Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 112

ARGUMENT

ARG. THOMAS. That CHRIST is the distributor of heavenly prizes to the poor, and their rewarder. Also the Voice of the Church concerning CHRIST with praise, and of the fruit of the fear of the LORD. The Voice of them that fear GOD.

VEN. BEDE. Haggai and Zechariah were Prophets, who, after the carrying away to Babylon, returned to Jerusalem in the time of King Darius, long after those words (Ps. 111) were sung; and when they saw the Temple restored, poured forth praises to GOD with great joy. In likeness whereof this Psalm also is constructed with all the letters of the alphabet; and a Christian ought to sing it with perfect readiness after the absolution of his sins.
The Prophet speaks throughout the Psalm. In the first exhortation he shows what a blessed man will do, and what good things he shall attain: Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord. Secondly; he declares the LORD’S coming, by Whom men will attain to everlasting blessedness, from having been sinners and ungodly: There ariseth up light in the darkness. Thirdly; he witnesseth that the reverse will come upon the wicked: The ungodly shall see it. The first division contains six letters; the second, thirteen; the third, three. Two verselets herein fill up the measure of the verse which forms the construction of Psalm 118 (119) so that what one letter does there, here two different ones, following each other in order, do.

SYRIAC PSALTER. Anonymous. Wherein David giveth instruction to Solomon his Son, Keep the commandments of the LORD, and serve Him. Also the calling of the Gentiles and the righteousness of CHRIST.

EUSEBIUS OF CÆSAREA. The teaching of CHRIST.

S. ATHANASIUS. A Psalm proclaiming blessedness; Also, describing a life endued with holy virtue.

Ps 112:1 [Alleluia.] Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD: he hath great delight in his commandments.

We have in this opening the continuance and further exposition of that beginning of wisdom of which the closing verse of Psalm 111* told us. There is enough in that fear, which S. Chrysostom calls the golden gate of happiness, to make a man blessed, not indeed with the bliss that belongs to our Country,* but with such a measure of gladness as befits pilgrims in the way. And there are two distinct stages of progress set before us,* that fear of the LORD which causes men to reverence and observe His negative precepts, by abstaining from sins which He has forbidden; and then that higher obedience which consists in carrying out with loving zeal His positive injunctions, that learning to do well which follows ceasing to do evil. For He hath great delight the LXX. and Vulgate wording is He shall will excessively; that is, as one tells us, his will is greater than his power; and instead of resting satisfied with the impossibility, his eagerness and longing does but the more increase, and his hunger and thirst after righteousness become intensified. We may lay stress on the phrase The Man,* and so explain it of CHRIST, the type and example of all His Saints, or we may, besides the obvious reference to each righteous person, see the whole Christian Church here denoted as a single individual,* to express the notion of absolute unity.* Eusebius, pointing out that the expression fear God is often used in Scripture to signify the imperfect worship paid to Him by Gentiles unversed in the Law (as in the case of the Assyrian colonists sent by Shalmaneser into Palestine,) argues thence that the Christian Church,* as made up chiefly of Gentiles, is here intended, and its zeal in GOD’S commandments contrasted with Hebrew apathy.

Ps 112:2 His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the faithful shall be blessed.

There is more promised here than that fruitfulness to which the Jew looked as among the chief of blessings; namely, spiritual increase of converts and disciples for the teachers of righteousness; increase in good works, as a vigorous and numerous progeny, on the part of these disciples themselves, if they lay to heart the lessons of their teachers. Whoso delights in willingly obeying GOD’S commandments,* is worthy to become the father of Saints, as S. Paul was of Timothy,* Luke, Titus, and many more, and as S. Peter spiritually begat S. Mark the Evangelist and S. Cornelius. And each such Saint gives birth to many works of righteousness for GOD,* mighty even here upon earth in the strife against evil, blessed in their results; but mightier in the land of the living, more blessed when those words are spoken, “Come, ye blessed of MY FATHER, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.”* To both the one and the other class the promise holds good that “they shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them.”*

Ps 112:3 Riches and plenteousness shall be in his house: and his righteousness endureth for eve.

In the lower sense,* we may read these words literally of abundant wealth bestowed on the righteous by GOD, and used, not for pride and luxury, but for continual works of mercy, whence it is said of the person so enriched, that his righteousness endureth for ever.* But the higher meaning bids us see here those true spiritual riches which are stored up for the poor in spirit, often most needy in the prosperity of the world; and we may come at the truest sense by comparing the words wherein the great Apostle describes his own condition, “As poor, yet making many rich,* as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”* For who can be richer than he who is heir of GOD, and joint heir with CHRIST? If we take the Man to be CHRIST,* then the Church is that house of His wherein spiritual riches are stored; if we take the phrase of any faithful servant of the Master, then his heart is the dwelling wherein,* as in an earthen vessel, he stores this treasure, his righteousness, because it is GOD’S free gift to him, and “godliness with contentment is great gain.”*

Ps 112:4 Unto the godly there ariseth up light in the darkness: he is merciful, loving, and righteous.

The use of this verse as the Antiphon to the Psalm in the second Vespers of Christmas supplies us at once with the highest sense of the words,* as denoting the revelation of CHRIST to the world, a light shining in the dark places of the earth, on them who aforetime sat in the shadow of death, and that light Himself, merciful, loving, and righteous. He comes still,* in continual Advents, arising in the dark hearts of men as the Day-star,  the Sun of Righteousness,* so that they who were sometime darkness are now light in the LORD. And in a sense only lower than this, it is true that the godly are not left without guidance here amidst the perplexities and dangers of the world, but when all is most gloomy and doubtful, then comes a ray of light from GOD, to show them the path wherein they must walk to be in safety; a light to cheer and encourage them in trouble. And although it is best to take the three epithets which here follow as applying to GOD only, Himself the Light for the godly, inasmuch as all three words are in the singular, whereas godly יְשָׁרִים, is plural; yet it is possible that there may be a sudden transition here back to the “man” of the previous verses,* or else we may have three classes of the godly described, for each of whom the light springs up. But in that case it would be better to understand these qualities as the result of the light, whereby that which was darkness became shining with holiness; not because it had any inherent brightness of its own, but by reason of reflecting the rays of that divine splendour poured upon it by the revelation of JESUS.

5 A good man is merciful, and lendeth: (ט) and will guide his words with discretion (י).

It was a saying of Ptolemy Lagi,* King of Egypt, that it is better to enrich than to be rich (ἄμεινον εἶναι πλουτίζειν ἢπλουτεῖν) a maxim on which he acted by a liberal distribution of his wealth;* showing himself in this wise a type of the cheerful giver whom GOD loves, who follows the counsel of the Wise Man, “In all thy gifts show a cheerful countenance, and dedicate thy tithes with gladness.”* But S. Augustine, noting that almsgiving is mentioned in a later verse prefers to understand this passage of the free forgiveness of injuries, which as we learn from the Our FATHER, is a kind of spiritual alms. We may, however, keep to the literal sense, yet without dwelling too forcibly on the word lendeth, as though implying expectation of repayment, for it is written, “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will He pay him again.” And it. may be well understood of words of wisdom spoken to the unlearned by such as have no gold or silver to bestow,* but who can lead their hearers to the true riches of the Gospel.*

And will guide his words with discretion. There are several ways of understanding this sentence, the connection of which with the previous part of the verse is not at first sight very clear.* It may mean, as the Prayer Book version implies, prudence in language, carefulness to avoid offence; so that the good man is not only ready with his purse, but shows such courtesy in his discourse with the poor as to add a fresh grace to his charity. Next, it may stand as in the A. V., He shall guide his affairs with discretion,* where the LXX. word οἰκνομήσει he shall regulate household matters, gives a sufficient sense. The notion then will be that of his judicious management of his wealth, regarding himself merely as GOD’S steward, and assigning to each person with whom he has to do a fair proportion of that riches, so as not to waste it by thoughtless lavishness on the one hand, nor to display narrow parsimony on the other.

But the LXX. and Vulgate translate, with greater exactness, He shall regulate his words in judgment.* And this is taken by most of the commentators to mean, He shall so conduct his life with charity and almsgiving here, that when he stands for judgment before CHRIST’S tribunal, he will have a clear defence and statement to make against the adversary,* and when asked to account for the wealth of which he has been steward, will reply, “LORD, Thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.” Or we may take the words to denote a like success when appearing at any earthly bar, that he shall in all cases maintain his cause and prevail. Yet again, some would fain interpret them not as a promised blessing but as another proof of kindliness.* He will not only give his money to the poor, but will plead his cause as an advocate. Or if we return to that notion of lending already referred to,* the words may denote the discretion of Christian preachers, not casting their pearls before swine, nor giving that which is holy to the dogs, but wisely apportioning their instructions according to the capacity of their hearers. Yet a further idea is put forward in this connection, that the Saints who have freely taught the Faith to CHRIST’S poor,* shall maintain their cause in judgment; that is, will be able, like Athanasius, to carry victory from councils where all the craft and power of heresy is arrayed against the Gospel. And finally,  we may take the whole verse of our LORD Himself, Who in His goodness had pity on us, and lent us all the grace and strength we need for salvation, of which He will demand repayment with interest when He, Who spake ever with divine wisdom, Who overcame when He was judged, shall guide His own words in the Judgment, words of reward to His faithful stewards, words of condemnation to such as have wasted His goods.

Ps 112:6 For he shall never he moved: and the righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance.

Here is the reason why he shall maintain his cause in judgment,* because he is steadfast and firm in his resolutions, and takes careful foresight, leaving nothing to accident, that he may not be unexpectedly moved; and because hereof, recognised as a wise counsellor and a liberal benefactor, his memory shall be endeared and durable amongst his people; and then, in a yet higher sense, he shall never he moved from his place at CHRIST’S right hand, (C.) where he is founded upon the Rock, and his name shall be written for ever in the Book of Life. We may take the words also of the human nature of the LORD JESUS in this sense, although it seems better to apply them to His Body the Church,* unshaken through the lapse of ages,* always, day by day, making memorial of Him, the Righteous One, and commemorating in her services His great Saints, while no such religious observance honours the memory of the chiefs of sects and heresies.

Ps 112:7 He will not be afraid of any evil tidings: for his heart standeth fast, and believeth in the LORD.

He will have no cause to fear aught that slanderers or ungodly enemies may utter against him in this world,* he need not dread in the Judgment Day those far more evil tidings bidding him depart into everlasting fire.* Nor will he fear those who can kill the body,* and who threaten him with death,* unless he apostatize, and abjure CHRIST.* There is a further interpretation whereby we can connect this verse more closely with the preceding ones: He will not be afraid of any news of the loss of his wealth, because he does not “trust in uncertain riches, but in the living GOD,”* and is confident that He will not suffer him to want. In this wise, as in the others, his heart standeth fast and believeth in the Lord,* and because it is looking steadfastly at Him, it does not suffer its gaze to be diverted by aught of less importance.
Ps 112:8 His heart is established, and will not shrink: until he see his desire upon his enemies.

And so the Apostle tells us, “It is a good thing that the heart be established with grace,”* sufficient to keep the believer undismayed amidst all temporal and spiritual perils, until he look down upon his enemies (Heb., Vulg.) from a high and safe place. That is, until in this world he succeed in overcoming the evil spirits by the power of Christ, the Rock on whom he is set; until in the Judgment he see the foes who oppressed him here,* persecutors, slanderers, unbelievers, false brethren, cast down while he is exalted. And observe that until, here as elsewhere, does not imply that he will begin to fear after his enemies have been defeated, but rather his everlasting immunity from alarm.

Ps 112:9 He hath dispersed abroad, and given to the poor: and his righteousness remaineth for ever; his horn shall be exalted with honour.

The Apostle S. Paul, in quoting this verse with reference to the contributions for which he was asking the Corinthians prefixes some words of his own which serve as a comment on the latter part of it: “GOD is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.”* Then follows the quotation from the Psalm, and the connection makes it clear that the intention in this place is to represent the endurance of righteousness and the exaltation of the horn as GOD’S reward for charitable dealing towards the poor. Accordingly,* the words are used as the . and . to the Hymn in the office of S. Laurence, famous in ecclesiastical history for his distribution of the treasures of the Church amongst the needy.* The word dispersed implies the extent and freedom of bounty, like the rays of the sun on the drops of the rain. But it was actually perverted by certain Talmudists to mean turning a small sum of money into coins of the lowest value,* and bestowing these upon a large number of persons, so as to spread the parsimonious gift over the widest area. Far better is the counsel of the Angelic Doctor, who lays down two simple rules for almsgiving, that it is to be regulated by one’s own means and the need of the person to be helped. And that not recklessly,* but with clear recollection that we are acting as stewards, and are bound to be careful with our Master’s property.* And in this wise a poor man may buy with a cup of cold water what costs a rich one all his wealth.* The LORD Himself dispersed abroad the rich gifts of the HOLY GHOST,* giving them to the poor fishermen whom He chose to be His Apostles, and He still showers down like blessings, because the horn of His kingdom is exalted with honour, so that He has power to do so, and His righteousness endureth for ever, so that He has the will too. And those Apostles in their turn dispersed abroad and gave to the poor, not silver and gold, for such gifts were not in their power, nor yet the Gospel only, precious as that was, for in giving it they did not take aught from themselves; but that they might go forth to preach the Word,* they forsook houses and brethren,* and sisters, and father, and mother, and wife, and children, and lands, and life itself, for the sake of CHRIST‘S Name; and thus most truly flung all these to the winds, and gave them to the poor, wherefore their righteousness remaineth for ever in heaven, and their horn shall be exalted in honour, because they are to sit on thrones as assessors of the King Himself in judgment.

Ps 112:10 The ungodly shall see it, and it shall grieve him: he shall gnash with his teeth, and consume away; the desire of the ungodly shall perish.

The Greek Fathers for the most part take the ungodly here to be Satan,* in his impotent rage at seeing the triumph of the Saints,* here when they are victorious over his emissaries, and still more as they ascend in glory after the Judgment, and he sinks to his appointed place. Others extend the notion to Antichrist, or to any of the finally impenitent, and they urge, for the most part, that envy at the happier fortune of the elect will be one cause of this gnashing of teeth and wasting away; in that the total destruction of their own hope leaves them nothing to which to look forward. But we may also take the verse in the milder sense of the agonies of repentance, not too late, when tears and mortification, and the total disappearance of all former evil lusts, slain by the sword of the Spirit, shall bring the sinner to the foot of the Cross, to the grave of CHRIST, to be raised up thence again in newness of life.

Wherefore: Glory be to the FATHER, merciful, loving, and righteous; glory be to the SON, Who hath dispersed His bounties abroad, and given them to the poor; glory be to the HOLY GHOST, the Light which ariseth in the darkness. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

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One Response to Patristic/Medieval Commentary on Psalm 112

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Tear A | stjoeofoblog

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