Faith of our Fathers: Church Militant
Frederick William Faber was a theologian, poet, writer, and priest who lived in Victorian England. The son of a Calvinist minister, he was born in Yorkshire, England on 28 June 1814. After serving two years as an ordained minister in the Church of England, he converted to the Roman Catholic Church. With Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman, he founded the Oratory in London. While Newman went on to establish the Birmingham Oratory, Fr. Faber remained in London. For his prodigious work, he was granted a Doctor of Divinity degree by Pope Pius IX.
He wrote about anti-Catholic sentiment and increasing secularism even among Catholics of his time. Of Christians abandoning their beliefs in favour of the secular attitude of the day, he wrote that God was “an inconvenience in His own world, an impertinence in His own creation. So He has been quietly set on the side as if He were an idol out of fashion, and in the way. Men of science and politicians have agreed on this and men of business and wealth think it altogether the most decent thing to be silent about God; for it is difficult to speak of Him or have a view of Him without allowing too much of Him.”
In his book The Creator and the Creature: The Wonders of Divine Love, Fr. Faber explained that the degeneration of morals and the spread of modern apostasy was “because mankind has forgotten that we are creatures in need of a Creator.” Mankind, he observed, had embraced the spirit of worldliness: “It is a false faith, a false religion. It does not recognize the right of the Creator, nor occupy itself with the duties of the creature. It begins with self and ends with self, and if compelled to lodge an appeal outside itself, it appeals to the judgments of human respect. … The creature forgets himself and makes himself the standard of truth.”
Fr. Faber wrote 150 hymns that expressed Catholic beliefs, practices, and history. His most famous hymn, Faith of Our Fathers, was written in remembrance of the suffering and martyrdom that Britain’s Catholics endured under King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I.
Fr. Faber could just as well have written about the state of the world today. It is easy for many to embrace the spirit of worldliness; but as Catholics striving to live a life of faith and true discipleship, we know that only in Christ will we find Truth. So we carry on: the Church militant, humbly and charitably turning back the darkness that threatens the world.
We must have the kind of faith immortalized in Fr. Faber’s famous hymn. We must pray for faith that is uncompromising, honours the blood of the martyrs who have gone before us, and is willing to say, in utmost charity: No. We will not comply. We will not deny Truth. We will lay down our lives for God and Holy Mother Church.
Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword;
O how our hearts beat high with joy
Whenever we hear that glorious Word!
Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.
Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free:
How sweet would be their children’s fate,
If they, like them, could die for Thee!
Faith of our fathers, we will strive
To win all nations unto Thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
We all shall then be truly free.
Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife;
And preach Thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.
The original third stanza reflected Fr. Faber’s hope that England would once again be a Catholic country. It was omitted by his publisher so that the hymn would be acceptable to Protestant denominations.
Faith of our fathers! Mary’s prayers
Shall win our country back to thee;
And from the truth that comes from God,
England shall then indeed be free.
Source: The Latin Mass Magazine.
Illustration: Detail of Blessed is the Host of the King of Heaven (alternatively known as Church Militant). Russian icon, ca. 1550-1560. Tretyakov Gallery. This icon is traditionally perceived as an allegorical representation of the conquest of the Kazan khanate. In the public domain. Wikimedia.org.