St. Philip’s Sons: Frederick William Faber and His Hymnody
Dr. Huw Lewis, Music
Though historians have often used poetry and prose as means of gauging the cultural and aesthetic values of a people, hymnody measures how an individual and/or society publically relate to the divine, a uniquely insightful attribute. The hymnody of Frederick William Faber (1814-1863), a disciple of John Henry Cardinal Newman who similarly left the Church of England for Roman Catholicism, speaks to the convert-priest’s enchantment with the Catholic faith, while also shedding light on some of the theological tensions ever-present in a religiously tumultuous Victorian England. Faber wrote over 150 hymns in his short life, a canon spanning the time between his conversion and his death at the age of 49. Though his hymnody covers many subjects, Faber addressed a significant amount of his hymns to St. Philip Neri, the Counter-Reformation Italian priest who founded the Oratorians, the order to which both Fr. Faber and Cardinal Newman ascribed. Faber centers his 1852 collection, Jesus and Mary, around eight St. Philip hymns, particularly focusing on St. Philip and his role in English Catholicism. After analyzing selections from these eight hymns and researching both the lives of Faber, Newman, and St. Philip, I discovered that these men shared a common vision for the Catholic Church’s aesthetic role in a Protestant context; these three men proclaimed beauty as the greatest witness to the truth of the ancient faith. This type of research blurs the lines between both religious and music history as well as anthropology.
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