Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume VIII/Expositions on the Book of Psalms/Editor's Preface
The delightful task of editing these Enarrations, which was what I undertook, became, indeed, a very painful one when the general editor informed me that the whole work must be comprised in a single volume of the series. This allowed but one hundred pages to each one of the six volumes of the Oxford translation. But I felt that my learned friend was right (1) in deciding that St. Augustin’s treatment of the Psalms must not be wanting to the series, and (2) that the exposition is so diffuse and digressive, that it readily admits of abridgement, if these exceptional features supply the material for retrenchments. In working out the result, I have “done what I could.” I have preserved the African Psalter entire, with as much of the comment as was possible; even so overrunning, at the publishers’ cost, the six hundred pages which were all subscribers might expect. The only means of avoiding this was to omit entirely the CXIXth Psalm, an expedient to which I could not consent.
To the primitive believers came the Psalter, like an aftermath, wet with the dews of a new birth as from the womb of the morning. The Spirit had descended upon it anew, as showers upon the mown grass; and it had sprung up afresh, sweeter than before, for the pasture of flocks. The Church received it as full of Christ, as the inheritance of a nobler and truer Israel, for which His coming had illuminated it with a genuine interpretation, painting even its darker and clouded surfaces with the bow of promise, now made the symbol of an everlasting covenant and of all promises fulfilled in Him. Hence the local and temporary meanings of the Psalms were regarded as insignificant. Their Sinaitic comminations and their conformities to the Law were but prophecies which the Jews had voluntarily appropriated by rejecting the Son of David. They were types of what had been fulfilled in their rejected Messiah. The Church received the Psalter from the temple and the synagogue, and adopted it into liturgic use, “with hymns and spiritual songs,” all magnifying the crucified and glorified Christ. With the fulfillment of prophecy by the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the Jews, everything pertaining to the law was sloughed from its ripened stalk; and the Psalter blossomed with the consummate flowers and fruitage which were its deeper intent, and which had waited so long to be disclosed. The true David had come, and little thought of the typical David was to be entertained: the true Israel was to be seen everywhere, and the dead images of legal rites and symbols were to be interpreted only by the Gospel. To bring out its hidden meanings, the reading and chanting of the Psalter received the accentuation of antiphons and doxologies, and constantly elevated the worshippers into the newness of the spirit out of the oldness of the letter. Thus the whole book breathed a sweetness unknown to the Hebrews, but for which kings and prophets had patiently waited. The name of Jesus disclosed itself in every reference to salvation, and perfumed these sacred odes with a flavour that could come only from “the Root and the Offspring of David.” Such was the Psalter to the primitive faithful: the walk of Emmaus had opened their eyes to behold the Lord. To the true interpretation of the Psalms St. Paul had supplied the key, and from the beginning of the Church’s institutions we find evidences of the enthusiasm with which the Psalter was appropriated in all of the richness of its evangelic import. The earliest Fathers are full of what the genius of Augustin has embodied in his Enarrations, which nobody must confound with works of scientific exegesis. The author’s one idea was widely different from that of modern critics. His “accommodations” of Scripture, as they would now be called, are part of the system which the Church had received, of which Christ was the Alpha and the Omega, and in which the foreshadowing David was nowhere. He who comes to this volume with any other conception of its uses will be sadly disappointed. In the critical study of the Psalms, with all of the modern helps, such as Delitzsch and others have so richly supplied, let us not fail to exercise ourselves day and night; but if, as Christians, we wish to catch the living Spirit that animates the “wheels” or mechanical structure of the Psalms, let us learn from Augustin that indeed in every sense a greater than David, a “greater than Solomon, is here.” The fanciful ingenuity with which our author interweaves the New Testament with the Psalms will at first provoke a smile. His ideas seem often overstrained and unnatural. But let us reflect that he is animating the Church of Christ with the true “spirit of prophecy,” which is the “testimony of Jesus;” that his object is to hang Gospel associations upon every stem and twig that come from the root of Jesse, and to wean even the Hebrew Christians from their instinctive references to the Law. Let us adopt these joint conceptions of the work, and we shall find in it a glorious illustration of the Apostle’s assurance, “Ye are not come unto the mount that burned with fire, …but unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, …and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.”
In every way the divine and the student will find this work, even as here presented, a noble introduction to patristic studies. Let us observe also what it proves. It gives us the old African psalter in all its rude and uncouth conceptions of the Septuagint, and teaches us how much we owe to the erudition and labours of St. Jerome. First of all, the dignity of the Holy Scriptures, and their importance to all Christians, are assumed. Its historical values are very great: it shows the absolute freedom of the early Church from the corruptions of mediævalism. The Pentecostal unity of Christendom, the Catholic and Apostolic system as defined in the constitutions of Nicæa and Constantinople, the autonomy of national Churches, the independence of the African Church (illustrated by the personal history of Augustin, who rejected communion with the Bishop of Rome when he stretched his claims beyond seas), and the dogmatic primacy of the patriarchate of Carthage in Latin Christendom as the mother of its theology, are assumed in every reflection upon the Donatists, and in the tone and voice of the great preacher himself, to whom the Western Churches owe all that survives their schism and corruptions, even to our own day. But the ethical and doctrinal teacher will find the charm of these pages, (1) in their correspondence with the evangelical precepts of the Sermon on the Mount, and their freedom from the tainted distinctions and dilutions of modern casuists; (2) in their perpetual enforcement of the Pauline ideas of justification, harmonized successfully with those of St. James; (3) in the faithful exhibition of the doctrines of grace; (4) and in the loyalty to Jesus Christ of every word; abasing human merit, and presenting Him as “the end of the law for righteousness,” with an uncompromising tenacity, and a persevering reiteration of this fundamental verity which seems to foresee the gross departure of Western Churches from their original purity, and to “lay an anchor to windward” for their restoration to orthodoxy.
The readers of this volume will need little reference to the innumerable commentaries which have been devoted to the Psalter; but I must mention the exceptional work of the late erudite J. Mason Neale, D.D., because it throws light on the liturgical history of the Psalter in the Western Churches. The learned commentary of the late Bishop of Lincoln, Dr. Wordsworth, will be found to combine in a remarkable degree, with critical exposition, the Augustinian spirit of devout evangelical associations and elevations.
The editor of this volume blesses God for much spiritual help and comfort afforded by the review of these “songs of our pilgrimage,” with which his task has enriched the latest years of that period of our mortality beyond which all is but labour and sorrow.
A. C. C.
May 10, 1888.
It remains to note that I have had the Benedictine edition in the types of Louvain and of Migne constantly at hand, and have referred to them not only in all cases of doubt, but for general refreshment of mind; the epigrammatic beauty and consonance of Augustin’s Latin being untranslatable. From the Oxford translations I have rarely departed, and in all important instances have noted the wherefore in the margin. It was not the design of this series to give the reader any other than the masterly work of the scholars to whom we owe its appearance. Other instances have been such inconsiderable adaptations as are demanded in the suture of parts dislocated by abridgment. My brief annotations are always bracketed and marked by an initial of my name.
- See Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. vii. p. 530 et seq.
- Compare 2 Chron. vi. 42, Isa. lv. 3, and Acts xiii. 34.