Title: A Psalm of David.
Tomasi: That Christ entered the virginal shrine and proceeded from it in order that He might make known the secrets of men. Concerning the preaching of the Apostles and the Advent of Christ and His Ascension.
Venerable Bede : Through the whole psalm they are the words of the prophet. In the first place he praises the preachers of the Lord ; he then uses the loveliest comparisons concerning His Incarnation. Secondly, he lauds the precepts of the Old and New Testament. Thirdly, he prays that he may be purged from his secret faults and may be made a worthy psalmist.
(1) The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows forth the work of His hands.
By the word of the Lord were the heavens made and all the hosts of them by the breath of His mouth [Ps. xxxii 6]. What heavens, asks St. Gregory the Great, are these, except the holy Apostles ? [ Migne, P. L., vol. Ixxvi. p. 33.]. And in this light all the fathers interpret the verse : that as the visible heavens set forth the glory of the Creator, so these spiritual heavens declare the praise of the Redeemer. The firmament, St. Augustine takes to be that firmness in speaking the Apostolic message even before kings and not being ashamed, that fearing not them that kill the body [Cf. St. Luke xii. 4.] but cannot touch the soul. Like the Apostles, who were weak, indeed, till they received the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, but then they declared the work of His hands, the work of salvation wrought by the Incarnation.
(2) Day unto day breathed out the Word and night unto night declareth knowledge.
Day unto day, that is, saint to saint, prophet to prophet, apostle to apostle, Christ Himself (the King of apostles, the Inspirer of prophets, the Saint of saints), to each and all.
The Word, the Second Person of the Adorable Trinity ; for the days, the saints filled with the light of the wisdom and glory of God, declare the mystery of the Incarnation to men.
And night unto night, the teachers here below, speaking of the same mystery and leading their hearers on to His love. Again, for the nights we may understand, with St. Augustine, the trials and afflictions of the martyrs and confessors, the struggles and self-denial of every upright soul, which speak to us in the night of our own affliction and distress and tell us that the loving kindness that delivered them can deliver us also ; for The Lord's arm is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear [Is. lix. I.]. That night speaks to us in no unintelligible voice : Look at the generations of old and see: did ever any trust in the Lord and were confounded [Eccles. ii. 11.] Or again, we may take it, with the Carmelite, of the work of the Six Days and the Rest of the Seventh, which we can compare with the Seven Gifts of the Spirit; or, (as St. Augustine truly says: " Some words of scripture have, from their obscurity, this advantage, that they give rise to many interpretations : had this been plain, you would have heard some one thing; but as it is, observe, you will hear many"), it cannot be more beautifully taken than of the seasons of the Church's year. Festival speaking to Festival, Fast to Fast, the faithful soul by Advent prepared for Christmas, by Lent for Easter, by the great Forty Days of Paschal joys for the Descent of the Holy Ghost; and by all these days of transitory holiness, made ready for that Eternal Day, the Festival which shall never be concluded
["The Church on earth with answering love
Echoes her mother's joys above :
These yearly feast days she may keep,
And yet for endless festals weep."
- Adam of St. Victor : Superna Matris gaudia.].
(3) There is neither speech nor language; neither are their voices heard.
And we may take the verse in two senses : either no speech or language among the nations of the earth to which these voices did not go forth, which must be their sense if we refer the clause to the Apostles ; or there is no real speech in the preaching of the stars, and yet their language is intelligible to all nations. An old Portuguese divine, referring to this verse, says: "The most ancient preacher in the world is the sky. If the sky be a preacher it must have sermons, and it must have words. So it has, says David. And what are the sermons and words of the sky ? The words are the stars : the sermons—their composition, order, harmony, and cause" [Vieira, Obras, vol. i. p. 40.]. Then again, as a recent writer remarks, "God's Word sounds silently in the heart. There is neither speech nor language ; for, when the soul is alone with its Maker it is heart to heart, and words are spoken that are beyond human utterance. But the low, still voice is lost by worldliness and by too much serving and solicitude that is beyond God's will."
(4) Their sound hath gone forth into all the earth : and their words unto the ends of the world.
The quotation of that text by St. Paul: But I say, have they not heard ? Yes, verily, their sound went out into all the earth, and their words to the end of the world [Rom. x. 18.] is, as is well noticed by Jansen, the bishop of Ghent [Cornelius Jansen, Bishop of Ghent (1510-1576), must not be confounded with his namesake of Ypres. He wrote a Paraphrase on the Psalms (published 1514), with valuable annotations.], a sufficient warrant for the explanation that would understand the Apostles who were doers as well as hearers. And how did their sound then go forth ? By the silent force of the example of a godly life. The power of a simple, natural life of one seeking God, with a single eye, is far greater than that of one who deliberately sets out with the intention of edifying his neighbours. He who so regulates his life, runs a great risk of being but a tinkling cymbal and sounding brass. But he who looks to God alone, and does his duty simply and naturally, without pretence or posing, does really edify; for deeds speak louder than words, and example tells more than preaching. Edification for edification's sake is the bane of the spiritual life of some who neglect the liberty wherewith Christ has made them free [Gal. iv. 31.]. They have edified, as they are pleased to call it, and the good repute of men is their reward.
(5) In the sun He hath set His tabernacle : and He Himself as a Bridegroom coming forth from His chamber. [St. Ambrose, in his beautiful hymn, Veni Redemptor Gentium, thus makes
use of this verse :
" Forth from His Chamber goeth He,
The Royal Hall of Chastity,
In Nature two, in Person one,
His glad course, giant-like, to run.
From God the Father He proceeds,
To God the Father back He speeds ;
Proceeds as far as very Hell,
Speeds back to Life ineffable."
In this and the following verse the Church has, from the beginning, seen a marvellous type of the Incarnation. In the sun He hath set His tabernacle. In the literal sense, of natural objects, the sun is the best and clearest representation of the Creator. So the wise man in Ecclesiasticus : The sun when it appeareth declareth at his rising a marvellous instrument, the works of the most High [xliii. 2.]. In it many nations of the earth have seen the image of the God they adore. But for us, knowing that it shall pass away and the elements shall melt with fervent heat [2 Peter iii. 10.], it is but God's tabernacle. The true Sun is that which shall no more go down, when the Lord shall be our everlasting Light and the days of our mourning shall be ended [Is. Ix. 20.]. Then, in the mystical sense, the sun and the tabernacle are the Lord's abiding in the Womb of Mary; and the writers do not fail to quote from Ecclesiasticus that text: As the sun when it ariseth in the high heavens so is the beauty of a good wife in ordering her house [xxvi. 21.]. The sun is also the spotless soul of Mary shining with the splendour of her pre-eminent redemption, a meet resting place for the most High God, the tabernacle He Himself hath made holy [Cf. Exod. xxix. 44.]. The tabernacle is the flesh of the Lord which was united for ever to His Divinity. Or again, as they who go out to war dwell not in houses or tents, so our Lord going forth to His war with Satan dwelt in the tabernacle of His flesh while He entered into the conflict with and when He overcame His enemy.
As a Bridegroom cometh out of His chamber. And here none can fail to see the Lord's entrance into the world from the Womb of Mary. The Bridegroom, hereafter to be betrothed to the Church on the Cross, came forth, as it were, in the morning of that day of which the sufferings of Calvary were the evening. The Eternal Light, says St. John of Damascus (c. 756), which, proceeding from the Co-eternal Light, had His existence before all worlds, came forth bodily from the Virgin Mary, as a Bridegroom from His chamber. [Migne, P.L, vol. xcvi. p. 663.].
(6) He rejoiceth as a giant to run His course; His going forth is from the uttermost heaven.
As a giant. The commentators go back for the full solution of this mystery. For instance, St. Bernard reminds us that it was from the union of the Sons of God with the daughters of men [Gen. vi. 4.] that those ancient giants sprang, who may thus properly be called of twofold substance. It was the two Natures of our Lord by which the work of our salvation was accomplished. Thus the word giant in itself sets forth to us the whole scheme of salvation. I see, says St. Proclus of Constantinople, His miracles, and I confess His Divinity : I behold His sufferings, and I cannot deny His manhood. Emmanuel opened the gates of Nature as a Man, but it was as God He left His mother ever a virgin. He came forth from the womb of Mary as by a word He had entered ; without human corruption did He come forth [Migne, P. L., vol. Ixv. p. 691.]. St. Ambrose explains more fully the type of the giant. Him, Holy David the prophet describes as a giant, because, being One, yet He is double nature. He is both divine and human, and like a Bridegroom coming forth out of His chamber, rejoiceth as a giant to run His course. The Bridegroom of the soul is the Word ; the Giant of the earth, because fulfilling all the offices of Nature. Being God eternal He undertook the Mystery of the Incarnation.
His going forth. The Divine Master says : I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world : again, I leave the world, and go to the Father [John xvi. 28.] ; on which St. Gregory the Great asks : Would you know the steps by which He thus came ? From Heaven into the Womb ; from the Womb to the Manger; from the Manger to the Cross ; from the Cross to the Grave ; from the Grave to Heaven. Behold, to make us follow Him He took these steps, that we might say from our very hearts, Draw me, we will run after thee [Cant. i. 4.]. Compare the type of the giant with the description of the Beloved : Behold He cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills [Ibid. ii. 8.] ; the work of Redemption was far beyond human strength, and needed a divine Giant to overcome the mountains and hills which lay in His way.
(7) And His course is to the end thereof: neither is there anyone who can hide from His heat.
Carrying on in this verse the image of the sun, as the dwelling place of God, or, in other words, of the Incarnation, we see how beautifully the going forth and the course are joined. He Whom we love has now gone up to heaven ; therefore our hearts burn within us while thinking of the glory which is His, and which is to be ours. No one is hid from the heat of the Divine Sun, from that fire which He came to kindle on the earth ; for His grace waits on every soul. And the thought of our Eternal Home with Him tells us that His Ascension belongs to us as well as to the angels.
[" O common joy, O common boast,
To us and that celestial host ;
To them, that He regains the sky,
To us, that He to us is nigh."
Optatus votis omnium.].
It is our joy as well as theirs; for it is the opening of the Father's House in which we look to find our mansion.
(8) The Law of God is undefiled, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, giving wisdom to little ones.
(9) The statutes of the Lord are right and rejoice the heart : the precept of the Lord is light-some and giving light to the eyes.
(10) The fear of the Lord is holy and endureth for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous in themselves.
Christ is ascended into heaven, but His Law is left behind as the guide and rule of the Church, even to the end. Now there is a dead Law and a living Law. The letter killeth, but the spirit quickeneth, saith St. Paul [2 Cor. iii. 6.]. Then what is this living Law ? It is the abiding Presence of the Holy Ghost; in the Church to teach, in the soul to sanctify. It is by this Presence we know and can fulfil the Law. This Law, the Gift of the Holy Ghost, then, is the mantle which fell from our Elias when He went up on high, and which, if we hold steadfastly, will divide for us the Jordan of temptation [2 Kings ii. 13, 14.]. Giving wisdom to the little ones, that is, says the Carthusian, the humble, by submitting their intellect to the teaching of the Holy Ghost, show in their deeds what they believe : I praise Thee, Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them to little ones [Luke x. 21.].
Testimony properly belongs to things that are to be believed ; Precept to what is to be done. And notice, says St. Bruno of Aste, that the first character of Christ's Law is that it is un-defiled : purity being put foremost as the foundation of all the service of God, just as impurity occupies the first place in almost every scriptural text of sin ; for, says Zigabenus (1125), the greatest saints have taught more will be condemned at the end of the world for more or less direct breaches of the sixth commandment than all the other commandments put together. Says St. Peter Damian : A certain simple-minded and honest man, one that feared God, had been hearing Matins and was returning from church. His disciples asked him, What did you hear at church, father ? He answered, I heard four things and observed six. A very subtle reply, and one which showed his faith. He had heard four verses of this Psalm, in which six things are noted : law, testimony, righteousness, commandments, fear, judgment [Migne, P. L., vol. cxliv. p. 564]. Now, observe the sixfold division of these excellencies. Holy Scripture, as our blessed Lord taught us in the wilderness, gives us weapons of defence against temptation. But six is always the type of temptation [On the sixth hour of the sixth day the first temptation came into the world : the sixth petition of the Lord's Prayer is, Lead us not into temptation: the sixth blessing pronounced to the Seven Churches is: Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I will also keep thee from the hour of temptation (Apoc. iii. 10), and the whole culminates in the 666, the mark of the Beast (Apoc. xii. 18), the most fearful
of the many tempters that shall ever rise up against the Church.]
After purity, as so continually in scriptural lists of virtues, comes truth : The testimony of the Lord is sure. Then, that which our Lord Himself made one of the chief marks of His Gospel—that it should be preached to the poor—is also mentioned here : Wisdom unto the little ones. Notice further, the connection between purity (or lightsome-ness) of heart and illumination : The commandment of the Lord is lightsome and giveth light unto the eyes : exactly as in the beatitude— Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God [Matt. v. 8.]. Yet it must be confessed to be rather marvellous that holy writers on this Psalm seem unable to trace the especial connection between these six characteristics of the Word of God and do not see in them a ladder set upon earth and reaching to heaven.
Rejoicing the heart of those who through charity observe them ; for virtuous living is a natural delight.
The precept of the Lord is lightsome, that is, clear and appealing to our reason as a ray of divine justice and of eternal light giving light to the eyes of the heart, that is, to the intellect and the memory, lest they become steeped in the darkness of error.
The fear of the Lord is holy, that is, the Fear which is the gift of the Holy Ghost, the fear of sons : and remaining for ever, for bestowed while we are on earth the gift remains in heaven. There, at this moment, the human Soul of Jesus is penetrated with the reverential fear of God by the abiding Presence of the Holy Ghost.
Righteous in themselves; for not only do they come from God, and therefore must be well ordered in themselves, but as we are the objects of His judgments so we are bound to acknowledge that these judgments are right and reasonable.
(11) More to be desired are they than gold and much precious stone, sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
In these three things some commentators see the chief allurements of the world—riches, in the gold, power in the precious stones, pleasure in the honey. But, says St. John Chrysostom, the flowers that produce this honey were fed by no earthly dew ; the gentle distillations of the Holy Ghost gave them not only their beauty, but their sweetness [Corder i. 364.]. And here notice how the Psalmist constantly uses honey in a good sense, or as a type of holy things. For instances of the opposite treatment: Ye shall burn no leaven, nor any honey [Levit. ii. II.] is the command of the Law ; It is not good to eat much honey [Prov. xxv. 27.]. Perhaps, without being too minute, we may see in the special reference to the honeycomb a connection between the six-sided cell and the six-fold characteristics just mentioned of the Word of God.
(12) For Thy servant hath kept them, in keeping them there is much reward.
According to Gerohus, our thoughts are here to turn to Him, the Servant of His Father, Who when tempted in the desert drew from the same sacred Word a three-fold quotation which put to flight the Devil in his three attempts. Thy servant. Holy men have not feared to apply Well done, good and faithful servant of the parable to our Lord Who came to do the will of Him that sent Him; and Who had the praise from the people, He hath done all things well [Mark vii 37]. In keeping of them. Not for keeping of them, though that also; but here it is spoken of the promise of the Life that now is, rather than that which is to come. It is the promise of the reward of closer union with God which comes from a conscience without a stain.
(13) Who can understand sins ? From my secret sins cleanse me, and preserve Thy servant from aliens.
Who, indeed, can fathom the depth of iniquity into which he has fallen ? Who can estimate the baseness of his ingratitude to God, his presumption, his selfishness ? Who can estimate the insult sin gives to God by depriving Him of the service due from every creature ? Who can understand the awfulness of the chastisement in store ? Or who can gauge the price of forgiveness, or the value of the drops of the precious Blood ? My secret faults. These commentators dwell on the tribunal of penance in which we are ourselves the accusers and ourselves the culprits; where we proclaim the most hidden thoughts of our hearts in order that hereafter the Eternal Judge may not say, Thou didst it secretly, but I will proclaim it before all Israel and before this Sun [2 Kings xii. 12.].
Cleanse me, however bitter the medicine, however full of shame the confession. From aliens, that is, from others who see their own interests and not ours. So from the devil and other enemies of our salvation who seek to drag us into their own state of banishment from our true country. St. Bruno distinguishes two kinds of sins : the secret sins, which arise in us from original sin and from our own sinful nature; and the sins of others, the suggestions of bad spirits or of bad companions external to the soul.
(14) If they get not dominion over me then shall I be undefiled, and shall be cleansed from the great offence.
The terrible word dominion recalls the chain of sin, which, link by link, binds the soul, until one day it surely ends, if we repent not, in the great offence, that unforgiven sin, the sin against the Holy Ghost—final impenitence : Woe to them when I shall depart from them [Osee ix. 12.]. This is the second Death [Apoc. xx. 14.].
(15) And the words of my mouth will be pleasing : and the meditation of my heart always in Thy sight.
(16) O Lord my Helper and my Redeemer !
He begins with the fruit, the words of my mouth and goes down to the root, the meditation of my heart. It is singular that as this connection between the words and the thought follow in the Psalm the mention of the great offence, so that of the tree and its fruit [Luke vi. 44.] immediately succeeds in the Gospel to that saying concerning blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.
Always in Thy sight. If we lead a stainless life then our thoughts are never far away from God's Presence.
So the Psalm ends. It began by telling how the heavens declare the glory of God; it ends by telling how we should make known that glory. It began by recalling the perpetual succession of days and nights, with their ceaseless showing forth of God's praises ; it ends with the prayer that our supplications may be always pleasing before Him Who is our Helper, now that He has made us His Own, as He was our Redeemer when we were far off. Our Helper to enable us to reach the Land flowing with milk and honey ; our Redeemer from the land of Egypt and from the house of bondage.
Glory be to the Father from Whom was the going forth of the Son ; and to the Son Who cometh forth as a Bridegroom out of His chamber; and to the Holy Ghost the Spiritual heat from which nothing is hid.
Before the Maiden's couch repeat to us the sweet songs of the play.
Under the guise of a nuptial song, Solomon, in the Canticle of Canticles, sings of the spiritual espousals between Jesus Christ and the soul, between the Head and the Members of the Mystical Body. The Canticle is laid out in the form of a drama between the Beloved and the Spouse; and it is this which seems to be the play referred to in the Antiphon. The sweet songs would be those the Beloved sings to His Spouse, such as : Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone : the flowers have appeared on earth . . . Behold thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee [Cant. ii. 10; iv. 7.]. As our Lady is the highest of all creatures and the one who has been brought into closer union with her Maker than any one else, these sweet songs of the play apply to her in a more perfect way than to others. Holy Church has always delighted so to apply them and to draw out their appropriateness to her who is fairest among the daughters of men. The antiphon also accentuates the idea which seems to pervade this nocturn, viz., God's design towards Mary, the work of His hands, the sharer, by compassion, in the Redemption, the type of union of the Creature with the Maker.
From - The Little Office of Our Lady; a treatise theoretical, practical, and exegetical - Taunton, Ethelred L. (Ethelred Luke), 1857-1907