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Bible Commentaries

Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary


- Psalms

by George Leo Haydock



The Psalms are called by the Hebrew, Tehillim; that is, hymns of praise. The author, of a great part of them at least, was king David; but many are of opinion, that some of them were made by Asaph and others, whose names are prefixed in the titles. (Challoner) --- These, however, are not unquestionably of divine authority, though they deserve to be respected. (Calmet) --- St. Jerome (ad Cyprian) says: "Let us be convinced that those labour under a mistake, who suppose that David was the author of all the Psalms, and not those whose names appear in the titles." Paine is not, therefore, the first who has made this discovery. (Watson) (2 Paralipomenon xxix. 30.) --- Psalm lxxvi., compared with Psalms xxxviii., lxiv., lxx., cxi., cxxv., cxxxvi., and cxlv., seems favourable of this opinion, (Calmet; Tirinus; &c.) which is contrary to St. Ambrose, &c. The matter is not of great moment, as all confess that the 150 Psalms were dedicated by the Holy Ghost. (Du Hamel) --- St. Augustine (City of God xvii. 14.) attributes all the Psalms to David; and it seems best to adhere to this opinion, as it is most generally received. (Menochius) --- Our Saviour cites the cix. Psalm as belonging to David, (Matthew xxii. 44.) agreeably to the title; and the 2d Psalm is also attributed to him, by the apostles, (Acts iv. 25.) though it have no title at all, no more than the first. (Haydock) --- It has generally been asserted, that when a Psalm is in this position, it must be referred to the author who was mentioned last. But Bellarmine calls this in question: and the titles of themselves afford but a precarious argument, either to know the author or the real import of the Psalm. (Calmet) --- St. Jerome himself (ad Paulin.) seems to suppose that David was the writer of all the Psalms, (Worthington) and that he has left us compositions which may vie with those of the most celebrated pagan bards. In effect, nothing could excel the harmony of these divine hymns, to judge even from a translation. (Fleury.) --- What then would they be in the original? The difficulty of coming to a perfect knowledge of the author’s meaning, arises chiefly from the variety of translations and commentaries, which have been more numerous on this work than any other. To examine all minutely, would require more volumes than our present limits will allow. The version which we have to explain, is not that which St. Jerome made from the Hebrew and which possesses the same intrinsic merit as the rest of his works: but the Church has declared authentic the holy doctor’s corrected (Haydock) version from St. Lucian, (Bellarmine; Tirinus) or from the Septuagint as the people had been accustomed to sing the psalter in that manner; and it would have been difficult for them to learn another. (Calmet) --- A critical examination would show, that the Septuagint have not so often deviated from the original [Hebrew] as some would pretend. See Berthier, &c. Pellican extols the fidelity of our version on the Psalms, though he was a Protestant. (Ward. Err. p. 6.) --- When therefore we offer a different version, we would not insinuate that the Vulgate is therefore to be rejected. The copiousness of the Hebrew language, (Haydock) and on some occasions the uncertainty of its roots, or precise import, (Somon. Crit.) ought to make every one diffident in pronouncing peremptorily on such subjects. Let us rather adhere to the decision of the Church, when it is given on any particular text; and when she is silent, let us endeavour to draw the streams of life from our Saviour’s fountains, and read for our improvement in virtue. (Haydock) --- No exhortations could be more cogent, than those which we may find in the Psalms. They contain the sum of all the other sacred books, as the Fathers agree. (St. Augustine; St. Basil; &c.) To understand them better, we must reflect upon what key or string they each play. Expositors discover ten such stings on this mysterious harp: 1. God; 2. his works; 3. Providence; 4. the peculiar people of the Jews; 5. Christ; 6. his Church; 7. true worship; 8. David; 9. the end of the world; 10. a future life. On some of these subjects the Psalm principally turns. The titles, composed by Esdras, or the Septuagint, (Worthington) or by some other, (Calmet) will often point out the subject; and if that be not the case, the context and other parts of Scripture will (Worthington) commonly (Haydock) do it. (Worthington) --- The greatest stress must be laid on these. (Calmet) --- An intimate acquaintance with the history of David, and with the Jewish and Christian religion, will also be of essential service to enable us to penetrate the hidden treasures contained in these most heavenly canticles. (Haydock) --- David excels all the pagans in point of antiquity, as he lived 100 years before Homer. His natural genius led him to follow the pursuits of poetry and music; (1 Kings xvi. 23.) and God inspired him to compose these poems, as works in metre are more easily remembered, and make a more pleasing impression upon the heart. Hence Moses and other prophets adopted the same plan, both in the Old and the New Testament. The pious king [David] not being permitted to build the temple, made nevertheless all necessary preparations for it; and among the rest, procured 288 masters of music to train up 4000 singers, 1 Paralipomenon xxiii. 25. He foresaw that these Psalms would be of service, not only on the Jewish festivals, but also in the Christian Church, (Psalm lvi., 10., &c.) gathered from all nations, (Worthington) among whom he sings by the mouths (Haydock) of the clergy, who are commanded daily to sing or recite some of these Psalms. (Worthington) --- The psalter takes its name from an instrument of ten strings, resembling the Greek [letter] Lamda, (Ven. Bede) and sounding from above, to insinuate that we may (Worthington) here learn to observe (Haydock) all the decalogue, and to aim at heaven. If difficulties present themselves in the perusal of these sacred writings, we must remember not to trust private interpretation, (2 Peter i.) but to the doctrine of the Church, (John xiv. 16., and 1 Corinthians xii.) which we may find in the works of the holy Fathers, (St. Augustine, Doct.[On Christian Doctrine?]) and exercise ourselves in humility, when any thing occurs above our comprehension. (St. Gregory xvii. in Ezechiel) (Worthington) --- We must pray with all earnestness to the Father of Lights, and surely no prayers can be more efficacious to obtain what we want, than those which he has here delivered. Whether just or sinners, whether in joy or sorrow, we may here find what may be suitable for us. (Haydock) --- In hoc libro spiritualis Bibliotheca instructa est. (Cassiodorus)