The author of this hymn, Frederick William Faber, was raised as a Huguenot, but went to Oxford and was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1837. He then came to know John Henry Newman, the famous Catholic priest (and later Cardinal). Under Newman’s influence, Faber was re-baptized and re-ordained as a Catholic priest.
Faber was an admirer of good poetry, and became good friends with the poet, William Wordsworth. The two of them would often take long walks together in the mountains.
Knowing the power of hymns in the Protestant tradition, Faber wanted to make hymn-singing more important in the Catholic tradition. He wrote a number of hymns, of which this and “Faith of Our Fathers” are the best known today.
“There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” celebrates the wideness of God’s mercy––”like the wideness of the sea.” It celebrates God’s welcome for the sinner and the “good” person alike. It reminds us that “the love of God is broader than the measure of our mind”––and therefore encourages us to broaden the measure of our own love so that it might be more like God’s love. And, finally, it calls us to “rest upon God’s word” so that “our lives (might be) illumined by the presence of our Lord.”
–– Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan