Saint Jerome – Homily on Psalm 1, 1-2
The Homilies of Saint Jerome
The psalter is like a stately mansion that has only one key to the main entrance. Within the mansion, however, each separate chamber has its own key. Even though the great key to the grand entrance is the Holy Spirit, still each room without exception has its own smaller key. Should anyone accidentally confuse the keys and throw them out and then want to open one of the rooms, he could not do so until he found the right one. Similarly, the psalms are each like single cells, ever)- one with its own proper key. The main entrance to the mansion of the Psalter is the first psalm which begins with the words: „Happy the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked”.
Some commentators think that the key to this first psalm must be the person of Christ our Lord, interpreting the happy man to be the man, Christ. They mean well, of course, but such an interpretation certainly shows a lack of experience and knowledge, for if that happy man is Christ, and Christ gave the law, how can the words: „But delights in the law of the Lord” apply to Christ? Besides, how can Christ be compared to a tree where it says: „He is like a tree planted near running water”? For if Christ is compared to a tree, He is less than the tree since in a comparison the thing compared is less than that to which it is compared; hence, the tree would be greater than the Lord who is compared to it. Do you see then, that the psalm cannot refer to the person of the Lord, but rather refers in general to the just man? I grant that there are many who, with some reason, I think, apply the words of the Psalm to Joseph; I mean Joseph of Arimathea, who did not follow the counsel of the Jews, who did not stand in the way of sinners, and who did not sit in the company of the Pharisees. Nevertheless, what other choose to interpret in I particular way as referring to Joseph, we shall take to apply in a general way to the just man.
„Happy the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked” In Genesis, we read how Adam was cursed: „Cursed be the ground because of you” but the first malediction pronounced against man is absolved and replaced with a benediction. The Old Law lays down, as it were, only one condition of blessedness; the Gospel, on the other hand, announces simultaneously eight beatitudes. „Happy the man who follows not the counsel of the wicket!” Happy the man, not any man, but the man who has reached the perfection of the manhood of Christ: „Who follows not the counsel of the wicked”.
Here, Scripture describes the three usual ways of committing sin: we entertain sinful thoughts; we commit sin in act; or we teach what if sinful. First, we entertain a sinful thought; then, after we have reflected upon it, we convert dial thought into action. When we commit sin, moreover, we multiply sin by teaching others to do what we have done. „Happy the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked”-who thinks no evil; „nor has stood in the way of sinners” -who does no evil; „nor sits in the company of the insolent” – who has not taught others to sin. He has not consorted with the scornful, „nor has stood in the way of sinners”.
It is difficult for one not to sin. John the Evangelist says, in fact, that anyone who denies that he has sinned is a liar. If, therefore, we all sin, what do the words mean, „nor bit stood in the way of sinners”? If we all sin, no one is happy, except, of course, the one who has not sinned. But we all sin, every last one of us, and so no one is blessed.
Consider, however, just what the Scripture says: „nor has stood in the way of sinners”. Scripture did not say happy the man who has not sinned, but rather, happy the man who has not persevered in sin. „Nor has stood in the way of sinners”. Yesterday I committed sin. I am not happy. If, however, I do not remain in the state of sin, but withdraw from sin, I become happy once more. „Nor sits in the company of the insolent” Why does it say ‘sits’ in this verse and „has stood” in the preceding one? For this reason: just as he who has not stood-persisted-in sin is happy, so lie who has not sat -persisted-in evil doctrine is happy. What does that mean? You see yourselves that the three determinants of beatitude consist in not thinking evil, in not persevering in sin, and in not teaching evil. This is really what the Prophet Amos said „For three crimes and for four, I will not revoke my word, says the Lord” Moreover, he says this same thing eight times. Now, this is what he actually is saying: you have entertained sin, I have pardoned you; you have done evil, I have forgiven you; you have not repented of your sins, I have excused you: did you also have to teach evil? What the Scripture implies is this: For three sins and for four, I shall not be angered against you, says the Lord.
„And meditates on his law day and night” The psalmist has already mentioned three things one must not do: follow the counsel of the wicked; stand in the way of sinners; sit in the company of the Insolent. These three things we must not do, but there are also two things that we must do. For it will not be sufficient for us to shun evil unless we seek good. „But delights in the law of the Lord” The psalm does not say fears the law, but delights in the law. There are many who observe the law through fear, but fear as a motive for action is far from meritorious. „But delights in the law of the Lord” – wholeheartedly he obeys the Lords command.
„And meditates on his law day and night” Mere words can-not express adequately what the mind conceives. „But delights in the law of the Lord” Some one may say; ‘”Look, I want to obey the law of God, and so because I want to obey. I am happy” But consider the words that follow. It is not enough to want the law of God), but one must meditate on His law day and night. „Meditate day and night” Someone else may object: „This is too much for human nature to endure, for one must walk, and drink, and eat, and sleep, and perform all the other necessities of life. How, then, meditate on the law of God day and night, and especially since the Apostle says: „Pray without ceasing”? How can I be praying during the time that 1 am sleeping?”
Meditation on the law does not consist in reading, but in doing, just as the Apostle says in another place: „Whether you eat or drink, or do anything else, do all for the glory of God” Even if I merely stretch forth my hand in almsgiving, I am meditating on the law of God; if I visit the sick, my feet are meditating on the law of God: if I do what is prescribed. I am praying with my whole body what others are praying with their lips. The Jews, indeed, prayed with their lips, but our prayer is works. So there are three things we must not do; two things we must do. What reward does one merit who follows these injunctions?