Seek Christ Constantly on the Path of Faith
Pope John Paul II met with over 15,000 pilgrims in St. Peter's Square during his general audience on September 29. He offered his reflections on Psalm 45, originally a wedding ode for a Jewish king that Christians see as a premonition of Jesus, the Messiah. The Holy Father's teaching was a continuation of his catechesis on the psalms and canticles of the Liturgy of the Hours.
“The portrait of the royal bridegroom is depicted in a solemn manner,” Pope John Paul II noted. The beauty of the bridegroom, he added, “is a sign of inner splendor and of God's blessing: ‘You are the most handsome of men.’ Based on this verse, our Christian tradition has portrayed Christ as a man who is perfect and who is worthy of attention.” Our contemplation of the beautiful face of Christ, the Holy Father said, should help us to leave behind the ugliness of sin and begin our ascent towards divine perfection.
Pope John Paul II pointed out that there is a relationship between beauty and justice. The king, he noted, is a just king. “Beauty must be combined with goodness and holiness of life so that the luminous face of God, who is good, wonderful and just, will shine brightly in the world,” he said. It is in this way that we catch a glimpse of the goodness, the wonder and the justice of God.
“I sing my ode to the king.” These words at the beginning of Psalm 45 give the reader an idea of the fundamental nature of this hymn. At the very beginning, the court scribe who composed it reveals that it is an ode in honor of the Jewish king. Indeed, as we read through the verses of this composition, we realize that it is an epithalamium, that is, a nuptial song.
Scholars have made attempts to identify the historical coordinates of this psalm based on certain clues, such as the connection between the queen with the Phoenician city of Tyre (see verse 13), but they have not been successful in identifying the royal couple in any precise way. The fact that the psalm focuses on a Hebrew king is important because it has allowed the Jewish tradition to transform this text into a song to the Messiah-king and our Christian tradition to interpret this psalm in Christological terms and also in a Mariological perspective due to the presence of the queen.
In evening prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, we use this psalm as a prayer, dividing it into two parts. We have just heard the first part (see verses 2-10), which, after the introduction of the scribe, who is the author of this text to which we have already referred (see verse 2), presents a splendid portrait of a king who is about to celebrate his wedding.
For this reason, Judaism has recognized Psalm 45 as a nuptial song that exalts the beauty and intensity of the gift of love between a bride and a bridegroom. The woman, in particular, is able to repeat these words from the Song of Songs: “My lover belongs to me and I to him” (see Song of Songs 2:16 and 6:3).
The portrait of the royal bridegroom is depicted in a solemn manner, using all the finery from a scene at the court. He is wearing military insignia (Psalm 45:4-6), to which sumptuous and fragrant robes are added, while in the background palaces shine forth with their grandiose ivory-paneled halls where melodies resound (see verses 9-10). His throne rises in the center and reference is made to his scepter, both signs of power and of royal investiture (see verses 7-8).
At this point, we would like to highlight two elements. First of all, there is the beauty of the bridegroom, which is a sign of inner splendor and of God's blessing: “You are the most handsome of men” (verse 3). Based on this verse, our Christian tradition has portrayed Christ as a man who is perfect and who is worthy of attention. In a world often marked by ugliness and degradation, this image is an invitation to redis-cover the “via pulchritudinis” [the way of beauty] in faith, in theology and in social life in order to ascend to divine beauty.
Beauty and Justice
However, beauty is not an end in itself. The second element we wish to highlight refers precisely to the encounter between beauty and justice. Indeed, the king “rides on triumphant in the cause of truth and justice” (see verses 4 and 5); he “loves justice and hates wrongdoing” (see verse 8) and his scepter is a “scepter for justice” (see verse 7). Beauty must be combined with goodness and holiness of life so that the luminous face of God, who is good, wonderful and just, will shine brightly in the world.
According to scholars, the word “god” in verse 7 was addressed to the king himself because the Lord had consecrated him and he was, therefore, in some way part of the realm of the divine: “Your throne, O god, stands forever.” On the other hand, it might be invoking the one supreme king, the Lord, who protects the king-Messiah. What is certain is that, when applying this psalm to Christ, the Letter to the Hebrews does not hesitate to acknowledge the full — and not merely symbolic — divinity of the Son who has entered into his glory (see Hebrews 1:8-9).
Christ's Blessing for Us
Following the example of this Christological interpretation, let us conclude with some words from the Fathers of the Church, who attributed ulterior spiritual values to each of these verses. Thus, when commenting on the phrase of the psalm that says “God has blessed forever” the king-Messiah (see Psalm 45:3), St. John Chrysostom applied it in this way to Christ: “The first Adam was filled with a very great curse, the second Adam, on the other hand, was filled with a long-lasting blessing. The first Adam heard, ‘Cursed be the ground because of you!’ (Genesis 3:17), and elsewhere, ‘Cursed is he who does the work of the Lord remissly’ (Jeremiah 48:10), and ‘Cursed be he who fails to fulfill any of the provisions of this law’ (Deuteronomy 27:26) and ‘God's curse rests on him who hangs on a tree’ (Deuteronomy 21:23). Do you see how many were the curses? Christ has freed you from all these curses by making himself a curse (see Galatians 3:13). Just as he humbled himself to raise you up and died to make you immortal, he became a curse to fill you with blessings. What can ever compare with this blessing when through a curse he lavishes you with a blessing? Indeed, he had no need of blessing, but he presents it to you” (Expositio in Psalmum, XLIV, 4: PG, 55, 188-189).
- October 10-16, 2004