Everything in St. Hilary’s homily on the First Psalm has thus far really been an introduction. As he indicates when says, “But let us now deal with the subject matter and the words which express it:”
Happy is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly nor stood in the way of sinners, and hath not sat in the seat of pestilence. But his will hath been in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law will he meditate day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).
The Prophet recites five kinds of caution as continually present in the mind of the happy man: the first, not to walk in the counsel of the ungodly, the second, not to stand in the way of sinners, the third, not to sit in the seat of pestilence, next, to set his will in the Law of the Lord, and lastly, to meditate therein by day and by night. There must, therefore, be a distinction between the ungodly and the sinner, between the sinner and the pestilent; chiefly because here the ungodly has a counsel, the sinner a way, the pestilent a seat, and again, because the question is of walking, not standing, in the counsel of the ungodly; of standing, not walking, in the way of the sinner. Now if we would understand the reason of these facts, we must note the precise difference between the sinner and the undutiful, that so it may become clear why to the sinner is assigned a way, and to the undutiful a counsel; next, why the question is of standing in the way, and of walking in the counsel, whereas men are accustomed to connect standing with a counsel, and walking with a way.
One of the reasons that I personally like to read the Fathers are paragraphs like this. Unlike modern men, the Fathers pay far closer attention to specific words and how they are used. In this case, St. Hilary is interested in the way the First Psalm characterizes the actions associated with those the happy man is compared to.
The ungodly have counsel. The sinners have a way. The pestilent have a seat. In contrast, the happy man has not walked in the counsel, not stood the in way and not sat on the seat. St. Hilary finds it curious that having counsel is associated with walking, when normally one would expect to stand and that standing is associated with a way when normally one would expect to stand.
I find this reflection on specific words and their uses refreshing — the expectation that the words we use and the way we use them mean something. Today, we live in a world where we throw around words without knowing what they mean (at best) or maliciously use words in a way where they don’t mean what we think they do (at worst).
For example, one of the hot topics in our country today is bullying. Unfortunately, we do not use this word in the exacting way that St. Hilary insists upon examining the words of the First Psalm. As a result, we live in a world where anti-bully advocates and organizations bully those who disagree with them. Rather than understand the word bully and how it is used and what a bully does (abuse power against those without power), the word “bully” is now used as a label in order to justify the actions of those in power against those who do not have power.
In other words, when we do not insist upon exact usages of words, words can become weapons. They can mean anything that their users want them to mean in order to justify all kinds of evil.