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Faber, Frederick William


Oratorian and popular spiritual writer; b. Calverley, Yorkshire, England, June 28, 1814; d. London, Sept. 26,

1863. After Harrow, he matriculated at Balliol in 1832, and became a scholar at University College in 1834, and a fellow there in 1837. At his entrance into Oxford he was a Calvinist, but by the end of his 2d year there, he professed Evangelism. By 1837 he had become an Anglican full of hope in the oxford movement. In 1839 he assisted newman in translating seven books of St. Optatus for the Library of the Fathers, and on May 26 he received Anglican orders. As pastor of a parish in Elton, he formed the Society of St. Joseph and wrote that he seemed "to grow more Roman daily."

In the autumn of 1845, many of his friends, including Newman, were received into the Church, and in November, at Northampton, Bishop Wareing accepted Faber's abjuration of Anglicanism. He founded the Wilfridians in 1846, and was ordained in 1847. When Newman brought the Oratory of St. Philip Neri to Birmingham in 1848, Faber and many of the Wilfridians placed themselves under Newman as novices (see oratorian). In 1849 Faber was sent as founder to the oratory on King William Street, London. The two oratories then developed along divergent lines, and Newman and Faber quarreled over Oratorians' hearing nuns' confessions.

The Latin element in Faber's nature was especially revealed in his sermons, which most critics would place in the "Sweet Flowers of Devotion" school (the phrase is Cardinal Wiseman's). During a mission in a poor section of Dublin, Faber thus ended an impassioned sermon: "My dear Irish children, have mercy on your own souls!" He knelt, the congregation knelt, and a thousand people sobbed.

As a preacher Faber was highly appreciated; Manning compared him with St. Bernard and St. Bernardine of Siena. The skill he demonstrated in adapting spiritual principles to different types of listeners, he also utilized in spiritual direction. He displayed a delicate psychology in shining the light of truth into the darkest recesses of self-love, whether the directed was priest, religious, or lay. He wrote eight volumes in eight years, all composed rapidly with few corrections.

All for Jesus (1853) attained a phenomenal circulation and had "the goal of making piety bright and happy, especially to laymen." While this work gave preliminary techniques for initiating the spiritual life, Growth in Holiness (1854) described "the middle wilderness of long, patient perseverance." The third volume in the trilogy, which was to treat of souls within sight of the land of promise, was never written. The Blessed Sacrament (1855), The Creator and the Creature (1858), The Foot of the Cross (1858), Spiritual Conferences (1859), The Precious Blood (1860), and Bethlehem (1860) were all completed and translated rapidly into many European languages. The last book is exceptional in that Faber wrote it to please himself; a study of the Incarnation, it is the most Berullian of his books.

Faber's style is a mixture of erudition, devotional feeling, and poetic fancies. By modern standards, his paragraphs are long and his style florid. His penchant for poetic and archaic words results in a charge of occasional obscurity. The exclamation point is his standby in punctuation. He relies heavily on the emotive and the affective approach. Yet, when allowances are made for external differences, Faber's thought is seen to be relevant to today's spiritual problems, especially in his emphasis on the soul's individuality, man's psychosomatic nature, the indispensability of taking pains with purity of intention, the necessity of spiritual reading (it is a sign of predestination), frequent use of the Sacraments, and friendliness to all men, especially to those not of the faith.

In 1854 the Oratory moved to South Kensington, and there Faber spent the remaining nine years of his life. In July, 1860, the pope conferred on him the degree of doctor of divinity.

Bibliography: f. w. faber, A Father Faber Heritage, ed. m. mercedes (Westminister, Md. 1958). r. chapman, Father Faber (Westminster, Md. 1961). j. verbillion, "A New Look at Father Faber," Cross and Crown 12 (1960) 164187.

[j. verbillion]

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