John Mason Neale and the Christ­ian Heritage

by Dale J. Nelson
Eng­lish Department
Mayville State Un­i­ver­si­ty
330 Third St. NE
Mayville, North Dakota 58257

We know John Ma­son Neale (1818-1866) to­day as a hymn­o­graph­er, the trans­lat­or or adapt­er of an­cient and med­ie­val hymns. His works in­clude:

  1. Again the Lord’s Own Day Is Here
  2. All Glory, Laud, and Honor
  3. Alleluia, Song of Gladness
  4. Almighty God, Who from the Flood
  5. And Wilt Thou Pardon, Lord
  6. Around the Throne of God a Band
  7. Art Thou Weary, Art Thou Languid?
  8. As Jonah, Issuing from His Three Days’ Tomb
  9. Be Present, Ho­ly Trin­i­ty
  10. Blessed City, Heavenly Salem
  11. Blessed Feasts of Blessed Martyrs
  12. Blessèd Savior, Who Hast Taught Me
  13. Brief Life Is Here Our Portion
  14. Christ Is Born! Tell Forth His Fame!
  15. Christ Is Made the Sure Founda­tion
  16. Christ’s Own Martyrs, Valiant Cohort
  17. Christian, Dost Thou See Them?
  18. Come, Ho­ly Ghost, with God the Son
  19. Come, Thou Ho­ly Paraclete
  20. Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth
  21. Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Anthem
  22. Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain
  23. Creator of the Stars of Night
  24. Day, A Day of Glory!, A
  25. Day Is Past and Over, The
  26. Day, O Lord, Is Spent, The
  27. Day of Resurrection, The
  28. Dewy Freshness that the Furnace Flings, The
  29. Draw Nigh and Take the Body of the Lord
  30. Eternal Gifts of Christ the King, The
  31. Eternal Glory of the Sky
  32. Eternal Monarch, King Most High
  33. Fast, as Taught by Ho­ly Lore, The
  34. Father of Peace, and God of Consolation
  35. Fierce Was the Wild Billow
  36. Foe Behind, the Deep Before, The
  37. For Thee, O Dear, Dear Country
  38. From God the Father, Virgin-Born
  39. From Lands That See the Sun Arise
  40. Gabriel, from the Heaven Descending
  41. God the Father! Whose Crea­tion
  42. God Whom Earth, and Sea, and Sky, The
  43. Good Christ­ian Men, Rejoice
  44. Good King Wenceslas
  45. Great and Mighty Wonder, A
  46. Great Forerunner of the Morn, The
  47. Heavenly Word Proceeding Forth, The
  48. Here Is Joy for Every Age
  49. Him, of the Father’s Very Essence
  50. Holy Children Boldly Stand, The
  51. Holy Father, Thou Hast Taught Me
  52. How Vain the Cruel Herod’s Fear
  53. Hymn for Conquering Martyrs Raise, The
  54. If There Be That Skills to Reckon
  55. In Days of Old on Sinai
  56. Into the Dim Earth’s Lowest Parts Descending
  57. Jerusalem the Golden
  58. Jesu! Names All Names Above
  59. Jesu, the Father’s Only Son
  60. Jesu! The Very Thought is Sweet!
  61. Jesu, the Virgins’ Crown
  62. Joy Dawned Again on Easter Day
  63. Lamb’s High Banquet We Await, The
  64. Let Our Choir New Anthems Raise
  65. Let Us Now Our Voices Raise
  66. Let Us Rise in Early Morn­ing
  67. Lift Up, Lift Up Your Voices Now
  68. Light’s Abode, Celestial Salem
  69. Light’s Glittering Morn Bedecks the Sky
  70. Lo! Now Is Our Accepted Day
  71. Lord and King of All Things, The
  72. Maker of Earth, to Thee Alone
  73. Merits of the Saints, The
  74. Now That the Daylight Fills the Sky
  75. Now to Our Savior Let Us Raise
  76. O Blest Creator of the Light
  77. O Come, O Come, Em­man­u­el
  78. O God, Creation’s Secret Force
  79. O God, of All the Strength and Power
  80. O God of Truth, O Lord of Might
  81. O God, Thy Sol­diers’ Crown and Guard
  82. O God, We Raise Our Hearts to Thee
  83. O Happy Band of Pilgrims
  84. O Lord of Hosts, Whose Glory Fills
  85. O Merciful Creator, Hear
  86. O Sons and Daughters, Let Us Sing!
  87. O Thou Who by a Star Didst Guide
  88. O Thou Who Through This Ho­ly Week
  89. O Trin­i­ty of Blessed Light
  90. O Unity of Threefold Light
  91. O Very God of Very God
  92. O What Their Joy and Their Glory Must Be
  93. O Wondrous Mystery, Full of Passing Grace
  94. O Wondrous Sight!
  95. Of the Father’s Love Begotten
  96. Our Father’s Home Eternal
  97. Raise, Raise Thine Eye a Little Way
  98. Rod of the Root of Jesse
  99. Royal Banners Forward Go, The
  100. Royal Day That Chaseth Gloom
  101. Safe Home, Safe Home in Port!
  102. Saint of God, Elect and Precious
  103. Sing, My Tongue, the Glorious Battle
  104. Stars of the Morn­ing
  105. Th’Abyss of Ma­ny a Former Sin
  106. That Eastertide with Joy Was Bright
  107. That Fearful Day
  108. Thee, O Christ, the Father’s Splendor
  109. They Whose Course on Earth Is O’er
  110. Those Eternal Bowers
  111. Thou Hallowed Chosen Morn of Praise
  112. To the Name of Our Salva­tion
  113. To Thee Before the Close of Day
  114. Triumphs of the Saints, The
  115. We Have Not Seen, We Cannot See
  116. When Christ’s Appearing Was Made Known
  117. Wingèd Herald of the Day, The
  118. With Christ We Share a Mystic Grave
  119. World Is Very Evil, The
  120. Yesterday, with Exulta­tion

It is by these and similar hymns that most of us know Neale, if we know him at all. But Neale’s achievements in other areas as well deserve our recognition.

Neale was born in Lon­don, Eng­land, the son of a cler­gy­man, his fa­ther dy­ing when he was five years old. At Cam­bridge (1836-1840), Neale be­came a High Churchman, and de­vel­oped a fas­ci­na­tion with church arch­i­tect­ure. Ev­en at this youth­ful age, Neale par­ti­ci­pat­ed in the ca­tho­lic re­viv­al of the Es­tab­lished Church, as he and some friends found­ed the Cam­bridge Cam­den So­ciety of an­ti­quar­i­ans. Their per­i­od­ic­al prompt­ly ad­dressed it­self to the di­lap­i­dat­ed con­di­tion of ma­ny En­glish church build­ings; their rec­om­mend­a­tions were ve­ry in­flu­en­tial in the Vic­tor­i­an cam­paign of church con­struct­ion, and they came to have ma­ny sup­port­ers in Church ranks. Amer­i­cans apt to think af­fect­ion­at­ely of the taste­ful­ness and charm of Eng­lish church­es will be im­pressed by the de­script­ions of ru­in­ous build­ings en­count­ered by Neale and his con­temp­o­rar­ies. Neale al­so cru­sad­ed against the ug­ly stoves that were placed in some churches to heat them. One issue of The Ec­cles­i­ol­o­gist, for ex­ample, rec­ord­ed “a large Ar­nott stove” in the mid­dle of the chan­cel, whose flue rose to the height of the priest and crossed his face be­fore ex­it­ing the build­ing via a hole in the glass of the north win­dow. Neale es­pe­cial­ly raged against the high walled box pews—“pues” or “pens,” the So­ci­e­ty called them—where wealthy fam­i­lies se­ques­tered them­selves in the midst of the com­mon peo­ple. In their pews, they might re­cline at their ease up­on so­fas, and one lo­cal aris­to­crat ev­en ate lunch dur­ing the serv­ice.

The Cam­bridge So­ci­e­ty champ­i­oned the cause of “Vic­tor­i­an Goth­ic.” The edi­tion of a med­ie­val text on ec­cles­i­as­tic­al sym­bol­ism that Neale and a friend pre­pared set forth their con­vict­ions about ar­chi­tect­ur­al de­tails.

Neale’s health pre­vent­ed his re­main­ing a parish priest (he was or­dained in May 1842), but, in his semi-in­va­lid­ism, he had much time for an­ti­quar­i­an and schol­ar­ly en­dea­vor. From May 1846 on, he was War­den of Sack­ville Coll­ege, an in­sti­tu­tion re­sem­bling that of a fict­ion­al Vic­tor­i­an cler­gy­man, An­thony Trol­lope’s “Ward­en,” Sep­tim­us Hard­ing. Like Hard­ing, Neale gave much thought to church mu­sic.

Neale held that the hymns of Isaac Watts and other pop­u­lar com­pos­ers im­part­ed er­ron­e­ous doc­trine, as well as of­fend­ing against taste. So in 1842, for ex­am­ple, Neale pro­duced Hymns for Child­ren. How­e­ver, aside from his car­ol Good King Wen­ces­las, it is not Neale’s orig­in­al com­po­si­tions that are most wide­ly rec­og­nized, but his trans­la­tions and adap­ta­tions of an­cient and med­ie­val works, which he worked on through­out his life. The var­i­ous edi­tions of the an­no­tat­ed hymn­al he and his as­so­ci­ates pre­pared—the Hymn­al Noted—and his hymns of the Or­tho­dox church­es have con­trib­ut­ed hymns such as those list­ed above. It is es­tim­at­ed Neale and his col­lab­o­rat­ors pro­duced over 400 hymns, se­quences and car­ols.

Ano­ther ob­ject of Neale’s in­ter­est was the his­to­ry of the East­ern Church­es. In 1847, Neale’s book on the Pa­tri­arch­ate of Alex­an­dr­ia ap­peared. In 1850, it was fol­lowed by a Gen­er­al In­tro­duct­ion to the Or­tho­dox church of the East. A third vol­ume, ed­it­ed by George Will­iams, ap­peared in 1873.

One as­pect of Neale’s out­look not dwelt upon much by his bi­og­raph­ers is his con­vict­ion that di­vine judg­ment was the lot of those who ap­prop­ri­at­ed prop­er­ty that had been con­se­crat­ed. With an as­so­ci­ate, in 1846 he pub­lished, anon­y­mous­ly, an up­dat­ed edi­tion of Sir Henry Spelman’s His­to­ry of Sa­cri­lege. The book shows how di­sas­ters, the fail­ure of the male line, and/or great ex­cess­es of mor­al de­prav­ity came up­on per­sons who took land that had been giv­en to the Church, or their suc­cess­ors. When such lands had be­longed to the Church, rev­e­nues from these lands had been em­ployed to feed the hun­gry as well as to sup­port the some­times lux­ur­i­ous way of life of cer­tain cler­gy­men. Here we see the an­ti­quar­i­an and the man of Christ­ian com­pass­ion unit­ed.

Such a union is very ev­i­dent in Neale’s found­a­tion of the So­ci­ety of St. Margaret, one of the first An­gli­can con­vent­u­al sis­ter­hoods (1855). As War­den of Sack­ville Coll­ege at East Grin­stead, Neale came to know the pov­er­ty of some of the near­by vil­lag­ers. Fe­ver vic­tims might die un­at­tend­ed. So his sis­ters of char­i­ty be­gan their work, with Neale as their pas­tor-conf­ess­or-adm­in­is­tra­tor. How­ev­er, the sis­ter­hood was ver­bal­ly and even phys­ic­al­ly at­tacked as a wedge of “Rom­an­ism” in the En­glish Church. In 1857, the “Lewes Riot” oc­curred, in­sti­gat­ed by an Evan­gel­ic­al cler­gy­man whose daugh­ter had been one of the Sis­ters, and who had died of scar­let fever, be­queath­ing 400 pounds to the So­ci­e­ty. Neale was used to op­po­si­tion by then. Years be­fore the So­ci­e­ty’s found­a­tion, Neale had been in­hib­it­ed by the Bis­hop of Chi­chest­er from ex­er­cis­ing his priest­ly du­ties in the vil­lage, ev­i­dent­ly on ac­count of the bis­hop’s re­sent­ment of Neale’s church furn­ish­ings, etc., at Sack­ville Coll­ege.

John Mason Neale had his light­er side, too, as evi­denced by a joke he once played on John Keble. As re­lat­ed by Neale’s as­soc­ia­te Ger­ard Moul­trie and quot­ed in A. G. Lough, The In­flu­ence of John Ma­son Neale (Lon­don, SPCK 1962, p. 95):

[Neale] was in­vit­ed by Mr. Ke­ble and the Bi­shop of Sal­is­bu­ry to as­sist them with their new Hymn­al, and for this reas­on he paid a vis­it to Hurs­ley Par­son­age [Keble’s res­i­dence]…[Keble] re­lat­ed that hav­ing to go to ano­ther room to find some pa­pers he was de­tained a short time. On his re­turn, Dr. Neale said, “Why Ke­ble! I thought you told me that the Christ­ian Year was en­tire­ly orig­in­al!” “Yes,” he an­swered, “it cer­tain­ly is.” “Then how comes this­” And Dr. Neale placed be­fore him the La­tin of one of Ke­ble’s hymns for a Saint’s day—I think it was for St. Luke’s. Keble pro­fessed him­self ut­ter­ly con­found­ed. There was the En­glish, which he knew that he had made, and there too no less cer­tain­ly was the La­tin, with far too un­plea­sant a re­sem­blance to his own to be for­tu­i­tous. He pro­test­ed that he had ne­ver seen this “orig­in­al,” no, not in all his life! etc. etc. Af­ter a few min­utes, Neale re­lieved him by own­ing that he had just turned it into La­tin in his ab­sence.

Never in his life­time was Neale ad­e­quate­ly ap­prec­i­at­ed in his own church. Neale’s Doctor of Di­vin­i­ty de­gree was conf­erred by Trin­i­ty Coll­ege, Hart­ford, Con­nec­ti­cut, in 1860. At Neale’s fun­er­al the high­est ranking cler­gy­men were Or­tho­dox. Neale could ne­ver have guessed how much he ac­comp­lished for the church and for gen­er­a­tions of Christ­ians who would sing the hymns he gave them.