Hilary of Poitiers: Commentary on Psalm 53

Translation of Hilary of Poitiers’s Commentary on Psalm 53 (LXX 52)

In the end; according to Maeleth; understandings to David. The fool said in his heart: There is no God and the rest.

The present psalm is almost harmonious with the thirtieth psalm, but it does have in this a little understanding, not a likeness of words, first in the power of the inscription itself. For the thirtieth (psalm) is thus written: In the end of that David, by which title it is being indicated that the psalm was by the prophet David. This/here truly: In the end; according to Maeleth ; understandings to David. For wherever there is: in the end understandings, there is the signal of exhortation and of admonition, the end of which was ordered to apply knowledge to our understanding of judgment, in order that we understand to be announced in the psalm that which will be accomplished in the end according to the apostle: Then is the end, when he will hand the kingdom to Good the Father; when he will empty all principalities and powers and strength, and then he will place under himself all those having been placed under him. But death is the last enemy he will empty. This, therefore, is the end, which is being understood in the psalm. Those, however, which are being titled the psalm of that David, are all being revealed to be prophesied about Christ, who is the real David, because where of that is being inscribed, there shows him who will speak; truly where to that is, there reveals him to whom it is being said.

The fool says in his heart: there is no God. Shameful eloquence is (that) of human fault with the words of the mouth, not to intend to bring together, but, the urgent instinct of interior wickedness (that within the heart speaking) is the necessity of desire struggling against public decency with unevenness, provided that anything makes ashamed to say (but) not ashamed to be thought. And on that account the fool says in his heart: there is no God, because, unless he desires to speak this by the words of the mouth (to be a fool, as he is), he would prove the judgment of public belief.  For who does not believe that God is looking at the universe? But it frequently happens that, although the necessity of truth compels us to confession of God, the fool nevertheless is persuaded that our God is not delighting, and because we believe against confidence, we nevertheless speak out from the heart concerning wicked counsel. About which that (word) of God was spoken through the prophet: This people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, because they do not desire to believe that which they are not able to deny.

He reveals the true cause of the most foolish speech in his heart, speaking: They are corrupt and they are detestable in their iniquities. Unjust is whatever is beyond the law. And they are first exceeding the law of God in the corruption of subordination, then in abomination, because iniquity brings corruption, while corruption merits abomination. For when anyone will transgress the law of God, then he will deny God, and corruption is to deny God. For to drive out corruption, our Lord became the fleshy word. Indeed, according to the apostle it is right (that) corruption be clothed in incorruption. But whatever is unjust and whoever does not believe that the Word is God become flesh, because he will say in his heart God does not exist, he will remain corrupt and abominable. Insofar as the thirtieth psalm (says) They were made detestable in iniquity, so it says They were made detestable in his invention. He neither puts off sense and guilt, because pursuing men (those who themselves are pleasing) transgressed the establishment of divine law.

Then follows this complaint: There is none who does good. We will treat this verse in its own place, because it was exposed below also (together with the approach). Now, however, everyone was suitably and properly (increased), all parts having been corrupted and detestable, no one to have learned in good works, because, although we are in the habit to speak of things which are good, nevertheless he persists in the same difficult things which are good.

And lest the will of God consider to be careless toward men, he adds: The Lord looks out from heaven upon the sons of men, in order to see if there is one understanding or seeking God. With the Lord gazing down from heaven, much was being known, often the agitation of the sins of the human race, the cause of our salvation. He chose Noah before the flood, justified Abraham through faith, promised the heir Isaac of the solemn promise, shaped the birthright of the people in the posterity of Jacob, put the prophet and leader Moses in charge and instituted the mover of the law, and inspired the prophetic law in all time. Therefore, through these thing of his own power and influence of that manner He look out upon the sons of men, in order to see if there was one understanding or seeing God.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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