Project Canterbury

Frank, Bishop of Zanzibar

by H. Maynard Smith

London: SPCK, 1926.



PREACHING in 1911 at the anniversary sermon in St. John's, Red Lion Square, Frank had pleaded:

Save our converts in Africa from reading in books by Christians at home all those things which are calculated to make them doubt whether there be a God at all, and such a thing as a Catholic Revelation.

Perhaps his hearers opened their eyes and wondered what he meant by such an appeal. Did he mean that the untutored savage in the back of beyond was likely to read Dr. Latimer Jackson on The Eschatology of Jesus or Canon Henson on The Creed in the Pulpit? Certainly not, but both Frank and Canon Dale could none the less have answered the question.

In the streets of Zanzibar you can buy Arabic tracts emanating from Cairo, with information about the destructive criticism in Europe and with comments appropriate for Mohammedan readers. These tracts are read by the literate, they are read to the illiterate, they are discussed in the streets and they provide the weapons to resist missionary propaganda.

Imagine a Mohammedan speaking: 'We have always maintained that your Scriptures are corrupt and interpolated, and lo! now your learned men tell you we are right. The Prophet told us that Jesus did not really die on the Cross and rise again, and your learned men agree that He only rose again in the imaginations of His disciples. We have been taught that Jesus was a Prophet and not God, and your learned men say the same.

We reject your doctrine of the Trinity and so do your learned men. The Prophet said that Jesus was born of a virgin and did many mighty works, but your learned men do not even believe that. They only need a little more reverence and faith before accepting our Prophet: and you, you should silence your learned men, before bringing your fraudulent Gospel to us.'

In face of objections such as these, it is not altogether surprising that Frank wrote in his Open Letter:

I do not hesitate to say that a Church which has two views in its highest ranks about the trustworthiness of the Bible, the authority of the Church, and the infallibility of the Christ has surrendered its chance of winning the Moslem; for his dependence on his Book, his tradition and his Prophet will not be broken by a debating society, but by the living, speaking Church of the Infallible Word incarnate. So that the Ecclesia Anglicana needs at once to choose between the liberty of heresy and the duty of handing on the Faith as she received it. She cannot have the one while she fulfils the other. And the sooner she chooses the better for her, the heathen and the Moslem.

He believed that in Africa, Egypt, India and Japan there was no greater hindrance to the spread of the Gospel than books by ministers of religion which treated the fundamental articles of the Christian faith as open questions. No doubt, in an Oxford common room religion was an interesting subject for free discussion, but for him it was life. He had not sacrificed his career, home, country and friends because he ' somehow felt 'that certain speculative opinions might be true. People with such nice feelings proceed to an English deanery, and not to a hut of sticks and mud in the wilds of Africa. For him our Lord's honour and the extension of His Kingdom were the only things in life that mattered; and for him his creed was as certain as the multiplication table. He had thought deeply about its implications and found it coherent and consistent with itself; he had worked it out in life and knew its fruits in experience. He was sure that this creed could alone save the African race; and what paralysed him was the thought that the Church which had sent him to convert the heathen, was indifferent as to what was believed at home.


Frank selected Foundations for his attack, not because it was extremely modernist, but because four out of the seven authors were examining chaplains to Bishops, one represented a fifth Bishop as head of his theological college, and all were engaged in teaching the young. It was true that they were not in perfect agreement, but Frank was surely justified in supposing 'that the book contains no theory or theological position which, in the judgment of the seven, is inconsistent with communion at the altar of the Church.' He was also justified in maintaining that the Bishops could not evade responsibility for those whom they commissioned to teach and examine in their names.

He chose the book also, because the book had a very wide circulation, whereas most modernist books appeal to a very few. The Press was booming the book as the greatest theological pronouncement for more than a generation, so that everyone was talking about it and everyone could understand Frank's challenge--Does the Church of England any longer believe in the historic Christ of the Catholic Creeds? Are the doctrines of the Virgin Birth and the Bodily Resurrection of our Lord to be included in the list of open questions?

In itself the book had only a temporary importance. It was not to be, like Essays and Reviews, Lux Mundi, and Contentio Veritatis, a landmark in the history of thought. It was the work of devout young men eager to accommodate their religion to what they had recently learnt in the Greats School at Oxford. They were ambitious to provide ' a statement of Christian belief in terms of modern thought'; and in their over-hasty work they gave the impression that modern thinking was very unsystematic and confused. Frank complained that in reading them you had constantly to change your viewpoint. For in the name of reason they discarded what they disliked, but it was not by reasoning that they established such doctrines as they retained. So he concludes:

These experiments . . . neither start from faith nor finish in pure reason; they are themselves the measures of individual readiness to sacrifice the past for the sake of the present; whereas all that really matters is the future.

His own position as regards the Creed he made clear in a sermon which he preached on the Virgin Birth, in Westminster Abbey, soon after returning to England in February 1914.

Over against this self-assertion of the individual stands the corporate mind and experience of the whole Church. As members of God's family, the Church, we are, not unreasonably, expected to admit that other minds and other measures are more nearly right than ours. The Church suggests that we accept her Creed on her authority, and, having accepted it, we are sent, in prayer and meditation, to seek out its meaning and its value. She aids us with judgments upon doctrines, pronounced by her saints and teachers; she bids us be patient with our present limitations; she urges us to a more spiritual discernment of spiritual things; and from her vast experience she whispers comfort and courage to us in the face of modern doubts; but not for one moment will she approve of any the least claim to be to ourselves the ultimate measure of truth.

It is obvious that Frank and the Foundationers had not enough in common to make discussion possible, but it is well to note what Dr. Talbot, Bishop of Winchester, a man with a moderating mind, wrote in a pamphlet which he contributed to the controversy.

The arguments of authority in religion, and especially that authority which belongs to the judgment, instinct and discernment of the body of believers, enlightened by the Spirit of God . . . was once dominant and exclusive. . . . but in our own day it is discredited largely by the fault of 'authority' itself in its presumptuousness and aggression; but also because what has been called the Seat of Authority in Religion has seemed to many hard to find.

The ground from which authority has been driven has been occupied with unbounded vigour by the forces of criticism, or, as I will venture to describe it, of purely inductive inference from existing historical material, expressing itself in the Categories of ordinary experience. . . .

I believe that this leads to treatment which is not really true to the Divine Way of revelation: that it departs from the simplicity and modesty, but also from the spiritual authority of that way. I believe that, taken alone, it is a method which is bound to arrive at conclusions disintegrating to Christian truth, and that it lacks something that is needed even to give coherence to its own material. . . .

I shall not, I hope, be taxed with disrespect for criticism. Criticism is essential to freedom and vitality; it has brought us rich gains, and in no slight ways assisted our faith. But in matters of this kind, somewhat as in the balance and play of mechanical forces, an undue predominance of one element does harm, not only to other elements but to itself.


What was most dangerous to the Faith in Foundations was, as Frank saw, the Adoptionist Christology, which was not stated and was perhaps unconsciously assumed. But what attracted most notice was a curious theory of Mr. Streeter about the Resurrection. It had not been heard of before and it is not likely to be heard of again. I am told by one of the Foundationers that it was only 'a tentative hypothesis.' Nobody has been found to adopt or defend it, but it was a theory which for a month or so excited the Man-in-the-Street.

It was not only the Man-in-the-Street who was excited: scholars like the then Bishop of Oxford, Dr. Gore, and the present Bishop of Oxford, Dr. Strong, wrote pamphlets on the conversative side. The Lady Margaret Professor at Cambridge, Dr. Bethune-Baker, and the Lady Margaret Professor at Oxford, Dr. Sanday, hastened to the defence of the Liberals. Nothing pained Frank more than, what was to him unexpected, the defection of his old tutor from the ranks of orthodoxy. Like most others who had come in contact with Dr. Sanday, he looked upon him with affectionate veneration, and his change of front as regards miracles, especially the miracles of the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection, was quite unaccountable to one who had lived for years in Africa and not in England.

Yet the innate chivalry of Dr. Sanday had always led him to defend those who were attacked, whether they were Anglo-Catholics or Liberals. His large-hearted charity had always made him look for what might be true in the wildest theories and the most dubious propositions. No man of his experience had ever been more generous in appreciating the work of younger men, and he had in his old age retained a perfectly open mind, which some may think in an old man to be rather a vice than a virtue. His own personal faith in our Blessed Lord shines out clearly in this distressing pamphlet, in which he gives up the facts from which it was derived. He could not understand that the same faith could not be transmitted when you had destroyed the evidence out of which it grew. Frank, who had been teaching Africans for sixteen years, knew that God intended His Revelation for the poor, the simple and for children, and not merely for scholars and critics living in academic seclusion. So, in his sermon on the Virgin Birth, he said:

In religion a fact is of far more vital importance than an idea. Ideas are always liable to particular interpretations, and quickly change their colour, and alter their weight, as they are accepted by this man or that; nor have they any permanence in their original shape. Whereas a fact is a concrete expression of an idea in time, and for all time; and carries its own power of correcting whatever false ideas may be based upon it. Therefore the Church has always chosen fact as the basis of her dogma; just as the world prefers ideas as more likely to produce that foggy atmosphere in which each system may hide its defects.


When Convocation met in April, they were overwhelmed with petitions to safeguard the Faith. Frank had woken up the Church of England! There was a great petition, signed by 45,000 people, for which the Dean of Canterbury, Sir Edward Clarke, and Prebendary Webb-Peploe were responsible, and another from 6087 communicants in the diocese of London. The Bishops of Worcester, Oxford, Truro, and Hereford also presented petitions, so did seventeen well-known members of Parliament. In the contrary sense, there were petitions from the Churchmen's Union and a petition presented by the Bishop of Southwark signed by thirty-seven well-known dons and headmasters. These last ventured to recall a dictum of Archbishop Temple's dating from the days of Essays and Reviews: 'If the conclusions are prescribed, the study is precluded.' Of course, no one wished to prescribe conclusions to any inquirer, but every inquirer had to face the possibility that he might arrive at conclusions which would be inconsistent with his continued membership in the Church of England. Newman had found this to be his fate, and so had Leslie Stephen. Even Dr. Rashdall, who was concerned in the petition of the Churchmen's Union, had admitted that a man had no right to maintain his ministry in the Church if he ceased to be a theist; but Dr. Rashdall had not found that this limitation had precluded him from studying the grounds of theism, and luckily for the world he had been able to contribute a valuable defence of that belief. There was indeed no question that a Church must stand for something if it were to have any meaning at all, and the Bishops at Lambeth in 1908 had placed on record their conviction, 'that the historical facts stated in the Creeds are an essential part of the Faith of the Church.' It was this resolution that the Bishop of London asked the Upper House of Convocation to reaffirm, adding a rider that the Bishops were' anxious not to lay unnecessary burdens upon consciences nor unduly to limit freedom of thought and inquiry.'

The Bishop of Hereford proposed as an amendment that a vote of sympathy should be passed with the anxious petitioners, and that the Bishops should refuse to make any declaration whatever. He tried also to divert attention from the subject discussed by talking of the Bishop of Zanzibar as one of those notorious law-breakers, who were disloyal to the principles of the Blessed Reformation. Some other Bishops were doubtful about the policy which should be pursued, but only two of them voted for the shelving amendment, and then the Bishop of London's resolutions were carried unanimously.

So, after two days of talk in which the Bishops had testified to their personal and corporate belief in the necessity of maintaining the historic nature of the facts in the Creed, the Church of England was reassured--the Ecclesia Anglicana had declared its mind. But they reckoned without the Bishop of Hereford. He had suffered a rebuff in Convocation, but he waited a few months and then showed his contempt for his brethren by collating Mr. Streeter to a vacant stall in the Cathedral.

We have not to discuss Dr. Streeter's merits, or even how far he was then orthodox, we have only to remember that it was his essay which had raised the storm of protest, and had led to the Bishops' resolution. His promotion at such a time vindicated the sturdy independence of the Bishop of Hereford, and proved the futility of episcopal pronouncements. The Bishop of Hereford took the law from no one, although, as a great headmaster, he had spent most of his life in enforcing an iron discipline.

Of course, his brother Bishops took no notice. They were accustomed to one of their number making the Church look ridiculous, and going his own way after assenting to a united policy; but, in far-away Zanzibar, Frank did take notice, and on the door of his Cathedral Church he published his decision. He and this diocese were no longer in communion with John, Bishop of Hereford and those who adhered to him.


The copy which I possess of this document is among my most precious possessions. It is printed and set forth in a way which would do credit to His Majesty's Stationery Office, while in style it could scarcely be improved on by the most skilful draughtsman. In one formidable sentence, which rolls over two folio pages, he states the nature of his complaint, and the necessity of his decision. There is a dignity in the language which belongs to a greater age. He leaves the facts to tell their own tale, and he assumes his right and responsibility as a Catholic Bishop to act. If there is a tone of reproach, there is no word of denunciation. If there is a clearly perceived duty to himself and to his people, there is no claim to judge his brother Bishop. That Bishop may be within his rights, he is free to go his own ways, but Frank will not go with him, or have any communion with him in sacred things.

Dr. Percival was not angry. I am told that he was much amused; and he replied in no legal form, but in a letter which he published in The Times. He did not attempt to justify his conduct or to excuse it. He was very dignified. It was a good letter; it was even a kind letter; it was a letter of reproof written by an old man to a young one. It was such an answer as a headmaster might well deliver to a prefect who had questioned his decision.

Frank had written as Bishop to Bishop, as the Bishop of Hippo Regis might have written to the Pope of Alexandria; Dr. Percival replied as man to man, or rather as the Headmaster of Rugby might have replied to a schoolboy. It never for one moment entered his head that a Bishop of Hereford and a Bishop of Zanzibar were equals. It is true that those who believe in the divine origin and authority of the Catholic Church think of her orders as consisting of Bishops, priests and deacons; but it is also true that those who regard the Church as a human institution think more naturally of dignitaries, the beneficed and curates, while for them Missionary Bishops and priests are eccentrics, who have only a position by courtesy in their scale of social relationships.

As for the British public and the secular Press, they regarded the incident as an immense joke. Who would have thought that in the twentieth century any Bishop would take his office so seriously? Who cared if the Bishop of Zanzibar and his 'niggers' were or were not in communion with the See of Hereford? Just fancy a man being such an execrable bigot as to object if a Canon of the comprehensive Church of England taught that Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead on the third day! Were there not plenty of Free-thinkers to applaud his courage?

Was Frank's action, then, a failure? I think not. Had he written a letter of protest to The Times, the British public would have read it with the same tepid interest as they read a protest about hooters on motor-cars. Acting as he did he made his protest memorable. Men might laugh at him, but they did not forget. There was still a man left ready to do battle for the honour of the Lord Christ: there was a man who really believed in the authority of the Church and the responsibility of his office: a man who, so believing, was ready to offer himself as a laughing-stock to an unbelieving world.


It is harder, perhaps, for an historian to realise what happened ten years ago than what happened five hundred. Things have changed, but the persons are the same. They may have changed and so may your attitude towards them. But it is necessary to attempt this retrocession, if we would understand Frank's character and actions, and enter into what we felt and said at the time.

Frank knew a good deal about modern doubts and difficulties, and he was very sympathetic with those who consulted him about them; but his toleration did not extend to ministers of religion who were commissioned to preach a doctrine and publicly denied its truth. He was also intensely sympathetic with the persons whom he knew but did not agree with. He himself was so sensitive that he had only to meet people in order to understand them; but he had very little power of realising people whom he did not know. He read their books or noted their actions and then labelled them. To Herbert Hensley Henson, Dean of Durham, he had affixed a large label, and on it the words, Arch-heretic.

Was he justified? It seems to me that Dr. Henson believes that it is his vocation to make people think, and that English people will not think unless they are shocked; I am not sure that he does not take an impish delight in shocking them. When at Westminster he liked talking about the very latest theories, and he liked showing old-fashioned people how insecure were some of the foundations on which they had built their faith. On the other hand, there was much constructive teaching in his sermons and it was by no means all of it in agreement with Liberal theology. You were sometimes left to infer how much he really believed, and you had singularly little evidence to go on, if you wished to prove that he had denied any article of the Creed. His manner, his fearlessness, his style and his reputation drew large numbers to his church, waiting with mouths open to be shocked. Newspaper men jotted down phrases, which, torn from their context, gave pain next day to pious people. His fame spread, so that even in Victoria Park, Christian Evidence speakers were reminded of 'the man at Westminster who criticises everything,' while in faraway Zanzibar was a Bishop who could not contain his wrath.

If there is such a thing as abstract hate, I think Frank felt it for Dr. Henson; but I am glad to think also that the feeling did not survive the meeting of the two men at the Lambeth Conference. Afterwards there was criticism in plenty, but animosity had disappeared.

While he knew only The Creed in the Pulpit, I am not surprised at his bitterness. That book, as the Archbishop of Canterbury acknowledged, contained some deplorable sayings. Frank regarded them as insults to his faith and to His Master: they hurt him as if he had received a blow: when Frank was himself hurt he suffered in silence; but when he thought that his Master's honour was in question, he hit out; and when Dr. Henson was promoted to the See of Hereford, he wrote Christ and His Critics.

The book was written in great haste at Zanzibar, while waiting for a boat to Lindi, and it presents to Catholics and Liberals clear issues. The argument is lucid, simple and direct, and there is the force of an ardent faith behind it; but the book is not persuasive. You almost feel that he did not wish to persuade, but to overwhelm and annihilate those with whom he disagreed. He had come to regard Liberalism as incompatible with Christianity, and ultimately I believe he was right. There are, however, many who adopt a Liberal attitude and remain essentially orthodox. Many Liberals also are moving towards orthodoxy, as many are moving further away. The former were not helped by a controversial method, however logical, which made agreement impossible. Frank pressed statements to logical conclusions, which those who made them did not admit. He seemed desirous to prove a general apostasy, whereas people were only hesitating and puzzled. He offered men a choice before they were ready to choose; he set up the barriers for a tournament to the death, when most of those whom he summoned to the melee had but an ill-informed interest on one side or the other; he seemed to be facing a disruption which most of us hope may yet be avoided. As far as his positive teaching goes, I am altogether on his side. Re-reading the book, I am struck once more by his clear-headed presentment of his case, but I have not his faith in polemical argument, and I have a faith in the Church of England which assures me that she will yet 'muddle through.'

I was opposed to Dr. Henson's consecration. I sympathised with Bishop Gore's protest, and I was convinced that he was right in withdrawing it. I never could see how the Archbishop could have acted otherwise than he did. In vain, I tried to make Frank understand my point of view. He disposed of me and my position in an Appendix to his book. He left me entirely unconvinced, but he had the best of the argument. He always had. It seems, in consequence, almost unfair that I should have the last word.

Note.--Under the stress of controversy, it seems to me that Frank somewhat receded from the theological position maintained in The One Christ, and approximated more nearly to the views of St. Cyril of Alexandria which he had formerly criticised. There is, however, nothing in Christ and His Critics which justifies the Bishop of Manchester in saying in Christus Veritas (p. 62) that 'he was brought as near to an explicit adherence to the Monothelite heresy as a man could come without an advowed acceptance of it.' The Bishop of Manchester has been misled because he himself uses the word Will in a sense unknown to historic theology. Frank kept to the old terms. I suggest to the Bishop of Manchester that he should ponder the valuable note which Mr. Grensted contributed to his book (p. 151) and then the passages to which he alludes in Christ and His Critics ' Clearly there are in Christ two evlpysiai of which the human progressively expresses the divine. And as Will can only be defined intelligibly in terms of conation, the orthodox result follows. Any other definition of Will gives one or other of the great heresies, besides breaking down inherently.' Frank did define Will in terms of conation. Does Dr. Temple?

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