Heidegger's Bible Handbook: Psalms: Commendations of the Psalter

4. The Encomia of the book in the words of Saint Basil, Athanasius, Augustine, and Calvin are woven together.

John Calvin

In encomia of this book, and the recitation of its usefulness, the pious are hardly able to satisfy themselves. Comprehending many things in a few words, Luther was wont to call this πάγχρηστον σύλλαβον, collection useful for every good thing, a little Bible. Saint Basil, homily on Psalm 1, thus among other things: The Prophets teach us in one way: the Histories in another: the law likewise in yet another. Again, another form of advising the Church is elicited from the book of Proverbs. Ἡ δὲ τῶν Ψαλμῶν Βίβλος τὸ ἐκ πάντων ὠφέλιμον περιείληφε. Προφητεύει τὰ μέλλοντα, ἱστορίας ὑπομιμνήσκει, νομοθετεῖ τῷ βίῳ, ὑποτίθεται τὰ πρακτέα, καὶ ἁπαξαπλῶς κοινὸν ταμιεῖόν ἐστιν ἀγαθῶν διδαγμάτων, τὸ ἑκάστῳ πρόσφορον κατὰ τὴν ἐπιμέλειαν ἐξευρίσκουσα, But this one Book of the Psalms has included what is profitable from all: It prophesies coming events in altogether certain oracles, contains historical narration, frames laws for a holier life, sets forth practical measures, and, in general, is the common treasury of good doctrine, carefully finding what is suitable for each one. And, so that I might sum up all things at once, this book is a most abundant and common storehouse of all good doctrine, by its provident and adroit care of one, as it were, contemplating and devising what is especially conducive to the salvation of each of us. Saint Athanasius, in his Epistle written to Marcellinus, marvelously extolling the Psalms, among others things advises that we, when we read the other Scriptures, reproduce the things of others: but when we read the Psalms (with the prophecies concerning Christ excepted), we read ἰδίους λόγους, our own prayers and affections, as it were. That is, in the Psalms, says he, παράδοξον, there is a paradox. Ὁ λέγων τὰ ἄλλα, ὡς ἴδια ῥήματα λαλῶν ἐστί, The one speaking the words of another speaks his own words, as it were. Therefore, when David says: In thee, O Lord, do I hope:[1] I believed and have spoken:[2] etc.: any believer can say this from his own heart, as it were. Which is that particular/special faith prohibited by the Papists. The same, on page 960, from the mouth of the aged recites these things: Ἡ Βίβλος τῶν Ψαλμῶν, τά τε πάντων, ὡς παράδεισος ἐν ἑαυτῇ προφυτευόμενα φέρουσα μελῳδεῖ, καὶ τὰ ἴδια (δὲ) πάλιν ἐπ᾽ αὐτῶν ψάλλουσα, δείκνυσι, the scroll of the Psalms, like a Garden, in which are all sorts of trees planted, sings and exhibits the things of all the other books, singing the same again after them. Saint Augustine calls it the tutelage of children, the ornament of the youth, and the comfort of old age, the register and summary of all Theological writing. Calvin, in his Preface to the Psalms, not without good reason called the Psalms an ἀνατομὴν/ anatomy of all the parts of the soul, for one finds in himself no affection, the image of which manifests not in this mirror. For all the sufferings, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cures, anxieties, and turbulent motions, whereby the minds of men are wont to be tossed, the Holy Spirit here represented vividly. Not without good reason, therefore, did the Celebrated Heidanus[3] rehearse this use of the Psalms in his most learned books de Origine erroris in these words: But how great is that pleasure, do you suppose, to be able to find oneself here and there on the saced page, that hardly a Psalm occurs, and comes into the hands and before the eyes, that does not appear to have been made for thee?

[1] Psalm 38:15. [2] Psalm 116:10; 2 Corinthians 4:13. [3] Abraham Heidanus (1597-1678) was a Dutch Reformed minister and Cocceian theologian. He served as professor of theology at Leiden from 1648 to 1676, but he was ultimately dismissed for his Cartesianism.

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