Anglican Notables – Edward Caswall (Musicians, Authors, & Poets) – 2 January

[This is a series of biographical sketches of Anglican men and women whose lives have been exemplary in virtue and/or have made significant contributions to Anglicanism’s expression of the Gospel.  Written from the perspective of full communion with the See of St. Peter, including such papal statements as St. John Paul II’s encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, this series will occasionally acknowledge differences between Anglicans and Catholics where they exist and will do so in a spirit of charity and respect.  However, the intent is to focus less on differences than on opportunities for mutual enrichment between the Anglican and Catholic traditions and on shared spiritual treasures that already unite us.]

Edward Caswall

Born 15 July 1814 (Yately, Hampshire, England) – Died 2 January 1878 (Birmingham Oratory, Edgbaston, England)

Hymn Translator, Poet, Anglican Priest, Catholic Priest and Religious (Oratorian).

[The image is of a photograph of Edward Caswall taken by R. W. Thrupp in the 1870s.]

Edward Caswall was a writer of original hymns texts and translations of hymn texts.  His texts still widely used include “See, Amid the Winter’s Snow,” “Alleluia! Alleluia! Let the Holy Anthem Rise,” “Come, Holy Ghost!,” “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee,” and “When Morning Gilds the Skies.”

Caswall is one of a number of individuals in this series of Anglican notables who accomplished some of his greatest work when he was no longer Anglican and had entered into full communion with Rome.  His Lyra Catholica: Containing All the Hymns of the Roman Breviary and Missal [1851], for example, was more likely to be a work of a Catholic than an Anglican at that time.  And it was all the more so in Caswall’s case since he had, by then, become an Oratorian (the Congregation of the Oratory of St Philip Neri) at the Birmingham Oratory.

But at least two facts from Caswall’s Anglican background are notable.  The first is that he seems to have been the model of an Anglican country priest during his years as the curate of St. Lawrence’s parish, Stratford-sub-Castle, near Salisbury (where his uncle was the bishop).  The outstanding accomplishments of the men and women highlighted in this series can obscure the fact that the greatest accomplishment of so many of them—and they would certainly have agreed on this point—was their quiet fidelity to living the Gospel in their respective states in life.  Who can say how many souls in the parish of St. Lawrence who might have known nothing of Caswall’s poems and translations were nonetheless inspired to live the Gospel with greater fidelity and resolve because of Caswall’s pastoral example?

The other noteworthy fact from Caswall’s Anglican background is that his upbringing and education made him an exemplar of that “literary, Oxford tone,” to use Cardinal Manning’s term as applied to St. John Henry Newman.  Caswall put that training to good use by contributing, along with such colleagues as John Mason Neale, to a new appreciation of hymnody, especially in the High Church/Anglo-Catholic wing.  (It is easy to forget that Anglicanism kept hymnody at arm’s length until the Wesleys, in the eighteenth century, changed the situation, primarily for Evangelicals.  Caswall, Neale, and others accomplished something similar for the High Church wing in the nineteenth century by revealing the riches of ancient hymn texts, many of which conveyed a less emotional and “personalist” ethos than tended to characterize Evangelical hymnody.)  One of Caswall’s gifts as a translator is said to be his sense of rhythm, which fostered setting the texts to music congregations could sing.[1]

Caswall died at the Birmingham Oratory in Edgbaston on 2 January 1878. 

Br. John-Bede Pauley O.S.B.


[1] John Julian, A Dictionary of Hymnology (London: John Murray, 1907), John (June 1907) 214–215.

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