After a long hiatus, I wrote last July about German hymn translator Catherine Winkworth, and this year speak again about Latin & Greek hymn translator John Mason Neale, both of whom are commemorated July 1.
Neale was born Jan. 24, 1818, in London and educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was considered the best classics scholar among his peers. While at Trinity he was drawn to the Oxford Movement, a group within the Church of England promoting a return to more formal liturgical practices.
Ordained in 1841, Neale served as Vicar of Crawley, but resigned in 1846 after disagreements with his congregation and bishop. He then became warden of Sackville College, an almshouse in East Grinstead, serving until his death. In 1854 he co-founded the Society of St. Margaret, a women’s order devoted to nursing, yet this, along with his “high church” preferences, led some to suspect he was promoting Roman Catholicism over against the Anglican Church. However, Neale’s basic virtue and integrity won over his opponents, and the Society thrived.
In 1864 Neale also founded the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches Union, through which he edited and published Hymns of the Eastern Church in 1865. He also translated numerous Greek, Latin, Syrian and other hymns which entered various editions of the Anglican Hymns Ancient and Modern. Among the hymns for which we are indebted to Neale are “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation,” “All Glory, Laud and Honor,” “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel” and “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice.”
John Mason Neale died Aug. 6, 1866, in East Grinstead. Though he endured many challenges in his day as an advocate of what later was known as “Anglo-Catholicism,” his legacy of compassionate ministry and musical scholarship continues to enrich the whole Church.