New every morning is the love
Our wakening and uprising prove:
Through sleep and darkness safely brought,
Restored to life and power and thought.
These familiar words of John Keble are from his cycle of poems entitled The Christian Year (1827), which he wrote to restore within the Church of England a deep feeling for the church year, “to bring the thoughts and feelings of the reader into unison with those exemplified in the Prayer Book.” The work went through ninety-five editions, but this was not the fame Keble sought. His consuming desire was to be a faithful pastor who finds his fulfillment in daily services, confirmation classes, visits to village schools, and a voluminous correspondence with those seeking spiritual counsel.
Born in 1792, Keble received his early education in his father’s vicarage. At fourteen, he won a scholarship to Oxford, and after a brilliant career at Corpus Christi College, he was elected to one of the much-coveted Fellowships of Oriel College, having graduated from his college with highest honors. In 1815 he was ordained deacon and in 1816 presbtyer. In 1817 he became a tutor at Oriel, but he resigned in 1823 to become his father’s curate in his rural cure in the Cotswolds. There he composed the poems of The Christian Year. In 1831 he was elected professor of poetry at Oxford.
England was in the early nineteenth century undergoing a turbulent change from a rural to an industrial and urban society. Among the reforms of the 1830s, Parliament acted to abolish ten Anglican bishoprics in Ireland. Keble vigorously attacked this action as undermining the independence of the Church. His assizes sermon of July 14, 1834, preached at the opening of the court term before the University, denounced this “national apostasy” and was the spark that ignited the Oxford Movement. Those drawn to the Movement began to publish a series of “Tracts for the Times” – hence the popular term, “Tractarians” – which sought to recall the Church to its ancient sacramental heritage. John Henry Newman was the intellectual leader of the movement, Edward Bouverie Pusey was the prophet of its devotional life, and John Keble was its pastoral inspiration.
In 1836, Keble became Vicar of Hursley, near Winchester, where he settled down to family life and remained as pastor and priest until his life’s end.
Though bitterly attacked, Keble’s loyalty to the Church was unwavering. Within three years of his death, John Keble College was established at Oxford “to give an education in strict fidelity to the Church of England”. For Keble, this would have meant dedication to learning in order “to live more nearly as we pray”.
from Lesser Feasts and Fasts, with additions and amendments
Grant, O God, that in all time of our testing we may know your presence and obey your will; that, following the example of your servant John Keble, we may accomplish with integrity and courage what you give us to do, and endure what you give us to bear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The propers for the commemoration of John Keble, Priest, are published on the Lectionary Page website.