Augustin on Psalms 5
1. The title of the Psalm is, "For her who receiveth the inheritance." The Church then is signified, who receiveth for her inheritance eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ; that she may possess God Himself, in cleaving to whom she may be blessed, according to that, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth."(4) What earth, but that of which it is said, "Thou art my hope, my portion in the land of the living"?(5) And again more clearly, "The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup."(6) And conversely the word Church is said to be God's inheritance according to that, "Ask of Me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance."(7) Therefore is God said to be our inheritance, because He feedeth and sustaineth(8) us: and we are said to be God's inheritance, because He ordereth and ruleth us. Wherefore it is the voice of the Church in this Psalm called to her inheritance, that she too may herself become the inheritance of the Lord.
2. "Hear my words, O Lord" (verse 1). Being called she calleth upon the Lord; that the same Lord being her helper, she may pass through the wickedness of this world, and attain unto Him. "Understand my cry." The Psalmist well shows what this cry is; how from within, from the chamber of the heart, without the body's utterance,(9) it reaches unto God: for the bodily voice is heard, but the spiritual is understood. Although this too may be God's hearing, not with carnal ear, but in the omnipresence of His Majesty.
3. "Attend Thou to the voice of my supplication;" that is, to that voice, which he maketh request that God would understand: of which what the nature is, he hath already intimated, when he said, "Understand my cry. Attend Thou to the voice of my supplication, my King, and my God" (verse 2). Although both the Son is God, and the Father God, and the Father and the Son together One God; and if asked of the Holy Ghost, we must give no other answer than that He is God; and when the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are mentioned together, we must understand nothing else, than One God; nevertheless Scripture is wont to give the appellation of King to the Son. According then to that which is said, "By Me man cometh to the Father,"(10) rightly is it first, "my King;" and then, "my God." And yet has not the Psalmist said, Attend Ye; but, "Attend Thou." For the Catholic faith preaches not two or three Gods, but the Very Trinity, One God. Not that the same Trinity can be together, now the Father, now the Son, now the Holy Ghost, as Sabellius believed: but that the Father must be none but the Father, and the Son none but the Son, and the Holy Ghost none but the Holy Ghost, and this Trinity but One God. Hence when the Apostle had said, "Of whom are all things, by whom are all things, in whom are all things,"(11) he is believed to have conveyed an intimation of the Very Trinity; and yet he did not add, to Them be glory; but, "to Him be glory."
4. "Because I will pray unto Thee (verse 3). O Lord, in the morning Thou wilt hear my voice." What does that, which he said above, "Hear Thou," mean, as if he desired to be heard immediately? But now he saith," in the morning Thou wilt hear;" not, hear Thou: and, "I will pray unto Thee;" not, I do pray unto Thee: and, as follows, "in the morning I will stand by Thee, and will see;" not, I do stand by Thee, and do see. Unless perhaps his former prayer marks the invocation itself: but being in darkness amidst the storms of this world, he perceives that he does not see what he desires, and yet does not cease to hope," For hope that is seen, is not hope."(1) Nevertheless, he understands why he does not see, because the night is not yet past, that is, the darkness which our sins have merited. He says therefore, "Because I will pray unto Thee, O Lord;" that is, because Thou art so mighty to whom I shall make my prayer, "in the morning Thou wilt hear my voice." Thou art not He, he says, that can be seen by those, from whose eyes the night of sins is not yet withdrawn: when the night then of my error is past, and the darkness gone, which by my sins I have brought upon myself, then "Thou wilt hear my voice." Why then did he say above not, "Thou wilt hear," but "hear Thou"? Is it that after the Church cried out, "hear Thou," and was not heard, she perceived what must needs pass away to enable her to be heard? Or is it that she was heard above, but doth not yet understand that she was heard, because she doth not yet see by whom she hath been heard; and what she now says, "In the morning Thou wilt hear," she would have thus taken, In the morning I shall understand that I have been heard? Such is that expression, "Arise, O Lord,"(2) that is, make me arise. But this latter is taken of Christ's resurrection: but at all events that Scripture, "The Lord your God proveth you, that He may know whether ye love Him,(3) cannot be taken in any other sense, than, that ye by Him may know, and that it may be made evident to yourselves, what progress ye have made in His love.
5. "In the morning I will stand by Thee, and will see" (verse 3). What is, "I will stand," but "I will not lie down"? Now what else is, to lie down, but to take rest on the earth, which is a seeking happiness in earthly pleasures? "I will stand by," he says, "and will see." We must not then cleave to things earthly, if we would see God, who is beheld by a clean heart. "For Thou art not a God who hast pleasure in iniquity. The malignant man shall not dwell near Thee, nor shall the unrighteous abide before Thine eyes. Thou hast hated all that work iniquity, Thou wilt destroy all that speak a lie. The man of blood, and the crafty man, the Lord will abominate" (vers. 4-6). Iniquity, malignity, lying, homicide, craft, and all the like, are the night of which we speak: on the passing away of which, the morning dawns, that God may be seen. He has unfolded the reason, then, why he will stand by in the morning, and see: "For," he says, "Thou art not a God who hast pleasure in iniquity." For if He were a God who had pleasure in iniquity, He could be seen even by the iniquitous, so that He would not be seen in the morning, that is, when the night of iniquity is overse
6. "The malignant man shall not dwell near Thee:" that is, he shall not so see, as to cleave to Thee. Hence follows, "Nor shall the unrighteous abide before Thine eyes." For their eyes, that is, their mind is beaten back by the light of truth, because of the darkness of their sins; by the habitual practice of which they are not able to sustain the brightness of right understanding. Therefore even they who see sometimes, that is, who understand the truth, are yet still unrighteous, they abide not therein through love of those things, which turn away from the truth. For they carry about with them their night, that is, not only the habit, but even the love, of sinning. But if this night shall pass away, that is, if they shall cease to sin, and this love and habit thereof be put to flight, the morning dawns, so that they not only understand, but also cleave to the truth.
7. "Thou hast hated all that work iniquity." God's hatred may be understood from that form of expression, by which every sinner hates the truth. For it seems that she too hates those, whom she suffers not to abide in her. Now they do not abide, who cannot bear the truth. "Thou wilt destroy all that speak a lie." For this is the opposite to truth. But lest any one should suppose that any substance or nature is opposite to truth, let him understand that "a lie" has relation to that which is not, not to that which is. For if that which is be spoken, truth is spoken: but if that which is not be spoken, it is a lie.(4) Therefore saith he, "Thou wilt destroy all that speak a lie;" because drawing back from that which is, they turn aside to that which is not. Many lies indeed seem to be for some one's safety or advantage, spoken not in malice, but in kindness: such was that of those midwives in Exodus,(5) who gave a false report to Pharaoh, to the end that the infants of the children of Israel might not be slain.(6) But even these are praised not for the fact, but for the disposition shown; since those who only lie in this way, will attain in time to a freedom from all lying. For in those that are perfect, not even these lies are found. For to these it is said, "Let there be in your mouth, yea, yea; nay, nay; whatsoever is more, is of evil."(7) Nor is it without reason written in another place, "The mouth that lieth slayeth the soul:"(8) lest any should imagine that the perfect and spiritual man ought to lie for this temporal life, in the death of which no soul is slain, neither his own, nor another's. But since it is one thing to lie, another to conceal the truth (if indeed it be one thing to say what is false, another not to say what is true), if haply one does not wish to give a man up even to this visible death, he should be prepared to conceal what is true, not to say what is false; so that he may neither give him up, nor yet lie, lest he slay his own soul for another's body. But if he cannot yet do this, let him at all events admit only lies of such necessity, that he may attain to be freed even from these, if they alone remain, and receive the strength of the Holy Ghost, whereby he may despise all that must be suffered for the truth's sake. In fine, there are two kinds of lies, in which there is no great fault,(1) and yet they are not without fault, either when we are in jest, or when we lie that we may do good. That first kind, in jest, is for this reason not very hurtful, because there is no deception. For he to whom it is said knows that it is said for the sake of the jest. But the second kind is for this reason the more inoffensive, because it carries with it some kindly intention. And to say truth, that which has no duplicity, cannot even be called a lie. As if, for example, a sword be intrusted to any one, and he promises to return it, when he who intrusted it to him shall demand it: if he chance to require his sword when in a fit of madness, it is clear it must not be returned then, lest he kill either himself or others, until soundness of mind be restored to him. Here then is no duplicity, because he, to whom the sword was intrusted, when he promised that he would return it at the other's demand, did not imagine that he could require it when in a fit of madness. But even the Lord concealed the truth, when He said to the disciples, not yet strong enough, "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now:"(2) and the Apostle Paul when he said, "I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal."(3) Whence it is clear that it is not blamable, sometimes not to speak what is trite. But to say what is false is not found to have been allowed to the perfect.
8. "The man of blood, and the crafty man, the Lord will abominate." What he said above, "Thou hast hated all that work iniquity, Thou wilt destroy all that speak a lie," may well seem to be repeated here: so that one may refer "the man of blood" to "the worker of iniquity," and "the crafty man" to; the "lie." For it is craft, when one thing is done, another pretended. He used an apt word too, when he said, "will abominate." For the disinherited are usually called: abominated. Now this Psalm is, "for her who receiveth the inheritance;" and she adds the exulting joy of her hope, in saying, "But I, in the multitude of Thy mercy, will enter into Thine house" (vet. 7). "In the multitude of mercy:" perhaps he means in the multitude of perfected and blessed men, of whom that city shall consist, of which the Church is now in travail, and is bearing few by few. Now that many men regenerated and perfected, are rightly called the multitude of God's mercy, who can deny; when it is most truly said, "What is man that Thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that Thou visitest him?(4) I will enter into Thine house:" as a stone into a building, I suppose, is the meaning. For what else is the house of God than the Temple of God, of which it is said, "for the temple of God is holy,(5) which temple ye are"? Of which building He is the cornerstone,(6) whom the Power and Wisdom of God coeternal with the Father assumed.
9. "I will worship at Thy holy temple, in Thy fear." "At the temple," we understand as, "near" the temple. For he does not say, I will worship "in" Thy holy temple; but, "I will worship at Thy holy temple." It must be understood too to be spoken not of perfection, but of progress toward perfection: so that the words, "I will enter into Thine house," should signify perfection. But that this may come to a happy issue, "I will" first, he says, "worship at Thy holy temple." And perhaps on this account he added, "in Thy fear;" which is a great defence to those that are advancing toward salvation. But when any one shall have arrived there, in him comes to pass that which is written, "perfect love casteth out fear."(7) For they do not fear Him who is now their friend, to whom it is said, "henceforth I will not call you servants, but friends,"(8) when they have been brought through to that which was promised.
10. "O Lord, lead me forth in Thy justice because of mine enemies" (verse 8). He has here sufficiently plainly declared that he is on his onward road, that is, in progress toward perfection, not yet in perfection itself, when he desires eagerly that he may be led forth. But, "in Thy justice," not in that which seems so to men. For to return evil for evil seems justice: but it is not His justice of whom it is said, "He maketh His sun to rise on the good and on the evil:" for even when God punishes sinners, He does not inflict His evil on them, but leaves them to their own evil. "Behold," the Psalmist says, "he travailed with injustice, he hath conceived toil, and brought forth iniquity: he hath opened a ditch, and digged it, and hath fallen into the pit which he wrought: his pains shall be turned on his own head, and his iniquity shall descend on his own pate."(1) When then God punishes, He punishes as a judge those that transgress the law, not by bringing evil upon them from Himself, but driving them on to that which they have chosen, to fill up the sum of their misery. But man, when he returns evil for evil, does it with an evil will: and on this account is himself first evil, when he would punish evil.
11. "Direct in Thy sight my way." Nothing is clearer, than that he here sets forth that time, in which he is journeying onward. For this is a way which is traversed not in any regions of the earth, but in the affections of the heart. "In Thy sight," he says, "direct my way:" that is, where no man sees; who are not to be trusted in their praise or blame. For they can in no wise judge of another man's conscience, wherein the way toward God is traversed. Hence it is added, "for truth is not in their mouth" (verse 9). To whose judgment of course then there is no trusting, and therefore must we fly within to conscience, and the sight of God. "Their heart is vain." How then can truth be in their mouth, whose heart is deceived by sin, and the punishment of sin? Whence men are called back by that voice, "Wherefore do ye love vanity, and seek a lie?"
12. "Their throat is an open sepulchre." It may be referred to signify gluttony, for the sake of which men very often lie by flattery. And admirably has he said, "an open sepulchre:" for this gluttony is ever gaping with open mouth, not as sepulchres, which, on the reception of corpses, are closed up. This also may be understood hereby, that with lying and blind flattery men draw to themselves those whom they entice to sin; and as it were devour them, when they turn them to their own way of living. And when this happens to them, since by sin they die, those by whom they are led along, are rightly called open sepulchres: for themselves too are in a manner lifeless, being destitute of the life of truth; and they take in to themselves dead men, whom having slain by lying words and a vain heart, they turn unto themselves. "With their own tongues they dealt craftily:" that is, with evil tongues. For this seems to be signified, when he says "their own." For the evil have evil tongues, that is, they speak evil, when they speak craftily. To whom the Lord saith, "How can ye, being evil, speak good things?"(2)
13. "Judge them, O God: let them fall from their own thoughts" (verse 10). It is a prophecy, not a curse. For he does not wish that it should come to pass; but he perceives what will come to pass. For this happens to them, not because he appears to have wished for it, but because they are such as to deserve that it should happen. For so also what he says after wards, "Let all that hope in Thee rejoice," he says by way of prophecy; since he perceives that they will rejoice. Likewise is it said prophetically, "Stir up Thy strength, and come:"(3) for he saw that He would come. Although the words, "Let them fall from their own thoughts," may be taken thus also, that it may rather be believed to be a wish for their good by the Psalmist, whilst they fall from their evil thoughts, that is, that they may no more think evil. But what follows, "drive them out," forbids this interpretation. For it can in no wise be taken in a favourable sense, that one is driven out by God. Wherefore it is understood to be said prophetically, and not of ill will; when this is said, which must necessarily happen to such as chose to persevere in those sins, which have been mentioned. "Let them," therefore, "fall from their own thoughts," is, let them fall by their self-accusing thoughts, "their own conscience also bearing witness," as the Apostle says, "and their thoughts accusing or excusing, in the revelation of the just judgment of God."(4)
14. "According to the multitude of their ungodlinesses drive them out:" that is, drive them out far away. For this is "according to the multitude of their ungodlinesses,"(5) that they should be driven out far away. The ungodly then are driven out from that inheritance, which is possessed by knowing and seeing God: as diseased eyes are driven out from the shining of the light, when what is gladness to others is pain to them. Therefore these shall not stand in the morning,(6) and see. And that expression is as great a punishment, as that which is said, "But for me it is good to cleave to the Lord,"(7) is a great reward. To this punishment is opposed, "Enter thou into the joy of Thy Lord;"(8) for similar to this expulsion is, "Cast him into outer darkness."(9)
15. "Since they have embittered Thee, O Lord: I am," saith He, "the Bread which came down from heaven;"(10) again, "Labour for the meat which wasteth not;"(11) again, "Taste and see that the Lord is sweet."(12) But to sinners the bread of truth is bitter. Whence they hate the mouth of him that speaketh the truth. These then have embittered God, who by sin have fallen into such a state of sickliness, that the food of truth, in which healthy souls delight, as if it were bitter as gall, they cannot bear.
16. "And let all rejoice that hope in Thee;" those of course to whose taste the Lord is sweet. "They will exult for evermore, and Thou wilt dwell in them" (verse 11). This will be the exultation for evermore, when the just become the Temple of God, and He, their Indweller, will be their joy. "And all that love Thy name shall glory in Thee:" as when what they love is present for them to enjoy. And well is it said, "in Thee," as if in possession of the inheritance, of which the title of the Psalm speaks: when they too are His inheritance, which is intimated by, "Thou wilt dwell in them." From which good they are kept back, whom God, according to the multitude of their ungodlinesses, driveth out.
17. "For Thou wilt bless the just man" (verse 12). This is blessing, to glory in God, and to be inhabited by God. Such sanctification is given to the just. But that they may be justified, a calling goes before: which is not of merit, but of the grace of God. "For all have sinned, and want the glory of God."(1) "For whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He, justified, them He also glorified."(2) Since then calling is not of our merit, but of the goodness and mercy of God, he went on to say, "O Lord, as with the shield of Thy good will Thou hast crowned us." For God's good will goes before our good will, to call sinners to repentance. And these are the arms whereby the enemy is overcome, against whom it is said, "Who will bring accusation against God's elect?" Again, "if God be for us, who can be against us? Who spared not His Only Son, but delivered Him up for us all."(3) "For if, when we were enemies, Christ died for us; much more being reconciled shall we be saved from wrath through Him."(4) This is that unconquerable shield, whereby the enemy is driven back, when he suggests despair of our salvation through the multitude of tribulaions and temptations.
18. The whole contents of the Psalm, then, are a prayer that she may be heard, from the words, "hear my words, O Lord," unto, "my King, and my God." Then follows a view of those things which hinder the sight of God, that is, a knowledge that she s is heard, from the words, "because I shall pray unto Thee, O Lord, in the morning Thou wilt hear my voice," unto, "the man of blood and the crafty man the Lord will abominte." Thirdly, she hopes that she, who is to be the house of God, even now begins to draw near to Him in fear, before that perfection which casteth out fear, from the words, "but I in the multitude of Thy mercy," unto, "I will worship at Thy holy temple in Thy fear." Fourthly, as she is progressing and advancing amongst those very things which she feels to hinder her, she prays that she may be assisted within, where no man seeth, lest she be turned aside by evil tongues, for the words, "O Lord, lead me forth in Thy justice because of my enemies," unto, "with their tongues they dealt craftily." Fifthly, is a prophecy of what punishment awaits the ungodly, when the just man shall scarcely be saved; and of what reward the just shall obtain, who, when they were called, came, and bore all things manfully, till they were brought to the end, from the words, "judge them, O God," unto the end of the Psalm.
1. "Of the eighth," seems here obscure. For the rest of this title is more clear. Now it has seemed to some to intimate the day of judgment, that is, the time of the coming of our Lord, when He will come to judge the quick and dead. Which coming, it is believed, is to be, after reckoning the years from Adam, seven thousand years: so as that seven thousand years should pass as seven days, and afterwards that time arrive as it were the eighth day. But since it has been said by the Lord, "It is not yours to know the times, which the Father hath put m His own power:"(8) and, "But of the day and that hour knoweth no man, no, neither angel, nor Power, neither the Son, but the Father alone:"(9) and again, that which is written, "that the day of the Lord cometh as a thief,"(10) shows clearly enough that no man should arrogate to himself the knowledge of that time, by any computation of years. For if that day is to come after seven thousand years, every man could learn its advent by reckoning the years. What comes then of the Son's even not knowing this? Which of course is said with this meaning, that men do not learn this by the Son, not that He by Himself doth not know it: according to that form of speech, "the Lord your God trieth you that He may know;"(11) that is, that He may make you know: and, "arise, O Lord;"(12) that is, make us arise. When therefore the Son is thus said not to know this day; not because He knoweth it not, but because He causeth those to know it not, for whom it is not expedient to know it, that is, He doth not show it to them; what does that strange presumption mean, which, by a reckoning up of years, expects the day of the Lord as most certain after seven thousand years?(13)
2. Be we then willingly ignorant of that which the Lord would not have us know: and let us inquire what this title, "of the eighth," means. The day of judgment may indeed, even without any rash computation of years, be understood by the eighth, for that immediately after the end of this world, life eternal being attained, the souls of the righteous will not then be subject unto times: and, since all times have their revolution in a repetition of those seven days, that per-adventure is called the eighth day, which will not have this variety. There is another reason, which may be here not unreasonably accepted, why the judgment should be called the eighth, because it will take place after two generations, one relating to the body, the other to the soul, For from Adam unto Moses the human race lived of the body, that is, according to the flesh: which is called the outward and the old man,(1) and to which the Old Testament was given, that it might prefigure the spiritual things to come by operations, albeit religious, yet carnal. Through this entire season, when men lived according to the body, "death reigned," as the Apostle saith, "even over those that had not sinned." Now it reigned "after the similitude of Adam's transgression,"(2) as the same Apostle saith; for it must be taken of the period up to Moses, up to which time the works of the law, that is, those sacraments of carnal observance, held even those bound, for the sake of a certain mystery, who were subject to the One God. But from the coming of the Lord, from whom there was a transition from the circumcision of the flesh to the circumcision of the heart, the call was made, that man should live according to the soul, that is, according to the inner man, who is also called the "new man"(3) by reason of the new birth and the renewing of spiritual conversation. Now it is plain that the number four has relation to the body, from the four well known elements of which it consists, and the four qualities of dry, humid, warm, cold. Hence too it is administered by four seasons, spring, summer, autumn, winter. All this is very well known. For of the number four relating to the body we have treated elsewhere somewhat subtilly, but obscurely: which must be avoided in this discourse, which we would have accommodated to the unlearned. But that the number three has relation to the mind may be understood from this, that we are commanded to love God after a threefold manner,(4) with the whole heart, with the whole soul, with the whole mind:(5) of each of which severally we must treat, not in the Psalms, but in the Gospels: for the present, for proof of the relation of the number three to the mind, I think what has been said enough. Those numbers then of the body which have relation to the old man and the Old Testament, being past and gone, the numbers too of the soul, which have relation to the new man and the New Testament, being past and gone, a septenary so to say being passed; because everything is done in time, four having been distributed to the body, three to the mind; the eighth will come, the day of judgment: which assigning to deserts their due, will transfer at once the saint, not to temporal works, but to eternal life; but will condemn the ungodly to eternal punishment.
3. In fear of which comdemnation the Church prays in this Psalm, and says," Reprove me not, O Lord, in Thine anger" (verse 1). The Apostle too mentions the anger of the judgment; "Thou treasurest up unto thyself," he says, "anger against the day of the anger of the just judgment of God."(6) In which he would not be reproved, whosoever longs to be healed in this life. "Nor in Thy rage chasten me." "Chasten," seems rather too mild a word; for it availeth toward amendment. For for him who is reproved, that is, accused, it is to be feared lest his end be condemnation. But since "rage" seems to be more than "anger," it may be a difficulty, why that which is milder, namely, chastening, is joined to that which is more severe, namely, rage. But I suppose that one and the same thing is signified by the two words. For in the Greek qumos, which is in the first verse, means the same as orgh, which is in the second verse.(7) But when the Latins themselves too wished to use two distinct words, they looked out for what was akin to "anger," and "rage"(8) was used. Hence copies vary. For in some "anger" is found first, and then "rage:" in others, for "rage," "indignation" or "choler" is used. But whatever the reading, it is an emotion of the soul urging to the infliction of punishment. Yet this emotion must not be attributed to God, as if to a soul, of whom it is said, "but Thou, O Lord of power, judgest with tranquillity."(9) Now that which is tranquil, is not disturbed. Disturbance then does not attach to God as judge: but what is done by His ministers, in that it is done by His laws, is called His anger. In which anger, the soul, which now prays, would not only not be reproved, but not even chastened, that is, amended or instructed. For in the Greek it is, Paideuhs, that is, instruct. Now in the day of judgment all are "reproved" that hold not the foundation, which is Christ. But they are amended, that is, purged, who "upon this foundation build wood, hay, stubble. For they shall suffer loss, but shall be saved, as by fire."(10) What then does he pray, who would not be either reproved or amended in the anger of the Lord? what else but that he may be healed? For where sound health is, neither death is to be dreaded, nor the physician's hand with caustics or the knife.
4. He proceeds accordingly to say, "Pity me, O Lord, for I am weak: heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled" (verse 2), that is, the support of my soul, or strength: for this is the meaning of "bones." The soul therefore says, that her strength is troubled, when she speaks of bones. For it is not to be supposed, that the soul has bones, such as we see in the body. Wherefore, what follows tends to explain it," and my soul is troubled exceedingly" (verse 3), lest because he mentioned bones, they should be understood as of the body. "And Thou, O Lord, how long?" Who does not see represented here a soul struggling with her diseases; but long kept back by the physician, that she may be convinced what evils she has plunged herself into through sin? For what is easily healed, is not much avoided: but from the difficulty of the healing, there will be the more careful keeping of recovered health. God then, to whom it is said, "And Thou, O Lord, how long?" must not be deemed as if cruel: but as a kind convincer of the soul, what evil she hath procured for herself. For this soul does not yet pray so perfectly, as that it can be said to her, "Whilst thou art yet speaking I will say, Behold, here I am."(1) That she may at the same time also come to know, if they who do turn meet with so great difficulty, how great punishment is prepared for the ungodly, who will not turn to God: as it is written in another place, "If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the sinner and ungodly appear?"(2)
5. "Turn, O Lord, and deliver my soul" (verse 4). Turning herself she prays that God too would turn to her: as it is said, "Turn ye unto Me, and I will turn unto you, saith the Lord."(3) Or is it to be understood according to that way of speaking, "Turn, O Lord," that is make me turn, since the soul in this her turning feels difficulty and toil? For our perfected turning findeth God ready, as says the Prophet, "We shall find Him ready as the dawn."(4) Since it was not His absence who is everywhere present, but our turning away that made us lose Him; "He was in this world," it is said, "and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not."(5) If, then, He was in this world, and the world knew Him not, our impurity doth not endure the sight of Him. But whilst we are turning ourselves, that is, by changing our old life are fashioning our spirit; we feel it hard and toilsome to be wrested back from the darkness of earthly lusts, to the serene and quiet and tranquillity of the divine light. And in such difficulty we say, "Turn, O Lord," that is, help us, that that turning may be perfected in us, which findeth Thee ready, and offering Thyself for the fruition of them that love Thee. And hence after he said, "Turn, O Lord," he added, "and deliver my soul:" cleaving as it were to the entanglements of this world, and suffering, in the very act of turning, from the thorns, as it were, of rending and tearing desires. "Make me whole," he says, "for Thy pity's sake." He knows that it is not of his own merits that he is healed: for to him sinning, and transgressing a given command, was just condemnation due. Heal me therefore, he says, not for my merit's sake, but for Thy pity's sake.
6. "For in death there is no one that is mindful of Thee" (verse 5). He knows too that now is the time for turning unto God: for when this life shall have passed away, there remaineth but a retribution of our deserts.(6) "But in hell who shall confess to Thee?"(7) That rich man, of whom the Lord speaks, who saw Lazarus in rest, but bewailed himself in torments, confessed in hell, yea so as to wish even to have his brethren warned, that they might keep themselves from sin, because of the punishment which is not believed to be in hell. Although therefore to no purpose, yet he confessed that those torments had deservedly lighted upon him; since he even wished his brethren to be instructed, lest they should fall into the same. What then is, "But in hell who will confess to Thee?" Is hell to be understood as that place, whither the ungodly will be cast down after the judgment, when by reason of that deeper darkness they will no more see any light of God, to whom they may confess aught? For as yet that rich man by raising his eyes, although a vast gulf lay between, could still see Lazarus established in rest: by comparing himself with whom, he was driven to a confession of his own deserts. It may be understood also, as if the Psalmist calls sin, that is committed in contempt of God's law, death: so as that we should give the name of death to the sting of death, because it procures death. "For the sting of death is sin."(8) In which death this is to be unmindful of God, to despise His law and commandments: so that by hell the Psalmist would mean that blindness of soul which overtakes and enwraps the sinner, that is, the dying. "As they did not think good," the Apostle says, "to retain God in "their" knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind."(1) From this death, and this hell, the soul earnestly prays that she may be kept safe, whilst she strives to turn to God, and feels her difficulties.
7. Wherefore he goes on to say, "I have laboured in my groaning." And as if this availed but little, he adds, "I will wash each night my couch" (verse 6). That is here called a couch, where the sick and weak soul rests, that is, in bodily gratification and in every worldly pleasure. Which pleasure, whoso endeavours to withdraw himself from it, washes with tears. For he sees that he already condemns carnal lusts; and yet his weakness is held by the pleasure, and willingly lies down therein, from whence none but the soul that is made whole can rise. As for what he says, "each night," he would perhaps have it taken thus: that he who, ready in spirit, perceives some light of truth, and yet, through weakness of the flesh, rests sometime in the pleasure of this world, is compelled to suffer as it were days and nights in an alternation of feeling: as when he says, "With the mind I serve the law of God," he feels as it were day; again when he says, "but with the flesh the law of sin,"(2) he declines into night: until all night passeth away, and that one day comes, of which it is said, "In the morning I will stand by Thee, and will see."(3) For then he will stand, but now he lies down, when he is on his couch; which he will wash each night, that with so great abundance of tears he may obtain the most assured remedy from the mercy of God. "I will drench my bed with tears." It is a repetition.(4) For when he says, "with tears," he shows with what meaning he said above, "I will wash." For we take "bed" here to be the same as "couch" above. Although, "I will drench," is something more than, "I will wash:" since anything may be washed superficially, but drenching penetrates to the more inward parts; which here signifies weeping to the very bottom of the heart. Now the variety of tenses which he uses; the past, when he said, "I have laboured in my groaning;" and the future, when he said, "I will wash each night my couch;" the future again, "I will drench my bed with tears;" this shows what every man ought to say to himself, when he labours in groaning to no purpose. As if he should say, It hath not profited when I have done this, therefore I will do the other.
8. "Mine eye is disordered by anger" (verse 7): is it by his own, or God's anger, in which he maketh petition that he might not be reproved, or chastened? But if anger in that place intimate the day of judgment, how can it be understood now? Is it a beginning of it, that men here suffer pains and torments, and above all the loss of the understanding of the truth; as I have already quoted that which is said, "God gave them over to a reprobate mind"?(1) For such is the blindness of the mind. Whosoever is given over thereunto, is shut out from the interior light of God: but not wholly as yet, whilst he is in this life. For there is "outer darkness,"(5) which is understood to belong rather to the day of judgment; that he should rather be wholly without God, whosoever whilst there is time refuses correction. Now to be wholly without God, what else is it, but to be in extreme blindness? If indeed God "dwell in inaccessible light,"(6) whereinto they enter, to whom it is said, "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."(7) It is then the beginning of this anger, which in this life every sinner suffers. In fear therefore of the day of judgment, he is in trial and grief; lest he be brought to that, the disastrous commencement of which he experiences now. And therefore he did not say, mine eye is extinguished, but, "mine eye is disordered by anger." But if he mean that his eye is disordered by his own anger, there is no wonder either in this. For hence perhaps it is said, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath;"(8) because the mind, which, from her own disorder, is not permitted to see God, supposes that the inner sun, that is, the wisdom of God, suffers as it were a setting in her.
9. "I have grown old in all mine enemies." He had only spoken of anger (if it were yet of his own anger that he spoke): but thinking on his other vices, he found that he was entrenched by them all. Which vices, as they belong to the old life and the old man, which we must put off, that we may put on the new man,(9) it is well said, "I have grown old." But "in all mine enemies," he means, either amidst these vices, or amidst men who will not be converted to God. For these, even if they know them not, even if they bear with them, even if they use the same tables and houses and cities, with no strife arising between them, and in frequent converse together with seeming concord: notwithstanding, by the contrariety of their aims, they are enemies to those who turn unto God. For seeing that the one love and desire this world, the others wish to be freed from this world, who sees not that the first are enemies to the last? For if they can, they draw the others into punishment with them. And it is a great grace, to be conversant daily with their words, and not to depart from the way of God's commandments. For often the mind which is striving to go on to God-ward, being rudely handled in the very road, is alarmed; and generally fulfils not its good intent, lest it should offend those with whom it lives, who love and follow after other perishable and transient goods. From such every one that is whole is separated, not in space, but in soul. For the body is contained in space, but the soul's space is her affection.
10. Wherefore after the labour, and groaning, and very frequent showers of tears, since that cannot be ineffectual, which is asked so earnestly of Him, who is the Fountain of all mercies, and it is most truly said, "the Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart:"(1) after difficulties so great, the pious soul, by which we may also understand the Church, intimating that she has been heard, see what she adds: "Depart from me, all ye that work iniquity; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping" (verse 8). It is either spoken prophetically, since they will depart, that is, the ungodly will be separated from the righteous, when the day of judgment arrives, or, for this time present. For although both are equally found in the same assemblies, yet on the open floor the wheat is already separated from the chaff, though it be hid among the chaff. They can therefore be associated together, but cannot be carried away by the wind together.
11. "For the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping; The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord hath received my prayer" (verse 9). The frequent repetition of the same sentiments shows not, so to say, the necessities of the narrator, but the warm feeling of his joy. For they that rejoice are wont so to speak, as that it is not enough for them to declare once for all the object of their joy. This is the fruit of that groaning in which there is labour, and those tears with which the couch is washed, and-bed drenched: for, "he that sows in tears, shall reap in joy:"(2) and, "blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted."
12. "Let all mine enemies be ashamed and vexed" (verse 10). He said above, "depart from me all ye:" which can take place, as it has been explained, even in this life: but as to what he says, "let them be ashamed and vexed," I do not see how it can happen, save on that day when the rewards of the righteous and the punishments of the sinners shall be made manifest. For at present so far are the ungodly from being ashamed, that they do not cease to insult us. And for the most part their mockings are of such avail, that they make the weak to be ashamed of the name of Christ. Hence it is said, "Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me before men, of him will I be ashamed before My Father."(3) But now whosoever would fulfil those sublime commands, to disperse, to give to the poor, that his righteousness may endure for ever;(4) and selling all his earthly goods, and spending them on the needy, would follow Christ, saying, "We brought nothing into this world, and truly we can carry nothing out; having food and raiment, let us be therewith content;"(5) incurs the profane raillery of those men, and by those who will not be made whole, is called mad; and often to avoid being so called by desperate men, he fears to do, and puts off that, which the most faithful and powerful of all physicians hath ordered. It is not then at present that these can be ashamed, by whom we have to wish that we be not made ashamed, and so be either called back from our proposed journey, or hindered, or delayed. But the time will come when they shall be ashamed, saying as it is written, "These are they whom we had sometimes in derision, and a parable of reproach: we fools counted their life madness, and their end to be without honour: how are they numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the saints? Therefore have we erred from the way of truth, and the light of rightousness hath not shined into us, nor the sun risen upon us: we have been filled with the way of wickedness and destruction, and have walked through rugged deserts, but the way of the Lord we have not known. What hath pride profited us, or what hath the vaunting of riches brought us? All those things are passed away like a shadow."(6)
13. But as to what he says, "Let them be turned and confounded," who would not judge it to be a most righteous punishment, that they should have a turning unto confusion, who would not have one unto salvation? After this he added, "exceeding quickly." For when the day of judgment shall have begun to be no longer looked for, when they shall have said, "Peace, then shall sudden destruction come upon them."(7) Now whensoever it come, that comes very quickly, of whose coming we give up all expectation; and nothing makes the length of this life be felt but the hope of living. For nothing seems more quick, than all that has already passed in it. When then the day of judgment shall come, then will sinners feel how that all the life which passeth away is not long. Nor will that any way possibly seem to them to have come tardily, which shall have come without their desiring, or rather without their believing. Although it can too be taken in this place thus, that inasmuch as God has heard, so to say, her groans, and her long and frequent tears, she may be understood to be freed from her sins, and to have tamed every disordered impulse of carnal affection: as she saith, "Depart from me, all ye that work iniquity, for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping:" and when she has had this happy issue, it is no marvel if she be already so perfect as to pray for her enemies. The words then, "Let all mine enemies be ashamed, and vexed," may have this meaning; that they should repent of their sins, which cannot be effected without confusion and vexation. There is then nothing to hinder us from taking what follows too in this sense, "let them be turned and ashamed," that is, let them be turned to God, and be ashamed that they sometime gloried in the former darkness of their sins; as the Apostle says, "For what glory had ye sometime in those things of which ye are now ashamed?"(2) But as to what he added, "exceeding quickly," it must be referred either to the warm affection of her wish, or to the power of Christ; who converteth to the faith of the Gospel in such quick time the nations, which in their idols' cause did persecute the Church.
Augustin on Psalms 5