Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Christ and the Gethsemane of Mind: Frank Weston Then and Now

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Christ and the Gethsemane of Mind: Frank Weston Then and Now

Article excerpt

The Burning Babe of Bethlehem on him smil'd: . . . A Black Christ bowed beneath a Heart-Break load.1

"So Grandmamma inquired snippily, 'Who are these Anglo-Catholics, my dear? One seems to hear so much of them in these days. I can't help thinking they are rather noisy,' as she might have spoken of Bolshevists, or the Labour Party, or Sinn Fein." Thus Rose Macaulay remarked in a novel published in 1921. Later in the same book Grandmamma continues: "But they're not High Church any longer, they tell me. They're Catholics in these days. I don't know enough of them to judge them, but I don't think they can have the dignity of the old High Church party. . . . Well, it suits some people, and psycho-analysis obviously suits others."2 As this quotation makes clear, the 1920s marks the public triumph of Anglo-Catholicism, when it finally left the closet to take on the powers and authorities of the church: it could attract thousands at massive gatherings in London, where the true faith was proclaimed and where an infectious enthusiasm spread out into the parishes. And perhaps the noisiest figure of all was Frank Weston, the dynamic and charismatic bishop of the diocese of Zanzibar (established by the Universities' Mission to Central Africa, the most catholic of the mission agencies).3

The first Congress was held in 1920, and it soon proved to be far more popular than any of its planners had expected, the queues for the opening sendee at Southwark extending across the River Thames. Marcus Atlay, the chief organizer, remarked in triumphalist mood: "It is the first time, surely, since the Reformation, that London Bridge heard such a great crowd singing to the honor of the Mother of our Lord, as the waiting multitude sang again and again, 'Hail Maiy, Hail Mary, Hail Mary, full of grace.'"4 The most famous Congress, however, was that held at the Albert Hall in July 1923 under the chairmanship of Weston and attended by about 2,000 clergy and 13,000 laity. The aim was:

To demonstrate to the world that the Catholic position is the true and real interpretation of what English religion is meant to be, and further to make it plain that English Catholics have no intention whatever of being driven to Rome or to schism; but that they intend to claim, with no uncertain voice, their rightful heritage in the English Church.5

Weston dominated the Congress. "When he smiled," wrote one commentator, "every one laughed: when he prayed, you could feel thousands praying too."6 No doubt his reputation depended partly on his taste for controversy: for instance, he sent a notorious telegram to the Pope' and called for obedience to bishops only when they were themselves obedient to the catholic church.8

More substantially, however, Weston's fame rested on the sheer power of his oratory. As C. H. Turner, one of the intellectual leaders of Anglo-Catholicism, put it: "I think the Bishop of Zanzibar was the greatest man I ever met. I know that he was the greatest orator I ever heard."9 Weston was also a master of captivating wit and irony. When the Bishop of London, Winnington-Ingram, requested that the participants at the Congress not sing Marian hymns, Weston responded: "Let us who reverence our Lady Mary, remember that she is queen of courtesy to the bishop of this diocese, deny ourselves the joy of singing this hymn."10 Weston's "forceful personality" and the "electric current of his fighting and evangelical speeches induced men to say," according to one commentator, "that at last the Catholics of England had found their leader."11 Despite his frequent emphasis on the symbols of partisan Anglo-Catholic identity, however, it would be unfair to count Weston a narrow party man: while he could be belligerently hostile to ecumenism and modernism, his personality was able to appeal way beyond the confines of party, as was demonstrated by the pivotal role he had earlier played at the 1920 Lambeth Conference. Here, although he was initially disillusioned with his fellow bishops for their liberalism and although he was suspected by them for his extremism, he left a hero. …

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