09 September 2022

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Friday 9 September 2022

The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Oxford … in 1832, Isaac Williams became John Henry Newman’s curate here (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today remembers Charles Fuge Lowder, priest (1880), with a Commemoration.

Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season. In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

‘How can you say to your neighbour, “Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye”, when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye’ (Luke 6: 42) … logs by the River Ouse in Stony Stratford this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Charles Lowder was born in 1820 and came under the influence of the Oxford Movement during his studies at Exeter College in the early 1840s. After ordination, he became increasingly drawn to a Tractarian and ritualist expression of the faith, especially after his move to London in 1851, despite the fierce opposition such Catholic spirituality faced within the Church.

As a curate in Pimlico and Stepney, and then as the first Vicar of Saint Peter’s, London Docks, Lowder came to epitomise the 19th century Anglo-Catholic ‘slum priest.’ Dedicated to the poor and destitute, he was tireless in his parish work. His health gave way and he died at the age of 60 on this day in 1880.

The Gospel reading for today in the lectionary as adapted by the Church of Ireland is:

Luke 6: 39-42 (NRSVA):

39 He also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye”, when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.’

‘Disposer supreme – the Old 104th’ sung by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge

Today’s reflection: ‘Disposer Supreme’

For my reflections and devotions each day these few weeks, I am reflecting on and invite you to listen to a piece of music or a hymn set to a tune by the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

Earlier this week, I was listening to his arrangement of Psalm 100, ‘The Old Hundredth.’ This morning [9 September 2022], I invite you to join me in listening to Vaughan Williams’s arrangement for ‘Disposer Supreme’ or the ‘Old 104th’ and the hymn ‘Disposer Supreme’ (New English Hymnal, No 216).

The harmonisation for this hymn is Vaughan Williams’s adaptation of ‘Old 104th,’ originally composed for Psalm 104 by Thomas Ravenscroft (1592-1635). The words of the present hymn were written in 1686 by Jean-Baptiste de Santeüil (1630-1697) and were translated into English in 1836 by Isaac Williams (1802-1865).

Vaughan Williams probably came to know and love this because of the strong Goucestershire connections of Isaac Williams. Indeed, he was so fond of this tune that he wrote a remarkable Fantasia for piano solo, chorus and orchestra on it.

Jean-Baptiste de Santeüil was born in Paris on 12 May 1630. He was a member of the Canons Regular of St Victor in Paris. Under the name of Santolius Victorinus he was a distinguished writer of Latin poetry. Many of his hymns appeared in the Cluniac Breviary (1686) and the Paris Breviaries (1680 and 1736), and his Hymni Sacri et Novi were published in Paris in 1689, with a posthumous enlarged edition in 1698. This is one among several of his hymns that have been translated into English. He died in Dijon on 5 August 1697.

The Revd Isaac Williams, who translated this hymn, was born in Cwmcynfelin, Cardiganshire, on 12 December 1802, and was brought up in his parents’ house in Bloomsbury, London, where his father was a Chancery barrister at Lincoln’s Inn. He gained several school prizes at Harrow, and as a student at Trinity College Oxford, he gained the University Prize for Latin Verse. This prize brought him into close relationship with John Keble, who became his spiritual father, and with Hurrell Froude. In his second term he was elected a scholar of Trinity.

Williams graduated BA (1826), MA (1831), and BD (1839), and was ordained deacon in 1829 and priest in 1831. He was a curate in Windrush (1829), a Gloucestershire village about 12 miles from John Keble’s home at Fairford. But he returned to Oxford that year as a tutor at Trinity College.

In 1832, Williams became John Henry Newman’s curate at the University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Oxford. There in 1833 John Keble preached his Assize Sermon, which became the spark that ignited the Oxford Movement.

While he was Newman’s curate at Saint Mary’s from 1832 to 1842, Williams was also a Fellow of Trinity College Oxford at the same time. While there he published his first poetical collection in 1838, The Cathedral, or the Catholic and Apostolic Church in England. It was modelled on George Herbert’s The Temple (1633), but the idea was worked out in greater detail, connecting each part of the edifice with some portion of church doctrine or discipline.

Williams became the most prolific of the Tractarian poets, writing no less than 11 volumes of poetry for the movement. When Keble resigned as Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1841, his friend appeared to be the obvious choice to succeed him. But Williams was closely identified with the Tractarians. He was a close friend of Keble and Newman, and was in 1838 he was the author of Tract 80, on Reserve in the Communication of Religious Knowledge, which, next to Tract 90, had stirred the greatest controversy. The election became a referendum on Tractarianism and the beliefs and writings of the Oxford Movement, and instead the chair went to Edward Garbett of Brasenose, who was unknown as a poet.

Williams resigned his fellowship in 1842 when he married Caroline Champernown of Dartington Hall, Devon. He left Oxford, and went to Bisley as curate to John Keble’s younger brother, the Revd Thomas Keble (1793-1875), who was also a Tractarian. Keble was one of the first priests in the Church of England to revive the daily service in church, both morning and evening — a feature in his parish work that was the subject of a beautiful poem by Williams.

However, Williams suffered from bad health for the last 20 years of his life. He resigned as Keble’s curate in 1848 and moved to Stinchcombe, Gloucestershire, where his brother-in-law and fellow Tractarian, the Revd Sir George Prevost (1804-1893), was the vicar. He lived there until his death on SS. Philip and James Day, 1 May 1865. Prevost, who became Archdeacon of Gloucester (1865-1881), later edited the Autobiography of Isaac Williams (London, 1892).

Disposer supreme, and judge of the earth,
Who choosest for thine the weak and the poor,
To frail earthen vessels, and things of no worth,
Entrusting thy riches which ay shall endure;

Throughout the wide world their message is heard,
And swift as the wind it circles the earth;
It echoes the voice of the heavenly Word,
And brings unto mortals the hope of new birth.

Their cry thunders forth, ‘Christ Jesus is Lord’,
Then Satan doth fear, his citadels fall:
As when the shrill trumpets were raised at thy word,
And long blast shattered proud Jericho’s wall.

O loud be the call, and stirring their sound,
To rouse us, O Lord, from sin’s deadly sleep;
May lights which thou kindlest in darkness around,
The dull soul awaken, her vigils to keep.

All honour and praise, dominion and might,
To thee, Three in One, eternally be,
Who pouring around us thy glorious light,
Dost call us from darkness thy glory to see.

‘All honour and praise, dominion and might, / To thee, Three in One, eternally be’ … a Trinitarian symbol on the notice board at Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer, Friday 9 September 2022:

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘Season of Creation,’ was introduced on Sunday by the Season of Creation Advisory Committee.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

We give thanks for the service of ecumenical organisations like the Season of Creation network, which works with many different denominations to encourage prayer and action to protect our common home.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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