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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.

The Gregorian and Monastic vary for every day and festival.

Parisian. A hymn for all His saints, for the children of Israel, a people near unto Him.

Lyons. Kings of the earth * and all people, praise ye the LORD.

This Psalm is always said in the Western Church together with the two following, with one Antiphon and one Gloria, a custom of unknown origin, mystically explained by Durandus, Bishop of Mende, and Sicardus, Bishop of Cremona, as the triple battle-cry against the world, the flesh, and the devil, the joint anthem of Jews, Christians, and Gentiles, the praise of the Trinity in Unity. From them, named both in East and West Αἶνοι, Laudes, the office of Lauds derives its title. The Eastern Church recites them together as well as the West, and it was reserved for Cardinal Quignonez to part them, an example followed by the later French Breviaries.

1 [Alleluia] O praise the LORD of heaven: praise him in the height.

2 Praise him, all ye angels of his: praise him, all his host.

The three immediately preceding Psalms (146, 147:1–11, 147:12–20,) (H.) set forth in order the gradual development of that most blessed hope which has been granted to us. The first is sung because of the hope of eternity and the expectation of the kingdom of heaven. The second follows, because of the building of the Holy City, and the assembling of the Saints, who are to come together to the fulness of the City. The third is a song of thanksgiving for the completed City, stablished in everlasting peace, and granted genial air by the Heavenly SPIRIT after the dry biting cold of the world. Therefore the order of the teaching is the same as that of the events, for according to the preachings of the prophets and Apostles, the order of that blessed Kingdom and eternal City is fixed in this wise: the change brought about by the Resurrection, the assemblage of the Saints, and in the joint habitation of the united citizens of the LORD. After this, when all are established in everlasting blessedness, the choir of heavenly virtues and powers is assembled in this next psalm to sing the praises of GOD, that all creation, now that the vanity of the world has been driven away, freed from the heavy toils of its functions, and taking breath at last in the blessed everlasting kingdom, may in joy and rest celebrate its GOD, now that it has been taken up into everlasting glory and bliss, according to the saying of the Apostle: “For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of GOD. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of GOD. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”* So this is the song of granted liberty, because all creation is at rest at last, loosed from bondage to mankind, and conformed to the sons of GOD. And therefore, most fitly, those very sons of GOD, the Angel hosts, are invited to begin the song from the heavens (LXX., Vulg., A. V.,) and that from no lowly station therein, but in the height where the Seraphim stand nearest to the Throne. They are to precent the song of the new creation,* for man, though rejoicing in the message of redemption, knows not how to praise as he ought, and needs a voice to give the intonation of the Psalm. (A.) It is thus not a command, but a petition, that they may continue to do what they always are doing, but so that man may catch the strain.

From heaven the loud,* the angelic song began,

It shook the skies, and reached astonished man;

By man re-echoed, it shall mount again,

While fragrant odours fill the blissful plain.

3 Praise him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars and light.

The Psalmist descends from the highest and invisible created beings to those which,* though far lower in dignity, are yet the highest and most glorious objects in the visible universe;* that what is greatest in light may praise Him first, since,* albeit not rational creatures, so as to be able to praise GOD directly, their wonderful radiance and beauty supplies unfailing material for man’s songs of gratitude and awe; (B.) and because they serve as emblems of Him Who is the Sun of Righteousness, (G.) the Light of Light, and to Whom we sing:

O Thou,* the FATHER’S glory bright,

Who art the Very Light of Light,

Light’s fountain and eternal spring,

Thou Day the day illumining;

Glide in, Thou Very Sun divine,

With everlasting radiance shine,

And on our inmost senses pour

The SPIRIT’S splendour evermore.

And as CHRIST in His manhood praises the FATHER,* ascribing all glory to Him, that GOD may be all in all, so too the Church, that moon which derives all her light from Him, and waxes and wanes in faith and brightness here in the world,* together with all those righteous children of hers who shine with the brightness of the stars, praises Him too in one choral hymn of thanksgiving. The light, as something diverse from the orbs of brightness, also utters His laud, by typifying and disclosing Him. So the Abyssinian Church sings:

Praise to the SAVIOUR, the glory of the Saints,*

The Light which hath come into the world;

His clothing was as light upon the mount,

But He is the true Light in Himself.

He came from a world of light,

And that light hath come to us;

He will lead us back unto that light,

From whence He descended in love and pity.

GOD is a GOD Who knoweth all things,

Clad in righteousness, robed in light,

A light announced Him, shining in the heavens,

And He is come, the Pilot of the souls of the just.

He reigns over the treasures of light

Who existed ere the worlds were made.

He will manifest that light;

He will give comfort in our sorrows;

He will disperse the clouds and thick darkness,

And lead us to our rest above,

Alleluia, O Thou First-born of Zion!

4 Praise him, all ye heavens: and ye waters that are above the heavens.

Rather, (A.) ye heavens of heavens, as LXX., Vulg., and A. V., words implying at once their vast extent and their unsearchable height. Ye waters that are above the heavens. (D. C.) The mediæval commentators, following S. Augustine, take this phrase, in its primary sense, to mean what in their cosmology they described as the crystalline heaven, clear as water, wherein the stars are placed.* Mystically, they give various explanations; sometimes identifying these heavens with the threefold hierarchy of the angels, each triply subdivided, which however must be rejected, as a mere repetition of the idea in the second verse. Otherwise they take the heaven of heavens to be the Blessed Virgin, (Ay.) as the actual dwelling of GOD,* and the others to be divine contemplation of the doctrines of the Gospels, and the Apostles, Ye waters that be above the heavens. Origen, followed by S. Ambrose, understands these waters as purely spiritual symbols,* not physical entities; and an English commentator tells us that they are the abundant graces of the HOLY GHOST,* “a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of GOD and of the Lamb.”* And S. Peter Chrysologus tells us that the waters of penitential tears, the weeping of Mary Magdalene, are above the heavens, because they rise at once and directly into the very presence of GOD.1

5 Let them praise the Name of the LORD; for he spake the word, and they were made: he commanded, and they were created.

He spake the Word, (A.) when He said before all eternity, “Thou art My SON, this day have I begotten Thee.”* And they were made,* for “the Word was GOD, (B.) and all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” He commanded, for “the FATHER loveth the SON, (C.) and hath given all things into His hand.”* And therefore “by Him were all things created, that are in heaven and in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by Him, and for Him.” And in that He not only made, (Ay.) but created them, His Divine, originating power, as well as His plastic and artistic wisdom is implied; (D. C.) and also the whole sentence shows the instantaneous result of the Divine fiat, for “GOD calleth those things which be not as though they were.”* And from this the author of the treatise on the Sacraments,* coeval with S. Ambrose, and usually printed amongst his works, draws this lesson: “The Word of CHRIST makes this Sacrament. What Word of CHRIST? Doubtless that whereby all things were made. The LORD commanded, and the heaven was made; the LORD commanded, and the earth was made; the LORD commanded, and the seas were made; the LORD commanded, and every creature was made. See how efficacious is CHRIST’S Word. If there then be such power in the Word of the LORD JESUS, in that He is GOD, that things non-existent should begin to be, how much more efficacious (at least in man’s way of looking at the question) is it in causing a change in things already existing. Before consecration it was not the Body of CHRIST, but after consecration I tell thee it is now the Body of CHRIST. He spake the Word, and it was made.”

6 He hath made them fast for ever and ever: he hath given them a law which shall not be broken.

Here two things are set before us,* the permanence and the cosmic order of creation.* Each created thing is not only formed to endure,* in the type or the development, if not in the individual, (A.) but has its place in the universe fixed by GOD’S decree, that it may fulfil its appointed share of working out His will. (C.) They raise a question as to the words, for ever and ever, how they can be reconciled with that prophecy, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor come unto mind;”* a prophecy confirmed by the LORD Himself, saying, “Heaven and earth shall pass away,”* and seen fulfilled in vision by the Beloved Disciple. And they answer that just as man dies and rises again to incorruption, having the same personality in a glorified body, so it will be with heaven and earth. Their qualities will be changed, not their identity, in that new birth of all things. The law which He hath given to all heavenly things, (A.) to the Angel hosts,* and to that bright and glorious City whence we are exiled pilgrims, is that of everlasting praise, their one task where there are no sins to struggle against, no wants to minister to. And in creation He has assigned great honour to man, while man has made for himself great wretchedness. The stars and the elements serve man, (Lu.) and yet man knows not his Creator. The whole world obeys GOD, is mindful of His law, man alone remembers it not.

All true,* all faultless, all in tune,

Creation’s wondrous choir,

Opened in mystic unison,

To last till time expire.

And still it lasts; by day and night,

With one consenting voice,

All hymn Thy glory, LORD, aright,

All worship and rejoice.

Man only mars the sweet accord,

O’erpowering with harsh din

The music of Thy works and word,

Ill-matched with grief and sin.

It is time for such discord to cease; (A.) and cease it can, for that WORD which made all things hath become flesh to save man, and lift him up from the state of sin. Only believe His promise, for He who clad Himself with death for thee in the womb of the Virgin Mother will clothe thee with life for Himself in His equality with the FATHER. And therefore the anthem of praise is not to be confined to heaven:

7 Praise the LORD upon earth: ye dragons and all deeps;

He begins with the lowest part of creation, (D. C.) the huge sea-monsters of the ocean. And some of the mediæval commentators very strikingly dwell on the two words dragons and abysses here found in LXX. and Vulgate, (B.) to teach us that even the “great red dragon”* himself and all his brood, in the very depths of hell itself,* are forced, however reluctantly, to praise the Lord, by working out His ends when striving to do their own evil will, and thus obeying His laws.* “All that GOD suffereth him [the devil] to do, turneth us to joy, and him to shame and pain. And he hath as much sorrow when GOD giveth him leave to work, as when he worketh not; and that is for he may never do as ill as he would, for his might is all locked in GOD’S hand.”* Hugh of S. Victor, however, who explains this, as well as the succeeding verses, of various orders of Saints, thinks great eminence to be signified by the huge size of the dragons, and profound wisdom in the depths where they lie; and he gives as examples of his meaning such names as Abraham, Isaiah, SS. Peter and John, S. Stephen, and S. Nicolas.

8 Fire and hail, snow and vapours: wind and storm, fulfilling his word.

In the literal sense,* this enumeration teaches two lessons; that these are all agents of good,* not of evil, in the world; and that they are under the absolute control of GOD. (C.) Here too there is a double current of interpretations, one school taking all these as descriptive of sinners of various kinds, either forced unwillingly to work out GOD’S purposes, or doing so joyfully after conversion;* while the other view sees in every vocable some separate type of holiness. According to the former view, fire, that is, lightning, means men of fierce and burning passions; hail, which crushes the grain, those who persecute the Saints; snow, those cold in sin; vapours, or smoke, such as are proud and yet black with defilement:—the Vulgate here reads ice, and this is explained as frozen in unbelief:—stormy wind, still fiercer persecutors than the hail, but all fulfilling His word when converted. The great French theologian takes the words quite differently.* With him fire denotes those fervid and glowing in charity; hail, great preachers who pour down stern and lashing rebukes on sinners; snow, those white in purity; ice, such as by stern self-restraint check whatever in themselves is too lax or flaccid—smoke, curling upward as a symbol of prayer, would have brought out the meaning better—and all these in their several ranks in the Church cheerfully doing the will of GOD. Nor is there any real contrariety between the two views, for the opposing aspects merely denote the different results of the very same qualities when guided by GOD and when left to the caprice of self-will. Each is a good servant, but a bad master, as we may learn from noting that it was the very same fiery temper which urged Saul of Tarsus to the death of Stephen, and afterwards exhibited itself in his burning and unceasing zeal for the spread of that faith he once denied.

9 Mountains and all hills: fruitful trees and all cedars;

10 Beasts and all cattle: worms and feathered fowls;

In giving a mystical sense to these verses,* the commentators who explain them for the most part of sinners are unable to make out their case completely;* because of the all but invariable use of fruit-trees and cedars in Holy Scripture as types of desirable qualities. But no such difficulty presents itself to the other view;* according to which the mountains are Saints eminent for holiness, hills those who have begun well; fruitful trees those who are zealous in good works, especially that of teaching others; cedars those who are incorrupt and lofty in contemplation; wild beasts, those who live a solitary life: cattle, such as dwell in peaceable and useful companionship with others; creeping things, those who quietly and steadily busy themselves in the work of active life; feathered fowl, such as rise on high in heavenly meditation. It is to be observed, however, that very few indeed of the mediæval expositors give any but the obvious literal meaning to vv. 7–10, (L.) and they chiefly employ themselves in mentioning the reasons which make all these objects in nature matter for devout thought and reverent praise of GOD. And this is the spirit of that great prayer in the Preface of the Clementine Liturgy:* “Thou createdst all things out of nothing by Thine Only-begotten SON, begotten before all ages by no other means than Thy will, Thy power, and Thy goodness; GOD the WORD, the Only-begotten SON, the Living Wisdom, the First-born of every creature, the Angel of Thy great counsel, Thy High Priest, but LORD and King of all sensible and intellectual creatures, Who was before all things, and by Whom all things were made. Thou, O eternal GOD, didst make all things by Him, and by Him too dispensest Thy providence over them; for by the same that Thou didst graciously bring all things into being, by Him Thou continuest all things in well-being; the GOD and FATHER of Thine Only-begotten SON; Who by Him didst make first the Cherubim and Seraphim, the Ages, Thrones, Archangels, and Angels, and after these didst by Him create this visible world, and all things which are therein. For it is Thou Who hast fixed the heaven like an arch, and stretched it out like the covering of a tent; and didst establish the earth upon nothing by Thy will alone; Who hast established the firmament, and prepared the night and the day, bringing light out of Thy treasures, and darkness to overshadow it, that under its covert the living creatures of this world might take their repose. Thou hast appointed the sun to rule the day, and the moon to govern the night; and moreover hast inscribed in the heavens a choir of stars for the honour of Thy glorious majesty. Thou hast made water for drink, and for cleansing, the vital air for respiration, and conveyance of sounds by the tongue’s striking of it, and the hearing which co-operates with it, so as to perceive the voice when it is received by it, and falls upon it. Thou madest fire for our consolation in darkness, and for the relief of our necessities, that we might be both warmed and enlightened by it. Thou didst divide the great sea from the land, making the one navigable, and the other a basis for our feet in walking; the former Thou hast replenished with small and great beasts, the latter too both with tame and wild; and hast moreover furnished it with various plants, crowned it with herbs, beautified it with flowers, and enriched it with seeds. Thou didst constitute the great deep, and didst set about it a mighty hollow; seas of salt water stand as an heap bounded on every side with barriers of sand; sometimes Thou dost swell it by the wind, so as to equal the high mountains, and sometimes smooth it into a plain; now making it rage with a tempest, then stilling it with a calm, for the ease of mariners in their voyages. The earth, which was made by Thee, through CHRIST, Thou hast encompassed with rivers, watered with currents, and moistened with springs which never fail; Thou hast girt it about with mountains, that it may not be moved at anytime; Thou hast replenished and adorned it with fragrant and medicinal herbs, with many and various kinds of living creatures, strong and weak, for food and for labour, tame and wild; with the dull harsh noises of those creatures which move upon the earth, and the soft sprightly notes of the gaudy many-coloured birds which wing the air; with the revolution of years, the number of months and days, the regular succession of the seasons; with the courses of the clouds big with rain, for the production of fruits, the support of living creatures: where also the winds take their stand, which blow at Thy command, and for the refreshment of trees and plants. And Thou hast not only created the world, but man likewise the citizen of it; manifesting in him the beauty and excellency of that beautiful and excellent creation.”

11 Kings of the earth and all people: princes and all judges of the world;

12 Young men and maidens, old men and children, 13 praise the Name of the LORD: for his Name only is excellent, and his praise above heaven and earth.

14 (13) He shall exalt the horn of his people;

Here at last is the direct appeal to man,* as the highest of earthly beings, to take up his part in the great antiphon of laud. It is the energising of that prayer of the Coptic Church:* “Thou Who hast ordained amongst men the steadfastness of the bodiless choirs;* Thou Who hast imparted to those on earth the song of the seraphim; accept our voices also with the invisible ones, number us with the heavenly powers, that we also, casting from us away unseasonable thoughts, may with them say and cry aloud as they also exclaim with unceasing voices and unfailing mouths, and may bless Thy majesty.” Kings and princes praise GOD when they bear rule for the good of their people,* judges when they decide with equity all cases which come before them. And there is a special force in the words all people, (P.) foreshowing that the worship of the true GOD was not to be confined within the limits of a single nation, but to spread all over the world.* The young men are those who “are strong, and the word of GOD abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one;”* the maidens all those who have pure and holy souls,* who serve GOD in a chaste spirit, even if they be amongst the wedded, but above all such as are near to Him in the Religious Life; while all others are included under the remaining heads. Then comes the reason; no longer, as in the fifth verse, the constraining force of an external law too strong to be broken. That suffices for the inanimate creation: but man must have his reason and will convinced ere he will bow. (G.) His Name only is excellent; that Name of JESUS Who only is Holy, Who only is the LORD, Who only is Most High, with the HOLY GHOST, in the glory of GOD the FATHER,* having a Name which is above every name, before which every knee must bow. He exalteth the horn of His people,* according to the thanksgiving of Zacharias, first, by His Incarnation,* next, by His Passion, then by His Resurrection and Ascension, and lastly by the dignity and glory He bestows upon those who honourably bear the Christian name. This, then, is the reason why man is summoned to take his part in the anthem of exulting praise begun by the citizens of the Church Triumphant:

Come,* let us sing the Song of songs,

The Saints in heaven began the strain,

The homage which to CHRIST belongs:

Worthy the Lamb, for He was slain.

Slain to redeem us by His Blood,

To cleanse from every sinful stain,

And make us kings and priests to GOD;

Worthy the Lamb, for He was slain.

To Him Who suffered on the Tree,

Our souls at His soul’s price to gain,

Blessing, and praise, and glory be:

Worthy the Lamb, for He was slain.

To Him, enthroned by filial right,

All power in heaven and earth proclaim,

Honour, and majesty, and might;

Worthy the Lamb, for He was slain.

All his saints shall praise him: even the children of Israel, even the people that serveth him. [Alleluia.]

The Hebrew of the first clause here is simply Praise of all His saints. That is, as they variously take it, GOD is Himself the praise of His holy ones; or the act of lifting up the horn of salvation is the matter of their praise; or yet again, praise is the peculiar right and possession of His true people. (Z.) Others may entreat His mercy, those only whom He has redeemed have the full privilege of lauding and blessing Him for priceless bounties. The LXX. and Vulgate read, A hymn for all His saints. What is a hymn? A song with praise of GOD. (A.) If you praise GOD, and do not sing, it is not a hymn, yea rather, if you sing, and do not praise GOD, it is not a hymn you utter; if you sing and praise something which is not GOD, song and praise together do not make you utter a hymn. A hymn, then, has these three properties, song, praise, and that of GOD. So this hymn is for all the children of the true spiritual Israel, even the people that draweth near unto Him (LXX., Vulg., A. V.,) not that which rejected and departed from Him. And it is truly said near, (D. C.) for the world to come as well as for this one, since it would be easier for heaven and earth to be annihilated than that any man who takes delight in the praises of GOD should not be saved. What is then the hymn peculiar to these His Saints? What but that very Alleluia which closes the Psalm?

This is the strain, the eternal strain,* the LORD of all things loves: Alleluia.

This is the song, the heavenly song, that CHRIST Himself approves: Alleluia.

Wherefore we sing, both heart and voice awaking, Alleluia.

And children’s voices echo, answer making, Alleluia.

And so:

Glory be to the FATHER, Who spake the Word; glory be to the SON, the WORD by Whom all things were made; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who sent forth the stormy wind to fulfil His Word to His Apostles.

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

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