Project Canterbury


by HFB Mackay

"I am already being offered and the time of my departure is come."- II Timothy iv. 6.

Many scholars think that St. Paul did not write these words, that a disciple wrote them under the authority of his name. Whoever wrote them, they show the relation of such a life as St. Paul's to the death which closes it here. The death is the final act in this world of a long series of acts, the act in which the witness of the life is consummated and crowned.

The morale of a true Anglo-Catholic movement involves faithfulness unto death. That that fact must be illustrated before this series ends is plain, and I take Frank Weston as illustrating it because he and the trials of his life do this in such a strikingly pictorial way.

Frank Weston was born of good stock. He appears first as a little boy in suburban middle-class surroundings, an affectionate, diffident, delicate child, very highly strung. His nerves bothered him all his life, his courage was not natural to him, but was the result of a disciplined will. He had an Evangelical upbringing and a beautiful mother. All these six men were the gifts to the Church of holy mothers. Mothers, mark this! Meant for the Army, he failed to pass the eye test at Woolwich. That was the first stroke of his discipline; he felt it keenly. Weak sight hindered his reading and baulked his games. In all this, I expected the big round-shouldered, short-sighted, rather awkward Dulwich schoolboy was going through much more self-discipline than people knew. We are told that he went up to Trinity College, Oxford, old for his age, solemn, shy, and rather repelling in manner, all signs of inward suffering.

"Honestly," he said afterwards, "I have never conceived it possible that anyone would care to like me." With this agonizing diffidence about himself he combined an almost aggressive certainty about the validity of his beliefs.

But as often happens, the awkward, uncomfortable freshman found himself at Oxford, and grew into a keen, attractive, thoughtful, serious undergraduate. He and his friends formed a debating society, the Moles, and debated all objects under the sun. Frank became a Christian Socialist, squabbled with my brother Librarian at Pusey House, John Carter, for his cautiousness, and enrolled himself in Stewart Headlam's more militant band.

Then came a great night when Bishop Smythies, of Zanzibar, king among men, stood in the pulpit of St. Barnabas, and pleaded for Africa. Weston volunteered next day and was turned down by the doctor.

He spent only three years in Oxford, reading theology, overworked desperately, got a good First in the schools, and went to the College Mission at Stratford.

The knight-errant in him was taking shape, and he went down to the East End in the spirit of joyous adventure. Here his powers of leadership began to appear. He had a strong, quiet manner which won the confidence of the bigger boys who called him the Cardinal and made him their confidant. It was glorious time of Christian Socialism and growing Anglo-Catholicism until the Protestant Conservative element at Oxford intervened, and Frank Weston resigned the college mission and went to St. Matthew's, Westminster. Two saying had always stuck in his mind. When he was a boy at Dulwich, the Headmaster, who had a curious power of divination, one day said to him, à propos of nothing, "Weston, if Jesus Christ asked you to give Him your overcoat would you go and fetch Him your shabbiest?" Weston said, "No, sir," and he proved as good as his word. And when he was at Stratford and was talking one night in Oxford the socialistic doctrine which was to "build Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land," a Don said to him, "Weston, do you believe in the heavenly Jerusalem?"

"Yes," said Weston.

"I wish I did," said the Don; "and if I did I don't think I should talk about anything else."

The saying shook Weston's mind into a new perspective. After sorting his ideas, praying and meditating and developing his work as a priest in the orderly devotional atmosphere of St. Matthew's, he volunteered again for Central Africa, was accepted and went out to Zanzibar.

He went out with the highest ideals, and with theories to put to the test of experience. When he got out he found himself dissatisfied at every turn. He though the life and discipline of the mission relaxed. He was put to train teachers for orders under conditions which he thought impossible. He found a tendency to Europeanize the natives, and he had come out intending to help the natives to found a native Church and develop through its power a native African civilization. Some people would have come home, other people would have submitted, others, again, would have begun to question their own judgment. Weston did none of these things. He attacked everything he objected to and started to build a theological college; meanwhile the climate found him out, and these excursions and alarums went on amid sharp bouts of fever.

All that side of Weston which had made him a socialist at Stratford gave itself to the Africans. To the Africans he became an African to an extraordinary degree. Not only was he the first Swahili orator and scholar, but he came to think in Swahili, which latterly affected to some extent his English style. Many men who have given themselves to be Africanized have deteriorated, but when he died the British Administrator at Tanga wrote, "I think the Bishop was the very impersonation of our race at the highest to which it can attain."

Weston found his recreation at first in looking after the Small Boy's Home. They were delightful and most affectionate children, and at once he had to face the moral problem in a form which wrung his heart. If you go back from the twentieth century to the first you find yourself in a society where none of the Christian traditions of conduct, conventions and repressions exist. It was not difficult to make these children religious, it was very difficult to keep them at all decent in conduct, and it was immensely difficult to make them see that the one had anything to do with the other.

The Catholic missionary bears in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus. From the children at Kilimani the young missionary began to receive the wound in the Sacred Heart. He led a very ascetic life with his theological students when he got them round him. He found, like St. Francis de Sales, that he must make the Blessed Sacrament the centre of their lives. When he told us that we must fight for our tabernacles he spoke out of this experience. He instituted the service of Benediction which he admitted was a tactical mistake from the point of view of the mission at home, but he said, "Souls must be saved, and no priest out here has sufficient guarantee of long years to allow of his considering tactics." I understand that Benediction is now licensed in many churches throughout the diocese of Zanzibar.

He was constantly being called upon to give missions and retreats, but he said, "Nobody does anything for me."

After a while he was made Principal of the elder boys' school at Kiungani. His fellow-priests here, like himself, were anxious to try their vocation for the Religious Life, and they petitioned the Bishop to allow them to do so, but he refused.

Weston was a great success at Kiungani and had happy years there. He dominated the whole place, and the boys were devoted to him. But he returned from furlough to find a sort of revolt going on against his authority, and a layman in his place. The layman soon retired, and Weston resumed work, but this was a bitter trial. The boys had wavered and Weston thought his fellow-missionaries had been against him. It was not really so, but he was shy and sensitive and formidable, a difficult combination. This was a time when he lived very much to himself among the Africans, but it was all part of his training. In this Gethsemane he found our Lord, and from henceforth his special devotion became the loneliness of Christ, and in it he found his way deeper into the African heart and mind.

The period ended by his being made Canon and Chancellor of the Cathedral, with charge of the educational work of the diocese, and the duty of lecturing to the European residents in Zanzibar.

It was after this that he came home to appeal for men, and made his great speech at the Livingstone Commemoration in the Senate House at Cambridge. I went over from Oxford with some others. It was a great occasion, the Vice-Chancellor in the chair, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Public Orator, many of the great personages of Cambridge present. Weston's speech was a wonderful example of the power of the Holy Spirit when He gets an organ through whom He can speak. I have never seen an audience more deeply moved. The Bishop of Manchester, who also went over from Oxford, says that he was still trembling when he got into the train to go home. Nothing but the spirit of a life of martyrdom can so shake strong men.

After a time Dr. Hine resigned the Bishopric, and in 1907 Frank Weston was consecrated Bishop of Zanzibar. He landed on November 6th and was enthroned that afternoon. Next day, the Bishop sang Pontifical High mass, standing facing the congregation with his canons ranged behind him in the apse of the basilican cathedral; before him stretched a brilliant mass of colour, white and black folk mingled together in brilliant garments. Next day, sitting on his throne behind the altar, the Bishop delivered his charge, and on the days following he presided over the Synod. He issued a Pastoral in Swahili to the native people beautifully suggestive of Apostolical times, and soon began his episcopal visitation of the vast tropical diocese on foot; in one six months he walked nine hundred miles. It was these walks which gave the Bishop that splendid manly dignity and grace which we all admired. The splendid figure, to which we did hero-worship at Congress meetings, was built up and poised by Apostolic labours like those St. Paul describes.

Most of you have read the Bishop's Life. You remember his fight with witchcraft in various forms. In Central Africa you are up against forces, whatever they are, which lie latent and suppressed in countries of the Christian civilization. This contest with the principalities and powers St. Paul talks of drew out forces in the Bishop's personality. Things happened such as are recorded in the lives of saints. After walking all day through country which was leafless, remember, because the sun had withered up the leaves and in which, after rain, the grass grew twelve feet high, the Bishop would pray under the stars half the night. "Of all that he taught me," said a native priest, "of all that I watched him do, this was the greatest wonder to see how he prayed." We are not surprised then at the tale that when he was confronted after mass by a heathen chief who implored him to pray for rain, he gathered the Christian together and prayed in the presence of the chief, and that day torrential rain fell; and that when he prayed vehemently by a woman far gone in death, her soul was drawn back and she confessed her sins and was absolved, and then died. When the Catholic life is as strongly developed as it was in Weston, such things, explain them as you will, occur.

As Bishop he became disciplinarian of his people. he sat as judge, heard cases, and imposed public penance, but all the time with such a love of souls that he became the father and consoler of all his black children. There is a story of a rebellious sinner and his excommunication from the altars of the Church. The awful ceremony proceeded, the lighted candles were hurled down on the ground and extinguished, and the Bishop came to the final sentence, "We do hereby cut you off-" and then burst into a torrent of tears, and amid the sobs of the Bishop, priests and people, the church bell tolled out the news that the doom had been pronounced.

A Catholic Bishop must expect to find his work imperilled by the assaults of the Devil; he ought not to have to encounter the assaults of the Bishops and Priests of his own communion, but such was Bishop Weston's lot, and the result was his battle of Kikuyu and his battle with Modernism.

The Church and the Sacraments were at stake in the Kikuyu controversy, and the Person of our Lord in the controversy with Modernism. The Bishop's contention in the Kikuyu case we know. He won his chief points, and we like to think of his departure from the second Kikuyu Conference to the sound of his opponents' cheers. Weston's presence, speech and charm were irresistible.

With regard to Modernism, Bishop Weston was in a painfully favourable position to see what it might lead to.

The Arabs of Cairo were deluging Zanzibar with proselytising Mohammedan tracts in which they pointed out that the Modernist teachers in England were teaching a doctrine of our Lord's Person indistinguishable from Mohammed's account of it, and that our learned men were now making it perfectly clear that Mohammed had been right all the time and the Church wrong. We may regret the methods with which the Bishop fought the Modernists, we may perhaps think them extravagant and out of date. But this is clear, they made it plain to the slow English mind that modern Christian teaching must be watched.

Then the War broke out, and the Bishop, who was in England, got back to his people, and found himself cut off from the greater part of his diocese, which was in German territory. The disorder which war brings had reached Zanzibar; two of his native priests had to be deposed for immorality. This nearly broke the Bishop's heart, for he found it to be of long standing and concealed from him by the natives. The Bishop flung himself into the work of the cathedral, saying the Masses, hearing the confessions, preaching most of the sermons. Then came a press gang searching for porters; the natives fled and hid, but the Bishop rose and said, "I will get you porters if I may command them." He was given leave, and the men flocked to him, Christians, Moslems, heathen. The Bishop drilled them and took them to the mainland. This is a great War tale but it cannot be told now.

"Truly our Lord Bishop is a great man," wrote an African afterwards, "for he came over the sea with us, and when we reached the mainland he marched with us, he slept with us, he ate with us, and when we lay down at night did he not pray with us? And when we rose in the morning did he not pray with us again? At the end did he not take us into camp? Truly he is a great man."

An officer serving with the South Africans once watched the Bishop striking camp and getting his men-he had between two and three thousand under him-into marching order. The officer ran after him and said, "I don't know who you are, Sir, but if you want a job after the way come to me; we shall not quarrel about terms." He was a mining magnate from the Rand.

The Moslems were affected in another way; they realized that the Bishop was a Holy Man, such Holy Man as could lead a Holy Way among themselves, and for the first time they got a glimpse of the supernatural character of Christianity.

The war left the Bishop two battles to fight which cost him more than those terrible marches. He fought the people who wanted to return her colonies to Germany, in a pamphlet called the Black Slaves of Prussia, and he fought our own countrymen when he thought they were going to press hardly on the natives, in another pamphlet called the Serfs of Great Britain. In the end Mr. Winston Churchill issued a despatch which satisfied the Bishop.

Well, that is the man we all loved and admired at our Congress meeting; that is the man the Anglo-Catholic movement must resemble; like him it must be persevering and dauntless, and not afraid of making mistakes; like him it must do well, suffer for it, and take it patiently; like him it must be great-hearted, whole-hearted, eager-hearted; like him, to the end of a life of self-sacrifice and many disappointment, it must retain the heart of a child. That is the charm of Frank Weston. He never lost the simplicity and joy of a child. He died on the march, marching and working with the illness on him which caused his death. At last it stuck him down, but twice he rose from his death-bed to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation. Next day he could rise no more. It was all very simple, merely the next thing to be done in a life lived to the glory of God. His priests came to him and gave him the last Sacraments, and in four hours he passed away.

"Crowds of people," says the native account, "all crowded up, Christians and those not Christians, that they might see the face of the father for the last time. Then arose an exceedingly great lamentation. It was a wonder.

"Everyone you looked at-he was crying, but we returned to the church afterwards to thank the God who had given us a good father, and had now carried him to a place of greater peace that he might rest from the trouble of the world."

But one of the little black schoolboys of the Kiungani, writing of him after his death, had a clearer vision.

"You will know that he is a loving man, for his mouth is always opened ready for laughter, for he is still laughing, and he will laugh for ever."

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