Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, August 7, 2008
Christ is made the sure Foundation, Christ the Head and Cornerstone;
Chosen of the Lord, and precious, Binding all the Church in one,
Holy Zion’s Help forever, And her Confidence alone.
To this temple, where we call Thee, Come, O Lord of Hosts, today;
With Thy wonted lovingkindness, Hear Thy servants as they pray.
And Thy fullest benediction Shed within its walls alway.
- from a 7th C Latin hymn, translated by John Mason Neale,
1818-66, hymnographer, priest, on this his feastday in the
Episcopal Church Calendar
Good King Wenceslas. Remember that? Neale wrote it. Anglicans certainly will remember hymns like To the Name of our salvation, That Eastertide with Joy was Bright, Stars of the Morning, O What Their Joy and their Glory must be, Sing My Tongue the Glorious Battle, Of the Father’s Love Begotten and many more. Neale is known not mostly for original texts, but for the many wonderful translations into English of ancient Latin hymns. When I was a monk, we sang many of his translations at the Daily Offices. I especially remember the Compline hymn To Thee before the Close of Day. One website on Neale lists 122 hymns!
Neale thought that many of the hymns being sung in his time, like those of Issac Watts, were “bad theology”. He went back to earlier centuries since, as a “High Churchman”, he thought better theology lay there. Well, in my view, sometimes, but not necessarily!
Neale wrote several books on the history and theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church; most of the high-ranking clergy at his funeral were Orthodox. He was also a reviver of the monastic life in the English Church, being the founder of the Society of St. Margaret, which has a branch in the Episcopal Church.
Neale wrote in translation of one 7th C hymn, Creator of the Stars of night ….. [thou] hast found the medicine, full of grace, to save and heal a ruined race. It is this freeing, self-giving God Who is the sure foundation of the Church’s Life.