St Basil On Psalm 45

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A Psalm for the Sons of Core (ON PSALM 45)

UNTO THE END, for the sons of Gore, ‘a Psalm for the hidden.’ This psalm seems to me to contain the prophecy concerning the end of time. Paul, having knowledge of this end, says: ‘Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father.’ Or, since our actions lead us to the end, each one to the end proper to itself, the good leading toward happiness, and the base toward eternal condemnation, and since the counsels delivered by the Spirit in this psalm lead those obeying them to the good end, therefore it has been entitled: ‘Unto the end,’ inasmuch as it is the record of the teachings for the happy end of human life. Tor the sons of Core.’ This psalm is also said to be for the sons of Core, whom the Holy Spirit does not separate, since, as with one soul and one voice, with complete harmony toward each other, they utter the words of prophecy, while no one of them prophesies anything at all contrary to the others, but the gift of prophecy is given to them equally because of the equality of their mutual affection for the good. Moreover, the psalm is said to be ‘for the hidden,’ that is to say, for secret things, and those buried in mystery. Having meditated on the expressions of the psalm in turn, you will learn the hidden meaning of the words, and that it is not the privilege of any chance person to gaze at the divine mysteries, but of him alone who is able to be a harmonious instrument of the promise, so that his soul is moved by the action of the Holy Spirit in it instead of by the psaltery.

‘Our God is our refuge and strength: a helper in troubles, which have found us exceedingly.’ Because of the weakness present in him from nature, every man has need of much assistance, if many troubles and labours befall him. Seeking a refuge, therefore, from all precarious situations, like one fleeing to a place of sanctuary or having recourse to some sharp summit surrounded by a strong wall because of the attack of the enemy, so he flees to God, believing that a dwelling in Him is his only rest, Therefore, because flight to God was agreed upon by all, the enemy produced great illusion and confusion concerning the choice of the Saviour. Plotting as an enemy, again he deceives the victims of his plots into thinking that they should flee to him as to a protector. Consequently, a twofold evil surrounds them, since they are either seized by force or destroyed by deceit. Therefore, the unbelievers flee to demons and idols, having the knowledge of the true God snatched away by the confusion which is produced in them by the devil.

They who recognise God err in the judgment of their affairs, making demands for useful things foolishly, asking for some things as good, which frequently are not for their advantage, and fleeing others as evil, though at times they bring great assistance to them. For example, is someone sick? Because he is fleeing the pain from the sickness, he prays for health. Did he lose his money? He is exceedingly pained by the loss. Yet, frequently the disease is useful when it will restrain the sinner, and health is harmful when it becomes the means for sin to one who possesses it. In the same manner, money also has already served some for licentiousness, while poverty has taught self-control to many who had begun badly. Do not flee, then, what you do not need to flee, and do not have recourse to him to whom it is unnecessary. But, one thing you must flee, sin; and one refuge from evil must be sought, God. Do not trust in princes; do not be exalted In the uncertainty of wealth; do not be proud of bodily strength; do not pursue the splendour of human glory. None of these things saves you; all are transient, all are deceptive. There is one refuge, God. ‘Cursed be the man that trusteth in man,’ or in any human thing.

(2) Therefore, ‘God is our refuge and strength.’ To him who is able to say: ‘I can do all things in him,’ Christ, ‘who strengthens me,’ God is strength. Now, it is the privilege of many to say: ‘God is our refuge,’ and ‘Lord, thou hast been our refuge.’ But, to say it with the same feelings as the prophet is the privilege of few. For, there are few who do not admire human interests but depend wholly upon God and breathe Him and have all hope and trust in Him. And our actions convict us whenever in our afflictions we run to everything else rather than to God. Is a child sick? You look around for an enchanter or one who puts superstitious marks on the necks of the innocent children; or finally, you go to a doctor and to medicines, having neglected Him who is able to save. If a dream troubles you, you run to the interpreter of dreams. And, if you fear an enemy, you cunningly secure some man as a patron. In short, in every need you contradict yourself in word, naming God as your refuge; in act, drawing on aid from useless and vain things. God is the true aid for the righteous man. Just as a certain general, equipped with a noble heavy-armed force, is always ready to give help to an oppressed district, so God is our Helper and an Ally to everyone who is waging war against the wiliness of the devil, and He sends out ministering spirits for the safety of those who are in need. Moreover, affliction will find every just man because of the established way of life. He who avoids the wide and broad way and travels the narrow and close one will be found by tribulations. The prophet formed the statement vividly when he said: In troubles which have found us exceedingly.’ For, they overtake us like living creatures, ‘working out endurance, and through endurance tried virtue, and through tried virtue hope.’ Whence also, the Apostle said: ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.’ And ‘Many are the afflictions of the just.’ But, he who generously and calmly endures the trial of affliction will say: ‘In all these things we overcome because of him who has loved us.’ And he is so far from refusing and shrinking from the afflictions that he makes the excessive evils an occasion of glory, saying: ‘And not only this, but we exult in tribulations also.’

(3) ‘Therefore we will not fear, when the earth shall be troubled; and the mountains shall be removed into the heart of the sea.’ The prophet shows the great strength of his confidence in Christ, because, even if all things are turned upside down, and the earth, being troubled, is overturned, and if the mountains, leaving their proper sites, are removed to the middle of the sea, ‘We will not fear,’ seeing that we have ‘God as our refuge and strength and helper in troubles which have found us exceedingly.’ Whose heart is so undaunted, whose thoughts are so untroubled, as in such great confusion to direct his mind toward God, and through hope in Him to be astounded at nothing that happens? We, however, do not endure the anger of man; if a dog runs at us, or some other animal, we do not look to God for help in our trouble, but, panic- stricken we turn our attention toward ourselves.

‘Their waters roared and were troubled.’ He had said that there was a disturbance of the earth and a transposition of mountains. Now he says that there is a tossing and an upheaval of the sea, since the mountains are falling into the midst of the seas. ‘Their waters roared and were troubled,’ the waters of the seas, of course. Furthermore, the mountains themselves make a disturbance in the waters, since they are not established in the sea, but are producing a great turmoil in the waters by their own tossing. Accordingly, when the earth is troubled, and the waters of seas roar and are boiled up from the depths, and the mountains are removed and endure much disturbance through the surpassing power of the Lord, then, he says, our heart is undaunted because it has safe and firm hopes in God.

‘The mountains were troubled with his strength.’ You are also able to understand the meaning of this statement figuratively, calling those persons mountains who are arrogant because of their own greatness but who are ignorant of the strength of God and exalt themselves exceedingly against the knowledge of God, and who then, conquered by men preaching the word of wisdom with virtue and wisdom, in the consciousness of their poverty fear the Lord and humble themselves under His strength. Or perhaps, even the rulers of this world and the fathers of wisdom that perishes, are themselves called mountains, being troubled at the strength of Christ which He showed in the contest of the cross against him who had the power of death. Just as if a certain noble contestant, ‘Disarming the Principalities and Powers/ overthrew them, and ‘displayed them openly, leading them away in triumph by force of the cross.’

(4) ‘The streams of the river make the city of God joyful.’ The briny seawaters, being exceedingly disturbed by the winds, roar and are troubled, but the streams of the river, proceeding noiselessly and flowing in silence to those worthy of receiving them, mate the city of God joyful. And now the just man drinks the living water and later will drink more plentifully, when he has been enrolled as a citizen in the city of God. Now he drinks through a mirror and in an obscure manner because of his gradual perception of the divine objects of contemplation; but then he will welcome at once the flooded river, which is able to overwhelm all the city of God with joy. Who could be the river of God except the Holy Spirit, who comes into those worthy because of the faith of the believers in Christ? ‘He who believes in me, as the Scripture says, “From within him there shall flow rivers.” ‘ And again, ‘If anyone drinks of the water which I give, it will become in him a fountain of water, springing up unto life everlasting.’ This river, accordingly, makes all the city of God at once joyful, that is to say surely, the Church of those who hold to a heavenly manner of life. Or, every creature endowed with intelligence, from celestial powers even to human souls, must be understood as the city made joyful by the inflowing of the Holy Spirit.

Some give the definition that a city is an established community, administered according to law. And, the definition that has been handed down of the city is in harmony with the celestial city, Jerusalem above. For, there it is a community of the first-born who have been enrolled in heaven, and this is established because of the unchanging manner of life of the saints, and it is administered according to the heavenly law. Therefore, it is not the privilege of human nature to learn the arrangement of that city and all its adornment. Those are the things ‘Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love him,’ but there are myriads of angels there, and an assembly of saints, and a Church of the first-born that are enrolled in heaven. Concerning that David said: ‘Glorious things are said of thee, O city of God.’ To that city through Isaiah God has promised: I will make thee to be an everlasting glory, a joy unto generation and generation, and there shall not be wasting nor destruction in thy borders, and salvation shall possess thy walls.’ Therefore, having raised the eyes of your soul, seek, in a manner worthy of things above, what pertains to the city of God. What could anyone consider as deserving of the happiness in that city, which the river of God makes joyful, and of which God is the Craftsman and Creator?

‘The most High hath sanctified his own tabernacle.’ Perhaps, he is saying that the God-bearing flesh is sanctified through the union with God. From this you will understand that the tabernacle of the most High is the manifestation of God through the flesh.

(5) ‘God is in the midst thereof, it shall not be moved: God will help it in the morning early.’ Since God is in the midst of the city, He will give it stability, providing assistance for it at the first break of dawn. Therefore, the word, ‘of the city.’ will fit either Jerusalem above or the Church below, ‘The most High hath sanctified his own tabernacle’ in it. And through this tabernacle, in which God dwelt, He was in the midst of it, giving it stability. Moreover, God is in the midst of the city, sending out equal rays of His providence from all sides to the limits of the world. Thus, the justice of God is preserved, as He apportions the same measure of goodness to all. ‘God will help it in the morning early.’ Now, the perceptible sun produces among us the early morning when it rises above the horizon opposite us, and the Sun of justice produces the early morning in our soul by the rising of the spiritual light, making day in him who admits it. ‘At night’ means we men are in this time of ignorance. Therefore, having opened wide our mind, let us receive ‘the brightness of his glory,’ and let us be brightly illumined by the everlasting Light, ‘God will help it in the morning early.’ When we have become children of light, and ‘the night is far advanced for us, and the day is at hand,’ then we shall become worthy of the help of God. Therefore, God helps the city, producing in it early morning by His own rising and coming. ‘Behold a man,’ it is said, ‘the Orient is his name.’ For those upon whom the spiritual light will rise, when the darkness which comes from ignorance and wickedness is destroyed, early morning will be at hand. Since, then, light has come into the world in order that he who walks about in it may not stumble, His help is able to cause the early morning. Or perhaps, since the Resurrection was in the dim morning twilight, God will help the city in the morning early, who on the third day, early on the morning of the Resurrection gained the victory through death.

(6) ‘Nations were troubled, and kingdoms were bowed down:’ the most High ‘uttered his voice, the earth trembled.’ Consider, I pray you, that a certain city is the object of plotsĀ  by the enemy who are making war on it, while in the meantime, many nations are settled around it and the kings are dividing by lot the sceptres of each nation; then, that a certain general, unconquerable in might, appears all at once to help this city; he breaks the siege, scatters the gathering of nations, forces the kings into flight simply by calling upon them with power, and he terrifies their hearts by the firmness of his voice. How much disturbance was probably aroused when the nations were being pursued and the kings were being turned into flight! Is it not likely that some indistinct rumbling and incessant noise was sent up from their confused flight, and all the place was full of those driven out because of their cowardice, so that a commotion sprang up everywhere in the cities and villages that received them? Now, he presents such succour for the city of God from the Saviour in his words: ‘Nations were troubled, and kingdoms were bowed down: the most High uttered his voice, the earth trembled.’

‘The Lord of armies is with us: the God of Jacob is our protector.’ He saw the incarnate God, he saw Him who was born of the Holy Virgin, ‘Emmanuel, which is, interpreted, “God with us,”‘ and for this reason he cries out in prophetic words: ‘The Lord of armies is with us,’ showing that it is He who was manifested by the holy prophets and patriarchs. Our protector, he says, is not another God besides Him who was handed down by the prophets; but the God of Jacob, who spoke in an oracle to His servant, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’

(7) ‘Come and behold ye the works of God: what wonders he hath done upon earth, making wars to cease even to the end o the earth.’ The Scripture invites those who are far from the word of truth to nearness through knowledge, saying: ‘Come and behold.’ Just as in the case of bodily eyes great distances make the perception of visible objects dim, but the nearer approach of those viewing offers a clear knowledge of the objects seen, so also in the case of objects of contemplation in the mind, he who has not been made familiar with God through His works nor has drawn near to Him is not able to see His works with the pure eyes of his mind. Therefore, ‘Come/ first approach, then see the works of the Lord which are prodigious and admirable, by which He struck down and converted to quiet peacefulness nations, formerly warlike and factious. ‘Come, children, hearken to me,’ and ‘Come, all you who labor and are burdened.’ It is the paternal voice of One with outstretched arms calling to Himself those who until then were rebelling. He who has heard the call and has approached and cleaves to the One commanding, will see Him who through the cross made all things peaceful ‘whether on the earth or in the heavens.’

‘He shall destroy the bow, and break the weapons; and the shield he shall burn in the fire.’ Do you see the peaceful spirit of the Lord of armies, that He has with Him invisible forces of angelic hosts? Do you see the courage and at the same time the kindliness of the Commander in chief of the armies? Though He is indeed the Lord of armies and has all the companies of angelic hosts, nowhere does He slay any one of the enemies, He overthrows no one, He touches no one; but, He destroys the bows and the weapons, and the shields He burns in the fire. He destroys the bow so that no longer will the burnt missiles be thrown among them, and He will break the weapons, those with which they fight hand to hand, so that those near at hand cannot be plotted against and wounded. And the shields He will burn in the fire, stripping the adversaries of their defences and doing all things in kindness to the enemy.

(8) ‘Be still and see that I am God.’ As far as we are engaged in affairs outside of God, we are not able to make progress in the knowledge o God. Who, anxious about the things of the world and sunk deep in the distractions of the flesh, can be intent on the words of God and be sufficiently accurate in such mighty objects of contemplation? Do you not see that the word which fell among the thorns is choked by the thorns? The thorns are the pleasures of the flesh and wealth and glory and the cares of life. He who desires the knowledge of God will have to be outside of all these things, and being freed from his passions, thus to receive the knowledge of God. For, how could the thought of God enter into a soul choked by considerations which preoccupied it? Even Pharaoh knew that it was proper for one to seek God when he was unoccupied, and for this reason he reproached Israel: ‘You are unoccupied, you are idle, and you say, “We shall offer prayers to the Lord, our God.”‘ Now, leisure itself is good and useful to him who is unoccupied, since it produces quiet for the acquisition of salutary doctrines. But, the leisure of the Athenians was evil, ‘who used to spend all their leisure telling or listening to something new.’ Even at the present time some imitate this, misusing the leisure of life for the discovery of some newer teaching. Such leisure is dear to unclean and wicked spirits. ‘When the unclean spirit,’ it is said, ‘has gone out of a man, he says, “I will return to my house which I left.” And when he has come, he finds the place unoccupied and swept.’ May it not be that we make our leisure a time for the adversary to enter, but let us occupy our house within, causing Christ to dwell in us beforehand through the Spirit. At all events, after giving peace to those who were up to this time troubled by the enemies, then he says, ‘Have nothing to do with the enemies disturbing you, in order that in silence you may contemplate the words of truth.’ For this reason also the Lord says: ‘Everyone who does not renounce all that he possesses, cannot be my disciple.’ It is necessary, then, to be free from the works of marriage, in order that we may have leisure for prayer; to be unoccupied with the pursuit of wealth, with the desire for this little glory, with the lust for pleasure, with envy and every form of wickedness against our neighbour, in order that, after our soul has found peace and is disturbed by no passion, the illumination of God, as if in a mirror, may become clear and unobscured.

‘I will be exalted among the nations, and I will be exalted in the earth.’ Clearly the Lord says these words concerning His own Passion, just as it has been written in the Gospel: ‘And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all to myself.’ ‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up’ upon the earth. Since, then, for the sake of the nations He was to be lifted up on the cross and for the sake of all the earth to accept that elevation, therefore, He says: ‘I will be exalted among the nations, and I will be exalted in the earth.’

‘The Lord of armies is with us: the God of Jacob is our protector.’ Exulting in the help of God, twice he called out the same words: ‘The Lord of armies is with us,’ as if trampling and leaping upon the enemy, inasmuch as he would suffer nothing from him because of his perfect trust in the Saviour of our souls. ‘If God is for us, who is against us.’ He who gave the victory to Jacob and after the contest designated him as Israel, He it is who is our Protector; He fights for us. But we are silent, because ‘He himself is our peace, he it is who has made both one, that of the two he might create one new man.’