A Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 98

This post opens with a brief series of arguments (i.e., a series of abstracts or summaries concerning the psalms subject, intentions, etc.). The commentary follows. I’ve not added the names of the various authors being referred to as this would take quite some time and burden the text with many footnotes. At the end of the post one will find a list of the various uses to which this psalm was employed in the tradition along with traditional antiphons and collects.

TITLE. LXX. and Vulgate: A Psalm of David.
Chaldee Targum: A Prophetic Psalm.

ARGUMENT

ARG. THOMAS. That GOD, by the Advent of the Nativity, hath declared His salvation unto all. The Voice of the Apostles, rejoicing at the Resurrection of CHRIST. Further, the Voice of the Church to the LORD and to the Apostles. The Apostolic Voice. A Prophecy, and the calling of the Gentiles. Concerning the first and second coming of CHRIST.

VEN. BEDE. This title refers to the LORD CHRIST, concerning both Whose comings this Psalm is about to speak.
The Prophet speaks throughout the Psalm. In the first part he recommends the Christian people to be glad with the rejoicing of a new song, since the wondrous Advent of CHRIST is granted. O sing unto the Lord a new song, &c. In the second part he declares more fully in various ways that we should rejoice, because the Judge desired by the righteous is to come at last. Show yourselves joyful in the Lord, all ye lands, &c.

SYRIAC PSALTER. Of David. Concerning the freedom of the people from Egypt, when they conquered and triumphed. Spiritually, it is a prophecy of the coming of CHRIST and the calling of the Gentiles.

EUSEBIUS OF CÆSAREA. The calling of the Gentiles and the coming of CHRIST.

S. ATHANASIUS. A Psalm of exhortation and as it were of command.

COMMENTARY ON PSALM 98

98:1 O sing unto the LORD a new song: for he hath done marvellous things. With his own right hand, and with his holy arm: hath he gotten himself the victory.

The song must be new,* because of the unwonted (unaccustomed, unusual)  nature of the marvellous things which GOD has wrought.* When of old He brought His people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and a stretched out arm (Ps 136:12), it was but one small nation that He saved, it was only a human enemy that He overthrew in the Red Sea. But now the salvation He has wrought extends to all the nations of the earth, the enemy He has routed is the Prince of the powers of the air (Eph 2:2), attended by all the spiritual wickednesses (Eph 6:12). He hath done marvellous things in the mystery of His Incarnation,* Nativity, Passion, Resurrection, Ascension, and the mission of the HOLY GHOST, not to speak of the miracles He wrought in person during His earthly ministry,* of by the hands of His servants since. But the words most especially refer to His raising Himself up from the dead by His own inherent power, (C.) by the might of that Godhead which He united to the Manhood. Therefore He saith of His life, “I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”* And in that He wrought this marvel alone, with no human or angelic aid in the agony of His Passion, with no hand to pluck Him back from the grave; He said in prophecy of old, “The year of My redeemed is come. And I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore Mine own arm hath brought salvation unto Me, and My fury, it upheld Me.”* We may also, without any material change in the meaning, take the words as spoken by the FATHER, (L.) Who declares that He wrought the salvation of mankind by one instrument alone,* His Right Hand, the Only-begotten SON, in Whose Second Advent, of which this Psalm sings as well as His first, the triumph will be completed.

98:2The LORD declared his salvation: his righteousness hath he openly showed in the sight of the heathen.

It is the manifestation of the Only-Begotten, (C.) the SAVIOUR of Mankind,* the Light to lighten the Gentiles, of Whom Simeon chanted his dying song, doubtless looking to this Psalm. And observe that it is not said in the first clause that GOD showed, but that He made known (A. V., LXX., Vulg.) His salvation.* For He had shown it in mystery of old to the Patriarchs. Adam knew Him, and so did Abel, who offered Him a lamb; and Seth, who called on His Name; and Noah, who was His type, saving mankind in the Ark; and Abraham, (Ay.) who offered up his son. But the world had forgotten Him, and therefore the FATHER made Him known. He did so with care that His Nativity should not pass unnoticed, (D. C.) for He made it known to the shepherds by the Angels, to the wise men by a star, to Zacharias and Elizabeth by S. Gabriel, to Simeon and Anna by the HOLY GHOST. But to the Gentiles, who had no previous knowledge to be recalled, He openly showed His righteousness. Wherefore it is to be noticed that the Apostles never address their Gentile congregations in parables, as their Master did the Jews, but make direct proclamation of the Gospel.

98:3 He hath remembered his mercy and truth toward the house of Israel: and all the ends of the world have seen the salvation of our GOD.

The term remembered is here employed,* as in the Benedictus and Magnificat, not as in any way denoting the possibility of forgetfulness on GOD’S part, but to set before our minds the length of time which elapsed before the promised Deliverer appeared, a delay which would, in any human analogy,* be due to oblivion. It is said, to the house of Israel, because the promises of mercy were originally made only to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so that GOD’S truth was concerned in fulfilling His pledge, and accordingly the first manifestation of the SAVIOUR, the first preaching of the Gospel, was amongst the people and in the land of Israel. And then the latter clause of the verse teaches us that this mercy of GOD is extended to all the ends of the world,* to all those Gentiles who had no claim on His truth, in that He has shown them His JESUS. And precisely so runs the prophecy in Isaiah: “It is a light thing that Thou shouldest be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the desolations of Israel; I will also give Thee for a light to the Gentiles, that Thou mayest be My salvation unto the end of the earth.”*

98:4Show yourselves joyful unto the LORD, all ye lands: sing, rejoice, and give thanks.

They tell us that by the use of these several words various grades of spiritual exultation are denoted, (C.) to each of which all the lands, the whole extent of the Church Universal, are invited. Show yourselves joyful is the first inarticulate expression of the soul’s delight, striving for utterance, but not yet able to collect itself, nor to perfectly understand the nature of its gladness; sing tells us that words of suitable devotion have been found at last; rejoice tells of the fervent happiness with which the Saints pour forth their prayers to GOD; and give thanks (which the LXX. and Vulgate render play, ψάλατε, psallite) implies the active laud of good works performed for His sake.

98:5 Praise the LORD upon the harp: sing to the harp with a psalm of thanksgiving.
98:6With trumpets also, and shawms: O show yourselves joyful before the LORD the King.

We have now five methods of rejoicing put before us,* the five words which we speak with our understanding in the Church,* better than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue, (P.) and answering to the five titles of CHRIST given earlier in the Psalm, to wit, right hand, holy arm, salvation, righteousness, and truth. As regards the mystical signification of the various instruments named here, we are reminded first that the harp teaches that all our faculties,* all parts of our conduct, should be vocal with melody to GOD. For a harp is imperfect, if even one chord be lacking, or if the strings be not tuned in harmony. What profits it thee, then, if thou be chaste, liberal in almsgiving, and yet envious? What advantage is it if thou have six strings sound and one broken? If even one fail,* the sound of the harp cannot be perfect. The harp (a symbol of mortification,* with its tense strings and empty hollow) is twice named, to teach us that bodily austerity and the practice of holiness need to be repeated, and not be left off after beginning, that we are to praise with body and soul, in prosperity and adversity, in this life and the next; (Z.) and it is coupled with the psalm of thanksgiving in the second place, because contemplation and prayer, in addition to active virtues, are essential to the full development of spiritual life and joy. Some, however, think that the ten-stringed psalter is meant here, implying the keeping of the moral law. With trumpets also and shawms. The Vulgate, distinguishing with sufficient accuracy between the straight silver trumpets implied by the former word, and the curved ram’s horns of the latter, translates, (P.) On ductile trumpets, and with the sound of the horny trumpet. The first are aptly assigned to the herald proclamation of the Gospel law, purified from the dross of the elder code by the fire and hammer of CHRIST’S Passion, while the humbler cornet is the pastoral address of Christian shepherds to their flocks. (Z.) Euthymius will have it that both the trumpets and the cornet denote the Apostles and their successors; saying that the plural word points to the four Gospels, the singular one to their identity; while the metallic epithet signifies the operation of the HOLY GHOST on the Apostles, shaping and moulding them at His will, and the word horn, as betokening that which once had animal life, implies that they were not mere dead instruments, but endowed with vitality and personal force.* Yet another view sees in the metal trumpets purged in the fire, the martyrs of CHRIST; and in the cornet, (C.) made of that which springs from the flesh, yet is not of it, but stands out from it, the Confessors who have checked all their carnal passions by austerity and by lifting themselves up towards GOD.
O show yourselves joyful before the Lord the King. (Ay.) We do this when we keep GOD so constantly present before us in our thoughts, words, and deeds, that we are conscious of acting with continual reference to Him, and not to the world or to ourselves, and that with a glad and filial service, not with the servile terror of bondslaves.* The notion is that of the processional march with music and singing to greet the King as He returns from victory and coronation. (C.) And as a monarch in such cases bestows largesses upon his subjects, so the special time for this rejoicing on our part is when our King comes to judgment,* and bestows rewards on His faithful people.

98:7Let the sea make a noise, and all that therein is: the round world, and they that dwell therein.
98:8Let the floods clap their hands, and let the hills be joyful together before the LORD: for he is come to judge the earth.

The Psalmist calls the inanimate creation,* which had aforetime been groaning and travailing in pain,* awaiting the SAVIOUR, (Cd.) to swell the hymn of triumph in honour of Almighty GOD,* raised by all that dwell in the round world. But there are spiritual meanings underlying the various terms used. The sea,* as one will have it, denotes the Law, once bitter, now made sweet by the wood of the Cross; or else, as so often, it means the restless, tossing, bitter, and sorrowful life of the world, and all that are mixed up with it, though it may also denote those who shed the salt tears of penitence: the round world,* those within the circle of the Church, firm and fruitful: the floods,* drinking in the waters of wisdom from their source, and irrigating the dry ground, denote all holy preachers of the Word; the hills are those in high position, especially in the offices of the Church. The Pseudo-Jerome,* arguing against the hyper-literalism of Jewish expositors, points to the phrase clap their hands, as inapplicable in any strict sense to the floods, and insists on the spiritual interpretation as necessarily meaning those Saints of various degrees of eminence,* from the merest rill to the mightiest torrent, who all alike flow from the LORD JESUS, the fountain of living waters. These clap their hands because they work for GOD, and are not content with talking about Him, since He is best served and praised with the hand, not with the voice. And observe, remarks S. Augustine, that it is exactly when the sea makes a noise, (A.) when the storms of persecution are raging, that the Saints are most zealous and most happy, that they clap their hands in honour of their King. Arnobius,* who seems to prefer that meaning of the floods which more than one commentator adopts, namely, all the faithful regenerated in the sweet waters of Baptism, reminds us that the rivers flow down from the hills, and bids us see here the exaltation of Christian Saints and teachers in the spiritual might and progress of their disciples in the Faith. For He is come to judge the earth.* We may take this either of the first or of the second coming of CHRIST. If of the first, then the ground of rejoicing is that the LORD comes to rule the world with a perfectly righteous code, and to do so not as of old, in the unseen majesty of Godhead, but in bodily and visible form as a Man dwelling with men. If of the second Advent, then the final victory over sin, and the renewal of all creation,* delivered at last from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of GOD, is the theme of rejoicing.

98:9With righteousness shall he judge the world: and the people with equity.

This Psalm ends precisely as the ninety-sixth,* with the exception of the last word, equity, instead of truth. It is a word of hope and of fear alike. Of hope, because the feeble and oppressed will find an advocate in their Judge against all the power arrayed against them, for it is written, “With righteousness shall He judge the poor, and argue with equity for the meek of the earth.”* Of fear, “for if Thou, LORD, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O LORD, who may abide it?”* But as He hath not yet come, why should men tremble? Let them amend, and rejoice. (A.) It is in thine own power, how thou shalt look for the coming of CHRIST. He delays that coming, that He may not have to condemn thee. Behold, He cometh not yet. He is in heaven, and thou on earth; He delays His Advent, delay not thou thy counsel. His coming is hard to the hard, is gentle to the loving. Look then at once what thou art; if hard, thou mayest soften; if gentle, rejoice that He is coming. For thou art a Christian. Yes, sayest thou. I believe that thou prayest, and thou sayest, “Thy kingdom come.” Thou desirest Him to come, of Whose coming thou art afraid. Amend, that thy prayer be not against thyself.

Wherefore: Glory be to the FATHER, the LORD and King; glory be to the SON, His own Right Hand, Who shall judge the world with righteousness; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, Who declared the salvation of GOD. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

VARIOUS USES FROM THE TRADITION

Gregorian. Saturday: Matins. [Christmas Day, Circumcision, Trinity Sunday, Holy Name, Invention and Exaltation of the Cross, Nails and Spear, Sacred Heart, Common of B.V.M., Common of Virgins: III. Nocturn.]

Monastic. Friday: II. Nocturn. [Christmas Day, Circumcision, Epiphany, Whitsun Day, Trinity Sunday, HOLY GHOST Name, Invention and Exaltation of the Cross, Common of B.V.M., Common of Virgins: II. Nocturn.]

Ambrosian. Thursday of Second Week: III. Nocturn. [Christmas Day: I. Nocturn. Epiphany: I. Nocturn.]

Parisian. Monday: Sext. [Christmas Day: III. Nocturn.]

Lyons. Friday: III. Nocturn. [Epiphany: III. Nocturn.]

Quignon. Monday: Lauds.

ANTIPHONS

Gregorian. For He hath done marvellous things. [Christmas Day: The LORD declared, Alleluia, * His salvation, Alleluia. Epiphany: Before the morning star * begotten, and before the worlds, the LORD our SAVIOUR vouchsafed to be born to-day. Trinity Sunday: The FATHER, SON, and HOLY GHOST is one substance. O Blessed Trinity. Holy Name: O sing unto GOD, and sing praises unto His Name, make a path for Him Who ascendeth over the sunset, the LORD is His Name. Sacred Heart: All the ends of the world have seen the salvation of our GOD. Common of B.V.M.: After thy childbearing, thou didst remain a spotless Virgin; Mother of GOD, intercede for us. Common of Virgins: Come, Bride of CHRIST, receive the crown, which the LORD hath prepared for thee for evermore.]

Monastic. [Epiphany: As Christmas Day. Whitsun Day: Stablish the thing, O GOD, which Thou hast wrought in us, for Thy temple’s sake at Jerusalem, Alleluia, Alleluia. Trinity Sunday: Holy, Holy, Holy, LORD GOD Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. Common of Virgins: Thou art fair and comely, O daughter of Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners.]

Ambrosian. Show yourselves joyful before the LORD the King. Kyr. Kyr. Kyr. [Christmas and Epiphany: The LORD declared His salvation. Kyr. Kyr. Kyr.]

Parisian. The LORD hath chosen out an heritage for us, which He hath loved. [Christmas Day: As Gregorian.]

Lyons. Let my crying * come unto Thee, O LORD. [Epiphany: As Christmas Day, Gregorian.]

Mozarabic. The LORD declared His salvation: His righteousness hath He openly shown in the sight of the heathen.

1a (1) O sing unto the LORD a new song: for he hath done marvellous things.
1b (2) With his own right hand, and with his holy arm: hath he gotten himself the victory.

COLLECTS

O LORD,* Who hast revealed Thy righteousness to all the Gentiles, and Thy salvation unto our minds, grant that as Thou didst once come to be judged on behalf of the lost, Thou mayest bestow mercy when Thou comest to judge, on them for whom Thou wast judged. Who.

Let Thy right hand deliver us,* O LORD, and bow the necks of the haughty under Thy dominion, that the nations maybe enlightened with the coming of truth, and with holiness of heart accept the salvation shown unto them. (11.)

Let all the earth sing unto Thee,* O LORD, sing a psalm, rejoice, and praise Thy Name, Whose Name is wonderful and glorious. Grant therefore unto the prayers of Thy Church, that Thou mayest never forsake in temptation those whom Thou callest in faith, and that they who sing unto Thee the song of praise may attain the reward of eternal blessedness in the world to come. (11.)

All the earth sings unto Thee,* O LORD, and all they that dwell therein, the floods clap their hands unto Thee; and not only do the voices of the Doctors wait on Thee with the service of speech, but their zeal also attends Thee with the observance of good works. Grant therefore, O our GOD, that by Thine inspiration both constant praise and unwearied meditation, together with the pure and undefiled religion of holy conversation, may prevail in us. (11.)

O GOD,* Who hast made known Thy salvation amongst the peoples, by revealing Thy righteousness in the sight of the Gentiles, show unto us the abundance of Thy mercies, that as we are lifted up by the knowledge of Thy salvation, we may be comforted by the revelation of Thy righteousness. (11.)

Let all creation sing a new song unto Thee,* O LORD, Who didst show forth in the Virgin Mary the marvel of a new childbearing, that a woman should compass a man, and a Virgin without knowing man should bring forth a male child; grant that we in this world may be aided by her prayers, who brought Thee forth in stainless birth: that our mind, strengthened by the light of the HOLY GHOST, may so conceive the affection of Thy love, as alway to bring forth the increase of good works. (11.)

Almighty, (D. C.) everlasting GOD, Who alone workest great marvels, remember Thy mercy, and correct us when we go astray, and make us so steadfastly and faithfully abide by Thee, that we may be fitted to sing acceptable songs unto Thee, our LORD, for evermore. (1.)~Neale, J.M., & Littledale, R.F. (1871) A Commentary on the Psalms from the Primitive and Medieval Writers. The scholars were Anglican but the work enjoyed wide popularity among Catholics.  The work is in the public domain

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2 Responses to A Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 98

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