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Principles of Psychological Exegesis of the Bible

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sacred readingFor several years I’ve been working on a psychologically-based approach to biblical interpretation. A mixture of old and new, it draws on the traditional philosophical-allegorical method of biblical interpretation developed by the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 BC–c. 50 AD), and applied by later Christian writers like Origen, St. Ambrose, and St. Gregory of Nyssa, whence it became a staple (if little-known today) method of Christian exegesis. This traditional approach is combined with principles of modern personality theory and depth psychology. (However readers leery of modern psychological reductionism may be relieved to know it is orthodox in all respects.)

The method can be easily explained in terms of five basic principles, given below.

1. Psychological Salvation

The aim of the Bible is to promote our salvation, understood in an all-embracing sense that includes both spiritual and psychological aspects. These two aspects are inseparable, one necessary for the other. Our direct interest here, however, is psychological salvation. This is understood as an overall transformation that affects moral life, intellect, will, desire, emotion, social life, and orientation to the physical environment. It is epitomized by the statement, “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) The result of this transformation is attainment of a new psychological condition referred to in the Gospels as the Kingdom of Heaven.

(a) This condition is characterized by many features which the psychologist Abraham Maslow associated with Being perception and Being cognition and plateau experience. Sensory perceptions are clearer, more vivid, more beautiful, unified, sacred. The world may be experienced as transfigured. Experience and activity are ends in themselves, not means to ends (Being rather than Becoming);

(b) Inwardly the state is characterized by greater mental clarity (insight, serenity, recollection, peace, joy, happiness, creativity, inspiration) and by absence of negative emotions and thoughts (anxiety, cynicism, pessimism, anger, depression, etc.);

(c) In this condition a person may experience a union of the individual will and God’s will; egoism and those characteristic problems that attend it are reduced. One experiences a sense of flow, spontaneity, effortlessness, enjoyment, and delight.

(d) It corresponds to what various writers have termed unitive, transcendental, and integrated mental states. At a physiological level, it is potentially associated with better-than-usual integration of left- and right-brain activity.

(e) One does not so much attain this as an immediate and permanent psychological condition, as experience it temporarily with greater frequency and duration.

(f) This form of psychological salvation does not replace the concept of spiritual salvation, understood as attainment of eternal life in the traditional religious sense; but the former promotes and is possibly a stage in the attainment of the latter.

2. Scriptural Consistency

All parts of the Bible aim to promote spiritual and psychological salvation. Each passage should be understood in relation to this greater purpose; one should not interpret a verse or passage out of context or without reference to this overarching meaning.

3. Psychological Correspondence

This is the key interpretative principle: that every character, situation, and event portrayed in Scripture has a counterpart in the psychic life of the individual.

(a) This principle dovetails with the large (but largely unappreciated) psychological literature concerning ego plurality (e.g., Rowan, 1990; Schwartz, 1995). This body of work sees human personality in terms of not a single ego, but many (dozens, perhaps hundreds) of sub-egos, part-egos or subpersonalities, each associated with a different interest, appetite, and social role.  The ‘ordinary’ state of affairs is that these personalities conflict.  A major task of psychological salvation is to harmonize them, producing an integrated and self-realized person (cf. the Jungian approach to Old Testament exegesis of Edinger 1986, 2000, 2004).

(b) The principle of psychological correspondence is a routine feature in the modern interpretation of dreams (i.e. each character in a dream reflects some aspect of the dreamer’s personality or psyche).

(c) This principle is also found in modern psychological interpretation of myths and literature (e.g., the Odyssey, Plato’s Republic).

(d) It is also the basis of Philo’s system of biblical interpretation (i.e., each character in the Bible corresponds to some mental ‘disposition’).

(e) This does not preclude there also being other levels of meaning in a verse or passage of Scripture, i.e., literal, historical, moral, etc.

4. Agreement with Doctrine and Tradition

The Christian Church was founded by Jesus Christ with the aim of promoting human salvation, and the Holy Spirit has guided the Church throughout its history. Psychological meanings ‘discovered’ in the Bible must be tested against sound Christian doctrine and tradition; what is at variance with these is likely an idiosyncratic interpretation, untrue.

5. Grace

To adequately understand the psychological meaning of Scripture requires inspiration and grace, and in order that these may be obtained, prayer.

Bibliography

Edinger, Edward F. The Bible and the Psyche: Individuation Symbolism in the Old Testament. Toronto, 1986.

Edinger, Edward F. Ego and Self: The Old Testament Prophets From Isaiah to Malachi. Ed. J. Gary Sparks. Toronto, 2000.

Edinger, Edward F. The Sacred Psyche: A Psychological Approach to the Psalms. Ed. Joan Dexter Blackmer. Toronto, 2004.

Maslow, Abraham H. Toward a Psychology of Being. 2nd ed. Van Nostrand, 1968. (1st ed., Van Nostrand, 1962; 3rd ed., Foreword and Preface by Richard Lowry, Wiley, 1999).

Maslow, Abraham H. The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York: Viking, 1971 (republished: Arkana, 1993).

Rowan, John. Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us. Routledge, 1990 (repr. 2013).

Schwartz, Richard C. Internal Family Systems Therapy. New York: Guilford, 1995 (repr. 2013).

Uebersax, John S. On the Psychological Meaning of Psalm 1. 2008.

Uebersax, John S. The ‘Strange Woman’ of Proverbs. 2009.

Uebersax, John S. Psychological Allegorical Interpretation of the Bible. El Camino Real. 2012.

Uebersax, John S. Noetic, Sapiential, and Spiritual Exegesis. <catholicgnosis.wordpress.com>. November, 2013.

Uebersax, John S. The Republic: Plato’s Allegory for the Human Soul. <satyagraha.wordpress.com>. September, 2014.

Uebersax, John S. Psychological Correspondences in Plato’s Republic. <satyagraha.wordpress.com>. December, 2014.

Uebersax, John S. Why do the Heathen Rage?: A Psychological Investigation of Psalm 2. (article in preparation).

First version: March 2014 (rev. November 2015, June 2016)

Written by John Uebersax

March 27, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Noetic, Sapiential, and Spiritual Exegesis

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I’ve recently written about an approach to biblical interpretation that is, on the one hand, scientific and psychological, and, on the other, non-reductionistic and faithful to Christian teaching (e.g., here, here, and here). It takes as its basic principles: (1) that a central concern in every Christian life is the injunction of St. Paul, Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12:2); (2) that this transformation must include a psychological metamorphosis that encompasses both the modern meaning of psyche as mind and its classical meaning as soul and, and includes the moral, intellectual, volitional, and desiring aspects of human nature; (3) that the Bible supplies a detailed plan for effecting this psychological transformation; and (4) much of this plan is ‘encoded’ in figurative language and requires careful attention and a contemplative frame of mind to recognize and understand.  The approach I’ve suggested could be described as a more modern version of the allegorical methods used by Philo of Alexandria (Philo Judeaus) and by many Church Fathers, including Origen, St. Augustine, and St. Gregory of Nyssa.  The question considered here is what to call this method.

Below are some alternative terms and various pros and cons of each.  The terms are grouped into three categories.  In the first are several terms that seem basically correct, but perhaps too general.  The second includes those terms which I consider the best of those currently in use.  The third lists several modern terms that are questionable, but which are included for completeness.

I also thought it might be helpful generally to list all the various terms in use today to denote this sort of allegorical exegesis in one place.  The short bibliography at the end contains some references that appear especially pertinent, but is by no means comprehensive.  I hope to add information to this post as I run across new terms or references of interest.  The present, then, could be considered just a down payment or first installment.

General Terms

allegorical exegesis.  This is perhaps the most widely used term today, but it has two drawbacks:  (1) it is nonspecific, as there are a variety of different ways to allegorically interpret Scripture (psychologically, morally, prophetically etc.); and (2) over the centuries, ‘allegory’ has come to mean a figurative story that is not actually true (as in a fable).  Thus, ‘allegorical exegesis’ might imply to some people that what is being interpreted (the Old Testament or the New Testament) is not historically true. This connotation of non-historicity is not implied by the etymology of the word itself, which comes from alla (different) and agora (assembly) – thus allegory literally suggests  ‘that which one would not say in the crowd’ or basically a hidden meaning as opposed to a more obvious one.  Nevertheless, even in ancient times the word allegory tended to imply that something had only figurative meaning.

parabolic interpretation. From the Greek word parabole.  Because of its connection to the word parable, this term may again tend to suggest that the material being interpreted is not literally true.

figurative interpretation.  The principal disadvantage with this term that it is very nonspecific.  It gives no clue at all as to the kind of truths that are being figuratively represented, or the principles by which they are decoded.

nonliteral interpretation.  Even less specific than figurative; too generic to be of much use.

mystical exegesis.  This could, following ancient Greek usage, imply a secret meaning.  That is problematic in itself, because nonliteral meanings, while they may be subtle or hard to see, are not necessarily secret in the sense of being reserved for a few initiates.  Further the term might be understood as denoting a connection with religious mysticism (e.g., withdrawal from the world, pursuit of ‘mystical experiences’ etc.), which is not necessarily or even usually the case with the form of exegesis being considered here.

hyponoia.  Another word used by the ancients, meaning basically ‘knowledge beneath the surface.’  Like the other terms above, this doesn’t indicate the nature of deeper knowledge being sought, or how it is obtained.

Preferred Terms

noetic exegesis.  This term was apparently first used (at least, in connection with Biblical interpretation) by Eric Osborn (1995, 2005), and later by Blossom Stefaniw (2010). ‘Noetic’ here has two relevant aspects.  First it implies a search to uncover meanings in Scripture that help to improve or transform the nous (i.e., the ancient Greek word for what we might call the Intellect or higher Reason, and which in Greek patristic literature is sometimes considered to be the immortal human soul itself).  Second, the method itself can be properly called noetic insofar as it seeks to go beyond literal meanings of words (understood by discursive thought, or dianoia) to the deeper intelligible truths discernible only to the apprehending, nondiscursive part of the mind (nous).

One possible limitation of this term is that the form of exegesis we are considering involves more than just the apprehending, noetic intellect.  Discursive thinking is also involved in relating intuited principles to one another other or to facts and memories, to envision applications in ones life, and so on. For example, reading the story of Cain and Abel, it might strike one as a noetic inspiration that the two figures symbolize competing negative and positive elements of ones mind or psyche.  But then one might go on to compare these two figures with other, similar pairs – Jacob and Esau, Moses and Pharaoh, etc.  To elaborate the noetic insight would involve use of other mental powers.

The term gnostic exegesis, more or less a cognate, has some ancient precedent, but would likely invite unwanted associations to Gnosticism if used today.

sapiential exegesis.  This could serve about equally well as noetic exegesis as a terminological convention.  It implies both that the object of exegesis is to gain wisdom, and that wisdom is needed to apply the method.

anagogical exegesis.  This is a very interesting term, used by some Church Fathers and also in the Middle Ages.  Originally it meant ‘going or being led higher’, which could be understood in this context to mean any or all of the following: seeking a higher meaning in Scripture; using exegesis to attain a higher level of mental/spiritual development; elevating one’s mind by interpreting Scripture; or contributing generally to an uplifting movement or current of thought (Laird, 2007).  In the Middle Ages, “anagogical” exegesis often became focused on finding allusions to the afterlife of the soul in Scripture, a different usage which might conflict with the more sapiential meaning of the term.  Also, even in the older and original sense (i.e., of the Church Fathers), anagogical exegesis spans two somewhat distinct levels of meaning of Scripture:  those corresponding to what Origen called the psychic (soul) versus pneumatic (spiritual) levels. Relative to Origen’s distinction, our principle interest here is psychic level – i.e., the level of psyche: mind, intellect, rationality, will, desire, and emotion.  The other, higher Origenistic sense of anagogy, which suggests a connection to higher mystical states, including an apophatic union with God free from all concepts or thoughts, is not our immediate concern here.

spiritual or pneumatic exegesis.  As suggested above, it could be argued that these terms should be reserved for a level of exegesis that relates to the highest levels of spiritual development and union with God, e.g., apophatic experience.

theoria or theoreia.  This term, often used by St. Gregory of Nyssa in connection with exegesis, has two relevant meanings for us.  First it can mean contemplation in a sense that is basically the same as noesis:  an understanding of the intelligible meaning of Scripture, as opposed to its historical and literal meanings. Second, it can imply what we today might call a theoretical or scientific understanding, i.e., of the rules and principles of our moral purification and spiritual advancement as  figuratively presented in Scripture.

Psychological Terms 

Finally to be considered are four modern psychological terms.

psychological exegesis.  This term is appropriate, provided we understand psyche in the traditional sense that includes both mind and soul.  However, left unqualified or taken out of context, the term might be misunderstood to imply a connection with modern, reductionistic psychological theories. An alternative term, following Origen, might be psychic exegesis.

depth-psychological exegesis.  This term has been used in recent decades mainly  by certain German scholars.  However ‘depth psychology’ can have several different meanings.  Most who have used the term have meant it in a fairly restrictive sense as implying a basis in psychoanalytic or Jungian theory;  Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict (2008) made some harsh criticisms of depth psychological exegesis, but he was referring to this more restrictive meaning of the term.

My own view is that the kind of exegesis we are considering here is accurately termed ‘depth psychological’ in the sense that it includes in its scope certain processes in the depths (or heights) of the human psyche, but not in the sense of corresponding to Freudian or Jungian theory.

psychodynamic exegesis.  Most of the problems with the preceding term would apply here as well.

existential exegesis.  A good term in that it implies existential relevance to the individual, but it potentially inherits all the ambiguity associated with the nebulous word ‘existentialism’.

Conclusions

Overall, of all the terms considered here, perhaps the best are sapiential exegesis, noetic exegesis, and anagogic exegesis.

In the end, we might consider that this form of exegesis may be such that it is inherently impossible to define a single term.  Why?  Because perhaps the very mental processes were are investigating here – noesis, intellection, discernment, etc. – are the very ones by which we know intelligible principles and assign or interpret names.  In other words, it may be something of an ‘error of logical typing’  to try to name the very processes by which we name things. I wouldn’t insist on this view, but it does seem like a possibility.  However to the extent it might be true, we may need to content ourselves with a more ‘poetic’ or intuitive approach to naming this style of exegesis:  to have, for example, multiple names, each one highlighting a different aspect, and to use these different names in a fluid and flexible way.

The passage below shows that even as inspired an exegete as  St. Gregory of Nyssa recognized the difficulty of finding a single term for this form of exegesis.  In the passage below, from the Prologue to his Homilies on the Song of Songs, he uses a wide range terms.

In the end, we should not forget that this form of interpretation is not a name or concept, but an experience.

By an appropriate contemplation [θεωρίας] of the text, the philosophy [φιλοσοφίαν] hidden in its words becomes manifest once the literal meaning has been purified by a correct understanding [έννοίαις]. …

I hope that my commentary will be a guide for the more fleshly-minded, since the wisdom hidden (in the Song of Songs) leads to a spiritual condition of the soul [πνευματικήν τε και αϋλον τής ψυχής κατάστασιν]. …

Because some members of the Church always think it right to follow the letter of holy scripture and do not take into account the enigmatic [αινιγμάτων] and deeper meanings [υπονοιών], we must answer those who accuse us of doing so. … If anything in the hidden, deeper [έπικρύψεως έν ύπονοίαις], enigmatic [αινίγμασιν] sense cannot be cannot be understood literally, we will, as the Word [Logos] teaches and as Proverbs says [Pro 1.6], understand [νοήσαι] the passage either as a parable [παραβολην], a ‘dark’ saying [σκοτεινόν λόγον], sage words [ρήσιν σοφων], or as a riddle [αινιγμάτων].

With regards to anagogy [άναγωγής θεωρίαν], it makes no difference what we call it – tropology [τροπολογίαν] or allegory [άλληγορίαν] – as long as we grasp the meaning [νόημα] of (Scripture’s) words. …

They instruct not only through precepts but through the historical narratives: both lead to knowledge of the mysteries [γνωσιν των μυστηρίων] and to a pure way of life [καθαράν πολιτείαν] for those who have diligent minds.

St. Paul also uses exegesis [έξηγήσει] looking to what is most useful, and he is not concerned about what to name the form of his exegesis [έξηγήσεως]. … And there is a passage where he calls the more obscure comprehension and partial knowledge [γνωσιν] a mirror and a riddle [αΐνιγμα ](1 Cor 13, 12).  And again he says the change from literal[σωματικων] meanings to noetic [νοητά] is a turning [έπιστροφην] to the Lord and a removal of the veil (2 Cor 3, 16).  But in all these different figures and names for noetic interpretation [νουν θεωρίας] he is describing one form of teaching to us,  but we must [sometimes] pass over to the immaterial  [αϋλόν] and noetic interpretation [νοητην θεωρίαν] so that more corporeal thoughts are changed into something perceived by the intellect and rational mind [νουν και διάνοιαν], the more fleshly meaning of what is said having been shaken off like dust (Mt 10, 14).

And he says, “The letter kills, but the spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3, 6), because in many passages the historical account does not provide examples of a good life if indeed we stop at the bare facts.

All these and similar examples should serve to remind us of the necessity of searching the divine words, of reading [προσέχειν τη άναγνώσει] them and of tracing in every way possible how something more sublime [ύψηλότερος] might be found which leads us to that which is divine and incorporeal [θειότερά τε και άσώματα] instead of the literal sense [διάνοιαν].

Unless a person contemplates the truth through philosophy [φιλοσοφίας ένθεωρήσειε την άλήθειαν], what the text says here will be either inconsistent or a fable [μυθωδες].

~ St. Gregory of Nyssa, Homilies on the Song of Songs, 5.10-7.5; based on (with a few word changes) McCambley (1987) and Heine (2012), pp.362–363; MPG  44 775ff.; italics mine.

Bibliography

Beier, Matthias.  ‘Embodying Hermeneutics: Eugen Drewermann’s Depth Psychological Interpretation of Religious Symbols‘. Paper presented at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, New Brunswick, NJ, March 1998.

Heine, Ronald E. ‘Gregory of Nyssa’s Apology for Allegory.’ Vigiliae Christianae, 38(4), 1984), pp. 360–370.

Laird, Martin. Gregory of Nyssa and the Grasp of Faith. Oxford University Press, 2007.

Lauro, Elizabeth Ann Dively. The Soul and Spirit of Scripture within Origen’s Exegesis. Leiden: Brill, 2005.

Martens, Peter. Origen and Scripture: The Contours of the Exegetical Life. Oxford University Press, 2012.

McCambly, Richard Casimir. ‘Notations on the Commentary on the Song of Songs by Gregory of Nyssa.’  < http://www.lectio-divina.org >  Accessed 23 Nov. 2013.

McCambly, Richard Casimir. Saint Gregory of Nyssa: Commentary on the Song of Songs. Hellenic College Press, 1987.  ISBN 0917653181

Norris, Jr., Richard A. Gregory of Nyssa: Homilies on the Song of Songs. Society of Biblical Literature, 2012. (Introduction)

Osborn, Eric Francis. ‘Philo and Clement: Quiet Conversion and Noetic Exegesis.’ Studia Philonica Annual, 10, 1998, 108–124.

Osborn, Eric Francis. Clement of Alexandria. Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. ‘Biblical Interpretation in Conflict.’ In: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (author), José Granados (editor), Carlos Granados (ed.), Luis Sánchez Navarro (ed.), Opening Up the Scriptures: Joseph Ratzinger and the Foundations of Biblical Interpretation, Eerdmans, 2008.

Stefaniw, Blossom. Mind, Text, and Commentary: Noetic Exegesis in Origen of Alexandria, Didymus the Blind, and Evagrius Ponticus. Peter Lang, 2010.

Exegesis of the Fall of Adam and Eve in Lombard’s Sentences

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Exegesis of the Fall Adam and Eve in Lombard’s Sentences

Book 2, Distinction 24

Chapter IV.

On (man’s) sensuality.

For the sensuality is a certain inferior force of the soul, out of which there is a movement, which is intended for [intenditur in] the senses of the7 body and the appetite for things pertaining to the body; but the reason is the superior force of the soul, which, as we thus say, has two parts and/or differences, the superior and the inferior.  According to the superior it intends to catch sight of [conspiciendis] and/or to take counsel with [consulendis] supernal (things), according to the inferior it looks forward to [prospicit]8 the arrangement of temporal (things).  Therefore whatever occurs in our soul when we are considering ourselves [nobis considerantibus], which is not common with the beasts [bestiis], pertains to the reason.  But what you find in it common with large animals [bellusis], pertains to the sensuality.  And where something occurs first to us, gradually progressing in the consideration of the parts of the soul, which is not common with the beasts, there begins the reason.  Moreover (St.) Augustine teaches this in the twelfth book On the Trinity,9 saying thus:  « Let us see, where there is a certain confine of the exterior and interior man.  For whatever we have in mind (which is) common with sheep [pecore], is rightly said to pertain to the “exterior man”. For not only will the body be deputed the “exterior man”, but certain adjuncts with his life, by which the companions of the body and all senses thrive, by which he has been instructed to sense exterior (things) ».  « Ascending, therefore, inward [introrsum] by certain steps of consideration through the parts of the soul, where something begins to occur, which for us is not common with the beasts, there begins the reason, where the interior man can already be acknowledged.10

Chapter V.

On (man’s) reason and its parts.

« But the superior part of reason clings to the eternal reasons to caught sight of [conspiciendis] and/or take counsel with [consulendis] (them), the inferior portion is deflected to govern temporal (things) ».1 « And that intention of reason, by which we contemplate eternals, is deputed to wisdom [sapientiae]; but the latter, by which we use temporal things well, is deputed to knowledge [scientiae] ». « However, when we speak in an orderly manner [disserimus] of the nature of the human mind, we treat of [disserimus] one certain thing, nor do we join it together in these two, which I have mentioned [commemoravi],2 except (when we consider it) through (its) offices ». « Moreover the movement of the carnal or sensual soul, which is intended for [intenditur in] the senses of the body, is common to us and to sheep [pecoribusque], which (movement) is secluded from the reckoning of wisdom [ratione sapientiae], but is near to the reckoning of knowledge [rationi scientiae] ».*

Chapter VI.

On the similar order of sinning in us and in (our) first parents.

That, too, must not be overlooked, that there is such an order and progression of temptation now in one man, as there then preceded in (our) first parents. For as the serpent then recommended [suasit] evil to the woman, and she consented, thereupon [deinde] she gave (the forbidden fruit) to the man, and thus the sin was consummated;

Chapter VII.

That in us is the man and the woman and the serpent.

So too now, in us, for the serpent there is the movement of the sensual soul, for the woman the inferior portion of the reason, for the man the superior portion of the reason.  And the latter is the man, who according to the Apostle is said (to be) “the image and glory of God”;3 and the former is the woman, which is said according to the same (to be) “the glory of the man”.

Chapter IX.

In what kind of manner is temptation consummated in us through those three?

Now it remains to show, in what manner sin is consummated in us through these three; where it can be acknowledged, if it be attended to [intendatur] diligently, what in the soul is a mortal, and/or venial sin. For as there the serpent recommended7 to the woman, and the woman to the man; so too in us a sensual movement, when it begins to feel [conceperit] the allurement of sin, suggests (it) [suggerit] as the serpent to the woman, namely to the inferior part of reason, that is to the reckoning of knowledge; which if she consents to the allurement, the woman eats the forbidden food; after she gives to the man from the same, when she suggests the same allurement to the superior part of reason, that is to the reckoning of wisdom, which if it consents then the man too tastes with the female the forbidden fruit.

English Translation  © 2008, 2009 by Br. Alexis Bugnolo

Br. Bugnolo’s efforts in translating Lombard’s Sentences are recognized and appreciated.

These short excerpts are displayed for research purposes only under the terms of fair use of copyrighted material.  The entire work, including footnotes, can be accessed by the link below.  I may replace these excerpts with a paraphrase.  The purpose is to compare Lombard’s psychological interpretation of Adam and Eve with that of Philo of Alexandria.

via LIBER SECUNDUS SENTENTIARUM — D. 24: Petri Lombardi.

Written by John Uebersax

February 9, 2009 at 7:24 pm

A Meditation on Psalms 1:1–2

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A Meditation on Psalms 1:1–2

Tree-rivers

[1] Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,
nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
[2] But his delight is in the law of the LORD;

and in his law doth he meditate day and night. (Psalms 1:1–2)

 Επου θεω

pdf version

illuminated_THE Bible is a key to salvation. Psalms is a key to the Bible.[1] Psalm 1, a proem, is a key to Psalms;[2] and its key verses 1 and 2.[3] Careful study and meditation on these verses therefore profits us greatly.

 

          [1] Blessed is the man

In the Septuagint, the Greek word translated as Blessed is makarios, which means either blessed or happy; both are understood to apply here.

Also, consider that when one feels especially blessed, with this is much joy. We may therefore read here, “this man is blessed, happy, joyful, and lacks nothing.” Such, then, is our goal.

After the goal is stated, we are warned of three principal obstacles. These are three categories of mental error — which, as we will see, correspond to Plato’s three divisions of the human soul. (Republic 4.434d–4.445e, 9.588b–9.591e; Phaedrus 246a-e; 253c–256c)

          that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,

Counsel of the ungodly aptly describes the principal sin to which the rational or logical division of our mind (Plato’s logistikon) is vulnerable. This, our faculty of discursive reasoning, is prone to entertain innumerable schemes, plans, anxieties, and similar vain thoughts. Some such thoughts involve positive projects we imagine; some concern needless fears and anxieties; some, of guilt and remorse. All such ruminations are almost always baseless and imaginary. Attention to ones thoughts will reveal the seriousness of this problem: one can seldom go a minute, or even a few seconds, without ungodly counsel.

The word walketh is appropriate here, because once one accepts the initial impulse to follow such thoughts, they lead the mind — for minutes or even hours — on a journey; yet they lead nowhere, or certainly nowhere good.

          nor standeth in the way of sinners,

The way of sinners refers to mental errors of the concupiscent nature, or what Plato called epithymia (or the epithymetikon). These are temptations to inordinate or untimely sensory pleasures, such as over- or improper indulgence in food, drink, sex, etc.

It is called standing, because such temptations characteristically assault us when we are, so to speak, mentally stationary — that is, not actively applying our minds in ways connected with our spiritual development, helping others, or attending to productive tasks. “An idle mind,” it is said, “is the devil’s workshop.”

          nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

No less problematic (and, for religious people, often more so) are mental errors of our irascible and honor-seeking nature — what Plato called thumos (or our thymoeides). A principal form of such temptations is ones tendency to judge, condemn, or criticize others. Hence this is like a seat upon which one sits and presumes to pass judgment.

Again, by observing the thoughts one may easily see this strong, chronic tendency to find fault with people and things, and, in short, to think negatively.

          [2] But his delight is in the law of the LORD;

We are next told that the blessed man is one who delights in the law of the LORD.

Here the law of the Lord must not be mistakenly understood as meaning written rules, commandments, prohibitions, and so on. To orient ones life to codified rules is legalism. Legalism does not bring happiness.

Law (in Hebrew, Torah) here is properly understood as the promptings of the Holy Spirit which gently guide us to do God’s will.

A parallel may be drawn here with the Chinese concept of Dao, which may be understood as the Universal Law that governs all things benignly and providentially. To follow this Law is to live in accord with Nature — a principle that has only positive connotations, and is never considered onerous or ‘against ones grain.’

We are to gently follow God’s will instead of willfully pursuing our own schemes and plans. For this to become a habit is the journey of a lifetime and a main task of salvation.

Ones reconciliation to God’s will is the message of the entire Bible. In the Old Testament, it is expressed by Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac. In the New Testament, the entire life of Jesus, including his crucifixion and resurrection, epitomize the principle.

This condition is also called the Reign (or Reigning) [4] and Kingdom of God in ones heart and soul. Indeed, this reconciliation of wills is the main ethical concern of all religion.

The Greek word translated as delight is hedone, which may also mean pleasure (hence our English word, hedonism). In this state, God’s Law may be experienced as a delightful pleasure.

To achieve this state of reconciliation to God’s will is not only to feel blessedness and delight, but it also joins two basic elements of ones nature: the pleasure-seeking and the duty-seeking. The two become one in purpose.

A practice to recommend is to repeat these verses silently, as wit a mantra. And, so, these guides always near, one may ask in succession of each thought that occurs: Is this ungodly counsel? The way of sinners? The scoffer’s seat?

The bad thoughts being rejected, those remaining are more likely to accord with God’s will.

We end here, for it is better to discover for oneself the deeper meanings of Scripture. A basic interpretative approach has been outlined here; that, with what has been said elsewhere (Uebersax, 2012, 2014) is enough.

We may only mention one further promise of Psalm 1: the blessed man will be like a tree planted by the rivers of water (Psalm 1:3a). This can be understood as a restoration of the Tree of Life in Genesis 2:9.[5]

The Tree of Life also appears Revelation 22:1–2, in the very last chapter of the Bible. The whole saga of Scripture, then, concerns a journey from self-will and the fall into sin — whence the Tree of Life is lost — to its restoration, which is a restoration of our soul as a godly Garden of virtue and delight.

Thus we do not err when we say that within these few verses the Bible’s entire message of salvation is epitomized. Wisdom is near for those who seek it, and for this we should be grateful.

Copy of book_end

References

Uebersax, John S. Psychological Allegorical Interpretation of the Bible. Paso Robles, CA, 2012.

Uebersax, John S. ‘Principles of Psychological Exegesis of the Bible‘.

Christian Platonism website. <catholicgnosis.wordpress.com>. September, 2014.

Uebersax, John S. ‘Noetic, Sapiential, and Spiritual Exegesis.’ Christian Platonism website. <catholicgnosis.wordpress.com>. November, 2013.

John Uebersax, 25 March 2015

Footnotes

[1] Origen, The Philocalia, 2.3 (G. Lewis, tr., 1911, p. 32); St. Basil, Homilies on the Psalms, 10.1 (A. Way, tr., 1963, Fathers of the Church 46:151–152).

[2] St. Jerome. The Homilies of Saint Jerome. Vol. 1. Homily 1 (M. Ewald, tr., 1964, Fathers of the Church 48, p. 3).

[3] St. Basil, Homilies on the Psalms, 10.3 (A. Way, tr., 1963, Fathers of the Church 46:154–155).

[4] Uebersax, John S. ‘Thy Kingdom or Thy Kingship Come – What Does Basileia in the Lord’s Prayer Mean?‘ <catholicgnosis.wordpress.com>. July, 2014.

[5] The Tree of Life is watered by four rivers (Genesis 2:10–14).

Commentary on Psalm 71 (72)

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Psalm 71 (72)

This is a magnificent psalm. Here an interpretation is offered following depth-psychological framework developed in several of these posts.

To begin, we recall a primary principle of depth-psychological exegesis: that every element in the scripture corresponds to some element of the  self, psyche, or personality.

The Messiah’s royal power

Give the king your judgement, O God,

The king is the personality after salvation is attained. This is attested to by (1) our earlier understanding of what the Kingdom of Heaven implies, by (2) associations with the idea of a philosopher king in Plato’s Republic, and (3) the symbolism of the king in Alchemical writings and iconography.

give the king’s son your righteousness.

Here is something new. There is both a king and a king’s son! What the king’s son is not clear. One might thing this is the Christ Archetype. However, it seems more likely that the king is the Christ Archetype; that is  because, above, a distinction was made between the king and God. However, we are not dealing with literal logic here, and perhaps, in some sense, the king and the king’s son refer to the same entity.

Let him judge your people with justice

Is it the king or the king’s son who judges? Since it is the king’s son who receives righteousness (a quality associated with justice), this suggests that the king’s son is referred to. As the distinction between king and king’s son is not maintained in the psalm, we shall provisionally assume that these are, basically, two facets or functions of the same entity.

As repeatedly mentioned in these posts, the psyche or self includes components or facets that can be likened to peoples, nations, tribes, etc.

and your poor ones with wisdom.

Some of these ‘people’ are poor. These would correspond to neglected or suffering parts of the total person. In a sense, this also refers to the empirical ego –( i.e., you, the reader, as you see yourself) — because it is the suffering ego that is drawn to the psalms and seeks salvation.

Let the mountains bring peace to your people,

What are the mountains? This is something perhaps for future consideration.

let the hills bring righteousness.

He will give his judgement to the poor among the people,

he will rescue the children of the destitute,

Expanding on earlier statements.

he will lay low the false accuser.

The false accuser is our primary adversary and source of negative thoughts. Related to doubt, anxiety, fear. This is to the Christ Archetype what King Herod is to the infant Jesus.

He will endure with the sun, beneath the moon,

Sun and moon here surely have iconic significance — relating to the solar and lunar aspects of the psyche. Much has already been written about this.

from generation to generation.

Our personality/ego continually changes. These ‘versions’ might be likened to generations.

He will come down like rain on the pasture,

As in the form of grace.

like a shower that waters the earth.

In his time, righteousness will flourish

and abundance of peace,

until the moon itself is no more.

The last statement is interesting; note that the author does not say “until the sun and moon are no more”, but only “until the moon itself is no more.”

He will rule from coast to coast,

from the world’s centre to its farthest edge.

The desert-dwellers will cast themselves down before him;

his enemies will eat dust at his feet.

The kings of Tharsis and the islands will bring tribute,

the kings of Arabia and Sheba will bring gifts.

All the kings will worship him,

Potentially there is some significance to the specific references to kings of Tharsis, Arabia, Sheba, and the islands. In general we see reference to the same theme as the Adoration of the Magi.

The Magi were kings, magicians, who came to prostrate themselves to Jesus Christ. This implies there are elements of our psyche or our personality — Magi analogs — which revere and subordinate themselves to the Christ Archetype. What are these Magi analogs? This is a worthy subject for speculation. We can say this much: the Magi are presented in the Bible as wise and noble. This implies there are wise and noble elements of our personality — let us suggest, perhaps, elements that, like the Christ Archetype, seek our integration and improvement, and accomplish good things towards that. But these eventually must see themselves as inferior and subordinate to the Christ Archetype.

all nations will serve him.

Because he has given freedom to the destitute who called to him,

to the poor, whom no-one will hear.

He will spare the poor and the needy,

he will keep their lives safe.

He will rescue their lives from oppression and violence,

their blood will be precious in his sight.

He will live long, and receive gifts of gold from Arabia;

they will pray for him always,

bless him all through the day.

There will be abundance of grain in the land,

it will wave even from the tops of the mountains;

its fruit will be richer than Lebanon.

The people will flourish as easily as grass.

Let his name be blessed for ever,

let his name endure beneath the sun.

All the nations of the earth will be blessed in him,

all nations will acclaim his greatness.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,

who alone works wonders.

Let his majesty be blessed for ever;

let it fill all the earth. Amen, amen.

To emphasize the special importance of this psalm, the author concludes with not one, but two Amens. Let it be! Let it be!

via Universalis: Office of Readings.

Written by John Uebersax

January 6, 2009 at 8:26 am