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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. GOD is a righteous Judge, &c. [Ascension: Thy glory is set up above the heavens, O GOD, Alleluia. Trinity Sunday: Be present, One GOD Almighty, FATHER, SON, and HOLY GHOST. Transfiguration: Made a little lower than the Angels, He was crowned with glory and worship, and set over the works of the hands of GOD. Holy Name: First verse. All Saints: How excellent is Thy Name, O LORD, for Thou hast crowned Thy Saints with glory and worship, and hast set them over the works of Thy hands. For one Martyr: Thou hast crowned him with glory and honour in all the earth. Common of Virgins: O how fair is the chaste generation with glory.]

Lyons. First verse.

Mozarabic. How excellent is Thy Name, O LORD, in all the earth.

1 O LORD our Governor, how excellent is thy Name in all the world: thou that hast set thy glory above the heavens!

The former Psalm concludes with a promise,* “I will praise the Name of the LORD Most High.” Here we have its fulfilment. O Lord, our Governor. GOD’s Name is twice repeated: for He is twice our LORD, in that He made us and in that He redeemed us. The LORD of the heathen, as having created them; but ours doubly, in that He is known to us. In that He is our LORD, we are His servants: in that we are His servants, in all that He possesses we have a special interest. In all the earth: and not in Judea alone, (G.) seeing that, in the fulness of the time, the Gentiles also were to be added to the Church. And that Name, when first set up as a title over the Cross, was written in three languages, as a sign that hereafter it should be preached and should be worshipped by every tongue and nation.

[Thy Name. It is that Name JESUS,* the joy of the faithful, and the true revelation of the FATHER, which is meant.

JESU Nomen omne bonum*

Tenet, dulcem facit sonum,

Promeretur regni thronum,

Auditum lætificat:

In hoc lucet splendor PATRIS,

In hoc patet decor Matris,

In hoc fulget honor fratris,

Hoc fratres magnificat.]

[Above the heavens. They take it, for the most part,* literally of the Ascension. Others, and especially the Angelic Doctor, (A.) see here implied the infinite distance between CHRIST and the very highest of His Saints;* not only the Apostles or the Angels, but even her who bore Him, (C.) whom Christian singers delight in styling the “now heaven.”*

Aula cœlestis speciosa Regis,*

Fulta septenis sophiæ columnis,

Quem nequit totus cohibere mundus

Claudis in alvo.

Above the Scriptures also, (L.) and all Sacraments, because their only value is as ways to Him.]

2 Out of the mouth of very babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength, because of thine enemies: that thou mightest still the enemy, and the avenger.

Literally the Holy Innocents, who thus glorified CHRIST by their deaths, and they who cried Hosanna by their acclamations, (Ay.) as He Himself has taught us. Spiritually, the weaker members of the Church, of whom the Apostle writes, “I have fed you with milk, and not with strong meat.”* And again, those who had the innocence and simplicity of babes, as the holy Apostles. Because of Thine enemies: for their conversion; or, if they will not turn, for their destruction. As it is written, “The arrows of the little ones are made their wounds.” That Thou mightest still the enemy: for GOD hath chosen the weak things of this world to confound the wise. Note; He chooses this sign rather than any other, for the more confusion of the Jews.* For CHRIST’s other miracles had been performed under the Old Covenant; not so this.

[Babes and sucklings. The words are mystically taken of the Apostles, (P.) as the first-born of the Church, as taught by their LORD to speak,* as fed by Him like new-born babes with the sincere milk of the Word, and as called by Him His “children.” Avenger. S. Bruno the Carthusian, following here the Italic version,* defender, interprets the word of the Jews, professing zeal for the defence of the Law as their motive for persecuting their LORD, saying, “This Man is not of GOD, because He keepeth not the Sabbath Day;”* and again, “We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the SON of GOD.”* Avenger. Not only tyrants and unbelieving nations, whom GOD has at various times raised up to chastise a backsliding Church, (P.) but the evil spirit himself, who is only an instrument in his Creator’s hand, and who will finally be stilled in the great doom.]

3 For I will consider thy heavens, even the works of thy fingers: the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained.

The heavens. The whole course and disposition of events under GOD’s Providence: the works of His fingers, Who has declared that all things shall work together for good to them that love Him.* His fingers, not His hands, because this is but a small thing for GOD’s omnipotence. The moon, that is, the Church, dark in itself,—constantly as it were, in danger to shine no more,*—as constantly renewed, and deriving all her light from the true Sun. The stars. The Saints of GOD, as it is written, “They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars for ever and ever.”* Note; he mentions not the sun, because the Sun of Righteousness was begotten, not made. And again,* in another sense, the Son of David might have taken these words on His own lips, when He continued all night on the mountain in prayer to GOD, and was then so mindful of the sons of men, as, at the fourth watch of the night, to appear to them walking upon the sea.

[For I will consider. The A. V. more exactly, when I consider, then, seeing GOD’s majesty, I marvel at His condescension, and am, besides, kindled with eager longing after the Heavenly country.

Cuando contemplo el ciclo*

De innumerabiles luces adornado,

Y miro haciá el suelo

De noche rodeado,

El amor y la pena

Despiertan en mi pecho una ansia ardiente,

Despiden larga vena

Los ojos hechos fuente,

La lengua dice al fin con voz doliente:

Morada de grandeza,

Templo de claridad y hermosura,

Mi alma que á tu alteza

Nació, ¿ qué desventura

La tiene en esta carcel baja oscura?

The moon and the stars. The use of this Psalm in the Common of Virgins points to yet another meaning of this clause. The moon,* observes the confessor of Edward I., denotes Mary, the Mother of GOD, and that for various reasons. As the moon draws all her brightness from the sun, and yet is the most luminous object next to him, so Mary, made “full of grace” by Him whose countenance is “as the sun shineth in his strength,”* is brightest of all the Saints. And yet, as the moon is nearest to the earth, so Our Lady is the lowliest of all in her humility. As the moon rules the tides, so Mary, (according to S. Jerome, “Star of the Sea,”) by her prayer helps those who are tossed on the bitter surges of the world. And as Easter, the festival of the Resurrection, follows the course of the moon, so the spiritual arising of man by the Incarnation followed the consent of Mary’s will to the message of the Angel.* The choirs of Virgins which be her fellows, and bear her company, then are fitly compared to the stars, less than the moon alone in glory and beauty.

O puellæ,* O agnellæ,

CHRISTI caræ columbellæ,

Sine dolo, sine felle,

Cœli stellæ, DEI cellæ,

Jubilate purpuratæ,

Coronatæ, congregatæ

Cum Agno innocentiæ.

Ipsa est dilecta mea,

Vos præcedens in choreâ,

Cujus nomen et persona

Suâ lucet in coronâ,

Quam inscripsit DEUS PATER,

Hæc est illa JESU mater

Maria Virgo virginum.]

4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him: and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

When, therefore, the prophet considers all these things, tending to man’s salvation, the providence whereby all events work together for his good,—the Church to be his mother, the Saints to be his examples and his friends,—his thoughts are naturally carried back to the one source of all, (A.) which is the Incarnation.* What is man? The Psalmist answers in another place, “Every man is but vanity;” and again, “All men are liars.”* Man, taken absolutely as a sinner: the son of man,* those that are endeavouring to keep the law of GOD. Visitest. As it is written: “Blessed be the LORD GOD of Israel, for He hath visited and redeemed His people.”* And again, “Thou visitest the earth, and blessest it.”*

[The Rouen Breviary, employing by a peculiar use the eighth Psalm for the matins of Christmas Day,* fitly selects this verse as the Antiphon, in the spirit of that hymn of Adam of S. Victor.

Ut ascendat homo reus*

Condescendit Homo-Deus

Hominis miseriæ.

Quis non laudet et lætetur?

Quis non gaudens admiretur

Opus novæ gratiæ?

And there is yet another thought which they bring before us, that these glorious starry heavens are the destined home of feeble and sinful men:

Quid datur et quibus æther? egentibus et cruce dignis,*

Sidera vermibus, optima sontibus, astra malignis.]

5 Thou madest him lower than the angels: to crown him with glory and worship.

Forasmuch as CHRIST went not up into joy, but first He suffered pain, so here we see Him in His low estate first, and then in His glory; (Ay.) for the humility of His Passion was the merit of His exaltation. Lower than the angels. In that He condescended to become mortal and passible. A little lower. And what marvel, then, if, speaking in respect of His humanity, He saith, “My FATHER is greater than I?”* With glory, as respects Himself; with worship, in reference to others.

[Lower. The A. V., and the old versions all have a little lower. A little, for it was but for a short time, a little, because He was mortal and passible of His own free-will, (R.) and not, like us, of necessity. Glory, in the victory of the Resurrection;* honour, in the throne of the Ascension. And note that CHRIST is said to have many crowns, of which the chief are mercy,* wherewith He was crowned in His Incarnation and Nativity; sorrow, when the thorny diadem of the Passion was given Him; glory, in His Resurrection and Ascension; dominion, which He will receive when the court of the redeemed gathers round Him.]

6 Thou makest him to have dominion of the works of thy hands: and thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet;

Over the works of Thy hands; and therefore over those angels than whom for a season He was made a little lower, Thou hast put all things in subjection. Let the Apostle interpret: “In that He put all in subjection under Him,* He left nothing that is not put under Him.” “But when he saith,* All things are put under Him, it is manifest that He is excepted Which did put all things under Him.” Note; in these three verses we have the four living creatures of the Revelation;* for these may denote the four parts of CHRIST’s work of mercy, as well as the four Evangelists. What is man? There we have the face of a man. Thou madest Him lower than the angels: there the ox, the animal fitted for sacrifice. To crown Him with glory and honour: there the victorious lion. Thou hast put all things in subjection: there the eagle that soars above everything else.

[Under His feet. As the Head of CHRIST is His Divinity,* so His feet are His Manhood, and it is as Man that the empire is given Him which was always His very own as GOD.]

7 All sheep and oxen: yea, and the beasts of the field;

All sheep. By sheep we understand those whose business in CHRIST’s Church is not to teach, (C.) but to learn. “My sheep,” saith He, “hear My voice.”* By oxen, those who labour in His Word and doctrine; according to that saying of S. Paul, “Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn.”* For by these great profit is obtained in His Church; as it is written, “Much increase is by the strength of the ox.”* Yea: the word shows that a change of subject is made; (B.) namely, from the good to the wicked. The beasts of the field: those who own no master, but follow their own hearts’ lusts, like “brute beasts,” as S. Peter teaches, “made to be taken and destroyed.”* For the wicked as well as the good are made subject to CHRIST.

[Not only are the sheep, (P.) the lowly and docile, who hear the voice of the Shepherd, put under Him, but even the oxen, the powerful rulers of the earth, and the beasts of the field, the wandering and barbarous tribes which knew no law before.]

8 The fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea: and whatsoever walketh through the paths of the seas.

The fowls of the air are the Saints, (C.) who rise above the world, but only by means of the sign of the Cross. The fishes, ordinary Christians, regenerate of water and of the HOLY GHOST; and whatsoever, bad as well as good, unholy no less than holy, walketh through the paths of the seas, is exposed to the waves and storms of this troublesome world.

[The fowls of the air, (A.) S. Augustine will have to be the proud and ambitious, the fishes, those who are restless and acquisitive. Others see in the winged fowls, the angels; in the fishes, the evil spirits of the abyss; or again, in a good sense, the dwellers in the isles afar, (P.) and mariners in them who walk through the paths of the seas. The literal interpretation of these verses, as referring to the dominion of man over the lower creation, bestowed on Adam and confirmed to Noah,* has led to the use of this Psalm in the Office in time of cattle-plague.]

9 O LORD our Governor: how excellent is thy Name in all the world!

Excellent, therefore, as well for that He is very GOD, as set forth in the first verses, as because He is very Man, as taught in the succeeding verses, of the Psalm. And its beginning and ending are the same, as being in His praise Who is the first and last, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.


Glory be to the FATHER, Who hath put all things under the feet of the Son of Man; glory be to the SON, Who, though SON of GOD, vouchsafed to become Son of Man, and to be made lower than the Angels, and now is crowned with glory and honour as Priest and King; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, the Finger of GOD, by Whom the heavens were made.

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

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