Meditations on the Psalms, Editor’s Preface

Father Henry Sebastian BowdenNot as a commentary, with its treatment of each successive verse, these meditations consider each Psalm as containing one leading idea, thus forming a unity in itself. Seeing the numerous subjects each Psalm contains, the recognition of this leading idea or formative principle must require deep reflection and close logical reasoning to trace its development to the exclusion of all else.

We are glad to notice in the present volume the same firmness of conviction and robust faith that appear in the author’s apologetic works, and that his meditations, with their three points, tend to form solid virtues rather than sentimental affections. He faces squarely objections as they occur. For instance to the permission of evil, of pain and sorrow, the most popular argument against the existence of a good God, he replies that evil is permitted to teach us detachment that earth is not our home and to prepare us for eternity.

Bossuet gives two guides for understanding the Psalms. First, God as First Cause. The Psalmist seems to see him not by inference or argument but immediately, within the veil. Thus, in the phenomena of nature, his voice in the thunderstorm breaks the cedars, even the cedars of Lebanon: in the fathomless ocean deep calls upon deep “in the voice of thy cataracts.” So in the moral order he alone is blessed who fears God, and the false gods are mocked; they have eyes and see not, ears and hear not, they are dumb and useless, but the House of Israel hopeth in the Lord. Then, David himself presents the vicissitudes of human life. From an obscure shepherd boy he is appointed King by God, is a mighty victor firm on his throne, then his people in revolt, himself a fugitive from his rebel son, all against him at home and abroad. These dangers without are repeated within: David the saint passes from innocence to sin, from sin to penance, and shews the love of God for a pure soul, his anger when offended, the punishment threatened again, the sweet consolation that comes with contrition and the cry for pardon. All this is mirrored in the Psalms.

These meditations insist (Psalm 83. Quam dilecta) on the value of the interior life as our home, our journey, and our progess, holiness even in a low degree being worth the struggle. It is approached (Psalm 24. Ad te Domine levavi) with the sense of our own unworthiness, with confidence in God’s mercy, with consciousness of our great needs. Discouragement is to be met by gratitude for our conversion from sin, and for the fact that we are forgiven and in God’s grace. We must hope in God though we pass through a valley of spiritual death. Yielding to depression is faithlessness to God. Throughout the meditations a high ideal is put before us. The Church never says “It is enough,” but always gives grace for further Advance. The detachment proper to Catholics is based on the fact that they are exiles from home and are longing for their release (Psalm 136. Super flumina).

The meditations on the Sacraments, the mysteries, and the feasts, complete the book for notes of sermons, and should be of much value to the preacher as well as for private devotions.

– Father Henry Sebastian Bowden