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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.

Parisian. Ascribe unto the LORD * worship and strength.

Lyons. Let Israel rejoice in Him that made him.

1 [Alleluia.] O sing unto the LORD a new song: let the congregation of saints praise him.

No one who hath not “put off the old man with his deeds”* shall sing the new song; nay, it is further necessary to “put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him,”* in order to be able to sing it. And a new song,* looked at historically, is a glorious and especial chant, which is sung in honour of some prosperous success and victory; but in the allegorical sense, it is a canticle of the New Testament. For then all things were made new,—a new creation, a new man, a new life, new commandments, new grace, new promises, new sacraments, new precepts. And the New Testament is called by that name not merely because of its date, but also because of the nature of the things which happened under it, seeing that all things have been made new, and above all, man, for whose sake all the others existed. (A.) The old man has an old song, the new man a new song. The old song is the Old Testament, the new song the New Testament. In the Old Testament the promises are temporal and earthly; whoso then loveth temporal things sings the old song; but he who desires to sing the new song, must love things eternal. And this song is further that of peace and charity. It cannot be sung apart from the congregation of the Saints, from the united canticle of “all the whole earth.”* He who does not sing in this wise—with the whole earth—sing what he will, does not sing the new song. With his tongue he may utter Alleluia all day and all night, but it is not the voice of the singer, but the conduct of the doer, which has to be noted. I ask and say, What art thou singing? He answers, Alleluia. What does “Alleluia” mean? Praise ye the Lord. O come, let us praise the LORD together. If thou art praising the LORD, and I am praising the LORD, why are we at discord? Charity praiseth the LORD, discord blasphemes Him. Where then are we to praise Him together? His praise is in the Church of the Saints,* in the Catholic Church, not in the congregations of sectaries, far less in the assemblies of the wicked, who set themselves, in the synagogue of Satan, in the congregation of Korah, (G.) Dathan, and Abiram, against the true Aaron, the true and holy Priesthood, which is only in the Church of the Saints, either now on pilgrimage or reigning in heaven, and in both places sacrificing the oblation of praise and thanksgiving; (D. C.) for of Zion it is written, “Joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.”*

It is truly a new song they sing, for the matter of it never grows old,* the delight in it never grows weary, for that delight is always fresh in love, and even fresher in practice. It is truly new, because it renews mens’ minds with eternal blessedness. And so we read: “Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old: Behold, I will do a new thing.”* Sing not, therefore, with Lucifer,* who began with loud voice an anthem in heaven, saying, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of GOD, I mil be like the Most High,”* a voice beginning in pride, then going on to suggestion, and ending in a shriek of despair. Sing not with Adam’s three dissonant tones of credulity, consent, and excuse; but sit down at the feet of the New Man, and learn from Him to begin from the lowest note, saying, “Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart.”*

2 Let Israel rejoice in him that made him: and let the children of Sion be joyful in their King.

All those Israelites indeed,* in whom there is no guile, are bid to rejoice,* for GOD is worshipped chiefly by faith, hope, and love; and the companions and fruits of these are righteousness, peace, and joy. In Him that made him. The literal Hebrew is plural,* in Them that made him, which the Jewish commentators interpret as a form of honour,* but in which Christians see the mystery of the most Holy Trinity shadowed.* While all Israel, including those angelic “princes with GOD” in heaven, rejoice in the Creator, it is the special privilege of the children of Sion, the Saints of the Church Militant here on earth, (A.) to be joyful in their King, their Anointed Priest and Monarch, bearing to them a special personal relation which He does not to any other beings in creation.* Wherefore the Church saith, “Yet have I anointed my King upon my holy hill of Sion.” And this is the sense which the Rabbins give to the passage, interpreting it of the future gladness of Israel in their King Messiah. Yes, adds Cassiodorus, (C.) they shall indeed be joyful when they see Him the Almighty, Him the Bestower of everlasting rewards, Whose future coming in majesty they have believed here. What bounds will there be to that joy of beholding that LORD of all things, Whom we believe to have died here for the salvation of all? We cannot know the measure of that gladness, but we know it will surpass all imaginable good, for the Truth hath promised it.

3 Let them praise his Name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with tabret and harp.

For dance the LXX. (A.) and Vulgate have choir, χόρῳ, choro, and they all explain it as a figure of the unity of the Faith, inasmuch as a choir is a band of persons singing harmoniously together, while any erroneous doctrine would be a false note, destructive of the perfect melody. And S. Ambrose alleges that the introduction of choirs into the Christian Church was not so much for musical effect as for the purpose of symbolizing concord of mind.* Psalmody, says he, unites those who were at variance, allies opponents, reconciles the offended. Who could help forgiving a man along with whom he had been uttering the same voice to GOD? It is surely a great bond of unity that all the multitude of the people should unite in one choir. The strings of a harp are unequal in length, but the symphony is one. The Hebrew is, however, as rightly given by the English versions, dance, and this strengthens the type, because dancing is the rhythmical movement of the body in time to the notes of music; and thus implies, besides unity of faith, also combined and harmonious action in orderly and graceful fashion. (Cd.) We may praise the Name of God in the dance without infringing CHRIST’S precept as to entering into our closets for private and secret prayer,* at other times than those when we join in public worship,* “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,” by taking care that however parted we may be in body from our fellows in CHRIST, we shall be at one with them in heart and soul. (A.) With tabret and harp. The tabret or tambourine, skin strained upon wood, is a type of crucifixion to the world, (G.) and of bodily mortification, for the skin is that of a dead animal; while the harp, resembling the tabret in so far that the immediate agent of sound is strained to the wooden framework,* also denotes active compliance with the ten commandments of the moral law.

4 For the LORD hath pleasure in his people: and helpeth the meek-hearted.

When GOD looked on the finished work of creation, (H.) inclusive of man, at the beginning of the world, He had pleasure in it, and said “It is good.”* And He will say the same in the new creation, when man, corrupted and disfigured by sin, shall be restored to the image of GOD, (G.) and that by the reconciliation made through the Body and Blood of that High Priest Whose atonement GOD has solemnly pledged Himself to be pleased with and to accept, for “the LORD sware, and will not repent, Thou art a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek;”* and again, “This is My beloved SON, in Whom I am well pleased.”* But His pleasure is in His people,* in those who have submitted to His sceptre, not in the subjects of the prince of this world. And helpeth the meek-hearted. This is a very poor and inexact rendering. The LXX. and Vulgate are much better, He shall exalt the meek unto salvation, raising them to His own right hand in the judgment. But the literal sense is even more than this, as the A. V. rightly gives it, He shall beautify the meek with salvation,* that is, not only in the sense of giving costly robes and precious gems instead of the torn, soiled, and dishevelled garb of sorrow,* “to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness,” but in giving them the Pearl of great price for their ornament,* to adorn them with JESUS.

5 Let the saints be joyful with glory: let them rejoice in their beds.

The Saints rejoice even here in the glory of GOD,* in their beds, in the peaceful secrecy of divine contemplation, in their hearts and consciences, (A.) as knowing that the night is far spent and the day at hand, (C.) and as being secure and at peace under the wings of GOD, so as to fear no night-alarm from the foe, as it is written, “I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely.”* Next, (Z.) it is taken of the felicity of the souls of those righteous who sleep in the grave, awaiting the Resurrection, in which sense the verse makes part of the Responsory at Nones on All Saints’ Day and the feasts of Many Martyrs.* So Adam of S. Victor,* in one of his greatest sequences,

Jam in lecto cum dilecto,*

Quiescamus et psallamus,

Adsunt enim nuptiæ.

To our dearest lie we nearest,

Resting by Him, singing nigh Him,

For the nuptials come apace.

And lastly, (G.) the majority of the commentators take the words of the final consummation of bliss in the many mansions of the Kingdom of Heaven,* where the Saints rest from their labours.

6 Let the praises of GOD be in their mouth: and a two-edged sword in their hands.

Here is the sword-dance of the Saints,* as they fight and sing together.

It is more than praises, for the A. V.,* high praises, agreeing with LXX. ὑψώσεις and Vulgate exaltationes, better expresses the Hebrew.* These very praises, according to the Rabbins and to S. Chrysostom, are the two-edged sword, which in the hands of the Saints does far more to discomfit these foes than any worldly prowess,* just as it was Moses, rather than Joshua,* who discomfited Amalek in Rephidim. S. Augustine does not quite accept this view, (A.) though coming near to it. According to him the two-edged sword is the Word of GOD, smiting out of Old and New Testament, having temporal promises and consolations in one edge and eternal ones in the other. This sword divides men from their nearest and dearest when their ties become incompatible with duty towards GOD, and while thus severing, yet consoles him who had courage to cut boldly with it, even if he smites off his own right hand. And this sword of the Word is said to be in their hands, not in their mouths, because of the vigour and effect with which they use it. So we read that there “came the word of the LORD by the hand of Haggai the prophet.”* This sword, which the LORD came to send upon earth rather than peace,* first severed the Jews from the Gentiles, and now it cuts Christians away from the allurements of the world. (C.) Again, it is taken of the victory of the Gospel by the mouths of the Apostles, when, like Judas Maccabæus, they “encountered their enemies with invocation and prayer, so that fighting with their hands and praying unto GOD with their hearts,”* they overcame all the might of Paganism. Yet again, they take the words of that share of the Saints in the judicial power of Him out of Whose mouth goes “a sharp two-edged sword,”* to smite the sinner, and “cut him asunder,* and appoint his portion with the hypocrites.”* Wherefore follows:

7 To be avenged of the heathen: and to rebuke the people.

8 To bind their kings in chains: and their nobles with links of iron.

These verses, which the Rabbins hold to be a prophecy of a literal vengeance of Israel upon the Gentile monarchies in the days of King Messiah,* and which may well have edged the sword of Bar-Cochab, have also been as terribly misconstrued by nominal Christians.* It was with them as his slogan that Thomas Münzer the Anabaptist preached the savage War of the Peasants; it was with them that in the next century Caspar Scioppius, on the Roman Catholic side, stirred up the yet more disastrous Thirty Years’ War with his Classicum Belli Sacri, (“Clarion of the Holy War,”) a book written, says Bakius, with blood, not with ink.* For us, the Apostle warns us that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through GOD for the pulling down of strongholds,” so that it is in “the meekness and gentleness of CHRIST”* that our work is that of “casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of GOD,* and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of CHRIST; and having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.”

Now, (A.) brethren,” exclaims S. Augustine, “you have seen the Saints armed; watch the slaughter, watch the glorious battles. If there be a general, there is also a soldier; if a soldier, an enemy; if a war, there is a victory. What have these done with the two-edged swords in their hands? Used them to be avenged of the heathen. See if it have not been done, and that daily, for we do it ourselves by speech. See in what fashion the nations of Babylon have been slain. When Babylon had the power to persecute Christians, she slew the body, but could not touch GOD. Now she is repaid twofold, for Pagans are extinguished, and idols broken in pieces. How then, you ask, are Pagans slain? How but by becoming Christians? If I look for a Pagan, I cannot find him—he is a Christian, therefore the Pagan is dead. If they are not killed, what is the force of that saying to Peter, “Kill, and eat?”* And lest you might literally suppose that men were smitten with the sword, blood shed, wounds made in the flesh, it follows by way of explanation, To rebuke the people. Let that two-edged sword of rebuke go forth of you, cease not, GOD has given it you. Say to your idolatrous friend, if there be one left to say it to, ‘What sort of man art thou, to neglect Him who made thee, and to worship that which thou madest thyself? A carpenter is better than his work. If thou art ashamed to worship a carpenter, art thou not ashamed to worship what he made?’ When he begins to feel ashamed, when he begins to be pricked, the sword has made a wound, it reaches his heart, and he will die that he may live. To bind their kings in chains, and their nobles with links of iron. We know of kings made Christians, and of Gentile nobles made Christians.* GOD chose the weak things of this world to confound the strong. CHRIST came for the good of all, but He chose that the Emperor should be benefited by a fisherman, not a fisherman by an Emperor, and He chose things of no weight in the world. He filled them with the HOLT GHOST, He gave them two-edged swords, He taught them to preach the Gospel, and to go throughout the world. The world raged, the lion lifted himself up against the Lamb, but the Lamb proved stronger than the lion. The lion was conquered by his own fury, the Lamb conquered by suffering. The hearts of men were turned to the face of CHRIST, kings and nobles began to be moved at the miracles, at the fulfilment of prophecy, at the swift movement of mankind to one Name.… Many now who have nobility and even kingly power are Christians. They are as in chains, and in links of iron. Lest they should go on to unlawful things they have submitted to chains, chains of wisdom, chains of the Word of GOD. But why are they links of iron, and not of gold? They are iron so long as they fear; let them love, and the iron will be gold.” What was true of Paganism fifteen centuries ago is true still of any false doctrine which Gospel preachers can still smite with the two-edged sword of Scripture and spiritual censures,* and they can still bind with the strong fetters of powerful argument the leaders of unbelief.* They “shall come over unto thee, and they shall be thine: they shall come after thee;* in chains shall they come over, and they shall fall down to thee, they shall make supplication unto thee, saying, Surely GOD is in thee.” And finally, it is taken of the sentence the Saints shall assist in passing at the Last Judgment on the obstinately impenitent,* “Bind him hand and foot, (G.) and cast him into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”*

9 That they may be avenged of them, as it is written: Such honour have all his saints. [Alleluia.]

The first clause should run, as in LXX., Vulgate, and A. V., To execute on them the judgment written.* That is, foreordained, fixed, indelible, as though cut upon a pillar of marble. So GOD speaks by the Prophet: “Behold, it is written before Me: I will not keep silence, but will recompense, even recompense, into their bosom.”* Again, as it is written, that is, judging by regular equitable process, according to divine law, and not by caprice or favour. And so those commentators who take the verse of the Church Militant lay down that ecclesiastical judges are to decide in matter of doctrine according to the ruling of the Fathers, (R.) and in matter of sentence in agreement with the formal precedents of ecclesiastical law,* neither smiting too gently nor too hard. Such honour have all His Saints, because the judicial power of CHRIST is not shared with the Apostles only, (G.) but with all the righteous,* and so it is written, “In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and run to and fro like sparks among the stubble, they shall judge the nations, and have dominion over the people, and the LORD shall reign for ever.” (A.) So is it with the Saints throughout the world, so deal they in every nation, so they exalt GOD in their mouths, so they rejoice in their beds, so they are beautified with salvation, so they sing the New Song, so they say with heart, voice, and life, Alleluia. Amen.


Glory be to the FATHER, the Maker of Israel; glory be to the SON, the King of the children of Sion; glory be to the HOLT GHOST, Who giveth honour unto His Saints.

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

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