3 August 2020

Psalms (4) VENITE, Psalm 94/95

"For the LORD is a great God: and a great King above all gods."

I am going to assume that the learned readers of this humble blog are aware that the Name of the Hebrew God was not uttered aloud in the periods with which we are concerned; that when a reader came across the Four Letters YHWH, he actually uttered the word for "Lord" ... and that this convention continued in Latin and Greek. And that, brilliantly and helpfully, Bible translations in the Anglican tradition derived from the King James Bible signify this by rendering YHWH as LORD in upper-case letters. So, in verse three of the Venite, as Neale/Littledale point out, the literal rendering [I slightly adapt] is "For YHWH is a great El, and a great King over all Elohim."

It is depressingly easy, when saying the Divine Office in Latin or English, to forget the significance of LORD, Dominus; perhaps subconsciously to assume that it is simply a stylistic variant upon "God". I find I have to make an effort ... But if we do make this incorrect assumption, we miss innumerable nuances. Because when we say "He is the LORD our God", we are saying that our God is YHWH. Not one of the other options; not one of the other gods.

And YHWH is associated with His City and with His Temple. So we often find, as in this psalm, that a reference to Him may be textually close to a reference (explicit or implicit) to His Temple. And when, as so often, there is reference to His Name, this means the Name which is associated with His People, His City, and especially His Temple.

It is an exclusive, unecumenical, term. Our God is YHWH, not one of the gods of the nations. And I feel that it would Marcionite heresy to forget this at Mass. Gratias agamus Domino, Deo nostro emphasises precisely the point of the psalmist: "Let us give thanks to YHWH because He is our God ... we have no truck with any others". And we affirm our full place in the Hebraic heritage. It is possible that, in verse 4, when we say that "the strength of the hills is His also", we are claiming for our God YHWH the 'High Places' which the fertility deities of Canaan had taken over for their cult. Neale/Littledale refer to "the overthrow of heathen temples, and the rearing of Christian shrines on the eminences of Tabor, Sinai, Athos, and many another famous hill".

Perhaps for centuries, women and men of our culture have thought of Idolatry as a happily long defeated error; a primitive folly of earlier and 'less advanced' ages. Preachers have rescued and redeployed traditional polemic against idolatry by telling us that we should not be worshipping Money or Ambition or whatever. And that is perfectly fair, even necessary.

But how very singular that in our own 'advanced' and 'sophisticated' age, the ancient idolatries in their earthiest forms have crept back among us, looking curiously like the shapes they took in the time of our ancestors, in Canaan of old. A new fashion for "the indigenous", feeding upon a new (and proper) guilt about capitalist assaults upon the rain-forests, has bred a diabolical respect for the numina of  'Amazonian' and other cults. Who, if they exist, are demons.

'Pachamama' ... or whatever ... is not the Name above all other names; it is also not an equivalent for that Name.

The second half of the Venite warns us about the dangers of falling into idolatry. This is the same warning S Paul gave his gentile converts in Romans 11: 21 and I Corinthians 10. It is the warning of all the Prophets, bound up in The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. 

How fitting that every priest of the Latin Rite says the Venite every day at the start of his Office.

It is God's warning for today.


DMG said...

Thank you kind pastor. My apologies, but I couldn't resist.


vetusta ecclesia said...

Incrementally supporters of abortion have moved from the stance of ”sad but sometimes necessary” through normalisation to full on celebration. They sometimes have banners and slogans “ abortion is our sacrament”. This is the cult of Baal and Moloch revived

John Patrick said...

I found these last 2 posts on the Venite very informative, as I recently started saying the Morning and Evening Prayer as a devotion. However I found the New American Bible translation of this Psalm unbearable and so have substituted the one from the Book of Common Prayer which I remember fondly from my Episcopalian days.

An Liaigh said...

The story is told of some early Irish monks who, on the pagan continent of Europe, came across a village where a sacred tree was to be the site of a human sacrifice the next morning. The villagers awoke to the sound of axes. They found their sacred tree cut down and the monks standing on the fallen trunk ready to preach the gospel. Whether this story is true or not, the very fact that it exists shows a different, and more robust, understanding of inculturation.

Grant Milburn said...

I will always associate the Venite with Morning Prayer in a certain neo-gothic Anglican church (using the BCP), and the choir chanting the Venite to Goodson's setting.

I found a YouTube video of the BCP Venite chanted to Goodson: it sounds magnificent- but the choir stops after verse 7. Aaargh! The choir I knew sang the whole psalm to (literally) the bitter end. Father in this post shows us why we need the sobering second half of the psalm to complement the stirring first half.

Enn Auksmann said...

Good meditation. Just one comment: in Hebrew the beginning of the v. 7 reads כִּי הוּא אֱלֹהֵינוּ – "For He is our God" –, not as in the Breviary (or Douay Rheims) "For he is the Lord our God" ("Quia ipse est Dominus Deus noster"). Same in Septuagint: ὅτι αὐτός ἐστιν ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν.

Greyman 82 said...

I remember the Venite from my Anglican days. Most churches sang the shortened version but the church I attended in my late teens sang all the verses. I don't think many Anglican parish churches have sung Matins these days but it is reasonably common in cathedrals.
My late father told me that in the Navy some of the matelots would change some of the words. "The sea is His and He made it; and His hands prepared the dry land" became "The sea is His and He can keep it; I prefer the dry land."

Grant Milburn said...

Those unhappy matelots would appreciate Apocalypse 21:1- mare jam non est, the sea is now no more.