Sunday, January 24, 2010

John Mason Neale

Anglican priest John Mason Neale was born today in 1818. It's hard to imagine today, knowing the large number of hymns that he translated or wrote (so many of which are still known today) that he was not at all respected in his own time by most of the leading figures in the Church of England.

Neale's high church ideas and enthusiasms led his own bishop to inhibit him (that is, to keep him from exercising any of his priestly functions) for several years. After the notorious John Henry Newman's
Oxford Movement led many Anglicans to convert to Roman Catholicism (including some other hymn writers such as Edward Caswall and Frederick William Faber), no bishop was willing to encourage such ideas. Neale was given the administration of Sackville College (which was actually an almshouse) as a means to keep him out of the way. When he finally received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity, it was bestowed by Trinity College -- in Hartford, Connecticut!

Neale translated several of the Latin verses of the fifth-century Christian poet
Caelius Sedulius, including this one (Hos­tis Her­o­des imp­ie), appropriate to the present season. It provides a little overview of Epiphany, touching on the most familiar events we commemorate in these post-Christmas weeks. There have been various changes to the text over the years; I found three different versions at the Cyber Hymnal. The hymn generally appears today as When Christ's appearing was made known, but that rewritten first stanza is under copyright. This one is closer to what Neale wrote.

The star proclaims that Christ is here;
But, Herod, why this senseless fear?
He takes no realms of earth away
But gives the realms of heav’nly day.

The eastern sages saw from far
And followed on that guiding star;
And led by light, to light they press,
And by their gifts their God confess.

Within the Jordan’s sacred flood
The heavenly Lamb in meekness stood,
That Christ, to whom no sin was known,
Might free all people from their own.

And O! what miracle divine,
When water reddened into wine!
He spake the word, and forth it flowed
In streams that nature ne’er bestowed.

All glory, Jesus, be to thee
For this thy glad epiphany;
Whom with the Maker we adore
And Holy Spirit evermore.

Caelius Sedulius, c. 450
tr. John Mason Neale, 1852; alt.
William Leighton, c. 1614

Yesterday was another birthday -- this blog is two years old and embarking on a third. Not only does it nearly share a birthday with Neale (completely coincidentally!), but also the name, which as I've noted before, comes from another of his translated hymns.


AuntE said...

Happy Birthday! I've been blogging for over one year now, and that hardly seems possible.

Dorothy said...

Happy Belated Birthday, C.W.S.! I always learn from your blog and am so glad you are here.

Leland Bryant Ross said...

Ditto what Dorothy said.