Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Expositions on the Book of Psalms.: Psalm XCVI
Psalm XCVI. 4413
1. My lord and brother Severus 4414 still defers the pleasure we shall feel in his discourse, which he oweth us; for he acknowledgeth, that he is held a debtor. For all the Churches through which he hath passed, by his tongue the lord hath gladdened: much more therefore ought that Church to be rejoiced, out of which the Lord hath propagated his preaching among the rest. But what shall we do, but obey his will? I said, however, brethren, that he deferred, not that he defrauded us. Therefore let us keep him as a debtor bound, and release him not until he hath paid. Attend therefore, beloved: as far as the Lord alloweth, let us say somewhat of this Psalm, which indeed you already know; for the fresh mention of truth is sweet. Possibly when its title was pronounced, some heard it with wonder. For the Psalm is inscribed: “When the house was being built after the Captivity.” This title having been prefixed, ye were perhaps expecting in the text of the Psalm to hear what stones were hewn from the mountains, what masses were drawn to the spot, what foundations were laid, what beams were placed on high, what columns raised. Its song is of nothing of this kind.…It is no such house that is in building; for behold where it is built, not in one spot, not in any particular region. For thus he beginneth:—
2. “O sing unto the Lord a new song; sing unto the Lord, all the earth” 4415 (Psa. 96.1). If all the earth singeth a new song, it is thus building while it singeth: the very act of singing is building: but only, if it singeth not the old song. The lust of the flesh singeth the old song: the love of God singeth the new.…Hear why it is a new song: the Lord saith, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.” 4416 The whole earth then singeth a new song: there the house of God is built. All the earth is the house of God. If all the earth is the house of God, 4417 he who clingeth not to all the earth, is a ruin, not a house; that old ruin whose shadow that ancient temple represented. For there what was old was destroyed, that what was new might be built up.…The Apostle bindeth us together into this very structure, and fasteneth us when bound together in that unity, saying, “Forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” 4418 Where there is this unity of Spirit, there is one stone; but one stone formed out of many. How one formed out of many? By forbearing one another in love. Therefore the house of the Lord our God is in building; it is this that is being wrought, for this are these words, for this these readings, for this the preaching of the Gospel over the whole world; as yet it is in building. This house hath increased greatly, and filled many nations: nevertheless, it hath not yet prevailed through all nations: by its increase it hath held many, and will prevail over all: and it is gainsaid by those who boast of their being of its household, and who say, it hath already lost ground. It still increaseth, still all those nations which have not yet believed are destined to believe; that no man may say, p. 471 will that tongue believe? will the barbarians believe? what is the meaning of the Holy Spirit having appeared in the fiery tongues, 4419 except that there is no tongue so hard that it cannot be softened by that fire? For we know that many barbarous nations have already believed in Christ: Christ already possesseth regions where the Roman empire hath never yet reached; what is as yet closed to those who fight with the sword, is not closed to Him who fighteth with wood. For “the Lord hath reigned from the wood.” 4420 Who is it who fighteth with wood? Christ. With His cross He hath vanquished kings, and fixed upon their forehead, when vanquished, that very cross; and they glory in it, for in it is their salvation. This is the work which is being wrought, thus the house increaseth, thus it is building: and that ye may know, hear the following verses of the Psalm: see them labouring upon, and constructing the house. “O sing unto the Lord all the earth.”
3. “Sing unto the Lord, bless His Name: be telling good tidings of His salvation from day to day” (Psa. 96.2). How doth the building increase? “Be telling,” he saith, “good tidings of His salvation from day to day.” Let it be preached from day to day; from day to day, he saith, let it be built; let My house, saith God, increase. And as if it were said by the workmen, Where dost Thou command it to be built? Where dost Thou will Thy house to increase? Choose for us some level, spacious spot, if Thou wish an ample house built Thee. Where dost Thou bid us be telling good tidings from day to day? He showeth the place: “Declare His honour unto the heathen:” His honour, not yours. O ye builders, “Declare His honour unto the heathen.” Should ye choose to declare your own honour, ye shall fall: if His, ye shall be built up, while ye are building. Therefore they who choose to declare their own honour, have refused to dwell in that house; and therefore they sing not a new song with all the earth. 4421 For they do not share it with the whole round world; and hence they are not building in the house, but have erected a whited wall. How sternly doth God threaten the whited wall? 4422 There are innumerable testimonies of the Prophets, whence He curseth the whited wall. What is the whited wall, save hypocrisy, that is, pretence? Without it is bright, within it is dirt.…A certain person, 4423 speaking of this whited wall, said thus: “as, if in a wall which standeth alone, and is not connected with any other walls, you make a door, whoever enters, is out of doors; so in that part which hath refused to sing the new song together with the house, but hath chosen to build a wall, and that a whited one, and not solid, what availeth it that it hath a door?” If thou enterest, thou art found to be without. For because they themselves did not enter by the door, their door also doth not admit them within. For the Lord saith, “I am the door: by Me they enter in.” 4424 …“Declare His honour unto the heathen.” What is, unto the heathen? Perhaps by nations but a few are meant: and that part which hath raised the whited wall hath still somewhat to say: why are not Getulia, Numidia, Mauritania, Byzacium, nations? Provinces are nations. Let the word of God take the word from hypocrisy, from the whited wall, building up the house over the whole world. It is not enough to say, “Declare His honour unto the heathen;” that thou mayest not think any nations excepted, he addeth, “and His wonders unto all people.”
4. “For the Lord is great, and cannot worthily be praised” (Psa. 96.4). What Lord, except Jesus Christ, “is great, and cannot worthily be praised”? Ye know surely that He appeared as a Man: ye know surely that He was conceived in a womans womb, ye know that He was born from the womb, that He was suckled, that He was carried in arms, circumcised, that a victim was offered for Him, that He grew; lastly, ye know that He was buffeted, spit upon, crowned with thorns, was crucified, died, was pierced with a spear; ye know that He suffered all these things: “He is great, and cannot worthily be praised.” Despise not what is little, understand what is great. He became little, because ye were such: let Him be acknowledged great, and in Him ye shall be great.…For what can a small tongue say towards the praise of the Great One? By saying, Beyond praise, 4425 he hath spoken, and hath given to imagination what it may conceive: as if saying, What I cannot utter, do thou reflect on; and when thou shalt have reflected, it will not be enough. What no mans thought uttereth, doth any mans tongue utter? “The Lord is great, and cannot worthily be praised.” Let Him be praised, and preached: His honour declared, and His house built.
5. …For the spot where he wished to build the house, is itself woody, where it was said yesterday, “we found it in the wood.” 4426 For he was seeking that very house, when he said, “in the wood.” And why is that spot woody? Men used to worship images: it is not wonderful that they fed hogs. For that son who left his father, p. 472 and spent his all on harlots, living as a prodigal, used to feed hogs, 4427 that is, to worship devils; and by this very superstition of the heathen, all the earth became a wood. But he who buildeth a house, rooteth up the wood; and for this reason it was said, “While the house was being built, after the captivity.” 4428 For men were held captive under the devil, and served devils; but they were redeemed from captivity. They could sell, but they could not redeem themselves. The Redeemer came, and gave a price; He poured forth His Blood, and bought the whole world. Ye ask what He bought? Ye see what He hath given; find out then what He bought. The Blood of Christ was the price. What is equal to this? What, but the whole world? What, but all nations? They are very ungrateful for their price, or very proud, who say that the price is so small that it bought the Africans only; or that they are so great, as that it was given for them alone. Let them not then exult, let them not be proud: He gave what He gave for the whole world. He knew what He bought, because He knew at what price He bought it. Thus because we are redeemed, the house is built after the captivity. And who are they who held us in captivity? Because they to whom it is said, “Declare His honour,” are the clearers of the wood: that they may root out the wood, free the earth from captivity, and build, and raise up, by declaring the greatness of the Lords house. How is the wood of devils cleared away, unless He who is above them all be preached? All nations then had devils for their gods: those whom they called gods, were devils, as the Apostle more openly saith, “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice unto devils, and not to God.” 4429 Since therefore they were in captivity, because they sacrificed to devils, and on that account the whole earth had remained woody; He is declared to be great, and above all worldly praise.
6. …For when he had said, “He is more to be feared than all gods:” he added, “As for all the gods of the heathen, they are devils.”…Because “all the gods of the heathen are devils.” And is this all the praise of Him who cannot worthily be praised, that He is above all the gods of the heathen, which are devils? Wait, and hear what followeth: “It is the Lord that made the heavens.” Not above all gods only therefore, but above all the heavens which He made, is the Lord. If he were to say, “above all gods, for the gods of the heathen are devils,” and if the praise of our Lord stopped here, he had said less than we are accustomed to think of Christ; but when he said, “But it is the Lord that made the heavens;” see what difference there is between the heavens and devils: and what between the heavens and Him who made the heavens; behold how exalted is the Lord. He said not, But the Lord sitteth above the heavens; for perhaps some one else might be imagined to have made them, upon which He was enthroned: but, “It is the Lord that made the heavens.” If He made the heavens, He made the Angels also: Himself made the Angels, Himself made the Apostles. The devils yielded to the Apostles: but the Apostles themselves were heavens, who bore the Lord.…O heavens, which He made, declare His honour unto the heathen! Let His house be built throughout the earth, let all the earth sing a new song.
7. “Confession and beauty are before Him” (Psa. 96.6). Dost thou love beauty? Wishest thou to be beautiful? Confess! He said not, beauty and confession, but confession and beauty. Thou wast foul; confess, that thou mayest be fair: thou wast a sinner; confess, that thou mayest be righteous. Thou couldest deform thyself: thou canst not make thyself beautiful. But of what sort is our Betrothed, who hath loved one deformed, that he might make her fair? How, saith some one, loved He one deformed? “I came not,” said He, “to call the righteous, but sinners.” 4430 Whom callest Thou? sinners, that they may remain sinners? No, saith He. And by what means will they cease to be sinners? “Confession and beauty are before Him.” They honour Him by confession of their sins, they vomit the evils which they had greedily devoured; they return not to their vomit, like the unclean dog; 4431 and there will then be confession and beauty: we love beauty; let us first choose confession, that beauty may follow. Again, there is one who loveth power and greatness: he wisheth to be great as the Angels are. There is a certain greatness in the Angels; and such power, that if the Angels exert it to the full, it cannot be withstood. And every man desireth the power of the Angels, but their righteousness every man loveth not. First love righteousness, and power shall follow thee. For what followeth here? “Holiness and greatness are in His sanctification.” Thou wast before seeking for greatness: first love righteousness: when thou art righteous, thou shall also be great. For if thou preposterously dost wish first to be great, thou fallest before thou canst rise: for thou dost not rise, thou art raised up. Thou risest better, if He raise thee who falleth not. For He who falleth not descendeth unto thee: thou hadst fallen: He descendeth, He hath stretched forth His hand unto thee; thou canst not rise by thy own strength, embrace the hand of Him who p. 473 descendeth, that thou mayest be raised up by the Strong One.
8. What then? If “confession and beauty are before Him: holiness and greatness in His sanctification” (Psa. 96.7). This we declare, when we are building the house; behold, it is already declared unto the heathen; what ought the heathen to do, to whom those who have cleared away the wood have declared the Lords honour? He now saith to the heathen themselves, “Ascribe unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people: ascribe unto the Lord worship and honour.” Ascribe them not unto yourselves: because they also who have declared it unto you, have not declared their own, but His honour. Do ye then “ascribe unto the Lord worship and honour;” and say, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us: but unto Thy Name give the praise.” 4432 Put not your trust in man. If each of you is baptized, let him say: He baptizeth me, of whom the friend of the Bridegroom said, “He baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.” 4433 For when ye say this, ye ascribe unto the Lord worship and honour: “Ascribe unto the Lord worship and honour.”
9. “Ascribe unto the Lord glory unto His Name” (Psa. 96.8). Not unto the name of man, not unto your own name, but unto His ascribe worship.…Confession is a present unto God. O heathen, if ye will enter into His courts, enter not empty. “Bring presents.” What presents shall we bring with us? The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, “O God, shalt not Thou despise.” 4434 Enter with an humble heart into the house of God, and thou hast entered with a present. But if thou art proud, thou enterest empty. For whence wouldest thou be proud, if thou wert not empty? For if thou wast full, thou wouldest not be puffed up. How couldest thou be full? If thou wert to bring a present, which thou shouldest carry to the courts of the Lord. Let us not retain you much longer: let us run over what remaineth. Behold the house increasing: behold the edifice pervade the whole world. Rejoice, because ye have entered into the courts; rejoice, because ye are being built into the temple of God. For those who enter are themselves built up, they themselves are the house of God: He is the inhabitor, for whom the house is built over the whole world, and this “after the captivity.” “Bring presents, and come into His courts.”
10. “O worship the Lord in His holy court” (Psa. 96.9): in the Catholic Church; this is His holy court. Let no man say, “Lo, here is Christ, or there. For there shall arise false prophets.” 4435 Say this unto them, 4436 “There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” Ye are calling me to the whited wall; I adore my God in His holy court. “Let the whole earth be moved before His face.”
11. “Tell it out among the nations, that the Lord reigneth from the wood: 4437 and that it is He who hath made the round world so fast that it cannot be moved” (Psa. 96.10). What testimonies of the building of the house of God! The clouds of heaven thunder out throughout the world that Gods house is being built; and the frogs cry from the marsh, 4438 We alone are Christians. What testimonies do I bring forward? That of the Psalter. I bring forward what thou singest as one deaf: open thine ears; thou singest this; thou singest with me, and thou agreest not with me; thy tongue soundeth what mine doth, and yet thine heart disagreeth with mine. Dost thou not sing this? Behold the testimonies of the whole world: “Let the whole earth be moved before His face:” and dost thou say, that thou art not moved? “Tell it out among the heathen, that the Lord hath reigned from the wood.” Shall men perchance prevail here, and say they reign by wood, because they reign by means of the clubs of their bandits? 4439 Reign by the Cross of Christ, if thou art to reign by wood. For this wood of thine maketh thee wooden: the wood of Christ passeth thee across the sea. Thou hearest the Psalm saying, “He hath set aright the round world, that it cannot be moved;” and thou sayest it hath not only been moved since it was made fast, but hath also decreased. Dost thou speak the truth, and the Psalmist falsehood? Do the false prophets, when they cry out, “Lo, here is Christ, and there,” 4440 speak truth; and doth this Prophet lie? Brethren, against these most open words ye hear in the corners rumours like these; “such an one was a traditor,” and, “such an one was a traditor.” 4441 What dost thou say? Are thy words, or the words of God, to be heard? For, “it is He who hath set aright the round world, that it cannot be moved.” I show unto thee the round world built: bring thy present, and come into the courts of the Lord. Thou hast no presents: and on that account thou art not willing to enter. What is this? If God were to appoint unto thee a bull, goat, or ram, for a present, thou wouldest find one to bring: He hath appointed a humble heart, and thou wilt not enter; for thou findest not this in thyself, because thou art swollen with pride. “He hath set aright the round world, that it cannot be moved: and He shall judge the people rightp. 474 eously.” Then shall they mourn, who now refuse to love righteousness.
12. “Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad” (Psa. 96.11). Let the heavens, which declare the glory of God, rejoice; let the heavens rejoice, which the Lord made; let the earth be glad, which the heavens rain upon. For the heavens are the preachers, the earth the listeners. “Let the sea be stirred up, and the fulness thereof.” What sea? The world. The sea hath been stirred up, and the fulness thereof: the whole world was roused up against the Church, while it was being extended and built over all the earth. Concerning this stirring up, ye have heard in the Gospel, “They shall deliver you up to councils.” 4442 “The sea was stirred up: but how should the sea ever conquer Him who made it?
13. “The plains shall be joyful, and all things that are in them” (Psa. 96.12). All the meek, all the gentle, all the righteous, are the “plains” of God. “Then shall all the trees of the woods rejoice.” The trees of the woods are the heathen. Why do they rejoice? Because they were cut off from the wild olive, and engraffed into the good olive. 4443 “Then shall all the trees of the woods rejoice:” because huge cedars and cypresses have been cut down, and undecaying timbers have been bought for the building of the house. They were trees of the woods; but before they were sent to the building: they were trees of the woods, but before they produced the olive.
14. “Before the face of the Lord. For He cometh, for He cometh to judge the world” (Psa. 96.13). He came at first, and will come again. He first came in His Church in clouds. What are the clouds which bore Him? The Apostles who preached, respecting whom ye have heard, when the Epistle was being read: “We are ambassadors,” he saith, “for Christ: we pray you in Christs stead, be ye reconciled to God.” 4444 These are the clouds in whom He cometh, excepting His last Advent, when He will come to judge the quick and the dead. He came first in the clouds. This was His first voice which sounded forth in the Gospel: “From this time shall they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds.” 4445 What is, “from this time”? Will not the Lord come in later times, when all the tribes of the earth shall mourn? He first came in His own preachers, and filled the whole round world. Let us not resist His first coming, that we may not tremble at His second. “But woe to them that are with child, and that give suck in those days!” 4446 Ye have heard but now in the Gospel: “Take ye heed, for ye know not at what hour He cometh.” 4447 This is said figuratively. Who are those with child, and who give suck? Those who are with child, are the souls whose hope is in the world: but those who have gained what they hoped for, are meant by “they who give suck.” For example: one wisheth to buy a country seat; he is with child, for his object is not gained as yet, the womb swelleth in hope: he buyeth it; he hath brought forth, he now giveth suck to what he hath bought. “Woe to them that are with child, and that give suck in those days!” Woe to those who put their hope in the world; woe to them that cling to those things which they brought forth through hope in the world. What then should the Christian do? He should use, not serve, the world. 4448 What is this? Those that have as those that have not.…He who is without carefulness, waiteth without fear for his Lords coming. For what sort of love is it of Christ, to fear lest He come? Brethren, are we not ashamed? We love Him, and yet we fear lest He come. Are we sure that we love Him? or do we love our sins more? Therefore let us hate our sins for their own sake, and love Him who will come to punish our sins. He will come, whether we like or not: for because He cometh not just now, it is no reason that He will not come at all. He will come, and when thou knowest not; and if He shall find thee ready, thy ignorance is no hurt to thee. “Then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the Lord; for He cometh:” at His first coming. And what afterwards? “For He cometh to judge the earth. And all the trees of the woods shall rejoice.” He came first: and later to judge the earth: He shall find those rejoicing who believed in His first coming, “for He cometh.”
15. “For with righteousness shall He judge the world:” not a part of it, for He bought not a part: He will judge the whole, for it was the whole of which He paid the price. Ye have heard the Gospel, where it saith, that when He cometh, “He shall gather together His elect from the four winds.” 4449 He gathereth all His elect from the four winds: therefore from the whole world. For Adam 4450 himself (this I had said before) signifieth in Greek the whole world; for there are four letters, A, D, A, and M. But as the Greeks speak, the four quarters of the world have these initial letters, Ανατολὴ, they call the East; Δύσις, the West; ῎Αρκτος, the North; Μεσημβρία, the South: thou hast the word Adam. Adam therefore hath been scattered over the whole world. He was in one place, and fell, and as in a manner broken small, 4451 he filled the whole world: but the mercy of God p. 475 gathered together the fragments from every side, and forged 4452 them by the fire of love, and made one what was broken. That Artist knew how to do this; let no one despair: it is indeed a great thing, but reflect who that Artist was. He who made, restored: He who formed, reformed. What are righteousness and truth? He will gather together His elect with Him to the judgment, but the rest He will separate one from another; for He will place some on the right, others on the left hand. But what is more just, what more true, than that they shall not expect mercy from their Judge, who have refused to act mercifully, before their Judge come? But those who chose to act with mercy, with mercy shall be judged.…
Lat. XCV. Delivered perhaps in the year 405, when the Donatists prevailed through the violence of the Circumcelliones.470:4414
Bishop of Milevis, mentioned in the discourse of a preceding day on Ps. cxxxii.—Ben.470:4415
1 Chron. xvi. 23, etc.470:4416
John xv. 12.470:4417
Eph. 4:2, 3.471:4419
Acts ii. 3.471:4420
Ps. xcvi. 11. Quoted as from this Psalm by Justin Martyr, Apol. i. 41. In Dial. cum Tryph. § 73, he accuses the Jews of expunging the words ‡πὸ τοῦ ξυλου. [See A.N.F. vol. i. p. 176, note 4, and vol. iii. p. 166, note 7.—C.]471:4421
Ezek. xiii. 10.471:4423
St. Optatus of Milevis on Don. Schism, b. iii. c. 10, p. 67 (quoted in substance).471:4424
John x. 9.471:4425
Ps. cxxxii. 6. Hence it appears that Ps. cxxxii. had been expounded the day before.472:4427
Luke xv. 12-15.472:4428
Title of Psalm.472:4429
1 Cor. x. 20.472:4430
Matt. ix. 13.472:4431
2 Pet. ii. 22.473:4432
Ps. cxv. 1.473:4433
John 1:33, John 3:29. See his commentary on the passage, and on John i. 31.473:4434
Ps. li. 17.473:4435
Matt. 24:23, 24.473:4436
See p. 471, note 21, supra.473:4438
[i.e. so say the Donatists.—C.]473:4439
Circumcelliones. [See p. 42, note 4, and also p. 470, note 5, supra.—C.]473:4440
Matt. xxiv. 23.473:4441
Cæcilianus and others, by communicating with whom they alleged the universal Church to have fallen.474:4442
Mark xiii. 9.474:4443
Rom. xi. 17.474:4444
2 Cor. v. 20.474:4445
Mark xiii. 26.474:4446
Mark xiii. 17.474:4447
Mark xiii. 33.474:4448
1 Cor. vii. 29-32.474:4449
Mark xiii. 27.474:4450
Vid. Tract. 9 in Johan. note 14, and Tract. 10, note 12.—Ben.474:4451
Next: Psalm XCVII
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