COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS
by St. Albert the Great
of the Order of Preachers
St. Albert was a master of Scriptural studies in his day, just as he was a master of every other science that was going at that tiime. His method, like that of his student Thomas Aquinas, was first to divide the text into parts, then comment on it line by line, exposing its literal meaning and, along with it, the background and theological implications, illustrated by Scriptural citations for every point made.
Albert's Commentary on the Psalms is exegetically and theologically rich. Just to read the commentary on Psalm 1 lets us know that we are dealing with a botanist and natural scientist, as well as one very familiar with the Bible and theology.
A problem in translating a work like Albert's is that he was confined to the Vulgate Latin text, which very often misses nuances or even the main point of a word or line. Scriptural studies have gone far since his time, and simply to present his reading of the text as he left it would not do justice to contemporary readers who are interested in what the Scriptures have to say, not in antiquarian opinions.
Another problem is that the Lyon edition of 1641, which I am using, is not critical. The most frequent fault is that many of the Scriptural references are wrong, both as to the names of the books and to the chapters. Also, Albert is quoting the Bible from memory, and frequently he uses vocabulary or forms that vary from the Vulgate. Fortunately, I have BibleWord, including the Vulgate, which enabled me to track down elusive texts, and also the verse numbers (which did not exist in Albert's time).
For the numbering of the Psalms, I follow the Hebrew numbering, which is followed in all modern translations; in most cases this is one ahead of the Vulgate numbering. I also supply a decimal numeration wihin the Commentary, so as to keep track of Albert's sometimes complicated divisions.
For the Psalm text, I present first the Douay translation and then my own, which is much indebted to Mitchell Dahood. This is both to give a more accurate reading of the Psalm and to show its poetical structural format, with all its symetry and chiasms. Albert quotes many other Scriptural texts. For these, I use any convenient translation (e.g. JB, NRS, NAB or more frequently my own) for the majority of cases where the Vulgate more or less agrees with modern translations. But where the Latin text is seriously off point, I present what Albert says, but add "(Vul)", meaning that the Vulgate translation in this case cannot be accepted as the real meaning of the text.
In any use of Albert's commentary for preaching or teaching, such quotations should be left out or substituted with others. Albert was a member of an Order whose motto is "Truth". Within his limitations, he always sought to get at the true meaning by looking at variants: "secundum aliam literam". He therefore would not approve of slavishly following his text where modern scholarship has shown the Vulgate to be faulty.
Albert frequently quotes Cassiodorus, and a comparison of the two shows that Albert is heavily indebted to him. Albert's Latin style is far inferior to Cassiodorus', but he goes beyond him in theology and in the presentation of parallel Scriptural texts.
We may see in Albert's use of parallel texts not only the defects of the Vulgate, but also a rather fanciful accommodative exegesis. This should not distract us from his quite healthy grasp of the "fuller sense" of the Psalms, and the Old Testament in general — the Christology and ecclesiology intended by the divine author, which has always informed the tradition of the praying Church.