St. Augustine's Interpretation of the Psalms of Ascent
The Psalms were a very popular and biblical book with both lay and monastic audiences in the early church. The Psalms or songs of ascent, 119-133, may have been sung in ancient Israel as pilgrims ascended to Jerusalem, and perhaps by priests as they ascended the steps to the Temple. For instance, "Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe thy righteous ordinances." (119:105-106)
Recent research has explored how past interpretation can help contextualize current interpretation as well as provide a more colorful and theologically meaningful understanding of scripture. In St. Augustine's Interpretation of the Psalms of Ascent, Gerald McLarney examines Augustine of Hippo's (d. 430) interpretation of the ascent motif in sermons on Psalms 119-133. He looks at the delivery, transmission, and broader context of the sermons, as well as examining the sermons as they stand.
McLarney considers the reception of the Psalter in the early church, and examines patristic hermeneutical principles and Psalter commentaries in conjunction with Augustine's distinctive approaches to scripture and the Psalms. He studies the delivery and transmission of Augustine’s Expositions (Ennarationes), as well as the mechanics of their composition, recording, and circulation, and the manuscript tradition. He looks at the possible times and places of their delivery.
McLarney then examines the social, cultural, and liturgical context of these Expositions. Topics include African Christianity in Augustine's time, the composition of a typical audience, and the structure of the liturgy with specific reference to the role of the Psalter. He sets in sharper relief features such as the prominence of martyrs, the influence of Neoplatonism, emphasis on spiritual combat, and the importance of singing - all within the context of the physical and liturgical context of delivery.
Augustine does not read out (exegete) the Psalter simply for his own benefit, but pursues a hermeneutic of alignment, bringing the Psalmist, the Psalm, and the lives of his North African readers into a common context - and draws them into the dynamism of the Psalms. His readers continue an ascent of salvation, in the communion of believers, that began in ancient times.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gerard McLarney is at St. Joseph's College, University of Alberta.
About the Author
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