Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Psalm 31/2: The grace of forgiveness (verse 1)

Yesterday I gave a general introduction to Psalm 31.  Today I want to start digging a little into a few of its verses, starting with the first:

Beáti quorum remíssæ sunt iniquitátes: * et quorum tecta sunt peccáta.

The idea of beatitude

Beatus simply means happy, or blessed.  It has the same meaning in the (New Testament) beatitudes.  In the first verse, it is in the plural; in the second verse, the psalmist continues with the same ideas, bringing it back to the individual.
Why is the psalmist happy?  Because his sins (iniquitas=iniquity, sin, or rebellion against God's authority; peccatum=sin, failure, error, going astray) are forgiven or pardoned (the verb is from remittere), 'covered' (tegere) or taken away altogether (the Hebrew suggests something more like 'offend the eye no longer').  The whole thrust of the verse is that sense of a lightening of one's burden experienced (hopefully) when one emerges from the confessional!
Scripture interprets Scripture?
It always important to look at how the New Testament in particular interprets passages from the Old, since the New fulfills and explains the Old.  In the case, St Paul quotes this verse in Romans 4, in his discussion on salvation:
"Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.  So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin."… No distrust made him [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was "reckoned to him as righteousness." But the words, "it was reckoned to him," were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification."

Real remission of sin

This passage by St Paul, though, is one of those passages that demonstrate the importance of reading Scripture with the guidance of the Church, for the verses are also used by Luther in his theory of the non-imputation, rather than real forgiveness of sin!
Pope John Paul II puts the text in its orthodox context:
"In the Letter to the Romans St Paul refers explicitly to the beginning of our Psalm to celebrate Christ's liberating grace (cf. Rom 4: 6-8). We could apply this to the sacrament of Reconciliation.  In light of the Psalm, this sacrament allows one to experience the awareness of sin, often darkened in our day, together with the joy of forgiveness. The binomial "sin-punishment" is replaced by the binomial "sin-forgiveness", because the Lord is a God who "forgives iniquity and transgression and sin" (cf. Ex 34: 7)."

Tomorrow, a look at verse 6 of the psalm, on admitting our faults.  In the meantime, enjoy the setting of the first verses of the psalm by the sixteenth century composer, Delalande:

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