Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Further division of the first 10 Psalms

After seeing St. Thomas' neat division of the Psalms, I wondered just how well his division really works in characterizing the Psalms in each section. So naturally I looked to his commentary on the first Psalm to see if he further divides the first chunk of 10, but alas there did not appear to be a further division. Somewhat disappointed, I moved on. Today I happened to open his commentary on the second Psalm and behold, I found the division. I should have paid more attention to the first line of the commentary on 1: "This Psalm is distinguished against the whole work, for it does not have a title but is (as it were) the title of the whole work." So Psalm 2 is where the division becomes effective.

  • State and process of the human kind in general (1)
  • Tribulations of man (2-10)
    • Invokes divine help against tribulations (2-7)
    • Gives thanks for being heard (8-9)
      • Thanks for all given to whole human race (8)
      • Thanks for what is given to him be destruction of his enemies
    • He shows the confidence received (10)

  • In tribulations, a man prays for 2 reasons
    • That he might be freed (2-6)
    • That his enemies might decrease (7)
  •  In praying that he might be freed
    • Implores help against those troubling him openly (2-4)
      • Recalls their machinations (2)
      • Implores help against those rising up now (3)
      • Trusting he is heard, he invites others to trust God (4)
    • Implores help against those trying to deceive him (5-6)
      • He prays against them (5)
      • He prays his fall might be fixed (6)
Rereading the Psalms with these things in mind, in looks as though this outline does indeed capture the shape of the Psalms. The difficulty is that so many other things are mentioned in the Psalms that it is hard to say what about it is distinctive enough to characterize its place within the larger division. For example, 7 is supposed to be about the punishment of the enemies. The first part asks to be saved from them, the next is about how he should be punished if he has done wrong, and then the rest is about that. Hm, I suppose that's plenty. Even the part where he says "if I have done wrong," this is showing that he does not want his enemies to suffer because he is malicious, but because he loves justice, willing to suffer the same if he deserves it. The division also makes some sense out of Psalm 8's place. Within the first 80 or so Psalms, only a few manage to go the whole way through without mentioning enemies of some sort. Psalm 8 just barely mentions them, "thou hast founded a bulwark because of thy foes, to still the enemy and the avenger."

One more interesting note. St. Thomas says in his commentary on 6 that each of the Penitential Psalms corresponds to one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Surely you have seven and seven, but it would take more reading to see how they relate (St. Thomas is not more specific).

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