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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. There is neither speech nor language * but their voices are heard. [Christmas Day: The LORD coming forth as a Bridegroom from His chamber. Circumcision: In the sun He hath set His tabernacle, and Himself is as a bridegroom coming forth from his chamber. Ascension: His going forth is from the highest heaven, and His return is unto its highest place, Alleluia. Trinity Sunday: We acknowledge Thee, One in Substance, Trinity in Persons. Holy Name: At the Name of JESUS every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth. Comm. of Apostles: Their sound is gone out * into all lands, and their words into the ends of the world.]

Lyons. O LORD, * my strength, and my Redeemer.1

Mozarabic. The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul.

This Psalm has been so universally applied to the Apostles, that it will be well, before we proceed to its consideration, to give one of the most beautiful applications thus made of it, the Sequence of Gotteschalkus. It was written for the Division of the Apostles; a favourite feast in Germany on the 15th of July.

The Heavens declare the glory of the SON of GOD, the Incarnate Word, made Heavens from earth.

For this glory befitteth that LORD alone,

Whose Name is the Angel of the Great Counsel.

This Counsel, the assistance of fallen man, is ancient, and profound, and true, made known to the Saints alone.

When this Angel, made Man of a woman, made an immortal out of a mortal; out of men, angels; out of earth, heaven.

This is the LORD GOD of Hosts, Whose angels sent into the earth are the Apostles.

To whom He exhibited Himself alive after His Resurrection by many arguments, announcing peace as the victor of death.

Peace be unto you, saith He; I am He; fear ye not; preach the word of CHRIST to every creature, before kings and princes.

As the FATHER hath sent Me, even so send I you into the world; be ye therefore prudent as serpents, be ye harmless as doves.

Hence Peter, Prince of Apostles, visited Rome; Paul, Greece, preaching grace everywhere; hence these twelve chiefs in the four quarters of the world, preached as Evangelists the Threefold and the One.

Andrew, either James, Philip, Bartholomew, Simon, Thaddeus, John, Thomas, and Matthew, twelve Judges, not divided from unity, but for unity, collected unto one those that were divided through the earth:

Their sound is gone out into all lands.

And their words into the ends of the world.

How beautiful are the feet of them that proclaim good things,—that preach peace;

That speak thus to them that are redeemed by the Blood of CHRIST: Sion, thy GOD shall reign.

Who made the worlds by the WORD; Which WORD was for us, in the end of the world, made Flesh.

This WORD Which we preach, CHRIST crucified, Who liveth and reigneth, GOD in heaven.

These are the Heavens in which, O CHRIST, Thou inhabitest; in whose words Thou thunderest; in whose deeds Thou lightenest; in whose grace Thou sendest Thy dew:

To these Thou hast said: Drop down, O ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just One; let the earth be opened and bud.

Raise up a Righteous Branch, Thou Who causest our earth to bring forth, sowing it with the seed of Apostolic words: through whose words grant, O LORD, that we, holding the WORD of the FATHER, may bring forth fruit to Thee, O LORD, in patience.

These are the Heavens which Thou, Angel of the great Counsel, inhabitest, Whom Thou callest not servants, but friends; to whom Thou tellest all things that Thou hast heard from the FATHER.

By whose Division mayest Thou preserve Thy flock, collected and undivided, and in the bond of peace; that in Thee we may be one, as with the FATHER Thou art One.

Have mercy on us, Thou that dwellest in the heavens.

1 The heavens declare the glory of GOD: and the firmament showeth his handy-work.

By the Word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the Breath of His Mouth.”* What heavens are these, says S. Gregory, except the holy Apostles? And this is the key-note by which all the Fathers interpret this Psalm. That as the visible heavens set forth the glory of the Creator, so these spiritual heavens should declare the praise of the Redeemer. Therefore in every Festival of the Apostles, this Psalm has borne its part; and every clause and paragraph has been interpreted, with a holy ingenuity, in this sense. The Firmament, from S. Augustine downwards, they take to be that firmness in speaking the Apostolic message even before kings, and not being ashamed, that fearing not them which kill the body,* and after that have no more which they could do, which the Apostles, weak enough till then,—they who had all forsaken their Master and fled,—received on the descent of the HOLY GHOST at the Day of Pentecost. (A.) By it they showed His handy-work; the work by which in His great humility He wrought out our salvation,—His Incarnation, His earthly life, His Passion. Truly as, according to that beautiful idea in the decoration of Egyptian pyramids, the cornices are embellished with the blue wings of the sky, keeping watch over and guarding all inferior objects,—so the Apostles separated once to meet no more on earth, kept watch over all its regions, from the labours of S. Thomas in China, to those of S. Matthew in Ethiopia, and S. Paul in Spain.

2 One day telleth another: and one night certifieth another.

Day unto day. That is, (A.) Saint to Saint, Prophet to Prophet, Apostle to Apostle: CHRIST Himself, the King of Apostles, the Inspirer of the Prophets, the Saint of Saints, to each and to all. (L.) And night unto night. The trials and afflictions of the Martyrs and Confessors; the struggles and self-denial of every righteous soul, till the night of our own affliction and distress. But the loving-kindness that delivered them can deliver us still: “the LORD’s arm is not shortened that it cannot save, neither His ear heavy that it cannot hear.”* That night speaks to us in no unintelligible voice, “Look at the generations of old and see: did ever any trust in the LORD and was confounded?”* Or again, take it, if you will, of the work of the six days and the rest of the seventh, (Ay.) so sedulously parallelised with the seven gifts of the SPIRIT. Or, (as S. Augustine truly says, “Some words in Scripture have, from their obscurity, this advantage, that they give rise to many interpretations: had this been plain, you would have heard some one thing, but as it is, observe, you will hear many,”) it cannot be more beautifully taken than of the seasons of the Church’s year: Festival speaking to Festival, Fast to Fast; the faithful soul by Advent prepared for Christmas; by Lent for Easter; by the Great Forty Days of Joy, for the Descent of the HOLY GHOST: and by all these days of transitory holiness, made ready for that Eternal day, the festival which shall never be concluded.

The Church on earth,* with answering love,

Echoes her mother’s joys above:

These yearly feast days she may keep,

And yet for endless festals weep.

That succession of doctrine and comfort, day speaking to day; what a beautiful type it finds in the midnight of a Scandinavian summer! The north-western and north-eastern sky, aglow respectively with evening and morning twilight, and the space between them filled with the lines of purple or crimson, the links which unite the departing to the coming day!

[The A. V. is here nearer to the Syriac, LXX.,* and Vulgate, all which read Day breatheth out a Word unto day, and night declareth knowledge unto night. The days, the Saints filled with the wisdom and glory of GOD, declare the Divinity of the Incarnate WORD to men; the nights, less illuminated, can yet speak of the Manhood of the Great Teacher, and lead their hearers on to love Him.]

3 There is neither speech nor language: but their voices are heard among them.

And we may take the verse in two senses: either, no speech nor language among the nations of the earth to which these voices did not go forth; which must be the sense if we refer the clause to the Apostles: or, no real speech in the preaching of the stars, and yet their language is intelligible to all nations. The great Portuguese theologian, Vieyra, referring to this verse, says,* “The most ancient preacher in the world is the sky. If the sky be a preacher, it must have sermons, and it must have words. So it has, says David. And what are these sermons and words of the sky? The words are the stars: the sermons, their composition, order, harmony, and cause.… The stars are very distinct and very clear; so must the style of preaching be. And have no fear that on this account it should appear low: what loftier than the sermons of the heavens? The style may be clear enough, and yet lofty enough too: so clear, that the illiterate may understand it; so deep, that the philosopher may learn from it. In the stars, the countryman finds instruction for his labour, the seaman for his navigation, the mathematician for his observation. So that the husbandman and sailor, who cannot read, can yet understand the stars; and the philosopher who has read every book that ever was written, cannot fathom their meaning.”

4 Their sound is gone out into all lands: and their words into the ends of the world.

The quotation of this text by S. Paul, “But I say, Have they not heard? Yes, verily, Their sound went into all the earth, (A.) and their words to the end of the world,”* is, as is well noticed by Jansenius,1 a sufficient warrant for the explanation which would understand the Apostles by the heavens. And how did their sound then go forth? Let Cardinal Hugo answer.* “The preacher,” says he, “is raised from the earth by contemplation; has the breadth of charity; the splendour of wisdom; the serenity of a tranquil mind; the swift motion of obedience: he rains by instruction; thunders when he rebukes; lightens by miracles; is the seat of GOD by grace and humility.”

5 In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun: which cometh forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a giant to run his course.

6 It goeth forth from the uttermost part of the heaven, and runneth about unto the end of it again: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

In these verses, the Church has from the beginning seen a marvellous type of the Incarnation. So S. Ambrose, in one of his most noble hymns:

Forth from His Chamber goeth He,*

The Royal Hall of Chastity;

In nature two, in Person One,

His glad course, giant-like, to run.

From GOD the FATHER He proceeds;

To GOD the FATHER back He speeds:

Proceeds—as far as very hell,

Speeds back—to light ineffable.

They first see the beauty of the literal sense, read according to the Vulgate: In the Sun He hath set His tabernacle: (A.) that is, that of all natural objects, the Sun is the best and clearest representative of the Creator. So the wise man in Ecclesiasticus: “The sun when it appeareth declareth at his rising a marvellous instrument, the works of the Most High:”* and in which so many nations of the world have seen the GOD whom they considered worthy of adoration. But for us, knowing that it shall pass away,* and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, it is but GOD’s tabernacle: the true Sun is that which “shall no more go down, (L.) when the LORD shall be our everlasting Light, and the days of our mourning shall be ended.”* Then in the mystical sense, the sun and the tabernacle are the LORD’s abiding in the womb of Mary: and they fail not to quote from Ecclesiasticus that text, “As the sun when it ariseth in the high Heaven, so is the beauty of a good wife in ordering her house.”* “The tabernacle,” says Cosmas, “is the flesh of the LORD, which was united for ever to His Divinity.” Or retaining our own translation, with a slight change of metaphor, In them hath He set His tabernacle for the sun; in the preaching of the Apostles He hath taught that the Eternal WORD, the GOD Who is a consuming fire, the Sun of Righteousness, has tabernacled in human flesh. And as they who go out to war dwell not in houses, but in tabernacles or tents, so our LORD, going forth to His war with Satan, dwelt in the tabernacle of His flesh while He entered into the conflict with, and when He overcame, (Z.) His enemy. Which cometh forth as a Bridegroom out of his chamber. And here none ever failed to see the LORD’s entrance into the world from the womb of Mary. The Bridegroom, hereafter to be betrothed to the Church on the Cross, came forth, as it were, in the morning of that day of which the sufferings of Calvary were the evening. “That Eternal Light,” says S. John Damascene, “which, proceeding from the Co-Eternal Light,* had His existence before all worlds, came forth corporeally from the Virgin Mary, as it were a Bridegroom from His chamber.” And rejoiceth as a giant. They go back far for the full solution of this mystery. It was from the union of the sons of GOD with the daughters of men that those ancient giants sprang:* who may thus properly be called of “twofold substance.” Like them, it was the twofold nature of our LORD which enabled Him to accomplish the work of our redemption: and thus this word “giant” in itself sets forth to us the whole scheme of salvation. “I see,” says S. Proclus,* “His miracles, and I proclaim His Deity: I behold His sufferings, and I deny not His humanity. Emmanuel opened the gates of nature as man, but burst not the bars of Virginity as GOD. So came He forth from the womb of Mary as by a word He entered: so was He born as He was conceived: without human passion He entered: without human corruption He came forth.” S. Ambrose explains more fully the type of the giant.* “Him holy David the Prophet describes as a giant, because He, being One, is yet double, and of twofold nature: partaker both of the Divinity and of a body: Who, like a Bridegroom proceeding out of his chamber, rejoiced as a giant to run his course. The Bridegroom of the soul as the WORD: the Giant of the earth, because performing all the offices of our nature. Being eternal GOD, He undertook the Sacrament of the Incarnation.” So in another hymn:

Genus superni numinis,

Processit aulâ Virginis,

Sponsus, redemptor, conditor,

Suæ gigas Ecclesiæ.

I came forth from the FATHER, and am come into the world: again I leave the world and go unto the FATHER.”* Would you know, asks S. Gregory,* the steps by which He thus came? From heaven into the womb; from the womb to the cradle: from the cradle to the Cross; from the Cross to the sepulchre; from the sepulchre He returned to heaven. Behold, that He might cause us to follow Him, He took these steps, that we might be able to say from our very hearts, “Draw me, we will run after Thee.”* And see the depth of the mystery in the sign that was given to Hezekiah.* The shadow went backward ten degrees, by which degrees it had gone on; thus the LORD humbled Himself below the nine orders of angels, being “made a little lower than the angels,”* to the tenth degree,* namely, man, before His glorified humanity took its place on the Right Hand of the FATHER. And see how beautifully those two are joined: He runneth about unto the end of it again, and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof. Because He Whom we love has now ascended into heaven, (G.) therefore it is that our hearts burn within us, while we think of the glory which is His, and which is to be ours. Nothing hid from the heat thereof. For that Ascension—for that land—pertain no less to ourselves than to the angels.

O common joy, O common boast,*

To us and that celestial host!

To them, that He regains the sky:

To us, that He to us is nigh.

7 The law of the LORD is an undefiled law, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, and giveth wisdom unto the simple.

He is gone there in His own dear form, (G.) but He has left His law behind Him, the guide and rule of His Church to the end. This is the mantle which fell from our ascending Elijah,* and which, if we hold it steadfastly, will divide for us any Jordan of temptation. “A certain simple-minded and honest man,” says S. Peter Damiani, “one that feared GOD, had been hearing Matins, and was returning from church. His disciples asked him,* What did you hear at church, father? He answered, ‘I heard four things, and observed six.’ A very subtle reply, and one which showed his faith. He had heard four verses of the nineteenth Psalm. The law of the Lord is an undefiled law, &c., and the three following verses, in which six things are noted: which are law, testimony, righteousness, commandments, fear, judgments.”

8 The statutes of the LORD are right, and rejoice the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, and giveth light unto the eyes.

9 The fear of the LORD is clean, and endureth for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.

And notice, that the first character of CHRIST’s law is, (B.) that it is undefiled: purity being set foremost, as the foundation of all the service of GOD, (Z.) just as impurity occupies the first place in almost every Scriptural list of sin; because, as the greatest Saints have always taught, more will be condemned at the end of the world for more or less direct breaches of the seventh commandment, than of all the other commandments put together.* Next observe, the sixfold division of these excellencies. As our Blessed LORD taught us in the wilderness, Holy Scripture is to be our magazine of defensive armour against temptation. But six is always the type of temptation. On the sixth hour of the sixth day, the first temptation came into the world: the sixth petition of the LORD’s Prayer is, “Lead us not into temptation:” the sixth blessing pronounced to the seven Churches is, “Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I will also keep thee from the hour of temptation:”* and the whole culminates in the 666, the mark of the Beast,* the most fearful of the many tempters that shall ever rise up against the Church. After purity, as so continually in Scriptural lists of virtues, comes truth: (A.) the testimony of the Lord is sure. And forthwith that which the LORD Himself made the chief character of His mission,—that to the poor the Gospel was preached,—that is also recorded here: wisdom unto the simple. Notice further the connection between purity of heart and illumination: the commandment of the Lord is pure, and giveth light unto the eyes: exactly as in the beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see GOD.” Yet it must be confessed to be rather marvellous that holy writers on this Psalm seem unable to trace the especial connection between these six characteristics of the Word of GOD, and content themselves with dwelling on it, without any attempt to behold in them a, ladder set upon the earth, but reaching to heaven.

10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honey-comb.

The much fine gold, of our version is, in the Vulgate, much, precious stone, and then they see in these three things the chief allurements of the world; riches in the gold; power in the precious stones;* pleasure in the honey. “The flowers that produce this honey,” says Chrysostom, “were fed by no earthly dew: the gentle distillations of the HOLY GHOST gave them not only their beauty, but their sweetness.” And here notice how David constantly, but David and Solomon almost alone, (Cd.) use honey in a good sense, or as a type of holy things. “Ye shall burn no leaven nor any honey,”* is the command in the Law.* “It is not good to eat much honey,” say the men of Hezekiah. “It shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey,”* is the command to S. John. Is it to pursue the type too minutely to see in the special reference to the honey-comb a connection between the six-sided cell, and the sixfold characteristics, just mentioned, of the Word of GOD?

11 Moreover, by them is thy servant taught: and in keeping of them there is great reward.

And we naturally remember how the LORD’s Servant, (G.) when tempted in the wilderness, was taught by this same word, and by a threefold quotation obtained a threefold victory. Compare this saying of the Psalmist with that prophecy of Isaiah: “Behold, My servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled, and shall be very high.”* “Deal prudently.”* He did, indeed, when with the very passage that replied most aptly He repulsed the assaults of the tempter: “exalted” He was, above the desires of the flesh, in refusing to make the stones bread: (L.) “extolled,” when raised to the pinnacle of the temple, and yet refusing the vain-glory of casting Himself down: “very high,” when carried to the summit of an exceeding high mountain, He refused the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. Thy servant. And holy men have not feared thus to interpret the “Well done, good and faithful servant,”* of the parable. “Thou hast truly served,” says Guarric of Igniac,* “Thou hast served in all faith and truth, Thou hast served in all patience and long-suffering. Not after a lukewarm sort,* Who didst rejoice as a giant to run the course of obedience; not in a feigned manner, Who, after so many and so great labours, didst spend Thy life once and above all; not unknowingly, Who, when Thou wast scourged, though innocent, didst not even open Thy mouth. For it is written,* and it is just, That servant who knew his LORD’s will and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes. And this Servant, I pray you, what did He not that was wanting? What ought He to have done that He did not?” In keeping of them. Not for keeping of them, though that also; but he speaks here of the promise of the life that now is, (Cd.) rather than of that which is to come.

But we may, perhaps, rather take all these sayings regarding the Word of GOD as applicable to the true and eternal WORD. It is to content ourselves with too low a view, if we restrict them to anything short of Him. See with respect to this what is said in the Third Dissertation.

12 Who can tell how oft he offendeth: O cleanse thou me from my secret faults.

Who indeed? And the question carries us at once to the greatest of all sins,* and the prayer concerning it: “FATHER, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”* “Do thou still,” says one, “O gentle and patient Lamb of GOD, so plead for us when we fall into any sin of ignorance; when we forget Thee, do not forget us;* when we are in error, send out Thy light and Thy truth; when we are in doubt, let us hear a voice behind us: This is the way, walk ye in it.”* My secret faults. And here they dwell on the tribunal of penitence, (G.) when we ourselves are the accusers and ourselves the culprits; when we proclaim the most hidden thoughts of our hearts, in order that hereafter the Eternal Judge may not say: “Thou didst it secretly, but I will proclaim it before all Israel, and before this Sun.”* Cleanse Thou me, however bitter the medicine; cleanse Thou me, however full of shame the confession. Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved; for Thou art my praise.*

13 Keep thy servant also from presumptuous sins, lest they get the dominion over me: so shall I be undefiled, and innocent from the great offence.

Here, again, the Vulgate widely differs from our translation. Cleanse Thou me from my secret faults, and preserve Thy servant from the power of aliens. If they get not the dominion over me, then shall I be undefiled. But if—to follow our version—we cannot understand the countless faults into which we daily fall, against this, at least, we can be on our guard: against presumptuous sins: and more especially against that habit of presumptuous sin,* which has so fearful a tendency to terminate in the great offence. The great offence: the sin against the HOLY GHOST; the sin unto death: not any one particular offence, however mortal or enormous; not even wilful and deliberate apostasy, which some have imagined it,* but, to use the terrible words of Vieyra, “that most miserable estate of final impenitence, consummated in the next life, but commenced in this. Oh, how many condemned souls,” he continues, “are still living—are still walking among us: not because, absolutely speaking, they cannot, but because they will not be converted. They are bound to the sins of which they have already filled up the measure. Woe to them, says GOD, when I shall depart from them.* To this woe, infinite woes will respond through all eternity: but woes of grief without repentance; woes of torment without alleviation; woes of despair without remedy.” And this is the great offence.

[They distinguish here,* for the most part, between the secret faults, which arise within man from original sin, and the promptings of his lower nature, and the sins of others, the suggestions of evil spirits or bad companions, external to the soul, understanding delictis after the word alienis here in the Vulgate. But in truth, hominibus is the lacking idea, and modern critics, following Aben-Ezra, agree in translating (מִזֵּדִים) from the proud.]

14a (14) Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart: be always acceptable in thy sight,

14b (15) O LORD: my strength and my redeemer.

He begins with the fruit, the words of my mouth, and descends to the root, the meditation of my heart. For it is written, “Either make the tree good and his fruit good, or else make the tree corrupt and his fruit corrupt.”* And it is singular that,* as this connection between the words and the thoughts follows in the Psalm the mention of the “great offence,” (L.) so that of the tree and its fruit immediately succeeds in the Gospel to that saying concerning blasphemy against the HOLY GHOST. And thus the Psalm may well end: (G.) it began by setting forth how “the heavens declare the glory of GOD;” it concludes by telling how we should make manifest the same glory. It began by the perpetual succession of nights and days, (Z.) with their uninterrupted Benedicite; it ends with the supplication that our prayer may be always acceptable: acceptable to Him Who is our Strength, now that He has made us His own; as He was our Redeemer, when we were far off from Him; our Strength, to enable us to reach the land that flowed with milk and honey, as our Redeemer from the country of Egypt and the house of bondage.

[O, (D. C.) with what a thankful and devout mind ought every Christian to chant this Psalm, wherein the foundations of the Christian Faith are recorded, the preaching of the Apostles, the Incarnation of the WORD, the praise of the Gospel Law, the acknowledgment of our own frailty, and the cry for divine mercy, are wondrously contained!]

And therefore:

Glory be to the FATHER, from Whom was the going forth of the Sun; and to the SON, Which cometh forth as a Bridegroom out of His chamber: and to the HOLY GHOST, the spiritual heat, from which not anything is hid;

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

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