Thursday, January 24, 2013

John Mason Neale

John Mason Neale (January 24, 1818 - August 6, 1866), often mentioned here, is remembered for his hymns both translated and original.

In translating texts from Latin, Greek, and other languages he was restoring those older hymns to the Church of England, whose hymnody up until then had grown largely out of the tradition of the psalm paraphrases of the seventeenth century and the subsequent work of Isaac Watts, John Newton, and others who wrote new texts for English-speaking congregations. 

His Latin translations in particular were looked on with suspicion by many Anglicans, who could not get beyond the Roman Catholic origins of the texts at a time when the Oxford Movement was luring many Anglicans into Catholicism.  Neale, however, remained faithful to the Church of England, which led the Roman Catholics to disparage his translations because he often changed or deleted lines that did not conform to Anglican doctrine.

Today's hymn is derived from the Latin office hymn Caeli Deus sanctissime. Its precise authorship is apparently unknown; it has been ascibed to Pope Gregory the Great and Ambrose of Milan, among others.

O God, whose hand hath spread the sky,
And all its shining hosts on high,
And painting it with fiery light,
Made it so beauteous and so bright:

Thou, when creation was begun,
Didst frame the circle of the sun,
And set the moon for ordered change,
And planets for their wider range:

To night and day, by certain line,
Their varying bounds thou didst assign;
And gav'st a signal, known and meet,
For months begun and months complete.

Enlighten thou our hearts, O God,
To walk the paths that Jesus trod;
To find the way that leads to thee,
Our Life and Light eternally.

Grant this, Creator, ever One,
With Christ, thy sole-begotten Son,
Whom, with the Spirit we adore,
One God, both now and evermore.

Latin, 8th cent.
John Mason Neale, 19th cent.
Henry J, Gauntlett, 1861

One slightly amusing fact about Neale: there appears to have been only one photograph of him, but if you search online you can find several other images which have all been flipped, cropped, or Photoshopped from that one photo in some way to look different -- the face is the same in all of them.

I now celebrate the birthday of the blog (which is technically one day earlier) on Neale's birthday each year, the man who first wrote the phrase conjubilant with songFive years and counting...

Three Years Ago: John Mason Neale

Two Years Ago: John Mason Neale

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