Psalm xviii. (Cœli enarrant.)
Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. David. It is not known when this was composed. David praises the works and law of God. Some passages are applied to Jesus Christ and his apostles, Romans x. 18. (Calmet) — When any text of a psalm is thus quoted, many judiciously conclude that the whole must be understood in the same sense, as the harmony will thus be greater. It seems there are two literal senses here, one regarding the law, whether natural or Mosaic; the other pertaining to the apostles and the law of the gospel; (Berthier) the “beloved” David of the latter days. (Worthington)
Ver. 2. Firmament. Hebrew, “expansion,” or region of the stars, far above our atmosphere. (Berthier) — These two sentences express the same idea, unless the former may denote what we behold, and the firmament be explained of the higher heavens, (Haydock) where we imagine the throne of God to be placed. Some have taken these expressions in a gross sense, and asserted that the heavens are animated, Job xxxviii. 7. But we must allow that they are figurative expressions, which seem to give a soul to plants, stars, &c. (Calmet) — The beautiful works of God extort our admiration. (Haydock) — The silence of heaven speaks louder than any trumpet. (St. Chrysostom) — “Who can behold the heavens, and yet be so foolish as not to acknowledge that a God exists? said Cicero, (Haydock) a learned pagan; (Arusp. and Nat. Deo. 2.; Calmet) though they cannot determine of what nature the Deity may be. (Leg. i.; Menochius) — Hands. Chaldean, “Those who look up at the heavens, publish the glory of the Lord; and those who raise their eyes towards the air, announce his works.” (Calmet) — The silent works declare God’s Majesty to those who consider them, and his preachers make the same known to their hearers by word of mouth. (Worthington) — St. Paul reproaches the philosophers of paganism for not understanding the language of the creation, Romans i. 20., and Job xii. 7. (Haydock) — The Church, which is so often styled the kingdom of heaven, makes God known, not only as a Creator, but also as a Redeemer. The figure is here most beautifully preserved. Heaven denotes the Church, as the stars represent apostolic men, who cease not to perform their duties day or night, in happier days as well as under persecution. Jesus Christ is the true sun of justice, enlightening every man that cometh into the world, (St. John i.) — The Fathers have made these remarks. (Berthier) — What a consolation must it be for Catholics to think that the true doctrine will never cease, no more than the succession of day and night! We have received our creed, our orders and mission, from the apostles. The chain of succession has never been broken. Unhappy those who make a religion of their own to damn souls! who run, though God send them not! (Haydock)
Ver. 3. Utterth, with great force and abundance, eructat. — Knowledge of God. (Berthier) — Our knowledge is always on the increase. (Abenezra) — The vicissitudes of day and night prove the wisdom of their author. (Eusebius) — They seem to sing in succession the praises of God. (Bellarmine) — This evinces the power of God, as the perpetual propagation of the gospel does that of Jesus Christ, whose Church will last till the end. (Worthington) — All the chief reformers acknowledged that there was no salvation out of the one true Church, and that the Church of Rome is such. (Nightingale, p. 263.) (Haydock)
Ver. 4. There. Symmachus joins this with the preceding. “Will announce knowledge. Not by words or speeches, the sounds of which are not heard,” so as to be understood. (Haydock) — “They are not languages or words, the signification of which is unknown;” or Hebrew, “never has their voice been heard.” Beli, “not,” may also signify absque, “without;” and thus we may render, “no speeches, (or country) where their voice has not been heard.” (Berthier) — The sight of the heavens is sufficient to convince any one of the existence of God. (Haydock) — No nation, however barbarous, can plead ignorance. The Fathers have explained this of the gift of tongues, by means of which the apostles spoke languages which they had not studied, Acts ii. 4. (St. Augustine, &c.) — Some of every nation have heard, (Worthington) or will embrace, (Haydock) the Christian religion. (Worthington)
Ver. 5. Sound. So, St. Paul reads this text, though the Hebrew have, “line.” Yet there is no reason why we should suppose that the Septuagint read differently, or that the Jews have corrupted their copies, as they could derive no advantage from so doing (Berthier) here, unless it were to discredit the apostle; as infidels assert the truth of the Old Testament, to vilify the new. Kum (Haydock) may signify a “line,” (Berthier) or “writing.” (Abenezra) — The greatest exactitude has been observed in forming the world, as if all had been measured by an architect. But the sense of the Vulgate is preferable, and is adopted by Symmachus, St. Jerome, and the Syriac. (Calmet) — Protestants, “their line.” Marginal note, “their rule or direction.” Kolam, “their voice,” occurs in the preceding verse. The l might easily be lost, (Haydock) or omitted by a poetical licence. (Genebrard.) (Menochius) — Their, refers to the heavens representing the apostles, as St. Paul explains this text, to prove that all were inexcusable who would not believe the gospel. (Berthier)
Ver. 6. Sun. Here God seems to reside, (Ferrand) and the magnificence of his works shines forth, insomuch that almost all nations have offered divine honours to the sun, and even the Manichees adored it, imagining that it was the very body of Jesus Christ. (St. Augustine, contra Faust. xiv. 12., and xx. 6.) — Hebrew, “For the sun he has place a tent in them,” the heavens, (St. Jerome; Haydock) or the ends of the world. The Jews supposed that the heavens rested, like a tent, upon the earth. (Calmet, Diss.) — The Hebrew preposition l, may have (Haydock) different meanings, ad solem posuit, &c. “He placed a tent in them, at or for the sun.” The idea of the Vulgate is more noble, but we would not exclude the other, which is very good, (Berthier) and obviates the gross mistake of the Manichees. (Amama) — The Vulgate may admit the fig. hypallage, (M. Geneb.) as good authors say dare classibus austros, and thus it may signify “he placed the sun in his tent.” (Haydock) — This vast body stands in need of no vehicle, or tent, but itself. (Diodorus) — It was placed in the firmament at first, (Genesis i. 16.) and still performs its revolutions exactly. (Haydock) — Giant. Moderns would render “a strong man;” and Bythner remarks that the bulk of a giant would render him less fit for running, as if the stoutest wrestlers were not often the most active. (Berthier) — The sun is represented as a hero at some of the ancient games. St. Augustine and St. Jerome explain all this of Jesus Christ, who diffuses the light and warmth of his grace throughout the world. (Calmet) — He always resides with the Church, and is never divorced from her. (Worthington)
Ver. 7. Circuit. So the Hebrew word is rendered “revolution.” Septuagint and Vulgate, “meeting” occursus, may insinuate that the sun is found in the centre, while the earth moves daily and yearly round it, according to the Copernican system. But we must be more attentive to the life and motions of Jesus Christ, in whom the Deity resided corporally. (Berthier)
Ver. 8. The law. As the sun gives light to the world, so the law serves to direct mankind, and is another most powerful motive for us to praise God. This raises our hearts and minds still more perfectly to him, recalling us from our wanderings, and confirming our knowledge. Light is necessary for the body, and the law for the soul. The prophet admires eight characteristics of this divine law, which he designates by different names; as in the 118th psalm, some things relate only to the evangelical law, which converts souls, (Berthier) and lasts for ever, ver. 10. (Haydock) — The law of nature and of Moses are nevertheless also commended, (Theodoret) inasmuch as the morality is always the same; and some faith in Christ, to come, or already past, is requisite under every dispensation. Hence he is called the Lamb slain from the beginning. [Apocalypse xiii. 8.] Implicit faith would suffice for the less informed, before our Saviour’s coming; but now, under the light of the gospel, we must express our belief in his incarnation, as well as in the blessed Trinity. More is required of those to whom more has been given. [Luke xii. 48.] (Haydock) — Unspotted. Hebrew and Septuagint, “irreprehensible.” (Calmet) — Who indeed could pretend to find any fault with it, since it comes from God? (Haydock) — The laws of men are imperfect, and liable to change. Those of Draco were too sanguinary, and gave place to Solon’s, which were deemed too mild, &c. How happy would all be if they would embrace the law of the gospel! (Berthier) — Converting. Hebrew, “tranquillizing souls,” (Menochius) by keeping the passions under. (Haydock) — Testimony, declaring the will of God to men. — Little ones. The simple, and the wicked; as both are so called. (Calmet) — Pethi, “easily persuaded.” (Menochius) — It directs the former, and keeps the latter in awe by punishment. (Calmet) — All, in general, must confess their ignorance, and want of the divine law, to reap any benefit from it. (Haydock) — This is the first lesson which it imparts. (Berthier) — The law is most pure in itself, whether we understand that given to Moses, or the gospel. But the latter makes the observers unspotted, by the grace which the Holy Ghost communicates to them, though all who barely read and know the law, have no share in this happiness. God is the author of salvation, sweetly inviting all by the perfections of his law, which confers light and gladness, to co-operate with grace, that they may obtain the promised reward, ver. 12., and 2 Timothy iv. 6. (Worthington) — The like grace was offered from the beginning, so that none will ever be punished who has not deserved it, having had the means to perform his duty. (Haydock)
Ver. 9. Justices. The law displays what is just, and renders those who observe it agreeable to God, (St. Gregory of Nazianzus) filling their hearts with joy, by the testimony of a good conscience, and the prospect of felicity. (Calmet) (Proverbs vi. 23.)
Ver. 10. Fear; or “the law accompanied with fear;” of which he is speaking. This fear is filial and pure, such as a child must have of displeasing his father. (Berthier) — Yet even servile fear, which restrains us from committing sin, lest we incur punishment, is a gift of God, and prepares the way for charity. (Council of Trent, Session xiv. 4.) But we must not stop here, like Achab and Antiochus. If we understand by fear, the moral law, it will subsist as long as there shall be men. — Themselves. Septuagint, epi to oto, “by that very thing,” that they are the judgments of the Lord, (Haydock) who cannot do wrong, Daniel ii. 27. (Calmet) — Hebrew, “truth itself, is justified altogether.” (Haydock) — Infidels acknowledge that the morality of the Gospel is excellent, but they reject the dogmatical part. Would He, who has prescribed such noble rules of conduct, lead our understanding astray, by requiring us to believe what is false? (Berthier)
Ver. 11. Stones. So St. Jerome renders the Hebrew. Protestants, “than gold; yea, than much fine gold.” Paz (Haydock) denotes the finest gold of Uphan, or of the Phison; which is probably the river Phasis, Genesis ii. 11. (Calmet) — Yet many explain this word of the topaz or chrysolite, which is of a golden colour. The Vulgate expresses topaz, (Psalm cxviii. 127.) where the Septuagint have, “a precious stone.” — Honeycomb, as the English and German versions have it, though the Hebrew signify, “the dropping of the honeycombs;” which is the most excellent honey. (Berthier) — This interpretation is inserted in the Protestant margin, and answers to St. Jerome’s favum redundantem. Nothing can be more delicious, or more magnificent. (Haydock)
Ver. 12. For. I speak from experience. (Calmet) — If I had no other inducement, I would observe this law for the consolation, (Haydock) and repeated advantages which I have derived from it. (Theodoret) — Those who keep the same [law], and content not themselves with reading or hearing only, may feel the same impressions. — Reward: on which account the prophet declares that he observed the justifications; (Psalm cxviii. 112.) though that passage is corrupted in the Protestant version. (Worthington) — Hebrew, “wherefore thy servant shall teach them;” (St. Jerome) or rather, “is instructed by them, and convinced that in keeping them there are frequent falls. Who,” &c., 13. (Calmet) — Hekeb may indeed signify “a fall,” or tripping up the heels. But it is more commonly rendered “a reward,” (as Protestants, Mont., &c., here agree) or end, as 1 Peter (i. 9.) has it. (Haydock) — The instruction, which the observer of the laws obtains, arises from that observance, inasmuch as “he is attentive to them.” Septuagint, phulassei auta. This must therefore be understood, and is well expressed by Custodit. Taste, and see that the Lord is sweet, Psalm xxxiii. 9. (Berthier)
Ver. 13. Sins. Who can always decide when a sin is only venial? (Haydock) — Though I may have avoided the grosser transgressions, how can I be assured that my heart is innocent? (Calmet) — This assurance is reserved for Methodists, who seem to look upon it as essential, before a person can obtain salvation. But where does God specify this condition? We know that (Haydock) we are to work out our salvation in fear and trembling; and that St. Paul, though conscious to himself of nothing, said: yet in this I am not justified, &c., 1 Corinthians iv. 4., and ix. 27., and Philippians ii. 12. Hebrew speaks of “ignorances,” which might not however be wholly blameless. (Berthier) — Ones, or enemies: “….and from the proud preserve.” (Symmachus; Chaldean) But he alludes to the distinction of sins of ignorance and of pride, (Leviticus iv. 2., and Numbers xv. 30.; Calmet) or malice. (Haydock) — David had not fallen into many sins of the latter description, though his adultery and murder were such. But the former are daily sins, into which even the just fall frequently. (Calmet) — None can be assured of their state, (Ecclesiastes ix.) but are kept between hope and fear. (Worthington)
Ver. 14. Those, &c. Or “from strangers,” alienis, whose company we cannot avoid with too much caution. (Haydock) — Hebrew, “the proud.” It is conjectured (Berthier) that the Septuagint read r for d, in mizzedim. (Haydock) (Amama) — But this is not necessary, as they might include the proud, and all the wicked, under the name of “strangers,” which term is particularly applicable to idolaters, (Isaias xiii. 11.) and all scandalous sinners, who are strangers to the law; and from whose society and dominion we may all beg to be delivered. (Berthier) — Spare. Hebrew, “free,” (St. Jerome) or “withhold.” Nature is so prone to evil, that the prophet prays earnestly for grace to resist, or to be kept out of danger. (Haydock) — All sins cannot be avoided, but preserve me from wilfully committing any enormous crime. (Rivet) — Deliver me from the devil’s power. (Theodoret) — Those who are in authority have much to dread, lest they be answerable for the sins of others, which they ought to have prevented; as all must fear giving scandal, &c., and so being accessory to another’s crime. [1 Timothy v. 22.] (Haydock) — Delicta aliena affigunt me. (St. Augustine) — Yet sins of frailty, and of malice, are here meant; (Bellarmine) which last ought to be strange, or very uncommon. — Over me. Septuagint, mou. (Haydock) — St. Augustine reads dominata, which agrees better with delicta. If my secret sins, or those of others, do not oppress me, I shall pray with confidence, and be heard. (Calmet) — Yet dominata refers to alienis, strangers, or proud people, (Berthier) who are continually alluring to evil, both by word and example. How great must be the influence of such over their subjects, when even their equals take the infection so frequently! Vulgate might be rendered, “If my own had not ruled;” in which sense Pius IV used this explanation on his death bed, knowing that his kindred had abused their power. (Du Thou, B. vi. A.D. 1549.) (Haydock) — Sin, pride; the source of all evil. (St. Jerome) — “Let men at last blush to be proud, for whose sake God was humbled.” (St. Augustine) — If mortal sin be absent, the soul is just, and will be, one day, free from stain. (Worthington)
Ver. 15. Always. Hebrew, “to thy regards,” such as thou mayst approve. (Haydock) — He joins mental with vocal prayer, speaking like an evangelist. (Berthier) — Helper. Hebrew, “rock.” (Calmet) — St. Jerome and Protestants, “strength.” (Haydock) — Grace is requisite to persevere, as well as to be converted. (Worthington)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The works of God shew forth his glory; his law is to be esteemed and loved.
1 Unto the end. A psalm for David.
2 The heavens shew forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands.
3 Day to day uttereth speech, and night to night sheweth knowledge.
4 There are no speeches nor languages, where their voices are not heard.
5 *Their sound hath gone forth into all the earth: and their words unto the ends of the world.
6 He hath set his tabernacle in the sun: *and he as a bridegroom coming out of his bride-chamber,
Hath rejoiced as a giant to run the way:
7 His going out is from the end of heaven,
And his circuit even to the end thereof: and there is no one that can hide himself from his heat.
8 The law of the Lord is unspotted, converting souls: the testimony of the Lord is faithful, giving wisdom to little ones.
9 The justices of the Lord are right, rejoicing hearts: the commandment of the Lord is lightsome, enlightening the eyes.
10 The fear of the Lord is holy, enduring for ever and ever: the judgments of the Lord are true, justified in themselves.
11 More to be desired than gold and many precious stones: and sweeter than honey and the honeycomb.
12 For thy servant keepeth them, and in keeping them there is a great reward.
13 Who can understand sins? from my secret ones cleanse me, O Lord: 14 and from those of others spare thy servant.
If they shall have no dominion over me, then shall I be without spot: and I shall be cleansed from the greatest sin.
15 And the words of my mouth shall be such as may please: and the meditation of my heart always in thy sight.
O Lord, my helper and my Redeemer.
5: Romans x. 18.
6: Luke xxiv. 46.