Psalm 45—Augustine’s Version

I’ve been studying Augustine’s exposition of Psalm 44(45) lately. His commentary is an allegorical tour de force that moves from christology to ecclesiology with the flow of the song. He takes the whole thing to be about Christ and the church and the organic union that their mutual love produces. But even more, Augustine sees in Psalm 45 the fact, means, and result of deification. Humans are invited to “share with” the anointed one, who is none other than true God and true man. The incarnation of Christ has become the site of “nuptial union,” spanning the ontological divide between God and humanity as a ladder joining earth and heaven. Sin has deformed our God created humanity resulting in our existential ugliness. The only solution is for God to take on our ugliness so that we can take on his beauty. This personal union of God and man in the incarnation is so potent that it spills over to all who are joined to Christ, in such a way that they become the continuation of Christ on earth. This is what Augustine calls “the whole Christ” (totus Christus), making sense of the heavenly voice that asks Paul, “Why are you persecuting me?”

The whole thing is a dazzling display of Augustine’s theology and his rhetorical skill. But as I was reading it, I couldn’t help noticing the Latin version he was working from. It appears piecemeal in the text of the commentary, but it was hard to get a feel for the whole in that format. I’m not aware of an English translation of the Latin version Augustine used at the time, so I excavated it from the commentary and reconstructed it as a whole. The result is beautiful. And although it might not withstand the scrutiny of modern textual criticism, the version is powerful poetry and worthy of musing on. I stripped away the verse numbers so that it would look better online.


Psalm 45

For those things which will be changed, for the children of Korah, for understanding.
A song for the beloved one.

My heart overflows with a good word;
I tell my works to the king;
My tongue is the pen of a scribe writing swiftly.
Fair are you beyond all humankind;
Grace bedews your lips;
Therefore God has blessed you for ever.
Gird your sword upon your thigh, mighty warrior,
In your beauty and dignity.
Ride forth victoriously and seize your kingdom
By your faithfulness, gentleness and justice;
Your right hand will conduct you wonderfully.
Your arrows are sharp and very powerful,
Peoples will fall under your assault,
In the hearts of the king’s enemies your arrows will find their mark.
Your throne, O God, stands for ever and ever,
Your royal scepter is a scepter of righteous rule.
You have loved justice and hated iniquity,
For, O God, your God has anointed you
With the oil of joy, more abundantly than all who share with him.
From your garments drift the perfumes of myrrh, spices and cassia;
Kings’ daughters from ivory palaces have found favor with you, and come to do you honor.
The queen has taken her place at your right hand in a golden gown, decked with variety.
Hearken, my daughter, and see, and bend your ear,
And forget your own people and your father’s house,
For the king has desired your beauty;
He is your God.
And Tyrian maidens will pay homage to him with their gifts;
All the rich among the people will seek favor with you.
All the glory of the king’s daughter is within;
With her golden fringes she is girdled with varied embroidery.
Virgins will be conducted after her to the king,
Her nearest and dearest will be led to you.
They shall be conducted with joy and gladness,
They shall be ushered into the temple of the king.
To take the place of your fathers, sons have been born to you,
And you will appoint them princes all over the world.
They will be mindful of your name in generation after generation;
Therefore the people will confess to you for ever, and for unending ages.

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