Browne’s Abbreviated Psalter

browne.gif The primary authoritative translation of Bede’s Abbreviated Psalter is Gerald M. Browne’s The Abbreviated Psalter of the Venerable Bede, Eerdmans, 2002. It is a fairly bare translation without the Latin text and a slight introduction. The translation is based on the authoritative Latin edition: Collectio Psalterii Bedae Venerabili adscripta, Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana (K G Saur Verlag, Munich and Leipzig, 2001). Browne notes (p. 13) that his translation “draws freely from various versions of the complete Psalter” and he used Cassiodorus’s Exposition of the Psalms as a “guide”. The ascription of the abbreviated psalter to Bede is based on three Latin copies written about a century after his death (c. 835). They all have scribal errors but Browne asserts that the original can be determined “for all practical purposes” by comparing the three texts (p. 13). He quotes Ward on Bede’s purpose, so I will comment on that when I cover her work.

We know that Bede used the Vulgate psalter of Jerome for his text. This was a conscious choice of Bede because he had several other Old Latin versions available and Jerome’s was not yet universally used. Browne makes the helpful observation that Cassiodorus’s work was “well known to Bede”, and so I will need to consult it also.

There are four notes on the text and translation that need to be discussed; the first three noted by Browne.

  1. Jerome’s substitution of “Jesus” for “salvation”. Like most early medieval theologians, Jerome and Bede both believed that the Old Testament allegorically referred to the New Testament. Jerome ‘translated’ the Hebrew word salvation as “Jesus”, and Bede follows suite. It is jarring to today’s readers to see the name Jesus in four of Bede’s abbreviated psalms (Vulgate psalm 50, 78, 84, and 149), such as Ps. 50:14 “Restore to me the joy of your Jesus, and with powerful spirit strengthen me.”
  2. Bede’s allegorical substitution on Vulgate psalm 136 (our psalm 137). Bede substitutes “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord” for the psalms’ “Blessed is he that taketh thy children and throweth them against the stones”. This is the only time that Bede deviates from scripture. I will have to refer to Cassiodorus on this psalm, but this certainly doesn’t seem like the essence of this psalm to me. It may also help to see if Bede uses this verse (Vulgate Ps. 136:9) elsewhere in his works.
  3. Partial verses: Browne leaves open the possibility that Bede’s text itself contains further abbreviations of what Bede actually intended (ie that there are abbreviations in these abbreviated psalms). He concludes that he will only translate what the text says. I suspect that this shows Browne’s puzzlement over just how short some of these abbreviations are and again perhaps is making him question the standard rationale scholars give for Bede’s project.
  4. Odd translation of psalm 41 (V)/42. I happen to like both translations, but the metaphors of a deer vs a garden are quite different.

    “quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum ita desiderat anima mea ad te Deus” (Vulgate Psalm 41 in Latin)

    “Like a garden prepared for the irrigation of the waters, so my soul is prepared for you, God.” (V Ps. 41, Browne trans, p. 40)

    “As a deer longs for the water-brooks, so my soul longs for you, O God.” (Ps. 42:1)

    There is a significant difference between “my soul is prepared” and “my soul longs”. Cervus translates directly as deer. The modern translation appears to be correct. Looks like I will need to find the Latin edition of Bede’s psalter to see if this is Browne’s translation or his original text. Benedicta Ward does give the usual translation in her edition. If this difference is due to the translation, then it is good example of the possibility of significant differences between translations. Given that Bede would have been translating these texts in his head as he was fluent in Latin, the verses of the abbreviated psalter may have meanings to him that neither translation reflect, especially if he paid no attention to the separation of psalms, as I suspect. The surviving texts shown in Browne’s illustrations do not distinguish were one psalm ends and the next begins. They all run together and context would effect translation.


7 thoughts on “Browne’s Abbreviated Psalter

  1. Looks like you’re off to a great start! I’m looking forward to seeing this project unfold–I’ve been interested in this text since reading Ward’s comments and edition of it but haven’t had a chance to study it in depth with everything else going on. a few points that caught my attention:

    We know that Bede used the Vulgate psalter of Jerome for his text. This was a conscious choice of Bede because he had several other Old Latin versions available and Jerome’s was not yet universally used. Discussions of Jerome’s Psalter are tricky since there are, I believe, 3 that are authentically from his pen: one from the LXX, one from the Hebrew, and then (this is the one I’m fuzzy on) a second edition based on the LXX. Again, IIRC it’s the difference between the first and third translations that are labeled as “Roman” or “Gallican” based on where they caught on.

    Cassiodorus is key for understanding a) the dominant strand of interp for monastic exegesis that touched all other biblical interpretation, b) the reception of Augustine’s massive psalm commentary–suitably excerpted by Cassiodorus, and c) the application of grammatical and rhetorical techniques to biblical interp. Cassiodorus uses the Psalter to teach the basics of grammar, schemes, and tropes by pointing out when an how they occur as he goes.

    Bede’s allegorical substitution on Vulgate psalm 136 (our psalm 137). Bede substitutes “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord” for the psalms’ “Blessed is he that taketh thy children and throweth them against the stones”.
    Bede’s take seems to follow Augustine and others here where following 1 Cor 10 “the rock is Christ.” It’s a moral reading that understands Babylon as Satan and sin; Babylon’s little ones, then, are nascent sins arising in the soul and Christ as the rock. We are being counseled to root out the seeds of vice and to let Christ, his example, and his grace to cure these within us. IIRC Cassiodorus also follows this line.

    On the deer/garden thing in Ps 41… both the main Latin and Greek texts have deer (cervus/elaphos). Here’s what I find online for that verse in Bede, though: Sicut areola praeparata ad inrigationes aquarum, sic anima mea praeparata est ad te deus. !!! This is big–much bigger than the Ps 136 thing IMO. The main text that mentions deer (usually interpreted allegorically as Christ [following Gregory]), gardens, and water is the Song of Songs (which Bede also wrote on). Definitely check Cassiodorus (and Augustine) on this one…

  2. Derek,

    Glad you are reading along. I know you will have many useful comments!

    I should have been more specific. Bede uses Jerome’s paster ‘from the Hebrew’, so his last translation. Ward notes that this translation was used in Coelfrith’s great Codexs but was not the version used daily in church. How we know that they didn’t change versions for daily use by 716, I don’t know though.

    I’m not familiar with the abbreviation IIRC. (?) Where did you find the Latin edition online? I’m still waiting for it to be delivered to my library. Looks like Bede really changed it. I suppose its not possible that this is found in Jerome’s according to the Hebrew?

    I’m going to eventually follow up on your comments on the two psalm abbreviations in separate blogs (may be a little while though…) I checked Cassiodorus on Ps 41 today and its not the source for the change. More on this later. Thanks for the suggestion to look at the Song of Songs. Arthur Holder is also working on a translation of Bede’s Commentary on Song of Songs. He has been working on it for years so I hope it comes out sooner rather than later. (As I need translations, this is critical for me.) On a side note, Bede’s On Genesis is due out this spring.

  3. Bede uses Jerome’s Hebrew? That’s unusual…

    We have ideas about daily use just because of the sheer number of psalters out there. Virtually all of them are the Gallican Psalter (Jerome’s full translation of the LXX). According to Gneuss’s really important article “Liturgical books in Anglo Saxon England and their Old English terminology”, of the 27 surviving psalters in use during the A-S period, only nine are the Roman Psalter (Jerome’s first revision of the Old Latin with reference to the LXX). The only surviving Hebraica that I’m familiar with and that he mentions is his H.22: Salisbury, Cathedral Library, 180 (Brittany, s. x; provenance Salisbury) which I believe is a parallel edition of the Gallican and the Hebraica. [Wikipedia has a surprisingly good entry on Latin Psalters that clarifies the differences between Jerome’s three psalters]

    IIRC=If I recall correctly…

    I have access to to it online through one of the databases my school subscribes to. According to their listing Bede also wrote a little treatise–or maybe just a bit–on Ps 41. I scanned it really briefly but nothing about gardens jumped out at me. I don’t know if it’s been translated or not.

  4. He used Jerome according to the Hebrew. Same version used in Ceolfrith’s Codexs. I guess this suggests that he had a version in front of him when he did it because probably wouldn’t use that version to do it from memory.

    What version was being used in Rome in c. 680-735? Wearmouth -Jarrow patterned their singing on St Peter’s in Rome.

  5. Ack—I doubt we have sources enough to make a reliable statement on what they were using in Rome. I’d personally guess the “Roman” version (Jerome’s first adaptation) but can’t confirm. I wonder what Amalarius says on the matter… He’s writing about a hundred years later but you have to look for data points wherever possible…

  6. According to Stephan’s Life of Wilfrid , Wilfrid learns the psalter used by the Irish while on Lindisfarne. While he waits in Kent to set out for Rome, he learned Jerome’s psalter, “the fifth edition”, the one used in Rome. Any idea what the fifth edition means?

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