Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Expositions on the Book of Psalms.: Psalm VIII
To the end, for the wine-presses, a psalm of David himself. 277
1. He seems to say nothing of wine-presses in the text of the Psalm of which this is the title. By which it appears, that one and the same thing is often signified in Scripture by many and various similitudes. We may then take wine-presses to be Churches, on the same principle by which we understand also by a threshing-floor the Church. For whether in the threshing-floor, or in the wine-press, there is nothing else done but the clearing the produce of its covering; which is necessary, both for its first growth p. 28 and increase, and arrival at the maturity either of the harvest or the vintage. Of these coverings or supporters then; that is, of chaff, on the threshing-floor, the corn; and of husks, in the presses, the wine is stripped: as in the Churches, from the multitude of worldly men, which is collected together with the good, for whose birth and adaptating to the divine word that multitude was necessary, this is effected, that by spiritual love they be separated through the operation of Gods ministers. For now so it is that the good are, for a time, separated from the bad, not in space, but in affection: although they have converse together in the Churches, as far as respects bodily presence. But another time will come, the corn will be stored up apart in the granaries, and the wine in the cellars. “The wheat,” saith he, “He will lay up in garners; but the chaff He will burn with fire unquenchable.” 278 The same thing may be thus understood in another similitude: the wine He will lay up in cellars, but the husks He will cast forth to cattle: so that by the bellies of the cattle we may be allowed by way of similitude to understand the pains of hell.
2. There is another interpretation concerning the wine-presses, yet still keeping to the meaning of Churches. For even the Divine Word may be understood by the grape: for the Lord even has been called a Cluster of grapes; which they that were sent before by the people of Israel brought from the land of promise hanging on a staff, crucified as it were. 279 Accordingly, when the Divine Word maketh use of, by the necessity of declaring Himself, the sound of the voice, whereby to convey Himself to the ears of the hearers; in the same sound of the voice, as it were in husks, knowledge, like the wine, is enclosed: and so this grape comes into the ears, as into the pressing machines of the wine-pressers. For there the separation is made, that the sound may reach as far as the ear; but knowledge be received in the memory of those that hear, as it were in a sort of vat; whence it passes into discipline of the conversation and habit of mind, as from the vat into the cellar: where if it do not through negligence grow sour, it will acquire soundness by age. For it grew sour among the Jews, and this sour vinegar they gave the Lord to drink. 280 For that wine, which from the produce of the vine of the New Testament the Lord is to drink with His saints in the kingdom of His Father, 281 must needs be most sweet and most sound.
3. “Wine-presses” are also usually taken for martyrdoms, as if when they who have confessed the name of Christ have been trodden down by the blows of persecution, their mortal remains as husks remained on earth, but their souls flowed forth into the rest of a heavenly habitation. Nor yet by this interpretation do we depart from the fruitfulness of the Churches. It is sung then, “for the wine-presses,” for the Churchs establishment; when our Lord after His resurrection ascended into heaven. For then He sent the Holy Ghost: by whom the disciples being fulfilled preached with confidence the Word of God, that Churches might be collected.
4. Accordingly it is said, “O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is Thy Name in all the earth!” (Psa. 8.1). I ask, how is His Name wonderful in all the earth? The answer is, “For Thy glory has been raised above the heavens.” So that the meaning is this, O Lord, who art our Lord, how do all that inhabit the earth admire Thee! for Thy glory hath been raised from earthly humiliation above the heavens. For hence it appeared who Thou wast that descendedst, when it was by some seen, and by the rest believed, whither it was that Thou ascendedst.
5. “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast made perfect praise, because of Thine enemies” (Psa. 8.2). I cannot take babes and sucklings to be any other than those to whom the Apostle says, “As unto babes in Christ I have given you milk to drink, not meat.” 282 Who were meant by those who went before the Lord praising Him, of whom the Lord Himself used this testimony, when He answered the Jews who bade Him rebuke them, “Have ye not read, out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast made perfect praise?” 283 Now with good reason He says not, Thou hast made, but, “Thou hast made perfect praise.” For there are in the Churches also those who now no more drink milk, but eat meat: whom the same Apostle points out, saying, “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect;” 284 but not by those only are the Churches perfected; for if there were only these, little consideration would be had of the human race. But consideration is had, when they too, who are not as yet capable of the knowledge of things spiritual and eternal, are nourished by the faith of the temporal history, which for our salvation after the Patriarchs and Prophets was administered by the most excellent Power and Wisdom of God, even in the Sacrament of the assumed Manhood, in which there is salvation for every one that believeth; to the end that moved by Its authority each one may obey Its precepts, whereby being purified and “rooted and grounded in love,” he may be able to run with Saints, no more now a child in milk, but a young man in meat, “to comprehend the breadth, the length, the height, and depth, to know also the surpassing knowledge of the love of Christ.” 285p. 29
6. “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast made perfect praise, because of Thine enemies.” By enemies to this dispensation, which has been wrought through Jesus Christ and Him crucified, we ought generally to understand all who forbid belief in things unknown, 286 and promise certain knowledge: 287 as all heretics do, and they who in the superstition of the Gentiles are called philosophers. Not that the promise of knowledge is to be blamed; but because they deem the most healthful and necessary step of faith is to be neglected, by which we must needs ascend to something certain, which nothing but that which is eternal can be. Hence it appears that they do not possess even this knowledge, which in contempt of faith they promise; seeing that they know not so useful and necessary a step thereof. “Out of the mouth,” then “of babes and sucklings Thou hast made perfect praise,” Thou, our Lord, declaring first by the Apostle, “Except ye believe, ye shall not understand;” 288 and saying by His own mouth, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and shall believe.” 289 “Because of the enemies:” against whom too that is said, “I confess to Thee, O Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise, and revealed them unto babes.” 290 “From the wise,” he saith, not the really wise, but those who deem themselves such. “That Thou mayest destroy the enemy and the defender.” Whom but the heretic? 291 For he is both an enemy and a defender, who when he would assault the Christian faith, seems to defend it. Although the philosophers too of this world may be well taken as the enemies and defenders: forasmuch as the Son of God is the Power and Wisdom of God by which every one is enlightened who is made wise by the truth: of which they profess themselves to be lovers, whence too their name of philosophers; and therefore they seem to defend it, while they are its enemies, since they cease not to recommend noxious superstitions, that the elements of this world should be worshipped and revered.
7. “For I shall see Thy heavens, the works of Thy fingers” (Psa. 8.3). We read that the law was written with the finger of God, and given through Moses, His holy servant: by which finger of God many understand the Holy Ghost. 292 Wherefore if, by the fingers of God, we are right in understanding these same ministers filled with the Holy Ghost, by reason of this same Spirit which worketh in them, since by them all holy Scripture has been completed for us; we understand consistently with this, that, in this place, the books of both Testaments are called “the heavens.” Now it is said too of Moses himself, by the magicians of king Pharaoh, when they were conquered by him, “This is the finger of God.” 293 And what is written, “The heavens shall be rolled up as a book.” 294 Although it be said of this æthereal heaven, yet naturally, according to the same image, the heavens of books are named by allegory. “For I shall see,” he says, “the heavens, the works of Thy fingers:” that is, I shall discern and understand the Scriptures, which Thou, by the operation of the Holy Ghost, hast written by Thy ministers.
8. Accordingly the heavens named above also may be interpreted as the same books, where he says, “For Thy glory hath been raised above the heavens:” so that the complete meaning should be this, “For Thy glory hath been raised above the heavens;” for Thy glory hath exceeded the declarations of all the Scriptures: “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast made perfect praise,” that they should begin by belief in the Scriptures, who would arrive at the knowledge of Thy glory: which hath been raised above the Scriptures, in that it passeth by and transcends the announcements of all words and languages. Therefore hath God lowered the Scriptures even to the capacity of babes and sucklings, as it is sung in another Psalm, “And He lowered the heaven, and came down:” 295 and this did He because of the enemies, who through pride of talkativeness, being enemies of the cross of Christ, even when they do speak some truth, still cannot profit babes and sucklings. So is the enemy and defender destroyed, who, whether he seem to defend wisdom, or even the name of Christ, still, from the step of this faith, 296 assaults that truth, which he so readily makes promise of. Whereby too he is convicted of not possessing it; since by assaulting the step thereof, namely faith, he knows not how one should mount up thereto. Hence then is the rash and blind promiser of truth, who is the enemy and defender, destroyed, when the heavens, the works of Gods fingers, are seen, that is, when the Scriptures, brought down even to the slowness of babes, are understood; and by means of the lowness of the faith of the history, which was transacted in time, they raise them, well nurtured and strengthened, unto the grand height of the understanding of things eternal, up to those things which they establish. 297 For these heavens, that is, these books, are the works of Gods fingers; for by the operation of the Holy Ghost in the Saints they were completed. For they that have regarded their own glory rather than mans salvation, have spoken p. 30 without the Holy Ghost, in whom are the bowels of the mercy of God.
9. “For I shall see the heavens, the works of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained.” The moon and stars are ordained in the heavens; since both the Church universal, to signify which the moon is often put, and Churches in the several places particularly, which I imagine to be intimated by the name of stars, are established in the same Scriptures, which we believe to be expressed by the word heavens. 298 But why the moon justly signifies the Church, will be more seasonably considered in another Psalm, where it is said, “The sinners have bent their bow, that they may shoot in the obscure moon the upright in heart.” 299
10. “What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that Thou visitest him?” (Psa. 8.4). It may be asked, what distinction there is between man and son of man. For if there were none, it would not be expressed thus, “man, or son of man,” disjunctively. For if it were written thus, “What is man, that Thou art mindful of him, and son of man, that Thou visitest him?” it might appear to be a repetition of the word “man.” But now when the expression is, “man or son of-man,” a distinction is more clearly intimated. This is certainly to be remembered, that every son of man is a man; although every man cannot be taken to be a son of man. Adam, for instance, was a man, but not a son of man. Wherefore we may from hence consider and distinguish what is the difference in this place between man and son of man; namely, that they who bear the image of the earthy man, who is not a son of man, should be signified by the name of men; but that they who bear the image of the heavenly Man, 300 should be rather called sons of men; for the former again is called the old man 301 and the latter the new; but the new is born of the old, since spiritual regeneration is begun by a change of an earthy, and worldly life; 302 and therefore the latter is called son of man. “Man” then in this place is earthy, but “son of man” heavenly; and the former is far removed from God, but the latter present with God; and therefore is He mindful of the former, as in far distance from Him; but the latter He visiteth, with whom being present He enlighteneth him with His countenance. For “salvation is far from sinners;” 303 and, “The light of Thy countenance hath been stamped upon us, O Lord.” 304 So in another Psalm he saith, that men in conjunction with beasts are made whole together with these beasts, not by any present inward illumination, but by the multiplication of the mercy of God, whereby His goodness reacheth even to the lowest things; for the wholeness of carnal men is carnal, as of the beasts; but separating the sons of men from those whom being men he joined with cattle, he proclaims that they are made blessed, after a far more exalted method, by the enlightening of the truth itself, and by a certain inundation of the fountain of life. For he speaketh thus: “Men and beasts Thou wilt make whole, O Lord, as Thy mercy hath been multiplied, O God. But the sons of men shall put their trust in the covering of Thy wings. They shall be inebriated with the richness of Thine house, and of the torrent of Thy pleasures Thou shalt make them drink. For with Thee is the fountain of life, and in Thy light shall we see light. Extend Thy mercy to them that know Thee.” 305 Through the multiplication of mercy then He is mindful of man, as of beasts; for that multiplied mercy reacheth even to them that are afar off; but He visiteth the son of man, over whom, placed under the covering of His wings, He extendeth mercy, and in His light giveth light, and maketh him drink of His pleasures, and inebriateth him with the richness of His house, to forget the sorrows and the wanderings of his former conversation. This son of man, that is, the new man, the repentance of the old man begets with pain and tears. He, though new, is nevertheless called yet carnal, whilst he is fed with milk; “I would not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal,” says the Apostle. And to show that they were already regenerate, he says, “As unto babes in Christ, I have given you milk to drink, not meat.” And when he relapses, as often happens, to the old life, he hears in reproof that he is a man; “Are ye not men,” he says, “and walk as men?” 306
11. Therefore was the son of man first visited in the person of the very Lord Man, born of the Virgin Mary. Of whom, by reason of the very weakness of the flesh, which the Wisdom of God vouchsafed to bear, and the humiliation of the Passion, it is justly said, “Thou hast lowered Him a little lower than the Angels” (Psa. 8.5). But that glorifying is added, in which He rose and ascended up into heaven; “With glory,” he says, “and with honour hast Thou crowned Him; and hast set Him over the works of Thine hands” (Psa. 8.6). Since even Angels are the works of Gods hands, even over Angels we understand the Only-begotten Son to have been set; whom we hear and believe, by the humiliation of the carnal generation and passion, to have been lowered a little lower than the Angels.
12. “Thou hast put,” he says, “all things in subjection under His feet.” When he says, “all things,” he excepts nothing. And that he might p. 31 not be allowed to understand it otherwise, the Apostle enjoins it to be believed thus, when he says, “He being excepted which put all things under Him.” 307 And to the Hebrews he uses this very testimony from this Psalm, when he would have it to be understood that all things are in such sort put under our Lord Jesus Christ, as that nothing should be excepted. 308 And yet he does not seem, as it were, to subjoin any great thing, when he says, “All sheep and oxen, yea, moreover, the beasts of the field, birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, which walk through the paths of the sea” (Psa. 8.7). For, leaving the heavenly excellencies and powers, and all the hosts of Angels, leaving even man himself, he seems to have put under Him the beasts merely; unless by sheep and oxen we understand holy souls, either yielding the fruit of innocence, or even working that the earth may bear fruit, that is, that earthly men may be regenerated unto spiritual richness. By these holy souls then we ought to understand not those of men only, but of all Angels too, if we would gather from hence that all things are put under our Lord Jesus Christ. For there will be no creature that will not be put under Him, under whom the pre-eminent 309 spirits, that I may so speak, are put. But whence shall we prove that sheep can be interpreted even, not of men, but of the blessed spirits of the angelical creatures on high? May we from the Lords saying that He had left ninety and nine sheep in the mountains, that is, in the higher regions, and had come down for one? 310 For if we take the one lost sheep to be the human soul in Adam, since Eve even was made out of his side, 311 for the spiritual handling and consideration of all which things this is not the time, it remains that, by the ninety and nine left in the mountains, spirits not human, but angelical, should be meant. For as regards the oxen, this sentence is easily despatched; since men themselves are for no other reason called oxen, but because by preaching the Gospel of the word of God they imitate Angels, as where it is said, “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn.” 312 How much more easily then do we take the Angels themselves, the messengers of truth, to be oxen, when Evangelists by the participation of their title are called oxen? “Thou hast put under” therefore, he says, “all sheep and oxen,” that is, all the holy spiritual creation; in which we include that of holy men, who are in the Church, in those wine-presses to wit, which are intimated under the other similitude of the moon and stars. 313
13. “Yea moreover,” saith he, “the beasts of the field.” 314 The addition of “moreover” is by no means idle. First, because by beasts of the plain may be understood both sheep and oxen: so that, if goats are the beasts of rocky and mountainous regions, sheep may be well taken to be the beasts of the field. Accordingly had it been written even thus, “all sheep and oxen and beasts of the field;” it might be reasonably asked what beasts of the plain meant, since even sheep and oxen could be taken as such. But the addition of “moreover” besides, obliges us, beyond question, to recognise some difference or another. But under this word, “moreover,” not only “beasts of the field,” but also “birds of the air, and fish of the sea, which walk through the paths of the sea” (Psa. 8.8), are to be taken in. What is then this distinction? Call to mind the “wine-presses,” holding husks and wine; and the threshing-floor, containing chaff and corn; and the nets, in which were enclosed good fish and bad; and the ark of Noah, in which were both unclean and clean animals: 315 and you will see that the Churches for a while, now in this time, unto the last time of judgment, contain not only sheep and oxen, that is, holy laymen and holy ministers, but “moreover beasts of the field, birds of the air, and birds of the sea, that walk through the paths of the sea.” For the beasts of the field were very fitly understood, as men rejoicing in the pleasure of the flesh where they mount up to nothing high, nothing laborious. For the field is also “the broad way, that leadeth to destruction:” 316 and in a field is Abel slain. 317 Wherefore there is cause to fear, lest one coming down from the mountains of Gods righteousness (“for thy righteousness,” he says, “is as the mountains of God” 318 ) making choice of the broad and easy paths of carnal pleasure, be slain by the devil. See now too “the birds of heaven,” the proud, of whom it is said, “They have set their mouth against the heaven.” 319 See how they are carried on high by the wind, “who say, We will magnify our tongue, our lips are our own, who is our Lord?” 320 Behold too the fish of the sea, that is, the curious; who walk through the paths of the sea, that is, search in the deep after the temporal things of this world: which, like paths in the sea, vanish and perish, as quickly as the water comes together again after it has given room, in their passage, to ships, or to whatsoever walketh or swimmeth. For he said not merely, who walk the paths of the sea; but “walk through,” he said; showing the very determined earnestness of those who seek after vain and fleeting things. Now these three kinds p. 32 of vice, namely, the pleasure of the flesh, and pride, and curiosity, include all sins. And they appear to me to be enumerated by the Apostle John, when he says, “Love not the world; for all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” 321 For through the eyes especially prevails curiosity. To what the rest indeed belong is clear. And that temptation of the Lord Man was threefold: by food, that is, by the lust of the flesh, where it is suggested, “command these stones that they be made bread:” 322 by vain boasting, where, when stationed on a mountain, all the kingdoms of this earth are shown Him, and promised if He would worship: 323 by curiosity, where, from the pinnacle of the temple, He is advised to cast Himself down, for the sake of trying whether He would be borne up by Angels. 324 And accordingly after that the enemy could prevail with Him by none of these temptations, this is said of him, “When the devil had ended all his temptation.” 325 With a reference then to the meaning of the wine-presses, not only the wine, but the husks too are put under His feet; to wit, not only sheep and oxen, that is, the holy souls of believers, either in the laity, or in the ministry; but moreover both beasts of pleasure, and birds of pride, and fish of curiosity. All which classes of sinners we see mingled now in the Churches with the good and holy. May He work then in His Churches, and separate the wine from the husks: let us give heed, that we be wine, and sheep or oxen; not husks, or beasts of the field, or birds of heaven, or fish of the sea, which walk through the paths of the sea. Not that these names can be understood and explained in this way only, but the explanation of them must be according to the place where they are found. For elsewhere they have other meanings. And this rule must be kept to in every allegory, that what is expressed by the similitude should be considered agreeably to the meaning of the particular place: for this is the manner of the Lords and the Apostles teaching. Let us repeat then the last verse, which is also put at the beginning of the Psalm, and let us praise God, saying, “O Lord our Lord, how wonderful is Thy name in all the earth!” For fitly, after the matter of the discourse, is the return made to the heading, whither all that discourse must be referred.
See on Ps. lxxxiv. [The octave of Ps. i., and understood by the Fathers of the ascension of Christ. It was probably sung at the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles.—C.]28:278
Luke iii. 17.28:279
Numb. xiii. 23.28:280
John xix. 29.28:281
Matt. xxvi. 29.28:282
1 Cor. 3:1, 2.28:283
Matt. xxi. 16.28:284
1 Cor. ii. 6.28:285
Eph. iii. 17-19.29:286
1 Cor. ii. 6-10.29:287
See “On Profit of Believing.”29:288
Isa. 6:9, Acts 13:27.29:289
John xx. 29.29:290
Matt. xi. 25.29:291
See on Ps. cii., and St. Greg. on Job, Intr. § 15.29:292
Exod. 31:18, Exod. 34:28, Deut. 9:10. [The “arm of the Lord” is understood by the Fathers of the Son; so also the “right hand of the Lord.” The “finger” (proceeding from head and hand) is understood of the Holy Spirit. So the Latin hymn, “Dextræ Dei tu Digitus.”—C.]29:293
Exod. viii. 19.29:294
Isa. 34:4, Rev. 6:14.29:295
Ps. xviii. 9.29:296
Al. step of faith.29:297
Oxford mss. “and establish them in it,” for “up,” etc.30:298
[Here is intimated Augustins idea of the Catholic Church, in which individual national churches hold their own autonomies.—C.]30:299
Ps. xi. 2.30:300
1 Cor. xv. 49.30:301
Oxford mss. “called man, and the old man.”30:302
Eph. 4:22, 24.30:303
Ps. cxix. 155.30:304
Ps. iv. 6.30:305
Ps. xxxvi. 6-10.30:306
1 Cor. 3:1, 2, 3.31:307
1 Cor. xv. 27.31:308
Heb. ii. 8.31:309
Matt. 18:12, Luke 15:4.31:311
Gen. 2:21, 22.31:312
1 Cor. 9:9, 1 Tim. 5:18.31:313
[See p. 27, and p. 30, note 1, supra.—C.]31:314
See on title. Matt. 3:12, Matt. 13:47, Gen. 7:8.31:316
Matt. vii. 13.31:317
Gen. iv. 8.31:318
Ps. xxxvi. 6.31:319
Ps. lxxiii. 9.31:320
Ps. xii. 4.32:321
1 John 2:15, 16.32:322
Matt. iv. 3.32:323
Matt. 4:8, 9.32:324
Matt. iv. 6.32:325
Luke iv. 13.
Next: Psalm IX
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