General Audience Address on Psalm 18(19)

Creation Is a Sacred Book of God´s Beauty, Pope Says

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 30, 2002 ( Creation is an open book that speaks of God´s beauty, John Paul II said during today´s general audience when he meditated on Psalm 18(19). Here is a translation of his address, which he gave in Italian.

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1. The sun, with its increasing brilliance in the sky, the splendor of its light, and the beneficent warmth of its rays, has captivated humanity since the beginning. In many ways human beings have manifested their gratitude for this source of life and well-being, with an enthusiasm that often reaches the height of authentic poetry. The wonderful Psalm 18[19], the first part of which we have just proclaimed, is not only a prayer in the form of a hymn of extraordinary intensity; but is also a poetic song addressed to the sun and its shining on the face of the earth. In this way, the Psalmist joins a long list of singers of the ancient Near East, who exalted the day star that shines in the skies, which in their regions long dominates with its burning heat. It reminds us of the famous hymn to Aton, composed by Pharaoh Akhnaton in the 14th century B.C., and dedicated to the solar disc regarded as a divinity.

However, for the man of the Bible, there is a radical difference in regard to these solar hymns: The sun is not a god, but a creature at the service of the one God and Creator. Suffice it to remember the words of Genesis: «Then God said: ´Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate day from night. Let them mark the fixed times, the days and the years.´ … God made the two great lights, the greater one to govern the day, and the lesser one to govern the night. … And God saw how good it was» (Genesis 1:14,16,18).

2. Before going over the verses of the Psalm chosen by the Liturgy, let us look at it as a whole. Psalm 18[19] is similar to a diptych. In the first part (verses 2-7), which today has become our prayer, we find a hymn to the Creator, whose mysterious grandeur is manifested in the sun and the moon. In the second part of the Psalm (verses 8-15), instead, we find a wise hymn to the Torah, namely, to the Law of God.

Both parts are suffused with a common theme: God illuminates the universe with the brilliance of the sun and illuminates humanity with the splendor of his Word contained in biblical Revelation. It is almost like a double sun: The first is a cosmic epiphany of the Creator; the second is a historical and free manifestation of the Savior God. It is not accidental that the Torah, the divine Word, is described with «solar» tones: «The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes» (verse 8).

3. But let us go back now to the first part of the Psalm. It begins with a wonderful personification of the heavens, which to the sacred Author appear as eloquent witnesses of the creative work of God (verses 2-5). They, in fact, «narrate,» «announce» the wonders of the divine work (see verse 2). The day and night are also represented as messengers that transmit the great news of creation. This is a silent testimony, which nevertheless makes itself forcefully heard as a voice throughout the cosmos.

With the interior vision of the soul, with religious intuition not distracted by superficiality, man and woman can discover that the world is not dumb but speaks of the Creator. As the ancient sage said, «From the greatness and beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen» (Wisdom 13:5). St. Paul also reminds the Romans that «Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made» (Romans 1:20).

4. Then the hymn gives way to the sun. The luminous globe is depicted by the inspired poet as a heroic warrior who leaves the chamber where he spent the night, emerges from the heart of darkness and begins his inexhaustible course in the heavens (verses 6-7). It is like an athlete who never pauses or is exhausted, while the whole of our planet is enveloped in its irresistible warmth.

Hence, the sun is compared to a spouse, a hero, a champion who, by divine order, must fulfill a task every day, a conquest, and a race in the sidereal spaces. The Psalmist thus points to the flaming sun in mid-sky, while all the earth is enveloped by its heat, the air is still, no angle of the horizon can escape from its light.

5. The solar image of the Psalm is taken up by the Christian paschal liturgy to describe the triumphant exodus of Christ from the darkness of the sepulcher and his entry into the fullness of the new life of the resurrection. The Byzantine liturgy sings in the matins of Holy Saturday: «As the sun rises after the night totally radiant in its renewed luminosity, so you also, O Word, will shine in a new brightness when, after death, you will leave your nuptial bed.» An ode (the first) of Easter matins links the cosmic revelation with Christ´s paschal event: «Let the heavens rejoice and the earth exult with it, because the whole universe, both the visible and invisible, takes part in this celebration: Christ, our everlasting joy, has risen.» And another ode (the third) adds: «Today the whole universe, heaven, earth and abyss, is full of light and the whole of creation sings the resurrection of Christ, our strength and our joy.» Finally, another ode (the fourth) concludes: «Christ our Pasch has risen from the tomb as a sun of justice shining on all of us the splendor of his charity.»

The Roman liturgy is not as explicit as the Eastern in comparing Christ to the sun. Nevertheless, it describes the cosmic repercussions of his Resurrection, when it begins its song of lauds on Easter morning with the famous hymn: «Aurora lucis rutilat, caelum resultat laudibus, mundus exultans iubilat, gemens infernus ululat» («The dawn is radiant with light, the heavens exult with songs, the world dances with joy, hell moans with cries»).

6. The Christian interpretation of the Psalm, however, does not cancel its basic message, which is an invitation to discover the divine word present in creation. Of course, as stated in the second part of the Psalm, there is another and higher Word, more precious than light itself, that of biblical Revelation.

Anyway, for those who have attentive ears and unveiled eyes, creation is like a first revelation, which has its own eloquent language: It is almost like another sacred book whose letters are represented by the multitude of creatures present in the universe. St. John Chrysostom says: «The silence of the heavens is a voice that resounds more intensely than a trumpet: This voice cries to our eyes, and not to our ears, the grandeur of the one who made it» (PG 49, 105). And St. Athanasius: «The firmament, through its magnificence, beauty and order, is a prestigious preacher of its author, whose eloquence fills the universe» (PG 27, 124).

[translation by ZENIT]

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[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father gave the following summary in

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Psalm 18 praises God for his works of creation. The first part of the Psalm speaks of the heavens and the marvellous signs of God’s glory contained in them. The second part presents a very poetic description of the sun, which by its light and warmth gives life to man. The Christian tradition gives further meaning to this imagery of the sun, seeing in it a representation of Christ’s Resurrection, of the Lord’s triumph over the darkness of sin and death.

This Psalm is an invitation to discover God’s presence in creation, and to welcome his saving word, more precious than the light of the sun. Creation therefore remains a kind of first revelation which speaks to us clearly of the Creator and which can lead us ever more deeply into the mystery of God’s love for us.

Today I offer a special word of greeting to the Vietnamese priests and religious from various countries participating in a spirituality program, and to th
e priest graduates of Kenrick Seminary in Saint Louis celebrating their 25th anniversary of ordination: may the light of the Risen Savior continue to guide and strengthen you so that you may always bear effective witness to his mercy and love. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, especially those from Denmark, Japan, and the United States of America, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

[text distributed by Vatican Press Office]

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