Papal Comment on Canticle in Isaiah 26

Faith in God Is the Rock in Life, Says John Paul II

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 2, 2002 ( Here is a translation of John Paul II’s address at today’s general audience, which he dedicated to a commentary on the canticle of Chapter 26 of the Book of Isaiah.

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1. In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah different voices converge, extended over a wide period of time and all placed under the name and inspiration of this great witness of the Word of God, who lived in the eighth century B.C.

Within this vast scroll of prophecies, which Jesus also opened and read in the synagogue of his village, Nazareth (see Luke 4:17-19), there is a series of chapters, from 24 to 27, generally entitled by scholars «the great apocalypse of Isaiah.» In fact, a second and minor series is found in chapters 34-35. In pages that are often ardent and full of symbols, a powerful poetical description is delineated of the divine judgment on history and the expectation of salvation on the part of the righteous is exalted.

2. Often, as is the case in the Apocalypse of John, two cities are contrasted that are antithetical to one another: the rebellious city, incarnated in some historical centers of that time, and the holy city, where the faithful gather.

Well, the canticle we have just heard proclaimed, which is taken from Chapter 26 of Isaiah, is precisely the joyous celebration of the city of salvation. It rises strong and glorious, because it is the Lord himself who has laid the foundations and the walls of defense, rendering it a safe and tranquil dwelling (see verse 1). He now opens wide the gates to receive the righteous people (see verse 2), who seem to repeat the words of the Psalmist when, before the Temple of Zion, he exclaims: «Open the gates of victory; I will enter and thank the Lord. This is the Lord’s own gate, where the victors enter» (Psalm 117:19-20).

3. Whoever enters the city of salvation must have an essential requisite: a «firm purpose … trust in you … trust» (see Isaiah 26:3-4). It is faith in God, a solid faith based on him, who is an «eternal Rock» (verse 4).

It is trust, already express in the original Hebrew root of the word «amen,» a synthesized profession of faith in the Lord, who — as King David sang — is «my rock, my fortress, my deliverer; My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, my saving horn, my stronghold» (Psalm 17[18]:2-3; see 2 Samuel 22:2-3).

The gift that God offers the faithful is peace (see Isaiah 26:3), the messianic gift par excellence, synthesis of a life lived in justice, freedom and the joy of communion.

4. It is a gift forcefully confirmed as well in the final verse of the Canticle of Isaiah: «O Lord, you mete our peace to us, for it is you who have accomplished all we have done» (verse 12). It was this verse that caught the attention of the Fathers of the Church: In that promise of peace they discerned the words of Christ that would resound centuries later: «Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you» (John 14:27).

In his «Commentary on the Gospel of John,» St. Cyril of Alexandria recalls that, in giving peace, Jesus gives us his own Spirit. Therefore, he does not leave us orphans but through the Spirit remains with us. And St. Cyril comments: The prophet «prays that the divine Spirit be given to us, through which we have been readmitted to friendship with God the Father, we who before were far from him because of the sin that reigned in us.» The commentary then becomes a prayer: «Grant us peace, O Lord. Then we will admit we have everything, and it will seem to us that he who has received the fullness of Christ does not lack anything. Indeed, the fullness of every good is the fact that God dwells in us by the Spirit (see Colossians 1:19)» (Volume II, Rome, 1994, p. 165).

5. Let us give one last look to the text of Isaiah. It presents a reflection on «the way of the just» (see verse 7) and a declaration of adherence to the just decisions of God (see verses 8-9). The dominant image is that of the way, classic in the Bible, as already declared by Hosea, a prophet who lived just before Isaiah: «Let him who is wise understand these things. … Straight are the paths of the Lord, in them the just walk, but sinners stumble in them» (Hosea 14:9).

There is another element in the Canticle of Isaiah, which is very thought-provoking also because of its liturgical use in the liturgy of lauds. There is, in fact, a mention of dawn, awaited after a night dedicated to seeking God: «My soul yearns for you in the night, yes, my spirit within me keeps vigil for you» (Isaiah 26:9).

It is precisely at the dawn of the day, when work begins and daily life already pulsates in the streets of the city, that the faithful one must again be determined to walk «in the ways of your judgments, O Lord» (verse 8), hoping in him and in his Word, only source of peace.

Now the words of the Psalmist come to his lips, who professes his faith since dawn: «O God, you are my God — for you I long! For you by body yearns; for you my soul thirsts. … For your love is better than life» (Psalm 62[63]:2,4). With his spirit reassured, he can thus address the new day.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father gave this summary in English]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Canticle found in the 26th chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah celebrates God’s victory over his enemies and his saving presence among his people. The Canticle evokes the image of a fortified city which God has built as a peaceful dwelling-place for all who put their faith in him. The Church reads this Canticle as a prophecy of the peace of Jesus Christ. His dwelling among us through the gift of his Holy Spirit is a summons to place all our hope in God and to seek salvation through obedience to his commands.

I cordially welcome the new seminarians of the Pontifical Beda College. May your studies for the priesthood in Rome deepen your love for Christ and your commitment to be faithful and holy ministers of the Gospel. I also greet the Anglican Pastors taking part in a course offered by the Anglican Center. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, especially those from England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, Taiwan, and the United States, I invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

[English text distributed by Vatican Press Office]

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