Monday, 27 February 2012

Psalm 118 Aleph: Ignorance is not bliss!

Today I want to start, as I flagged last week, looking at Psalm 118 stanza by stanza, so today a look at the first eight verses of Psalm 118, which are headed by the Hebrew letter Aleph in the original text.

I’ll provide the verses here in English and Latin and a few short comments on them. Over at my Psalm Blog, you can find verse by verse notes to help you with the Latin, as well as more commentary.


Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.
2 Blessed are they that search his testimonies: that seek him with their whole heart.
3 For they that work iniquity, have not walked in his ways.
4 You have commanded your commandments to be kept most diligently.
5 O! That my ways may be directed to keep your justifications.
6 Then shall I not be confounded, when I shall look into all your commandments.
7 I will praise you with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned the judgments of your justice. 8 I will keep your justifications: O! Do not utterly forsake me.
1. Beati immaculati in via, qui ambulant in lege Domini.
2 Beati qui scrutantur testimonia ejus; in toto corde exquirunt eum.
3 Non enim qui operantur iniquitatem in viis ejus ambulaverunt.
4 Tu mandasti mandata tua custodiri nimis.
5 Utinam dirigantur viæ meæ ad custodiendas justificationes tuas.
6 Tunc non confundar, cum perspexero in omnibus mandatis tuis.
7 Confitebor tibi in directione cordis, in eo quod didici judicia justitiæ tuæ.
8 Justificationes tuas custodiam; non me derelinquas usquequaque.

On the sin of ignorance!

Today’s verses of Psalm 118 draw attention, I think, to a very important principle, rather neglected principle these days, namely that everyone has a duty to seek out the truth.

The verses for today stress that the path to happiness lies in following God’s law. But it is not enough, they tell us, to simply think that we are doing the right thing; rather we are charged to actively seek out God's testimonies.

St Bede the Venerable puts it like this:

“One who neglects to keep his known commandments is not capable of being happy; one who neglects to find out the commandments is separated much further away.”

In the context of the upcoming Australian 'Year of Grace', our bishops, I gather, want us to pray for a ‘new Pentecost’. Yet we shouldn’t forget that the preparation of the disciples for that first Pentecost was three years of intensive exposure to Our Lord’s teaching and presence.

In the context of the New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly stressed the importance of encouraging the search for truth.   This takes on a particular context for agnostics, believers in some other faith, other varieties of Christians, who we hope to direct to the fullness of revelation contained in the Church.  But it applies equally to Catholics.

The starting point for our Lenten journey, then, I propose, needs to be a commitment to learning with the aid of grace: we need to read and study Scripture, for as St Jerome reminds us, ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ; and we need to study and understand the Church’s teachings.

If we have doubts or struggles with teachings, we cannot simply disregard them at will, but rather have a duty to accept the guidance the Church provides, to seek out and  study good explanations of the reasons for them. In the modern environment, it is hard to see that many can genuinely claim to suffer from ‘invincible ignorance’, and certainly not those who claim to be a catholic and have access to the Catechism and more!

And while you think more on these verses, do listen to this fabulous modern setting of the Latin.

1 comment:

R J said...

I once heard a priest say in a sermon that in the age of near-universal Internet access, and the ability (thanks not least to Amazon and eBay) to obtain classic texts at rock-bottom prices, "'invincible ignorance' just doesn't cut it any more."

But try telling this to the hordes of Australian late-adolescents who, after 12 years of ostensibly Catholic schooling funded by the taxpayer, remain literally more ignorant of the most fundamental Catholic history than my atheist father (an improbably diligent reader of patristic literature) ever was ...