Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 27

Title. A Psalm of David. In the LXX.: A Psalm of David before he was anointed.1

ARGUMENT

Arg. Thomas. That Christ is the illumination, protection, and safety of His servants that put their trust in Him. To those who for the first time enter into the Lord’s house. Concerning the love of the Law. The voice of them that are baptized. To them that first enter into the faith of the Lord. To be read with the lection of Isaiah the Prophet, “Behold, they that love Thee shall eat good things.” The voice of the Prophet crying to God.

Ven. Bede. David was thrice anointed: once at Bethlehem, in the house of his father, by Samuel; secondly, in Hebron, by the Tribe of Judah, after the death of Saul; thirdly, in the same place, by all Israel, after that the son of Saul was slain. But since we read not that he composed any Psalm before his first unction, it follows that the second is that to which this title refers; before which, while he was yet an exile because of the snares of Saul, he is recorded to have written a Psalm. Note, that before he was anointed is not found in the Hebrew.

Since frequently before he ascended the throne David was troubled by his bitter enemies, the Prophet speaks (with reference to these his escapes) through the whole Psalm. In the opening he declareth himself to fear the Lord, and to tremble at none else: he testifieth that, in the adversities of the world, one refuge remains to him,—that, though he be tempest-tossed by corporeal dangers, he dwelleth in the house of the Lord by the unchangeable devotion of his soul: The Lord is my Light and my Salvation. Next, delivered from manifold destruction in divers manners, he returneth thanks; and in the spirit of prophecy promiseth to himself the reward of future beatitude, Hear my voice, O Lord.

Syriac Psalter. David, on account of the sickness which had fallen on him.

S. Athanasius. A Psalm of boasting in the Lord.

(It is manifest, on careful consideration, that this Psalm consists, properly speaking, of two: the first, a hymn of triumph, ends at the seventh verse; the other, a penitential ode, is clearly in a different metre, as well as on a different subject.)

1 The Lord is my light, and my salvation; whom then shall I fear: the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?

The anointings of David were three:* in Bethlehem, in Hebron over Judah, and again in Hebron over all Israel. So were those of Christ: in His Mother’s womb, in His Baptism, and after His Resurrection, when all power was given unto Him in heaven and in earth. Cardinal Hugo1 sees the same triple unction in us: (1) in free grace, in our first vocation; (2) in sanctifying grace, after which we have to fight,* as David with his enemies, and our Lord with the devil in the wilderness; (3) in heaven, for a blessed immortality.

My Light. (L.) And as Baptism is illumination, and so spoken of both in Scripture and the Primitive Church, my Light is well put before all other titles of the Lord. Then comes the salvation in all those battles to which we are, as it were, girded in Baptism. Notice the paronomasia between או̇רִי my light, and אִירָא shall I be afraid? And, as in the first clause, at the word light, we have the Sacrament of Baptism, so in the second, at the phrase, the Strength of my life, we have that of Confirmation.

Or,* again, you may take it as S. Albertus does: The Lord is my Light against the curse of ignorance, (A.) and my Salvation against the impotence of infirmity. Well says S. Augustine: “The Emperor is protected by his guards, and is safe; mortal is shielded by mortal, and feels secure; the Immortal defends a mortal, and do you dare to tremble?” The Lord is my Light.* And how so? Pseudo-Dionysius explains it well. First, as being the Source of all physical light and brightness; secondly, because all spiritual light and illumination, whether in angels or men, comes from Him, Who is the Father of lights. Thirdly, (Cd.) because He is the Comforter of them that are in mists and darkness; as it is written, “Unto the godly there ariseth up light in the darkness; He is merciful, loving, and righteous.”* Fourthly, because He is the Source, the one only Fountain of that Light of Glory, (G.) which forms the Beatific Vision. Or again: The Lord is my Light and my Salvation. The Law was a light, showing what must be done, and what must be avoided; but in no sense a salvation, for it gave no power to do that which it enjoined, or to keep from that which it forbade. “The Law made nothing perfect; but the coming in of a better hope did.”* And we may boldly put the verse into our Lord’s own mouth; for, speaking according to His Manhood, (D. C.) it was from God that He increased, as S. Luke testifies, in wisdom; of God, that He was enlightened and upheld in the darkness and struggles of His thirty-three years’ life on earth. And now, O Lord Jesu, Thou art our Light! If Thou be our guard, who can harm us? If Thou be our illumination, what can darken us? So lead us on through the dim twilight of this world by the light of Thy grace, that hereafter we may attain, in heaven, to the unclouded light of Thy glory!

2 When the wicked, even mine enemies, and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh: they stumbled and fell.

In the first and most natural sense, our Lord would tell us of that night, when His enemies, as soon as He had said, “I am He,”* went backward and fell to the ground. Gerhohus not inelegantly refers to the speech of S. Laurence on the gridiron, when it was indeed as though his enemies would eat up his flesh: “Assatus sum; jam versa, et manduca.” They stumbled: (G.) or, as it is in the Vulgate, they became weak:* and so we are reminded of that long war between the House of Saul and the House of David, which must be carried on during the whole course of every individual Christian life; and, in a still higher sense, between the Church of the Living God and the legions of Satan, until the consummation of all things. But we must see a far deeper mystery in the verse. “When the wicked.”—thus speaks the Immaculate Lamb, Whose Flesh is meat indeed, and Whose Blood is drink indeed—“came to eat up My Flesh at the altar, came unworthily, came profanely, they stumbled and fell: this was the key-stone of their iniquities, this put the finishing stroke to their punishment.” The story is well known of the younger infidel, during the epoch of Voltaire, inquiring of his more hardened and older friend, how to get rid of the prickings of conscience by which he was even still sometimes annoyed. “Take the Sacrament,” replied the hoary sinner. The advice was followed, and God’s Spirit strove no more with that man: he stumbled and fell.* Others understand my flesh of the fleshly failings and infirmities of every true servant of God; and the complaint to be of the joy and eagerness with which the Lord’s enemies hunt them out: just as Job speaks, “If the men of my tabernacle said not, Oh that we had of his flesh! we cannot be satisfied.”* (D. C.) Or we may take they stumbled and fell in a good sense. “Whoever shall fall on that stone, shall be broken.”* While they came, as Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter, they fell to the earth at the voice of the Lord Himself; while they came, as another Saul, to destroy David at Naioth in Ramah,* the Spirit descends upon them, and they lie down and prophesy.

3 Though an host of men were laid against me, yet shall not my heart be afraid: and though there rose up war against me, yet will I put my trust in him.

So the Jewish King fulfils the commandment of the Jewish Lawgiver. (L.) “When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies,* and seest horses and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them; for the Lord thy God is with thee.”* These are the words that, together with the first verse of this same Psalm, have been in the mouths of many a martyr:* and S. Cyprian, in that heart-thrilling exhortation, adduces them nobly. They say that, when S. Antony, after one of those strange physical assaults of the Enemy by which the Divine love permitted him to be exercised, remained victor, but through very exhaustion prostrate on the ground, he chanted lustily,* Though there rose up war against me, yet will I put my trust in Him. “He,” says S. Augustine, “will give victory to the contester Who inspired boldness for the contest.* Let us not fear then the multitude of the enemy, nor the shining armour, nor that mighty and terrible Goliath. One David shall prostrate him with one stone; one youth shall put to flight the whole army of the aliens.” And the confidence of the King and of the Apostle was the same; for what is this verse but, in other words, that saying of S. Paul? “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers,”*—and the rest of that catalogue so trying to faith,—“shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” But let us rather put the words into our dear Lord’s mouth,* in the same night in which He was betrayed, or rather offered Himself for the life of the world, and when the band of men and officers, under the command of Judas, were already drawing nigh to take Him. An host of men indeed: Jews and Romans,—Pharisees, puffed up in their boasted holiness; soldiers, the very outcasts of humanity: the fickle multitude that, at the beginning of that same week, proclaimed Him King of the Jews, and now are about to say, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Then there rose up war, (G.) such as never had been since the foundation of the world, such as never can be till the consummation of all things,—a war, the prize whereof was the whole human race,—a contest, where, on the arms of the Cross, as on scales, hung the eternal joy or misery of all generations. Yet shall not my heart be afraid. Yea, and though it were for an hour,—“If it be possible, let this cup pass;” that hour went by, and then it was “the day of His joy, and the day of the gladness of His heart:”* it was “the Baptism that He had to be baptized with, and how was He straitened till it was accomplished!”*—it was the season when He was reigning “in Mount Sion and in Jerusalem, and before His ancients gloriously!”* In this will I be confident. They dispute to what the word1 this refers; but let us take it in its fullest and most glorious sense; for never was there, never can there be, such a this as Calvary. A this, for Him That endured it; in this mortal agony, in this putting forth of all the powers of all infernal spirits, in this accomplishment of all prophecies, in this fulfilment of all types, in this the ark of a shipwrecked world,* in this the True and Eternal Tree of Life, in this will I, the God of confidence, be confident Myself. And clinging to this, O Lord Jesus, crucified to this together with Thee, grasping this as the anchor of our souls, dying if it must be so at the foot of this, this “the place where valiant men are,”* this the dying bed of the martyrs, the strength of the confessors, in this will I be confident!

4 One thing have I desired of the Lord, which I will require: even that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the fair beauty of the Lord, and to visit his temple.

However we may apply the words in a lower sense, (L.) their own real meaning can rest satisfied with nothing short of that “house not made with hands,* eternal in the heavens;” (A.) and of this the principal among the Latin Fathers understand the petition. This is indeed the one thing needful; this is indeed the joy to be required, ay, and to be taken by violence. Have I desired: by prayer. I will require, not by prayer only, but by self-denial, fasting, almsgiving, everything which may cause God to bow down His ear to my petition. Gerhohus puts the sentence into the mouth of our Lord, (G.) and paraphrases it with even more than his ordinary beauty: “I, in that night in which I was to be betrayed to death, to the end that I might overcome death, desired one thing of the Lord; which I will require, I, the True Unity, by interceding for the unity of them that are Mine even till the consummation of all things. And this was My prayer: ‘Father, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me.’* Thus I then asked that one thing from the Lord, when I was about to die for that people; and not for that people only, but that I might gather together in one the sons of God that were scattered abroad. This one thing I then once asked, namely, in My death; but I will daily require it in the Sacrament which I have commanded My Priests to offer for My holy Church continually. By My own mouth I desired it once; by the lips of My Priests I still require it continually, as long as My death shall be set forth in the Sacrament of the Altar, until I shall come at the end of the world, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord in peace: all war at an end, all My members completely united to their Head, all the stones banded together in the everlasting building, by the grace of Me, Corner and Top stone, Author and Finisher of Faith.”

O how many a soul, now set free from carnal struggles, now liberated from earthly darkness, desired that one thing in the days of her pilgrimage here! in the time of that life which is not life,* that they might stand all the days of their true life in the House of the Lord! “O blessed region of Paradise!” cries one; “O blessed region of delights, to* which I yearn from the valley of ignorance, from the valley of tears, where is wisdom without ignorance, where is memory without oblivion, where is intellect without error, where is reason without obscurity! Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house; they will be alway praising Thee! The kingdom of God is bestowed, promised, manifested, received; bestowed in predestination, promised in vocation, manifested in heaven.”—We may also, if we will, take the verse in a lower sense,—lower only comparatively with the highest,—of the religious, as contrasted with the secular, life. In this signification, over and over again have the great masters of spiritual life preached from it to their followers; in this signification S. Bernard impressed it on his Cistercians, Peter the Venerable on his Cluniacs, S. Francis de Sales on his Sisters of the Visitation. Or,* again, as most of the Greek Fathers,* we may understand it of the visible and material House of God,* the symbol and foretaste of that eternal dwelling. That I may see the fair beauty of the Lord. The Vulgate has it voluptatem;1 (G.) but Gerhohus, following the Italic, reads voluntatem, and shows how fully our Lord’s prayer in this respect was fulfilled. And they may well take occasion, hence to dwell on the two wills of the Lord,—as Perfect God and Perfect Man. Never let it be conceived that Monothelism was an abstract heresy, which has no relation to the inward Christian life. It is everything for us, whether our dear Lord, as man, had to utter this prayer, “that I may see the will of the Lord,”—whether He suffered, and therefore can sympathise with, that bitter struggle against our own wills; or whether, by the so-called Theandric operation, that struggle was in name only, not in reality. Well did S. Sophronius labour and suffer for this, the engrafting in the Catholic Creed that precious doctrine of our Lord’s Sympathy. Let the Scriptural Albert explain the verse to us:* “That I may dwell. Here is what he seeks and requires; that celestial habitation which is the House of God. O Israel, how great is the House of God,* and how large is the place of His possession. And this all the days of my life! As if he said, I will never cease. And in these words we are taught that there should be unity in our prayers; that we should not ask for many things, but for one. ‘When ye pray, use not vain repetitions.’* There must be diuturnity,—have I desired; and continually,—which I will require all the days of my life. ‘Be not thou hindered to pray continually.’* ‘Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.’* It must be spiritual, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord: all the days of our present life, laboriously, in the Church Militant: and after that, for ever and ever, gloriously, in the Church Triumphant. First, of the first: ‘Neither death nor life.… shall separate us.’* Of the second: ‘Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go no more out.’* That I may see the will of the Lord. According to that glorious petition, ‘Thy will be done.’ And to visit the Temple. Christ the Man, the Temple of the Divinity. ‘The Lord God Almighty,* and the Lamb, are the Temple of it.’ ”1 Thus far S. Albert.

5 For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his tabernacle: yea, in the secret place of his dwelling shall he hide me, and set me up upon a rock of stone.

Or,* as the Vulgate gives it, He hath hid me. That tabernacle, of which Isaiah says, “Come, My people, enter thou into thy chamber, and shut the doors about thee:”* the Rock which is to be the hiding-place for the persecuted and feeble conies: that safe cleft, opened by the spear in the day of Calvary, and since then, and to the end of all things, affording a refuge for all troubled souls until the indignation be overpast. His tabernacle, won for us when with His own Right Hand and with His Holy Arm He gat Himself the victory: but yet “our chamber” also, because belonging to each of us as much as if none other had a right to that hiding-place.

Here let my Lord hang up His conquering lance,*

And bloody armour, with late slaughter warm;

And looking down on His weak militants,

Behold His Saints, amidst their hot alarm,

Hang all their golden hopes upon His arm:

And, in this lower field dispacing wide,

Through windy thoughts that would their sails misguide,

Anchor their fleshly ships fast in His wounded Side!

Venerable Bede,* connecting this with the preceding verse, says very well that, it is as though some one, amazed at the boldness of David’s desire “to visit the Temple,” had asked: Do you, spotted with sin, do you, from the sole of whose foot to the crown of whose head there is no soundness, venture on such a request? Yes: for in the time of trouble He hath already hid me in His tabernacle; in the time of glory, therefore, (D. C.) He may well give me a place in His mansion. In the secret place of His dwelling. “The Lord said, that He would dwell in the thick darkness.”* And, no doubt, here we have a reference to the Incarnation; our only defence in the time of trouble,* our only hiding-place from the just wrath against sin. Upon a Rock. “What is there of good,” cries S. Bernard, “that is not to be found in the Rock? On the Rock I am exalted; on the Rock I am secure; on the Rock I stand firmly. Secure from the enemy; brave, as regards accident: and this because lifted up from the earth; for changeable and perishable is everything earthly.” And no doubt there is a reference in this to that magnificent vision in Exodus: “Behold, there is a place by Me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock;* and it shall come to pass, while My glory passeth by,* that I will put thee in a cleft of the Rock, and will cover thee with My hand while I pass by.”* And thus is God’s glory seen in the Incarnation. They take it, again, of the religious life; those holy men who, in the midst of those tempests of iniquity, those frightful storms of violence and ungodliness, had experienced this strong Tower; where they, in the deep secret place of the Tabernacle, communed with their Lord, leaving their converse with Him as the teaching and the delight of all ages. O happy and holy tabernacles—ἀθάναται κάλυβαι—of Citeaux,* Prémontré, Cluny, Monte Casino, Fontevraud, S. Gall, how, while studying the Psalms which so gloriously echoed among you, how do we still feel the influence, how do we still drink into the learning, how may we still taste of the holiness, of those night-watches, of those fasts, of those vigils, which made your Saints that which they were, and you the nursing mothers of religion in the midst of floods of ungodliness!

6a (6) And now shall he lift up mine head: above mine enemies round about me.

S. Bernard names three ways in which our heads are lifted up:* by disenchaining our hearts from earthly affections; by conferring on us Divine knowledge; by kindling in us the love of heavenly things. But let us rather take our Head in the sense of Him Who is our only and our True Head, Jesus Christ. Now, whatever happens to me, (G.) my Head, shall be exalted; now, whatever sufferings are appointed for me, my Head shall be honoured. “Now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death.”* Lifted up. But how? He was lifted up on the Cross, as well as to the Throne: and in that sense also may we take it,—that when we are suffering from our enemies round about, our Head makes those sufferings His own. If we are crucified, (A.) He shares our cross; “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” If Stephen is stoned on earth, Jesus is standing in heaven. He hath exalted my Head is the reading of the Vulgate; and well does S. Augustine remind us that, our Head being already there, we, His members, ought to be with Him now in thought and desire, as hereafter in joyful reality.

Sic nobis cum cœlestibus

Commune manens gaudium,*

Illis, quod se præsentavit,

Nobis, quod se non abstulit.

6b (7) Therefore will I offer in his dwelling an oblation with great gladness: I will sing, and speak praises unto the Lord.

Or as it is in the Vulgate, I have gone round, (G.) and offered the sacrifice of vociferation. And this going round, if fancifully, is at least beautifully applied to the Litanies of the Church; which, beginning from the Blessed Trinity itself, the Source of all being, go round or through the economy of the Christian dispensation, commencing at the Incarnation, continuing through the Life and Passion, culminating in the Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord, and the sending down of the Paraclete; and then again returning to that glorious Trinity whence the office began. And the sacrifice of vociferation gloriously describes the one and completed oblation of the Cross, that most precious Blood, which cried aloud for better things than that of Abel. Or the going round may be the going through the world with the glad tidings of salvation: “So that from Jerusalem,* and round about unto Illyricum, (L.) I have fully preached the Gospel of Christ.”* Ambrosius Ansbertus refers us to the going round Jericho,* the devoted city: and thence gathers that it is when the sins and temptations of our corrupt nature are devoted to God,* then a true sacrifice of peace is offered. Albertus reminds us here, when we go round this lower world, and all its beauty and glory, we shall find it nothing but a book full of the praise of God;* and “marvellous is it,” cries Gregory, “that man is not always praising, since everything amidst which he dwells is continually inviting praise.” Or, finally, we may take it,* with others, of a soldier diligently going his rounds, keeping a diligent look-out on the enemy, and fulfilling the last command, delivered to the multitudes, of the Captain of his salvation: “And what I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch.”* I will sing and speak praises. But how is this? to begin with singing, and to descend to speaking? Yes; for as he that was not rich enough to bring the bullock or the goat, was allowed to offer the pair of turtle doves, or the two young pigeons, so here the meanest, as well as the highest praise, is not rejected from the service of God.

[There is yet another offering, when he whose “life is hid with Christ in God,”* offers the oblation of self-denial and holiness, according to those words of a Saint:

Nec Christi exemplo suavior exit odor

Quam cum homo castorum profert libamina morum,*

Et de virtutum munere sacra litat.]

7 (8) Hearken unto my voice, O Lord, when I cry unto thee: have mercy upon me, and hear me.

My Voice: that Voice which the precious Blood of Calvary utters from the ground. Remark, (G.) he saith not, words; for this is a mute voice, not articulated into phrases, but none the less mighty, yea rather, none the less Almighty, to bring down God’s pardon. The Voice of that Blood, whether on the Cross or in the chalice: “one thing have I desired of the Lord,” the pardon of man. It has been well observed, that this verse contains nine necessaries to prayer. It must be,1 for a worthy matter;* vocal; rational; proper; devout; right; humble; necessary; continuous. S. Gregory well says,* with a turn that can best be given in its original idiom: “Æternam etenim vitam si ore petimus, non tamen ore desideramus, clamantes tacemus. Si vero desideramus deramus ex corde cum etiam ore conticescimus, tacentes clamamus.”

I said, in the introduction to this Psalm, that this eighth verse manifestly began a new composition; the triumphal thanksgiving of the former having been succeeded by penitential deprecation. The two Psalms, however, seem to have been joined into one long before any historical evidence.

8 (9) My heart hath talked of thee, Seek ye my face: thy face, Lord, will I seek.

Or, as it is in the Vulgate, To Thee my heart hath spoken: Thee my face sought out: Thy face, O Lord, will I seek. “This,” says Vieyra,* “is the discreet energy wherewith David repeats to God that which he had already said to Him, To Thee my heart spake. He saith not, ‘To Thee, O Lord, I spoke;’ because to God the heart alone speaks, and with God the heart alone holds converse. And as the heart is the instrument and the tongue which speaks to God; thus, as men understand only that which the tongue says, and comprehend not that which the heart speaks, so God hears only that which the heart speaks, and pays no attention to that which the tongue says. Hence it follows that, if the heart speak not, though the man may say the same thing a hundred and fifty times, yet, so far as God is concerned, he speaks not one word, and is dumb. Voce sonant, corde muti sunt.”

The Hebrew in itself presents considerable difficulty; and hence the very different reading of the Prayer Book and of the Bible version, which, amplifying that of Tremellius and Jerome, gives, When Thou saidst, Seek ye My face. But this is clear: that whatever the Psalmist had done in past times, (L.) that he now stirs himself up to do manifold times more.* Thy face, Lord, will I seek. As Moses did in the Mount, when he partly, but not fully, obtained that which he desired; and as the same Moses, nearly fifteen hundred years after, did on the holy hill of Tabor. “The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him, for the soul that seeketh Him,”* says Jeremiah. “And if good,” asks S. Bernard,* “to them that seek Him, what to them that find Him?” Or, as the Saint says in that most precious rhythm:

“Quam pius te quærentibus!

Sed quid invenientibus?”

S. Gregory complains that,* after his elevation to the Pontifical dignity, he had so much less opportunity for this most sweet search after God than had been possible to him before. Others, again, take the word face in the same sense in which S. Paul speaks of the brightness of the Father’s glory,* and the express image of His Person, namely, of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here,* it has been well said, in seeking for the glory and manifest vision of God, he asks, in fact, for two things: 1, for the end itself, in this verse; 2, for the means requisite to that end, in the next. And he prayed as the mother of his master did: “Now Hannah, she spoke in her heart.”* Notice that there are some who in their prayers speak, (Ay.) not to God, but to man; who seek not God’s face, but man’s: and these are the hypocrites. And then, the bold, fearless declaration, Thy face, Lord, will I seek. It is needful, indeed, that he who makes it should have that perfect confidence in God, of which we before read, “Though an host of men were laid against me, yet shall not my heart be afraid;” for let but once this calm, unflinching resolution be expressed, and their name will be legion who attack us.

9a (10) O hide not thou thy face from me: nor cast thy servant away in displeasure.

Three times is that expression, (L.) the face of God,* repeated; whence they gather the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. But God’s face may be hid for other causes besides that of displeasure; (G.) whence the second clause of this verse. It may be in pure love; it may be for our own preservation, as was the case with Moses in the rock; it may be only that we may seek more earnestly, and find more gloriously. And this whole verse shows how God worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. He had said in the verse above, (C.) “Thy face, Lord, will I seek.” But of himself he could never find; therefore the second petition, I seek: O hide not Thou. S. Augustine breaks out into a fervour of rapture in his second exposition: “O hide not Thou Thy face from me. Magnificent! nothing can be more divinely spoken! This is the feeling of those that truly love. Another man would be blessed and immortal in the pleasures of those earthly lusts which he loves, and peradventure for this reason would worship God, and pray, that he may long live here in his delights, and that nothing should fail him, which earthly desire has in possession, neither gold, nor silver, nor any estate that charms his eyes; that his friends, his children, his wife, his dependents, should not die: in these delights would he live for ever. But since he cannot for ever, for he knows that he is mortal, for this haply does he worship God, and for this pray to God, and for this sigh to God, that all these things may last even to old age. And if God should say to him, Lo, I make thee immortal in these things, he would accept it as a great boon, and in the exultation of his joy and congratulation would be unable to contain himself. Not so doth the man act, who hath made one petition of the Lord.”

9b (11) Thou hast been my succour: leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.

My succour: and what does that prove save that the petitioner is at work for himself? One may move a stock or a stone, (A.) that do nothing for themselves; one cannot be said to succour, unless the thing succoured try with its own strength. And not less true is the remark of S. Jerome:* He that remembers so gratefully, shall certainly be assisted most hopefully. Leave me not: and so he attributes all his past good actions to God; for, unless the Lord had been with him before, He could not be asked not to forsake him now.* Leave me not, neither forsake me. And thence they draw an argument for the difference between mortal and venial sins. Leave Me not: not even for one moment; not even so that I may commit one folly, may be guilty of the least and most trivial fault.* Neither forsake me. For, if Thou shouldest leave me to myself for any time, there is no depth of guilt into which I may not fall. It is no merit of mine, but simply Thine own watchfulness, which has hitherto preserved me. And remember, says one earnestly, (Ay.) that though none ought to despair while yet in the Way, because till the very end the grace of God stands open, yet none can feel secure, because, till the very end, the devices of Satan will not be concluded. If, on the one hand, He is able to save unto the uttermost; on the other, “he that is dead”—and therefore none but he that is dead—“hath ceased from sin.”1 Or, if we put the verse into our Lord’s mouth, we must understand it: “Be Thou My helper, O Lord, (D. C.) My Father, co-operating with Me in all things: leave Me not in the hand of the wicked, on the Cross: leave Me not to the guardianship of the soldier, in the sepulchre: nor forsake Me, that is, My mystical Body, for which I lived, for which I suffered, for which I died, for which I rose again from the dead: leave Me not, neither forsake Me, O God of My salvation.”

“One of the things,” says Vieyra,* “which I have much noted in David, is the great frequency with which he beseeches God not to leave him; and the many and divers ways in which he repeats and urges this same petition: ‘O go not from me, for trouble is at hand;’* ‘Leave me not, neither forsake me;’ ‘Go not from me, O Lord;’ ‘Cast me not away from Thy Presence;’ ‘Go not far from me, O God;’ ‘O let me not go wrong;’ and five times2 in the same words, ‘Forsake me not.’ If God for a sin of David’s left him once, and afterwards restored His Grace with so much certainty and efficacy, why does he so often, and in such different ways, beseech God not to leave him? Certain it is that the Prophet would not discover so many ways of supplicating, unless God had as many ways of leaving. And why? The reason depends equally on His mercy, and on our misery. God never leaves man, unless man first leaves Him; and because we have so many ways of leaving God, therefore God has so many ways of leaving us. Thus wrote God in an express law: ‘This people will forsake Me.… and I will forsake them;’* and in another place drew a consequence from it: ‘Because ye have forsaken the Lord, He hath also forsaken you.’* So that to leave and to be left is, between God and man, a reciprocal condition. If God were to be the first to leave, never should we be left; but because we are the first to leave, therefore it is that so often, and in so many different ways, we are forsaken by God.”

10 (12) When my father and my mother forsake me: the Lord taketh me up.

Look for a moment at King David, (L.) when he gave his father and his mother to the care of the King of Moab;* and thus, in the midst of his dangers and wanderings, was forsaken by them. And then consider the Son of David, forsaken and rejected by His own relations,—“for neither did His brethren believe in Him,”—and yet taken up by that Father, of Whom He said, “I knew that Thou hearest Me always.” But mystically, (G.) human nature was forsaken by its general father1 and mother at the very beginning: when, forgetful of the misery and destruction they thus entailed on their race, they ate of the forbidden fruit; and God took it up, by the promise given as soon as the sentence was pronounced, that “the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.” It is a singular explanation of S. Augustine, (A.) that by the father, the devil, by the mother, corrupt human nature, is signified; both of whom forsake us when we earnestly and with purpose of heart turn to God. Others, again, see in this verse the complaint of our Lord of His rejection by His father, the Jewish nation, and by His mother, the synagogue,—that mother who platted for Him so cruel a diadem in the day of His Passion. And notice: (D. C.) when David complains that his father and mother had forsaken him,—(and compare the text, “Thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittitc,”*)—in the person of Adam and Eve, it was his Son, as well as his Lord, Who, taking him up, was to repair his loss: “Instead of thy fathers, thou shalt have children.” There is a Hebrew tradition, to which the verse may refer, that God had bound Himself by oath to be the Father and Mother of the orphan, (Cd.) who with all his heart and soul had resort to Him.

11 (13) Teach me thy way, O Lord: and lead me in the right way, because of mine enemies.

And it may still be the Son of David Who, according to the flesh, (G.) speaks. For He knew the malice and bitterness of His enemies: He saw how they “watched Him;” He knew how they would entangle Him in His talk. And what, in so far as He was Man, He in the days of His flesh prayed for Himself, that He still prays for those that, being His, are Himself: “Why persecutest thou Me?” And this verse well connects itself with that which precedes: (L.) for, if the Lord has taken us up as our Father, then it is His to lay down the laws by which we are to be governed and guided. And David had good occasion to offer this prayer: he, of whom, on account of one unhappy deed, it is written, “Thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.”* Teach me Thy way. And who is the way, save He That said,* (A.) “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life?” Him we have to learn as the Way;* Him we have to strive after, as the end. Teach me: or, as others have rendered it, Enlighten me: in Him and by Him Who is the Light as well as the Way. Or take it as the voice of Christ Himself: Lead Me in the right way, namely, from darkness to light, (Lu.) from the sepulchre to the palace, from the darkness of Joseph’s cave to the ineffable light of heaven. And this because of Mine enemies: for they have set the seal, and appointed the guard, lest “the last error should be worse than the first.”

12 (14) Deliver me not over to the will of mine adversaries: for there are false witnesses risen up against me, and such as speak wrong.

Of David, no need to show how he was persecuted by the false witnesses who chased him from city to city, (L.) from wilderness to wilderness: how Doeg, how the Ziphites, how the men of Keilah rose up against him with their falsehoods: and how, but by God’s perpetual love, this “morning hind” must have been taken in the toils. And so of the Son of David: “There arose certain, and bare false witness against Him, saying, We heard Him say, I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.”* Well says Vieyra:* “If we read the Gospel of S. John, we shall find that Christ had of a truth said the aforesaid words. If, then, Christ in reality had said that He would rebuild the temple in three days, and this is the very thing that the witnesses deposed to, how can the Evangelist call them false witnesses?.… They were false, because Christ spake in one sense, and they reported in another; and to report the words of God in a different sense from that in which they were spoken, is to bear false witness against God. Ah, Lord, how many bear false witness against Thee now! how many times do preachers make Thee say that which Thou never saidst! how many times I hear, not Thy words, but the preacher’s imaginations!” The latter part of the verse thus runs in the Vulgate, and it has probably been as often quoted as any clause of the Psalms: “and iniquity hath lied to itself.” It is confessedly one of the most difficult verses in the Psalms; whether one ends the meaning with the conclusion of the clause, or, with Tremellius, carries it on into the next verse, “and they that breathe out violence would have carried me off, unless I had believed to see,”* &c. And iniquity hath lied to itself since the beginning of the world; but never so as when that old Leviathan swallowed the bait of the Lord’s Humanity, and perished by the hook of His Divinity. Let the Eastern Church tell us so in her own glorious language:* διὰ θανάτου τὸ θνητὸν, διὰ ταφῆς τὸ φθαρτὸν, μεταβάλλεις• ἀφθαρτίζεις γὰρ θεοπρεπέστατα, ἀπαθανατίζων τὸ πρόσλημμα• ἡ γὰρ σάρξ σου διαφθορὰν οὐκ εἶδε, Δεσπότα, οὐδὲ ἡ ψυχή σου εἰς ᾅδου ξενοπρεπῶς ἐγκαταλέλειπται. Iniquity lied to itself, (A.) when the Jews were pursuing the Spotless Lamb with their “Crucify Him! crucify Him!” but Satan (now too late discovering his mistake) had stirred up Procla to send the message, “Have thou nothing to do with that Just man.” It has been imagined, but surely without sufficient cause,* that this verse was corrupted by the Jews, in order to obscure the reference to the false witnesses against our Lord.

13 (15) I should utterly have fainted: but that I believe verily to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Oh,* happy verse, comfort and support of so many travellers in the vale of Baca! Oh, blessed words, the last that have been pronounced by so many Christian lips before they were hushed by death! Fainted! Yes: who would not? Fainted utterly! Yes, and that a thousand times, but for that very belief, the Land of the Living! O my land! true Land of the Living,* true Land of Life! life, blessedly eternal, eternally blessed; where there is certain security, secure tranquillity, tranquil jucundity, happy eternity, eternal felicity; where perfect love, nevermore fear, everlasting day, agile motion,* one spirit in all! O Land of the Living, though the eye hath not seen thee, yet the heart can long for thee, can groan for thee, can yearn after thee, can aspire to thee. Yes; if for a time we give way to the faintheartedness of Hezekiah, “I said, I shall not see the Lord, even the Lord in the Land of the Living,”* that I believe verily of David comes in to be our comfort and our strength. In the Land of the Living. It is but little we see of Him here, in the land of the dying, (G.) in the land of types and symbols, in the land of figures and enigmas, in the land where “the days of darkness shall be many;”* and “few and evil are the days of the years of”* every “pilgrimage.” (L.) Of this Land of the Living S. Jerome collects and explains many and many a happy passage of Scripture:* the earth that the “meek shall inherit;”* the “delightsome land;”* the “place of broad rivers and of streams;”* the city, whose “foundation is upon the high hills;” the earth that is “visited and blessed by God,” that is “made very plenteous;”* the land “that floweth with the true milk and honey.” Yes: however, in a low and unreal sense, we may apply this verse to our life in this world,—however much, beholding the multitude of life that goes on, and is supported and kept up here, this globe may be called the land of the living,*—yet the united testimony of the Saints calls by that name the kingdom of heaven, and that kingdom only. Hear S. Albert, as always, Scriptural: “The Land of the Dead is Hades; ‘a land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness.’* The Land of the Dying is this world; ‘For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again.’* The Land of the Living is Paradise; ‘Ye shall come unto a people secure, and to a large land: … a place where there is no want of anything that is in the earth.’ ”* Even the Pythagoreans had their ἀντίχθονα,—their Land of the Living;* and God forbid that a Christian soul should use the word in a lower signification than they did!

O qui sidereas habitas,* Rex maxime, sedes,

Quam tua præ terris invidiosa domus!

Exulat æthereis longe nox horrida terris,

Et nitet excelso lumine clara dies.

Clara dies, æterna dies, septemplice Phœbi

Fulmineum nostro lampada, luce premens!

[Note, too, how the Western Church, by taking the latter clause of this verse as the Antiphon to the Psalm both for Easter Eve and the Office for the Dead, leads us from the thought of Christ’s victory over the grave to ours in Him.

Fear’st thou the death that comes to all,*

And knows no interceder?—

O glorious struggle, thou wilt fall,

The soldier by the Leader!

Christ went with death to grapple first,

And vanquished him before thee:

His darts, then, let him do his worst,

Can win no triumph o’er thee!]

14 (16) O tarry thou the Lord’s leisure: be strong, and he shall comfort thine heart; and put thou thy trust in the Lord.

O blessed words, that have comforted so many a mourner’s heart,—that have braced so many a trembling spirit,—that have gone to the prison or to the place of torture with the Church’s heroes! Yes,* it matters not in what sense we take the words—whether as said by David to himself,* or by David to another, or by God to David. Tarry thou the Lord’s leisure. But how long? The people whom the Lord fed in the wilderness tarried His leisure three days; the inhabitants of Bethulia five days, and their heroine said, “And now who are ye that have tempted God this day? For if He will not help us within these five days, He hath power to defend us when He will: … do not bind the counsels of the Lord our God.”* It is written, indeed,—and blessed be God for that promise,—“Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” “But he,”* says S. Peter Chrysologus, “who, when he hath once knocked, is angry, because he is not forthwith heard, is not a humble petitioner, but an imperious exactor. However long He may cause thee to wait, do thou patiently tarry the Lord’s leisure. If He suffer thee to be imperilled on the sea until the fourth watch of the night, (L.) He doth it to teach thee trust in Him, and patience in time of adversity.” Be strong: viriliter age it is in the Latin,—a fair translation of the LXX.’s ἀνδρίζου,—but the Hebrew word חֲזַק has no reference to man. And rightly,* they say: some women have so often stirred up men in faith and love. So Deborah,—so the wife of Manoah,—so Judith,—so the holy women who returned from the Tomb while the Apostles doubted, (C.)—so S. Blandina and S. Ponticus in the amphitheatre of Lyons,—so S. Faith and S. Caprais in the fire at Agen. A saying of Gerhohus, though not so intended, will make an admirable proverb for the daily use of a Christian:

“Non putes negatum,

Quod sentis dilatum.”

And the Lord will undoubtedly say to every faithful waiter, (G.) what He said to the multitudes of old, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now waited on Me three days:”* the three days that remind of the threefold promise, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock,* and it shall be opened unto you.” “In this verse,” says S. Albert, “he touches on four difficulties which suffer us not to enter into eternal life. The first, the dilation of God’s answer; against the which he saith, Tarry. The second, the difficulty of doing well; against the which he saith, Be strong. The third, the danger of pusillanimity; against the which he saith, He shall comfort your heart. The fourth, the bitterness of trouble; against the which he addeth, and put your trust in the Lord.”

And therefore:

Glory be to the Father, in Whose house we desire to dwell all the days of our life; and to the Son, the right Way in which we are led: and to the Holy Ghost, in Whose tabernacle we are hid.

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

COLLECTS

O God, Which art the Helper of all,* defend us from the camps and the battles of the enemy; so that we, dwelling in the eternity of Thy House, may merit to behold Thy Face by spiritual contemplation. Through (1.)

Deliver not,* O Lord, Thy Church into the bloody hands of her enemies: grant that, when false witnesses rise up against her, they may be put to confusion as soon as the banner of the Cross is set up in her. Amen. Through Thy mercy (11.)

O God,* our Light and Defence, remove from us the night of sorrow and ignorance; give us the light of truth and knowledge, that all our hope may remain fixed on Thee, and that all the assembly of them that would seek to hurt us may be brought to nought. Grant that we may be set on the rock, that, being made strong in Christ, in Him we may be lifted up in charity, by Whom we are edified in faith. Amen. Through Thy (11.)

[Almighty God, Helper and Strength of our life, defend us from the snares of our enemies, (D. C.) and from all perils of soul and body, that, by the gift of Thy lovingkindness, we, steadfastly persevering in works pleasing to Thee, may be found worthy to behold Thy goodness in the land of the living. Through (1.)]

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One Response to Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 27

  1. Pingback: Commentaries and Resources for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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