"There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy" is one of the hymns chosen for our celebration of Mass on the first Sunday in Lent. Its lyrics were written by a 19th century English clergyman.
Frederick Faber (1814-1863), born in Yorkshire, England, was one of a number of English clergy who converted from the Anglican Church to Roman Catholicism in the Romantic era of hymnody in the 19th century.
Faber was born an Anglican and was raised in a Calvinist home. He became an Anglican priest after graduating Oxford. Influenced by his friend John Henry Newman (1801-1890) who converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism in 1845, Faber also converted to Catholicism that same year.
Both Newman and Faber were influenced by the rituals and tradition of Rome. Faber formed a community in Birmingham called “Brothers of the Will of God.” Newman joined the Oratory, an order of secular priests established in 1564 by St. Philip Neri in Rome, and Faber eventually followed him there. Hymnologist Albert Bailey noted, “Father Faber was the moving and guiding spirit [of the Oratory] as long as he lived, a great preacher and a man of charming personality.”
Drawing inspiration from the hymns of John Newton, William Cowper and the Wesleys during his Anglican youth, he recognized that Roman Catholics lacked a tradition of more recent metrical hymnody in English. He took it upon himself to remedy this. By the time he died, he had contributed 150 hymns, all composed after his conversion to Roman Catholicism.