Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Illumina oculos meos, ne unquam obdormiam in morte

הָאִירָה עֵינַי, פֶּן-אִישַׁן הַמָּוֶת.

Φώτισον τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς μου μήποτε ὑπνώσω εἰς θάνατον.

Illumina oculos meos, ne umquam obdormiam in morte.

(Give light to mine eyes, lest I ever sleep in death.)
—Psalm 12:4b

Lord, "give light to mine eyes, lest I ever" (ne umquam) - or rather, "that I never" (ut numquam), never ever "sleep in death".  Umquam...  What does this mean?  It cannot be taken in the direct literal sense - for mortal man can hardly expect never to suffer death, let alone presume to remain alive for ever by sole reason of having light to see by!  Aquinas does, however, give a note about the literal meaning:
This literally corresponds to David fleeing from the presence of Saul, of whom he often had to beware, lest at some time he might fall into his hands and be killed. Similarly, as long as a man is conscientious in resisting sin he does not fall into death, but when he sleeps he is killed. Thus in 2 Kings (II Sam. iv,5), When Isboseth hath fallen asleep, and the handmaid was cleansing the wheat, he was killed; and Eph. 5 (v, 14), Rise thou that sleepest.
Based upon this, but questing to understand how being enlightened may preserve one from death forever, one must seek for a deeper level of signification.

Evidently one must interpret the light as not material but spiritual illumination; and "to sleep in death" must mean "to be deprived of spiritual life by reason of sin", cut off from true awareness, deprived of the state of grace by mortal sin.  Horror of horrors, it may mean to sleep in death forever, "to fall into the second death of eternal hell".

Contrariwise, if we are ever enlightened and never lost in darkness, we need not fear the second death: fear not him who slays the body, but him who slays the soul; thus, after the death which to the Christian is but to fall asleep, we will enter not into endless death but into eternal life and light.

Only if one is enlightened by God's beneficient light, with one's intellect illuminated and one's will inspired, can one avoid falling into the disastrous nightmare that is to sleep in sin.  For sleep is a time when one is unaware, unconscious, when one's reason is not in control; one's mind drifts in dreams; therefore, sleep is an apt image of sin, when one is not in charge, but enthralled to phantoms; and to sleep in death is not merely to slumber, but to be trapped in deadly sin – perhaps for ever.

Neale notes what Thomas says of Psalm 12 relative to this verse: "Christ always lightens our eyes that we should not sleep in death".

The full verse, in the Prayer Book Version (approved since the Anglican Use Book of Divine Worship was approved), reads as follows:

Consider, and hear me, O Lord my God: lighten mine eyes, that I sleep not in death. 

—Ps 13:3 (Hebrew numbering)

God indeed considers us with His all-pitying Eye of compassion, and therefore in saying "Consider", we remind ourselves of this and comfort ourselves that God will indeed hear us, He, the Lord our God.

How are eyes enlightened by God through Christ?  To ask is to answer: by Christ's Incarnation, as the Light to enlighten the Gentiles, according to Simeon's prophecy.  It is the eyes of the inner man that Christ enlightens, He, the true Light that enlighteneth every man born into this world: He illuminates the understanding and the affections, turning them from darkness to His wonderful light.

As Cassiodorus says of this, "Eyes we must here interpret as those of the heart, which sleep in death when the light of faith is buried, and they are closed through pleasure of the flesh".  By our faith, that infused supernatural intellectual virtue, we may apprehend the things of God, and come nigh unto Him, all by His grace; as is notorious, immorality destroys faith: heresy arises from moral turpitude.

If by Divine illumination we are kept awake, we may keep watch with Christ and rest with him in peace, as the Church sings at Compline-time.  We may avoid the shameful sleep of sin, and instead sleep with wakeful hearts turned Godward.  Sleep is an image of death; dying we shall die, but how we die, in what state we die, makes all the difference: to enter into eternal death, or into eternal life?  That is the question!

By God's grace we are saved, through faith.

Long ago, a prayer was composed as a thanksgiving after Mass; here is one paragraph:
O lux vera! quæ illuminas omnem hominem venientem in hunc mundum, illumina oculos meos, ne umquam obdormiam in morte.
O true Light! Who enlightenest every man coming into this world, enlighten mine eyes, lest I ever sleep in death.
The Greek Liturgy turns this verse into poetry that Neale englished thus: "Lighten mine eyes, O Saviour, or sleep in death shall I".  As a metrical psalm paraphrases it, "Lest sleep of death enfold me, / Enlighten Thou mine eyes."

Illumina oculos meos, ne umquam obdormiam in morte.

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