Early Church Fathers
1. Among all the Songs entitled the Song of degrees, this Psalm hath a further addition in the title, that it is "Solomon's." For thus it is entitled, "A Song of degrees of Solomon. It hath therefore aroused our attention, and caused us to enquire the reason of this addition, "of Solomon." For it is needless to repeat explanations of the other words, Song of degrees. ...Solomon was in his time David's son, a great man, through whom many holy precepts and healthful admonitions and divine mysteries have been wrought by the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures. Solomon himself was a lover of women, and was rejected by God: and this lust was so great a snare unto him, that he was induced by women even to sacrifice to idols, as Scripture witnesseth concerning him. But if, by his fall what was delivered through him were blotted out, it would be judged that he had himself delivered these precepts, and not that they were delivered through him. The mercy of God, therefore, and His Spirit, excellently wrought that whatever of good was declared through Solomon, might be attributed unto God; and the man's sin, unto the man. What marvel that Solomon fell among God's people? Did not Adam fall in Paradise? Did not an angel fall from heaven, and become the devil? We are thereby taught, that no hope must be placed in any among men. ...The name of Solomon is interpreted to mean peacemaker: now Christ is the True Peacemaker, of whom the Apostle saith, "He is our Peace, who hath made both one." ...Since, therefore, He is the true Solomon; for that Solomon was the figure of this Peace maker, when he built the temple; that thou mayest not think he who built the house unto God was the true Solomon, Scripture showing unto thee another Solomon, thus commences this Psalm: "Except the Lord build the house, their labour is but lost that build it" (ver. 1). The Lord, therefore, buildeth the house, the Lord Jesus Christ buildeth His own house. Many toil in building: but, except He build, "their labour is but lost that build it." Who are they who toil in building it? All who preach the word of God in the Church, the ministers of God's mysteries. We are all running, we are all toiling, we are all building now; and before us others have run, toiled, and built: but "except the Lord build, their labour is but lost." Thus the Apostles seeing some fall bewailed these men, in that they had laboured in vain for them. We, therefore, speak without, He buildeth within. We can observe with what attention ye hear us; He alone who knoweth your thoughts, knoweth what ye think. He Himself buildeth, He Himself admonisheth, He Himself openeth the understanding, He Himself kindleth your understanding unto faith; nevertheless, we also toil like workmen; but, "except the Lord build," etc.
2. But that which is the house of God is also a city. For the house of God is the people of God; for the house of God is the temple of God. ...This is Jerusalem: she hath guards: as she hath builders, labouring at her building up, so also hath she guards. To this guardianship these words of the Apostle relate: "I fear, lest by any means your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity which is in Christ." He was guarding the Church. He kept watch, to the utmost of his power, over those over whom he was set. The Bishops also do this. For a higher place was for this reason given the Bishops, that they might be themselves the superintendents and as it were the guardians of the people. For the Greek word Episcopus, and the vernacular Superintendent, are the same; for the Bishop superintends, in that he looks over. As a higher place is assigned to the vinedresser in the charge of the vineyard, so also to the Bishops a more exalted station is alloted. And a perilous account is rendered of this high station, except we stand here with a heart that causeth us to stand beneath your feet in humility, and pray for you, that He who knoweth your minds may be Himself your keeper. Since we can see you both coming in and going out; but we are so unable to see what are the thoughts of your hearts, that we cannot even see what ye do in your houses. How then can we guard you? As men: as far as we are able, as far as we have received power. And because we guard you like men, and cannot guard you perfectly, shall ye therefore remain without a keeper? Far be it! For where is He of whom it is said, "Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain?" (ver. 1). We are watchful on our guard, but vain in our watchfulness, except He who seeth your thoughts guard you. He keepeth guard while ye are awake, He keepeth guard also whilst ye are asleep. For He hath once slept on the Cross, and hath risen again; He no longer sleepeth. Be ye Israel: for "the Keeper of Israel neither sleepeth nor slumbereth." Yea, brethren, if we wish to be kept beneath the shadow of God's wings, let us be Israel. For we guard you in our office of stewards; but we wish to be guarded together with you. We are as it were shepherds unto you; but beneath that Shepherd we are fellow-sheep with you. We are as it were your teachers from this station; but beneath Him, the One Master, we are schoolfellows with you in this school.
3. If we wish to be guarded by Him who was humbled for our sakes, and who was exalted to keep us, let us be humble. Let no one assume anything unto himself. No man hath any good, except he hath received it from Him who alone is good. But he who chooseth to arrogate wisdom unto himself, is a fool. Let him be humble, that wisdom may come, and may enlighten him. But if, before wisdom cometh unto him, he imagine that he is wise; he riseth before light, and walketh in darkness. What doth he hear in this Psalm? "It is but lost labour that ye haste to rise up before dawn" (ver. 2). What meaneth this? If ye arise before light ariseth, ye must needs lose your labour, because ye will be in the dark. Our light, Christ, hath arisen; it is good for thee to rise after Christ, not to rise before Christ. Who rise before Christ? They who choose to prefer themselves to Christ. And who are they who wish to prefer themselves to Christ? They who wish to be exalted here, where He was humble. Let them, therefore, be humble here, if they wish to be exalted there, where Christ is exalted. ...The Lord recalled the sons of Zebedee to humility, and said unto them, "Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?" I came to be humble: and are ye wishing to be exalted before Me? The way I go, do ye follow, He saith. For if ye choose to go this way where I do not go, your labour is lost, in rising before dawn. Peter too had risen before the light, when he wished to give the Lord advice, deterring Him from suffering for us. ...But what did our Lord do? He caused him to rise after the Light: "Get thee behind Me, Satan." He was Satan, because he wished to rise before Light. "Get thee behind Me:" that I may precede, thou mayest follow: where I go, there thou mayest go; and mayest not wish to lead Me, where thou wouldest go. ...
4. And as if thou shouldest say, When shall we rise? we are ordered now to sit: when will be our rising? When the Lord's was. Look unto Him, who went before thee: for if thou heedest not Him, "it is lost labour for thee to rise before dawn." When was He raised? When He had died. Hope therefore for thine uplifting after thy death: have hope in the resurrection of the dead, because He rose again and ascended. But where did He sleep? On the Cross. When He slept on the Cross, He bore a sign, yea, He fulfilled what had been signified in Adam: for when Adam was asleep, a rib was drawn from him and Eve was created; so also while the Lord slept on the Cross, His side was transfixed with a spear, and the Sacraments flowed forth, whence the Church was born. For the Church the Lord's Bride was created from His side, as Eve was created from the side of Adam. But as she was made from his side no otherwise than while sleeping, so the Church was created from His side no otherwise than while dying. If therefore He rose not from the dead save when He had died, dost thou hope for exaltation save after this life? But that this Psalm might teach thee, in case thou shouldest ask, When shall I rise? perhaps before I have sat down? he addeth, "When He hath given His beloved sleep" (ver. 3). God giveth this when His beloved have fallen asleep; then His beloved, that is, Christ's, shall rise. For all indeed shall rise, but not as His beloved. There is a resurrection of all the dead; but what saith the Apostle? "We shall all rise, but we shall not all be changed." They rise unto punishment: we rise as our Lord rose, that we may follow our Head, if we are members of Him. ...Hope for such a resurrection; and for the sake of this be a Christian, not for the sake of this world's happiness. For if thou wish to be a Christian for the sake of this world's happiness, since He thy Light sought not worldly happiness; thou art wishing to rise before the light; thou must needs continue in darkness. Be changed, follow thy Light; rise where He rose again: first sit down, and thus rise, "when He giveth His beloved sleep."
5. As if thou shouldest ask again, who are the beloved? "Lo, children, (he reward of the fruit of the womb, are an heritage of the Lord" (ver. 3). Since he saith, "fruit of the womb," these children have been born in travail. There is a certain woman, in whom what was said unto Eve, "in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children," is shown after a spiritual manner. The Church beareth children, the Bride of Christ; and if she beareth them, she travaileth of them. In figure of her, Eve was called also "the Mother of all living." He who said, "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again, until Christ be formed in you," was amongst the members of her who travaileth. But she travailed not in vain, nor brought forth in vain: there will be a holy seed at the resurrection of the dead: the righteous who are at present scattered over the whole world shall abound. The Church groaneth for them, the Church travaileth of them; but in that resurrection of the dead, the offspring of the Church shall appear, pain and groaning shall pass away. ...
6. "Like as the arrows in the hand of the mighty one, even so are the children of those that are shot out" (ver. 4). Whence hath sprung this heritage, brethren? Whence hath sprung so numerous a heritage? Some have been shot out from the Lord's hand, as arrows, and have gone far, and have filled the whole earth, whence the Saints spring. For this is the heritage whereof it is said, "Desire of Me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession." And how doth this possession extend and increase unto the world's uttermost parts? Because, "like as the arrows in the hand of the mighty one," etc. Arrows are shot forth from the bow, and the stronger the arm which hath sent it forth, the farther flieth the arrow. But what is stronger than the darting of the Lord? From His bow He sendeth forth His Apostles: there could not be a spot left where an arrow shot by so strong an arm would not reach; it hath reached Unto the uttermost parts of the earth. The reason it went no farther was, that there were no more of the human race beyond. For He hath such strength, that even if there were a spot beyond, whither the arrow could fly, He would dart the arrow thither. Such are the children of those who are shot forth as they that are shot forth. ...
7. Perhaps the Apostles themselves are styled the sons of those who have been shaken out, the sons of the Prophets. For the Prophets comprised closed and covered mysteries: they were shaken, that they might come forth thence manifestly. ...Except the prophecy involved were sifted with diligence, would the concealed meanings come forth unto us? All these meanings were therefore closed before the Lord's advent. The Lord came, and shook out these hidden meanings, and they were made manifest; the Prophets were shaken out, and the Apostles were born. Since then they were born of the Prophets who had been shaken out, the Apostles are sons of those that were shaken out. They, placed as the arrows in the hand of the giant, have reached the uttermost parts of the earth. ...The Apostles the sons of the Prophets have been like as the arrows in the hand of a mighty one. If He is mighty, He hath shaken them out with a mighty hand; if He hath shaken them out with a mighty hand, they whom He hath shaken forth have arrived even at the uttermost parts of the earth.
8. "Blessed is the man who hath filled his desire from them" (ver. 5). Well, my brethren, who filleth his desire from them? Who loveth not the world. He who is filled with the desire of the world, hath no room for that to enter which they have preached. Pour forth what thou carriest, and become fit for that which thou hast not. That is, thou desirest riches: thou canst not fill thy desire from them: thou desirest honours upon earth, thou desirest those things which God hath given even unto beasts of burden, that is, temporal pleasure, bodily health, and the like; thou wilt not fulfil thy desire from them. ..."He shall not be ashamed, when he speaketh with his enemies in the gate." Brethren, let us speak in the gate, that is, let all know what we speak. For he who chooseth not to speak in the gate, wisheth what he speaketh to be hidden, and perhaps wisheth it to be hidden for this reason, that it is evil. If he be confident, let him speak in the gate; as it is said of Wisdom, "She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city." As long as they hold unto righteousness in innocency, they shall not be ashamed: this is to preach at the gate. And who is he who preacheth at the gate? He who preacheth in Christ; because Christ is the gate whereby we enter into that city. ...They, therefore, who speak against Christ, are without the gate; because they seek their own honours, not those of Christ. But he who preacheth in the gate, seeketh Christ's honour, not his own: and, therefore, he who preacheth in the gate, saith, Trust not in me; for ye will not enter through me, but through the gate. While they who wish men to trust in themselves, wish them not to enter through the gate: it is no marvel if the gate be closed against them, and if they vainly knock for it to be opened.