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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. O worship * the LORD in His holy temple. [Epiphany: Bring unto the LORD, O ye sons of GOD, worship the LORD in His holy temple. Transfiguration: The LORD hath discovered the thick places, in His temple doth every man speak of His honour.]

Monastic. O worship * the LORD in His holy temple.

Parisian. Ascribe unto the LORD * glory and honour.

Mozarabic. In the temple of the LORD all shall tell His glory, and the LORD shall remain a King for ever.

1 Bring unto the LORD, O ye mighty, bring young rams unto the LORD: ascribe unto the LORD worship and strength.

There is no Psalm which has been thought to contain more mysticism than this;* and, as Didymus tells us, its very number, twenty-eight, is in itself a mystery. It contains four septenaries; or, taking twenty as the symbol of perfect virtue, and eight as that of regeneration, the two—both the beginning and the completion of the Christian course—are both contained in it.1 Notice the difference between the Bible and Prayer Book versions: the former translating this verse, (G.) Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty: give unto the Lord glory and strength. These young rams, as they beautifully say, are the same of whom the LORD spoke to the Prince of His shepherds, “Feed My sheep; feed My lambs.” And as He then spoke thrice, so here a triple answer is given. O ye mighty, or, as it is in the original, O ye sons of God: whereon S. Basil takes occasion to observe, that only they who are the sons of GOD by purity of heart can offer gifts acceptable to Him; whence CHRIST Himself commanded us at the commencement of the prayer which He Himself instructed us to offer, to say, “Our FATHER.” Richard of S. Victor treats this verse, and indeed the whole Psalm, (L.) at great length, in a treatise founded thereupon to those engaged in the religious life. S. Peter Chrysologus, not unnaturally,* takes occasion from this verse to exhort parents to bring their children to GOD as soon as possible in Holy Baptism. And we may well compare the text in Hosea, “So will we offer the calves of our lips.”* Based on the glory and honour of this verse is the Canon of the Fourth Council of Toledo, which orders, under pain of excommunication, that instead of the “Glory be to the FATHER, &c.,” adopted by all other Churches, “Glory and honour” should be ascribed, as it is done by the Mozarabic Office to this day.1

[“He who collects the scattered sheep of CHRIST, who turns back the erring,* and finds the lost, this man brings young rams unto the LORD.” And as the Apostles are the leaders of CHRIST’S flock, so those children whom they have begotten in the Gospel are fitly called sons of rams.2]

2 Give the LORD the honour due unto his Name: worship the LORD with holy worship.

And what honour is that?* What honour is due to that Name, once the laughing-stock of the world, once the scorn and derision of sinners, now the joy and safety of the saints, and the happiness of the blessed? As the hymn says:

Tis the Name,* by right exalted

Over every other Name,

That when we are sore assaulted

Puts our enemies to shame;

Strength to them that else had halted,

Eyes to blind, and feet to lame.

With holy worship: or, as the Vulgate has it, In His holy temple. And this temple the commentators understand in very different manners. In that tabernacle, say the Jews, (Ay.) which, after all its wanderings in the wilderness, and its varied habitations at Shiloh, Kirjath-jearim, and elsewhere, was now decaying and waxing old, and ready to vanish away. The Church Militant,* say the Greek expositors; holy, notwithstanding all its sins, all the tares that grow together with the wheat, all its miserable weaknesses and shortcomings. In the Material Church,* say most of the ritualists; and some of the Offices for the Dedication of a Church employ this verse as the antiphon. It is the religious life, writes Richard of S. Victor, in a passage which may well be quoted. “Above,” says he,* “we are commanded to offer a sacrifice; here the precept is to adore in the temple: the one that we may not enter with empty hands; the other that we may not stand with idle bodies. That we may not enter with empty hands, Bring young rams unto the Lord; that we may not stand with idle bodies, Worship the Lord in His holy temple. “What is it to worship, except to bow down our whole body to the feet of Him Whom we adore? The Prophet wills, then, that we should be subject, not only to the higher members of the LORD,—that is, to prelates,—but even to those that are lowest, and that of our own free will. Fulfil S. Peter’s command, ‘Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man, for the LORD’s sake,’* without doubt thou hast worshipped the LORD. Enter, therefore, that august gate with the vows of your religion, with the habits of your profession; remain in the house of discipline, hold the institutions of your rule. This is truly the worship that David here requires.” Others, (C.) again, take this Temple of GOD to be a pure conscience, without which all worship is utterly valueless. And they observe that in this Temple it is the part of the FATHER to lay the foundation, that of the SON to build, that of the HOLY GHOST to complete. Thus it was that David made preparation for the Temple; that the Son of David, the pacific King Solomon,* erected it. It would be endless to tell how others have seen in this verse an allusion to the offerings of the wise men; or how in the four clauses about offering, S. Basil and S. Athanasius see the Trinity of Persons and the Unity of Essence.

[The holy temple, or hall,* observes S. Bruno, the Carthusian, is our own heart, now narrow, but soon to be enlarged by charity, so as to make it a dwelling ample enough for GOD Himself.]

3 It is the LORD, that commandeth the waters: it is the glorious GOD, that maketh the thunder.

Now follows that remarkable description of the sevenfold effects of the voice of the LORD, which has given rise to so many expositions, and which, no doubt, is as deeply mystical as any part of the Psalms. Let us take them as they stand in the Vulgate, and then return to each verse as it is given in our version:

1.              The voice of the LORD is upon the waters.

2.              The voice of the LORD in virtue.

3.              The voice of the LORD in magnificence.

4.              The voice of the LORD that breaketh the cedars.

5.              The voice of the LORD dividing the flames of fire.

6.              The voice of the LORD shaking the wilderness.

7.              The voice of the LORD preparing the stags.

It is not wonderful that, with such a leading idea as that suggested by the first clause, Baptism, many commentators should have seen the Seven Sacraments in these voices. On the waters, (L.) Baptism; in virtue, Confirmation; in magnificence, the Blessed Eucharist; breaking the cedars, Penance; (compare the saying of Isaiah, “The day of the LORD of Hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon all the cedars of Lebanon that are high and lifted up;”*) shaking the wilderness,* Orders; (compare “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness;”) dividing the flames of fire, Matrimony; preparing the stags, Extreme Unction; (each Christian being here symbolised by the stag, as we saw that our LORD was called the Morning Hind in the 22nd Psalm.) This is the symbolism given by Lorinus. Ayguan gives the same interpretation, (Ay.) but with a different adaptation of particulars. The more usual way, however, is to see in the seven voices the seven graces of the HOLY GHOST, the seven thunders which S. John heard in the Revelation. And thus it is that Gerhohus writes, “The voice of truth is not the voice of man, but the voice of the Lord;* (G.) whether that voice insinuates the fear of the LORD upon the waters,—that is, the minds of earthly men, unstable as water,—or whether it is in virtue, alluring them that are heavenly-minded; or whether in magnificence, preparing a glorious consolation to happy mourners; or whether it be the gift of fortitude, breaking the cedars; or whether the gift of counsel, which divides the flames of fire: or the gift of understanding, which shakes the wilderness of Cades: or, finally, of wisdom, which reveals the thickets and prepares the stags,—that is, which reveals the hidden meaning of GOD’s Word, and prepares Christians to act upon it.”

The voice of the LORD is upon the waters. Where Ayguan says very well, (Ay.) “Because CHRIST was baptized, the voice of the FATHER was heard, ‘This is My beloved SON, in “Whom I am well pleased.’ The SON appeared in the flesh, so it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Oh, how wonderfully this Voice thundered, and afforded an example of humility to the whole world!” Whence Remigius saith,* “The LORD also thundered out of heaven; and the Highest gave His thunder, whence CHRIST saith, ‘Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness:’ that all the proud may learn the example of humility, and may not think scorn to be baptized by My poor members, when they see Me, the LORD of all,* baptized by John, My servant.” S. Basil takes the voice of S. John the Baptist. “John,” says he, “was the voice of the LORD in magnificence, when he preached such glorious mysteries concerning JESUS.” And notice the difference between the voice and the Word; between the voice of one crying in the wilderness, and the WORD That was with the FATHER; the inarticulate sound, and the perfect character and image.

4 It is the LORD, that ruleth the sea; the voice of the LORD is mighty in operation: the voice of the LORD is a glorious voice.

That ruleth the sea. So it was when the waves of the Red Sea were made a path for the ransomed to pass over; when the sea of Galilee was swept by the tempest, and the LORD awoke and said to it, “Peace, be still.” Or, on the other hand, when Jonah was passing from Joppa to Tarshish, (Ay.) and the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea. Mighty in operation. And so it was when that marvellous Voice was heard, “Lazarus, come forth:” and he that had been dead four days, came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes. And so, since our LORD’s time, what His Voice was then, that of His Apostles has been since: “My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”* Or, as it is in another place,* “In power and in the HOLY GHOST, (D. C.) and in much assurance.” Or again: That ruleth the sea. By the sea we understand the various peoples of this world; as the metaphor is explained in the Revelation.* And so it was when, at that first Pentecost, Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the rest of that noble catalogue, heard the Gospel message, every man in his own tongue.

5 The voice of the LORD breaketh the cedar-trees: yea, the LORD breaketh the cedars of Libanus.

And first, they take these cedars as the symbols of the proud and haughty. It is written in the book of Job that Behemoth lieth under the shady trees;* that is, mystically, that Satan finds his dwelling-place in the heart of the proud. And the voice of the LORD breaketh them:* breaketh them, that is, in the first place, by giving to those haughty ones a broken and a contrite heart; or if that fails, then by grinding them to powder. Hence it is written in the Magnificat, (L.) “He hath showed strength with His Arm: He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart.” And so it is written in the Prophet, “Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars.… Yet I destroyed his fruits from above, and his roots from beneath.”* And so Procopius very well observes,* that the cedar, itself lofty, grows on lofty places, and bears no fruit. And yet from these cedars of Libanus were the beams taken which built the house of the LORD at Jerusalem.* And it is so still, Saul the persecutor, the Cedar of Lebanon, becomes Paul the Apostle, one of the main supports of the LORD’s house: Margaret, the sinner, becomes S. Margaret of Cortona, famous to all ages for her penitence. I am afraid that Ayguan’s distinction between lower cedars,—those in other parts of the world,—and cedars of Libanus, the most towering of all, (Ay.) however true physically, cannot be confined to his mystical interpretation: that the haughtiest of all GOD’s enemies are the Jews. For surely, even among Christians, and even in this ago, we shall find some that as truly crucify the LORD afresh,—that as boldly say, “We will not have this Man to reign over us,”—as ever did Annas and Caiaphas, and their companions.* Breaketh the cedars. S. Albertus, with his wonderful knowledge of Scripture, reminds us of S. Paul’s warning: “If some of the branches be broken off, and thou wert graffed in among them, boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.”*

6 He maketh them also to skip like a calf: Libanus also, and Sirion, like a young unicorn.

The Vulgate is so entirely different, that we must consider it also. And he shall diminish them as the calf of Lebanon: and the beloved is as the son of the unicorns. To take our own version first: Sirion is spoken of by Moses before: “Which Hermon the Sidonians call Sirion; and the Amorites call it Shenir.”* And so we read afterwards that “the half tribe of Manasseh increased from Bashan unto Baal-hermon and Senir, and unto Mount Hermon.”* And so when David speaks here of these mountains skipping like a young unicorn, or rather buffalo, it is but that which we shall find hereafter of the mountains skipping like rams, and the little hills like young sheep, when I will speak of the mystical sense. Now let us take it as it is in the Vulgate. Nothing has given the commentators more trouble than the phrase, “He shall diminish1 them as the calf of Lebanon;” or, as it is in the LXX.,* (L.) “like the calf Lebanon.” Generally they seem to understand it of the effect of GOD’s grace, in not only breaking down the pride of the haughty, but in so touching their hearts, as to give them the gentleness and playfulness of a young calf. Or, again, as in Lebanon was the best pasture for calves, (Ay.) hence those destined for the Tabernacle service were most frequently taken thence: so that here the conversion of the proud into holy, reasonable sacrifices to GOD is foretold. And the Beloved is as the son of the unicorns. They take it as a prophecy of the Incarnation: (C.) that the “Beloved,” the Only-begotten, He in Whom the FATHER was always well pleased,—He should in no respect be different from the other children of the Jews,—symbolised by unicorns, (G.) because the favoured people of GOD, (Ay.) and intended to push their enemies right and left, (C.) and to trample them under foot. I do not dwell on these interpretations, however ingenious and however beautiful, based as they are on so manifestly untenable an interpretation. Still, such is the sense which the Church has usually attached to the words: and it would have been unpardonable,—let that sense be as ungrammatical as it may,—to pass it over.

[The skipping denotes, as they for the most part agree, the “joy of exultation,” (A.) the gladness of the sinner after he has been humbled by GOD, (Ay.) and taught His law. They skip, but not till they have first been broken. And note who they are that so skip with joy. Libanus, “white,”* because their sins, which were as scarlet, have been made as white as snow. Sirion, the “breastplate,”* because they who were weak, strengthened by GOD’s might, have become breastplates of “righteousness,”* of “faith and love.”*]

7–8 (7) The voice of the LORD divideth the flames of fire; the voice of the LORD shaketh the wilderness: yea, the LORD shaketh the wilderness of Cades.

Fire they take of the concupiscence which is in human nature even after Baptism. (G.) GOD’s grace does not destroy or remove this altogether in this world, but hinders it from bursting forth into active corruption, prevents the soul from being kindled by temptation into a furnace of iniquity. But we may also see here those divided flames of fire which descended at the great day of Pentecost upon the Apostles;* when

The quivering fire their heads bedewed,*

In cloven tongues’ similitude,

That eloquent their words might be,

And fervid all their charity.

Or, again, dividing the flames of fire, so that they lighted on the Apostles, but hurt them not; were kindled on each forehead as a lambent brightness, not an injuring heat. “Fountain of the SPIRIT!” exclaims the Eastern Church,* “divided into rational and fiery streams, bedewed the Apostles to whom it gave light; that fire was unto them as a dewy cloud, illuminating them,—a raining flame, by which we have received grace, through water and fire.”

In another sense they also take it, and that an even more solemn meaning. GOD so divides the light and heat of His ineffable glory: to the blessed it is a brilliant splendour without heat,—to the damned it is a fearful fire without light: or if there be any light,* teaches S. Gregory, it will only be such a light as shall add to, by revealing, the horrors of that dismal place. Others, again, take it of GOD in His Providence refraining the angry passions of wicked men, as when His command was to Laban, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad.* The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness. And marvellously that Voice of the LORD, the Forerunner of the WORD, shook the wilderness, when he proclaimed, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” S. Chrysostom says,* “Verily, Judæa was a wilderness, empty of righteousness, full of sin; and though the LORD had planted it, the LORD irrigated it, all the prophets had tilled it, it bare nothing but thorns and briars, and with those thorns it crowned its own LORD.” The wilderness of Cades. Cassiodorus reminds us very well that in the wilderness of Cades it was that the stricken rock gave out its water. (C.) Hence the wilderness of Cades may be interpreted of human nature lying in its original sin, before the Sacrament of Baptism is conferred on it. This wilderness the Voice of the LORD shook, when His Apostle and other preachers made proclamation, “Flee from the wrath to come;” when they answered the question, “Sirs, what shall I do to be saved?”

9 (8) The voice of the LORD maketh the hinds to bring forth young, and discovereth the thick bushes: in his temple doth every man speak of his honour.

There is no verse which has given to commentators more trouble than this, in its mystical sense. And no wonder: for, as I said before, the translation is manifestly founded on a mistake. There can be no doubt that the proper interpretation is, The voice of the Lord shattereth the oaks; and to that the same meaning will apply as to His breaking the cedar-trees, namely, His putting down the proud in the imagination of their hearts. But as to the hinds, commentators are reduced, (L.) either to the mediæval fable that stags, by breathing into the holes of serpents,* have the power of fascinating them out, and then destroying them, and that it is thus that the LORD from generation to generation gives power to His people to triumph over that old serpent Satan;* or they observe that hinds are the only animals which calve with pain and difficulty, and thus it is that the voice of GOD enables His servants to bring forth good works, at whatever cost of labour and pain to themselves;—which interpretations it is very evident only arise from the determination of making some sense where there is none. And discovereth the thick bushes. Here all the expositors agree in understanding the thick bushes as the mysteries of Holy Scripture, revealed and explained by the Incarnation of the SON of GOD. So the Eastern Church:

Rod of the root of Jesse,*

Thou Flower of Mary born,

From that thick shady forest

Cam’st glorious forth this morn.

In the same sense they also take that passage in Habakkuk, “The LORD came from Teman, and the Holy One from the thick and shady mountain.”* S. Jerome dwells at length on the metaphor, and shows how the forests, where wild beasts lurk and thieves lie in ambush, typify those times of temptation which every Christian and the whole Catholic Church must go through; and that the prophecy here is of GOD’s turning it into pasture land and corn field, just as temptations and trials are changed into means of grace and comfort. So the prophecies in Isaiah, that “Carmel shall become a fold for flocks;”* that “on all hills that shall he digged with the mattock, there shall not come thither the fear of briars and thorns: but it shall be for the sending forth of oxen, and the treading of lesser cattle.”* Nevertheless, it is better to follow the usual interpretation, that by the voice of the LORD, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the LORD is with thee; blessed art thou among women,” the thick and obscure bushes of many an ancient prophecy were revealed; and thence it immediately follows, In His Temple doth every man speak of His honour. For His Temples have since been filled with the praises of Him, Who, by revealing the thick bushes, hath brought us from darkness into His marvellous light: and of His honour, Who, because of His humiliation, hath been highly exalted,* and received the Name which is above every name. Notice, also, that with the same reference to this deep obscurity, (Z.) Euthymius refers that text, “Deep calleth unto deep,” to the two Testaments, the Old foretelling the New, the New appealing to the Old. In a plainer signification,* S. Basil takes occasion to rebuke those who discussed their own matters in the House of GOD. “In His Temple,” says he,* “does every man speak, not of worldly business, not of other men, not of gossip, but of His honour.” Lorinus does well to remind us, (L.) that while sacrifice was being offered or the auguries consulted by a Roman Imperator, it was the duty of one man to make proclamation, Hoc age: and how much more ought the same rule to hold good in the worship of the one true GOD!

10 (9) The LORD sitteth above the water-flood: and the LORD remaineth a King for ever.

Or as it is in the Vulgate, The Lord maketh the water-flood to be inhabited. Nothing can be a more beautiful symbol of Baptism than this. That is the true deluge, (L.) not of vengeance, but of grace, that was spread over the face of the whole earth;* and wherever its waters have touched, there have new children been born to GOD, there the LORD has added to the Church daily such as were being saved.* And if we ask why Baptism is here spoken of as a flood, rather than, as in other places, as a river, we must remember that the deluge itself has always been regarded as the Baptism of judgment preceding that of grace. So Hildebert says:

The deluge o’er the earth at midnight burst,*

The fearful baptism of its sin accurst.

It is needless to seek other and further-fetched metaphors, such as that of S. Albertus, who sees in this passage a proof that bad as well as good are contained in the Church militant, because by means of that the LORD makes the water-flood of sin still to be inhabited by His children. And therefore it follows, The Lord remaineth a King for ever. Because by Baptism He has dominion from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the world, therefore the LORD shall reign over the people thus purchased to Himself, (D. C.) when grace shall be turned into glory, and the sea of Baptism shall have had its end in that sea of glory which is before the everlasting throne.

11 (10) The LORD shall give strength unto his people: the LORD shall give his people the blessing of peace.

Take the preceding verse of Baptism, and this remarkably applies to Confirmation and to the Blessed Eucharist. The LORD maketh the water-flood to be inhabited: The Lord shall give strength unto His people, as His whole armour is then bestowed when Confirmation is given: the Lord shall give His people the blessing of peace, that Sacrament which was instituted in the same night in which He said, “Peace I leave with you, (Ay.) My peace I give unto you.” Or take it in another sense,* as the history of the whole Christian life. The Lord shall give strength unto His people: there you have all its battles, fightings without, fears within. The Lord shall give His people the blessing of peace: peace unbroken, peace everlasting; Jerusalem, which is the Vision of Peace. “Then,” says Richard,* “we shall obtain fourfold peace: peace from GOD, from the world, from the flesh, from the devil. The first, by obedience; the second, by patience; the third, by abstinence; the fourth, by prudence; and all, by prayer.” Hear Gerhohus: “The Lord shall give strength unto His people: (G.) the Lord shall give His people the blessing of peace. There will be a distinction between people and people, as well among the elect as among the reprobate. For among the reprobate there will be a people that is not to be judged, as it is written, ‘He that believeth not is condemned already.’* And there will be a people that is to be judged by those words, ‘Depart from Me, ye cursed.’ In like manner among the elect, there will be a people not to be judged—even those who shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel; and there will be a people to be judged with those most sweet words, ‘Come, ye blessed of My FATHER,’ Oh, what strength doth the LORD now give to that His people, even the least among them,—to them in whom He is received and comforted, when an hungered, athirst, sick, and in prison! Oh, what peace will He hereafter give to all, when He shall wipe away all tears from all eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; when of the increase of His government and peace, there shall be no end!”*

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, That commandeth the waters; and to the SON, Who is mighty in operation; and to the HOLY GHOST, Who shall give His people the blessing of peace;

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

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