Posted by: Frederick Cornwell Sanders | 2013/04/16

Meaning of Aquinas’s Iniquity: A Study of Psalm Thirty-Five

English: Christian Petersen's Head of Christ i...

English: Christian Petersen’s Head of Christ in Saint Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, Ames, Iowa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


By Frederick Cornwell Sanders

In Thomas Aquinas‘s commentary on Psalm Thirty-Five, there is much discussion of iniquity as he opens his commentary.1 Yet, iniquity is not part of the subject matter as David composes verse one of Psalm Thirty-Five. Of David. Plead my cause, O LORD, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me.2 Trying to pry into Aquinas’s text, this is difficult English reading for the spiritual student and is even harder in Latin. There are few clues to what particular verse Aquinas is referring to in his text. While, the text has a theme, the text does not seem to have a specificity that is readily apparent. Iniquity, from Thomas Aquinas’s view, bridges the Latin and Aquinas’s age. Modern thought often thinks of iniquity in terms of imbalance.3 Iniquity’s connotation speaks to an entity having disproportionate power over another entity. In Thomas Aquinas’s age iniquity has a meaning of unrighteousness. For those who have listened to fiery preaching, iniquity denotes sinful actions. So, to be tainted with iniquity goes beyond just imbalance, toward deep sinfulness. Iniquity is from two Latin words. In expresses the negation of the second part of the word. The second part of the word is the Latin word for equal, aequus.4 So, the modern connotation is closer to the real meaning of the word. During the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, iniquity assumed a darker tone of sinfulness. Oxford points to morality plays of the 1500s using iniquity or “the Vise” to express sin or vice in general.5 In Psalm Thirty-Five, David wants not to have iniquity as he speaks to GOD. To have iniquity, this would close communication to GOD. David wants GOD’s help, thus to be iniquity free is vitally important. Aquinas picks up on this unwritten theme in his commentary. Aquinas seems to think that David’s hatred, not love, checks the King for iniquity. David’s emotion “pleading” to the LORD points to Aquinas’s concern. “…, that his iniquity may be found unto hatred.” For today’s reader this iniquity may seem overdone. Yet, the sensitivity toward the hatred by Aquinas repeats Christ Jesus‘s call for love, even enemies. When today’s speaker or writer “hates” this, that, and them, the specter of iniquity casts a shadow over the speaker or writer. Aquinas is clear on this point. David and “the words of his mouth are iniquity and guile:…” For Aquinas, the sin problem starts with David’s thoughts and writing. The fact that no love is found in the verses penned are significant to Aquinas. In conclusion, “He hath devised iniquity on his bed,…” And, in the verses below there is little love shown in the words placed. Verses One to Six A Psalm of David. Plead my cause, O LORD, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help. Draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am thy salvation. Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul: let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt. Let them be as chaff before the wind: and let the angel of the LORD chase them. Let their way be dark and slippery: and let the angel of the LORD persecute them. In David’s defense, the constant chasing and entrapment, found in verse six, had to have a debilitating result on David and on those loyal to him. Some suggest that Saul’s constant pursuit would give cause to David’s feeling. Yet, David does the correct thing in expressing reverent requests to GOD and allow GOD to take action. Thus, while the anger is there, it is tempered by expressing that anger to GOD. It also should be noted that David did not carry out his anger. Whether one looks to Saul or Absalom, David’s son, we see no action that one would consider vindictive. If anything, David often showed how he could show a cool head that had overcome anger and comes upon productive solutions concerning his enemies. Verse fourteen shows how far David would go to counteract any anger. His actions promote respect to refute the iniquity of others. I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother: I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother. One can easily agree with Aquinas on his point that few examine their anger and hatred. “And they do things deceitfully then because they do not discover their iniquity [ by examination of conscience or by faithful attention to scripture ].” “…et hoc ideo, quia non inveniunt iniquitatem.” So, the example set in Proverbs 13 Verse 3 can be one way to stay away from iniquity. He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction. Thomas Aquinas brings up a good point when he says we step into sin by “two ways.” We have no respect for goodness and/or we have an interest in evil. Those that have no respect for the kindly and those that actively want to harm the kindly are both in iniquity. Our thoughts can quickly give us a reaction through mouth and bodily action. The mouth can voice iniquity through hatred. The body can strike iniquity through a contorted anger or a clinched fist. The conscience needs to control the instinctual mind in favor of the higher intellect even when that sounds altruistic. The fool is an instinctual mind that roars a crude epithet and grabs a stone with the intent to harm and/or kill. The intellectual mind controls the instinctual mind to react with a nobler course mouth and body. One may get frustrated with measured or diplomatic words, yet they serve a purpose to put forth an intellectual response rather that an instinctual response which promotes iniquity. Without a conscience or innate intellectual thought process, iniquity runs rampant. The fool looks stupid because the fool instinctively reacts and does not regard his intelligence to be any help to the fool. The wise do not instinctively react because their conscience and intellect tell them what will become of a fool’s response. We are all not wise all the time. Aquinas brings this point out. Sometimes “weakness and ignorance” bare a part in the thought process. It is the one that “sins out of pride” that is in danger of persistent iniquity. Aquinas may be mentioning Proverbs 2 Verse 14 when he supports his point. Who rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked; Yet, all of Proverbs 2 is helpful in understanding wisdom verses foolishness, sinlessness verses iniquity, as Aquinas understands iniquity as sin. END 6 7 8 9 10 11


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