Thursday, January 21, 2016

Stump the Priest: "Against me is Thine anger made strong"

Question: "How do we understand Psalm 87[88]:7 ["Against me is Thine anger made strong, and all Thy billows hast Thou brought upon me"] that we do in the Six Psalms of Matins? This Psalm is about Christ, yes? And if so, how do we understand that in regards to Him?"

I am sure that there are patristic commentaries that I do not have access to, but of those that I do, it seems most of the Fathers do interpret this Psalm as referring to Christ, but of those who do. This would include St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Ambrose of Milan, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and Cassiodorus. Of these fathers, only St. Augustine and Cassiodorus comment on this specific verse, at least so far as I have seen. Cassiodorus used St. Augustine's commentary when writing his own, and so it is not an entirely independent witness on this.

Blessed Theodoret also comments on this verse, but he interprets this Psalm as referring to the Jews in the Babylonian Captivity. Since there are often multiple levels of meanings to any given passage, Blessed Theodoret's interpretation is not mutually exclusive with those Fathers who see this in reference to Christ.

But here is what St. Augustine says about this passage, which is interesting to me primarily because of what he does not say:

""Thy indignation lieth hard upon Me" (ver. 7), or, as other copies have it, "Thy anger;" or, as others, "Thy fury:" the Greek word θυμὸς having undergone different interpretations. For where the Greek copies have ὀργὴ, no translator hesitated to express it by the Latin ira; but where the word is θυμὸς, most object to rendering it by ira, although many of the authors of the best Latin style, in their translations from Greek philosophy, have thus rendered the word in Latin. But I shall not discuss this matter further: only if I also were to suggest another term, I should think "indignation" more tolerable than "fury," this word in Latin not being applied to persons in their senses. What then does this mean, "Thy indignation lieth hard upon Me," except the belief of those, who knew not the Lord of Glory? who imagined that the anger of God was not merely roused, but lay hard upon Him, whom they dared to bring to death, and not only death, but that kind, which they regarded as the most execrable of all, namely, the death of the Cross: whence saith the Apostle, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth upon a tree [Galatians 3:13]" (Exposition on the Psalms, Psalm 87).

Likewise, Cassiodorus says of this verse "This was the belief of those permitted to prevail for their own destruction, that through God's anger Jesus Christ had confronted the hazards of the of the passion" (Explanation of the Psalms, Vol. 2, trans. P. G. Walsh, (New York: Paulist Press,1991), p. 345).

What is interesting here to me is that if St. Augustine or Cassiodorus believed that at the crucifixion, the wrath of God the Father was poured out on the Son, this would have been a perfect occasion for him to expound upon it, but instead he says that this verse only alludes to the false opinion of those who rejected Christ. This goes to show that this distortion of the doctrine of the Atonement was unknown to these Fathers.

For more information, see:

Stump the Priest: The Atonement

Stump the Priest: Allegorical Interpretations of Scripture?