A Patristic/ Medieval Commentary on Psalm 117

ARGUMENT

ARG. THOMAS. That CHRIST, by the Coming of the HOLY GHOST, hath stablished His mercy upon us. The Voice of the Apostles to the Gentiles. The Voice of the Apostles, inviting all the Gentiles to praise the LORD with belief of heart and confession of mouth. A speech of the Prophet concerning His praise.

VEN. BEDE. There are but two verses, but nevertheless the full honour of a title is prefixed, that we may understand that words, however few, in praise of the LORD are always most full.

And we should apply this Psalm also to the person of the Martyrs, who now having as it were achieved their glorious passion, arouse all nations to the praises of the LORD; Who hath done such things for His servants, that they may the rather be imbued with His example.

SYRIAC PSALTER. Anonymous. It is spoken of the company of Ananias when they came out of the furnace. It also foretells the calling of the Gentiles by the preaching of the Gospel.

EUSEBIUS OF CÆSAREA. The calling of the Gentiles.

S. ATHANASIUS. A Psalm uttering praise.

COMMENTARY

1 O praise the LORD, all ye heathen: praise him, all ye nations.

The Rabbinical interpretation of the Psalm is completely in accord with the Christian view,* inasmuch as it is taken to be a prophecy of the conversion of the Gentiles in the days of Messiah;* for, as a famous Rabbi comments, “This Psalm consists of but two verses, and belongs to the days of Messiah. And by making it consist of only two verses, the Psalmist implies that all nations shall be put into two classes: Israel, who will abide in their own Law, and the Gentiles under a separate division, in the seven precepts, and both together shall worship Jahveh.”* It is very noteworthy that this opinion recognizes that the conversion of the Gentiles to the true faith will be unattended by any obligation to the ceremonial law, for the “seven precepts” referred to are those alleged by Talmudists to have been laid down by the sons of Noah as a guide for their posterity, and are as follows: To be righteous in judgment, to praise GOD,* to refrain from worshipping idols, to avoid incest, to shed no blood, to commit no robbery, and to maim no living animal.* With this distinction of Jew and Gentile the two words employed in the verse seem to accord, as the former of the two, גּו̇יִם, is that always used in Scripture of the idolatrous Gentile heathens, while the second, הָאֻמִּים,* strictly “children of one mother,” can be used to denote the twelve tribes of Israel, each, in a sense, a separate nation, a distinction made by the Apostle in reference to the similar wording of Ps. 2:1.* They draw attention also to the different words employed to express the worship paid by each of these classes, as implying a further shade of distinction,* for הַלְלוּ,* hallelu, the word of especial rejoicing in the LORD, and of liturgical praise in Divine worship, is that ascribed to the Gentiles, as having peculiar reason for gladness in being brought out of misery and darkness into the Gospel of light, (a meaning much enforced by the great prominence of the word Alleluia in the rites of the Catholic Church), while the less exultant phrase שַׁבְּחוּ, implying simple acknowledgment of merit and goodness in any person or thing, is assigned to the Jews, who up to the present time deny the mission and holiness of CHRIST, Whom they will at last confess and adore. And thus, as the Gentiles form the more numerous and more zealous portion of the Church, they are placed before the Jews in the order of the verse. The Christian explanation of the Psalm is Apostolic,* for S. Paul cites this verse when arguing for the union of Jews and Gentiles in one Church, prefacing his quotation with a gloss on the following verse, and an old commentator bids us note that the first part of the injunction began to be fulfilled when the Wise Men came with their gifts to Bethlehem,* and the latter when the trilingual inscription, proclaiming the Kingship of the LORD, was set up over His Cross. It is fulfilled continually by three classes of worshippers: devout pilgrims here on earth, the faithful departed who are being purified in the middle state, and by the blessed in heaven, all of whom join in the chorus of praise to GOD.

2 For his merciful kindness is ever more and more towards us: and the truth of the LORD endureth for ever. Praise the LORD.

The Rabbins, dwelling on the word us,* argue that while the former verse embraces both Jews and Gentiles, this one can refer only to Israel; and it is true that such is the primary sense, for S. Paul, in his comment on the Psalm, observes: “Now I say that JESUS CHRIST was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of GOD, to confirm the promises made to the fathers.”* But he goes on to show that the Psalmist used the word us in a wider and more loving sense, identifying Jews and Gentiles as one new people, for it continues: “And that the Gentiles should glorify GOD for His mercy.” Is more and more to us. The LXX. read, hath been strengthened, the Vulgate, is confirmed. But the Hebrew גָּבַר is much more than this.* It means to prevail like a flood above us, and is the word used thrice in this sense to describe the force of the Deluge. It is not then the mere strength, but the unbounded vastness of GOD’S mercy which the Psalmist would fain describe, poured out in such abundance upon the Gentiles as to whelm them in a fathomless deep, covering all their sins, and all their good works, and leaving nothing visible save the mercy of GOD; for “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.”* “Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered”* in the Flood of old, but the mercy of GOD prevails not by cubits, ten or fifteen, above us, but whelms us with its measureless height, for “Thy mercy, O LORD, reacheth unto the heavens, and Thy faithfulness unto the clouds;”* filling the whole space which lies between earth and heaven, and inundating it with a deluge of loving-kindness. “For look how high the heaven is in comparison of the earth; so great is His mercy also toward them that fear Him.”*

And the truth of the Lord endureth for ever. That Truth is the Eternal WORD, Who in His incarnate form said, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.”* And that the Jews in His day had arrived at the knowledge of the eternity of Messiah, appears from their own saying to Him; “We have heard out of the Law that CHRIST abideth for ever.”* That truth, too, which came by JESUS CHRIST, that Gospel which is the substance of the shadowy Law, endureth for ever, for He hath said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.”* And the mercy which began in His Incarnation, was confirmed in His Passion,* when He said, “It is finished,” for then the gates of Eden were again thrown open, and the fiery sword of the cherubim withdrawn. It is further to be observed that the Apostle,* when saying that the Gentiles are to praise GOD for His mercy, and that truth belongs to the Jews, because GOD confirmed for them the promises made to the fathers, does not mean that the Jews have no part in that mercy, but that mercy alone is shown to the Gentiles, to whom GOD had made no promises whatever; whereas, in sending the Messiah to the Jews, according to His promise, He gave them both truth and mercy, for the promises were not due to any merits of their own, but solely to the clemency of the LORD. His mercy and truth will endure for ever in yet another sense, in the abiding results of His final sentence at the Last Day,* when He will save or condemn according to the deservings of those who stand at His judgment seat.* Then, when the Church is finally united, will the symbolism of this Psalm with its two verses be made clear, as the building rises with its double wall, cemented by the two Testaments, clamped with the twin precepts of love to GOD and to one’s neighbour. And the four strophes of which the two verses consist, denote the quadruple cardinal virtues, drawn from the fourfold stream of the Gospels, which shall adorn the Saints who assemble in Jerusalem to praise the LORD.

And therefore: Glory be to the FATHER, the LORD GOD; glory be to the SON, Who maketh Jews and Gentiles praise Him in one Church; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Whose merciful kindness floodeth our souls. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

TRADITIONAL LITURGICAL USES FOR THE PSALM

VARIOUS USES:

Gregorian. Monday: Vespers. [Easter Eve: Vespers. Festivals of our LORD and of Apostles: I. Vespers. Ascension: I. and II. Vespers.]

Monastic. Monday: Vespers. [Easter Eve: Vespers.]

Ambrosian. Monday: Vespers.

Parisian. Saturday: Lauds.

Lyons. Monday: Vespers.

Quignon. Saturday: Lauds.

Eastern Church. Daily: Vespers.

ANTIPHONS

Gregorian. Praise * the LORD, all ye nations.

Monastic. As preceding Psalm.

Ambrosian. The truth of the LORD * endureth for ever.

Parisian. Praise the LORD,* all ye peoples, for His merciful kindness is stablished upon us.

Lyons. As Gregorian.

Mozarabic. Stablish Thy mercy upon us, O LORD.

COLLECTS

O most Almighty LORD GOD, Who art praised by the mouth of all nations,* we beseech Thee to enlarge our soul with Thy truth, and to confirm Thy mercy upon us. (1.)

Confirm Thy mercy upon us, O LORD,* that with all nations we may praise Thee in Thine own presence for evermore, and saved by Thy truth, may alway abide with Thee in Thine eternal Kingdom. (11.)

O LORD, the FATHER Almighty, cause us ever to offer fitting praise unto Thy majesty, confirm Thy mercy upon us, lest any taint of sin should corrupt our soul, that Thy Truth, Consubstantial with Thee, may abide with us for ever. (5.)

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One Response to A Patristic/ Medieval Commentary on Psalm 117

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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