Faith of our Fathers

This hymn commemorates the English martyrs of the 16-17th centuries and the perseverance of the Catholic faith through the continuing persecution during the 18th and early 19th centuries.

The words and structure have been altered to fit with the various national and denominational uses, and tunes:  Many Americans believe it was written about the founding fathers of their country, and the text certainly fits this interpretation, even though it was not the original author's intention.

The words were written by several people:
  • English hymn-writer, theologian, Roman Catholic convert and priest, Fr Frederick William Faber (1814-1863) - wrote the first verses, originally seven for use in Ireland and four for use in England, in 1849
  • James George Walton (1821-1905) wrote the chorus 
  • The author of the alternative 3rd and 4th verses is unknown.

With meter with refrain, tunes it has been set to include:
  • ST CATHERINE by H W Hemy - most-commonly used in the USA
  • SAWSTON, composer unknown but pre 1864, and named after Sawston Hall in Cambridgeshire - most commonly used in the UK and Ireland
  • An unnamed tune by A E Tozer in Praise Songs, a Collection of Hymns and Tunes‎ 1871
  • An unnamed tune by I MĂșller in the The Army and Navy Hymnal (1921)
  • An unnamed tune by Nicola Montani in The St. Gregory Hymnal and Catholic Choir Book, Singers' ed., Melody ed. (1920)
  • CRUCIFIXION by Walther (1530) in Hymnal and Liturgies of the Moravian Church (1920).
  • COLERAINE, aka VICENZA, which was first published in La Scala Santa (1681) and named after Lord Coleraine who may have composed it - in the Westminster Hymnal 1939.

The hymn fell from favour among people who observed the difference between the hymn's description of a faith passed on through the paternal line, and the reality that faith is often "caught not taught" through the maternal line. However some communities do still use it in its original form, while others have altered it. For example, GIA Publications' Worship 4 includes it with title “A Living Faith” including the first verse of the original text and new verses about mothers, brothers and sisters.


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Original universal 3rd verse




Solo singer with orchestral backing and choir - SAWSTON

Choir, with organ backing. ST CATHERINE

A service with examples of both tunes, and explaining the differences:


Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword;
O how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene'er we hear thy wondrous voice!

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.
And blest would be their children's fate
If they, like them, should die for thee.

Original third verse:
Faith of our fathers, Mary’s prayers
Shall win our country back to Thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
England shall then indeed be free.

Original third verse - universal 
Faith of our fathers, Mary’s prayers
Shall win our country back to Thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
Our nation shall then indeed be free.

Adapted third verse:
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.

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