Feast of Richard Frederick Littledale (January 28)   Leave a comment

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Above:  Logo of The Church of England

Image in the Public Domain

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RICHARD FREDERICK LITTLEDALE (SEPTEMBER 14, 1833-JANUARY 11, 1890)

Anglican Priest and Translator of Hymns

The Irish-born Richard Frederick Littledale graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, with a Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) degree in 1862, the same year he collected a Doctor of Civil Law (D.C.L.) comitatus causa degree from Oxford.  The priest served St. Matthew’s, Thorpe Hamlet, Norfolk, and St. Mary the Virgin, Crown Street, Soho, London, but spent most of his career on literary pursuits due to persistent ill health.  Littledale, an Anglo-Catholic, heard more confessions than most Anglican priests; only Edward Bouverie Pusey heard more than he did.

Littledale was a very intelligent man.  He, blessed with a nearly photographic memory, proved to be a formidable debater.  He put those skills to use in his Plain Reasons for Not Joining the Church of Rome, a defense of The Church of England.  And he was a skilled liturgist; he co-edited The Priest’s Prayer-Book (1864) and The People’s Hymnal (1867).  Littledale, a good friend of John Mason Neale,  collaborated with him on Biblical commentaries, including four volumes on the Book of Psalms.

Littledale, a trained linguist, translated hymns from six languages into English.  One of those works was “Come Down, O Love Divine,” which he incorporated into The People’s Hymnal.

Come down, O love divine;

Seek thou this soul of mine

and visit it with thine own ardor glowing;

O Comforter, draw near;

within my heart appear

and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

Oh, let it freely burn,

till worldly passions turn

to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;

and let thy glorious light

shine ever on my sight,

and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

Let holy charity

mine outward vesture be,

and lowliness become mine inner clothing–

true lowliness of heart,

which takes the humbler part,

and o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong,

with which the soul will long,

shall far outpass the pow’r of human telling;

no soul can guess Love’s grace

till it becomes the place

wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.

Project Canterbury has a useful page of Littledale’s writings here.

I have sung this hymn and many others for years without knowing much or anything about those who made the hymn possible.  One of the joys of this new phase of my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days is learning some of those stories.  The saints cover a great deal of theological ground.  For example, Littledale argued against converting to Roman Catholicism but Frederick Oakeley, the  next addition, did convert to it.  We Christians need not agree all or most of the time.  And, after a while, certain disagreements become minor or irrelevant points.  We humans fall into camps, cliques, and tribes naturally; I notice that tendency in myself.  And I defend my tribe (The Episcopal Church, mainly its left-of-center wing) vigorously.  But I do so as I recognize  that Christ has sheep in many folds, not just the one to which I have converted.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 30, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANDREW THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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O God, by your Holy Spirit you give to some the word of wisdom,

to others the word of knowledge,

and to others the word of faith:

We praise your Name for the gifts of grace manifested in your servant Richard Frederick Littledale,

and we pray that your Church may never be destitute of such gifts;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit

lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Wisdom 7:7-14

Psalm 119:97-104

1 Corinthians 2:6-10, 13-16

John 17:18-23

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 720

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Revised on November 21, 2016

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