Expositions on the Book of Psalms.
by Saint Augustin, Bishop of Hippo.
edited, with brief annotations, and condensed from the six Volumes of the Oxford translation, by A. Cleveland Coxe, D.D., Editor of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, etc.
The delightful task of editing these Enarrations, which was what I undertook, became, indeed, a very painful one when the general editor informed me that the whole work must be comprised in a single volume of the series. This allowed but one hundred pages to each one of the six volumes of the Oxford translation. But I felt that my learned friend was right (1) in deciding that St. Augustin's treatment of the Psalms must not be wanting to the series, and (2) that the exposition is so diffuse and digressive, that it readily admits of abridgement, if these exceptional features supply the material for retrenchments. In working out the result, I have "done what I could." I have preserved the African Psalter entire, with as much of the comment as was possible; even so overrunning, at the publishers' cost, the six hundred pages which were all subscribers might expect. The only means of avoiding this was to omit entirely the CXIXth Psalm, an expedient to which I could not consent.
To the primitive believers came the Psalter, like an aftermath, wet with the dews of a new birth as from the womb of the morning. The Spirit had descended upon it anew, as showers upon the mown grass; and it had sprung up afresh, sweeter than before, for the pasture of flocks. The Church received it as full of Christ, as the inheritance of a nobler and truer Israel, for which His coming had illuminated it with a genuine interpretation, painting even its darker and clouded surfaces with the bow of promise, now made the symbol of an everlasting covenant and of all promises fulfilled in Him. Hence the local and temporary meanings of the Psalms were regarded as insignificant. Their Sinaitic comminations and their conformities to the Law were but prophecies which the Jews had voluntarily appropriated by rejecting the Son of David. They were types of what had been fulfilled in their rejected Messiah. The Church received the Psalter from the temple and the synagogue, 1 and adopted it into liturgic use, "with hymns and spiritual songs," all magnifying the crucified and glorified Christ. With the fulfillment of prophecy by the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the Jews, everything pertaining to the law was sloughed from its ripened stalk; and the Psalter blossomed with the consummate flowers and fruitage which were its deeper intent, and which had waited so long to be disclosed. The true David had come, and little thought of the typical David was to be entertained: the true Israel was to be seen everywhere, and the dead images of legal rites and symbols were to be interpreted only by the Gospel. To bring out its hidden meanings, the reading and chanting of the Psalter received the accentuation of antiphons and doxologies, and constantly elevated the worshippers into the newness of the spirit out of the oldness of the letter. Thus the whole book breathed a sweetness unknown to the Hebrews, but for which kings and prophets had patiently waited. The name of Jesus disclosed itself in every reference to salvation, and perfumed these sacred odes with a flavour that could come only from "the Root and the Offspring of David." Such was the Psalter to the primitive faithful: the walk of Emmaus had opened their eyes to behold the Lord. To the true interpretation of the Psalms St. Paul had supplied the key, and from the beginning of the Church's institutions we find evidences of the enthusiasm with which the Psalter was appropriated in all of the richness of its evangelic import. The earliest Fathers are full of what the genius of Augustin has embodied in his Enarrations, which nobody must confound with works of scientific exegesis. The author's one idea was widely different from that of modern critics. His "accommodations" of Scripture, as they would now be called, are part of the system which the Church had received, of which Christ was the Alpha and the Omega, and in which the foreshadowing David was nowhere. 2 He who comes to this volume with any other conception of its uses will be sadly disappointed. In the critical study of the Psalms, with all of the modern helps, such as Delitzsch and others have so richly supplied, let us not fail to exercise ourselves day and night; but if, as Christians, we wish to catch the living Spirit that animates the "wheels" or mechanical structure of the Psalms, let us learn from Augustin that indeed in every sense a greater than David, a "greater than Solomon, is here." The fanciful ingenuity with which our author interweaves the New Testament with the Psalms will at first provoke a smile. His ideas seem often overstrained and unnatural. But let us reflect that he is animating the Church of Christ with the true "spirit of prophecy," which is the "testimony of Jesus;" that his object is to hang Gospel associations upon every stem and twig that come from the root of Jesse, and to wean even the Hebrew Christians from their instinctive references to the Law. Let us adopt these joint conceptions of the work, and we shall find in it a glorious illustration of the Apostle's assurance, "Ye are not come unto the mount that burned with fire, ...but unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, ...and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant."
In every way the divine and the student will find this work, even as here presented, a noble introduction to patristic studies. Let us observe also what it proves. It gives us the old African psalter in all its rude and uncouth conceptions of the Septuagint, and teaches us how much we owe to the erudition and labours of St. Jerome. First of all, the dignity of the Holy Scriptures, and their importance to all Christians, are assumed. Its historical values are very great: it shows the absolute freedom of the early Church from the corruptions of mediaevalism. The Pentecostal unity of Christendom, the Catholic and Apostolic system as defined in the constitutions of Nicaea and Constantinople, the autonomy of national Churches, the independence of the African Church (illustrated by the personal history of Augustin, who rejected communion with the Bishop of Rome when he stretched his claims beyond seas), and the dogmatic primacy of the patriarchate of Carthage in Latin Christendom as the mother of its theology, are assumed in every reflection upon the Donatists, and in the tone and voice of the great preacher himself, to whom the Western Churches owe all that survives their schism and corruptions, even to our own day. But the ethical and doctrinal teacher will find the charm of these pages, (1) in their correspondence with the evangelical precepts of the Sermon on the Mount, and their freedom from the tainted distinctions and dilutions of modern casuists; (2) in their perpetual enforcement of the Pauline ideas of justification, harmonized successfully with those of St. James; (3) in the faithful exhibition of the doctrines of grace; (4) and in the loyalty to Jesus Christ of every word; abasing human merit, and presenting Him as "the end of the law for righteousness," with an uncompromising tenacity, and a persevering reiteration of this fundamental verity which seems to foresee the gross departure of Western Churches from their original purity, and to "lay an anchor to windward" for their restoration to orthodoxy.
The readers of this volume will need little reference to the innumerable commentaries which have been devoted to the Psalter; but I must mention the exceptional work of the late erudite J. Mason Neale, D.D., because it throws light on the liturgical history of the Psalter in the Western Churches. The learned commentary of the late Bishop of Lincoln, Dr. Wordsworth, will be found to combine in a remarkable degree, with critical exposition, the Augustinian spirit of devout evangelical associations and elevations.
The editor of this volume blesses God for much spiritual help and comfort afforded by the review of these "songs of our pilgrimage," with which his task has enriched the latest years of that period of our mortality beyond which all is but labour and sorrow.
A. C. C.
May 10, 1888.
It remains to note that I have had the Benedictine edition in the types of Louvain and of Migne constantly at hand, and have referred to them not only in all cases of doubt, but for general refreshment of mind; the epigrammatic beauty and consonance of Augustin's Latin being untranslatable. From the Oxford translations I have rarely departed, and in all important instances have noted the wherefore in the margin. It was not the design of this series to give the reader any other than the masterly work of the scholars to whom we owe its appearance. Other instances have been such inconsiderable adaptations as are demanded in the suture of parts dislocated by abridgment. My brief annotations are always bracketed and marked by an initial of my name.
It seems necessary to give the following outline of the history of this Oxford translation. It was undertaken as part of the great series of original translations which appeared "under the patronage of William, Archbishop of Canterbury, from its commencement, a.d. 1836, until his Grace's departure in peace, a.d. 1848." It proposed to include all the "Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church before the division of the East and West," and this exposition was dedicated as a memorial of Archbishop Howley in the following words:--
"To the memory of the most reverend father in God, William, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of all England, formerly Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford, this Library of ancient bishops, fathers, doctors, martyrs, confessors, of Christ's Holy Catholic Church, undertaken amid his encouragement, and carried on for twelve years under his sanction, until his departure hence in peace, is gratefully and reverently inscribed."
The preface to the first volume was by the saintly Charles Marriott of Oriel College, with whom I enjoyed some acquaintance. It is well worth preserving here, 3 and is as follows:--
In any commentary on a portion of the Old Testament by a writer unacquainted with Hebrew, exact criticism, and freedom from mistake, must not be expected. But the Psalms have been so in the mouth and in the heart of God's people in all languages, that it has been necessary often to find an explanation suitable to imperfect translations. And no doubt it is intended that we should use such explanations for the purpose of edification, when we are unable to be more accurate, though in proving doctrine it is necessary always to remember and allow for any want of acquaintance with the original, or uncertainty with respect to its actual meaning. However, the main scope and bearing of the text is rarely affected by such points as vary in different translations, and the analogy of the faith is sufficient to prevent a Catholic 4 mind from adopting any error in consequence of a text seeming to bear a heterodox meaning. Perhaps the errors of translation in the existing versions may have led the Fathers to adopt rules of interpretation ranging too far from the simple and literal; but having such translations, they could hardly use them otherwise. Meanwhile St. Augustin will be found to excel in the intense apprehension of those great truths which pervade the whole of Sacred Writ, and in the vivid and powerful exposition of what bears upon them. It is hardly possible to read his practical and forcible applications of Holy Scripture, without feeling those truths by the faith of which we ought to live brought home to the heart in a wonderful manner. His was a mind that strove earnestly to solve the great problems of human life, and after exhausting the resources, and discovering the emptiness, of erroneous systems, found truth and rest at last in Catholic Christianity, in the religion of the Bible as expounded by St. Ambrose. And though we must look to his Confessions for the full view of all his cravings after real good, and their ultimate satisfaction, yet throughout his works we have the benefit of the earnestness with which he sought to feed on the "sincere milk of the word."
His mystical and allegorical interpretation, in spite of occasional mistakes, which belong rather to the translation than to himself, will be found in general of great value. It is to a considerable extent systematic, and the same interpretation of the same symbols is repeated throughout the work, and is indeed often common to him with other Fathers. The "feet" taken for the affections, "clouds" for the Apostles, and many other instances, are of very frequent occurrence. And it is evident that a few such general interpretations must be a great help to those who wish to make an allegorical use of those portions of Holy Scripture which are adapted for it. Nor are they adhered to with such strictness as to deprive the reader of the benefit of other explanations, where it appears that some other metaphor or allegory was intended. Both St. Augustin and St. Gregory acknowledge, and at times impress on their readers, that metaphorical language is used in Holy Scripture with various meanings under the same symbol.
The discourses on the Psalms are not carried throughout on the same plan, but still are tolerably complete as a commentary, since the longer expositions furnish the means of filling out the shorter notices, in thought at least, to the attentive reader of the whole. They were not delivered continuously, nor all at the same place. Occasionally the author is led by the circumstances of the time into long discussions of a controversial character, especially with respect to the Donatists, against whose narrow and exclusive views he urges strongly the prophecies relating to the universality of the Church. Occasionally a Psalm is first reviewed briefly, so as to give a general clew to its interpretation, and then enlarged upon in several discourses.
For the present translation, as far as the first thirty Psalms, the editors are indebted to a friend who conceals his name; for the remainder of the volume, with part of the next which is to appear, to the Rev. J. E. Tweed, M.A., chaplain of Christ Church, Oxford.
After the first two volumes edited by Mr. Tweed of Christ Church, the third volume (carrying the work down to the end of Psalm lxxv.) appeared with this announcement signed by Mr. Marriott: "The whole of it, as well as a few Psalms at the end of the former and the beginning of the following volume, is translated by T. Scratton, Esq., M.A., of Christ Church, Oxford." The fifth volume appeared in April, 1853, with the name of the Rev. H. M. Wilkins, M.A., of Merton College, as translator. In December, 1857, came forth the last volume, with the following advertisement from the pen of Dr. Pusey:--
The first hundred pages of this volume were printed, when it pleased God to withdraw from all further toil our friend, the Rev. C. Marriott, upon whose editorial labours the Library of the Fathers had for some years wholly depended. Full of activity in the cause of truth and religious knowledge, full of practical benevolence, expanding himself, his strength, his paternal inheritance, in works of piety and charity, in one night his labour was closed, and he was removed from active duty to wait in stillness for his Lord's last call. His friends may perhaps rather thankfully wonder that God allowed one, threatened in many ways with severe disease, to labour for Him so long and so variously, than think it strange that He suddenly, and for them prematurely, allowed him thus far to enter into his rest. To those who knew him best, it has been a marvel how, with heath so frail, he was enabled in such various ways, and for so many years, to do active good in his generation. Early called, and ever obeying the call, he has been allowed both active duty and an early rest.
This volume, long delayed, has been completed by the Rev. H. Walford, Vice-Principal of St. Edmund's Hall. The principal of St. Edmund Hall, Dr. Barrow, has, with great kindness, allowed himself to be referred to in obscure passages.
St. Augustin's Commentary on the Psalms, then, is now, by the blessing of God, completed for the first time in an English garb. Although, as a commentary, it from time to time fails us, because it explains minutely and verbally a translation of Holy Scripture different from and inferior to our own, yet, on this very ground, it is the more valuable when the translations agree. For St. Augustin was so impressed with the sense of the depth of Holy Scripture, that when it seems to him, on the surface, plainest, then he is the more assured of its hidden depth. 5 True to this belief, St. Augustin pressed out word by word of Holy Scripture, and that, always in dependence on the inward teaching of God the Holy Ghost who wrote it, until he had extracted some fullness of meaning from it. More also, perhaps, than any other work of St. Augustin, this commentary abounds in those condensed statements of doctrinal and practical truth which are so instructive, because at once so comprehensive and so accurate.
May He under whose gracious influence this great work was written, be with its readers also, and make it now, as heretofore, a treasure to this portion of His Church.
E. B. P.
St. Augustin on the Psalms.