Project Canterbury

Frank, Bishop of Zanzibar
by H. Maynard Smith

London: SPCK, 1926.



ON St. Peter's Day 1903 Bishop Hine consecrated the Cathedral Church in Zanzibar, which Bishop Steere had only dedicated. It signified a new stage in missionary progress. The Church was now rooted in Africa, and its buildings could be set apart for God's service for ever. The service was throughout in Swahili, and the preacher was Petro Limo. The Cathedral was to be, not an English but an African church, to represent not the Church of England but the Catholic Church in Africa.

A few months later Bishop Hine named and dedicated in the apse ten stalls erected as a memorial to Bishop Smythies, and at the same time constituted a chapter. Frank Weston became a Canon and first Chancellor in the diocese, and the stall chosen for him was dedicated to St. Athanasius. As he sat in it, he may sometimes have remembered his college nickname, but he did not dream that in a few years he would be re-acting the part of Athanasius contra mundum.

He was chosen for Chancellor not merely because he was Principal of Kiungani, but because at the meeting of the Synod, held just after the Bishop's arrival, he had propounded a scheme of education for the whole diocese which in many respects anticipated by twenty years the recommendations of the Government. The Synod had approved the scheme, and he was obviously the man to carry it out.

No office ever came to Frank as an honour. It involved an obligation and was an opportunity for work.

He was always inclined to magnify his office exceedingly, because he was soon convinced of its vital importance. His educational projects were not to remain as ideals on paper if he could translate them into facts. Teachers were soon graded with first, second and third class certificates. Schools were graded. There were out schools, central schools, and Kiungani, all in relation to one another. Syllabuses were drawn up, with instructions about method. Inspectors were to be appointed for the different Archdeaconries to represent the Chancellor and report to him.1 During Kiungani holidays, he proceeded to the mainland to see for himself how far the prescribed curriculum was possible and produced good results.

In the village schools there was an effort to make the parents responsible for the upkeep of the buildings and the payment of the teachers. In the central boarding schools the Mission was responsible, because the pupils being trained were possible teachers, and the parents lost the value of their labour, while the Mission gained it. Frank did not approve of white missionaries being in charge of any but the central schools, for he was anxious that Africans as far as possible should be trained by Africans, and he also knew that Europeans were often ill, and that school life should be regular.

He had a passion for system and uniformity, which some would say is the curse of our educational system; but it was necessary, if Kiungani was to be really effective, that those coming from the widely scattered schools of the diocese should all be prepared in the same way. But perhaps he did not, at this time, sufficiently remember that only a few of those taught could ever progress beyond the primary stage, and that therefore the primary schools were of the first importance.

These little schools, built of mud and sticks and thatched with grass, were erected by the natives themselves. They were their schools, the outward and visible symbols of their interest in Christianity, and the centres from which that Christianity radiated. From them alone would the ordinary boy and girl gain any knowledge, and so the general level of native Christianity depended

Only one was appointed, owing to difficulties in the Masasi Archdeaconry on them. Those who went to central schools and Kiungani were separated from their tribal surroundings for months at a time, and tended to become a race apart. The village schools, on the other hand, made for the slow and natural progress of communal life.

The more Frank entered into African life and understood the African point of view, the less desirous was he that the African should borrow our Western fashions, and the more he believed that with a Christian Church the African was capable of developing a civilisation of his own. In his inmost heart perhaps he knew that it was too late, for the impact of Western civilisation had come before Christianity had had time to establish itself. Still, as he said in 1905, 'if it is true that the African is going to wear a frock coat and a top hat some day, it is no part of the Mission's duty to teach him to do so.'

At the Anniversary Meeting in 1905, he had to reply on the spur of the moment to a speech made by Sir Charles Eliot in favour of the industrial education of natives. He then maintained that, whereas it was right to have an industrial school in Zanzibar for Christian orphans and others dependent on the Mission, it was not the duty of the Church to support her converts or to train them for secular occupations. This attitude is, of course, inconsistent with the principle laid down in the Open Letter and quoted on p. 30; but Weston cared little for formal consistency. Circumstances alter cases, and as a practical man he saw that it was most impolitic for the Mission to compete with the industrial education undertaken by the German Government.

He had had several successors at St. Mark's Theological College, and when Canon Dale came on furlough in 1905, he was the third principal of the college within a year to depart, and there was no one to take his place. Frank, on returning to Zanzibar, had the mortification of seeing Mazizini closed, while a mosque was being built over against it. He had, however, previously persuaded the Bishop to buy some land adjoining Kiungani to ensure the privacy of the school. On this land there was already a bungalow, and other buildings were rapidly put up. Mazizini was let at a good rental, and St. Mark's Theological College was reopened with Frank once more its principal. For the next two years he directed both it and Kiungani as separate institutions.

With the aid of an African priest he also at this time edited a bi-monthly magazine in Swahili for teachers in the diocese. Many of them, he knew, were living very isolated lives in heathen villages, surrounded by temptations from without and apt, if not to be slothful, at least to sink into a groove. These old Kiungani boys were not to be forgotten, neither were they to be allowed to forget whence they came. The magazine kept them in touch with their old schoolfellows, and told them what was going on in other stations.


As Chancellor, the Bishop asked Frank to lecture to the European community in Zanzibar, and a prominent member of that community writes:

I doubt whether anyone who attended the first lecture failed to hear the whole series. Weston put himself in the place of a man who had a completely open mind about religion, and exposed the case for Christianity with such forensic skill and lucidity that his hearers were spell-bound. He spoke without a single note, dealing lastly with the Higher Criticism of the Bible, and marshalled his facts, never hesitating for a word, with a precision and force that was indeed remarkable. I remember that the leading local lawyer at that time, whom I met outside the Cathedral after the close of one of those lectures, remarked: 'What a name that man would have made in my profession!' I afterwards heard Weston preach many wonderful and moving sermons, but I don't think any of them impressed me so much with his outstanding ability and breadth of vision as did those lectures.

There were two courses of these lectures. The first was concerned with the Old Testament, and the second with religion in its relation to modern thought. For the second series he told me that he had relied chiefly on the works of Dr. Illingworth, but from outlines published in the Zanzibar Gazette it is evident that, if Dr. Illingworth was his source, he had thought out his argument on lines of his own. One lecture of the former course appeared in Central Africa and made his old friends gape with astonishment, but it turned out to be an unauthorised and most inaccurate report. At the same time, it was true that in Zanzibar Frank had become much more conservative in his Old Testament criticism. While he continued to hold the principles which he had learned from Dr. Driver and Dr. Gore at Oxford, he had come to doubt many of the conclusions which were supposed to result from them. It seemed to him that many theories, which were plausible in a university lecture-room, were inconceivable to one who was in hourly touch with a primitive race. Also, from such intercourse as he had had with Arabs, he doubted if the Semitic mind worked in the way that Oxford professors supposed.


It was natural for Frank to magnify his office, but it was also natural for him to question his own qualifications for holding it. A Chancellor of course should be a learned person, but he confessed that it was impossible for him to be an erudite theologian. He had suppressed that ambition when he left Oxford. Would it, however, be possible for him to justify his position by taking a degree in Divinity?

Perhaps he overestimated the value of the degree; he certainly overestimated the difficulty of obtaining it. He already knew more theology than many doctors, but he took his theses very seriously. 'How can I hope,' he wrote, 'to satisfy a Regius Professor in my bookless state? ' His 'bookless state' must not be taken too absolutely. It only meant that he had at the moment nothing new to read. There were in truth a good many books in Zanzibar, but Frank was by way of having read them all or at any rate as much of them as he wished. He was very difficult to keep supplied, for he seemed to absorb books by turning over the pages. He wanted two novels for a two hours' railway journey; and I have seen him take down half a dozen volumes after breakfast and be eager to discuss them at lunch-time. As a sensitive author I have been hurt by his rapid glance at my many times rewritten paragraphs, but suddenly he came out with a pertinent criticism, which showed that he had mastered the chain of my argument and detected its weakest link.

I had no fear for his success or doubt of his competence, but I could not imagine how he could find the time. However, the two theses arrived, easily satisfied Dr. Ince, and Frank proceeded to the degree of B.D.

His first essay was on the Christology of St. Paul, and though it contained nothing very original it was a model of lucid statement and written with a sense of proportion. The second essay dealt with the Kenosis, and was packed with patristic quotations. He wanted the two essays published, but I suggested to him that he should omit his learning and elaborate his views on our Blessed Lord's consciousness as Incarnate, for it seemed to me that he had something new and helpful to say on that then vexed question.

He took my advice, and only some eight months afterwards I was seeing The One Christ through the Press. It was written at white heat in the hot nights of Africa, but he had been interested in the subject from the time when he listened to Gore's Bampton Lectures, and he had been more perplexed than helped by the Dissertations which were published to justify them.

On page I he writes that his 'task will make great demands upon courage and faith'; but he was not thinking of the courage necessary to disagree with St. Cyril or to dispute with Dr. Gore. Only with courage, he thought, could anyone speculate on our Lord's consciousness, and only with profound faith could a Christian follow his reason.

Religion was not for him an abstract system of thought or a collection of rules for conduct: it was a personal relationship between God and man. His reverence for our Blessed Lord forbade his speaking of Him with the glib familiarity now only too common. Throughout his life he was possessed by a fear lest in teaching or in conduct he might do the Lord, Who died for him, some harm.

Not to satisfy an idle curiosity did he peer into this mystery. What he wrote was the result of many meditations on his knees. He wrote because of the practical evils which he thought to be inherent in some attempts to solve the problem of our Lord's consciousness. On the one hand were theories which seemed to deny our Lord any real humanity and so removed Him from our sympathy, and on the other hand were theories which prevented our rinding in our Lord's humanity any real revelation of the Godhead. Now Frank's hope for man's redemption, his belief in the Church as the Body of Christ, and his certainty of sacramental grace alike depended on the real humanity of Jesus, the Son of Mary; but he thought that they must be all inconceivable for anyone who could not see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

We must remember that he was face to face with heathen asking: 'Who is God, and what is He like?' He wanted to be able confidently to point to the Gospel story and say: 'Behold Him.' He was face to face with eager questioners asking: 'How can I be saved?' He wanted to reply: 'The only begotten Son of God became one of us in order that we might be one with Him.'

Many would have given those answers without considering the problem they involved. Frank did give those answers, and did not raise the problem. It has been raised by others and demanded an answer. Frank was a dogmatist, that is, he was one who believed in ultimate truth, and that truth was to be sought by reason. So with the daring of a mediaeval schoolman he did not shrink from the challenge to his intelligence.

He did not find the Fathers very helpful for they were chiefly concerned with metaphysical questions, whereas we are face to face with a psychological problem--how are we to explain the consciousness of the One Christ?

He first carefully tabulated the Gospel data, and then examined past theories before proceeding to his own solution. Having stated that, he went back to the Gospels and tested his solution in the light of the facts and sayings there recorded.

The following is a very inadequate account of his argument:

Our Lord's manhood is real, and the subject of that manhood is the Eternal Son of God. By becoming Man, our Lord limited Himself to think with a human brain, to feel with a human heart, and to exercise a human will; and He reveals His one Self just in so far as a human brain, heart and will, at different stages of development, enable Him to do so; and throughout the subject or ego is that of the one Christ. It is incorrect to say that the Son of Mary ruled the universe from His Mother's knee, for it was His Will to be a helpless babe, and to know a baby's innocence in its perfection. It is equally incorrect to say that the Son of God increased in wisdom, though within the sphere of the Incarnation He became progressively conscious of Himself and the world. It is wrong to doubt the reality of His temptations, the agony of His soul or the sufferings on the Cross, for by them His human will was confirmed and maintained its oneness with His Divine Will. All the time He was offering, by means of His humanity, what He offers eternally as the Consub-stantial Son, a perfect response to the Father's love. It was through this response that communion with the Father was maintained, and we are reminded that a perfect humanity is a God-aided humanity. As that communion was uninterrupted by sin, it is impossible to think of our Lord with His perfect human mind as being fallible; besides, we could only imagine His fallibility by denying the unity of His Person. He had become man that through manhood and in the terms of manhood He should reveal the nature of God so far as manhood is capable of apprehending it. He had become man that in manhood, and with the weapons of man, He should redeem humanity by His victory over the world, the flesh and the Devil.

When the book came out it did not meet with any immediate recognition, and glancing through an old scrap-book of newspaper cuttings one is amused at the uniformity of those who praise and the uniformity of those who attribute blame.

There were those who wrote:

It is remarkable that a book on a deep theological problem should proceed from a missionary in Africa, and considering the author's inevitable limitations, his book has considerable merits. Serious students will no doubt prefer to read the works of Dorner and Martensen, Bruce and Gore, but we hope that this well-meant effort will meet with the success that it deserves.

There were others who wrote:

We were surprised to note after reading The One Christ that it comes to us from a High Church Mission, and that its author is a member of the High Church party. Yet Canon WTeston ventures to criticise the great Athanasius and condemns the teaching of St. Cyril. What would Canon Liddon say, if he were yet alive, about the presumption of this young man?

Books by unknown writers are not generally sent to experts for review, and the ordinary critic is content to say something obvious in a patronising or sarcastic manner. None the less the book gradually made its way among theologians. Dr. Gore welcomed it, and was unable to see that Frank's theory was so very unlike his own. Canon Scott Holland was enthusiastic, Dr. Swete quoted it with approval, and Dr. Sanday, the most open-minded and generous of critics, announced that he was proud of his old pupil. In his Christologies, Ancient and Modern, he allotted considerable space to the book, and called attention not only to its 'marked originality' but to its 'sustained earnestness and elevation.' He wrote of the author: 'He is a devout son of the Church, and has written throughout with absolute loyalty; but at the same time has followed his thought where it led him. He has stated his views as explicitly as possible; and yet I do not think that he has come in conflict with any catholic doctrine.'

In this respect Frank's book has a marked superiority over some later works. His theory, though new, is quite consistent with the Creeds and Chalcedonian formulae. Later writers have had to abandon much and have made a break in historical continuity by attempting to deal with the problem in accordance with the tentative conclusions of a very new psychology. There are some to-day who think that The One Christ is out of date, but I believe that it is likely to survive, and will be regarded as an advance in theological thought, when works which are now more in fashion are forgotten.

To my mind, indeed, the second edition was a mistake, and I have always maintained that Frank spoilt his own best book. The second edition came out seven years later, when he could no longer recover the spirit which formerly possessed him. He added chapters in criticism of the writers of Foundations^ with whose opinions the original argument had little connection, and to make room for the new material he omitted much that was valuable in the earlier issue.


Having spoken of Frank as schoolmaster, preacher, chancellor, and author, I have yet to speak of him as a director of souls; and it was when dealing with individuals that he was most successful, and it was, I believe, for the souls of individuals that he spent most time in prayer.

He became chaplain to the nurses who belonged to the Guild of St. Barnabas, and for them, as for others, he held Retreats in which he opened up the possibilities of spiritual endeavour. It was during these Retreats that the hearts of some were touched, and a few began to Wonder if they had a vocation for the religious life.

One lady writes that, when one of these Retreats was held at Kiungani, the Principal concerned himself with the preparations. He slung curtains to divide the big rooms, found packing-cases which could be used as wash-stands, and was most insistent that every lady should have a looking-glass. He could be a bustling male Martha on occasion.

Another lady, who was often ill, writes:

Directly he came into a room, a sort of peace seemed to steal over it. ... However busy he was, he never said ' I've only a minute ' while he stood over you. He sat down and settled himself to listen as if he had nothing else to do. . . . Often I was in pain and couldn't talk, but his presence always rested me and eased the pain. He was entirely at home in a sick room and knew exactly what to do. I think everyone who knew him in illness loved him. He quite overcame ------'s prejudices after he had ministered to her in sickness. . . . He neither read much nor prayed much, but seemed to know exactly what you wanted. He sometimes read a short Psalm, and never bored you with pious books.

It was not only to the sick that he was a comfort, but to all who were in trouble or difficulties. He might not at this time be popular with his fellow missionaries, but he was the obvious refuge for them in times of stress. They came, not expecting sympathy, although they received it in abundant measure; but they came to the strong man, who was certain to help.

Such a man was necessarily also sought for as a confessor. A lady writes:

At Mbweni in 1906 notice was given in church on Palm Sunday that on the following day Padre Weston of Kiungani would hear confessions in the afternoon. He arrived to find the church full, every Christian wishing to take advantage of his coming; but as his time was limited he had to ask the women to go away, promising to give them another opportunity; and did what was possible for the very large number of men.

Copious in the pulpit, he was very brief in the confessional; and though stern and uncompromising, the penitent knew how he sympathised and understood. One of them writes to me:

He was a very helpful confessor, and did not bother you with direction unless you wanted it. He told me about our Lord, and did not discuss my sins as some do.

He could on occasion, when dealing with individuals, be very surprising. When a priest came to him miserable and out of heart about his work, Frank only remarked: 'How do you know God does not mean you to be a failure?' It sounded unsympathetic, but the man to whom he spoke went away braced up to face his difficulties without complaining. He asked another priest, while in England, to join the Mission, but the man excused himself, saying, 'I don't think I should live in Africa.' 'I didn't ask you to live,' said Frank. 'You can glorify God by your death.' That again was probably exactly the right answer for the man in question; but, lest it should be misunderstood, I will quote a letter to another priest who had offered himself and been refused by the doctors.

I am so thankful that the offer was made: that all who had a say were ready to bear their part in the sacrifice: and in a sense, a real sense, I'm thankful for their sakes that they were not required to be more than ready to give. But how great it would have been had you been allowed to come! I don't think anyone who is young ought to come without doctor's leave, and I regard the argument that St. Paul had no doctor as not only wrong but ignorant, for above all men St. Paul allowed himself to be guided by external signs, granted to him by God through his circumstances.

This brings us to the terrible dearth of men from which the Mission was at this time suffering. The harvest was plenteous but the labourers were few. Bishop Hine had done a wonderful work for the diocese of Zanzibar, and never spared himself. Absolutely reckless where his own health was concerned, he went on, fever or no fever.

He writes that the care of all the Churches became too much for him, but what really broke him down was the inadequate support which he obtained from England.

Meantime, some were trying to lure Frank away from the diocese. The Bishop of Lebombo asked him to be his archdeacon, and then the Synod of Mashonaland elected him as Bishop, but on Bishop Hine's advice he declined the appointment. Bishop Hine told him also that he intended himself to resign and hoped that he would be his successor. When Frank came to England at the end of 1907, he knew that he would probably return to Zanzibar as Bishop.

For the next few months he was going from one end of England to the other pleading the cause of the Mission and calling out for men.

He went to Oxford and made an impassioned appeal in Christ Church Hall, which was successful. He went to Cambridge; and, at the Jubilee Commemoration of Livingstone's famous speech in the Senate House, he reiterated his appeal.

The present Bishop of Manchester has kindly sent me his remembrances of the Cambridge meeting.

I think the most impressive speech I ever heard was that delivered by Frank Weston in the Senate House at Cambridge at the Jubilee of Livingstone's appeal to the University. I had gone over from Oxford as one of the Oxford U.M.C.A. Committee. The programme was supposed to follow a time-table. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke first--a massive utterance altogether worthy of the occasion and exactly fitting the allotted time. Then Bishop Boyd Carpenter made the ceremonial speech; it was a fine piece of eloquence, dealing with history of fifty years, and it lasted just twice the length of time allowed for it. The Vice-Chancellor did not stop him; but he did pass to Canon Weston--the only speaker from the scene of action--a note asking him to shorten the time put down for him. It must have seemed cruel, but it may have made both the speech and the evening. Weston rose looking very tense. At once the atmosphere became electric. He was shooting out currents of emotional magnetism from every limb. Never have I seen an audience so gripped. The climax came with the appeal for men and the story of the appeal just made in Oxford. He told how he had addressed a crowded meeting and had appealed for ten men: 'just ten men--that was all--from the great University of Oxford. And, gentlemen, we got them.' The first words were spoken with the pathos of the appeal that had been made: it sounded as if it must lead up to a disappointment. Then the tone changed to triumph as he flung up his arms to shout 'And, gentlemen, we got them.' That was the climax, and the roof of the Senate House was nearly lifted off. I know that I, for one, was still trembling from that moment when I reached the railway station to return in the night to Oxford.

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