Friday, August 7, 2009

John Mason Neale

John Mason Neale, born in 1818, is commemorated today in the Episcopal calendar (on July 1 in the Evangelical Lutheran Church), which as explained last year, is actually the day after his death.

It is for his translations of ancient and medieval Latin and Greek hymns that he is most remembered rather than for texts of his own. He seems to have started this work when he was fourteen and began a translation of the poems of
Caelius Sedelius, a Christian poet of the fifth century (Neale's translation was eventually published in 1822). He was also much interested in the history and practices of the Eastern Church and wrote at least three books on the subject.

Neale felt that his translated hymns were more appropriate for use in worship than the "modern" vernacular hymns of Watts and Wesley, which he felt tended to teach erroneous doctrine.

This hymn, still sung today, was written in Latin in the twelfth century by French theologian and philosopher
Peter Abelard, O quan­ta qual­ia sunt il­la Sab­ba­ta, translated by Neale for his Hymnal Noted (1854).

O what their joy and their glory must be,
Those endless Sabbaths the blessèd ones see;
Crown for the valiant, to weary ones, rest;
God shall be all, and in all ever blessed.

Truly, “Jerusalem” name we that shore,
City of peace that brings joy evermore;
Wish and fulfillment are not severed there,
Nor do things prayed for come short of the prayer.

Now, in the meanwhile, with hearts raised on high,
We for that country must yearn and must sigh;
Seeking Jerusalem, dear native land,
Through our long exile on Babylon’s strand.

There, where no troubles distraction can bring,
We the sweet anthems of Zion shall sing;
While for thy grace, God, their voices of praise
Thy blessèd people eternally raise.

Peter Abelard, 12th cent.;
tr. John Mason Neale, 1854
Paris Antiphoner, 1681

harm. John Bacchus Dykes, 1868

Never much in favor with the Anglican powers of his day, Neale was still highly respected by many. At his funeral in 1866, the highest ranking clergy in attendance were from the Orthodox Church, probably in recognition of his interest and writings on their history and worship.

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