Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Sunday, 6 September 2020

Our Present Duty

Yesterday I was outlining to a Catholic friend who did not know it the burden of “Our Present Duty”, the address by the Anglo-Catholic Bishop Frank Weston of Zanzibar at the conclusion of the Anglo-Catholic Congress in the Royal Albert Hall in 1923. 

Biographies of Bishop Weston can be seen at Frank Weston (Bishop of Zanzibar) and at Bishop Frank Weston - one of our heroes

Weston Zanzibar.jpg
Bishop Frank Weston

Image: Wikipedia 

Frank Weston, 1871-1924, a graduate of Trinity College in Oxford was consecrated to be Bishop of Zanzibar in 1908.  He became one of the leading figures in the Anglo-Catholic movement in an era when it was, or appeared to be, getting into the driving seat of the Church of England. Theologically he and his fellows were “Full Faith Catholics” within the Anglican Communion, living out their  understanding of the “Branch theory.”
“Our Present Duty” is one of the - maybe the -  great rallying cries of twentieth century Anglicanism, a masterly exposition of the link between an Incarnational and sacramental theology on the one hand and evangelism and social action on the other. As a text it repays careful reading and subsequent reflection.

Today one can read it and see it transcending denominations - apart from certain cultural references it speaks in its essence, and in many details also, to Catholics in communion with Rome, to the Orthodox, to those in between ( let us not forget them ). In a changed world its potential audience has grown as the ecclesial topography has shifted.

It has much of the forcefulness, the doctrinal certainty, of the early Oxford Movement, and combined it with an Evangelical fervour, a vital sense of mission.

It is therefore relevant today to Christians in this country and beyond who, mutatis mutantis, belong to traditions that place emphasis on the importance of liturgy. This is still true although Bishop Weston’s Anglo-Catholic world has largely gone or been absorbed by Rome. 

He stresses the importance of disciplined worship - in Anglican terms Archbishop Laud and Bishop Gore would both approve of the principle if not the form. Followers of not a little that idealises their idea of the “Spirit of Vatican II” or Common Worship can learn from that. So too can those of a traditional mindset who lean towards liturgical precision - which is good - but do not take its inherent message outside into the highways and byways.

97 years after it was delivered “Our Present Duty”, not so much despite but because of the decline in belief and practice is still highly relevant. Today there are new challenges in the wake of the coronavirus and the contemporary social malaise. Our present duty may be to return to the call of “Our Present Duty”.

The text, together with an introduction, can be read thanks to Project Canterbury at Our Present Duty, by Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar

An article which is a reflection upon it and almost a commentary as to its contemporary application from Fr Paul Nesta of ECUSA, together with appended comments, can be read at Come out from before your Tabernacles

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