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NPNF1-08. St. Augustine: Exposition on the Book of Psalms
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Psalm CXXI.54065406     Lat. CXX. A sermon to the people on the day of St. Crispina.

1. …Let them “lift up their eyes to the hills whence cometh their help” (ver. 1). What meaneth, The hills have been lightened? The San of righteousness hath already risen, the Gospel hath been already preached by the Apostles, the Scriptures have been preached, all the mysteries have been laid open, the veil hath been rent, the secret place of the temple hath been revealed: let them now at length lift their eyes up to the hills, whence their help cometh…“Of His fulness have all we received,”54075407     John i. 16. he saith. Thy help therefore is from Him, of whose fulness the hills received, not from the hills;54085408     Here some earlier editions, as quoted by Ben., add, “Christ, the Son of the supreme Father, is therefore our salvation, and our help, and with the same Father He is God Almighty, and with Him ever abiding in respect of that He is. To those mountains, therefore, which I have mentioned, if thou lift not up thine eyes.” There are several other additions in the commentary on his Psalm, which however seem scarcely worthy of St. Augustin, and for which no ms. authority is given. towards which,54095409     Al. “by which thou wilt not be admonished.” nevertheless, save thou lift thine eyes through the Scriptures, thou wilt not approach, so as to be lighted by Him.54105410     [Familiarity with Scripture is the Catholic principle, here everywhere presupposed.—C.]

2. Sing therefore what followeth; if thou wish to hear how thou mayest most securely set thy feet on the steps, so that thou mayest not be fatigued in that ascent, nor stumble and fall: pray in these words: “Suffer not my foot to be moved!” (ver. 3). Whereby are feet moved; whereby was the foot of him who was in Paradise moved? But first consider whereby the feet of him who was among the Angels were moved: who when his feet were moved fell, and from an Angel became a devil: for when his feet were moved he fell. Seek whereby he fell: he fell through pride. Nothing then moveth the feet, save pride: nothing moveth the feet to a fall, save pride. Charity moveth them to walk and to improve and to ascend; pride moveth them to fall…Rightly therefore the Psalmist, hearing how he may ascend and may not fall, prayeth unto God that he may profit from the vale of misery, and may not fail in the swelling of pride, in these words, “Suffer not my feet to be moved!” And He replieth unto him, “Let him that keepeth thee not sleep.” Attend, my beloved. It is as if one thought were expressed in two sentences; the man while ascending and singing “the song of degrees,” saith, “Suffer not my foot to be moved:” and it is as if God answered, Thou sayest unto Me, Let not my feet be moved: say also, “Let Him that keepeth thee not sleep,” and thy foot shall not be moved.

3. Choose for thyself Him, who will neither sleep nor slumber, and thy foot shall not be moved. God is never asleep: if thou dost wish to have a keeper who never sleepeth, choose God for thy keeper. “Suffer not my feet to be moved,” thou sayest: well, very well: but He also saith unto thee, “Let not him that keepeth thee slumber.” Thou perhaps wast about to turn thyself unto men as thy keepers, and to say, whom shall I find who will not sleep? what man will not slumber? whom do I find? whither shall I go? whither shall I return? The Psalmist telleth thee: “He that keepeth Israel, shall neither slumber nor sleep” (ver. 4). Dost thou wish to have a keeper who neither slumbereth nor sleepeth? Behold, “He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep:” for Christ keepeth Israel. Be thou then Israel. What meaneth Israel? It is interpreted, Seeing God. And how is God seen? First by faith: afterwards by sight. If thou canst not as yet see Him by sight, see Him by faith…Who is there, who will neither slumber nor sleep? when thou seekest among men, thou art deceived; thou wilt never find one. Trust not then in any man: every man slumbereth, and will sleep. When doth he slumber? When he beareth the flesh of weakness. When will he sleep? When he is dead. Trust not then in man. A mortal may slumber, he sleepeth in death. Seek not a keeper among men.

4. And who, thou askest, shall help me, save He who slumbereth not, nor sleepeth? Hear what followeth: “The Lord Himself is thy keeper” (ver. 5). It is not therefore man, that slumbereth and sleepeth, but the Lord, that keepeth thee. How doth He keep thee? “The Lord is thy defence upon the hand of thy right hand.”…It seemeth to me to have a hidden sense: otherwise he would have simply said, without qualification, “The Lord will keep thee,” without adding, “on thy right hand.” For how? Doth God keep our right hand, and not our left? Did He not create the whole of us? Did not He who made our right hand, make our left hand also? Finally, if it pleased Him to speak of the right hand alone, why said He, “on the hand of thy right hand,” and not at once “upon thy right hand”? Why should He say this, unless He were keeping somewhat here hidden for us to arrive at by knocking? For He would either say, “The Lord shall keep thee,” and add no more; or if He would add the right hand, “The Lord shall keep thee upon thy right hand;” or at least, as He added “hand,” He would say, “The Lord shall keep thee upon thy hand, even thy right hand,”54115411     Manum dexteram. not “upon the hand of thy right hand.”…

5. I ask you, how ye interpret what is said in the Gospel, “Let not your left hand know what your right hand doeth”?54125412     Matt. vi. 3. For if ye understand this, ye will discover what is your right hand, and what is your left: at the same time ye will also understand that God made both hands, the left and the right; yet the left ought not to know what the right doeth. By our left hand is meant all that we have in a temporal way; by our right hand is meant, whatever our Lord promiseth us that is immutable and eternal. But if He who will give everlasting life, Himself also consoleth our present life by these temporal blessings, He hath Himself made our right hand and our left…

6. Let us now come to this verse of the Psalm: “The Lord is thy defence upon the hand of thy right hand” (ver. 5). By hand he meaneth power. How do we prove this? Because the power of God also is styled the hand of God…Whereof John saith, “He gave unto them power to become the sons of God.”54135413     John i. 12. Whence hast thou received this power? “To them,” he saith, “that believe in His Name.” If then thou believest, this very power is given thee, to be among the sons of God. But to be among the sons of God, is to belong to the right hand. Thy faith therefore is the hand of thy right hand: that is, the power that is given thee, to be among the sons of God, is the hand of thy right hand…

7. “May the Lord shield thee upon the hand of thy right hand” (ver. 6). I have said, and I believe ye have recognised it. For had ye not recognised it, and that from the Scriptures, ye would not signify your understanding of it by your voices.54145414     [See p. 418, note 8, supra.—C.] Since then ye have understood, brethren, consider what followeth; wherefore the Lord shieldeth thee “upon the hand of thy right hand,” that is, in thy faith, wherein we have received “power to become the sons of God,” and to be on His right hand: wherefore should God shield us? On account of offences. Whence come offences? Offences are to be feared from two quarters, for there are two precepts upon which the whole Law hangeth and the Prophets, the love of God and of our neighbour.54155415     Matt. xxii. 37–40. The Church is loved for the sake of our neighbour, but God for the sake of God. Of God, is understood the sun figuratively: of the Church, is understood the moon figuratively. Whoever can err, so as to think otherwise of God than he ought, believing not the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost to be of one Substance, has been deceived by the cunning of heretics, chiefly of the Arians. If he hath believed anything less in the Son or in the Holy Spirit than in the Father, he hath suffered an offence in God; he is scorched by the sun. Whoever again believeth that the Church existeth in one province only,54165416     Donatists. [So in the Roman province, as asserted by the modern dogma of the Trent schism. A.N.F. vol. viii. p. 643.—C.] and not that she is diffused over the whole world, and whoso believeth them that say, “Lo here,” and “Lo there, is Christ,”54175417     Matt. xxiv. 23. as ye but now heard when the Gospel was being read; since He who gave so great a price, purchased the whole world: he is offended, so to speak, in his neighbour, and is burnt by the moon. Whoever therefore erreth in the very Substance of Truth, is burnt by the sun, and is burnt through the day; because he erreth in Wisdom itself…God therefore hath made one sun, which riseth upon the good and the evil, that sun which the good and the evil see; but that Sun is another one, not created, not born, through whom all things were made;54185418     Nicene Creed. where is the intelligence of the Immutable Truth: of this the ungodly say, “the Sun rose not upon us.”54195419     Wisd. v. 6. Here old editions add: “of this Sun Father Athanasius, the Bishop, hath thus beautifully spoken. ‘The Son of God,’ he saith, ‘is of the Father alone, neither made, nor created, but begotten;’” whence Possevinus, Torrensis, and Bellarmine have quoted St. Augustin as assigning the Athanasian Creed to St. Athanasius. But Petavius, Theol. Dogm. de Trin. l. vii. c. 8, note 7, says the words have been foisted into St. Augustin, and in fact they are not in any of our mss. nor in the editions of Amsterdam, of Erasmus, and of Louvain.—Ben. Some other additions are mentioned in the Benedictine notes on this Psalm, but they seem of later date than St. Augustin. Whosoever erreth not in Wisdom itself, is not burnt by the sun. Whosoever erreth not in the Church, and in the Lord’s Flesh, and in those things which were done for us in time, is not burnt by the moon. But every man although he believeth in Christ, erreth either in this or that respect, unless what is here prayed for, “The Lord is thy defence upon the hand of thy right hand,” is realized in him. He goeth on to say, “So that the sun shall not burn thee by day, nor the moon by night” (ver. 6). Thy defence, therefore, is upon the hand of thy right hand for this reason, that the sun may not burn thee by day, nor the moon by night. Understand hence, brethren, that it is spoken figuratively. For, in truth, if we think of the visible sun, it burneth by day: doth the moon burn by night? But what is burning? Offence. Hear the Apostle’s words: “Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?”54205420     2 Cor. xi. 29.

8. “For the Lord shall preserve thee from all evil” (ver. 7). From offences in the sun, from offences in the moon, from all evil shall He preserve thee, who is thy defence upon the hand of thy right hand, who will not sleep nor slumber. And for what reason? Because we are amid temptations: “The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil. The Lord preserve thy soul:” even thy very soul. “The Lord preserve thy going out and thy coming in, from this time forth for evermore” (ver. 8). Not thy body; for the Martyrs were consumed in the body: but “the Lord preserve thy soul;” for the Martyrs yielded not up their souls. The persecutors raged against Crispina,54215421     St. Crispina. whose birthday we are to-day celebrating; they were raging against a rich and delicate woman: but she was strong, for the Lord was her defence upon the hand of her right hand. He was her Keeper. Is there any one in Africa, my brethren, who knoweth her not? For she was most illustrious, noble in birth, abounding in wealth: but all these things were in her left hand, beneath her head. An enemy advanced to strike her head, and the left hand was presented to him, which was under her head. Her head was above, the right hand embraced her from above.54225422     Song of Sol. ii. 6. [He thus concludes: “Although the Psalm is short, yet our exposition and discourse on it hath been long. Imagine, my brethren, that owing to the birthday of the blessed Crispina I have invited you, and have been immoderate in protracting the banquet. Might not this have happened to you, if any military officer had invited you, and compel you to drink at his table without measure? May it be lawful for us to do this in a sacred exposition, that ye may be inebriated and satisfied to the full.”—C.]


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