Thursday, 22 March 2012

On the limits to dialogue: Psalm 118 (119) Samech


Continuing this Lenten series on Psalm 118, yesterday I looked at verse 116 of this stanza, today the stanza as a whole, which deals with those who oppose the faith.

This is the fifteenth (of the 22) stanza of this psalm, and its main focus is those who break the law of God, as Cassiodorus explains:

“The swarm of Catholics passes to the fifteenth letter, under which they say that the unjust, in other words, the opponents of the law, have been an object of hatred to them. They state that they have loved the Lord's law, and ask that they should be taken up by His devotion and thus be enabled to escape the evils of the world. They further ask that their flesh be subjected by fear of the Lord, so that it cannot be condemned at the divine judgment for transgression of the law.”

Accordingly, these verses raise the question of what our proper attitude should be to those in a state of sin, and how much effort we should devote to their conversion, as opposed to worrying about our own souls!

Love the sinner, hate the sin?

The opening of this stanza sounds at first like a fairly harsh:

Iníquos ódio hábui, I have hated the unjust

St Augustine, however makes it clear that the second half of the verse ‘I have loved your law’ is intended to make clear that we are being invited here to hate the sin, not the sinner:

“He says not, I hate the wicked, and love the righteous; or, I hate iniquity, and love Your law; but, after saying, I have hated the unrighteous, he explains why, by adding, and Your law have I loved; to show, that he did not hate human nature in unrighteous men, but their unrighteousness whereby they are foes to the law, which he loves.”

Nonetheless, the verse goes on to point to God’s attitude to sinners:

118 Sprevísti omnes discedéntes a judíciis tuis: quia injústa cogitátio eórum.
You have despised all them that fall off from your judgments; for their thought is unjust.

It is true of course that God doesn't literally have emotions; all the same, this is one of those areas where modern soft-soaping of the truth hides a hard reality we need to confront, as St Robert Bellarmine’s comments illustrate:

“He now shows, that if he does hate the wicked and wishes they should keep away from him, he is only following God's example therein, who has a most thorough and most just execration of the wicked. "Thou hast despised," as you would a thing of no value, "all them that fall off from thy judgments;" all the wicked who have abandoned the path of God's law; "for their thought is unjust;" because they think they ought not be subject to the law of God, and that they should set no value on it, one of the most impious ideas they could possibly entertain, since every creature is strictly bound to obey its Creator. Such were the notions of Lucifer, who instead of being subject to, sought to put himself on an equality with, his Creator. Such was the idea of our first parents, who desired to be like God. Such are the ideas of all proud people, who say in their hearts, "Who is our Lord?" It is such as those that God despises…”

Repentance is still possible!

Of course in this life, repentance is always possible, and so we are urged to pray for our enemies, instruct those who need it, engage in fraternal correction, and so forth.

But there is a bottom line here, namely that we have to save our own souls first. ‘Dialoguing with the world’ is fine for those whose faith is firm and secure, but even for those able to do it, there is a limit and a danger. There is a point at which we must say, like the psalmist:

115 Declináte a me, malígni: et scrutábor mandáta Dei mei.
Depart from me, you malignant: and I will search the commandments of my God.

Cassiodorus puts this in the context of the martyrs, resisting the urging of families to submit, but it is equally applicable to the commitment to religious life that I spoke of in the last post, or indeed perseverance in any state of life or cause:

“When Christ instructs us to love our enemies, the fire of opposition and the heat of injustice are tempered, so that we are far from appearing to render evil for evil…But when the time for martyrdom confronts us, we are bidden to hate those who wickedly suborn us, for we must spurn our very sons and parents if they oppose us, by making our intentions foreign to theirs. It often happens that persons who are not frightened by fire or subdued by the sword are seduced by the coaxing of relatives. This is why Scripture says: If any man come to me, and hate not his father and his mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters, yea, and even his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. The fact is that no person should be preferred to God; but if His love is put first, it is right that we love our relatives when no opposition to the faith militates against them.”

No wonder then, that the stanza ends with a plea to help us stay on the right track, to be crucified with Christ:

Confíge timóre tuo carnes meas: a judíciis enim tuis tímui.
Pierce my flesh with your fear: for I am afraid of your judgments.


Samech

113 Iníquos ódio hábui: * et legem tuam diléxi.
I have hated the unjust: and have loved your law.

114 Adjútor et suscéptor meus es tu: * et in verbum tuum supersperávi.
You are my helper and my protector: and in your word I have greatly hoped.

115 Declináte a me, malígni: * et scrutábor mandáta Dei mei.
Depart from me, you malignant: and I will search the commandments of my God.

116 Súscipe me secúndum elóquium tuum, et vivam: * et non confúndas me ab exspectatióne mea.
Uphold me according to your word, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my expectation.

117 Adjuva me, et salvus ero: * et meditábor in justificatiónibus tuis semper.
Help me, and I shall be saved: and I will meditate always on your justifications.

118 Sprevísti omnes discedéntes a judíciis tuis: * quia injústa cogitátio eórum.
You have despised all them that fall off from your judgments; for their thought is unjust.

119 Prævaricántes reputávi omnes peccatóres terræ: * ídeo diléxi testimónia tua.
I have accounted all the sinners of the earth prevaricators: therefore have I loved your testimonies.

120 Confíge timóre tuo carnes meas: * a judíciis enim tuis tímui.
Pierce my flesh with your fear: for I am afraid of your judgments.

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