Saturday, December 17, 2016
Faith of Our Fathers -- Frederick W. Faber
He was a fence-rider, in a sense. Perhaps someone might have said this about Frederick W. Faber, even after he left the Anglican Church, England’s state church, for Roman Catholicism in the 1840s. Not only his remembrance of church history, but an active effort to remind other believers of our predecessors, as in “Faith of Our Fathers”, reflected Faber’s endeavor to reach back to his Calvinist roots and simultaneously serve his new Catholic brethren. Where would Christendom be without the sacrifices of people from centuries long ago? (Especially, Faber was thinking of those who’d been punished under Henry VIII, shown here.) Even in what historians now characterize as ‘the dark ages’, somehow faith survived. Deep in his inner being, Faber wanted to honor that past through ‘high’ worship, to evoke a congregational spirit he must have felt was missing in his newly adopted church. He didn’t wallow in frustration, but took action, perhaps with the same courage he thought his ancestors had possessed.
Frederick Faber looked backward as a 35-year old to grasp some things from not only his own past, but from hundreds of years before. At first he was an Anglican minister, like his father before him, following his graduation from Oxford University as a 29-year old. But, he’d become acquainted with a movement, probably while at Oxford among his brethren, that emphasized the practices and their meaning in congregational worship. These spoke to his heart with such force that he drew closer to a body of believers whose worship underscored this approach. Catholic history, particularly in1500s England, reminded Faber of how much he owed much to God and these forefathers. But, while Catholic worship appealed to his sense of awe in a liturgical way, he missed the singing and the sense of fellowship this engendered in his Anglican roots. So, why not return to the Anglican Church? One can imagine there must have been some tension in his life, especially with his own father, after his open embrace of Catholicism, an organization he himself had once criticized. Yet, he reasoned that devotion to his own upbringing was outweighed by what had happened many generations earlier. And, he yearned to fill the singing gap he observed with new songs, even if he felt inadequate to the task. He crafted some 150 new hymns by the time of his premature death at age 49, so one could say his will had conquered the insufficiency that competed with his insides. “Faith of Our Fathers” was among the first batch of hymns he produced, a reflection of his preoccupation with those who’d been executed under King Henry VIII’s reign. He called out to their and his God, thanking his ancestors for the ‘fires’, ‘swords’, ‘dungeons’, and ‘chains’ they had endured. One can imagine Faber saying to himself, ‘God must have meant so much to them!’
There’s a group today that Frederick would no doubt appreciate. The Voice of the Martyrs (https://vom.com.au/history/) reminds Christians today that there are still believers who are punished because they choose God, despite the consequences. We Christian believers can have honest disagreements with other folks, because of the way they express their beliefs, and even when they worship a God or gods we don’t recognize. But, we no longer accept that force is a method we use to convince belief in the Divine. And, we acknowledge that we may in fact suffer at the hands of others who use the methods we’ve discarded. Instead, we lift others of like faith to Him, and trust that the examples of faith survive and overcome, for eternity’s sake. Sounds like something that Frederick Faber might have said, doesn’t it?
See more information on the song story in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; and 101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985.
See also a brief biography of the author here: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/f/a/b/faber_fw.htm
Also see this link, showing all four original verses: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/f/a/i/faithoof.htm