This article was found in the September 1950 copy of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church. It was written by R. A. Newman
Until I started writing these short articles for "Progress", it never dawned on me that we, Free Church men, owe to Roman Catholicism some of the sweetest and best of the hymns in our own Hymnary. Apart from Cardinal Newman's "Lead Kindly Light" and "Praise to the holiest in the Height", to which I have previously referred, I feel we should not overlook Bernard of Clairvaux - a twelfth century monk - who gave us Jesus, the very thought of Thee and Jesus, Thou Joy of loving hearts.
David Livingstone, the great African Missionary and explorer, in his journal, tells us how he crooned them to himself, how they rang through his ears as he wandered across the wilds of Africa. Bernard was a great theologian and a very eloquent preacher. He died in 1153, and eleven years afterwards was canonised by Poe Alexander III.
Then there was Bernard of Cluny, another 12th century monk, who gave us Jerusalem the golden, For thee, O dead, dear Country, and Brief life is here our portion.
I am not overlooking the fact that these great hymns of both the Bernards were originally in Latin and we also owe a debt to the translators into English which our Hymnary indicate at the end of each poem.
Cluny was of English parentage, but born in Brittany.
We cannot pass notice of Frederick Wm. Faber, born in 1814 at Calverly Vicarage, Yorks, who after his Oxford career was appointed Rector of Elton (Hunts), but influenced by Newman joined the Church of Rome, after only three years as an Anglican priest. He wrote 150 hymns, and we enjoy singing Sweat Saviour, bless us ere we go, My God how wonderful Thou art, Souls of men! why will ye scatter, and Hark, hark, my soul! Angelic songs are swelling.
It appears Faber had been particularly attracted to the Olney hymns, by Cowper and Newton, and was anxious that the English Catholics should enjoy hymns of similar simplicity and fervour.
Faber ministered at Brompton Oratory until his death in 1863 at the age of 49.
There are others which can be identified by the notes at the foot of our hymns stating they were translated from the Latin. Perhaps the greatest of all Martin Luther's renowned hymn A safe stronghold our God is still translated by the famous Scot, Thomas Carlyle. It was founded on the 46th Psalm: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble."
Martin Luther was the son of a miner born on 10th November 1483, at Eisenach. His father hoped he would become a lawyer, but while at the University he came across the Scriptures in Latin, which resulted in his becoming a monk. A visit to Rome in 1510 opened his eyes to the evils permeating the clergy. In 1517 the Pope appointed a monk to sell indulgences for sins and releases from purgatory, which roused the fiery spirit of Luther, who drew up his famous protests of 95 theses, or propositions, and nailed them to the door of his Church at Wittenberg. He was denounced by the Pope, and the Emperor Charles V summoned him to appear before him at the Diet of Worms on April 15th, 1521. His friends tried to persuade him from attending, but he declared he would go, "Although as many devils should set at me as there are tiles on the house tops".
He was commanded to recant; refused, and was imprisoned. He spent his time translating the Bible into German, and thus was born the great Reformation.
Luther in 1524 renounced his priestly office, and married Catherina-von-Bora, an emancipated nun who had been influenced by his teaching, resulting in the issue of six children.
He wrote 37 hymns, was both poet and musician, fond of singing and playing the lute. He died in 1546.
We will pass from R.C. to C. of E. to finish this month with a word or two on Bishop Ken who lived from 1637 to 1711. He gave us two of our hymns: Glory to Thee, my God, this night and Awake, my soul, and with the sun.
He was born at Berkhamsyead (Herts), and became a Rector of Little Easton, Essex. Afterwards became Chaplain to Princess Mary, wife of William of Orange, at The Hague, but could not agree with the royal couple and was dismissed. He became Chaplain to Charles II, who was very fond of him. On one occasion when the gay monarch was visiting Winchester (where Ken was dean) accompanied by Nell Gwynne, the King asked Ken to give Nell accommodation at his house, but Ken refused. The king admired him, and was amused. He afterwards made him Bishop of Bath and Wells and said he must go and hear "little Ken to tell him his faults".
He was one of seven Bishops tried at Westminster in 1688 for refusing to order the clergy to read the "Declaration of Indulgence" introduced by James II in favour of his Catholic friends. Although brought in "Not Guilty", Ken resigned his Bishopric and retired into private life. Queen Anne wanted to reinstate him, but he refused and she granted him a pension of £200 a year. For years, Ken carried his shroud about with him, and put it on with his own hands when the doctor told him he had only a few hours to live.
Writing on R.C. and C. of E. hymn writers reminds me of a story told by Archbishop Lang in his autobiography. At Portadown, in Ulster, the R.C. Priest and the Presbyterian Minister lived within sight of each other for years but never spoke. One day they found themselves alone in a 3rd class carriage bound for Belfast, and, their native courtesy overcoming their religious inhibitions, they entered into conversation. Each found the other a good fellow, and by the time they reached Belfast were firm friends.
Shaking the Priest warmly by the hand the Minister said" "Well goodbye Father, we have had a lovely talk, and must have many another in the future. After all aren't we both trying to do God's work, you in your way, and I in His".