Athanasius Praising the Psalms

The man who was God’s instrument to bring me to faith in Christ recently brought to my attention a letter from Athanasius. The letter is Athanasius’ Letter to Marcellinus. If it were not in the form of a letter, I’d be tempted to call it has work “In Praise of the Psalms.” Here are some excepts that I found particularly interesting:

Briefly, then, if indeed any more is needed to drive home the point, the whole divine Scripture is the teacher of virtue and true faith, but the Psalter gives a picture of the spiritual life. And, just as one who draws near to an earthly king observes the formalities in regard to dress and bearing and the correct forms of words lest, transgressing in these matters, he be deemed a boor, so he who seeks to live the good life and learn about the Saviour’s conduct in the body is by the reading of this holy book first put in mind of his own soul’s condition and then supplied with fit words for a suppliant’s use.

– Athanasius, Letter to Marcellinus

Isn’t it nice how Athanasius manages to work in a reference to the unique teaching role of Scriptures in his letter? It is hard for him to talk about his sole rule of faith and consequently we see it bursting forth, even though the subject matter at hand does not really require it. Isn’t it also nice how, in effect, he works in the concept of the regulative principle, reminding his readers that we should learn from the Scriptures how God wishes to be worshiped? After all, the regulative principle of worship is the other side of the coin of Sola Scriptura.

Yet Athanasius is not content simply with praising the Psalms. Athanasius seems to have been one who would not have been fond of Watts’ attempted improvements of the Psalms, just as doubtless he would have been opposed to the modern tendency to derogate the Psalms to a relatively minor role in worship:

There is, however, one word of warning needed. No one must allow himself to be persuaded, by any arguments what-ever, to decorate the Psalms with extraneous matter or make alterations in their order or change the words them-selves. They must be sung and chanted in entire simplicity, just as they are written, so that the holy men who gave them to us, recognizing their own words, may pray with us, yes and even more that the Spirit, Who spoke by the saints, recognizing the selfsame words that He inspired, may join us in them too. For as the saints’ lives are lovelier than any others, so too their words are better than ever ours can be, and of much more avail, provided only they be uttered from a righteous heart. For with these words they themselves pleased God, and in uttering them, as the Apostle says, they subdued kingdoms, they wrought righteousness, they obtained promises, they stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, waxed mighty in war, turned to flight armies of aliens, women received their dead by resurrection. [Heb 11:33-36]

– Athanasius, Letter to Marcellinus

For those interested in reading more, including some very exact suggestions as to which Psalms are particularly fitting for various occasions, see the following link (link).

To the Glory of God, whose mercies endure forever and whose grace never fails (Psalm 136),


5 Responses to “Athanasius Praising the Psalms”

  1. StimMind Says:

    Interesting! I started reading the letter and it is fascinating so far. Thank you for sharing.

  2. natamllc Says:

    For me, more to the point, I wonder if possibly this portion of the Psalm King David first assigned to Asaph was what they sang as a hymn?Mar 14:26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. The hymn, possibly:::>1Ch 16:7 Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the LORD by Asaph and his brothers. ….:::>1Ch 16:31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, "The LORD reigns!" 1Ch 16:32 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! 1Ch 16:33 Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. Well, in any event, those words of that Psalm are my daily prayer and praise to Our God and along with the Holy Ghost I extend it out indiscriminately:::>Rev 22:17 The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

  3. Turretinfan Says:

    Psalm 96:11-13Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the LORD: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth. -TurretinFan

  4. Sean McDonald Says:

    Give thanks to God, call on his name;to men his deeds make known.Sing ye to him, sing psalms; proclaimhis wondrous works each one.–Ps. 105:1,2I'm RPCNA, myself. From what Psalm-singing church do you hail, good sir?

  5. Turretinfan Says:

    Dear Mr. McDonald,It's good to hear from you. I don't give out my denominational affiliation as one of those ways of maintaining pseudonymity here. But yes, I do love the Psalms!-TurretinFan

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