February 26, 2014 + On the Interpretation of the Psalms (Part 2)
THE LETTER OF ST. ATHANASIUS TO MARCELLINUS ON THE INTERPRETATION OF THE PSALMS (Part 2)
You see, then, that all the subjects mentioned in the historical books are mentioned also in one Psalm or another; but when we come to the matters of which the Prophets speak we find that these occur in almost all. Of the coming of the Saviour and how, althought He is God, He yet should dwell among us, Psalm 50 says, God shall come openly, even our God, and He shall not keep silence; and in Psalm 118 we read, Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord! We have blessed you from the House of the Lord. God is the Lord, and He has given us light. That He Who comes is Himself the Father's Word, Psalm 107 thus sings, He sent His Word and healed them, and rescued them out of all their distresses. For the God Who comes is this self-same Word Whom the Father sends, and of this Word Who is the Father's Voice, Whom well he knows to be the Son of God, the Psalmist sings again in 45, My heart is inditing of a good Word; and also in 110, Out of the womb, before the down, have I begotten Thee. Whom else, indeed, should any call God's very Offspring, save His own Word and Wisdom? And he, who knows full well that it was through the Word that God said, Let there be light, Let there be a firmament. Let there be all things, [Gen 1:3 ff] says again in Psalm 33, By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the Breath of His mouth.
And, so far from being ignorant of the coming of Messiah, he makes mention of it first and foremost in Psalm 45, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever, a scepter of justice is the sceptre of Thy kingdom. Thou has loved righteousness and hated lawlessness: wherefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. Further, lest any one should think this coming was in appearance only, Psalm 87 shows that He Who was to come should both come as man and at the same time be He by Whom all things were made. Mother Sion shall say, A man, a man indeed is born in her: and He himself, the Most Highest, founded her, it says; and that is equivalent to saying The Word was God, all things were made by Him, and the Word became flesh. [Jn 1:1, 2, 14] Neither is the Psalmist silent about the fact that He should be born of a virgin - no, he underlines it straight away in 45, which we were quoting, but a moment since. Harken, O daughter, he says, and see and incline thine ear, and forget thine own people and thy fathers's house. For the King has desired thy beauty, and He is thy Lord. Is not this like what Gabriel said, Hail, thou that art full of grace, the Lord is with thee? [Lk 1:28] For the Psalmist, having called Him the Anointed One, that is Messiah or Christ, fortwith declares His human birth by saying, Harken, O daughter, and see; the only difference being that Gabriel addresses Mary by an epithet, because he is of another race from her, while David fitly calls her his own daughter, because it was from him that she should spring.
Having thus shown that Christ should come in human form, the Psalter goes on to show that He can suffer in the flesh He has assumed. It is as foreseeing how the Jews would plot against Him that Psalm 2 sings, Why do the heathen rage and peoples meditate vain things? The kings of the earth stood up and their rulers took counsel together against the Lord and against His Christ. And Psalm 22, speaking in the Saviour's own person, describes the manner of His death. Thou has brought me into the dust of death, for many dogs have compassed me, the assembly of the wicked have laid siege to me. They peirced my hands and my feet, they numbered all my bones, they gazed and stared at me, they parted my garments among them and cast lots for my vesture. They pierced my hands and my feet- what else can that mean except the cross? and Psalms 88 and 69, again speaking in the Lord's own person, tell us further that He suffered these things, not for His own sake but for ours. Thou has made Thy wrath to rest upon me, says the one; and the other adds, I paid them things I never took. For He did not die as being Himself liable to death: He suffered for us, and bore in Himself the wrath that was the penalty of our transgression, even as Isaiah says, Himself bore our weaknesses. [Mt 8:17] So in Psalm 138 we say, The Lord will make requital for me; and in the 72nd the Spirit says, He shall save the children of the poor and bring the slanderer low, for from the hand of the mighty He has set the poor man free, the needy man whom there was none to help[ Athanasius takes these last two quotations as referring to the Resurrection, although it is not named.]
Nor is this all. The Psalter further indicates beforehand the bodily Ascension of the Saviour into heaven, saying in Psalm 24, Lift up your gates, ye princes, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the king of glory shall come in! And again in 47, God is gone up with a merry noise, the Lord with the voice of the trumpet. The Session also it proclaims, saying in Psalm 110, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on My right hand, until I make thine enemies the footstool of thy feet. And Psalm 9 mentions also the coming destruction of the devil, crying, Thou satest on Thy throne, Thou that judgest righteousness, Thou hast rebuked the heathen and the wicked one is destroyed. And that He should receive all judgement from the Father, this also the Psalter does not hide from us, but foreshows Him as coming to be the judge of all in 72, Give the King Thy judgements, O God, and Thy righteousness unto the King's Son, that He may judge Thy people in righteousness and Thy poor with justice. In Psalm 50 too we read, He shall call the heaven from above, and the earth, that He may judge His people. And the heavens shall declare His righteousness, that God is judge indeed. The 82nd like-wise says, God standeth in the assembly of gods, in the midst He judges gods. The calling of the Gentiles also is to be learnt from many passages in this same book, especially in these words of Psalm 47, O clap your hands together, all ye Gentiles, shout unto God with the voice of triumph; and again in the 72nd, The Ethiopians shall fall down before Him, His enemies shall lick the dust. The kings of Tarsis and of the islands shall bring presents, the kings of Arabia and Saba shall offer gifts. All these things are sung of in the Psalter; and they are shown forth separately in the other books as well.
My old friend made rather a point of this, that the things we find in the Psalms about the Saviour are stated in the other books of Scripture too; he stressed the fact that one interpretation is common to them all, and that they have but one voice in the Holy Spirit.
St. Porphyrius the Bishop of Gaza
Adorned with the royal purple of your virtues, you were glorious as a hierarch and shone forth resplendently, wise Porphyrius. You were excellent in word and deed and you strengthen all with the grace of godliness. As you ever serve Christ, do not cease to pray for the world.
Kontakion, Tone 2
You were adorned by your holy way of life and were resplendent in the robe of the priesthood, all-blessed, divinely-wise Porphyrius. You are famous for your powers of healing and you unceasingly pray for us all.