Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Psalm 6/1: An introduction

Last week I started my series on the penitential psalms by setting out the Latin Vulgate, an english translation and a musical setting of each of the seven in the set.  I'll provide links back to those posts as I go forward.  Now, I want to start providing some short reflections, or commentaries on them from a variety of sources to stimulate your own reflection!

So, for each psalm I'll offer something of an overview, then in most cases, dig a little into a few key verses of each one.

I will be focusing more on the less well-known psalms, lingering especially over this first one, Psalm 6...

Psalm 6: Domine ne in furore tuo 

First a reminder of the text (you can find the Vulgate and another recording of it here):

"O Lord, rebuke me not in your indignation, nor chastise me in your wrath. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak: heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled. And my soul is troubled exceedingly: but you, O Lord, how long? Turn to me, O Lord, and deliver my soul: O save me for your mercy's sake. For there is no one in death that is mindful of you: and who shall confess to you in hell? I have laboured in my groanings, every night I will wash my bed: I will water my couch with my tears. My eye is troubled through indignation: I have grown old amongst all my enemies. Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity: for the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication: the Lord has received my prayer. Let all my enemies be ashamed, and be very much troubled: let them be turned back, and be ashamed very speedily."


It is generally accepted that the specific context for this psalm, as with several of the other penitential psalms, is King David’s fall into serious sin (picture of David and Bethsheba below by Lucas Cranach, 1472-1553).

2 Samuel 11 relates that King David committed adultery with Bathseba, wife of Uriel the Hittite. When she became pregnant David tried to arrange it so it would look like Uriel could be the father. And then David then arranged for Uriel to be killed in battle so he could marry Bathsheba!  Nor did David repent until confronted by the prophet Nathan (bas relief below from the Madeleine in Paris).

King David suffered a severe punishment for his sin, with the death of his child by Bethsheba. Thus the penitential psalms he composed do stand as a reminder that sin incurs punishment. Just as important though, is their testimony to his transformation from sinner to saint through his attitude of intense sorrow for his sin so beautifully expressed in this psalm.

First David asks God for grace and mercy; describing the agitation that comes from being in a state of sin. Then he describes the works of penance that he offers, in the form of the vast flood of his blinding tears. The psalm ends with the assurance that God has forgiven his sins, which leads to the desire that others too, might be converted, and thus a final prayer for his enemies.

Here is the first part of it in a setting by Orlando di Lassus:

And you can find the next part of this mini-series here.


The comments and selections of commentary on the texts I will be providing rest on three sources: the Fathers, theologians and saints; the Magisterium; and modern exegetical aids.

1.  Commentaries by the Fathers, Theologians and saints, such as St John Chrysostom, St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas, St Robert Bellarmine and others: in many cases the texts are available at least in part from New Advent Fathers or the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL).  Other key sources I've used are:

St John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Psalms, trans Robert Charles Hill (three vols), Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline, Massachusetts, 1998.

St Augustine of Hippo, Expositions on the Psalms, English extracts from http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1801.htm.

St Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Psalms, translations available in most cases through the Aquinas Translation Project.

St Robert Bellarmine, A Commentary on the Book of Psalms, English translation by J O’Sullivan, published 1866, reprint 1999.

St Alphonsus Liguori, The Divine Office, Explanation of the Psalms (downloadable from here).

Craig A Blaising and Carmen S Hardin, eds, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament VII Psalms 1-50, Intervarsity Press, Illinois, 2008; Vol VIII, Psalms 51-150, ed Quentin F Wesselschmidt, 2007.

2.  Magisterium. The Bibliaclerus website provides useful links to both Magisterial and patristic sources however is clunky and difficult to use, not least because the psalms have been indexed inconsistently, in some cases using the Hebrew Bible numbering, in other cases the Vulgate numbering!
In addition it does not provide links to the General Audiences on selected psalms given by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

3.  Aids to translation and exegesis: In terms of modern aids I'm drawing primarily on the following texts:

M Britt, A Dictionary of the Psalter, Benziger Brothers, 1928 reprinted by Preserving Christian Publications: New York, 2007.

Patrick Boylan, The Psalms A Study of the Vulgate Psalter in the light of the Hebrew Text, M H Gill and Son: Dublin, 1949.

TE Bird, A Commentary on the Psalms, Vol I, London, Burns, Oates and Washbourne Ltd: London, 1927.

Richard J Foster, Psalms and Canticles of the Breviary, Birchly Hall Press, 1958.

David J Ladouceur, The Latin Psalter Introduction, Selected Text and Commentary, Bristol Classical Press, 2005.

The Navarre Bible, The Psalms and the Song of Solomon, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2003.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Thank you. I have been wanting to read a commentary on various Psalms. I will look forward to more of these.