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Walter Frere: Scholar, Monk, Bishop – ed. Nicolas Stebbing & Benjamin Gordon Taylor

October 12, 2015

WFSMABAs I have strong connections with CR, through living in its Leeds hostel, this book brought back memories and explained many of the Mirfield ‘ways’.

Charles Gore is more famous but it is to Frere that we owe the community as it has evolved – Christian Socialist, set in the industrial north rather than Oxford and grounded catholic rather than esoteric (A Nashdom monk complained that Frere ‘defiled our alter by using English’).

We also owe to Frere the Manual of Plainsong, which I have used more often than the Parish Psalter over the years. It’s awful to hear organists mangle plainsong because they are used to Anglican chant: ‘we have most of us heard plainsong so sung that it sounded like an elephant waltzing: this is generally the fault of the accompaniment’.

I also owe to him his history of the Book of Common Prayer and was interested to note that 1549 included post-communion collects and the possibility of substituting the Easter anthems for the Gloria and the Apostles’ for the Nicene Creed.

He contributed greatly to the Church of South India at a time when most ‘catholics’ would have nothing to do with it.

To those who say that he wasn’t a ‘proper’ catholic, it should be noted that he introduced reservation of the blessed and sacramental confession into the diocese of Truro.


deep personal devotion. But he was a realist in another sense, well aware of the down-to-earth conditions of prayer, as when he advised the end-of-the day-weary to ‘kneel down and say “O God I am tired” and then jump into bed:”

Divine revelation reaches perfection in Christ; it is recorded and interpreted by ‘necessarily imperfect’ human writers; and critical method is a welcome enrichment.

the tabernacle will not be allowed. Rather he favours the more English hanging pyx, arguing that it is better to revert to an ‘English custom and not adopt a foreign one’.6 Without a tabernacle, Frere insists, people will be less likely to genuflect or do something in the particular direction of the Sacrament. It will, he suggests, also make life easier for clergy, and servers do not ‘feel the same way constrained to pay respect and reverence’ when the Sacrament is held in a hanging pyx as ‘all is on a higher plane, and the Presence is pervaded rather than localised. Frere goes on to counter those who would seek to follow the practices of Rome by insisting that the Sacrament when reserved will be used only when the priest takes Communion to the sick and at no other time:

We can’t regulate the services in any complete sort of way, or prescribe what may be said or what may not. Someone reciting the ordinary Prayer Book Litany to the Sacrament may be doing exactly what we should not wish, but we can’t prevent it; still less can we prevent the singing of such a hymn as Jesu, my Lord, my God, my All’ with that intention. What I think can be prescribed is that the Sacrament should not be removed for any purpose except Communion.’

Here Frere is clearly arguing against any devotion to the Sacrament and certainly against the service of Benediction, which was used in many ritualist parishes in the 1920s. There was for Frere to be no thought of prayer to the Sacrament; its reservation in a hanging pyx gave the sense of the presence of the divine but its use was strictly limited. He hoped that the custom of giving Communion to the sick would, once adopted, be used ‘wherever there is the need, and by all sorts of churchmen. This move to regulate the use of the Reserved Sacrament would be opposed by many hard-line Anglo-Catholics

in essentials [the liturgy] is the same building in which Christians were already living ten or 15 or even 18 or more centuries ago. In the course of all these centuries, the structure has become more and more complicated … and so the plan of the building has been obscured … Hence we must look up the old building plans, for these will tell us what the architects of old really wanted.

As early as 1922, Frere had brought the Hippolytan prayer to the Alcuin Club’s attention in a lecture, emphasizing the theological neatness of its structure: three main verbs, `We thank Thee, ‘We offer unto Thee, ‘We ask Thee to send Thy Holy Spirit, representing the prayer’s ‘three great motives’

His continued frustration that the fruit of almost 20 years’ work had apparently been sabotaged is seen in his preface to his final work, The Anaphora (1938), where he fires an uncharacteristic parting shot at the `determined obscurantist and retrograde movement, which poses noisily as catholic [i.e., the ‘Romanist’ party within the Church of England], but is really anarchist in method though medieval in outlook”’… This charge of being ‘retrograde’ and ‘medieval’ was precisely that which these advocates of the contemporary ‘Roman Use, associated with The English Missal and the liturgical publications of the Society of Ss. Peter and Paul, had noisily levelled at the advocates of the revived medieval ‘English Use’ associated with Percy Dearmer and The Parson’s Handbook of 1899.

Gregory Dix, in sorting through his liturgical papers after his death, found masses of material that was unusable because only Frere had the key, and masses more falls out of books on the Community’s shelves today. He was a scholarly squirrel, delighting in collecting, cataloguing and storing all over the place vast piles of nuts that might never again see the light of day, with no apparent thought for any who might come after to benefit from this labour and build upon it.

The classic under­standing of obedience is a mutual listening between two parties. It is a way of relating, not only to those in leadership but also horizontally to one another. Obedience as mutual listening is a form of love — love of the other, of God and of the life. Obedience to Rule alone cannot but be individualistic and impersonal, and cannot be a living process in the classic sense — it is static and limited to prescribed formulas. It presents the vision, not of two people facing each other and listening (obedience) but of solitary individuals each following a text with a magnifying glass (compliance).

According to Evagrius, ‘the theologian is one who prays in truth’. For him, theology cannot be done in separation from prayer; indeed in a sense it is prayer. This theology furthermore is a way of life — it prospers as a person’s life becomes more and more a life that is prayer, a life inhabited by God.

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