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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. As for the preceding.

Parisian. Innumerable troubles have come about me; * let it be Thy pleasure, O LORD, to deliver me.

Monastic. Do ye judge the thing that is right, O ye sons of men?

1 Are your minds set upon righteousness, O ye congregation: and do ye judge the thing that is right, O ye sons of men?

Hence they gather, S. Jerome leading the way, that, even in the corrupted state of human nature,* and without regeneration, the sense of moral right and wrong remained, and still remains, to man: wherein S. Jerome was only the disciple of S. Paul, when he teaches concerning the Gentiles that they “show the work of the law written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing, or else excusing, one another.”* They lay, of course, the stress on the sons of MEN, as distinguished from the sons of GOD. It is well said by the great French divine of his age,* that, of all things, this is the most important to each individual man—that he should judge rightly concerning these ten things: concerning faith, the world, the devil, himself, GOD, the duty of each day, the opportunities afforded by time, strife, death, and the dead. And the Carmelite, equally well, compares the speech of those Jews who feigned themselves just men: (Ay.) “Master, we know that Thou art true, and teachest the way of GOD in truth,”* with our LORD’S answer here: Are your minds set upon righteousness, O ye congregation?

2 Yea, ye imagine mischief in your heart upon the earth: and your hands deal with wickedness.

It is well said, in your heart. For, (L.) of a certainty, with their mouths, both Jews and Gentiles sometimes uttered the very truth concerning our LORD:* as when the chief priests declared that He should be born in Bethlehem; as when Caiaphas uttered that prophecy, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people; as when Pilate made that reply, “What I have written I have written.”* But further observe that the mischief they imagine is only upon the earth. Take it in either sense: either, as they generally understand it, (Ay.) that the miserable and insulting lie here becomes a glorious truth there—witness the crown of thorns, and the purple robe, and the sceptre of mockery; or, as S. Gregory will have it, that by the earth he means the Body of our LORD,* which, in that He was consubstantial with us according to the flesh, was, like our own bodies, formed of the earth. And notice that here, in speaking of evil, the prophet begins from the thought, and proceeds to the deed:* and your hands deal with wickedness; exactly as our LORD taught the Pharisees, how it is out of the heart that murders and adulteries come. But, when we are taught anything concerning the propagation of good, the order is reversed: “All that JESUS began both to do and to teach.”*

3 The ungodly are froward, even from their mother’s womb: as soon as they are born, they go astray, and speak lies.

It was a favourite idea of the primitive Fathers that the Jews are here especially specified, because they were froward, (A.) even from the womb of their mother the synagogue; in that the law was, so to speak, pregnant with the Gospel: “For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me.”* This text was a great weapon in the armoury of the Church, against those followers of Origen who taught that the human soul, pre-existent to the body, had sinned before its union with its companion. And, not ill, they take the verse of the Jews, who, from their very origin as a nation, did go astray, as in the matter of the calf; (D. C.) did speak lies, as when they said, “All that the LORD hath spoken unto us we will do and obey.” As in the beginning, so at the end—still the same lies: “He is guilty of death;” “Now we know that Thou hast a devil.” And CHRIST tells of the reason where He saith, (Ay.) “Ye seek to slay Me, a man that doth tell you the truth.”

4 They are as venomous as the poison of a serpent: even like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ears;

5 Which refuseth to hear the voice of the charmer: charm he never so wisely.

And we are at once reminded of that multitude, who stopped their ears and ran upon Stephen with one accord. Therefore, well might that repeated exhortation of our LORD be given: (D. C.) “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” And of a truth, they did refuse to hear the voice of the charmer. He Who should have charmed them to submission by His miracles, by His parables, by His teaching, by all that He did and all that He suffered,—He Who charmed never so wisely, when the destroyer was destroyed, the deceiver deceived, Life brought out of death, everlasting joy from temporary agony, how many had He to hear His last seven words of wisdom? How many followers were to be found at the mountain of Galilee before His Ascension,* and in the large upper room after it? But while we condemn the Jews, let us take heed lest that happen to us which the Wise Man testifies, saying, “When the ungodly curseth Satan, he curseth his own soul;” take heed lest we refuse to hear the voice of the Charmer, charming us now no less wisely than His own people then; charming us by threatenings or allurements, through others or by ourselves, by pleasure or by pain, by sudden events or by gradual leading; anyhow, charming us never so wisely.

6–7 (6) Break their teeth, O GOD, in their mouths; smite the jawbones of the lions, O LORD: let them fall away like water that runneth apace; and when they shoot their arrows, let them be rooted out.

It is an ingenious remark of S. Jerome, that as the terrible strength of lions lies principally in their teeth,* which teeth, nevertheless, are not ordinarily visible; so the most dangerous assaults of the roaring lion, (A.) that goeth about seeking whom he may devour, are those which he conceals the best. (Ay.) They also teach us that whereas we, in this Psalm, are first told of the venom of the serpent, and then of the rage of the lion, it was after the same sort that the various sects of the Jews first sent emissaries, feigning themselves just men, to tempt our LORD, before (now no longer dissembling their malice) they cried out, “Away with Him! away with Him! crucify Him! crucify Him!” And further that, as here there is no very decided victory asserted, or prayed for, over the serpent, the fulness of conquest is petitioned for against the lion, even as it was by the open rage of the Jews, and not by their secret guile, that the LORD’S Right Hand wrought out our salvation. Let them fall away. Well says S. Augustine: Be not terrified by certain streams which are called torrents; they are filled up with winter-waters. Do not fear; after a little that water falleth away. For a time it roareth, but it will soon subside; it cannot hold out long.… The whole of this age for a time is roaring, and is seeking whom it may drag along. Let all ungodly men, all proud ones echoing against the rocks of their pride as it were with waters rushing along, in no wise terrify you: winter waters they are, they cannot always flow; it must needs be that they run down into their place, even unto the end. And, nevertheless, of this torrent of the world the LORD hath drunk; but in the way He hath drunk, in the passage over; for in the way of sinners He hath not stood. For of Him, what saith the Scripture? He shall drink of the brook in the way, therefore shall He lift up His Head: to wit, for this reason He hath been glorified, because He hath died; for this reason hath risen again, because He hath suffered. When they shoot their arrows, let them be rooted out. There is here a marvellous difference in the translations. The Vulgate has it, He bendeth his bow until they be made weak. The Bible translation, When he bendeth his bow to shoot his arrows, let them be as cut in pieces.* And the interpretations are even more strangely different than are the versions. Some will have it that the he refers to the wicked; the sense then being, Let them shoot as long as they will, the only result will be that, without doing any harm to the righteous, they will simply weary themselves. Just as the men that sought to harm Lot, and were smitten with blindness, only “wearied themselves to find the door.”* Others, (A.) like S. Augustine, and, following him, the chief expositors of the Western Church, understand the he of GOD Himself; in the sense that He will shoot His arrows, whether of correction in love, or simply of love, into the hearts of those sinners whom He is drawing to Himself, till they become weak, with that weakness of sorrow for sin, and of distrust in themselves, which is indeed the truest strength. Thirdly,* almost all the Easterns, and among the Westerns S. Hilary,* also understanding the subject of the Psalmist to be GOD, take this sending forth His arrows in the sense of judgment, and not of mercy.

8 (7) Let them consume away like a snail, and be like the untimely fruit of a woman: and let them not see the sun.

Here the versions entirely differ. The Vulgate gives it, As wax that melteth, let them be taken away: the fire hath fallen from them, and they have not seen the sun. But, except that slug would be a fitter translation than snail, our version is undoubtedly the right one. But, according to that version, S. Albertus Magnus explains the comparison thus:* that as a snail or slug is destroyed by salt, so David asks, by that “good” salt of purity and holiness, his enemies—and, mystically, (Ay.) the enemies of the Son of David—might come to nothing and be dissolved.* But the greater part of mediæval writers, interpreting the Hebrew word as signifying wax, find here a prayer for the conversion of sinners: that is, that their stony heart may be, according to the prophet’s promise, turned into a heart of flesh.

9 (8) Or ever your pots be made hot with thorns: so let indignation vex him, even as a thing that is raw.

Here, again, the discrepancy is not less. The Galliean: Before your bush shall bring forth thorns, as living; so in his anger he shall swallow them up. The Vulgate: Before your thorns should understand the bush, as living; so in anger he shall swallow them up. Or, according to the modern translation: Before they can breed revolt, set thorns in the midst of them; as with force, as with fury, let them be scattered with a whirlwind.

10 (9) The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his footsteps in the blood of the ungodly.

11 (10) So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous: doubtless there is a GOD that judgeth the earth.

And so the righteous did rejoice, (A.) not only when, reigning from the Tree, He saw the utter defeat of His enemies and ours by means of that very throne; but when He beheld also that more glorious vengeance of love, by which, for every drop of the most precious Blood that He shed, myriads and myriads of elect souls should enter into His kingdom. (L.) The righteous shall rejoice when He seeth that, as it were in revenge of His Passion, the noble army of martyrs spring forward in His service; in revenge of His weariness, and bearing all manner of evil, such, an uncounted multitude of confessors took up their special cross, to the end they might follow Him; when, in revenge of His sorrow, even unto death—of His weakness, even to falling beneath the load of the Cross—so many of His servants have rejoiced in long illnesses, have triumphed under false accusations, have endeavoured to realise to themselves the glorious octave of His beatitudes. So that a man shall say, Verily, there is a reward for the righteous. And it is well said, a man; for it is the Centurion who first confessed this truth, so that once more Gentiles should put to shame Jews. Doubtless there is a God that judgeth the earth. And that also was fulfilled, when He, Who shall come to judge the quick and the dead and the world by fire, was pleased, as Judge no less than King, on the Cross,* to set the good on His right hand, and the evil on His left. Verily, there is a reward for the righteous. “Certainly, this was a righteous man.”

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, Who hath prepared a reward for the righteous; and to the SON, the GOD That shall judge the earth; and to the HOLY GHOST, Who alone can set the minds of men on righteousness.

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

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