Saturday, May 18, 2013

St. Thomas' Proem to the Psalms

Causes of the Book of Psalms
  • material: all of theology; and since all divinity is found in Christ, the matter of this book is Christ and his members
    • creation
    • governance
    • reparation, that is, Christ
    • glorification
  • form or mode: deprecative/laudative
    • He gives other modes used in Scripture: narrative, hortatory, dispute
  • end: prayer, i.e, the raising of man's mind to God (done in 4 ways)
    • admire the loftiness of his power
    • excellence of eternal beatitude
    • divine goodness and holiness
    • divine justice
  • agent/author: the Holy Spirit
He then makes other divisions and explanations: four ways in which this book is the word of glory, three ways of prophecy, three translations available. He lays down an important rule from St. Jerome, namely, that "events are to be expounded as prefiguring something about Christ or the Church." He says this after bringing up a council which rejected as heresy the position that these Psalms do not speak explicitly about Christ.

 St. Thomas then looks at 3 ways of dividing the Psalms.
  • The first is by dividing them into 70 and 80, numbers which come from 7 and 8. 7 signifies the present life, and 8 the next life. Again, 7 signifies the Old Law (for they observe the 7th day) and 8 signifies the New Law (which observes the 8th day)
  • The second is the five-book division discussed in the earlier post: he basically disregards it
  • The third is a threefold division into 50 psalms each, corresponding to the three states of the faithful: penance, justice, and eternal glory
  • The state of penance is signified by the tribulations suffered by David
    • Twofold attack and tribulation is prayed against
      • Attack against the entire people of God (Ps. 41-50)
      • Attack against the just man
        • By persecutors in temporal order
          • From special persons
            • Absalom, i.e., loved ones (Ps. 1-10)
            • Saul, i.e., outsiders (Ps. 11-20)
          • From the whole people (Ps. 21-30)
        • By those who live unjustly (Ps. 31-40)
 Well, that's the division he gives of the first 50. Thankfully, he wrote a commentary on the Psalms through 54, so we have his division of the next 50 as well (in his commentary on psalm 51). Even without that, it will take some time going through the psalms more carefully to see if what St. Thomas says corresponds well to the text. Certainly I had noticed a theme of tribulation. It always seemed like there was a just man (perhaps a sinner in need, but one who trusted God), some sort of enemy, and then God.

Before closing this, it is worth remembering the end of the Psalms: to raise the mind to God, to be united with him. Let us pray for this end.

A bonus text from St. Gregory the Great on Ezekiel, related to the heart: "the voice of psalmody if it is done with the intention of the heart, prepares the way for almighty God through it to the heart, so that he may pour in mysteries or the grace of compunction, by an intent soul or prophecy."

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