Friday, April 29, 2016

Remain Fixed

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

I will meditate on your precepts
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word.  (Ps 119:15-16)

And thus the Church exercises herself in the commandments of God against all the enemies of the Christian and catholic faith, by speaking in the abundant arguments of the learned—which are fruitful to those who compose them, if nothing but the ways of the Lord is regarded in them.  But all the ways of the Lord are, as it is written, mercy and truth*—the fullness of both being found in Christ.  Through this sweet exercise is gained also what he adds: My meditation shall be therein, that I may not forget them.  Thus the blessed man in the first psalm shall meditate in the law of the Lord day and night.†

Augustine, Exposition on the Book of Psalms 119.14

*  Psalm 25:10
†  Psalm 1:2

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Rejoicing in God's Instruction

Blessed are you, O Lᴏʀᴅ;
    teach me your statutes!
With my lips I declare
    all the rules of your mouth.
I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies,
    As much as in all riches.  (Ps 119:12-14)

You are gentle and loving, and worthy to be praised by all.  For this reason I beg to learn from You what can make me righteous.  Whatever I learn from Your goodness I shall teach to the ignorant.… The possession of Your testimonies is more satisfying to me than every kind of wealth.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary of the Psalms 119.8-9

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Pay Attention!

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.  (Psalm 119:9)

Let us listen, then, to the master of precaution: “I said, I will pay attention to my ways”; that is, “I said to myself: in the silent biddings of my thoughts, that I should pay attention to my ways.”  Some ways there are that we ought to follow; others as to which we ought to pay attention.  We must follow the ways of the Lord and pay attention to our own ways,  lest they lead us into sin.  One can pay attention if one is not hasty in speaking.  The Law says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God.”  It is not “speak” but “hear.”  Eve fell because she said to the man what she had not heard from the Lord her God.  The first word from God says to you, Hear! If you hear, pay attention to your ways; and if you have fallen, quickly amend your way.  For how does a young person amend his way; except by paying attention to the word of the Lord?  Be silent therefore first of all, and listen, so that you do not fail in your tongue.

Ambrose, Duties of the Clergy 1.2.7

Friday, April 22, 2016

Praise the God of All

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

Praise God among his saints;
    praise him in the firmament of his power!
Praise him for his acts of dominance;
    praise him according to the abundance of his greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;
    praise him with harp and lyre!
Praise him with drum and dance;
    praise him with strings and instrument!
Praise him with tuneful cymbals;
    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let all breath praise the Lᴏʀᴅ!
Hallelouia.  (Psalm 150 LXX*)

He is God not only of Jews, according to the divine apostle, but also of nations.  Actually, in the hundred and forty-fourth psalm† he said, “Let all flesh bless his holy name,” and here, Let all breath praise the Lord.  In the former case, however, he did not summon only flesh, nor in this case only breath.  Rather, through both the one and the other he urges both body and spirit to sing the praises of the God of all.  The conclusion of the whole work of the Psalms is admirable, and in keeping with the purpose of inspired composition: inspired composition urges those who have attained it to sing the praises of the Benefactor.  We do not, however, only hear the words, but here we also perceive the realization: in each city and village, in fields and on borders, on mountains and hills, and in completely uninhabited wasteland, the praises of the God of all are sung.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms 150

New English Translation of the Septuagint
†  I.e., Psalm 145.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Glorify Him!

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lᴏʀᴅ!
Praise the Lᴏʀᴅ!  (Ps 150:6)

But someone will say, “If the Divine substance is incomprehensible, why then do you discourse of these things?”  So then, because I cannot drink up all the river, am I not even to take in moderation what is expedient for me?  Because with eyes so constituted as mine I cannot take in all the sun, am I not even to look upon him enough to satisfy my wants?  Or again, because I have entered into a great garden, and cannot eat all the supply of fruits, would you have me go away completely hungry?  I praise and glorify Him that made us, for it is a divine command which says, Let every breath praise the Lord.  I am attempting now to glorify the Lord, but not to describe Him, knowing nevertheless that I shall fall short of glorifying Him worthily, yet deeming it a work of piety even to attempt it at all.  For the Lord Jesus encourages my weakness, by saying, No man has seen God at any time.

Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 6.5

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

It Is Fitting That We Praise Him

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Florence, Italy
Praise the Lᴏʀᴅ!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
    praise him according to his excellent greatness!  (Ps 150:1-2)

We must carefully observe the pleasurable sweetness with which this book of psalms ends, and how it looks back to its beginning.  The prophet says that now that the saints have been received in the heavenly Jerusalem, it is right to praise the Lord, that is, it is right for those whom He has revealed the shape of right behavior.  Earlier it was said of Him: Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, and the rest; for the saints are those who by His generosity have deserved to imitate Him.  There is a fitting explanation of the kind of reverence owed to the saints.  It is the Lord who is to be praised because they are justified, and not they themselves, for His glory should be hymned first since He permits the deeds which are to be acclaimed.  Veneration is however to be accorded to the just, because they have received divine gifts.… The strength of His power lies in the fact that He endured destruction for the salvation of all, and by virtue of His power overcame death itself, together with its most wicked founder.  He sundered the bars of hell, and led strong believers to the kingdom of heaven.

Cassiodorus, Explanation of the Psalms

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Strength of My Salvation

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

King David in Prayer - Pieter de Grebber
I say to the Lᴏʀᴅ, You are my God;
    give ear to the voice of my pleas for mercy, O Lᴏʀᴅ!
O Lᴏʀᴅ, my Lord, the strength of my salvation,
    you have covered my head in the day of battle.
Grant not, O Lᴏʀᴅ, the desires of the wicked;
    do not further their evil plot, or they will be exalted!  (Ps 140:6-8)

“For my part, on the contrary, I scorned all human things and dedicated myself to You.  I know You are Lord and God, and I await help from You.”  The repetition comes from a person of faith and longing: “In You, I place the hope of salvation, You alone being strong enough to provide salvation.  I learned this by experience, when I submitted to single combat with Goliath, and when I was engaged in battle with the Philistines, You protected me with Your aid as a shield.  Do not grant to the one hankering after my slaughter the realization of their desire.… They direct every thought to my murder, so do not strip me of Your providence lest You provide them with an occasion for deceit.”

Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms 140.3-4

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Devious and Deadly

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

Deliver me, O Lᴏʀᴅ, from evil men;
    preserve me from violent men,
who plan evil things in their heart
    and stir up wars continually.
They make their tongue sharp as a serpent's,
    and under their lips is the venom of asps.  (Ps 140:1-3)

From them free me, from them let Your hand be most powerful to deliver me.  For it is easy to avoid open enmities and to turn aside from an open, declared enemy, while iniquity is in his lips as well as his heart.  He who bears good things in his lips, while in his heart he conceals evil things, is a troublesome enemy: he is secret; he is with difficulty avoided.

What is, “war”?  They made for me what I was to fight against all day long.  For from there, from such hearts as these, arises all that the Christian fights against.  Whether sedition, schism, heresy, or turbulent opposition, it does not spring except from these imaginings which were concealed, and while they spoke good words with their lips, “all the day long did they make war.”  You hear words of peace, yet war does not depart from their thoughts.  For the words, “all the day long,” signify without intermission, throughout the whole time.

If you still seek to make out the man, behold a comparison.  In the serpent above all beasts is there cunning and craft to hurt, for therefore does it creep.  It has no feet, so that its footsteps when it comes may be heard.  In its progress it draws itself, as it were, gently along, yet not straightly.  In this way do they creep and crawl to hurt, having poison hidden even under a gentle touch.  And so it follows, “the poison of asps is under their lips.”  Behold, it is “under” their lips, that we may perceive one thing under their lips, another in their lips.

Augustine, Expositions on the Psalms 140.5

Friday, April 8, 2016

Describing the Indescribable

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

To him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
and brought Israel out from among them,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;
with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
    for His steadfast love endures forever.  (Ps 136:10-12)

And although the heavenly Scripture often turns the divine appearance into a human form,—as when it says, “The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous;” or when it says, “The Lord God smelled the smell of a good savor;” or when there are given to Moses the tables “written with the finger of God;” or when the people of the children of Israel are set free from the land of Egypt “with a mighty hand and with a stretched out arm;” or when it says, “The mouth of the Lord has spoken these things;” or when the earth is set forth as “God’s footstool;” or when it says, “Incline your ear, and hear,”—we who say that the law is spiritual do not include within these features of our bodily nature any mode or figure of the divine majesty, but diffuse that character of unbounded magnitude over its plains without any limit.  For it is written, “If I shall ascend into heaven, You are there; if I shall descend into hell, You are there also; and if I shall take my wings, and go away across the sea, there Your hand shall lay hold of me, and Your right hand shall hold me.”  For we recognize the plan of the divine Scripture according to the proportion of its arrangement.  For the prophet then was still speaking about God in parables according to the period of the faith, not as God was, but as the people were able to receive Him.  And thus, that such things as these should be said about God, must be imputed not to God, but rather to the people.  Thus the people are permitted to erect a tabernacle, and yet God is not contained within the enclosure of a tabernacle.  Thus a temple is reared, and yet God is not at all bounded within the restraints of a temple.  It is not therefore God who is limited, but the perception of the people is limited; nor is God restricted, but the understanding of the reason of the people is held to be restricted.  Finally, in the Gospel the Lord said, “The hour shall come when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem shall you worship the Father;” and gave the reasons, saying, “God is a Spirit; and those therefore who worship, must worship in spirit and in truth.”  Thus the divine agencies are there exhibited by means of members; it is not the appearance of God nor the bodily features that are described.

Novation, On the Trinity VI

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Pity and Punishment Are Both Wrought in Righteousness

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

To him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
and brought Israel out from among them,
    for His steadfast love endures forever;
with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
    for His steadfast love endures forever.  (Ps 136:10-12)

Perhaps, however, you might be at a loss to explain how the provision for death is due to mercy.  Consider, then, the solution offered by the present words: He has pity on the wronged and punishes the wrongdoers, which is in fact what the inspired author added at this point.  Mercy in Israel’s regard inflicted punishment on the others, though even former and latter are regarded in righteousness.  It was righteous of Him to have mercy on the ones, and just of Him to punish the others.  He called His operation hand and His strength arm.  Through both, however, He indicated that by the salvation worked for the people He revealed His peculiar power.

            Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms 136.5

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Adorned by Their Creator's Will

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

To him who by understanding made the heavens,
    for his steadfast love endures forever  (Ps 136:5)

To the very end of the psalm, praise is proclaimed in honorific narration, which consists of the collected explanation of His achievements, for recording the Lord's achievements is His praise.  So this is what is meant by the earlier words: Who alone has done great wonders, for He performed these things not through not through creatures but solely by the power of His divinity.  His words: He made the heavens in understanding, have delineated the very power of His dispensation.  He does not perform any actions by His sight or by emulating the constructions of others, but all that He has designated by the understanding of His majesty He brings to effect by the work of a moment.  His will embodies the consummation of events, His decree does not permit delay; as the previous psalm put it: Whatever the Lord pleased, He has done in heaven and earth.  So He made the heavens in understanding, for they were not fashioned in any confusion or disorder or misshapenness, but brought to completion well-fashioned and adorned by their Creator’s will.

Cassiodorus, Explanation of the Psalms

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Call on Him in Truth

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

The Lᴏʀᴅ is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
    he also hears their cry and saves them.  (Ps 145:18-19)

But we must look attentively at this—that not everyone who seems to pray before other people is proven to ask or to seek or to knock at the entrance of the heavenly kingdom in the sight of the searcher of heaven.  The prophet would not have said, “The Lord is near to all who call on him in truth,” unless he recognized that there are some who call on the name of the Lord, but not in truth.  They do indeed call upon the Lord in truth who do not contradict in their lives what they say in their prayers.  They call on the Lord in truth who, as they are about to offer their petitions, first busy themselves with carrying out His orders.  Those who, as they are about to say to Him in prayer, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” have fulfilled that mandate of His that says, “And whenever you stand to pray, grant pardon if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father too, who is in heaven, may forgive you your sins.”  Hence about such persons the prophet appropriately says, “He will fulfill the will of those who fear him, and will hearken to their prayers and will save them.”  Accordingly, they call on the Lord in truth who are acknowledged to fear Him.  He listens to their prayers when they cry out.  He grants their pious desires when they long for Him.  He raises them up to eternal salvation when they have passed from this life.

Bede, Homilies on the Gospels 2.14

Friday, April 1, 2016

Faithful and Kind

Continuing my posts of patristic texts coinciding with this Sunday’s Psalm study.

The Lᴏʀᴅ is faithful in all his words
    and kind in all his works.
The Lᴏʀᴅ upholds all who are falling
    and raises up all who are bowed down.  (Ps 145:14 LXX)

His truthfulness in promises is matched by His holiness recognizable in all His activity.  This too undoubtedly refers to the Lord’s abundance, when those who fall are raised, the guilty pardoned, and the battered are restored.  It is then that recollection of His sweetness is noted when the power of such deeds is beheld, and there is an outburst in praise of Him who deigned to snatch the sinner from the devil’s control.  Note that here too two things are ascribed to the Lord: He raises up those who fall but as yet have not crashed down, and he restores those who are cast down, who are already seen to have sustained a fall.  This is well observed, for we are protected from falling by His protection, and equally raised by His power so that when prostrate we can rise.  Undoubtedly, these and similar events can come to pass through the abundance of His sweetness.

The eyes of all wait upon You;
    and You give them their food in due season.
You open Your hands,
    and fill every living thing with pleasure.  (Ps 145:15-16 LXX)

In the two verses here and the later one, a broader explanation is given: those who listen to the Lord of mercy must also tremble at the just Judge.  It is of the nature of His justice that those who do not cease to hope in Him attain obtain the gifts of fullness from Him.  The food mentioned here must be understood as embracing each and every thing; some things demand physical control, and others spiritual, but to all is dispensed as one food the generosity of the Creator.  So that you should not think that what is asked for will always be given, the psalmist added in due season.  Many make petitions, but they are happily rejected.  So let us pray diligently for this one thing, that the Lord in His kindness may grant only what He knows is helpful.  As Paul says: We do not know what to pray for as we ought.  We also know that all things are established in His power when He opens His hand and every living creature is filled with blessings.

Cassiodorus, Exposition of the Psalms