Commentary on Psalm 135(136):1-9

«From Created Works One Ascends to the Greatness of God»

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 9, 2005 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at today’s general audience. He spoke about Psalm 135(136):1-9.

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1. It has been called «The Great Hallel,» namely, the solemn and grandiose praise that Judaism intoned during the paschal liturgy. We are speaking of Psalm 135(136), of which we now heard the first part, according to the division proposed by the Liturgy of Vespers (cf. verses 1-9).

First we reflect on the refrain: «for his steadfast love endures for ever.» At the center of the phrase resounds the word «love» which, in fact, is a legitimate but limited translation of the original Hebrew word «hesed.» In fact, it is part of the characteristic language used by the Bible to express the covenant that exists between the Lord and his people. The term seeks to describe the attitudes that are established within this relationship: faithfulness, loyalty, love and obviously God’s mercy.

We have here the synthetic representation of the profound and interpersonal bond established by the Creator with his creature. Within this relationship, God does not appear in the Bible as an impassible and implacable Lord, or an obscure and indecipherable being, or fate, against whose mysterious force it is useless to struggle. He manifests himself instead as a person who loves his creatures, he watches over them, he follows them in the course of history and suffers because of the infidelity with which the people often oppose his «hesed,» his merciful and paternal love.

2. The first visible sign of this divine charity — says the Psalmist — is to be sought in creation. Then history enters. The gaze, full of admiration and wonder, pauses first of all on creation: the heavens, the earth, the waters, the sun, the moon and the stars.

Even before discovering the God who reveals himself in the history of a people, there is a cosmic revelation, open to all, offered to the whole of humanity by the only Creator, «God of gods» and «Lord of lords» (cf. verses 2-3).

As Psalm 18(19) stated, «The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder’s craft. One day to the next conveys that message; one night to the next imparts that knowledge» (verses 2-3). There is, therefore, a divine message, secretly inscribed in creation and sign of the «hesed,» of the loving faithfulness of God who gives to his creatures being and life, water and food, light and time.

One must have clear eyes to contemplate this divine revelation, recalling the warning of the Book of Wisdom, which invites us to know the Creator by analogy «from the greatness and beauty of created things» (Wisdom 13:5; cf. Romans 1:20). Prayerful praise then flows from contemplation of the «wonders» of God (cf. Psalm 135[136]:4), displayed in creation and is transformed in a joyful hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord.

3. From created works one ascends, therefore, to the greatness of God, to his loving mercy. It is this that the Fathers of the Church teach us, in whose voice resounds the constant Christian Tradition.

Thus, St. Basil the Great in one of the initial pages of his first homily on the Hexameron, in which he comments on the story of creation according to the first chapter of Genesis, pauses to consider God’s wise action, which leads him to recognize in divine goodness the propelling center of creation. Here are some of the expressions taken from the long reflection of the holy bishop of Caesarea of Cappadocia:

«‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth.’ My word yields, overcome by the wonder of this thought» (1,2,1: «Sulla Genesi [Omelie sull’Esamerone]» — On Genesis: Homily on the Hexameron — Milan, 1990, pp. 9,11). In fact, although some, «deceived by the atheism they bear within them, imagined the universe deprived of a guide and order, at the mercy of chance,» the sacred writer instead «has immediately enlightened our mind with the name of God at the beginning of the narrative, saying: ‘In the beginning God created.’ And what beauty this order has!» (1,2,4: ibid., p. 11). «Therefore, if the world had a beginning and was created, you have to seek the one who initiated it and who is its Creator … Moses has prepared you with his teaching, imprinting on our souls as a seal or phylactery the most holy name of God, when he says: ‘In the beginning God created.’ The blessed nature, goodness free from envy, he who is the object of love on the part of all reasoning beings, the beauty greater than any that can be desired, the beginning of beings, the source of life, the light of understanding, the inaccessible wisdom, in a word, He ‘in the beginning created heaven and earth'» (1,2,6-7: ibid., p. 13).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father said:]

I believe the words of this fourth-century Father are of amazing timeliness, when he says some, «deceived by the atheism they bear within them, imagined the universe deprived of a guide and order, at the mercy of chance.» How many are these «some» today?

Deceived by atheism, they believe and try to demonstrate that it is scientific to think that everything lacks a guide and order, as if they were at the mercy of chance. The Lord, with sacred Scripture, awakens the drowsy reason and says to us: In the beginning is the creative Word. In the beginning the creative Word — this Word that has created everything, which has created this intelligent plan, the cosmos — is also Love.

Let us allow ourselves to be awakened by this Word of God. Let us pray that he clear our minds so that we will be able to perceive the message of creation, inscribed also in our hearts: The beginning of everything is creative Wisdom and this Wisdom is love and goodness: «Eternal is his mercy.»

[The Pope then read the following summary in English:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Today I would like to reflect with you on Psalm 135, the solemn hymn of praise that formed part of the Jewish Passover liturgy. Let us consider the refrain: «for his mercy endures for ever.» The key word here is «mercy,» in Hebrew «hesed.»

It describes God’s love for the chosen people with whom he has established a covenant. He is not a cold, distant God, but one who loves his creatures and suffers when they are unfaithful to him, when they reject his merciful fatherly affection.

The signs of God’s love are seen in the marvels of creation and in the great gifts he has given to his people. The Fathers of the Church teach us to recognize in created things the greatness of God and his merciful love towards us.

St. Basil, filled with wonder as he reflects upon the mystery of Creation, writes that God is «beauty greater than any that can be desired, the beginning of all beings, the source of life, the light of understanding, inaccessible wisdom»: Such is the God who «in the beginning created Heaven and Earth.» Let us praise the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures for ever.

[Benedict XVI then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

I am happy to greet the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including visitors from China, Indonesia and Japan, from England, Africa and North America. I pray that your visit to Rome will strengthen your faith and renew your love for the Lord, and ask God’s blessing upon all of you, and upon your families and loved ones.

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