Augustine on Psalm CXL
Home for the Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity
O GOD, our refuge and strength, who art the author of all godliness; Be ready, we beseech thee, to hear the devout prayers of thy Church; and grant that those things which we ask faithfully we may obtain effectually; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Source: Bishop Gregory of Rome [604 AD] Compare Psalm 46 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help [Barbee and Zahl]. The petition reminds one of Jesus' promise, 21:22 And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
"Deliver me, O Lord, from the wicked man"
Augustine wrote in his preparatory comments to Psalm 140.Our Lords have bidden me, brethren, and in them the Lord of all, to bring this Psalm to your understanding, so far as God giveth me to. May He help your prayers, that I may say those things which I ought to say, ye to hear, that to all of us the Word of God may be profitable. For all it doth not profit, for "all have not faith."We may also give thanks today that we are able to hear the words of this great doctor of the catholic and orthodox faith, and that the Word of God may be profitable. Note his last sentence here. We are commanded to preach the Gospel everywhere, but to those who have no faith, it profits not.
What this Psalm containeth, I believe that ye perceived when it was being chanted; for therein the Church of Christ, set in the midst of the wicked, complaineth and groaneth, and poureth out prayer to God. For her voice is in every such prophecy the voice of one in need and want, not yet satisfied, "hungering and thirsting after righteousness," for whom a certain fulness in the end hath been promised, and is reserved....We hear Augustine again state that the Church chanted the psalms. I envy those readers whose congregations still chant the psalms in their churches. Augustine speaks of being set in the midst of wickedness, and prepares us to the first verse.
"Deliver me, O Lord, from the wicked man" (ver. 1). Not from one only, but from the class; not from the vessels only, but from their prince himself, that is, the devil. Why "from man," if he meaneth from the devil? Because he too is called a man in a figure. ...Now then being made light, not in ourselves, but in the Lord, let us pray not only against darkness, that is, against sinners, whom still the devil possesseth, but also against their prince, the devil himself, who worketh in the children of disobedience. "Deliver me from the unrighteous man." The same as "from the wicked man." For he called him wicked because unrighteous, lest perchance thou shouldest think that any unrighteous man could be a good man. For many unrighteous men seem to be harmless; they are not fierce, are not savage, do not persecute nor oppress; yet are they unrighteous, because, following some other habit, they are luxurious, drunkards, given to pleasure....Wicked then is every unrighteous man, who must needs be harmful, whether he be gentle or fierce. Whoever falls in his way, whoever is taken by his snares, will find how harmful is that which he thought harmless. For, brethren, even thorns prick not with their roots. Pull up thorns from the ground, handle their roots, and see whether thou feelest pain. Yet that in the upgrowth which causeth thee pain, proceeded from that root. Let not then men please you who seem gentle and kind, yet are lovers of carnal pleasure, followers of polluted lusts, let them not please you. Though as yet they seem gentle, they are roots of thorns....And so, my brethren, body of Christ, members of Christ groaning among such wicked men, whomsoever ye find hurrying headlong into evil lusts and deadly pleasures, at once chide, at once punish, at once burn. Let the root be burnt, and there remaineth not whence the thorn may grow up. If ye cannot, be sure that ye will have them as enemies. They may be silent, they may hide their enmity, but they cannot love you. But since they cannot love you, and since they who hate you must needs seek your harm, let not your tongue and heart be slow to say to God, "Deliver me, O Lord, from the unrighteous man."
I often here folk speak of those who harbor disordered and unrighteous lusts as being so "nice" and "kind". What does Augustine say? "Let not then men please you who seem gentle and kind, yet are lovers of carnal pleasure, followers of polluted lusts, let them not please you."If the root is corrupt, the plant that exposed is corrupt as well. Be not deceived by "beautiful people" whose morals are an abomination. Our Lord said two things in this regard: firstly that "Ye shall know them by their fruits", and secondly that "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing". Take the advice of Bishop Augustine, and when you encounter those who you suspect of such deep and disordered lives and moral corruption, go to the Lord in silent prayer and pray, Deliver me, O Lord, from the wicked man. I would suggest also a prayer for them as your neighbor, that God in his mercy might reach down and touch them in such a way that they might turn from their inordinate and sinful affections to our Lord.
From all inordinate and sinful affections; and from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil,
Good Lord, deliver us.
Released by Primus Pilus
Legio Christi-Ecclesia Militans
"Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another" [St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans 14:19]
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