Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

A Commentary On The Psalms From Primitive and Mediæval Writers Volumes 1 To 4 by Rev. J.M. Neale D.D.

Gregorian. As preceding Psalm.

Monastic. Thou only * art the most Highest over all the earth.

Parisian. The LORD is my refuge * and my GOD is the strength of my confidence.

Ambrosian. Thou shalt inherit * among all nations.

Mozarabic. Judge the poor and fatherless, * justify the lowly and needy.

1 GOD standeth in the congregation of princes: he is a Judge among gods.

Of princes. The literal Hebrew, followed by all the principal versions (except the Syriac, which has of Angels, and Aquila,* who agrees with this and A. V., reading ἰσχύρων) is of gods. And hereupon is a division of opinion. One view, mainly confined to a few modern critics, follows the Syriac, identifies Gods with Angels, and supposes the object of the Psalm to be a rebuke for negligence of duty administered in heaven to those ministering spirits who,* as we read in the Book of Daniel, are set over kingdoms and nations. The other, which is that of the Chaldee Targum, the Fathers in general, and most critics, sees a reference to earthly officers alone, (as we find in another place, “Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people,”*) and, as S. Augustine points out, (A.) primarily to the synagogue of gods, (LXX. and Vulgate) or whole people of Israel,* as GOD’S Son and chosen nation, and therefore higher than other tribes of the earth; and then to the Christian Church as the successor to the privileges of Jacob. (C.) And GOD the SON did in truth stand incarnate amidst the Jewish synagogue and the Christian Church, according to that saying of the Baptist, “There standeth One among you, Whom ye know not.”* He is said to stand, because of His immutability,* His power, His abiding presence, and also because of His promptness in act,* to decide for the right, and to help the poor,* as He did S. Stephen. But one commentator draws a yet deeper lesson from the word stand. He reminds us that it is for the judge to sit, and for the litigants or accused to stand; as it is written, “Moses sat to judge the people: and the people stood by Moses from the morning until the evening.”* It is then a solemn warning for judges to remember, that whatever cause is before them is GOD’S cause, since right and wrong are at stake in it, and that by acquitting the guilty, or condemning the innocent, they pass sentence against GOD Himself. And the synagogue of the Chief Priests, (Z.) scribes, and Pharisees did in very deed so condemn GOD Himself, when He stood in the midst of them in human form. He is a judge among gods. Or, as the LXX. and Vulgate read, He judgeth the gods in the midst. That is, in the literal sense, He reviews the sentences of inferior judges, who are but His vicars,* and will openly condemn them at the Doom for any false judgment they may have given on earth. But the version which S. Augustine and Cassiodorus had before them reads, He discerneth the Gods in the midst. That is, as one will have it,* CHRIST stands between the Prophets of the Old Testament, who foreshowed Him, and the Apostles of the New, who preached Him, being Himself the dividing and yet uniting link betwixt them. Or again, He discerns, by selecting, (C.) His Apostles and Evangelists and all His Saints, from a guilty world, and leading them to the kingdom of heaven. In heaven itself He discerns too, by distributing rewards to each Saint according to his merit,* appointing them their several grades of blessedness. There is another rendering of the first clause, adopted by some, God standeth in the congregation of God. And then we may fitly take it as no pleonasm, nor yet as denoting the presence of the Most High among His people on earth, but the exaltation of the Man CHRIST JESUS, as GOD in heaven,* in the presence of the Eternal FATHER, in the midst of the assembly of the Saints triumphant, for “lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain.”*

A striking illustration of the whole verse is afforded by that custom of the ancient Councils,* still adhered to by the Holy Eastern Church in all solemn assemblies, of placing the Book of the Gospels in their midst, as a symbol of the unseen presence of CHRIST. And when accusations against some Bishops were offered to Constantine the Great at the Council of Nice, he tore them up, saying, “Ye have been given as gods to us by GOD, and it is not fitting that a man should judge gods, but only He of Whom it is written, God standeth in the synagogue of the gods, He is a judge among gods.”

2 How long will ye give wrong judgment: and accept the persons of the ungodly?

How long. (A.) For already, throughout your history, ye have resisted, outraged, and slain the servants of the LORD of the vineyard, the prophets of GOD. Will you carry on your rebellion and false judgment against His SON, and lay murderous hands upon the Heir, though He be very GOD? And accept the persons of the ungodly,* saying, on the one hand, “Not this Man, but Barabbas,” and on the other, “We have no king but Cæsar.”* Several of the Latin commentators dwell on the wording of the Vulgate in the latter clause of the verse, (C.) take the faces of sinners,* and explain it as a rebuke for imitating the wicked, whether the evil Jews of old time who slew the prophets, or the yet more evil chief priests who conspired against CHRIST. In this sense they urge that the first half of the verse refers to those rulers who actually condemned the LORD, (Ay.) and the latter to the multitude which might easily have rescued Him, but preferred to follow the lead of His powerful enemies.* Cardinal Hugo dwells on the application of the words to unfaithful prelates in the Christian Church,* who fall into that old worst sin of the house of Levi, and “have been partial in the law,”* not bearing in mind the Wise Man’s counsel: (L.) “Seek not to be judge, being not able to take away iniquity; lest at any time thou fear the person of the mighty, and lay a stumbling-block in the way of thine uprightness.”*

3 Defend the poor and fatherless: see that such as are in need and necessity have right.

4 Deliver the out-cast and poor: save them from the hand of the ungodly.

These words are, (A.) they tell us, an appeal to the Jewish people to deliver Him Who became poor and needy for their sakes out of the hands of His cruel enemies, and to save Him from a painful and unmerited death. But a few hours before, and “the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill Him; for they feared the people,”* and now that the crisis had come, the people proved to be “dumb dogs, that cannot bark,” when the wolves are gathering around the Lamb of GOD;* when “the righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart.”* He was not only poor for our sakes, but an orphan, (LXX.) one with no father on earth,* with no mother in heaven; and who left Himself not merely destitute of all earthly succour,* but endured that last mysterious pang, when He cried, “MY GOD, MY GOD, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Outcast, (LXX. and Vulg. poor.) There is a pathetic variant here in some. Æthiopic copies, which read the lonely one, fitly spoken of Him Who trod the winepress of His Passion alone, when all the disciples forsook Him and fled.* Observe, moreover, that it is not enough for a judge to be inflexibly upright in his mere sentence. ‘It is his duty to see that it be carried out, and not set aside by favour or violence.* He is to see that such as are in need and necessity have right, and not merely a claim to be righted, he is to deliver them out of the hand of the ungodly. Pilate achieved the first part of the counsel; he defended the Poor and Needy seven times against the chief priests and the mob; he gave right judgment, saying, “I find no fault in Him;”* but he did not see that He had right; he did not deliver Him out of the power of His enemies.

5 They will not be learned nor understand, but walk on still in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.

Will not be learned. (A.) A. V. more exactly, with the old versions, They know not. “For had they known it, they would not have crucified the LORD of Glory.”* And because they walked on still in darkness, they chose Barabbas in His stead,* but that “blindness in part is happened unto Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” Whence is added, all the foundations of the earth are moved (A. V. marg.) because thereupon began that great stirring among the nations, whereof the earthquake which rent the rocks at the Crucifixion was the forewarning and type.* And those foundations still will be moved (LXX. and Vulg.) the shaking will never end till the gathering in of the nations is accomplished by the Church. (A.) There are two other mystical explanations of the latter clause, one that it refers to earthly potentates and men of merely secular desires, who shall be moved, either with wonder at lowliness, poverty, and sorrow being voluntarily chosen by the LORD as His own lot,* or with terror at the judgment to come upon them, because when the Light shone in the darkness, they refused to comprehend it; the other, (D. C.) that it is a prophecy of the terrible devastation of the Holy City and the entire land of Israel at the hand of the Romans, as a punishment for rejecting the SAVIOUR.* The literal sense makes a distinction between the ignorance and the dulness charged on the false judges, the first accusation, They know not, having reference to their neglect of studying the law they have to administer, while nor understand implies haste, inconsiderateness, and negligence in the investigation of any particular cause; the just decision of which might be arrived at by honest diligence of inquiry, without any great legal information. But when haste and ignorance unite,* then all the foundations of the earth are out of course, because the basis of society and all confidence in authority is rudely shaken. And so a heathen poet sings in like case:

ἄνω ποταμῶν ἱερῶν χωροῦσι παγαί,*

καὶ δίκα καὶ πάντα πάλιν στρἐφεται.

ἀνδράσι μὲν δόλιαι βουλαὶ, θεῶν δʼ

οὐκέτι πίστις ἄραρε.

Back flow the sacred rivers to their source,

And right and all things veer around their course,

Crafty are men in counsel, and no more

God-plighted faith abides as once of yore.

6 I have said, Ye are gods: and ye are all the children of the most Highest.

7 But ye shall die like men: and fall like one of the princes.

There is a divergence of opinion as to these two verses, whether they are to be taken as addressed to the same persons, (A.) or to two different companies. S. Augustine, who mentions both views, inclines to the second, alleging that the earlier verse is spoken to the elect,* whom CHRIST welcomes to the kingdom of His FATHER; the latter to the reprobate, commanded to depart into everlasting fire. If addressed to the same persons, the sense will not be very different, but will run thus: “I have given you the choice of everlasting blessedness, and have granted you the adoption of sons, but ye have rejected MY salvation, and shall perish in your sins.” Herein ye shall die like men, because of your human frailty, and fall like one of the princes, because of your haughty pride, which will bring you down as it did Satan, who fell like lightning from heaven, where he had been one of the princes. One commentator subdivides the second verse,* and sees in it a distinction of judgment between the less guilty Jewish multitude, who acquiesced in CHRIST’S condemnation, and are therefore adjudged to die like men, while the more guilty chief priests are to fall like one of the princes, into the more terrible punishment of the devil.

We must bear in mind the use the LORD Himself made of this verse in defending Himself from the charge of blasphemy, “Is it not written in your law,* ‘I said, Ye are gods?’ If he called them gods, unto whom the word of GOD came, and the Scripture cannot be broken; say ye of Him Whom the FATHER hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the SON of GOD?” And so doing, we shall see the fitness of that other explanation, which takes the whole passage of the election and subsequent casting off of Israel. The chosen people were gods, as the one nation which knew good and evil;* even the children of the most Highest,* as being named by Him thus: “Israel is MY son, even My first-born,” but they died like men, either like their own father Adam (Heb. S. Hieron.) through disobedience,* or like the Gentiles around them, falling too like one of the princes of the various empires which had risen and set on the world’s horizon during the progress of their own history. Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, had come and gone, and now Israel’s national existence was to be swept away also, deservedly, in its turn.

8 Arise, O GOD, and judge thou the earth: for thou shalt take all heathen to thine inheritance.

Arise then,* O Sole-begotten SON of GOD, slain by ungodly men, (D. C.) and buried in the grave, arise on the third day from the dead, and sending Thy judgment on the wicked land, the sordid and earthly hearts which rejected Thee: take to Thyself all nations for an inheritance, in the stead of that one rebellious people which would not have Thee to reign over it. Arise also now from Thy slumber in the tempest-tossed bark of Thy Church, in judgment against her worldly foes, and cause her to preach Thee among all nations; arise to final judgment,* coming with all Thy Saints, gathered from east and west, from north and south, out of all kindreds and tongues, and nations, and peoples, now militant here in earth, then to be triumphant and blessed in heaven.


Glory be to the FATHER, Who is a Judge among gods; glory be to the SON, Who shall arise to judge the earth; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who hath said to the faithful by the mouth of His prophet, “Ye are gods, and ye are all the children of the most Highest.”

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

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com