A Hymne to God the Father

Wilt thou forgive that sinne where I begunne
     Which is my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive those sinnes, through which I runne,
     And doe them still: though still I doe deplore?
          When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
                         For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sinne by which I wonne
     Others to sinne? and, made my sinne their doore?
Wilt thou forgive that sinne which I did shunne
     A yeare, or two: but wallowed in, a score?
          When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
                         For I have more.

I have a sinne of feare, that when I have spunne
     My last thred, I shall perish on the shore;
Sweare by thy selfe, that at my death thy Sunne
     Shall shine as it shines now, and heretofore;
          And, having done that, Thou hast done,
                         I have no more.

John Donne, 1633.

Psalms 3-5

One of the things that I neglected to mention in my earlier short introduction to this set of formal and informal translations of the Psalms is that I’ll be implementing the division of the Psalm “titles” into postscripts and superscripts as I described in this post on the discovery of James Thirtle in this regard. For those inscrutable apparently musical terms in the Psalms (Selah, Negginoth, etc) I’ll use the NRSV translation’s mostly fine choices, but also some others. Also, I’ve stuck these translations in my category of “Theobabble” simply because I’ll likely not be able to restrain myself at times from bits of theologizing commentary as in the first post. Also, because my “Informal translation” sections are so paraphrastic at times as to border on commentary, rather than translation. These informal translations are guided by impressions I pick up from the Hebrew as I read it, and often try to expose in my looser than literal English translation some of the wordplay, implications, and connotations of the Hebrew, as I’ve learned it. It’s often hit or miss, and none of this is to be taken as “gospel.” It’s all in fun. So, we continue.

Psalm 3
Formal translation
A Psalm of David, in his fleeing away from the face of Absalom, his son.
O LORD, how many are my enemies!
Many are those rising against me!
Many are those saying of my soul,
“There is no salvation for him in God.”
(Instrumental interlude)
But You, O LORD, are a shield around me,
my Glory, and the One lifting my head.
I cry out my voice to the LORD
and He answers me from His holy mountain.
(Instrumental interlude)
I laid down and slept, and I awoke
for the LORD supports me.
I will not fear tens of thousands of a people
who have all around set themselves against me.
Rise up, O LORD! Save me, my God!
For you have struck all my enemies on the cheek.
The teeth of the wicked have You shattered.
Of the LORD is salvation.
On Your People is Your blessing.
(Instrumental interlude)
To the director. With stringed instruments.

Informal translation
A Psalm of David, from when he escaped his son Absalom.
O Lord, look how many enemies I have now,
who all say of me, “God will not save him.”
(Instrumental interlude)
But You, Lord, are my shield,
You honor me and show me favor.
I cry aloud to the Lord,
and He answers me from His Throne.
(Instrumental interlude)
I can sleep, and wake up in the morning,
because the Lord protects me all night.
I will never fear the armies of any nation
who have surrounded and besieged me.
Rise up and save me, my Lord and God!
You always conquer my enemies,
knocking the teeth right out of their heads!
Safety comes from the Lord alone.
You have blessed Your People with it.
(Instrumental interlude)
For the conductor: use stringed instruments.

Psalm 4
Formal translation
A Psalm of David.
In my calling out, answer me,
O my God, my righteousness!
When in tight trouble, You have given me room.
Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.
O sons of man, until when will my glory be for an insult,
will you love emptiness, will you seek a lie?
(Instrumental interlude)
But know that the LORD has separated the pious one for Himself.
The LORD hears in my calling out to Him.
Be angry, but do not sin.
Speak in your heart, upon your bed, and be silent.
(Instrumental interlude)
Offer sacrifices of righteousness, and trust the LORD.
Many are those saying, Who will show us a good thing?
Shine upon us the light of Your face, O LORD!
You have placed joy in my heart,
more than the time their wheat and new wine was abundant.
In peace will I both lie down and sleep,
for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in security.
To the director. For flutes.

Informal translation
A Psalm of David.
Answer me when I cry out to you,
my righteous God!
When I’m in dire straits,
You always widen the way to safety.
Show me Your kindness and answer my prayer.
You people, when will you stop insulting my dignity?
When will you stop loving trivialities, and preferring lies?
(Instrumental interlude)
Know that the Lord has chosen me, His worshipper, for His favor.
The Lord answers me whenever I pray to Him.
You may be angry, but do not sin against others.
Work it out in your head, in private, and keep quiet.
(Instrumental interlude)
Offer up your righteousness, not your animals,
and put your trust in the Lord.
Many say, “Show me something good in the world!”
God will show you His face and change your life!
The Lord has given me inner joy
greater than the best times of my life.
I will always rest secure, for You, Lord, have made me safe.
For the conductor: use flutes.

Psalm 5
Formal translation
A Psalm of David.
Give ear to my words, O LORD,
consider my sighing.
Attend the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to You I pray.
O LORD, You will hear my voice.
In the morning, I will arrange an offering for You,
and I will keep watch.
For You are not a God delighting in wickedness.
Evil will not dwell with You.
Boastful ones will not stand themselves before Your eyes.
You have hated all those doing iniquity.
You will destroy speakers of falsehood.
The man of blood and deceit the LORD abhors.
And I, in the abundance of Your mercy,
will come to Your House,
I will prostrate myself toward the Temple of Your Holiness,
in fear of You.
O LORD, lead me in Your righteousness,
because of my opponents.
Make straight before me Your way.
For there is not in his mouth any established thing.
Their heart is destruction,
their throat an open grave.
With their tongue they deceive.
Declare them guilty, O God.
Let them fall from their own plots.
In the abundance of their transgressions cast them out,
for they have rebelled against You.
But they will rejoice, all those who take refuge in You.
Forever they will sing joyfully.
Spread protection over them,
and they will rejoice in You,
those who love Your name.
For you will bless the righteous one, O LORD,
as with a shield of favor You surround him.
To the director. For stringed instruments. According to the Eighth.

Informal translation
A Psalm of David.
Listen to my heartfelt prayer, O Lord.
Always answer me, my Divine King,
because I only pray to You.
I know, Lord, you answer my prayer.
I set myself before You in the morning,
and only have to wait for Your answer.
For You find no pleasure in evil.
It has no place with You.
Braggards cannot stand before You.
You hate evildoers and destroy liars.
The LORD despises everyone violent and deceitful.
But through Your great mercy, I may come to Your House,
and worship You in awe in Your Holy Sanctuary.
O Lord, because I have enemies,
guide me in Your righteous Way.
For nothing they say is true,
and they are full of evil and corruption.
They like to deceive with slick lies.
Render Your judgment, O God,
and let their own machinations condemn them.
Throw them and all their sins away,
for they have rebelled against You.
But all those who come to You for refuge
will rejoice in You forever.
Protect all those who rejoice in You,
everyone who loves Your Name.
For You, O Lord God, always bless the righteous,
surrounding us with the shield of Your grace.
For the conductor: use stringed instruments. Eighth mode.

Sayings of the Fathers: Arsenios (5)

41. And they say that the whole time of his life, sitting for the work of his hands, he had a furrow in his chest, a gift of the tears falling from his eyes. And Abba Poimen, hearing that he had fallen asleep, said, weeping, Blessed are you, Abba Arsenios, for you wept for yourself here in the world. For he who does not weep here, will weep there forever. So, either willing here, or there from tortures, it is impossible not to weep.

42. And Abba Daniel related about him, that: He never wanted to speak of any question from the Scriptures, though able to speak if he wanted. But neither did he easily write a letter. And when on occasion he came to the church, he sat behind the pillar, so no one would see his face, nor would he face another. And his appearance was angelic, like Jacob, all grey-haired and graceful of body, and possessing austerity, and had a great beard hanging down to his loins. And the lashes of his eyes had fallen out from weeping. He was tall, but bent over from age. He reached ninety-five years. For forty years he worked in the palace of Theodosius the Great of Divine memory, father of the divine Arcadius and Honorius, and he worked forty years in Skete, and ten in Troē above Babylon, opposite Memphis, and three years at Canopus of Alexandria. And the other two years, he went again to Troē, and there fell asleep, finishing his race in peace and in fear of God. For he was a good man and full of the Holy Spirit and faith. And he left me his leather tunic, and white hair shirt, and palm-frond sandals. And I, unworthy, wear them, so I may be blessed.

43. Abba Daniel related further about Abba Arsenios, that: Once he called my Fathers, Abba Alexander and Zoilos, and humbling himself said to them, Since the demons battle me, and I do not know whether they will rob me in sleep, rather struggle with me this night, and guard me so I do not fall asleep during the vigil. And one sat on his right, and one on the left, keeping silence late at night. And my Fathers said that: We fell asleep and we awoke, and we could not discern him to have been sleeping. And early in the morning (God knows whether he did it by himself, to make us think he had slept, or in truth the state of sleep had come), he huffed three breaths, and promptly rose, saying, I slept, indeed. And we answered, We don’t know.

44. Some elders once came to Abba Arsenios, and asked often in order to meet him. And he opened [the door] to them. And they asked him to say a word to them about those who live in stillness and without meeting others. The elder said to them, As long as the virgin is in the house of her father, many wish to be betrothed to her. But once she has taken a husband, she is no longer pleasing to all, some hating, others approving, but she no longer has the same honor as earlier when she was hidden. So also with the soul. As soon as it is shown to people, it is no longer able to fulfill.

Sayings of the Fathers: Arsenios (4)

It’s been a while, but here I continue my translation of the Apophthegmata Patrum, the Alphabetical Series, with Abba Arsenios, from right where we left off. The first one, number 38, is particularly striking. Enjoy!

38. They say about one of the brothers who came to Skete to see Abba Arsenios, that, going to the church, he asked of the clerics to visit Abba Arsenios. So they said to him, Rest a little, brother, and you will see him. But he said, I will not eat anything, if I have not gone to him. So they sent a brother to bring him, for his cell was far. And having knocked at the door, they entereed, and greeting the elder, they sat down in silence. So the brother from the church said, I will leave. Pray for me. And the foreign brother, not finding confidence before the elder, said to the brother, I also will go with you. And they left together. Then he asked him, saying, Take me also to Abba Moses of the robbers. And when they went to him, he greeted them with joy, and sent them away with kindness. And the brother who brought him said to him, Behold, I have brought you to the foreigner and to the Egyptian. Which of the two was pleasing to you? And answering, he said, Up to now, the Egyptian was pleasing to me. And one of the Fathers, hearing this, prayed to God, saying, Lord, explain to me this matter, that one flees because of Your Name, and the other easily embraces because of your name. And behold, there was shown to him two great boats on the river, and he sees Abba Arsenios and the Spirit of God sailing in stillness (ησυχια) in one, and Abba Moses and the Angels of God sailing in the other, and they were feeding him pieces of honeycomb.

39. Abba Daniel said that when Abba Arsenios was nearly finished [=near death], he sent to them, saying, Do not think to make love offerings (αγαπας) for me. For I have indeed made for myself a love offering. I will find it.

40. When Abba Arsenios was near finishing, his disciples were troubled. And he said to them, The hour has not yet come; but when the hour comes, I will tell you. I will have to be judged with you at the judgment seat of terror if you give my remains to anyone. And they said, So what will we do, who don’t know how to entomb? And the elder said to them, Don’t you know how to tie a rope to my feet and drag me to the mountain? And this was a saying of the elder: Aresenios, why have you gone out? Much regretting speaking, but never silence. And when his end was near, the brothers saw him weeping, and said to him, In truth, do you too fear, Father? And he said to them, In truth, the fear that is now with me in this hour, is the same with me since I became a monk. And thus he fell asleep.

Psalms 1-2

This post is the beginning of something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time: a translation of the Psalms in two forms, a formal, literal translation and a more informal, dynamic translation. This set of translations is from the Hebrew, though with particular reference to the Greek Psalms of the Septuagint especially, which is my own canonical tradition. I use the Greek primarily to find the overlapping semantic range of words in Hebrew and Greek, narrowing down the potential meaning. Here are the first two psalms.

Psalm 1
Formal translation:
Blessed is the man
who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
who in the way of sinners has not stood,
and who in the seat of scoffers has not sat.
Rather in the Law of the LORD is his delight,
and on His Law he meditates day and night.
For he is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which gives forth its fruit in its season,
and its leaves never wither.
For all that he does succeeds.
Not so the wicked:
for they are like the chaff which the wind scatters.
Therefore the wicked will not arise in judgment,
nor the sinners in the council of the righteous.
For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
and the way of the wicked will perish.

Informal translation:
Blessed is every one
who has never followed the advice of wicked people,
who has never participated in the actions of sinners,
and who has never associated with scoffers,
but rather who finds delight in the Law of the Lord,
and thinks about His Law day and night.
Such a one is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which always gives its fruit in the right season,
and its leaves never wither and fall.
For all that such a one does will succeed.
Not so for the wicked,
for they are like chaff scattered on the wind.
The wicked will never stand to receive a good judgment,
nor will sinners be counted in the community of the righteous.
For the Lord is watching the ways of the righteous,
but the ways of the wicked will only get them lost.

Psalm 2
Formal translation:
Why do the nations rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and rulers counsel together against the LORD,
and against his Anointed:
“Let us burst their bonds,
and cast from us their cords.”
He sitting in the heavens laughs,
my Lord derides them.
Then will He speak to them in His fury,
and in His wrath He will terrify them:
For I have installed my king,
on Zion, my holy mountain.”
Let me relate the decree of the LORD:
He said to me, “You are my son.
Today I have begotten you.
Ask Me, and I will give the nations as your inheritance,
and as your possession, the ends of the earth.
You will shatter them with a rod of iron,
and like a potter’s vessel break them into pieces.”
Now, kings, understand;
be corrected, judges of the earth.
Serve the LORD in fear;
rejoice in trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest He become angry,
and you perish,
for quickly kindled is His wrath.
Blessed are those seeking refuge with Him.

Informal translation:
Why do the nations rage,
and the peoples of the world plot useless schemes?
The kings of the earth array themselves,
and various rulers conspire against the Lord
and His Chosen ruler, saying,
“Let’s revolt from their rulership,
and have freedom from them.”
The One enthroned upon the heavens laughs!
My Lord holds them in scorn.
He will speak to them in His fury,
and terrify them in His wrath, saying,
“I Myself have installed My King
on Zion, My holy mountain.”
Let me recall the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, “You are my Son.
Today, I have begotten you.
Ask and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,
everything to the ends of the earth as your possession.
You will shatter them with a rod of iron,
like a potter shatters a useless pot.”
Understand, you kings of the earth,
and be corrected, you judges of the world.
Serve the Lord, fearing His greatness.
Worship Him joyfully, trembling with humility.
Give all honor to the Son, His chosen ruler,
lest He become angry and you perish,
for His anger is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all those seeking refuge in Him.

One of the most interesting things about Psalm 2 is the presence, explicitly, of the Messiah, in verse 2. Many would say that we should not be reading a Christian “Messiah” here, but that this rather refers to the ruler in Jerusalem, the Son of David. The trick is that it is actually both. The Messianic expectation as exemplified in the prophets and their supporters, whose archive the Bible is, was rooted even in the times of the monarchy in Judah and Israel to a coming perfect exemplar of the ruling Davidic line, all of whom were anointed as king. The “Son of David” to come was understood to be the fulfillment in several ways, of sacrificial suffering in various ways (particularly in the Suffering Servant in Isaiah) and of great power and rulership being awarded to him by God, Who considered him His Son. Various groups understood the coming Son of David in different ways, but the ideal shows itself even here in Psalm 2: a universal ruler of extraordinary power, both Son of David and Son of God. Seeing application of this psalm to Jesus is only a stretch if one would deny Jesus and the first century apostles and disciples any kind of continuity with the culture which produced the Hebrew Bible and lived its history and dreamt its dreams. They had been waiting for the Son of David even while various unsatisfying Sons of David were still ruling, and even moreso once deprived of independent local rule. And God made certain to inspire various prophets to keep the hope alive through the use of such ambiguous, multivalent phraseology. While the messianic hope may have become misunderstood as a solely political issue, which is unfortunate, the hope was present even from pre-exilic times, quite obviously, though it grew stronger afterward. And with wider dissemination of the Scriptures and their translation into Greek, others were able to find a trail of promises and prophecies throughout, a kind of Great Tradition that wound its way through all the Scriptures. A Christological reading of the Old Testament, when understood that the Anointed is the Son of David, is not at all far-fetched, but rather a part of the fabric of the Scriptures themselves, just as we see in the hope for universal rulership, authority, and power for the Anointed Son of David in Psalm 2.

The Iconic Books Blog

Professor Jim Watts of the Department of Religion at Syracuse University has written to inform me about a very interesting new blog:

A new blog that may be of interest to you has come online in the last couple of months: The Iconic Books Blog comments on Bibles as well as other scriptures and “texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight.” It is produced by the Iconic Books Project at Syracuse University. Comments welcome!

Even if you’re suffering from only a mild case of the apparently incurable condition bibliophilia, you’ll find much solace there!

Wise fools

It is not the Scripture experts, those who are professionally concerned with God, who recognize him; they are too caught up in the intricacies of their detailed knowledge. Their great learning distracts them from simply gazing upon the whole, upon the reality of God as he reveals himself—for people who know so much about the complexity of the issues, it seems that it just cannot be so simple.
Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, p. 342.

Though Pope Benedict is here writing about the Scripture scholars who interacted with Jesus in first century Jerusalem and elsewhere, the statement can be extended to those of the modern day, as well. Recognizing the simplicity of God’s revelation is a serious challenge to people trained to create and maintain complexity. Yet it is not impossible even for these. In the history of the Church, there have been numerous Saints who were excellently educated, some of the best minds of their time, like St Basil of Caesarea. But there were many more of more humble intellect, and we even know of Saints who were illiterate among the Desert Fathers. Pope Benedict’s book, in fact, points a way for such modern scholars to turn, incorporating serious scholarly results within a hermeneutical approach guided primarily by faith and love in the Tradition of the Church, not grants and publications in the academic cursus honorum of backbiting and selfishness.

I read an interesting thing today somewhere, the advice of an Orthodox priest to someone who was perhaps getting in a little over his head in theological reading: Never read for longer than you pray in a day. It’s an imbalance between the mental and Spiritual that is common, to spend much time reading theological texts, learning the intricacies of various synods, heresies, and so on, while not having the Spiritual life which would provide the proper context for all such knowledge. It’s only in such an environment that these pieces of information really take on value at all. It is only in this way that all such things can truly be understood, from inside the Tradition of the Church, to which they properly belong. The Church Fathers knew this, that their scholarship was secondary to a life of prayer. Some of us need to learn the same lesson.

Love makes bold

Me and my gift : kind Lord, behold
     Be not extreme to test or sift ;
Thy Love can turn to fire and gold
     Me and my gift.

     Myself and mine to Thee I lift :
Gather us to Thee from the cold
     Dead outer world where dead
          things drift.

If much were mine, then manifold
     Should be the offering of my thrift ;
I am but poor, yet love makes bold
     Me and my gift.

Christina Georgina Rossetti
Before 1893

Plea for the Historian

Forebear to deem the Chronicler unwise,
Ungentle, or untouched by seemly ruth,
Who, gathering up all that Time’s envious tooth
Has spared of sound and grave realities,
Firmly rejects those dazzling flatteries,
Dear as they are to unsuspecting Youth,
That might have drawn down Clio from the skies
To vindicate the majesty of truth.
Such was her office while she walked with men,
A Muse, who, not unmindful of her Sire,
All-ruling Jove, whate’er the theme might be,
Revered her Mother, sage Mnemosyne,
And taught her faithful servants how the lyre
Should animate, but not mislead, the pen.

William Wordsworth
from Memorials of a Tour in Italy, 1837

On the Confusion of “Canon”

The following post is extracted from a small notebook of mine that I used to carry around in my bookbag precisely in order to capture such thoughts that were stimulated by my reading or conversations. This entry, germane to John Hobbins’ Thinking About Canon conversation, was written 21 August 1999, beginning at 3:25 pm, at home. I have edited the original slightly, expanding abbreviations and such, and bringing the whole more in line with my current thoughts on the subject, deleting some extraneous, distracting passages along the way.

On the Confusion of “Canon”
There are two approaches:
1.) The canon is that of my church tradition only.
2.) The canon is that of all the churches: it includes every work that every tradition holds in its canon.

The second is purely my own ideal, but one that I think is valid philosophically, ecumenically, and kindly. To reject a book held sacred by another church is to reject that church. Whether one accepts that all of these are the Body of Christ or not, one cannot ignore them or their practices, traditions, arts and their canon. The result of learning the canons of the churches has been, for me, often surprising, and always enlightening. And that’s simply at the current stage of history! Seeing in older writings various other books being accepted in various traditions and in various ways adds yet another dimension (or layer of confusion!) to the understanding.

I can see several approaches, all of which require a certain amount of dilgence:
1.) Extreme familiarity with ALL the books is required.
2.) Doctrinal arguments, in seeking scriptural referents, should seek them only in that group of books which is common to all (basically the Protestant canon of 39 OT/27 NT books).
3.) Books which we still possess (sadly, so many have been lost) and which at one time were held to be canonical, should be included in some way. Also, some books were approved for reading (church or private), though not canonized, and these too should be included in some fashion. Then, too, various manuscripts of the Bible include various books not usually canonical, and yet there they are! These, too, must play a role.
4.) I think that three levels are called for:
1.} Canonical—which refers to that canon with which one is most familiar in the church to which one belongs.
2.} Deutero-canonical, which is—all the various writings that are currently held canonical in other churches than one’s own.
3.} Trito-canonical—all the various writings which we still possess that were once canonical, or that were “recommended reading,” or that appear in biblical manuscripts.
To simplify:
1.) (Primary) Canon
2.) Secondary Canon
3.) Esteemed Books
(“Secondary Canon” is perhaps preferable to “deutero-canon” as the latter is already in use with a specific meaning already in place.)
1.) My Canon
2.) Our Canon
3.) Their Canon

Now, all this leads to a very large number of books! 39 + 12 + 27 = 78, and this is simply the number of Old Testament + Apocrypha + New Testament books in the Ecumenical NRSV (not counting additions: Esther, Psalm 151, Letter of Jeremiah [included as chapter 6 of Baruch], Daniel [Prayer/Song, Susanna, Bel & Dragon]). All those are just to begin with! Some others to add are Jubilees and First Enoch (Ethiopian Church, and for Enoch, Jude), Psalms 152 through 155 (some Syrian manuscripts, the Dead Sea Scrolls), First and Second Clement and the Apostolic Constitutions (Coptic Church), Odes of Solomon (some Syrian manuscripts, some Greek manuscripts), either the whole of Second Baruch or the Letter of Baruch (2Bar 78.1–86.1 or 87.1) [not sure about this one—definitely the Letter of Baruch, though], Apocalypse of Peter (formerly popular in the West), The Didache, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, and probably others.

Along with all these, there is the acknowledged necessity to familiarize oneself with the “literary context” of the Old Testament and New Testament, and thus, one takes up the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Charlesworth) and the New Testament Apocrypha (Schneemelcher) and the Apostolic Fathers (Lightfoot, in a handy edition edited by Harmer, then Holmes). All of the above-mentioned works will be found in one or more of those (except the Apostolic Constitutions, which can be found in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, translated by William Whiston, edited by Donaldson; I may, or rather, I intend to produce a new, modern English translation of the Apostolic Constitutions, the lack of which is perplexing). Though such a wealth of reading is a daunting task, think of the rewards one finds upon gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation not only for this body of various writings, but also, and perhaps especially more importantly, for one’s fellow Christian in addition to oneself, for one will find beliefs held dear in these writings. Though one may also shy away from reading “apocryphal” books, and may not accept, say, a Syrian Orthodox or Ethiopian Tawahedo Christian as a brother, that does not mean that such an attitude is correct. This whole “I am, they’re not” attitude is not a pearl before swine, but rather something falling immediately behind the swine (let the reader understand!).

I think I like: Canon, Secondary Canon, Esteemed Books. Nice order, and quite clear.