Project Canterbury

Recollections of Malines
by Walter Frere, C.R.

[London: The Centenary Press, 1935 119pp]


A LETTER to me from Lord Halifax dated November 9, 1921, was the first intimation of what was to be. The letter made a suggestion that we should meet, but there was a significant postscript at the end: "I have been seeing and having some talk with Cardinal Mercier." Our interview followed, an invitation to Malines emerged; and we discussed at great length the possibilities of such an opportunity. If there was to be a conference with the Cardinal at Malines, who should be the people to go there and confer? It would of course be unofficial. So the choice lay with us. Then followed a month containing a good deal of correspondence, more detailed discussion, the preparing of documents and the like. Besides this, it took time to determine finally who should go; it was thought three representatives would be better than two or than four, which was the number first proposed. So we had to choose our third colleague, and it was not an easy task. Many were discussed but deemed unsuitable for one reason or another. Finally, after some pressure from us and from other and higher quarters, Dr. Armitage Robinson, then Dean of Wells, was persuaded to complete the trio.

The time of the invitation was for the week between December 5 and 10, 1921; meanwhile there was a great deal done. Pere Portal, who had been with Lord Halifax at the preliminary visit to the Cardinal at Malines, was of course in close correspondence and co-operation all the time. This good French priest, who had been closely allied with Lord Halifax in schemes of union for a long period, represented on the Roman Catholic side the same hopeful outlook and the same enthusiasm as Lord Halifax himself on the Anglican side; each devotedly loyal to his own communion and finding loyalty no hindrance, but on the contrary a continuous spur, to efforts for the healing of the breach between the two communions.

We came to see that it was advisable that there should be some document prepared for discussion, partly in order to make clear some of the points of Anglican outlook and usage with which Roman Catholics are not as a rule familiar, and partly in order to see that the right class of topics were included, and the right class of questions were propounded, and set in the right sort of light. It was clear from the beginning that all that could be expected from such a meeting was an exploration, a preliminary inquiry, as to whether there was to be found sufficient ground common to the two communions for further discussion to be advisable.

On our side there was a clear starting-point, namely the Appeal of the Lambeth Conference of 1920 "to all Christian people." But while this provided the justification for the discussion, something else was needed to serve as the actual document to be discussed on such an occasion. It was in view of these conditions that Lord Halifax himself therefore drafted the Memorandum to serve as a basis of discussion. After much criticism and consideration this draft reached the form to which all the conferrers agreed, and which, in a French translation, went beforehand to Malines.

It may here be noted once for all, that two forms of report upon the Conversations have been issued. The first was the Official Report which was presented to the Archbishop of Canterbury at the close of the Conversations and was issued with his permission as a pamphlet dated July, 1927, under the title Conversations at Malines (Oxford University Press). [The first edition was both in English and French. A second edition containing the English only was printed in 1930].

Later on, in 1930, Lord Halifax issued on his own responsibility a collection of the documents concerning the conferences which had not previously been liberated for publication. These formed a small volume, published by Philip Allan & Co. in 1930, also entitled The Conversations at Malines. It contains the Minutes of the four Conversations, together with an Appendix containing as "Annexes" other documents which were utilized in them. First the Lambeth Appeal for reunion was reprinted; then the Memorandum of Lord Halifax; in all a series of sixteen annexes to the Minutes. This little volume was printed in France, partly in French and partly in English. The collection however was neither exact nor complete, as will appear from time to time in these reminiscences.

This caveat must be noted here because what is printed as Annex No. 2 in that volume is not Lord Halifax's Memorandum in its final shape; by some oversight what has been printed is one of the earlier drafts of the Memorandum, one which subsequently received a good deal of modification, before reaching the final form in which it made its appearance at Malines.

The difference is sufficiently important to justify a few correcting quotations concerning some of the matters of chief importance. In regard to the Papal Supremacy and the Decree of the Vatican Council, the passage as printed in the volume (pages 73-4) was almost entirely rewritten; eventually it was accepted and submitted, in this form.

"Perhaps also not dissimilar considerations might facilitate agreement about difficult points in regard to the Papal Supremacy and the Decrees of the Vatican Council. In regard to the first, it is well to remember, with a view to reunion, two pronouncements of Leo XIII, when, speaking of the independence of the civil society from the temporal, he said with regard to religious society (i) that the Supremacy of the Pope implies no claim to authority in temporal and civil affairs; and (2) that the powers of Bishops exist jure divino. In regard to the Vatican Decree a great difficulty is removed if it is admitted that no power is claimed there by the Council for the Pope apart from the Church ; and that what it claims for the Pope is simply the power, after having taken every means to ascertain what the teaching of the Church is, on any given point, to declare what that teaching is in an authoritative manner. In short the power of the Pope is not the power to declare or impose a new dogma, but only the power to declare explicitly and authoritatively what is the faith committed by our Lord Jesus Christ to the Church's guardianship. Dr. Pusey said in his preface to the late Bishop of Brechin's (Bishop Forbes) book on the Articles that there was nothing in the Council of Trent which need constitute a difficulty for the Anglican Church; and that even the Papal Supremacy was open to an interpretation which Anglicans could accept without serious difficulty."

Similarly the statement in our Memorandum about the Eucharistic Sacrifice took another form.

"That the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass is nothing else than the offering made by our Lord Jesus Christ to His Father, under the sacramental species, of His Body and His Blood, separated in a mystical manner the one from the other by the consecration, in memory of the death and bloodshedding; which He suffered once for all upon the Cross for the sins of the whole world, past, present and future. That the Eucharist is the same sacrifice as that of the cross offered by our Saviour Jesus Christ to His Father mystically and by way of sacrament."

Once more with regard to the Immaculate Conception, the Memorandum should read very differently on page 77:

"No well instructed Anglican would deny the belief that our Lady was preserved by God's special grace from every stain of original sin from the first moment of her conception. Such a statement really differs but little from what we are told in the Bible of St. John Baptist's conception; and if the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is merely that our Lady by the grace of God from the first moment of her conception was placed in a position in relation to God which we believe is granted to every child at its baptism, there is nothing in the dogma itself which every Christian should not be ready to accept. The difficulty lies not in the doctrine itself, but in the history of the Church and the attitude of the Orthodox Church in regard to the dogma—a Church which none can declare to be lacking in the veneration due to the Mother of God—and in the fact of the belief in question being declared an Article of Faith. No one can expect the Roman Church to go back upon what it has authoritatively said. Nor, equally, can the Orthodox Church or the Anglican Church be expected to accept formally what forms no part of their traditional faith, and was not an Article of Faith for Roman Catholics until 1854. There must obviously be accommodations made in regard to all such matters. The Assumption of our Lady is not an Article of Faith, but that does not prevent it from being observed in many Anglican churches. Is it impossible that such difficulties as that of the Immaculate Conception should be obviated by an agreement which would safeguard both sides concerned, Rome on the one side, the Orthodox and the Anglicans on the other? Is it not the fact that at the Council of Florence the decrees of the various Lateran Councils were ignored?"

The Memorandum also is incomplete. It should end with the words: "From this we may surely feel certain that any proposal that came from Rome for the holding of conferences with a view to discussing reunion, would be welcomed by the authorities of the Anglican Church."

Before the end of the month Lord Halifax had, very prudently, had a satisfactory interview with Cardinal Bourne, and all was getting into train. It became evident that it was desirable that the trio should have some conference together in person before embarking upon their expedition, so as to clear up their own and one another's minds as to any of the questions that might arise, and to foresee the answers to inquiries that might be made. Accordingly another Memorandum was drawn up to serve as a basis for this discussion between the three conferrers. This discussion was held at Lord Halifax's house in Eaton Square in preparation for the departure of the trio: the document served its purpose, and was useful for the object for which it was drawn up. It was not produced as a document at Malines and therefore does not figure among the documents of the Conversations. At the same time as an indication of the common mind of those who went, it has a certain value and may deserve to be printed here. (See Addendum I.)

On Monday, December 5, 1921, we set out for Malines under the care of James, Lord Halifax's admirable valet. He became quite a part, an inseparable part indeed, of the conferences, being excellent company on the journey, very capable in seeing us and our luggage into the right places: and very acceptable also when we got to Malines, for he had already friends there who had been refugees at Hickleton in the days of the war. Arriving late the same evening at Malines, we were greeted with a voice that it seemed almost impossible to believe was not an English voice; it came from Canon Dessain, the Cardinal's Chaplain and an old member of Christ Church at Oxford. From that moment his help and companionship was a very marked feature of Malines. That welcome was the first episode that I remember. The second was of a different nature. As the Dean emerged from our carriage, a grand silhouette in the dark station with his decanal hat and gaiters, a man waiting on the platform, having some suspicion of what was going on, supposed that this great figure must be the Cardinal himself, and knelt for his blessing, helped perhaps by the glint of the decanal ring upon the figure's finger. The Dean was a little puzzled at first to know exactly what was happening; but when it was explained to him, he rose to the occasion: and the good man did not go away un-blessed.

So we drove away to the Archbishop's house—a large and rather gaunt building erected round three sides of a quadrangle with a garden in the middle, and the garden extending out on the fourth side. A rather prohibitive-looking door and porter's lodge opened before us, and we came into the Archeveche itself. A very spacious staircase of an official kind faced us, leading to official rooms on the one side and to the more domestic rooms and the guest rooms on the other, all on the upper floor.

We tumble out of the darkness and see in the light the tall dominating figure of the Cardinal bending down to welcome his guests with that singular charm which was his; with him is Pere Portal, who had already arrived from Paris, and the third figure, unknown to us then but very well known to us later, Mgr. Van Roey, the Archbishop's Vicar-General, who was to be the third member of the trio on that side. Supper gave us our first opportunity of common intercourse, and then followed a little polite talk and bed. The first discussion is to begin the morning following; and what will come of it?

Project Canterbury