Tuesday, August 6, 2013

John Mason Neale, RIP

John Mason Neale died on August 6, 1866. If The Portal, the monthly magazine of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham has not included him among their "Anglican Luminaries" thus far, I'm sure they will (there is no searchable index, and I don't have time to search each issue in the archive!). According to this biography (a few excerpts):

Re: His birth and early life:
JOHN MASON NEALE was born on January 24, 1818, in London. His father, Cornelius Neale, Senior Wrangler in 1812, a strong Evangelical, was ordained priest in 1822, but died in the next year at Chiswick. His widow moved to the village of Shepperton. When he was eleven, John Mason was sent to a school at Blackheath, and writes to his former tutor at Shepperton to thank him 'for the very pretty Greek Testament,' out of which, he informs him, 'we have learnt a verse every day,' an early beginning indeed! At fifteen he went to Sherborne. There ' a tall, shy, sallow-faced boy, with thick, dusky hair tumbled above a broad forehead, and dark blue, short-sighted eyes, he moved a solitary figure among the young, happy herd.' He was no athlete, and had no qualifications for schoolboy popularity. But all his life he was an indefatigable walker, and acquired later a great love for mountains; he was also a fearless horseman. Sherborne introduced him to the real country, which, Cockney-born, he was to inhabit for the greater part of his life.

From Sherborne Neale went to Trinity College, Cambridge. Here, again, he remained largely a solitary, though recognized as the most gifted undergraduate of his time, as Keble was at Oxford. A friend and contemporary says of him: 'He was soon marked out as the cleverest man of his year, but neither his father's powers nor his teachers' instructions ever influenced him so as to give him the slightest taste for mathematics. He had through life a rooted dislike to that study. This dislike proved disastrous to his hope of graduating with distinction, for the iron rule (since obsolete), which compelled all candidates for the Classical Tripos to take mathematical honours first, resulted in his being unable to secure the prize which was universally adjudged to him by those who knew his powers.' Yet he won the Members' Prize in 1838, and soon after taking his degree was appointed assistant tutor at Downing College. Always gifted with a talent for poetry, he won the Seatonian Prize for a sacred poem no less than eleven times. He read very widely, and steeped himself in the classics and in mediaeval Latin, which laid the sure foundation for his subsequent fame as a hymnologist. Dr. Overton, in the Dictionary of Hymnology, says of him: 'It is in this species of composition that Dr. Neale's success was pre-eminent, one might almost say unique. He had all the qualifications of a good translator. He was not only an excellent classical scholar in the ordinary sense of the term, but he was positively steeped in mediaeval Latin.' Again, 'Dr. Neale's exquisite ear for melody prevented him from spoiling the rhythm by a too servile imitation of the original; while the spiritedness, which is a marked feature of all his poetry, preserved that spring and dash which is so often wanting in a translation. Unfortunately, his translations have suffered from frequent 'improvements.' But the English Hymnal, which contains a large number of them, preserves them intact.

Re: his interest in ecumenism, or more properly, reunion of Christianity:
It is as a hymnologist and controversialist that Neale has mostly been remembered. But his work for reunion was of the first importance. The word 'Catholic' was one he treasured deeply, and he would even apply it as a term of approbation to such things as woods and fields which struck him as being perfect.

Neale's three years in Madeira gave him the opportunity to start his great History of the Holy Eastern Church. To equip himself for this, he added Russian to his already profound knowledge of Greek. He also added Syriac and Georgian. While in Madeira he acquired a fluent proficiency in Portuguese. By the end of his life he had gained a knowledge of no less than twenty languages. A distinguished contemporary scholar once startled an audience with the remark: 'I'm afraid my Armenian is rather rusty!' It is just the sort of remark Neale might have made. In Madeira he became closely acquainted with Montalembert, the great Catholic writer. Besides his History Neale introduced us to the magnificent hymns of the Eastern Church by his unique translations, as also to its liturgies. His work brought him an appreciative message from the then Tsar, together with a present of £100. It also brought him into touch with Philaret, the famous Metropolitan of Moscow, as also with several Oriental scholars. In his correspondence were discovered letters from France, Russia, Holland, and Spain. In 1860, on receipt of a magnificent present of Icons, he writes: ' I had no idea until now how big a man I was in Russia.' Philaret sent him a rare book, and wrote in it: ' God's blessing and help to those who investigate the truth in the ancient books and traditions of the Church, for the peace and ultimate union of the Churches of God.' This work, so ably helped on by Neale, has indeed made great strides, and we shall not easily forget the man who so early aided them to realization.

Neale was so strongly convinced of the Catholicity of the English Church that he was inclined to be anti-Roman. His experience of the Church in Madeira did not tend to impress him, and he writes in a letter from there in 1844: 'I cannot make, as Montalembert does, visible union, or as the British Critic sometimes seems to wish to do, the desire for visible union with the Chair of St. Peter the keystone, as it were, of the Church, at least not in the sense in which the Western Church has sometimes done. We Orientals take a more general view. The Rock on which the Church is built is St. Peter, but it is a Triple Rock: Antioch where he sat, Alexandria which he superintended, Rome where he suffered. You would be astounded at the weight of evidence in the Doctors of the Western Church.' When Newman left the English Church, Neale regarded it as a reaction from his former strong bias against Rome. He writes on the eve of this departure: 'I hope and believe that Newman will not leave us, but I should not despair if he did. My sheet anchor of hope for the English Church is that you cannot point out a single instance of an heretical or schismatical body which after apparent death awoke to life. The Donatists might have done it, the Copts might have done it, the Nestorians might have done it, but they have not. Why should there be such a startling anomaly to all past experience first of all exhibited in the nineteenth century?' Let us remember that the Donatists were Newman's undoing. In a letter in which Neale speaks of meeting Pusey he remarks: 'He is just the man I fancied. ... I could not wish a man to be more aesthetic than he is. How different from Newman!' Neale believed profoundly in the words of one of his poems that 'England's Church is Catholic, though England's self is not,' and he shows the bright hope of the Catholic Movement in the words: 'I am sure that, in spite of three hundred years' be-calvinization of England, there is yet a chord in most people's hearts that vibrates to Catholic truth.'

Summing up:
Neale was so many-sided that it is difficult to cram him into a pint pot. He lived in the stirring times of the Gorham Judgment and the Jerusalem bishopric question, the question that settled Manning. He wrote vigorous and telling pamphlets, but he made it a rule never to let them be sullied by lack of Christian charity. The occasions were ephemeral, but the pamphlets contain, of course, really solid and permanent matter. We have not the space to deal with them in detail. One saying of his on an important question still current may be quoted: 'Depend upon it, you are not wrong in resisting laydom. I believe with you that it will come in; but the more we resist, the less obnoxiously shall we be infested with it. ... I doubt if it is not a greater departure from discipline than the denial of the Chalice. If we are to give up everything in which we seem likely to be beaten, where shall we stop?'

There now remains all too short a space in which to deal with one of the lasting gifts Neale left to the Church, the Community of St. Margaret, East Grinstead. Like the Sisterhood at Plymouth, it arose out of the necessities of the sick. The rule was founded on the original rule of the Visitation of St. Francis de Sales, before that order became enclosed. Neale deliberately chose a grey rather than a black habit, as being more cheerful for sick people. St. Vincent de Paul provided much inspiration. Carter of Clewer and his famous Sisterhood, together with Butler of Wantage and his, supplied encouragement and example, as also did Father Benson of Cowley. Butler writes with regard to rules: 'My impression is that you have too many, especially for a beginning. Rules should shape themselves as the work grows and need occurs. With good people, such as Sisters of Mercy are likely to be, one can risk a little, and wait to buy experience.' The community started with two Sisters in 1854. They did not live in community till the next year. In June, 1856, a house close to Sackville College was taken, and the Sisters moved into it. Dr. Neale's daughter is still the Rev. Mother of the community, which now has three daughter houses (one of which is St. Saviour's Priory, Haggerston) and sixteen dependencies, including the Free Home for the Dying at Clapham, a college, school, and orphanage in Ceylon, and a house at Johannesburg. Naturally, this venture of faith added greatly to Neale's work. He writes to a Sister saying that he now gets up at five, and hopes to manage four!

Excessive work killed this remarkably gifted son of the Church at the early age of forty-eight, in 1866, very shortly after the death of Keble.

Read more here. I've often featured his hymns and translations on this blog. In this biography, it's clear to me that Neale was one of those who hoped for, as Aidan Nichols commented in his book on the Anglican Ordinariate, the conversion of the Church of England to "Catholicism". Neale didn't yet have to face the choice Nichols cites after the "rupturing of the apostolic succession by the ordination of women rendered that outcome impossible": "Would they [Anglo-Catholics] be an ecclesiola, a 'little church', within a body now theologically alien to them though culturally familiar, or would they become an ecclesiola within a body that was culturally unfamiliar to them but theologically congruent?" (pp. 18-19)

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