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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. Her foundations are upon the holy hills. [Circumcision and Epiphany: A Man was born in her, and the Most High founded her. Feast of B.V.M.: The habitation of all us rejoicing ones is as in thee, O holy Mother of GOD. Dedication: Jacob beheld a ladder,* and the top of it reached to heaven, and he beheld the angels descending, and said, Truly this place is holy.]

Monastic. As preceding Psalm. [Corpus Christi: CHRIST the LORD, thinking upon them that know Him, stablished them with corn and wine. Comm. Virg.: Draw me, we will run after the perfume of Thine ointments, Thy Name is as oil poured forth. Dedication: This is none other* than the house of GOD, and this is the gate of heaven.]

Parisian. GOD is our help,* therefore will we not fear. [Dedication: He that dwelleth in heaven hath His eye on that place, and defendeth it; and He beateth and destroyeth them that come to hurt it.]

Mozarabic. The LORD loveth the gates of Sion* more than the tabernacles of Jacob.

1 Her foundations are upon the holy hills: the LORD loveth the gates of Sion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.

The LXX. and A. V., more correctly, His foundation. The “city that is set on a hill”* is “GOD’S building,”* not man’s. And so we read in another place, “The LORD hath founded Zion.”* The scope of the Psalm is the spread of the knowledge of JEHOVAH amongst the heathen nations around, and from the names specified, it may be most probably ascribed, like the preceding one, to the reign of Hezekiah, after the destruction of Sennacherib’s army. Assyria, then the great enemy of Judah,* is omitted altogether; but we find Ethiopia (the Morians) and Egypt (Rahab) which were allies of Hezekiah, in Tirhakah’s army;* Babylon, from which an embassy of congratulation was sent to the Jewish king; and the Philistines,* whom he had finally subdued; all included in the list, with a special fitness inapplicable to any other date in the history of the southern kingdom, though some have tried to find in it a reference to the foundation of the Second Temple. The abruptness of the opening verse, remarks S. Augustine, suggests that something must have preceded, not of necessity uttered aloud, but pondered in the mind of the tuneful citizen, who filled with the HOLY GHOST, and thinking with love and desire of the City, breaks out in this wise, in which he begins to tell us of that heavenly Jerusalem, whose foundation is upon the holy hills,* the Apostles and Prophets, whose Cornerstone is CHRIST,* none other foundation than Whom can any man lay.

These, the Temple’s sure foundations,*

These are they that bind the nations

Into GOD’S great house above:

These the City’s pearly portal,

Knitting faith with work immortal,

Jew and Gentile into love.

The word holy is not superfluous, but distinguishes the hills of the mystical Jerusalem from those of the mystical Babylon,* which are worldly power and ungodly wisdom. But Babylon has at any rate a solidity and grandeur of its own; not so the frail and temporary dwellings of careless frivolity, (R.) shunned by “the heirs of the promise,”* who even while dwelling in tabernacles, look, as Abraham did, “for a city with foundations, whose builder and maker is GOD.”* There are six properties of a foundation, whereby we may see how it is a type of CHRIST.

Sustentat saxis, sine vento, luce, ruina,

Odit aquas, pondus non sentit, forte, latens, stans.

It props with rocks, is free from wind, light, fall;

Shuns water, feels not weight, is strong, hid, firm.

He, too, props the whole spiritual building, “On this Rock I will build My Church;”* and that with rocks, the unpolished stones of doctrine, like the altars of unhewn stones under the Law, for the Apostle tells us,* “My speech and my teaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom.”* The wind of vain-glory comes not near Him, for He “shall be as a hiding-place from the wind,”* and saith of Himself,* “I receive not honour from men.”* He needs not light, for though we see through a glass darkly, He ever hath open vision, “dwelling in the light which no man can approach to.”* He knows no fall, for His humility has searched the lowest depths, as it is written, “I am a worm, and no man, a very scorn of men, and the outcast of the people.”* He shunneth the waters of pleasure or riches, and saith of Himself, “My throat is dry.”* He feels not weight, in that He counts toil on our behalf as nothing, for “He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.”* He is strong, for He is GOD; yea, as holy Job saith, “If I speak of strength, lo, He is strong.”* He is hidden, “Verily, Thou art a GOD that hidest Thyself, O GOD of Israel, the SAVIOUR.”* He is firm, “for He shall never be moved.”*

The Lord loveth the gates of Sion. These gates are twofold,* the Apostles and other preachers of the word, by whose agency men enter into the Church, and the Sacraments which the converts receive in order to their full entrance into heavenly citizenship. (Ay.) GOD loves them more than all the dwellings of Jacob,* because the Gospel Saints and Sacraments are higher than those of the Law, (D. C.) the Gospel Church nobler than the tabernacles of Moses and David, than the temples of Solomon and Zerubbabel. So it is written on the one hand, “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he;”* and on the other, that the Law hath only “a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things.”* There are, observes one commentator, (P.) four principal gates to the Holy City; Baptism, to enter in; Penance, to return by; Orders, to ascend by; and Extreme Unction, whereat we go out; while the twelve articles of the Creed are at once, like the Apostles, foundations and gates,* each a single pearl of great price; fairer and more blessed than those tents of Jacob which Balaam,* wondering, saw and blessed.

Again,* the verse may be applied to the Blessed Virgin, herself sprung from the holy and lofty race of Hebrew saints, prophets, and kings, and loved by GOD more than all other virgin souls, dwelling in the tabernacles of pure bodies which wrestle, as Jacob, against all sin.

There is a curious Rabbinical belief that in the days of Messiah, (L.) Mount Sion will be exalted by the heaping up of Sinai, Tabor, and Carmel, as a base beneath it, while restored Jerusalem crowns the height. And this they take as the sense of that prophecy: “The mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established in the top of the mountains,* and shall be exalted above the hills.”

2 Very excellent things are spoken of thee: thou city of GOD.

How excellent, how glorious, (A. V., LXX., and Vulg.,) does not appear till we reach the glowing language of the Apocalypse, and that of the many Christian hymns on the joys of the Heavenly City which have drawn their inspiration thence, for in this Psalm the Church Militant and Triumphant are so blended in idea into one, that it is impossible to sever them, or contemplate them independently of each other. “O blessed land of Paradise,”* exclaims one whose eyes have for centuries gazed on those delights for which they once longed, “O blessed land of gladness, for which I sigh in this valley of weeping; where wisdom without ignorance, memory without oblivion, understanding without error, reason without obscurity, will shine! Blessed are they who dwell there, and who will praise GOD for ever and ever. Amen.” So, too, are very excellent things spoken of her, the mystical city of GOD,* wherein the Great King deigned to tarry. There are many reasons for giving her this title,* which may be thus Summed up:

Rex, præsul, populus, defensio, templa, domus, lex,

Fons, schola, ludus, opes, commercia, pax, cibus, arma.

King, pontiff, people, guard, shrine, home, and law,

Fount, school, sport, riches, trade, peace, weapons, food,

all which are interpreted either of the sojourning of the LORD within her,* or of the graces which made her a fitting abode for Him. Note, moreover, that every holy soul is, in its degree, a city of GOD, placed high on the holy mountains of contemplation, founded on the Rock which is CHRIST, and having the gates of mind and body ever ready to open to the LORD when He knocketh, but barred closely against His foes. Of such a one shall glorious things be spoken, even, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy LORD;”* and again, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of My GOD, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of My GOD, and the name of the City of My GOD, which is New Jerusalem.”1

Finally,* the Church is called in this Psalm by six titles: foundation, mountain, Sion, holy, gates, city; the first because of her firmness, the second by reason of her exaltation, the third because of her looking for her GOD, the fourth from her graces, the fifth to denote her security, and yet her readiness to admit, and the last epithet tells us of the gathering together of the multitude within her.

3 I will think upon Rahab and Babylon: with them that know me.

This rendering does not express the meaning of the original, nor is the A. V., though in part more correct, accurate either. The whole verse should run,* I will record Rahab and Babylon amongst those that know Me, that is, amongst My worshippers. Rahab, “pride,” (S. Hieron.) or “the haughty one,” means Egypt, which is so styled by Isaiah,* “Art not Thou it that hath cut Rahab?” Accordingly, we have a prophecy of the same seer, to the like effect: “And the LORD shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the LORD in that day.”* How gloriously this promise was fulfilled, the long list of the great Saints of the Church of Alexandria and of the Thebaid may tell us for Egypt, while the roll of the martyrs under the fierce persecution of Sapor, who ruled where the King of Babylon once had sway, is not less eloquent for Mesopotamia. But nearly all the old commentators suppose that Rahab the harlot of Jericho is here named,2 and frame their glosses accordingly. Seeing, (A.) rightly enough, that the calling of the Gentiles is here foretold, they point out how Rahab was a type of all converted sinners, bearing on their foreheads the red line traced with CHRIST’S precious Blood, thronging amidst the publicans and harlots into the kingdom of heaven, while Scribes and Pharisees remained without, still in that fated Jericho,* whence our true Joshua delivers them that trust in Him. Rahab, too, meaning “spaciousness,” is a type of those that once walked along the broad way of destruction, but,* receiving and hearkening to the Apostles, messengers of the Conqueror, entered on the narrow way, and shall be saved when the world sinks in ruin at the sound of the Archangel’s trumpet. And Babylon, (A.) the city of “confusion,” is named too, because from it there is a steady tide of emigration, of sinners justified by grace, and drawn into the fellowship of Jerusalem. With them that know Me. There are two readings of the Latin here, both differing from this. One, the Vulgate, and more usually received, is, Of Rahab and Babylon, that know Me (scientium Me.) That is, (B.) as some explain it, GOD treats the future as present,* and speaks of those whose conversion He foresees, as already knowing Him. But most of them take the words as meaning the same as the other reading, that of LXX. and Gallican Psalter, to them that know Me, (scientibus Me,) that is,* I will put the desire of preaching to Rahab and Babylon into the hearts of My Apostles and missionaries, that they may bring them to the knowledge of Me.

4 Behold ye the Philistines also: and they of Tyre, with the Morians; lo, there was he born.

The LXX. and Vulgate rendering, (C.) as usual, strangers or aliens for Philistines (ἁλλόφυλοι, alienigenœ) give the key to the interpretations here, which see in the widest expression the Gentiles, “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel,”* while Tyre denotes, as they will have it, those in the “strait” of penitential sorrow (it rather denotes those hard and stony with worldly prosperity,) and the Morians or Ethiopians, such as are black with sin, and long in spiritual darkness. There was he born. The LXX. and Vulgate read severally These were from there, and These were there. That is, they were admitted by the new birth of regeneration into that city whose deadliest foes they had been. Ayguan, (Ay.) observing that the Hebrew reads the clause in the singular, takes “this” to mean each of the specified nations taken singly. Others, seeing that it applies to one person, have applied it to a single Ethiopian,* the eunuch of Queen Candace, but a truer sense is that the citizens of the new Jerusalem above are not ennobled as nations or communities, but each one separately, in the cleansing waters of Baptism. There is yet another meaning, that most obviously suggested by the Prayer Book Version, to which the Chaldee paraphrase lends weight. It reads,* Where that king was born,* or, as another rendering takes it, anointed. Because of the fame of Solomon, strangers from distant countries crowded to Jerusalem to see him, or at least the place of his abode; because of a greater than Solomon, the Gentiles throng into the Church to kneel at His footstool.

5 And of Sion it shall be reported that he was born in her: and the most High shall stablish her.

This version harmonizes so exactly with the last cited meaning of the previous clause, that it is hard to forego it; but although it nearly agrees with some of the Latin comments, it does not give the sense of the passage, which is rightly translated by the A. V., This man and that was born there, which is, save for the first clause, not dissimilar to the LXX., Mother Sion will say, Man and man was born in her.1 That is, the population of Sion will become vast from the natural increase of the alien immigrants, yet so that each new citizen is separately recognized, separately ennobled, admitted by a separate act, (A.) that the individual shall never be lost sight of in the mass. S. Augustine, following the LXX. rendering, but pointing it differently, takes it thus: A Man will say, Mother Sion, and a Man was made in her. And he explains it of CHRIST, Himself the Most High Who founded Sion, choosing her for His earthly Mother, and condescending to be born within her,* words which another aptly takes of the Virgin Mother. But Euthymius, admitting this same text, (Z.) interprets the words of every Gentile convert who will recognize Sion as his true Mother, because she has lovingly fed him with the nourishment of holy doctrine. Yet again,* they turn it very ingeniously thus: The Mother of Sion, that is, the Synagogue, will say, A man, meaning thereby that CHRIST is only a mere human being. But Sion will say, He is Most Highest. The Vulgate reads, Shall Sion say, A man, and a man was born in her, and the Most High founded her.* And it is explained to be a cry of wonder on the Psalmist’s part, as though he were saying, I know that glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of GOD, but is it possible that thou canst ever declare that the Man has been born in thee, that the Highest has deigned to become Incarnate? Or, (R.) as others, with but little difference of meaning,* take it; Will any man say to Sion, can any merely human understanding assert or comprehend the mystery of the Man’s birth Who is the Most High? There is yet a third exposition,* which alleges that one particular man is meant here as the herald of the SAVIOUR’S birth, (Ay.) and he,* of course, John Baptist, the Forerunner, the “man sent from GOD,”* who did tell these good tidings to Zion.

6 The LORD shall rehearse it when he writeth up the people: that he was born there.

That is,* the LORD,* when registering the nations in the Book of Life, will alone be able to compute the innumerable myriads of His redeemed, and shall say of every alien who has sought Jerusalem and submitted to her laws,* This man was born there;* meaning thereby that the acquired citizenship of the Gentiles is as perfect and indisputable as that of the descendants of Abraham, inheriting by right of birth. And that precisely because it is by means of the new birth in Holy Baptism that the franchise is conferred. Of this Isaiah spake in prophecy, saying, “And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem.”* But the Vulgate and LXX. read The Lord shall narrate in the Scriptures of the people and of the rulers that were [LXX. born] in her. (Z.) This, as a Greek commentator urges, has reference to the use made of the Old Testament by CHRIST Himself, to prove His mission and authority. For S. Luke tells us how “there was delivered unto Him the book of the Prophet Esaias. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor.”* This sort of Scripture of the Prophets He calls the Scripture of the peoples, or of the princes, because they were given to the nations and rulers of the Jews, (C.) and were thus the peculiar possession of them that were born in Sion. The Latins,* on the other hand, will have it that the Scriptures of the peoples here mean the New Testament, intended for the unlearned and simple, (Ay.) not merely for scholars and philosophers, but which are, (D. C.) nevertheless, the Scriptures of the princes too, of the Apostles, Evangelists, and great Doctors of the Church, for these are they of whom it is written, “The princes of the people are joined unto the people of the GOD of Abraham.”* Another lays stress on the phrase peoples,* as the technical term opposed to that of the one nation of the Jews, and argues that the Gentile Scriptures are thereby denoted in contrast to the Jewish ones, not, as above, to the secular writings of philosophy.* But a still more ingenious exposition is that which finds here a prophecy of the hallowing of the Gentile languages by their becoming channels for the narrative of CHRIST’S life on earth, whereas they had previously contained only idolatrous blasphemies. Lastly,* some have seen here a reference to that census of the Roman empire taken by order of Augustus at the time of the Redeemer’s birth, wherein He caused Himself to be enrolled among the princes of the people, as the lineal descendant of David’s royal house.* And Tertullian informs us that this record was in his day still preserved in the archives at Rome, and could be appealed to in disproof of those who cast doubts on the fact of CHRIST’S nativity.

7 The singers also and trumpeters shall he rehearse: All my fresh springs shall be in thee.

The true force of this verse is found by comparing the versions of Aquila and Symmachus, who, coinciding with S. Jerome, give us this result: The singers, as in dances, will say in praise, All my springs are in thee. That is, for the Church Militant, that the singers and dancers of the world shall dedicate their once abused powers to the worship of GOD, and that gladly.* The fountains then will be the sources of divine song, nay, the songs and hymns themselves, into which they will break forth, according that saying of the Prophet, “Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation; and in that day shall ye say, Praise the LORD, call upon His Name, sing unto the LORD.”* Their songs are streams of rejoicing, all derived from that one primal fount that issued from the side of JESUS.

Cujus de gurgite vivo

Omnis posteritas latices in carmina duxit

Amnemque in tenues ausa est deducere rivos,*

Unius fecunda bonis.

From whose living flood,

All later time, enriched by one alone,

Bore from its waters chalices of song,

And boldly drew its stream in slender rills.

And the blessed ones,* rejoicing in the gladness of the heavenly Jerusalem, shall, drinking of its pleasures as out of a river, fix all their happiness there,* and regard it as the source and well-head of felicity.* Another permissible rendering is not without a beauty of its own; All my springs in thee shall sing like those that lead the dance; for whereas many of GOD’S springs in the Church below are waters of affliction and of penitential tears, in our Country above there will be no streams save those of perennial joy.

A living stream, as crystal clear,*

Welling from out the throne

Of GOD and of the Lamb on high,

The LORD to man hath shown.

This stream doth water Paradise,

It makes the Angels sing;

One precious drop within the heart,

Is of all joy the spring,

Joy past all speech, of glory full,

But stored where none may know,

As manna hid in dewy heaven,

As pearls in ocean low.

Yet again, it may be, the singers and dancers, yea, all the springs of gladness, all expressions of joy, are in thee alone, But the LXX. and Vulgate, following a different reading of the Hebrew text, which affects the previous verse also, translate, As of all rejoicing ones the dwelling is in thee. What does this As mean? (A.) asks S. Augustine. It tells us that our earthly joys are only a faint image of those delights which as yet we know not, and that the words our ignorance forces us to employ are quite inadequate to describe the gladness of heaven. The dwelling, too, is there, not the mere tabernacles of Jacob, shifting and uncertain in their place,* but eternally unshaken, on the lofty hills of the Golden City. And, lastly, they take the verse of the Blessed Virgin, as the holy place within which abode our true Isaac, our mystic “laughter,” and in whom therefore the joy of the whole earth was for a time contained.


Glory be to the FATHER, the Most High Founder of Sion; glory be to the SON, the Man Who was born in her; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, from Whom flow all the fresh streams which water the Paradise of GOD.

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

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