Augustin on Psalms 137
1. ...But to-day we have sung, "By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered Sion" (verse 1). ...
2. Observe "the waters of Babylon." "The waters of Babylon" are all things which here are loved, and pass away. One man, for example, loveth to practise husbandry, to grow rich thereby, to employ his mind therein, thence to gain pleasure: let him observe the issue, and see that what he hath loved is not a foundation of Jerusalem, but a stream of Babylon. Another saith, It is a grand thing to be a soldier: all husbandmen fear those who are soldiers. ...
3. But then other citizens of the holy Jerusalem, understanding their captivity, mark how the natural wishes and the various lusts of men hurry and drag them hither and thither, and drive them into the sea; they see this, and they throw not themselves into the waters of Babylon, but "sit down and weep," either for those who are being carried away by them, or themselves whose deserts have placed them in Babylon, but sitting, that is, humbling themselves. O holy Sion, where all stands firm and nothing flows! Who hath thrown us headlong into this? Why have we left thy Founder and thy society? Behold, placed where all things are flowing and gliding away, scarce one, if he can grasp the tree, shall be snatched from the stream and escape. Humbling ourselves then in our captivity, let us "sit by the waters of Babylon," let us not dare to plunge ourselves in those streams, nor to be proud and lifted up in the evil and sadness of our captivity, but let us sit, and so weep. Let us sit "by" the waters, not beneath the waters, of Babylon; such be our humility, that it overwhelm us not. Sit "by" the waters, not "in" the waters, not "under" the waters; but yet sit, in humble fashion, talk not as thou wouldest in Jerusalem. ...
4. For many weep with the weeping of Babylon, because they rejoice also with the joy of Babylon. When men rejoice at gains and weep at losses, both are of Babylon. Thou oughtest to weep, but in the remembrance of Sion. If thou weepest in the remembrance of Sion, thou oughtest to weep even when it is well with thee in Babylon. ...
5. "On the willows in the midst thereof we hung up our instruments of music" (verse 2). The citizens of Jerusalem have their "instruments of music," God's Scriptures, God's commands, God's promises, meditation on the life to come; but while they are dwelling "in Babylon," they "hang up their instruments." Willows are unfruitful trees, and here so placed, that no good whatever can be understood of them: elsewhere perhaps there may. Here understand barren trees, growing by the waters of Babylon. These trees are watered by the waters of Babylon, and bring forth no fruit; just as there are men greedy, covetous, barren in good works, citizens of Babylon in such wise, that they are even trees of that region; they are fed there by these pleasures of transitory things, as though watered by "the waters of Babylon." Thou seekest fruit of them, and nowhere findest it. ... Therefore by deferring to apply the Scriptures to them, "we hang up our instruments of music upon the willows." For we hold them not worthy to carry our instruments. We do not therefore insert our instruments into them and bind them to them, but defer to use them, and so hang them up. For the willows are the unfruitful trees of Babylon, fed by temporal pleasures, as by the "waters of Babylon."
6. "For there they that led us captive demanded of us words of songs, and they that led us away, an hymn" (verse 3). They demanded of us words of songs and an hymn, who led us captive. ... We are tempted by the delights of earthly things, and we struggle daily with the suggestions of unlawful pleasures; scarce do we breathe freely even in prayer: we understand that we are captives. But who led us captive? what men? what race? what king? If we are redeemed, we once were captives. Who hath redeemed us? Christ. From whom hath He redeemed us? From the devil. The devil then and his angels led us captive: and they would not lead us, unless we consented. ...
7. "Those" then" who have led us captive," the devil and his angels, when have they spoken unto us: "Sing us one of the songs of Sion"? What answer we? Babylon beareth thee, Babylon containeth thee, Babylon nourisheth thee, Babylon speaks by thy mouth, thou knowest not to take in save what glitters for the present, thou knowest not how to meditate on things of eternity, thou takest not in what thou askest. "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" (verse 4). Truly, brethren, so it is. Begin to wish to preach the truth in such measure as ye know it, and see how needful it is for you to endure such mockers, persecutors of the truth, full of falsehood. Reply to them, when they ask of you what they cannot take in, and say in full confidence of your holy song, "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land!"
8. But take heed how thou dwellest among them, O people of God, O body of Christ, O high-born band of wanderers (for thy home is not here, but elsewhere), lest when thou lovest them, strivest for their friendship, and fearest to displease such men, Babylon begin to delight thee and thou forget Jerusalem. In fear then of this, see what the Psalmist subjoins, see what follows. "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem" (verse 5), amid the speeches of those who hold me captive, amid the speeches of treacherous men, amid the speeches of men who ask with ill intent, asking, yet unwilling to learn. ... What then? "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget me."
9. "Let my tongue cleave to my jaws, if I remember not thee" (verse 6). That is, let me be dumb, he saith, if I remember not thee. For what word, what sound doth he utter, who uttereth not songs of Sion? That is our tongue, the song of Jerusalem. The song of the love of this world is a strange tongue, a barbarous tongue, which we have learnt in our captivity. Dumb then will he be to God, who forgetteth Jerusalem. And it is not enough to remember: for her enemies too remember her, desiring to overthrow her. "What is that city?" say they; "who are the Christians? what sort of men are the Christians? would they were not Christians." Now the captive band hath conquered its capturers; still they murmur, and rage, and desire to slay the holy city that dwells as a stranger among them. Not enough then is it to remember: take heed how thou rememberest. For some things we remember in hate, some in love. And so, when he had said, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem," etc., he added at once, "if I prefer not Jerusalem in the height of my joy." For there is the height of joy where we enjoy God, where we are safe of united brotherhood, and the union of citizenship. There no tempter shall assail us, no one be able so much as to urge us on to any allurement: there nought will delight us but good: there all want will die, there perfect bliss will dawn on us.
10. Then he turneth to God in prayer against the enemies of that city. "Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom" (verse 7). Edom is the same who is also called Esau: for ye heard just now the words of the Apostle read, "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated."(1) ... Esau then signifieth all the carnal, Jacob all the spiritual. ... All carnal persons are enemies to spiritual persons, for all such, desiring present things, persecute those whom they see to long for things eternal. Against these the Psalmist, looking back to Jerusalem, and beseeching God that he may be delivered from captivity, saith--what? "Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom." Deliver us from carnal men, from those who imitate Esau, who are elder brethren, yet enemies. They were firstborn, but the last-born have won the pre-eminence, for the lust of the flesh hath cast down the former, the contempt of lust hath lifted up the latter. The other live, and envy, and persecute. "In the day of Jerusalem." The day of Jerusalem, wherein it was tried, wherein it was held captive, or the day of Jerusalem's happiness, wherein it is freed, wherein it reaches its goal, wherein it is made partaker of eternity? "Remember," saith he, "O Lord," forget not those "who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof." Remember then, it means, that day wherein they willed to overthrow Jerusalem. For how great persecutions hath the Church suffered I How did the children of Edom, that is, carnal men, servants of the devil and his angels, who worshipped stocks and stones, and followed the lusts of the flesh, how did they say, "Extirpate the Christians, destroy the Christians, let not one remain, overthrow them even to the foundation!" Have not these things been said? And when they were said, the persecutors were rejected, the martyrs crowned. ...
11. Then he turneth himself to her, "0 daughter of Babylon, unhappy;" unhappy in thy very exulting, thy presumption, thine enmity; "unhappy daughter of Babylon!" (verse 8). The city is called both Babylon, and daughter of Babylon: just as they speak of "Jerusalem" and "the daughter of Jerusalem," "Sion" and "the daughter of Sion," "the Church" and "the daughter of the Church." As it succeedeth the other, it is called "daughter;" as it is preferred before the other, it is called "mother." There was a former Babylon; did the people remain in it? Because it succeedeth to Babylon, it is called daughter of Babylon. O daughter of Babylon, "unhappy" thou! ...
12. "Happy shall he be that repayeth thee, as thou hast served us." What repayment meaneth he? Herewith the Psalm closeth, "Happy, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the rock" (verse 9). Her he calleth unhappy, but him happy who payeth her as she hath served us. Do we ask, what reward? This is the repayment. For what hath that Babylon done to us? We have already sung in another Psalm, "The words of the wicked have prevailed against us."(1) For when we were born, the confusion of this world found us, and choked us while yet infants with the empty notions of divers errors. The infant that is born destined to be a citizen of Jerusalem, and in God's predestination already a citizen, but meanwhile a prisoner for a time, when learneth he to love ought, save what his parents have whispered into his ears? They teach him and train him in avarice, robbery, daily lying, the worship of divers idols and devils, the unlawful remedies of enchantments and amulets. What shall one yet an infant do, a tender soul, observing what its elders do, save follow that which it seeth them doing. Babylon then has persecuted us when little, but God hath given us when grown up knowledge of ourselves, that we should not follow the errors of our parents. ...How shall they repay her? As she hath served us. Let her little ones be choked in turn: yea let her little ones in turn be dashed, and die. What are the little ones of Babylon? Evil desires at their birth. For there are, who have to fight with inveterate lusts. When lust is born, before evil habit giveth it strength against thee, when lust is little, by no means let it gain the strength of evil habit; when it is little, dash it. But thou fearest, lest though dashed it die not; "Dash it against the Rock; and that Rock is Christ."(2)
13. Brethren, let not your instruments of music rest in your work: sing one to another songs of Sion. Readily have ye heard; the more readily do what ye have heard, if ye wish not to be willows of Babylon fed by its streams, and bringing no fruit. But sigh for the everlasting Jerusalem: whither your hope goeth before, let your life follow; there we shall be with Christ. Christ now is our Head; now He ruleth us from above; in that city He will fold us to Himself; we shall be equal to the Angels of God. We should not dare to imagine this of ourselves, did not the Truth promise it. This then desire, brethren, this day and night think on. Howsoever the world shine happily on you, presume not, parley not willingly with your lusts. Is it a grown-up enemy? let it be slain upon the Rock. Is it a little enemy? let it be dashed against the Rock. Slay the grown-up ones on the Rock, and dash the little ones against the Rock. Let the Rock conquer. Be built upon the Rock, if ye desire not to be swept away either by the stream, or the winds, or the rain. If ye wish to be armed against temptations in this world, let longing for the everlasting Jerusalem grow and be strengthened in your hearts. Your captivity will pass away, your happiness will come; the last enemy shall be destroyed, and we shall triumph with our King, without death.
1. The title of this Psalm is brief and simple, and need not detain us; since we know whose resemblance David wore, and since in him we recognise ourselves also, for we too are members of that Body. The whole title is, "To David himself." Let us see then, what is to David himself. The title of the Psalm is wont to tell us what is treated of within it: but in this, since the title informs us not of this, but tells us only to Whom it is chanted, the first verse tells us what is treated of in the whole Psalm, "I will confess to Thee." This confession then let us hear. But first I remind you, that the term confession in Scripture, when we speak of confession to God, is used in two senses, of sin, and of praise. But confession of sin all know, confession of praise few attend to. So well known is confession of sin, that, wherever in Scripture we hear the words, "I will confess to Thee, O Lord," or, "we will confess to Thee," forthwith, through habitually understanding in this way, our hands hurry to beating our breast: so entirely are men wont not to understand confession to be of aught, save of sin. But was then our Lord Jeans Christ Himself too a sinner, who saith in the Gospel, "I confess to Thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth "?(1) He goeth on to say what He confesseth, that we might understand His confession to be of praise, not of sin, "I confess to Thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." He praised the Father, he praised God, because He despiseth not the humble, but the proud. And such confession are we now going to hear, of praise of God, of thanksgiving. "With my whole heart." My whole heart I lay upon the altar of Thy praise, an whole burnt-offering(2) of praise I offer to Thee. ... "I will confess to Thee, 0 Lord, with my whole heart: for Thou hast heard the words of my mouth" (verse 1). What mouth, save my heart? For there have we the voice which God heareth, which ear of man knoweth not at all. We have then a mouth within, there do we ask, thence do we ask, and if we have prepared a lodging or an house for God, there do we speak, there are we heard. "For He is not far from every one of us, for in Him we live, and move, and have our being."(3) Nought maketh thee far off from God, save sin only. Cast down the middle wall of sin, and thou art with Him whom thou askest.
2. "And before the Angels will I sing unto Thee." Not before men will I sing, but before the Angels. My song is my joy; but my joy in things below is before men, my joy in things above before the Angels. For the wicked knoweth not the joy of the just: "There is no joy. saith my God, to the wicked."(4) The wicked rejoiceth in his tavern, the martyr in his chain. In what did that holy Crispina rejoice, whose festival is kept to-day? She rejoiced when she was being seized, when she was being carried before the judge, when she was being put into prison, when she was being brought forth bound, when she was being lifted up on the scaffold,(5) when she was being heard, when she was being condemned: in all these things she rejoiced; and the wretches thought her wretched, when she was rejoicing before the Angels.
3. "I will worship toward Thy holy Temple" (verse 2). What holy Temple? That where we shall dwell, where we shall worship. For we hasten that we may adore· Our heart is pregnant and cometh to the birth, and seeketh where it may bring forth. What is the place where God is to be worshipped? ... "The Temple of God is holy," saith the Apostle, "which Temple ye are."(6) But assuredly, as is manifest, God dwelleth in the Angels. Therefore when our joy, being in spiritual things, not in earthly, taketh up a song to God, to sing before the Angels, that very assembly of Angels is the Temple of God, we worship toward God's Temple. There is a Church below, there is a Church above also; the Church below, in all the faithful; the Church above, in all the Angels. But the God of Angels came down to the Church below, and Angels ministered to Him on earth? while He ministered to us; for, "I came not," saith He, "to be ministered unto, but to minister."(8) ... The Lord of Angels died for man. Therefore, "I will worship toward Thy holy Temple;" I mean, not the temple made with hands, but that which Thou hast made for Thyself.
4. "And I will confess to Thy Name in Thy mercy and Thy truth." ... These also which Thou hast given to me, do I according to my power give to Thee in return: mercy, in siding others; truth, in judging. By these God aideth us, by these we win God's favour. Rightly, therefore, "All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth." No other ways are there whereby He can come to us, no other whereby we can come to Him. "For Thou hast magnified Thy holy Name over everything." What sort of thanksgiving is this, brethren? He hath magnified His holy Name over Abraham. Of Abraham was born Isaac; over that house God was magnified; then Jacob; God was magnified, who said, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Then came his twelve sons. The name of the Lord was magnified over Israel. Then came the Virgin Mary. Then Christ our Lord, "dying for our sins, rising again for our justification,"(9) filling the faithful with His Holy Spirit, sending forth men to proclaim throughout the Gentiles, "Repent ye," etc.(10) Behold, "He hath magnified His holy Name above all things."
5. "In what day soever I call upon Thee, do Thou quickly hear me" (verse 3). Wherefore, "quickly "? Because Thou hast said, "While yet thou art speaking I will say, Lo, here I am."(11) Wherefore, "quickly "? Because now I seek not earthly happiness, I have learnt holy longings from the New Testament. I seek not earth, nor earthly abundance, nor temporal health, nor the overthrow of my enemies, nor riches, nor rank: nought of these do I seek: therefore "quickly hear me." Since Thou hast taught me what to seek, grant what I seek. ...
6. Let us see then what he seeketh, with what right he hath said, "quickly hear me." For what seekest thou, that thou shouldest quickly be heard? "Thou shalt multiply me." In many ways may multiplication be understood. ... For men are multiplied in their soul with cares: a man seemeth to be multiplied in soul, in whom vices even are multiplied. That is the multiplication of want, not of fulness. What then dost thou desire, thou who hast said, "quickly hear me," and hast withdrawn thyself entirely from the body, from every earthly thing, from every earthly desire, so as to say to God, "Thou shalt multiply me in my soul"? Explain yet further what thou desirest. Thou shalt multiply me, saith he, in my soul "with virtue." ...
7. "Let all the kings of the earth confess to Thee, O Lord" (verse 4). So shall it be, and so it is, and that daily; and it is shown that it was not said in vain, save that it was future. But neither let them, when they confess to Thee, when they praise Thee, desire earthly things of Thee. For what shall the kings of the earth desire? Have they not already sovereignty? Whatever more a man desire on earth, sovereignty is the highest point of his desire. What more can he desire? It must needs be some loftier eminence. But perhaps the loftier it is, the more dangerous. And therefore the more exalted kings are in earthly eminence, the more ought they to humble themselves before God. What do they do? "Because they have heard all the words of Thy mouth." In a certain nation were hidden the Law and the Prophets, "all the words of Thy mouth:" in the Jewish nation alone were "all the words of Thy mouth," the nation which the Apostle praiseth, saying, "What advantage hath the Jew? Much every way; chiefly because that unto them were committed the oracles of God." These were the words of God.(1) ... What meant Gideon's fleece? It is like the nation of the Jews in the midst of the world, which had the grace of sacraments, not indeed openly manifested, but hidden in a cloud, or in a veil, like the dew in the fleece? The time came when the dew was to be manifested in the floor; it was manifested, no longer hidden. Christ alone is the sweetness of dew: Him alone thou recognisest not in Scripture, for whom Scripture was written. But yet, "they have heard all the words of thy mouth."
8. "And let them sing in the paths of the Lord, that great is the glory of the Lord" (verse 5). Let all the kings of the earth sing in the paths of the Lord. In what paths? Those that are spoken of above, "in Thy mercy and Thy truth." Let not then the kings of the earth be proud, let them be humble. Then let them sing in the ways of the Lord, if they be humble: let them love, and they shall sing. We know travellers that sing; they sing, and hasten to reach the end of their journey. There are evil songs, such as belong to the old man; to the new man belongeth a new song. Let then the kings of the earth too walk in Thy paths, let them walk and sing in Thy paths, Sing what? that "great is the glory of the Lord," not of kings.
9. See how he willed that kings should sing on their way, humbly bearing the Lord, not lifting themselves up against the Lord. For if they lift themselves up, what follows? "For the Lord is high, and hath respect unto the lowly" (verse 6). Do kings then desire that He have respect unto them? Let them be humble. What then? if they lift themselves up to pride, can they escape His eyes? Lest perchance, because thou hast heard, "He hath respect unto the lowly," thou choose to be proud, and say in thy soul, God hath respect unto the lowly, He hath not respect unto me, I will do what I will. O foolish one! wouldest thou say this, if thou knewest what thou oughtest to love? Behold, even if God willeth not to see thee, dost thou not fear this very thing, that He willeth not to see thee? ... The lofty then, it seemeth, He hath not respect unto, for it is the lowly He respecteth. "The lofty"--what? "He considereth from afar." What then gaineth the proud? To be seen from afar, not to escape being seen. And think not that thou must needs be safe on that account, for that He seeth less clearly, who seeth thee from afar. For thou indeed seest not clearly, what thou seest from afar; God, although He see thee from afar, seeth thee perfectly, yet is He not with thee. This thou gainest, not that thou art less perfectly seen, but that thou art not with Him by whom thou art seen. But what doth the lowly gain? "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a contrite heart." Let the proud then lift himself up as much as he will, certainly God dwelleth on high, God is in heaven: wishest thou that He come nigh to thee? Humble thyself. For the higher will He be above thee, the more thou liftest thyself up.
10. "If I walk in the midst of tribulation, Thou shalt revive me" (verse 7). True it is: whatsoever tribulation thou art in, confess, call on Him; He freeth thee, He reviveth thee. ... Love the other life, and thou shalt see that this life is tribulation, whatever prosperity it shine with, whatever delights it abound and overflow with; since not yet have we that joy most safe and free from all temptation, which God reserveth for us in the end, without doubt it is tribulation. Let us understand then what tribulation he meaneth here too, brethren. Not as though he said, "If perchance there shall any tribulation have befallen me, Thou shall free me therefrom." But how saith he? "If I walk," etc.; that is, otherwise Thou wilt not revive me, unless I walk in the midst of tribulation.
11. "Thou hast stretched forth Thine hand over the wrath of mine enemies, and Thy right hand hath made me safe." Let mine enemies rage: what can they do? They can take my money, strip, proscribe, banish me; afflict me with grief and tortures; at last, if they be allowed, even kill me: can they do aught more? But over that which mine enemies can do, Thou hast stretched forth Thine hand. For mine enemies cannot separate me from Thee: but Thou avengest me the more, the more Thou as yet delayest. ... Yet not to make me despair; for it follows, "and Thy right hand hath made me safe."
12. "Thou, Lord, shalt recompense for me (verse 8). I recompense not: Thou shalt recompense. Let mine enemies rage their full: Thou shall recompense what I cannot. ... "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves," saith the Apostle, "but rather give place unto wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord."(1) There is here another sense not to be neglected, perhaps even to be preferred. "Lord" Christ, "Thou shall repay for me." For I, if I repay, have seized; Thou hast paid what Thou hast not seized. Lord, Thou shall "repay for me." Behold Him repaying for us. They came to Him, who exacted tribute:(2) they used to demand as tribute a didrachma, that is, two drachmas for one man; they came to the Lord to pay tribute; or rather, not to Him, but to His disciples, and they said to them, "Doth not your Master pay tribute?" They came and told Him. He saith unto Peter, "lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up: and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shall find a staler:(3) that take, and give for Me and thee." The first that riseth from the sea, is the First-begotten from the dead. In His mouth we find two didrachmas, that is, four drachmas: in His mouth we find the four Gospels. By those four drachmas we are free from the claims of this world, by the four Evangelists we remain no longer debtors; for there the debt of all our sins is paid. He then hath repaid for us, thanks to His mercy. He owed nothing: He repaid not for Himself: He repaid for us. ...
13. "Lord, Thy mercy is for everlasting." ... Not for a time only do I desire to be freed. "Thy mercy is for everlasting," wherewith Thou hast freed the martyrs, and so hast quickly taken them from this life. "Despise not Thou the works of Thine own hands." I say not, Lord, "despise not the works of my hands:" of mine own works I boast not. "I sought," indeed, "the Lord with my hands in the night season before Him, and have not been deceived;" but yet I praise not the works of mine own hands; I fear lest, when Thou shall look into them, Thou find more sins in them than deserts. Behold in me Thy Work, not mine: for mine if Thou seest, Thou condemnest; Thine, if Thou seest, Thou crow nest. For whatever good works there be of mine, from Thee are they to me; and so they are more. Thine than mine.(4) Therefore whether in regard that we are men, or in regard that we have been changed and justified from our iniquity, Lord, "despise not Thou the works of Thine own hands."
1. ... Our Lord Jesus Christ speaketh in the Prophets, sometimes in His own Name, sometimes in ours, because He maketh Himself one with us; as it is said, "they twain shall be one flesh." Wherefore also the Lord saith in the Gospel, speaking of marriage, "therefore they are no more twain, but one flesh." One flesh, because of our mortality He took flesh; not one divinity, for He is the Creator, we the creature. Whatsoever then our Lord speaketh!in the person of the Flesh He took upon Him, belongeth both to that Head which hath already ascended into heaven, and to those members which still toil in their earthly wandering. Let us hear then our Lord Jesus Christ speaking in prophecy. For the Psalms were sung long before the Lord was born of Mary, yet not before He was Lord: for from everlasting He was the Creator of all things, but in time He was born of His creature. Let us believe that Godhead, and, so far as we can, understand Him to be equal to the Father. But that Godhead equal to the Father. was made partaker of our mortal nature, not of His own store, but of ours; that we too might be made partakers of His Divine Nature, not of our store, but of His.
2. "Lord, Thou hast tried me, and known me" (verse 1). Let the Lord Jesus Christ Himself say this; let Him too say," Lord," to the Father. For His Father is not His Lord, save because He hath deigned to be born according to the flesh. He is Father of the God, Lord of the Man. Wouldest thou know to whom He is Father? To the coequal Son. The Apostle saith, "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God."(1) To this "Form" God is Father, the "Form" equal to Himself, the only-begotten Son, begotten of His Substance. But forasmuch as for our sakes, that we might be re-made, and made partakers of His Divine Nature, being renewed unto life eternal, He was made partaker of our mortal nature, what saith the Apostle of Him? He saith, "yet He emptied Himself, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men, and was found in fashion as a man." He was in the Form of God, equal to the Father; He took upon Him the form of a servant, so as therein to be less than the Father. ...
3. "Thou hast known My down-sitting and Mine up-rising" (verse 2). What here is "down-sitting," what "up-rising "? He who sitteth, humbleth himself. The Lord then "sat" in His Passion, "up-rose" in His Resurrection. "Thou," he saith, hast known this; that is, Thou hast willed, Thou hast approved; according to Thy will was it done. But if thou choosest to take the words of the Head in the person of the Body: man sitteth when he humbleth himself in penitence, he riseth up when his sins are forgiven, and he is lifted up to the hope of everlasting life. Lift not up yourselves, unless ye have first been humbled. For many wish to rise before they have sat down, they wish to appear righteous, before they have confessed that they are sinners. ...
4. "Thou hast understood my thoughts from afar; Thou hast tracked out my path and may limit" (verse 3); "and all my ways Thou hast seen beforehand" (verse 4). What is, "from afar "? While I am yet in my pilgrimage, before I reach that, my true country, Thou hast known my thoughts. ... The younger son went into a far country. After his toil and suffering and tribulation and want, he thought on his father, and desired to return, and said, "I will arise, and go to my father." "I will arise," said he, for before he had sat. Here then thou mayest recognise him saying, "Thou hast known my down-sitting and up-rising." I sat, in want; I arose, in longing for Thy Bread. "Thou hast understood my thoughts from afar." For far indeed had I gone; but where is not He whom I had left? Wherefore the Lord saith in the Gospel, that his father met him as he was coming. Truly; for "he had understood his thoughts from afar." "My path," he saith; what, but a bad path, the path he had walked to leave his father? ... What is, "my path "? that by which I have gone. What is, "my limit "? that whereunto I have reached. "Thou hast tracked out my path and my limit." That limit of mine, far distant as it was, was not far from Thine eyes. Far had I gone, and yet Thou wast there. "And all my ways Thou hast seen beforehand." He said not, "hast seen," but, "hast seen beforehand." Before I went by them, before I walked in them, Thou didst see them beforehand; and Thou didst permit me in toil to go my own ways, that, if I desired not to toil, I might return into Thy ways. "For there is no deceit in my tongue."(2) What meant he by this? Lo, I confess to Thee, I have walked in my own way, I am become far from Thee, I have departed from Thee, with whom it was well with me, and to my good it was ill with me without Thee. ...
5. "Behold Thou, Lord, hast known all my last doings, and the ancient ones" (verse 5). Thou hast known my latest doings, when I fed swine; Thou hast known my ancient doings, when I asked of Thee my portion of goods. Ancient doings were the beginnings to me of latest ills: ancient sin, when we fell; latest punishment, when we came into this toilsome and dangerous mortality. And would that this may be "latest" to us; it will be, if now we will to return. For there is another "latest" for certain wicked ones, to whom it shall be said, "Go ye into everlasting fire."(3) ... "Thou hast fashioned me,and hast laid Thine hand upon me." "Fashioned me," where? In this mortality; now, to the toils whereunto we all are born. 'For none is born, but God has fashioned him in his mother's womb; nor is there any creature, whereof God is not the Fashioner. But "Thou hast fashioned me" in this toil, "and laid Thine hand upon me," Thine avenging hand, putting down the proud. For thus healthfully hath He cast down the proud, that He may lift him up humble.
6. "Thy skill hath displayed itself wonderfully in me: it hath waxed mighty: I shall not be able to attain unto it" (verse 6). Listen now and hear somewhat, which is obscure indeed, yet bringeth no small pleasure in the understanding thereon. Moses, the holy servant of God, with whom God spake by a cloud, for, speaking after human fashion, He must needs speak to His servant through some work of His hands which He assumed, ... longed and desired to see the true appearance of God, and said to God, who was conversing with him, "If now I have found grace in Thy sight, show me Thyself."(4) When this he desired vehemently, and would extort from God in that sort of friendly familiarity, if we may so speak, wherewith God deigned to treat him, that he might see His Glory and His Face, in such wise as we can speak of God's Face, He said unto him, "Thou canst not see My Face; for no one hath seen My Face, and lived;"(1) but I will place thee in a clift of the rock, and will pass by, and will set My hand upon thee; and when I have passed by, thou shalt see My back parts. And from these words there ariseth another enigma, that is, an obscure figure of the truth. "When I have passed by," saith God, "thou shalt see My back parts;" as though He hath on one side His face, on another His back. Far be it from us to have any such thoughts of that Majesty! For whoso hath such thoughts of God, what advantageth it him that the temples are closed? He is building an idol in his own heart. In these words then are mighty mysteries. ... They who raged against the Lord, whom they saw, now seek counsel how they may be saved; and it is said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ, and your sins shall be forgiven you."(2) Behold, they saw the back parts of Him, whose face they could not see. For His Hand was upon their eyes, not for ever, but while He passed by. After He had passed He took away His Hand from their eyes. When the hand was taken from their eyes, they say to the disciples, "What shall we do?" At first they are fierce, afterwards loving; at first angry, afterwards fearful; at first hard, then pleasant; at first blind, then enlightened. ...
7. Behold thou findest that the runaway in a far country cannot escape His eyes, from whom he fleeth. And whither can he go now, whose "limit is tracked out "? Behold, what saith he? "Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit?" (verse 7). Who can in the world flee from that Spirit, with whom the world is filled?(3) "And whither shall I flee from Thy Face?" He seeketh a place whither to flee from the wrath of God. What place will shelter God's runaway? Men who shelter runaways, ask them from whom they have fled; and when they find any one a slave of some master less powerful than themselves, him they shelter as it were without any fear, saying in their hearts, "he hath not a master by whom he can be tracked out." But when they are told of a powerful master, they either shelter not, or they shelter with great fear, because even a powerful man can be deceived. Where is God not? Who can deceive God? Whom doth not God see? From whom doth not God demand His runaway? Whither then shall that runaway go from the Face of God? He turneth him hither and thither, as though seeking a spot to flee to.
8. "If I go up," saith he, "to heaven, Thou art there: if I go down to Hades, Thou art present" (verse 8). At length, miserable runaway, thou hast learnt, that by no means canst thou make thyself far from Him, from whom thou hast wished to remove far away. Behold, He is everywhere; thou, whither wilt thou go? He hath found counsel, and that inspired by Him, who now deigneth to recall him. ... If by sinning I go down to the depths of wickednesses, and spurn to confess, saying, "Who seeth me" (for "in Hades who shall confess to Thee?" 4) there also Thou art present, to punish. Whither then shall I go that I may flee from Thy presence, that is, not find Thee angry? This plan he found: So will I flee, saith he, from Thy Face, so will I flee from Thy Spirit; from Thy avenging Spirit, Thy avenging Face thus will I flee. How? "If I take again my wings right forward, and abide in the utmost parts of the sea" (verse 9). So can I flee from Thy Face. If he will flee to the utmost part of the sea from the Face of God, will not He from whom he fleeth be there? ... For what are "the utmost parts of the sea," but the end of the world? Thither let us now flee in hope and longing, with the wings of twofold love; let us have no rest, save in "the utmost parts of the sea." For if elsewhere we wish for rest, we shall be hurled headlong into the sea. Let us fly even to the ends of the sea, let us bear ourselves aloft on the wings of twofold love; meanwhile let us flee to God in hope, and in faithful hope let us meditate on that "end of the sea."
9. Now listen who may bring us thither. The very same One whose face in wrath we wish to flee from. For what followeth? "Even thither shall Thy hand conduct me, and Thy right hand lead me" (verse 10). This let us meditate on, beloved brethren, let this be our hope, this our consolation. Let us take again through love the wings we lost through lust. For lust was the lime of our wings, it clashed us down from the freedom of our sky, that is, the free breezes of the Spirit of God. Thence dashed down we lost our wings, and were, so to speak, imprisoned in the power of the fowler; thence" He" redeemed us with His Blood, whom we fled from to be caught. He maketh us wings of His commandments; we raise them aloft now free from lime. ... Needs then must we have wings, and needs must He conduct us, for He is our Helper. We have free-will; but even with that free-will what can we do, unless He help us who commandeth us?
10. And considering the length of the way, what said he to himself? "And I said, Peradventure the darkness shall overwhelm me" (verse 11). Lo, now I have believed in Christ, now am I wafted aloft on the wings of twofold love. ... Regarding the length of the way, i said to myself, "And the night was light in my delight." The night was made to me light, because in the night I despaired of being able to cross so great a sea, to surmount so long a journey, to reach the utmost parts by persevering to the end Thanks to Him who sought me when a runaway, who smote my back with strokes of the scourge, who by calling me recalled me from destruction, who made my night light. For it is night so long as we are passing through this life. How was the night made light? Because Christ came down into the night. ...
11. "For darkness shall not be darkened by Thee" (verse 12). Do not thou then darken thy darkness; God darkeneth it not, but enlighteneth it yet more; for to Him is said in another Psalm, "Thou, Lord, shalt light my candle: my God shall enlighten my darkness."(1) But who are they who "darken their darkness," which God darkeneth not? Evil men, perverse men; when they sin, verily they are darkness; when they confess not their sins which they have committed but go on to defend them, they "darken their darkness." Wherefore now if thou hast sinned thou art in darkness, but by confessing thy darkness thou shall obtain to have thy darkness lightened; by defending thy darkness, thou shall "darken thy darkness." And where wilt thou escape from double darkness, who wast in difficulty in single darkness? ... Let us not "darken our darkness" by defending our sins, and "the night shall be light in our delight."
12. "And night shall be lightened as the day." "Night, as the day." "Day" to us is worldly prosperity, night adversity in this world: but, if we learn that it is by the desert of our sins that we suffer adversities, and our Father's scourges are sweet to us, that the Judge's sentence may not be bitter to us, so shall we find the darkness of this night to be, as it were, the light of this night. ... But when Christ our Lord has come, and has dwelt in the soul by faith, and promised other light, and inspired and given patience, and warned a man not to delight in prosperity or to be crushed by adversity, the man, being faithful, begins to treat this world with indifference; not to be lifted up when prosperity befalls him, nor crushed when adversity, but in all things to praise God, not only when he aboundeth, but also when he loseth; not only when he is in health, but also when he is sick.(2) ... "As is His darkness, so is also His light." His darkness overwhelms me not, because His light lifts me not up.
13. "For Thou, O Lord, hast possessed my reins" (verse 13). The Possessor is within; He occupieth not only the heart, but also the reins; not only the thoughts, but also the delights: He then possesseth that whence I should feel delight at any light in this world: He occupieth my reins: I know not delight, save from the inward light of His Wisdom. What then? Dost thou not delight that thy affairs are very prosperous, times fortunate to thee? dost thou not delight in honour, in riches, in thy family? "I do not," saith he. Wherefore? Because "Thou hast possessed my reins, O Lord; Thou hast taken me up from my mother's womb." While I was in my mother's womb, I did not regard with indifference the darkness of that night and the light of that night. ... Now, having been taken up froth the womb of that our mother, we look on them with indifference, and say, "As is His darkness, so is also His light." Neither doth earthly prosperity make us happy, nor earthly adversity wretched. We must maintain righteousness, love faith, hope in God, love God, love our neighbours also. After these toils we shall have unfailing light, day without setting. Fleeting is all the light and darkness of this night.
14. "I will confess to Thee, O Lord, for terribly hast Thou been made wonderful: wondrous are Thy works, and my soul knoweth it right well" (verse 14). Aforetime "Thy knowledge was made wonderful from me, it had waxed great, nor could I attain unto it." From me then "it had waxed great." Whence doth "my soul" now "know right well," save because the "night is light in my delight?" save because Thy grace hath come unto me, and enlightened my darkness? save because Thou hast possessed my reins? save because Thou hast taken me up from my mother's womb?
15. "My bone is not hid from Thee, which Thou hast made in secret" (verse 15). "His bone," he saith. What the people call ossum, is in Latin called as. This is the word in the Greek.(3) For we might think the word as is here the one which makes in the plural ora, not os (short), which makes ossa. He saith then, I have a certain bone (ossum) in secret. For this word let us prefer to use; better is it that scholars find fault with us, than that the people understand us not. "There is then," saith he, "a certain bone of mine, within, hidden; Thou hast made within a bone for me in secret, yet is it not hidden from Thee. In secret hast Thou made it, but hast Thou therefore hidden it from Thyself? This my bone made by Thee in secret men see not, men know not: Thou knowest, who hast made. What" bone" then meaneth he, brethren? Let us seek it, it is "in secret." But because as Christians we are speaking in the Name of the Lord to Christians, now we find what bone is of this kind. It is a sort of inward strength; for strength and fortitude are understood to be in the bones. There is then a sort of inward strength of the soul, wherein it is not broken. Whatever tortures, whatever tribulations, whatever adversities rage around, that which God hath made strong in secret in us, cannot be broken, yieldeth not. For by God is made a certain strength of patience, of which is said in another Psalm," But my soul shall be subjected to God, for of Him is my patience."(1) ... Wherein dost thou glory? "In tribulations, knowing that tribulation worketh patience."(2) See how that strength is fashioned within in his heart: "because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." So is fashioned and made strong that hidden bone, that it maketh us even to glory in tribulations. But to men we seem wretched, because that' which we have within is hidden from them. "And my substance is in the lower parts of the earth." Behold, in flesh is my substance, yet have I a bone within, which Thou hast fashioned, such as to cause me never to yield to any persecutions of this lower region, where still my substance is. For what great matter is it, if an Angel be brave? This is a great matter, if flesh is brave. And whence is flesh brave, whence is an earthen vessel brave, save because in it is made a bone in secret?
16. ... "Thine eyes did see Mine imperfect one, and in Thy book shall all be written" (verse 16), not only the perfect, but also the imperfect. Let not the imperfect fear, only let them advance. Nor yet, because I have said, "let them not fear," let them love their imperfection, and remain there, where they are found. Let them advance, as far as in them lieth. Daily let them add, daily let them approach; yet let them not fall back from the Body of the Lord: that, compacted in one Body and among these members, they may be counted worthy to have that said of them. "By day shall they wander, and none among them." "The Day" was yet on earth, even our Lord Jesus Christ. Whence He said, "Walk while ye have the day."(3) But "by day shall" His imperfect ones "wander." They too thought that our Lord Jesus Christ was only man, that He had not within Him the hidden Godhead, that He was not secretly God, but that He was that only which was seen: this they too thought. ... But what is, "In the day they shall wander"? Shall they perish? Where then is, "In Thy book shall all be written "? When then did they "wander in the day "? When they understood not the Lord set upon earth. And what followeth? "But to me Thy friends are made very honourable, O God" (verse 17); those very ones, who "wandered in the day, and none was in them," became Thy friends, and were made very honourable to me. That bone was made in them in secret after the resurrection of the Lord, and they suffered for His Name, at whose death they had been amazed. "Mightily strengthened were their chieftainships." They became Apostles, they became leaders of the Church, they became rams leading their flocks, "mightily strengthened."
17. "I will number them, and they shall be multiplied above the sand" (verse 18). By means of them, who "wandered in the day," lo! there has been born all this great multitude, which now is like the sand innumerable, save by God. For He said, "they shall be multiplied above the sand," and yet He had said, "I will number them." The very same who are numbered, "shall be multiplied above the sand." For by Him is the sand numbered, by whom "the very hairs of our head are numbered."(4) "I have risen, and yet am I with Thee." Already have I suffered, saith He, already have I been buried; lo! I have risen, and not yet do they understand that I am with them. "Yet am I with Thee," that is, not yet with them, for not yet do they recognise Me. For thus do we read in the Gospel, that after the resurrection of oar Lord Jesus Christ, when He appeared to them, they did not at once know Him. There is another meaning also: "I have risen, and yet am I with Thee," as though He would signify this present time, wherein He is as yet hidden at the right hand of the Father, before He is revealed in the brightness, wherein He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
18. And then He telleth what meanwhile, during this whole time when He already has risen, and remaineth still with the Father, He suffereth by the intermixture of sinners in His Body, the Church, and by the separation of heretics. "If Thou, O God, shalt slay the sinners (since Thou shall say in Thy thought, Depart from Me, ye men of blood), they shall receive in vanity their cities" (verse 19, 20). The words seem to be connected in this order; "If Thou, O God, shall slay the sinners, they shall receive in vanity their cities." Thus are sinners slain, because, "having their understandings darkened, they are alienated from the life of God."(5) For on account of elation they lose confession, and so they are slain, and in them is fulfilled what Scripture saith, "Confession perisheth from the dead, as from one that is not."(6) And so "they receive in vanity their cities," that is, their vain peoples, who follow their vanity; when, puffed up by the name of righteousness, they(1) persuade men to burst the bond of unity, and blindly and ignorantly follow them, as being more righteous. ... But now the Body of Christ, the Church, saith, Why do the proud speak falsely against me, as though I were stained by other men's sins, and so, by separating themselves, "receive in vanity their cities "? "Have not I hated those who hated Thee, Lord?" (verse 21). Why do those who are worse themselves require of me to separate myself in body as well as spirit from the wicked, so as to root up the wheat, together with the tares, before the time of harvest, that before the time of winnowing I lose my power of enduring the chaff; that before all the different sorts of fishes are brought to the end of the world, as to the shore, to be separated, I tear the nets of peace and unity? Are the sacraments which I receive, those of evil men? Do I; by consent, communicate in their life and deeds? ... But where is, "Love your enemies "? Is it because He said "yours," not "God's"? "Do good to them that hate you."(2) He saith not, "who hate God." So he followeth the pattern, and saith, "Have not I hated those who hated Thee; Lord?" He saith not, "Who have hated me." "And at Thine enemies did I waste away." "Thine," he said, not "mine." But those who hate us and are enemies unto us, only because we serve Him, what else do they but hate Him, and are His enemies. Ought we then to love such enemies as these? Or do not they suffer persecution for God's sake, to whom it is said, "Pray for them that persecute you "? Observe then what followeth. "With a perfect hatred did I hate them" (verse 22). What is, "with a perfect hatred"? I hated in them their iniquities, I loved Thy creation. This it is to hate with a perfect hatred, that neither on account of the vices thou hate the men, nor on account of the men love the vices. For see what he addeth, "They became mine enemies." Not only as God's enemies, but as his own too doth he now describe them. How then will he fulfil in them both his own saying, "Have not I hated those that hated Thee, Lord," and the Lord's command," Love your enemies"? How will he fulfil this, save with that" perfect hatred," that he hate in them that they are wicked, and love that they are men? For in the time even of the Old Testament, when the carnal people was restrained by visible punishments, how did Moses, the servant of God, who by understanding belonged to the New Testament, how did he hate sinners when he prayed for them, or how did he not hate them when he slew them, save that he "hated them with a perfect hatred "? For with such perfection did he hate the iniquity which he punished, as to love the manhood for which he prayed.
19. Since then the Body of Christ is in the end to be severed in body also from the unholy and wicked, but now meanwhile groaneth among them, what doeth the "love of Christ among the daughters, as the lily among thorns"?(3) What are her words? what her conscience? what is the "appearance of the king's daughter within"?(4) Lo, hear what she saith. "Prove me, O God, and know my heart" (verse 23). Do Thou, O God, Thou prove me, Thou know; not man, not an heretic, who neither knoweth how to prove, nor can know my heart, whereas Thou provest, and knowest that I consent not to the deeds of the wicked, while they think that I can be defiled by the sins of others; so that, while I in my long wandering do what I mourn in another Psalm, that is, while I "labour for peace among them that hate peace,"(5) until I come to that Vision of peace, which is called Jerusalem, "which is the mother of us all," the city "eternal in the heavens;" they, contending, and falsely accusing and separating themselves, may "receive," not, evidently, in eternity, but "in vanity, their cities." Why this? Observe what followeth.
20. "And see," saith he, "if there be any way of wickedness in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (verse 24). "Search," he saith, "my paths," that is, my counsels and thoughts. What else saith he, but "lead me in Christ"? For who is "the way everlasting," save He that is the life everlasting? For everlasting is He who said, "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life."(6) If then thou findest anything in my way which displeaseth Thine eyes, since my way is mortal, do Thou "lead me in the way everlasting," wherein is no iniquity; for even "if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins;"(7) He is "the Way everlasting" without sin; He is the Life everlasting without punishment.
21. These are great mysteries, brethren. How doth the Spirit of God speak with us? how doth it make us delights in this night.? What is this, we ask you, brethren, whence are they sweeter, the darker they are? He mixeth us our potion after His love, in certain wondrous ways. He maketh His own sayings wondrous, so that while we were speaking what ye already knew, yet forasmuch as it was dug out of passages which seemed obscure, the knowledge itself seemed to be made new. Did ye not know, brethren, that the wicked are to be tolerated in the Church, and schisms not to be made? Did ye not already know, that within those nets which hold both good and bad fishes, we must abide even to the shore, nor must the nets be burst, because on the shore the good shall be separated into vessels, and the bad thrown away? Ye know this already; but these verses of this Psalm ye did not understand; that which ye did not understand is explained; that which ye knew has been renewed.
Augustin on Psalms 137