VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 29, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II’s address at today’s general audience, which he dedicated to a reflection on the first part of Psalm 44(45).
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1. “I sing my ode to the king”: These words, at the beginning of Psalm 44(45), give the reader an idea of the fundamental character of this hymn. The scribe of the court who composed it reveals to us immediately that it is a poem in honor of the Jewish sovereign. What is more, reading through the verses of the composition, it is evident that it is an epithalamium, that is, a nuptial song.
Scholars have tried to identify the historical coordinates of the Psalm, basing themselves on some clues — such as the linking of the Queen with the Phoenician city of Tyre (see verse 13) — but without being able to identify the royal couple precisely. Of relevance is the reference to a Hebrew King, as this has allowed the Jewish tradition to transform the text into a song to the Messiah-King, and the Christian tradition to reread the Psalm in a Christological vein and, because of the presence of the Queen, also in a Mariological perspective.
2. The Liturgy of Vespers presents this Psalm as a prayer, dividing it in two parts. We have just heard the first part (see verses 2-10), which, after the introduction of the scribe author of the text already evoked (see verse 2), presents a splendid portrait of the sovereign who is about to celebrate his wedding.
Because of this, Judaism has seen in Psalm 44(45) a nuptial song, which exalts the beauty and intensity of the gift of love between the spouses. In particular, the woman can repeat with the Song of Songs: “My lover belongs to me and I to him” (2:16). “I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me” (6:3).
3. The profile of the royal bridegroom is traced in a solemn manner, taking recourse to a court scene. He bears the military insignia (Psalm 44:4-6), to which are added sumptuous fragrant robes, while in the background the palaces shine, covered in ivory with their grandiose halls in which the music resounds (see verses 9-10). The throne rises in the center, and the scepter is mentioned, two signs of power and of royal investiture (see verses 7-8).
At this point, we would like to emphasize two elements. First of all, the beauty of the bridegroom, sign of an inner splendor and of divine blessing: “You are the fairest of the children of men” (verse 3).
Precisely on the basis of this verse, Christian tradition represented Christ in the form of a perfect and fascinating man. In a world often marked by ugliness and degradation, this image is an invitation to rediscover the “via pulchritudinis” [the way of beauty] in faith, in theology and in social life to ascend to divine beauty.
4. However, beauty is not an end in itself. The second characteristic we wish to propose refers precisely to the encounter between beauty and justice. In fact, the sovereign rides “on triumphant. In the cause of truth and justice” [verses 4 and 5]; he “love[s] justice and hate[s] wrongdoing” (verse 8) and his is a “scepter for justice” (verse 7). Beauty must be combined with goodness and holiness of life so that the luminous face of the good, wonderful and just God will shine in the world.
According to scholars, in verse 7 the name “God” was addressed to the King himself because he was consecrated by the Lord and, therefore, belonged in some way to the divine realm: “Your divine throne endures for ever and ever.”
Or it might be an invocation to the only supreme King, the Lord, who bends over the Messiah-King. It is a fact that, in applying this Psalm to Christ, the Letter to the Hebrews does not hesitate to attribute full — and not merely symbolic — divinity to the Son who has entered into his glory (see Hebrews 1:8-9).
5. In line with this Christological interpretation, we conclude by referring to the voice of the Fathers of the Church, who attributed spiritual values to each of the verses. Thus, in commenting on the phrase of the Psalm which states that “God has blessed forever” the King-Messiah (see Psalm 44:3), St. John Chrysostom made this Christological application: “the first Adam was filled with a very great curse, the second instead with a lasting blessing. The former heard: ‘Be cursed in your works’ (Genesis 3:17), and again: ‘Cursed is he who does the work of the Lord with slackness’ (Jeremiah 48:10), and ‘Cursed be he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them’ (Deuteronomy 27:26) and ‘a hanged man is accursed by God’ (Deuteronomy 21:23). Do you see how many were the curses? Christ has redeemed you from all these curses by making himself a curse (see Galatians 3:13): by humbling himself to raise you and dying to render you immortal, he became a curse to fill you with blessings. What can equal this blessing, which through a curse imparts a blessing to you? He had no need of blessing, but offers it to you” (“Expositio in Psalmum” [Exposition on the Psalm], XLIV, 4: PG, 55, 188-189).
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, one of the Pope’s aides read the following summary in English:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Psalmist describes a magnificent wedding feast at the court of the King. By tradition, the Psalm has been interpreted as referring to the Messiah-King, and so, of course, to Christ himself. Our attention is drawn to the beauty of the royal bridegroom: “You are the fairest of the children of men.”
Our contemplation of the beautiful face of Christ should help us to leave behind the ugliness of sin and begin our ascent towards divine perfection. But the King is also just. “Your love is for justice, your hatred for evil.” When beauty is joined with goodness and holiness of life, heavenly radiance shines out upon the world, and we catch a glimpse of the goodness, the wonder, and the justice of God.
[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]
I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups from Britain and Ireland, Scandinavia, and the United States of America. I greet especially the new students of the Venerable English College. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ.