February 19, 2014 + On the Interpretation of the Psalms (Part 1)
THE LETTER OF ST. ATHANASIUS TO MARCELLINUS ON THE INTERPRETATION OF THE PSALMS (Part 1)
My dear Marcellinus, YOUR steadfastness in Christ fills me with admiration. Not only are you bearing well your present trial, with its attendant suffering; you are even living under rule and, so the bearer of your letter tells me, using the leisure necessitated by your recent illness to study the whole body of the Holy Scriptures and especially the Psalms. Of every one of those, he says, you are trying to grasp the inner force and sense. Splendid! I myself am devoted to the Psalms, as indeed to the whole Bible; and I once talked with a certain studious old man, who had bestowed much labour on the Psalter, and discoursed to me about it with great persuasiveness and charm, expressing himself clearly too, and holding a copy of it in his hand the while he spoke. So I am going to write down for you the things he said.
SON, all the books of Scripture, both Old Testament and New, are inspired by God and useful for instruction [2 Tim 3:16], as it is written; but to those who really study it the Psalter yields especial treasure. Each book of the Bible has, of course, its own particular message: the Pentateuch, for example, tells of the beginning of the world, the doings of the patriarchs, the exodus of Israel from Egypt, the giving of the Law, and the ordering of the tabernacle and the priesthood; The Triteuch [Joshua, Judges, and Ruth] describes the division of the inheritance, the acts of the judges, and the ancestry of David; Kings and Chronicles record the doings of the kings, Esdras [Ezra] the deliverance from exile, the return of the people, and the building of the temple and the city; the Prophets foretell the coming of the Saviour, put us in mind of the commandments, reprove transgressorts, and for the Gentiles also have a special word. Each of these books, you see, is like a garden which grows one special kind of fruit; by contrast, the Psalter is a garden which, besides its special fruit, grows also some of all the rest.
The creation, for instance, of which we read in Genesis, is spoken of in Psalm 19, The heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament showest His handiwork, and again in 24, The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof: the inhabited earth and all that dwell therein. He Himself laid the foundations of it on the seas. The exodus from Egypt, which Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy record, is fitly sung in Psalms 78, 106, and 114. When Israel came out of Egypt, says this last, the House of Jacob from among a foreign people, Judah became his holy place and Israel came under his authority. He sent Moses His servant, Psalm 105 declares, Aaron whom He had chosen. He showed the words of His signs among them, and of His wonders in the land of ham. Darkness He sent, and it was dark, and they were not obedient to his word. He turned their waters into blood and slew their fish: their land brought forth frogs, even in the king's apartments. He spake, and dog-flies came, and flies in all their quarters; and so on, all through this Psalm and the next, we find the same things treated. As for the tabernacle and the priesthood, we have reference to them in Psalm 29, sung when the tabernacle was carried forth, [This Psalm is heading in the Septuagint A Psalm of David, when the Tabernacle went forth] Bring unto the Lord, ye sons of God, bring unto the Lord young rams, bring to the Lord glory and honour.
The doings of Joshua, the son of Nun, and of the Judges also are mentioned, this time in Psalm 105, They built them cities to dwell in and sowed fields and planted vineyards, for it was under Joshua that the promised land was given into their hands. And when we read repeatedly in this same Psalm, They cried unto the Lord in their trouble and He saved them out of their distress, the period of the judges is referred to, for then it was that, when they cried to Him, He raised up judges to deliver them form their oppressors, each time the need arose. In the same way, Psalm 20 has the kings in mind when singing, Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will gain glory by the Name of the Lord our God. They are brought down and fallen, but we are risen and stand upright. And Psalm 126 of the Gradual Psalms [Psalms 119 - 133] speaks of that which Esdras tells, When the Lord turned the captivity of Sion, we became as those comforted; and similarly Psalm 122, I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the House of the Lord. Our feet were set in thy gates, O Jerusalem! Jerusalem is built as a city that has fellowship within itself: thither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, to testify to Israel...
Apostle Philemon the Martyr of the Seventy
You appeared to your flock as a rule of faith, an image of humility and a teacher of abstinence. Because of your lowliness, Heaven was opened to you. Because of your poverty, riches were granted to you. O holy bishop, Meletius, pray to Christ our God to save our souls!