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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 LORD, even the most mighty GOD hath spoken.

Monastic. The same.

Parisian. My heart is disquieted within me: and the fear of death is fallen upon me.

Mozarabic. When the LORD shall bring again the captivity of Sion, then shall Jacob rejoice and Israel shall be right glad.

1a (1) Why boastest thou thyself, thou tyrant: that thou canst do mischief;

1b (2) Whereas the goodness of GOD: endureth yet daily?1

Here, right or wrong, our English version has, as in not a few other places, a beauty of its own. The tyrant on one side, the goodness of GOD on the other; the boast of the tyrant in doing mischief, the power of GOD exhibited in being kind to the unthankful and evil. He can do mischief indeed. He is a tyrant indeed. From that first mischief, (Ay.) that primeval root of all mischief, down to the saying of Caiaphas, by which this tyrant hoped to have won his complete victory; mischief in the sinner who followed his suggestions; mischief in the saints who yielded to his temptations; mischief against the innocent ones who suffered by his instigation. Why boastest thou thyself? For this reason: because thou canst kill the body; canst kill it by miserable torments; (D. C.) by such tortures as make the blood run cold to read of, and the mind almost refuse to believe. Why boastest thou thyself, thou tyrant? Because thou hast stirred up heresy after heresy, to vex and to harass the Church; scarcely ever giving her one year of peace, so devising that when there are not “fightings without,” there should be “fear within.” Why boastest thou thyself, thou tyrant? Because thou hast so prevailed even amongst the greatest saints; as with David in the matter of Bathsheba; as with Hezekiah in the matter of the ambassadors from Babylon; as with Martin when he gave in to the threat of an insolent and usurping king. But notice how it is written. Not simply, Why boastest thou thyself? but, Why boastest thou thyself that thou canst do mischief? Therefore take courage,* O servant of the LORD, whosoever thou art. He has prevailed against thee, thou wouldest say, a thousand times. I in no wise doubt it. He has a thousand times caused thee to cry out, “The good that I would I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do;” a thousand times to say, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” But what mischief so long as that promise remains, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life?” while that command stands fast, “Count it all joy when ye fall into divers [and horrible] temptations.” And as S. Bonaventura says,* though not on this verse, The malice of Satan is indeed multipresent, but is not omnipresent; may be multipotent, but is not cunctipotent; he may be the strong man (and yet, oh, how weak to the weakest Christian that stands to his arms!), but yet This is the stronger than he, Who once beheld him like lightning fall from heaven, Who now has bound him, like a chained beast, fast; Who will finally, utterly,* once and for ever, bruise him under our feet: yes, and that shortly.

2 (3) Thy tongue imagineth wickedness: and with lies thou cuttest like a sharp razor.

3 (4) Thou hast loved unrighteousness more than goodness: and to talk of lies more than righteousness.

All those who have much to do with the commentaries of the saints, must notice what we have had occasion to notice more than once in this poor commentary, how they pass over with scarcely a word, denunciations of wrath against the wicked, on which, had they been promises to the righteous, they would have dwelt at such enormous length.1 But, as mediæval writers say,* This is the true and beautiful meaning: With lies thou cuttest like a sharp razor. If there is any sin to be discovered,* discovered it will be, just as a razor removing superfluous hair, shows the very flesh itself. But, as a razor, rightly held, does not really wound, so GOD keeps back the malice of the ungodly from really injuring, however much—witness the case of Shimei, as regarded David—it may lay the secrets of the heart bare. And, as they remind us, that advice, “Tarry at Jericho until your beards be grown, and then return,” (however kindly in the historical sense given,) is exactly, in a mystical sense, the counsel which Satan would give. A man has had some conviction of sin, and would fain at once get rid of it. But, the great Tempter so prevailing, the poor sinner tarries in Jericho, the accursed city, mixes in and with the world, till those feelings are lost, till in the man’s own eyes the sin is covered over, and then he returns; returns to his original sin, returns, and the evil spirit brings back those seven spirits more wicked than himself, and—we all know the terrible ending.

4 (5) Thou hast loved to speak all words that may do hurt: O thou false tongue.

Omnia verba præcipitationis, as the Vulgate has it, and the LXX. even more forcibly,1 καταποντισμοῦ, of “plunging in the sea.” The LXX. gives, and correctly, the latter clause in the accusative,* false tongue, i.e. language of guile. Are we to take it of the Jews, and then, “we have no king but Cæsar,” as some of the earlier fathers? Or shall we rather see in it that primæval deceit, “Ye shall not surely die?” Then surely WERE all words that might do hurt wrapped up in that one NOT. That was a καταποντισμός indeed, (L.) when man “came into deep waters, so that the floods ran over him.” And yet again they explain it mystically: how,* although Satan did not mean it so, nor for one moment think of the possibility that it should be so, but, in that fierce clamour of the Jews, in that unjust sentence of Pilate, we have the true καταποντισμός of the Gospel sweep-net,* or seyne, which shall, when drawn to shore, be the salvation of the good fish, the casting away for ever of the bad.

5 (6) Therefore shall GOD destroy thee for ever: he shall take thee, and pluck thee out of thy dwelling, and root thee out of the land of the living.

For ever: or, as it rather is, at last: the lying tongue is but for a moment. And therefore,* as S. Gregory nobly says, that lying tongue was but for a moment which said, “Thou shalt not surely die.” He meant it to deceive: deceive it did: he meant man to fall, and man did fall: but, in the long future, man had a better life prepared for him than that of the earthly paradise: man so surely lived, if he willed to live, that “whosoever overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.” This, of a verity, shows THE false tongue, the tongue of him who is a liar and the father of it,* destroyed for ever: destroyed in its intended meaning, but ratified, as was that saying of Caiaphas, in that meaning which was not intended. In the same way that our LORD’S bitter mockery, His coronation, His investiture with a robe, first of white, then of purple; His adoration; His reed-sceptre, were, in one point of view, those words which the false tongue, because they should do hurt, therefore loved: but in the truer and everlasting meaning,* they were prophecies, long ago prophesied of: prophecies, which, for a short time might have given the hosts of Satan joy, but which, in the end, point to one of the dearest possessions of the legions of the LORD of Hosts. Shall pluck thee out of thy dwelling. They inquire what dwelling that is, out of which this deceitful tongue is to be plucked. Tabernacle, as it is in the Vulgate; and that surely is the precise expression for the shortness of, whether in everyday life a lie, or in the life of the Church, a heresy. Some will have it of the ejection of those lying Jews from the once holy city after the terrible siege: some,* of the Jews still, but in a less terrible sense,* of their dispersion from their own land: others in a very matter-of-fact interpretation of the excommunication of the wretch, to whom primarily this Psalm applies after his murder of the fourscore and six that ware ephods, Doeg the Edomite. Out of the land of the living. And here almost for the first time, we have that dearest of all titles given to our future home. It is marvellous how even those who protest to study Holy Scripture, (L.) ay, and those who have studied it, and that earnestly too, miss one of the most glorious passages in connection with this verse, that are to be read in the Pentateuch. GOD pronounced Adam’s curse, beginning with the malediction, for man’s sake, of the earth—“In sorrow shalt thou eat of it,”—and culminating in “till thou return to the ground, for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” And what is Adam’s reply? A reply, truly, as S. Thomas says,* evincing the greatest faith which man ever showed except—if, indeed except,—the confession of the penitent thief. “And Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” All living? And GOD had just pronounced the sentence, “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.” It is marvellous, as a theologian of the seventeenth century says,* how many and many a Christian soul, whose whole hope is nailed to the Resurrection, yet nevertheless passes over that marvellous declaration of Adam as if it were something put in, because it must be said somewhere, and by-the-by. Whereas, here, just at the very moment when that sentence had been pronounced on man,—ashes to ashes, dust to dust,—Eve is called, and that more than called; is entitled, as it were, by law; the mother of all; not mortals, but, of all living. This is the antitype in the first Adam, of the victory through which death by death was overthrown in the second Adam.

6 (7) The righteous also shall see this, and fear: and shall laugh him to scorn;

7 (8) Lo, this is the man that took not GOD for his strength: but trusted unto the multitude of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness.

Here, as we might expect, our mediæval commentators are full of the blessings of poverty, and the temptation of riches. One or two, and only one or two, have the courage to apply that general dogma to the state of the Church in their own days, so far as this world went, “rich and increased with goods, and having need of nothing.” And it must always be remembered that the very first sign of decay in the Western Church—taking the Western Church (which is always to be remembered) as a very different thing from the Roman Court,—was the way in which this very question of poverty and riches, settled as it was, militated against the strict rules of the then strictest and holiest of orders. There is nothing which so illustrates that saying of the Apostle’s, “How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out,” than the conflict between those who held to the first fervour of their rules, the genuine, primitive Franciscans, and who yet so holding, fell into all kind of mystical heresies; and on the other, those who from Rome obtained licence to receive any amount of riches, and who therefore became what we unhappily know that the followers of S. Francis did become, a by-word and reproach to mediæval Europe. If any one thinks that this remark has nothing to do with the Psalm, let him rather take it in this point of view: as to each phase of our own individual lives, temptation, of whatever kind, from the world, the flesh, or the devil; whether ending in victory or defeat, or drawn out into a long conflict. In these things, every Christian man can find in the Psalms that which in the particular moment suits his particular need: in the same way that they fit into, they dovetail in with, the history of the Church.

8 (9) As for me, I am like a green olive-tree in the house of GOD: my trust is in the tender mercy of GOD for ever and ever.

9 (10) I will always give thanks unto thee for that thou hast done: and I will hope in thy Name, for thy saints like it well.

They have, (Ay.) those mediæval writers, much to say on the colour of green, the daily colour of the Western Church; how it is the most refreshing to the eyes, (L.) how it gives the dearest hope of the coming spring, how, besides the gems which are of that hue, and which always have been believed to have possessed especial virtue, the various shades and distinctions of the colour, in which they say there are more diversities than in any other colour, may be seen the infinite variety of the graces of the HOLY GHOST. I will hope in Thy Name. That Name of which we have so often spoken: that Name which is, as it were, the Antiphon to so many Psalms: that Name, the dear love to which is so feebly expressed either in our own version, or in the LXX., or in the Vulgate, the Hebrew giving, I will hope in Thy Name, for it is the chief good of Thy saints.

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, Whose goodness endureth yet daily; and to the SON, the Righteous, Who shall see His reward; and to the HOLY GHOST, in Whose trust is our tender mercy for ever and ever;

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

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