Project Canterbury

Our Present Duty
Concluding Address, Anglo-Catholic Congress, 1923

By Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar
with a foreword by Sidney Dark

published by the Society of Ss Peter and Paul, London, n.d.


I think it would be safe to say that the speech with which the late Bishop of Zanzibar concluded the Anglo-Catholic Congress in 1923 was the most eloquent, the most moving, and the most exalted religious message delivered in London by a highly placed ecclesiastic in this generation. Dr. Frank Weston was a man of many great parts. In scholarship he had few equals among his episcopal brethren. He was a man of great force of character, certain to dominate any assembly of which he was a member. This was shown at the Lambeth Conference in 1921 when, as the late Dr. Watts-Ditchfield so generously admitted, he was one of the three or four bishops who direct personal influence affected the assembly. His power over his fellows was due to a rare combination of character and intellect. We who were present at the Albert Hall on those blazing hot days in the Summer of 1923 had our own experience of the magnetic power of Dr. Weston’s personality.

He had a high sense of his episcopal office. He realized that it gave him outstanding authority, and this authority no one who came in contact with him was ever inclined to question. But while upholding to the full the proper dignity of his office, Dr. Weston understood, with a completeness that few men have ever equaled, the obligation of service and the duty of the Christian to the unfortunate, the weak and the oppressed. This made him a great missionary. He not only regarded it as his life work to preach the Gospel to the Africans, but he was their stalwart and most courageous champion, and in the recent splendid stand made by the Church of South Africa for justice for the natives we may find one of the many ways in which Frank Weston has led and influenced his generation.

No man was ever more thorough in the demand for full Catholic privileges, and no man ever more clearly realized how useless those privileges are unless their significance is appreciated. "You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle if you do not pity Jesus in the slum."

I think this speech of his will be uncomfortable reading for the self-satisfied, for the smug and for the well-to-do, content with an aesthetic religion and indifferent to the troubles of their neighbours in the slums round the corner. But it is an inspiring message to those of us who are made unhappy by the inequalities of modern life and who, without knowing how things may be made better, are at least moved to a measure of sympathy when the hungry tramp with ragged trousers and squelching boots passes us on a wet day in Regent Street. And to us comes the command from the dead Bishop, hard enough to obey, to see Jesus in the ragged and in the oppressed and "when you see Him gird yourselves with His towel and try to wash their feet."

A great Christian leader has been taken from us, but his message remains.


Our Present Duty

I have no manner of doubt that it is the present duty of every Churchman to send money across the seas for foreign Missions. But that is not the purpose of my being here to-night. I was asked to speak to you at the end of the Congress upon our present duty as Anglo-Catholics, and it is to that that I address myself. I am purposely not saying anything about the present duty of the Anglo-Catholic Congress Committee, for any views I may have upon that I hope to communicate to them to-morrow if they care to have them. My duty as Chairman is this—to try to sum up as clearly as I can the things that we have been learning, the things, at least, that I hope we have been learning during these three days.

Now to put it quite clearly our present duty as Anglo-Catholics is to make a far deeper surrender to our Lord Christ and to make it over a far wider area than ever before. We are to make such a surrender of self to Christ over the whole area of our life that were he to choose to come on earth to reign in his own person, neither you nor I would find it necessary to alter the principles upon which we conduct our work, our prayer, our worship. That is the point. Were he to come, our principles would not require to be altered.

I recall you and myself to him, and I want you first to listen to the call of the Christ of Bethlehem, eternal God made Man for you, made Man for me, Jesus the Babe of Bethlehem. I want you to listen to him as he leaps from the Father's Throne across the gulf that separates the Creator from creation, across the gulf that separates holiness from sin. Listen to him as he leaps that gulf and appears in human form amongst us men. Listen to him as he speaks to you: By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if ye have love one to the other. I recall you to the Christ of Bethlehem and I suggest to you, as I suggest to myself, that it is our present duty to return into our own parishes and into our own dioceses and to see whether it is not possible to work out there the problems in the solving of which we seem to lose our love and to care only for ourselves. There in your own parish: and not in your parish only, but (shall we say?) in your rural deanery. There where you have the problem of the rich and the poor, the problem of the educated and the uneducated, the problem o£ the master and the man, the problem of the employer and the employed—there set yourselves, brethren, to work out the problem of fellowship. See if it be not possible that some of us may be called by our Lord to make a leap after the manner, however great a distance apart, of his; that we should come out of that in which we were born and make for ourselves a new life, if in any way we can help to build up the fellowship of man with man in Christ. I recall you to Jesus of Bethlehem. I challenge you to look up to Jesus of Bethlehem and summon him to move in and around your parish from altar to altar, from church to church. I challenge you to summon him. You dare not, and I dare not. When he comes we cry, "Lord have mercy." We are ashamed. For when shall we be able to stand for him, as a family, round the parish altar with hearts and voices all in unison, and all raised to him? When? That is your problem. That is the first problem of the Anglo-Catholic Congress.

Now in this no-one can throw stones. There are individuals whose efforts must shine in the sight of the angels; but as a corporate body, no Communion, no Church, no Society, can claim to have done more than touch the problem. Brethren, if you ask me, your Chairman, what is your present duty I tell you that first. Get back into your parish, get back into your rural deanery, get back into your own diocese, and work out what Christian fellowship means. Make for yourselves such fellowship as shall not make you ashamed in the sight of Jesus. Do not ask me how it is to be done,—if I knew I would tell you. It is a problem; but it is a problem that Christ can solve if we will be true to him-a difficult and a ticklish problem. You cannot simply sweep away the social customs in which we have been born and bred, and God forbid that we should try. You cannot pretend to an equality of culture and an equality of taste and temperament which does not actually exist. But, if God leapt a gulf for you, I suppose that you can leap gulfs for God first. We are recalled to the Christ of Bethlehem, then, into fellowship.

And secondly--though I dared not if I had not been told to do it, for who am I that I should speak on present duty?—I recall you to the Christ of Calvary. I remind you, brethren, and myself; that the reality behind the Catholic Movement, the reality at the foundation of the Church of Christ, is the Man Christ Jesus and him crucified.

I remind you that the hope of your salvation and the justification of your claim to attention from the world is just the naked Christ of Nazareth, and to him I recall you. The Anglo-Catholic—a man, a woman—following after Jesus along the old Catholic path. Nothing more than that. The path is Catholic, but do not boast about your path. Fix your eyes upon him who goes before you: Jesus, the naked Christ. Brethren, I recall you then in his name to the imitation of his Passion in a degree that has become foreign to most of us. You must set yourselves, brethren, here in the midst of London to show people that it is perfectly possible to lead a happy, a wholesome, healthy life, developing your true manhood without in any way forsaking the simplicity which goes with the Cross of the Christ of Nazareth; that you shall live simple lives, that you shall fight against luxury, that you shall encourage the rich to set a limit to the amount of money that they will use upon themselves, that they will do it not under pressure from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but out of personal devotion to him, Jesus.

And I would say this. I would venture to say to my brethren in the Ministry that the priesthood of which we Anglo-Catholics talk a very great deal implies a strictness and a sternness in the following of Christ that is sometimes sadly to seek. We want, we Priests, really to believe that we are consecrated to give our wills to Jesus, and in giving our wills to lay ourselves body and soul in his hands that he may do what he will with us. And therefore we have to be extremely careful to shut ourselves in from those things in the world that so easily distract our minds from him. We must have a far stricter standard, a far sterner following of Christ. For the Christ of Calvary calls you.

Brethren, consider. We meet and we count our thousands now; and had we an Altar that we might offer our Mass here, how glorious we should think it. But when you have followed the naked Christ, now glorified, and in the sacramental presence pleaded his cause before the Father, where is the sternness, where is the strictness, where is the self-sacrifice in us, the ministers, the acolytes and worshippers at the altar? Naked, yet glorified: that is the picture of him in his sacramental presence; and we well we know what we are. And beyond that call to us, the ministers, there are those yet awaiting their vocation; these are young men, there are boys, young women, girls; and life is opening out. What has the Christ of Calvary to say to you? What is the duty of the Anglo-Catholic Movement with regard to them? We want the young men in the Priesthood, if God calls them: we want the women in the Religious Life, we want them in the work of teaching for the Church: we want men and women, Priests and other workers abroad in the Foreign Mission field. But where are they? Why do they not come? Because we are not yet recalled to the Christ of Calvary—there is no other reason. And I put it to you who are parents and you who hope to be parents hereafter—I put it to you, what has the Christ of Calvary to say to you? Nothing? Do you remember how he reached his Cross? Do you forget whom it was he left that he might climb his Cross? Do you forget how his Mother was bidden to be content to live with the Beloved Disciple? And you fathers and mothers, cannot you give to Jesus some of what he has given to you? Dedicate them; rejoice that they should go into the Religious Life. Look only at the Catholics in Ireland—five or six of the family in the Priesthood and in Religion. Look at the numbers of men and women in a French household who are in the Priesthood and in Religion. Then look at your English homes. I recall you to the Christ of Calvary—listen to him, brethren.

And I want, if I may, to make one other point about Calvary. I want you Anglo-Catholics to consider how you are going to make that picture of Christ real to the world, unless religion can be presented to people as a matter of discipline. We want all the love, and the Christ of Bethlehem will secure that. We need the self-sacrifice, and the Christ of Calvary will do that. Now what about the discipline? You know you move in an atmosphere of obedience. Ideally, as I step out to go to the altar of God, I go in definite obedience to Holy Church to offer the Sacrifice of Christ's obedience. Now I ask you, in the ordinary Anglo-Catholic Church how much obedience is there? Now, mark you, I am not asking for obedience to a Bishop. I ask for obedience to the Bishops in so far as they themselves obey the Catholic Church. Please don't try to applaud. I am not making a point. I am talking to your souls. If you want my opinion of your present duty, I want you to get nearer to those English Bishops who do understand a little, and I want you to make it clear to them that it is becoming intolerable to you that your daily and Sunday Masses should be without that consecrating sense of obedience lying heavy on the Priest from the moment he begins to vest until he has completed the Mass and said his thanksgiving. And I want you to plead with the Bishops that they shall believe you, and that with you they shall try and see how you shall arrive at some understanding that shall be covered by the practice and the custom of the Catholic Church. I would never ask a Priest to obey the dicta of a Bishop. I have been a Bishop for fifteen years, and I do not think I have ever asked a priest simply to obey my opinion; but I always beg of them—and they listen—that when we are agreed that this is Catholic, and this is useful, and this is what is needed, then they obey. Even if they do not always agree, they obey.

And you lay people, what about Confession? Are you going to obey about that? How long are you going to hold back before you make your confessions to God in God's Church in the presence of God's Priests? How long are you going to hold back from acknowledging your corporate guilt and your responsibility to the Church? Or fasting. Do you fast? Do you know what it means really to fast? We have not learned it yet in England, and now we are beginning to look for dispensations from fasting and talking about gentacala and other most deceiving things. There is a sort of air of softness about us; and Jesus calls you. What does it matter if you get a headache when you are representing Calvary before the Father? Would you want to feel especially well and buoyant as you came from the contemplation of the Christ of Calvary? Brethren, you know you would not.

And my last point is this. I recall you in the last place to the Christ of the Blessed Sacrament. I beg you, brethren, not to yield one inch to those who would for any reason or specious excuse deprive you of your Tabernacles. I beg you, do not yield, but remember when you struggle, or, as Father Frere told us to-day, when you fight for the Church—do remember that the Church is the body of Christ, and you fight in the presence of Christ. Do not forget that. I want you to make your stand for the Tabernacle, not for your own sakes but for the sake of truth first, and in the second place for the sake of reunion hereafter. But for the truth, because the one great thing that England needs to learn is that Christ is found in and amid matter—Spirit through matter—God in flesh, God in the Sacrament. But I say to you, and I say it to you with all the earnestness that I have, that if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in his Blessed Sacrament, then you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slum.

Now mark that—this is the Gospel truth. If you are prepared to say that the Anglo-Catholic is at perfect liberty to rake in all the money he can get no matter what the wages are that are paid, no matter what the conditions are under which people work; if you say that the Anglo-Catholic has a right to hold his peace while his fellow citizens are living in hovels below the levels of the streets, this I say to you, that you do not yet know the Lord Jesus in his Sacrament. You have begun with the Christ of Bethlehem, you have gone on to know something of the Christ of Calvary—but the Christ of the Sacrament, not yet. Oh brethren! if only you listen to-night your movement is going to sweep England. If you listen. I am not talking economics, I do not understand them. I am not talking politics, I do not understand them. I am talking the Gospel, and I say to you this: If you are Christians then your Jesus is one and the same: Jesus on the Throne of his glory, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus received into your hearts in Communion, Jesus with you mystically as you pray, and Jesus enthroned in the hearts and bodies of his brothers and sisters up and down this country. And it is folly—it is madness—to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. It cannot be done.

There then, as I conceive it, is your present duty; and I beg you, brethren, as you love the Lord Jesus, consider that it is at least possible that this is the new light that the Congress was to bring to us. You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.

Project Canterbury