stars a garland interchased

Of olive leaves they bore to crown His head,

That was before with thorns degloried:

After them flew the Prophets, brightly stoled

In shining lawn, and wimpled manifold,

Striking their ivory harps strung all in chords of gold.

Nor can the Martyrs’ wounds them stay behind;

But out they rush among the heavenly crowd,

Seeking their heaven out of their heaven to find;

Sounding their silver trumpets out so loud

That the shrill noise brake through the starry cloud;

And all the virgin souls, in pure array,

Came dancing forth, and making joyous play:

So Him they led along into the courts of day.

So Him they led into the courts of day,

Where never war nor wounds abide Him more;

But in that house eternal peace doth play,

Acquieting the souls that, new besore,

Their way to heaven through their own blood did score:

But now, estranged from all misery,

As far as heaven and earth discoasted lie,

They bathe in quiet waves of immortality.”

The King of Glory shall come in. “O Faith!” exclaims Gerhohus, “O eternal gate, (G.) by whose present vision thou art perfected and exalted! And Thou, O Hope of the elect, which, fixed on eternal blessings, canst never disappoint, now exult, now rejoice; for lo! the King of Glory is about to enter in, to disappoint His servants of no part of the blessings which have been promised by Thee.” And so the Eastern Church: “To-day the heavenly powers beholding our nature exalted to heaven,* and marvelling at the strange ascent, doubted and said one to the other, Who is this that is at hand? And beholding their own LORD, they exhorted each other to lift up the celestial gates. In company with whom we praise Thee ceaselessly, Thee Who wilt in the flesh come again from that place as Judge of all, and Almighty GOD.”

The fourth meaning is that of S. Augustine, (A.) but followed by few, though Venerable Bede accepts it. According to him, the princes are the kings of the world, now called, by accepting the Gospel, to permit the King of Glory to enter into their several territories. A very poor and unworthy sense.

The fifth meaning sees in the verse a prophecy of the Incarnation; and on this account it is, that, in the Mass of the Vigil of the Nativity, it forms the offertory. This sense is adopted by S. Jerome; though here also he would find a spiritual reference to the virtual opening of the gates of heaven by the fact of our LORD’s taking flesh upon Himself.

In all the services for the dedication of a Church, this verse has been prominently used; the entrance of the LORD into His new temple being regarded as symbolical of His entrance into the “house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”*

[There is yet a sixth meaning attached to this verse. Ye who once were the slaves of sin,* but are now not only free, but princes, as GOD’s kings and priests, lift up your gates, removing the barriers which sin puts between you and GOD, and those once gone, be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors of virtue and holiness, which cannot pass away, and then the King of Glory will enter His palace of the believing soul. The Mozarabic Missal employs the words in a further sense,* in the course of a collect said just before the consecration of the elements into the Body and Blood of CHRIST.]

8 Who is the King of glory: it is the LORD strong and mighty, even the LORD mighty in battle.

The explanation of this must of course depend on the meaning we have attached to the demand. If that demand were addressed to the spirits of darkness,* then the attendant angels may well speak of the victories won by the LORD in former days: won for His people Israel, when He overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,*—when the walls of Jericho fell down at the blast of the trumpet,—when the seven nations were cast out before the chosen tribes: the victories over all their enemies, from the possession of Canaan till the overthrow of Antiochus. If we see in the demand the voice of the triumphant angels at the Ascension, well may they speak of the LORD mighty in battle, when Satan and all his hosts, when sin, and death, and hell have just been utterly vanquished. The words of Vieyra are well worth notice: “When CHRIST ascended in triumph to heaven,* the angels who accompanied Him said to them that kept the guard, Lift up, O ye princes, your gates, and the King of Glory shall come in. They think the term strange; and before opening the portal, they inquire, Quis est iste Rex Gloriœ? This Whom you call the King of Glory, Who is He? To the one, and for the other band, of angels, S. Augustine replies with these noble words: ‘The heavenly spirits beheld CHRIST all-glorious with His wounds; and bursting into admiration at those glittering standards of Divine virtue, they poured forth the hymn, Quis est iste Rex Gloriœ?’ Wonderful saying! CHRIST our LORD, in the day of His Ascension, went arrayed with glorious gifts, like the Blessed One that He was; but the angels called Him not King of Glory because they saw Him glorious, but because they saw Him wounded. Far greater glory they were for CHRIST and for the angels, those marks of His Passion, than the endowments of His blessedness.”

Then, if we refer the former verse to the Annunciation, the question here is only that of S. Mary, Who is this King of Glory? And herein is the greatness of His love, that the Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle, did not abhor the Virgin’s womb, and vouchsafed to tabernacle there the appointed time. Ibi—and lay great stress on that adverb—

Ibi regem de Sion

Expavescit rex Ammon;*

Ibi tremit Babylon,

Quia noster Solomon

Coronatur in Gihon.

9 Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors: and the King of glory shall come in.

10 Who is the King of glory: even the LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory.

There remains but one observation to be made on the repeated demand and reply. In the first the LORD,* victorious over the grave, was ascending into heaven, alone, (A.) so far as human nature was concerned,—alone, so far as regards His faithful servants, yet bearing the burden and heat of the day, while He was entering into rest. But now we look forward to the end of the world. And behold, He reascends, not now by Himself, but with all the multitude of the redeemed, with all His saints, from the beginning of the world to the last that was written in the Book of Life. Well, therefore, was the reply to the first question,—“The LORD, strong and mighty;” for what greater proof of might than the overthrow of death and hell? And with equal force the second reply is, The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory: when it is not a single warrior returning in triumph, (Ay.) but a mighty Chief, followed by the multitude of His victorious soldiers. “And may the Lord of Hosts,”* so a mediæval preacher concludes his sermon on this verse, “the true David, the Victor over the spiritual Goliath, the Founder of the everlasting city on Mount Sion, be to us the pacific Solomon, the Lord, yet in another sense, of Hosts, and introduce us one day into that land where Judah and Israel shall be as many as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry!”*

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, Whose is the earth and all that therein is; and to the SON, the King of Glory; and to the HOLY GHOST, the Righteousness of the GOD of our salvation.

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

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