05 January 2015

Carols and Hymns for Christmas (12):
‘O come, all ye faithful’ (No 172)

Lichfield Cathedral in the snow … Frederick Oakeley wrote ‘O come, all ye faithful’ while he was a canon of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph © Lichfield Cathedral Photographers)

Patrick Comerford

The past week seems to have been an extended bank holiday for many people in Ireland. But most people are back to work today, and schools and colleges are reopening after the Christmas holiday.

However, the Christmas season continues through Advent until Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation [2 February], and although the 12 Days of Christmas are drawing to close, there is still an opportunity to sing Christmas carols and hymns both today and tomorrow.

During the 12 Days of Christmas, as part of my own prayers and spiritual devotions, I have been reflecting each morning on an appropriate Christmas hymn or carol. This morning, I am thinking about one of the most traditional of all carols, ‘O come, all ye faithful’ (Adeste Fideles), which is No 172 in the Irish Church Hymnal and No 30 in the New English Hymnal.

It was difficult not to select this hymn, not only because of its lasting popularity, but because of its Irish connections and its connections with Lichfield.

Because this hymn first became known in Latin (Adeste Fideles), it was often presumed that its origins lay in a mediaeval Latin hymn. But the author of the original hymn or the date it was written remain unknown. It probably dates from the 18th century, and may be French or German in origin, dating only from around 1743.

Bishop Edward Darling and Donald Davison suggest the hymn – or at least the first four stanzas – and the tune may have been written by John Francis Wade (1711-1786), an English Roman Catholic exile living in Douay. Six manuscript copies of this version of the hymn survive – a seventh was stolen from Clongowes Wood College, Co Kildare, in the last century.

As early as 1797, the hymn was sung at the Chapel of the Portuguese Embassy, of which Vincent Novello was the organist. The tune became popular at that time, and was ascribed by Novello to John Reading, the organist of Winchester Cathedral (1675-1681), and of the College to 1692.

It has been translated many times into English and many other languages, with at least 16 translations in common usage. The most popular of these arrangements begin with Frederick Oakeley’s opening words, “O come, all ye faithful, joyfully triumphant,” or, alternatively, “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.”

Canon Frederick Oakeley, author of ‘O come, all ye faithful’

Frederick Oakeley (1802-1880) was an English Roman Catholic priest who is mainly remembered for his translation of this hymn into English.

He was born at the Abbey House, Shrewsbury, on 5 September 1802, the sixth son of Sir Charles Oakeley (1751-1826), of Holy Cross, Shrewsbury. Sir Charles was born in Forton, Staffordshire, near Newport, Shropshire, the son of the Revd William Oakeley (1717-1803), who was the Rector Forton, Staffordshire, and from 1782 the Vicar of Holy Cross, the abbey church in Shrewsbury, both in the Diocese of Lichfield.

Charles Oakeley was a colonial administrator in India, and returned to England for family reasons in February 1789. He was made a baronet the following year, and some months later returned to India as the Governor of Madras (1790-1794). When he returned to England, he lived at the Abbey House, his father’s vicarage in Shrewsbury, and it was there the hymn-writer Frederick was born in 1802.

The Bishop’s Palace, Lichfield, ... now a school and once the childhood home of Frederick Oakeley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A childhood accident at the age of three in the Abbey House left Frederick disabled for many months, and for the rest of his life he was sickly and walked with a limp.

When Frederick was eight, his family moved to the Bishop’s Palace in the Cathedral Close, Lichfield, in 1810. Sir Charles was offered the Episcopal Palace at a nominal rent on condition that he would use his wealth to restore the building, which was then in a sorry state. At the time, the Bishop of Lichfield was living the life of a country squire at Eccleshall near Stafford.

The Oakeley family moved into the Palace following the death in 1809 of the Lichfield poet, Anna Seward, who had stayed on in the Palace after the death of her father, Canon Thomas Seward, in 1790.

Sir Charles attended Morning Prayer in the Cathedral each day. His son would remember him as pious, devout and humble, and the standard of music in the cathedral added to his pleasure in attending daily services there. Frederick also recalled how as boy of eight the cathedral organist had allowed him play the organ to accompany the psalms during the daily services.

Lichfield Grammar School … now the offices of Lichfield District Council (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Poor health often prevented Frederick from leaving home for school until the age of 14, when he had a late start at Lichfield Grammar School as a day scholar. This had been the school of Elias Ashmole (1617-1692), Joseph Addison (1672–1719), Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) and David Garrick (1717-1779). Addison was the son of the Very Revd Lancelot Addison, Dean of Lichfield Cathedral, and he grew up in the Cathedral Close, where his father lived in the Deanery. Two of Addison’s hymns are included in the Irish Church Hymnal and the New English Hymnal: ‘The Spacious firmament on high’ (ICH 35; NEH 267), and ‘When all thy mercies, O my God’ (ICH 374, NEH 472), which we sang as the Post-Communion Hymn in Zion Parish Church, Rathgar, last Sunday [4 January 2015].

A year after entering Lichfield Grammar School, Oakeley was sent from Lichfield on 19 September 1817 to Canon Charles Sumner for private tuition. Sumner was then the curate of the Parish of Highclere, near Newbury, Hampshire. Highclere Castle was the home of the Earl of Carnarvon, and has become known popularly in recent years as the location for Downton Abbey. Later, Sumner became Bishop of Llandaff (1826-1827) and Bishop of Winchester (1827-1873).

Frederick spent three years at Highclere, spent the holidays at home with his parents in Lichfield, and often felt homesick when he returned to the Sumner household in Highclere.

Frederick Oakeley (1801–1880) by an unknown artist, ca 1817 (Collection of Balliol College, Oxford)

He entered Christ Church, Oxford, in 1820 before reaching the age of 18. He gained a second class in literæ humaniores in 1824. After graduating BA he won the chancellor’s Latin and English prize essays in 1825 and 1827 respectively, and the Ellerton theological prize, also in 1827.

The monument to Sir Charles Oakeley in the North Transept of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

While Frederick was completing his studies in Oxford, his father, Sir Charles Oakeley, died at the Palace in Lichfield on 7 September 1826. He was buried in Forton, and a monument by Sir Francis Chantry was erected to his memory in the North Transept of Lichfield Cathedral.

Frederick proceeded MA in 1827, and was elected to a chaplain fellowship at Balliol College. With little fuss or formality he was ordained deacon by the Bishop of London in the Chapel Royal in Whitehall in 1828 and was ordained priest a week later in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, by Charles Sumner, then Bishop of Llandaff and Dean of Saint Paul’s.

He remained a fellow of Balliol College until 1845, and was also tutor (1831-1837), Senior Dean (1834), catechetical and logic lecturer, and bursar (1837). In 1831, he was the select preacher, and in 1835 he was one of the public examiners to the university.

On 11 February 1832, he was installed as the Prebendary of Dasset Parva in Lichfield Cathedral on the nomination of Bishop Henry Ryder. He diligently returned to Lichfield Cathedral each year to preach on the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany to fulfil his duties as a canon in residence.

Henry Dudley Ryder (1777-1836) was the first Evangelical to become an Anglican bishop. He was successively Bishop of Gloucester (1815-1824) and Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry (1824-1836). His kneeling statue by Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey is in Lichfield Cathedral. John Henry Newman, in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, speaks of the veneration in which he held Bishop Ryder.

Oakeley would remain a canon of Lichfield Cathedral until 1845. His brother, Sir Herbert Oakeley (1791-1845), who succeeded to the family title, was Archdeacon of Colchester from 1841. When the Bishopric of Gibraltar was founded in 1842, it was offered to Archdeacon Oakeley, who declined it. Their widowed mother, Helena, continued living in the Bishop’s Palace in Lichfield until her death in 1838.

While Frederick Oakeley was a fellow of Balliol College, he helped secure the election to a fellowship of his lifelong friend and former pupil Archibald Campbell Tait, later Archbishop of Canterbury. At Balliol, he also became a close friend of William George Ward, and they both joined the Tractarian party. Oakeley traced his dissatisfaction with the evangelicalism of his earlier years to the autumn of 1827 and a series of lectures on the ‘History and Structure of the Anglican Prayer Book’ by Charles Lloyd, Regius Professor of Divinity and newly-appointed Bishop of Oxford.

When Oakeley resigned his tutorship at Balliol, the Bishop of London, Charles Blomfield, appointed him Whitehall Preacher in 1837, but he retained his fellowship at Balliol. In the preface to his first volume of Whitehall Sermons (1837) he declared himself a member of the Oxford Movement.

In 1839, he became the incumbent of Margaret Chapel, the predecessor of All Saints’ Church, Margaret Street, London. In his six years at the Margaret Chapel, Oakeley introduced High Church liturgical practices and his friends there included Sir Alexander Beresford-Hope, who between 1850 and 1859 supervised the commissioning and building of All Saints’ Church to the designs of William Butterfield on behalf of the Ecclesiological Society (the Cambridge Camden Society); John Ponsonby MP, later 5th Earl of Bessborough and Lord-Lieutenant of Carlow (1838-1880); and the future Prime Minister William Gladstone.

Oakeley wrote his translation of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ for his congregation in the Margaret Chapel in 1840, while he was still a canon of Lichfield Cathedral. Its inclusion in Francis H Murray’s Hymnal in 1852 would ensure Oakley a permanent place in the history of hymnology.

He stood by Ward at the time of his condemnation in 1845. In two pamphlets published separately at the time in London and Oxford, he defended Tract XC and asserted that he held, “as distinct from teaching, all Roman doctrine.”

For this behaviour he was cited before the Court of Arches by Bishop Blomfield. His license was withdrawn, and in July 1845 he was suspended from all clerical duty in the Province of Canterbury until he “retracted his errors.”

He moved to Newman’s community at Littlemore in Oxford, and resigned as a Prebendary of Lichfield Cathedral and from all his other appointments in the Church of England on 28 October 1845. The following day [29 October], he was received into the Roman Catholic Church in Saint Ignatius Chapel on the south side of Saint Clement’s, near Magdalen Bridge, then only Roman Catholic church in Oxford. On 31 October, he was confirmed at Birmingham by Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman.

The interior of Holy Cross Church, Lichfield … Frederick Oakeley celebrated his first Roman Catholic Mass here (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

From January 1846 to August 1848 he was a theological student in the seminary of the London district, Saint Edmund’s College, Ware. He was ordained by Cardinal Wiseman in 1847 and returned to Lichfield to celebrate his first Mass in Holy Cross Church, Upper John Street, with the 86-year-old scholarly Dr John Kirk, who had been Parish Priest of Lichfield when Oakeley was still a child in the Cathedral Close.

In the summer of 1848 he joined the staff of Saint George’s, Southwark. On 22 January 1850, he took charge of Saint John’s, Islington. In 1852, when the new Roman Catholic hierarchy was formed in England and Wales with Wiseman as cardinal-archbishop, Oakeley was appointed a canon of Westminster Cathedral.

For many years, he worked among the poor in his diocese. But he maintained contact with Bishop Sumner, and when Jennie Sumner died in 1849 Frederick sent his sympathies to the bishop.

In the last few years of his life, he remembered with fondness his childhood days in Lichfield. In a letter to George Henry Sumner, then Archdeacon of Winchester, he wrote on 5 May 1875: “It is very pleasant to recall a period which I have always regarded as one of the happiest in my early life.”

He died in Islington on 29 January 1880, and was buried in Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green.

Memories and legacies

Henrietta Mott, wife of John Mott (1787–1869), Mayor of Lichfield in 1850, and sister of Frederick Oakeley

One sister, Henrietta, married John Mott (1787–1869) of No 20, The Close, Lichfield, who was Deputy Diocesan Registrar of Lichfield and the Mayor of Lichfield in 1850. His youngest sister, Amelia, married Chappel Wodehouse, only son of the Very Revd Chappel Wodehouse (1749-1833), who was Dean of Lichfield Cathedral when Frederick was installed a canon. His nephew, Sir Herbert Stanley Oakeley (1830-1903), was Music Critic of the Manchester Guardian (1858-1868), Reid Professor of Music at Edinburgh University (1865-1891), Organist at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, Edinburgh, and Composer of Music to Queen Victoria in Scotland. He is included among the top 15 Victorian composers of hymn tunes by Ian Bradley (Abide with Me, London: SCM Press, 1997). Two of his settings for hymns are included in the Irish Church Hymnal: Abends for John Keble’s ‘Sun of my soul, thou Saviour dear’ (No 72) and Dominica for William Watkins Reid’s ‘Help us, O Lord, to learn’ (No 382).

John Mott (1787–1869) ... Mayor of Lichfield in 1850 and brother-in-law of Frederick Oakeley

Frederick Oakeley was short-sighted, small of stature and lame, and it is said he exercised a wide influence through his personality, his writings, and the charm of his conversation.

He published many hymns and poems. His poetry collections include Lyra Liturgica: Reflections in Verse for Holy Days and Seasons (London, 1865). His other works include: Aristotelian and Platonic Ethics (Oxford, 1837); Whitehall Sermons (Oxford, 1837-1839); The Subject of Tract XC examined (London, 1841); Homilies (London, 1842); Life of St Augustine (Toovey, 1844); Practical Sermons (London, 1848); The Catholic Florist (London, 1851); The Church of the Bible (London, 1857); Historical Notes on the Tractarian Movement (London, 1865); and The Priest on the Mission (London, 1871).

He also translated JM Horst’s Paradise of the Christian Soul (London, 1850). He was a constant contributor to the Dublin Review and The Month.

Richard Church, Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London (1870-1891) and an early historian of the Oxford Movement, said Oakeley “was, perhaps, the first to realise the capacities of the Anglican ritual for impressive devotional use, and his services, is spite of the disadvantages of the time, and also of his chapel, are still remembered by some as having realised for them in a way never since surpassed, the secrets and consolations of the worship of the Church.”

A sign on Elgar Close, leading to Oakley Close (Photograph: Mary Brookes, Lichfield, 2014)

Sadly, Frederick Oakeley has no monument in Lichfield apart from a misspelled street name at Oakley Close.

Anthony Poulton-Smith in his South Staffordshire Street Names (Amberley, 2009), suggests Oakley Close in Lichfield is named after Sir Charles Oakley (sic). But he gets a number of Lichfield names quite wrong: for example he suggests Reeve Lane near the cathedral is called after a Saxon reeve who ran an estate for a lord of a manor, when it is named after the late Stretton Reeve, who was Bishop of Lichfield (1953-1974).

Oakley Close was named after Frederick Oakeley but was misspelled in the original order by Lichfield District Council in 1977. Other street names in the area commemorate celebrated composers and musicians, including Purcell, Elgar, Handel, Verdi, Gilbert and Sullivan. Elias Ashmole, Samuel Johnson and David Garrick are also remembered in street named and placenames in Lichfield, though not Joseph Addison, .

It is regrettable that in the cathedral city Oakeley knew as home, there is no public monument to one of the great and most popular English hymn-writers. Perhaps correcting the spelling of Oakley Close might begin to rectify this.

Translating the hymn:

Oakeley’s original translation of the hymn in 1841, began: “Ye faithful, approach ye.” But in 1845 he rewrote the beginning of the hymn: “O come, all ye faithful, Joyfully triumphant.”

The first stanza invites us to Bethlehem to worship the Christ Child; Stanza 2 is an affirmation of faith in the Incarnation as expressed in the Nicene Creed; Stanza 3 calls on the angels to sing their praises of Glory; and Stanza 4 is a response of greeting to the new-born Redeemer.

Three further stanzas were added to the Latin original while he was in exile in England in 1793 by the Abbé Étienne Jean François de Borderies (1764-1832), later Bishop of Versailles, and an eighth stanza, to include the Visit of the Magi at Epiphany, was added anonymously around 1850.

Oakeley’s translation of the first four stanzas reads:

Adeste fideles.

Oh Come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
Oh come ye, oh come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him
Born the King of angels;
Oh come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

God of God,
Light of Light,
Lo! he abhors not the Virgin’s womb;
Very God,
Begotten, not created;
Oh come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels.
Sing in exultation.
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above:
‘Glory to God
In the highest’;
Oh come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
Born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given,
Word of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing:
Oh come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

The later stanzas were translated into English by William Thomas Brooke (1848-1917), a former Baptist who joined the Church of England in 1867.

The version in the Irish Church Hymnal includes parallel texts of the original Latin version of the first two stanzas to facilitate its use in ecumenical contexts.

The tune Adeste Fideles was originally thought to be a composition by Wade, but early arrangements were provided by Thomas Greatorex and Samuel Webbe, and because of Webbe’s use of the tune in the Chapel of the Portuguese Embassy in London it was often known as the ‘Portuguese Hymn.’

O come, all ye faithful, translated by Frederick Oakeley (ICH, 172)

1, O come, all ye faithful,
joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
come, and behold him,
born the King of angels:

O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

2, God of God,
Light of Light,
Lo! he abhors not the Virgin’s womb;
very God,
begotten, not created:

*3, See how the shepherds,
summoned to his cradle,
leaving their flocks, draw nigh with lowly fear;
we too will thither
bend our joyful footsteps:

*4, Lo! star-led chieftains,
Magi, Christ adoring,
offer him incense gold and myrrh;
we to the Christ-child
bring our hearts oblations:

*5, Child, for us sinners
poor and in the manger,
fain we embrace thee, with awe and love;
who would not love thee,
loving us so dearly?

6, Sing, choirs of angels,
sing in exultation,
sing, all ye citizens of heaven above;
glory to God
in the highest;

(On Christmas Day only)

7a, Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given;
Word of the Father,
now in flesh appearing:

(From Christmas to Epiphany)

7b, Yea, Lord, we bless thee,
born for our salvation,
Jesu, to thee be glory given;
Word of the Father,
now in flesh appearing:

Additional reading:

Edward Darling and Donald Davison, Companion to Church Hymnal (Dublin: Columba Press, 2005).
Peter Galloway, A Passionate Humility: Frederick Oakeley and the Oxford Movement (Leominster: Gracewing, 1999).
Roger Mott, The Motts of Lichfield: 1756-1869 (Penn Press, 2011).

Additional acknowledgements:

Gareth Thomas, Geographic Information Manager, Lichfield District Council; Mary Brookes, Lichfield; the Revd Canon Professor John Bartlett.

Tomorrow: ‘We three kings of Orient are.’

‘O come, all ye faithful’ … Christmas in Lichfield Cathedral (Images © Lichfield Cathedral Photographers)

Updated: 1 July 2015 (Photograph of Oakeley monument in Lichfield Cathedral)

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