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.

The Festival Antiphons to this Psalm in the Gregorian and Monastic uses are for the most part much varied, and borrowed from the first Lauds Psalm, that is, Psalm 93, so that it will suffice to give the chief deviations from this rule. The first verse of the Psalm is the normal Sunday Antiphon in all the rites.

Gregorian. [Christmas Day: II. Vespers. With Thee is the beginning * in the day of Thy power, in the splendour of the Saints; from the womb before the morning star have I begotten Thee. Corpus Christi: CHRIST the LORD, a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek, offered bread and wine. Common of Apostles: II. Vespers. The LORD sware * and will not repent. Thou art a Priest for ever.]

Ambrosian. [Christmas Day. From the womb * before the morning star have I begotten Thee.]

Mozarabic. With Thee is the beginning in the day of Thy power.

The character of this Psalm, as a Messianic prophecy, has no parallel throughout the Psalter. In the case of all the others, even such as are most exalted in their language and imagery, or closest in detail to the incidents of the Gospel, there is always some historical groundwork, known or presumable, constituting the primary application of the poem, as in Psalms 2, 22, 45, 72 and 89. But in this instance no such reference can be extracted by any ingenuity from the course of Israelite history. To take one point only, the union of the kingdom and priesthood in one person does not occur till the reign of John Hyrcanus, or perhaps his successor Aristobulus, and those eminent persons were, on the one hand, not descendants of David, nor on the other, priests of an order differing from the Aaronic, inasmuch as they were of the house of Phinehas. And the citation of the Psalm by Our LORD to the Pharisees establishes incontestably that in those days no idea that there was a past historical application of it possible was current. Ho doubt existed then of the Davidic authorship, nor of the Messianic intention. The early Jewish testimonies to the latter of these facts are abundant and emphatic.* Thus the Talmud quotes this Psalm to prove that “GOD placed King Messiah at His right hand;” so too in the Midrash Tehillim, no fewer than three times, the same use is made of it.* Also R. Barachias, R. Jonathan, R. Moses Hadarschan, R. Moses Nachmanides, (L.) R. Levi, R. Saadias Gaon, R. Simeon (who sees here the union of Jews and Gentiles in one realm under Messiah), the books Zohar and Bereshith Rabba, adopt the same view. But the exigencies of controversy soon drove the Jews to find another explanation,* and, accordingly, in S. Justin Martyr’s time the current Rabbinical view referred the Psalm to Hezekiah. Somewhat later, without actually abandoning this theory, they set up others, as that Abraham,1 David, or Zerubbabel was intended;* and that David is the object of the Psalm is the present most authoritative theory amongst them,* defended by the argument of R. Kimchi and Aben-Ezra,* that the title must be understood as meaning “A Psalm for, or concerning David.”* This is the opinion maintained by a school of modern criticism which represents David as having actually been the head of the Priesthood as well as of the temporal kingdom, as it is at least certain that he lifted the former out of the depressed condition into which it had sunk after the slaughter at Nob in Saul’s reign, and that he reconstructed, amplified, and ritualized the Levitical ceremonial. But this very circumstance, when more closely examined, makes against the theory. All experience points to the fact that a powerful temporal ruler, when desirous to subject the religion of the State to his purposes, depresses, instead of exalting the priesthood, to avoid the chance of rivalry, as may be clearly seen in a remarkable example which at first seems to make the other way, the dealings of Louis XIV. with the Church of France; not to cite those of Peter the Great in Russia, far less of Henry VIII.* or Elizabeth in England. There appears, no doubt, a highly religious sanction and character investing David and Solomon,* who are described as the principal officiants at great religious festivals (though the words do not fairly imply that they were the actual ministers of sacrifice on such occasions),* and in a less degree to Hezekiah and Josiah as religious reformers. But in the case of the two former monarchs,* it is to be observed that they had both been anointed by persons recognized as seers, to wit,* Samuel and Nathan, the latter of whom is expressly coupled with Zadok, the actual conferrer of Solomon’s regal unction, and were thus regarded as having a specially sacred character, further increased by their own prophetic rank. But no trace of this ecclesiastical authority is discoverable in Saul, nor yet in Rehoboam or his successors, and the history of Uzziah teaches us that this is no accident, and we must therefore look to the Prophetic office, not the priestly one, as that which meets us in the case of David and Solomon.* It is clear from the action of Elijah at Carmel, and perhaps from Samuel’s conduct at an earlier date,* that extraordinary representatives of GOD were not debarred from discharging sacerdotal functions, albeit they were of other tribes than Levi. The one matter of importance was, that no one should usurp this office; but a man undoubtedly “called of GOD,”* who was able to prove his commission by prophecy and miracle, could not be put on a footing with Korah or Uzziah. And hence we may fairly conclude that no claim to be a Priest was likely to be put forward by David himself, or by any one else on his behalf; while the further argument from the inapplicability of the lofty expressions of the first verse to him,* is pressed by S. Peter in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost.* The sixfold citation of the Psalm in the New Testament, thrice in the Gospels,* once in the Acts, and twice in the Epistle to the Hebrews,* (besides three additional references, distinct enough, though not verbal quotations,) gives it unusual prominence and importance,* and has led to much ingenuity on the part of modern rationalists in order to avoid admission of its prophetic and Messianic character. In particular,* it is argued against the use made of the Psalm by CHRIST,* that in citing it as David’s, and in the special sense in which He did so, He may either have employed the word David in the same technical and indeterminate sense which is still current when the phrase “Psalms of David” is used as equivalent to the Psalter; or Hemay have been simply accommodating Himself to the current view of the time, without in any way pledging Himself to its correctness, but taking the Pharisees on their own ground, and routing them there; or lastly, that as He has clearly stated that in His human nature He does not possess the faculty of omniscience,* and was not habitually conscious of facts which did not come within the sphere of His human knowledge, He may therefore have erred on a point of literary criticism such as this. But the first and second of these views are contradicted by the singularly explicit language of one of the Gospel citations, where CHRIST says, “For David himself said by the HOLY GHOST, The LORD said unto my LORD,”* &c., words which cannot be diluted in any vague fashion. And as regards the third, those critics who, accepting the truth of CHRIST’S Godhead, nevertheless advance the theory of His fallibility, confound two perfectly distinct ideas, limitation of knowledge, and error by reason of such limitation, albeit the one does not in the least connote or involve the other. There is no hint discoverable in the New Testament that CHRIST did not know perfectly and unerringly all that He professed to know, and there is only one point which He excludes from the compass of His knowledge, at the same time that He gives many details on the subject of which it is part which are undiscoverable by human investigation. But one difficulty connected with His use of the verse remains unsolved, that is, why His question should have put the Pharisees to silence; as the current Messianic theory of that day recognized Messiah as a lineal descendant of David, who was to surpass His ancestor in prowess, empire, and spiritual gifts; and it seems not a little strange that they should not have offered this solution of the question, as He does not here raise the far more important debate as to His own claim to be the Messiah. It may be that the key to this problem lies in the narrative of our LORD’S trial before the Sanhedrim, for in reply to His saying, “Hereafter shall the Son of Man sit on the right hand of the power of GOD; then said they all, Art Thou then the SON of GOB?”* using a title which He had not employed,* and charging Him with blasphemy for accepting it. Hence we may not unreasonably conjecture that at least some leading Rabbins may have reached that stage of the Messianic idea which recognized a divine element in the coming Prince of the House of David, some intimate union of Him with the Memra-Jahvêh, the WORD of GOD; while the remainder looked only for a temporal king and victor. And the object of the question would then be precisely analogous to S. Paul’s availing himself of the rivalry between the Pharisees and Sadducees:* namely, to force on the Rabbins an admission that they were not agreed amongst themselves on the character and prerogatives of Messiah, all-important as such an inquiry was, and had therefore no right to claim submission to their interpretation of Scripture, or to test orthodoxy thereby.* It is precisely because the union of the kingly and priestly offices in Messiah is a phase in the gradual development of the whole doctrine of the Anointed One apparently much beyond the stage it had reached in the time of David, that historical doubts have been raised as to the date of this Psalm. But it is sufficiently evident that the Pharisees and the Apostles had by no means assimilated this particular tenet even after Psalm 110 had been, to say the least, some centuries in use, and therefore we are not entitled to do more than say that the prophecy in question, whenever delivered, had not seized hold of the national mind.

1 The LORD said unto my LORD: Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.

The opening words of this revelation to the Psalmist, literally rendered, (C.) are, the oracle of Jehovah unto my Lord, (Adoni,) a sudden winging of the Prophet’s flight to the loftiest mysteries of Divine contemplation, only to be paralleled by that like commencement, “In the beginning was the WORD, and the WORD was with GOD, and the WORD was GOD.”* The FATHER saith unto the SON that which the one did not utter with the mouth, nor the other hear with the ear. The FATHER willeth, and the SON knoweth it; the SON willeth, and the FATHER knoweth it. The Rabbins, noticing the difference of the titles used, Jehovah and Adon, paraphrase thus: “The higher degree spake unto the lower, Sit thou on My right hand;”* and hereupon also the Arians and Eunomians based an argument for the subordination of the SON.* But the answer is,* that the address is not to the Eternal WORD in respect of His Godhead, for then there would be no question of His dignity, but to Him incarnate in time, and therefore inferior to the FATHER as touching His manhood. And the Great Name itself is expressly attributed to CHRIST in Holy Writ, as Jehovah-Tsidkenu, “The LORD our Righteousness,”* when the doctrine of His Godhead is to be enforced. The Psalmist calls Him my LORD, by reason of His manhood, because He is our flesh and blood, our Brother, our very own in right of His Mother.* Paternity does not except David from subjection to his Son, any more than in an elective monarchy, the citizen father of a new king can demand independence on the ground of relationship. Sit Thou on My right hand. (A.) The first and obvious sense of these words has regard to the place of the chief minister of a kingdom at the right hand side of the king in council,* whence the Arab title, “Vizir of the right hand,” given to the Radaf,* or first officer of state. But that a still higher application of the phrase is possible, in the case of a son associated by his father in the sovereignty, cannot be disputed. And in truth an argument against the Arians was based on this very fact. At a time (A.D. 385) when the leaders of that heresy were exceedingly powerful,* and great efforts were being made to secure the patronage of the State for them,* S. Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium, headed a deputation of Catholic prelates to Theodosius the Great, to counteract the scheme. The young Arcadius, who had been lately proclaimed Augustus by his father, was seated beside the Emperor, but the aged Bishop omitted him altogether when paying the customary marks of respect to the sovereign. Theodosius, believing this to be an oversight, desired the Saint to salute Arcadius. The old man drew near, and caressed the boy, saying, “Good day, my son.” Theodosius, much incensed, and thinking that an insult was intended, gave orders that the Bishop should be driven out of the hall of audience, but he, turning to the Emperor as the guards were about to execute the mandate, cried out, “See, Emperor, you cannot bear any disrespect shown to your son, but are exceedingly wroth with those that are insolent to him. Believe then that Almighty GOD also hateth them that blaspheme His Only-begotten SON, and is indignant with them for their ingratitude towards their SAVIOUR and benefactor.” And Theodosius, struck by the cogency of the argument, withdrew his protection from the Arians and Eunomians. That this notion of association in the kingdom is in fact the fullest sense of the Psalm appears from the similar prophetic language of Daniel: “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, One like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought Him near before Him.* And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” And Our LORD Himself twice refers to this prophecy, once to His disciples, saying, “They shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory;” and again, before the High Priest, where He comprises the language of the Psalmist and of the Prophet in one sentence: “Hereafter ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”1* The word sit itself denotes, observe some of the commentators, (C.) the human nature of CHRIST, inasmuch as sitting cannot be predicated of the incorporeal Godhead, (A.) and in contrast to the prominence of standing, it implies His present invisibility. Sit Thou, not only on high, but also in secret, exalted that Thou mayest rule, hidden that Thou mayest be the object of belief. For what reward could there be for faith, unless that which we believe were hid? But that reward of faith is to behold that which we believed before seeing it. And it also denotes His perfect rest after all His sufferings, in contrast to the time when “being wearied with His journey,”* He sat upon the well of Sychar, and still more to that when He was exalted on the painful throne of the Cross, (Ay.) so that He whom the Synagogue, and also His Virgin Mother called Benoni, “Son of my sorrow,”* is called by His FATHER Benjamin,* “SON of My right hand.” Sit Thou, rest Thyself beside Me, rule with Me, reign, enjoy My glory,* be nearest unto Me, be partaker of My good things, My power and majesty, be above every virtue and principality, be superior to all created things, be close to Me in the highest, mightiest,* and most honoured place, reign with Me in equal power, as to Godhead, with like and nearest as to Thy manhood, exercising all power in heaven and earth.* Until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool. The word until is not infrequently used in Scripture without implying cessation when the point of time indicated as future has been reached. Thus we meet such expressions as “I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.”* “There shall no man be able to stand before thee, until thou have destroyed them.”* “His heart will not shrink, (C.) until he have seen his desire upon his enemies;”* and above all, “And knew her not until she had brought forth her first-born Son.”* But in this particular instance there is a comment which plainly shows that a limit of time is intended. S. Paul, speaking of the Second Advent, tells us: “Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to GOD, even the FATHER; when He shall have put down all rule, and all authority and power. For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For He hath put all things under His feet. But when He saith, All things are put under Him, it is manifest that He is excepted which did put all things under Him. And when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the SON also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that GOD may be all in all.”* (L.) On this text two insufficient and hasty conclusions have been based, either that CHRIST’S Manhood will then be entirely absorbed in His Godhead, or else that He will cease to bear rule, whereas it is said of Him, “Thy throne, O GOD, is for ever and ever.”* The true meaning is that His mediatorial office, and task of administering the government of the Church Militant will then cease; as there will be no more sin requiring His priestly intercession, no more war demanding His invincible leadership. His enemies, evil spirits and wicked men, shall be made His footstool, whether trodden in His anger,* and trampled in His fury, as in the case of the finally impenitent, (C.) or voluntarily humbling themselves to “worship at His footstool, for He is holy,”* as in that of returning sinners. (A. V.) The figure is taken from the usage of Eastern conquerors; of which, besides the Scriptural example of Joshua and the five confederate kings,* two noteworthy instances are recorded in history. First is that of Sapor, king of Persia,* whose custom it was, whenever about to mount his horse or his chariot, to cause the captive Emperor Valerian to be led forth, chained, but also clad in the purple and other imperial insignia, and to be made lie down on his face upon the ground, when the insulting victor used him as a step by which to mount into his seat, treading on the captive’s head or back, and alleging that such a real triumph was worth all the Roman paintings of imaginary victories. The second instance, almost exactly parallel, is that of the treatment of Sultan Bayazid by Tamerlane. Note too that the FATHER says: Until I put Thine enemies under Thy feet,* not as implying that the SON cannot do it for Himself, since whatever the FATHER doeth, the SON doeth likewise, but because this is part of the SON’S reward, in so far as He is man, for His obedience, “Wherefore GOD also hath highly exalted Him.”* By reason of the close union between the members and their Head,* we may read this Psalm of the victory of any Saint of GOD, set at His right hand in the judgment, and given victory over all his foes. And that we may attain this triumph in the world to come,* we must sit at CHRIST’S right hand here too in rectitude of intention, avoiding all sinister doings, for “a wise man’s heart is at his right hand, but a fool’s heart is at his left,”* but sitting, by persevering in holiness, by humility, by calmness and tranquillity in prosperity and in trouble: sitting,* like Mary of Bethany, at the feet of JESUS, to hear His Word.

2 The LORD shall send the rod of thy power out of Sion: be thou ruler, even in the midst among thine enemies.

CHRIST is Himself the “Rod out of the stem of Jesse,”* but as He in His Manhood went forth not from Sion,* but from Bethlehem, the expositors prefer to take the words generally of the Gospel Law, preached first from Jerusalem, and more specially of the Cross, the sceptre of CHRIST’S Kingdom,* His “strong staff and beautiful rod,”* wherewith He, as with a bar of iron, bruises His opponents to make their hearts contrite,* wherewith He,* by the hands of His Apostles, subdued the world. A rod of greater power this than the one which Moses wielded, for that did but part the sea, while this one brake in pieces the wickedness of the world; it converted sea and land, and filled them with mighty power, beginning at Jerusalem, “for out of Sion shall go forth the Law, and the Word of the LORD from Jerusalem.”* So runs the hymn:

Crux est nostræ

Libra justitiæ,*

Sceptrum regis,

Virga potentiæ.

The Cross is the balance

Of all our right,

The sceptre of kingship,

The rod too of might.

Be Thou ruler, even in the midst among Thine enemies, extending Thy dominion gradually over all the unbelievers who surround Thee and Thy Church on every side, Jews, (R.) Pagans, heretics, and false brethren alike, till Thou rulest even in their midst, in the very hearts of those who were once Thy bitterest foes.* And therefore it is said, Rule, not slay, because the Kingdom of CHRIST is enlarged not by the destruction, but by the conversion of sinners. And of this a token was given when He, surrounded by His enemies as He hung upon the Cross,* bore even in that hour of supreme humiliation the kingly title over His head, and converted the thief and the centurion in the very act of His dying.

3 In the day of thy power shall the people offer thee free-will offerings with an holy worship: the dew of thy birth is of the womb of the morning.

This exceedingly difficult verse is so variously treated by different expositors by reason of its obscurity, that it is necessary to set forth in full some of the diverse renderings before proceeding to annotate it. First let us take the A. V. (1) Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning [or, more than the womb of the morning,] Thou hast [or, shalt have] the dew of Thy youth. Modern critics take it thus, with but little deviation, (2) Thy people are ready volunteers in Thy battle-day [literally, army-day] in holy vestments [or, according to a variant here, on the holy hills;]1 from the womb of the dawn Thou hast Thy young men [like] dew. The LXX. and Vulgate have, (3) With Thee [is] the beginning [LXX. rule, ἀρχή] in the day of Thy power, in the splendours of the Saints, from the womb before the morning star have I begotten Thee.2 The Syriac, combining some of the peculiarities of all these, reads, (4) Thy people shall be glorious in the day of power; in the beauties of holiness I have begotten Thee, as a youth, from the womb of old time. There are additional varieties created by other versions, but these are enough as specimens. Let us then take first that which seems to be the most exact rendering of the Hebrew, (2.) We have pictured before us, in this wise, the same wonderful vision as that which the Beloved Disciple beheld in Patmos, when he “saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse; and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness doth He judge and make war. And the armies which were in heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.”* It is the gathering together of the hosts of the LORD for the combat against sin, of whom is said, as of those ten thousand who went down from Tabor with Barak against Jabin, that they “willingly offered themselves”* for the avenging of Israel; willingly, because of the voluntary pledges in Baptism, when they were clad in the holy vesture of purity and grace (reminding us of that army of British Christians which, arrayed in the white chrisom-robes, routed the heathen hordes of Picts in the famous Alleluia battle,) and put on the whole armour of GOD. These flow together to the standard of the King like drops of dew from the womb of the morning, because the propagation of the Faith is silent, unseen, unheard, not in the full blaze of morn, but in the milder light of dawn, as the Daystar ariscs in the hearts of men; and also because of the countless multitudes of the Saints, who can no more be numbered than the minute drops of the dew;* and yet more because dew is a gift of GOD, not a thing which man can obtain at his will, for it is written, “And the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the LORD, as the showers upon the grass, that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men;”* since it is true of the sons of GOD, the young warriors who join His great host, that they “were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of GOD.”* They are at once warriors and priests, like their Master,* Who is King and Priest too;* and they can maintain their fight only so long as they are self-dedicated with priestly hallowing; while, on the other hand, priests can maintain their purity only so long as they are actively engaged in combat. Not only here on earth,* but in the glory of the Resurrection, the elect of CHRIST shall be quickened by His heavenly dew, as it is written, “Thy dead men shall live, together with My dead body shall they arise.* Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out her dead.”* Such appears to be the true mystical meaning of this abstruse verse,* though the word youth may also be taken as singular;* and thus the phrase, Thou hast the dew of Thy youth, will refer to the perennial vigour of CHRIST.* But the exegesis of the Greek and Latin Fathers is necessarily quite different, and dwells mainly on the doctrine of the eternal generation of the SON of GOD.

With Thee,* O LORD, paraphrases a great Eastern Saint, is the dominion, (ἀρχή) not accidental, and bestowed on Thee in time, not depending on an army, soldiers, or wealth, but inherent in Thee by nature, in the day of Thy power, when taking flesh upon Thee, Thou shalt give many proofs of Thy power and might, and that in the splendours of the Saints, when Thou shalt give light unto the world by the beauty and radiance of Thine Apostles and disciples; or when Thou shalt come to judgment and display Thy force and power in marvellous fashion, and make the splendour of Thine arising Saints brighter than that of the sun, not in one form and measure, but manifold; and therefore it is said splendours, not splendour, for one star differeth from another star in glory. And it is not incredible that such exalted power should be in Thee, nor is it alien from Thy nature and essence, seeing Thou art consubstantial with Me, and partaker of the same nature,* seeing that I begat Thee from the womb before the morning star,* that is, before the morning star was created, I produced Thee by true generation; (Z.) denoting thereby, as another Greek Father observes, that CHRIST is before all time, and of the same nature with the FATHER. And in this sense the word womb, in its strictness inapplicable, yet denotes that the Sonship of CHRIST is not adoptive, but natural and inherent. Other Easterns,* following the versions of Aquila and Symmachus,* very nearly that of the Prayer Book, see here a reference to the Immaculate Conception of CHRIST, born of the womb of Blessed Mary by the operation of the HOLY GHOST descending upon her as the dew on Gideon’s fleece. His birth was in the splendours of the Saints because of the glorious vision of those angelic hosts which proclaimed His nativity to the shepherds of Bethlehem.

The Latin Fathers, owing to the additional error by which the LXX. ἀρχή (itself no exact, though a possible rendering of נְדָכו̇ת, free-will offerings,) was translated principium, beginning, instead of principatus, dominion, have departed yet further from the Hebrew. (A.) The explanation of S. Augustine is that the Beginning means the Eternal FATHER, as the Source of all things, even of the Son and the HOLY GHOST, and that His union with the SON, always perfect, though hidden, will be disclosed and revealed in the day of the SON’S power at the Judgment, amidst the glories of the risen Saints, and he takes the last clause of the verse to denote not only the eternal generation of the WORD before the creation of the stars of heaven, but also the miraculous birth of CHRIST in the early morning of Christmas Day,* or as others will have it,* of her “who looketh forth as the morning” in her beauty and purity.

4 The LORD sware, and will not repent: thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.

To this verse, the central revelation of the oracular Psalm of which it is a part, (L.) we possess the inestimable key of an Apostolic comment. First, on the opening words, The Lord sware, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews dwells on the exceeding solemnity of this rite of inauguration, distinguishing CHRIST from the Aaronic ministry: “For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by Him that said unto Him, The LORD sware and will not repent, Thou art a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek; by so much was JESUS made a surety of a better testament.”* Next he emphazises the words for ever, as forming another ground of distinction: “And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death; but this Man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood: wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto GOD by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.”* And thirdly, the mystical character of Melchizedek, and his superiority over Abraham himself, are pointed out,* in that his name and office indicate him as King of Righteousness and King of Peace, as being a type of an eternal Priest having no earthly origin, no beginning nor ending, and that as receiving tithes from the ancestor of Levi, he must of necessity rank above the Levitical priesthood, which can have no rights superior to those which it inherited by reason of the appropriation to it of a special part of the promises made to Abraham by GOD; and therefore, being himself a Gentile, and yet ranking above the Jews, Melchizedek typifies that King and Priest Who should be the Ruler and Pontiff of a Church made up of both Jew and Gentile, of universal extent. Bearing in mind the express statement of the Pentateuch that “Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high GOD;”* the ancient Rabbins,* holding him to be a type of the Messiah,* taught that in the days of the latter there should be no sacrifice known save that of bread and wine,* to the exclusion of all animal oblations. Hence the obvious reference to the Eucharistic Sacrifice is common to the Fathers of East and West from the earliest to the latest times, and it would be superfluous to multiply quotations with the end of establishing so simple a proposition.1

When the Patriarch was returning

Crowned with triumph from the fray,*

Him the peaceful King of Salem

Came to meet upon his way;

Meekly bearing Bread and Wine,

Holy Priesthood’s awful sign.

On the truth thus dimly shadowed,

Later days a lustre shed;

When the Great High Priest eternal,

Under forms of Wine and Bread,

For the world’s immortal Food

Gave His Flesh, and gave His Blood.

Wondrous Gift!—the WORD Who moulded

All things by His might divine,

Bread to be His Body maketh,

And His very Blood the Wine;

What though sense no change perceives,

Faith admires, adores, believes!

He Who once to die a Victim

On the Cross, did not refuse,

Day by day, upon our altars,

That same Sacrifice renews;

Through His holy Priesthood’s hands,

Faithful to His last commands!

While the people all uniting

In that Sacrifice sublime,

Offer CHRIST to His High FATHER,

Offer up themselves with Him;

Then together with the Priest,

On the living Victim feast!

5 The LORD upon thy right hand: shall wound even kings in the day of his wrath.

The Psalmist here directs his words to the Eternal FATHER, (A.) at Whose right hand is the Lord (Adonai) CHRIST Who is to do these wondrous things,* so that although many kings of the earth may conspire against His priesthood, and endeavour to overthrow His Church, yet He will rout them, as in truth He did those Pagan emperors who strove throughout the ten persecutions to blot out the very name of Christians, and as He will do again in the Last Day. S. Chrysostom, however,* and the other Greek Fathers, followed by not a few Latins, (C.) with several modern critics, assume the Lord of this verse to be the FATHER,1 and explain the apparent discrepancy of the session of the king on the right hand of GOD, in the first verse, and the converse standing of GOD at the king’s right here, as being no real contradiction, but denoting two distinct conditions, the one pointing to the king’s exaltation in time of peace, the other to the divine aid given him in the day of battle; while the closeness of connection between JEHOVAH and the King is such that each does what the other does, and there is thus no specially abrupt transition, even were that what it by no means is, an unusual thing in Hebrew poetry. Both interpretations, therefore, are fairly open, and practically converge in the same idea.

6 He shall judge among the heathen; he shall fill the places with the dead bodies: and smite in sunder the heads over divers countries.

Besides the ambiguity as to the Person here intended, common to this verse with the preceding, there is a further divergence of interpretation,* as to the time of fulfilment of this prediction. (Z.) Some of the Greek Fathers take it to be the Day of Judgment, a view which squares exactly enough with more than one passage of the Apocalypse;* while others, and most of the Latins,* following the lead of S. Augustine, (A.) prefer to understand it of the dealings of GOD and CHRIST with the enemies of the Church in this world. And they take the verse almost unanimously in the mildest sense, explaining the Vulgate reading (which is, He shall judge among the nations, He shall fill the ruins, He shall dash to pieces the heads in the land of many) as denoting His work in the conversion of souls. They explain the first clause of CHRIST’S rule over Jews and Gentiles alike; not judging them, (C.) but judging and overthrowing Satan’s power among them;* the second of His restoration of His ruined Sion,* whether by building up again those who level themselves low in humility, (R.) or by filling up anew with ransomed men the heavenly ranks left vacant by the fall of the rebel angels;* while the last paragraph is taken as meaning that He makes Himself the one Head,* overthrowing all rivals, whether evil spirits or human self-will, which set up many heads other than Himself in the world. But the Hebrew undoubtedly depicts the carnage of a victorious battle, with great piles of dead bodies lying on the battle-field, and single headless corpses strewed here and there, marking where a fugitive had been overtaken and slain in the widespread rout. The last clause, however, may with much probability be translated,* He hath smitten through [him that was] head over a wide land, just as in another place we read, “Thou didst strike through with his staves the head of his villages,”* and in that case the mystical import will be that the Divine Conqueror not only overcomes lesser forms of evil, but inflicts a deadly wound upon the head of all, the old dragon, who was once prince of this world.

7 He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up his head.

Here there is no doubt as to the person intended.* The Rabbins and those modern critics who agree with them in taking the two previous verses as spoken of GOD only, admit that the King is again brought on the scene in this last verse. The literalist notion is obviously that he is “faint, yet pursuing,”* but that he may not “die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised,” he stoops for a moment to drink of an opportune stream in his road, and immediately rises up again with renewed vigour and uplifted crest, to continue the chase till the last invading foeman is driven across the frontier in total rout.

There is absolute unanimity in the broad outline of the mystical interpretation,* amidst some variety of minor detail, inasmuch as all take the verse to denote CHRIST’S humiliation followed by His exaltation. For brook the LXX. and Vulgate both read torrent, that is, an intermittent watercourse temporarily swollen by storms which bring down the rains from the hills. And this is explained as typifying the hurried, turbid, noisy, yet brief course of human life, to which the LORD bowed Himself by His Incarnation, from His throne on the right hand of the FATHER; drinking of the troubles of our mortal condition, truly in the way, for He was a stranger and pilgrim on earth, far from His country:* nay, going down by His Passion into the lowest depths of the torrent, so as not to drink for refreshment and pleasure, but swallowing the waters like a drowning man, so that “they came in, even unto His soul;”* when His head was lifted up on the Cross as He drank the last drops of that cup which His FATHER had given Him, and for His obedience thus carried out, GOD also hath highly exalted Him, first in the Resurrection,* and then in the Ascension, and hath given Him a Name which is above every name.* The Chaldee, which here paraphrases, “He shall drink wisdom out of the mouth of the Prophet,” supplies us with a key to the tropological sense; which is that Christians derive all their strength and refreshment from the waters of the mystical Rock which follows them, so as to be always in the way, accessible along the road of their pilgrimage to the very end, supplying its living streams of holiness.* And a recent commentator very aptly cites in illustration a saying of one of the early synods of the Gallican Church: “Whatever of truth and righteousness man has, is from that fountain, after which we in this desert ought to thirst, in order that, bedewed as it were with a few drops from it, we may not faint in the way.”*


Glory be to the FATHER, Who hath said unto my LORD, Sit Thou on My right hand; glory be to the SON, my LORD, Who is a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, the heavenly dew of our youth.

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

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com