Recollections of Malines
by Walter Frere, C.R.
[London: The Centenary Press, 1935 119pp]
THE FIRST CONVERSATION
December 6 we attended the Chapel of the Palace on our side of the building. The Cardinal had his private oratory on the other side, and according to Belgian custom its ways were a good bit earlier than ours. At ten o'clock we met in a large and rather formal and cold salon; the Cardinal joined us from the other side, and opened the Session. The Minutes which are given in Lord Halifax's little volume give an authentic account of the first proceedings, and indeed of all the later ones also. The opening address, after the Cardinal's greeting, was made by Lord Halifax, who utilized to the best purpose for us throughout the Conversations his command of the French language and knowledge of Roman Catholic thought. It was agreed to take his Memorandum as the basis for discussion. The Cardinal read the opening part of it and Lord Halifax commented at considerable length on the subject. (See Annex No. 2 in the volume.)
The first subject was the nature of the Church: in the discussion of Lord Halifax's section on this subject, the Cardinal raised the question of the Church Visible, and the Church Invisible; we each set aside any idea of regarding the Church merely as an invisible body, maintaining that baptism in itself was sufficient to constitute membership of the Visible Church. But to us a reply was given that the larger view was nevertheless worth bearing in mind; the Invisible Church as well as the Visible should be taken into account, as including, in some sense, the membership of some of those who are formally outside. In the end, however, two propositions were agreed upon (as set out in the Minutes), emphasizing the point that persons baptized become incorporated into an organized social life: and that an apostolic hierarchy, apostolic in history and character, together with the divine sacraments are characteristic and necessary features of the same, being established for the Church by divine order.
Discussion then passed to consider the Anglican attitude towards the Council of Trent, and the Council of the Vatican. The Anglicans were not altogether agreed as to the possibility of reconciling Trent with Anglican doctrine.
The Dean was doubtful whether such reconciliation was possible, and expressed himself as not satisfied with Tract 90. At the same time he explained carefully what was the nature of the Assent to the Thirty-nine Articles required in the English Church. He had taken pains to discuss this matter with the Archbishop of Canterbury previous to coming, and was enabled therefore authoritatively to expound what the Assent to the Articles, as at present made, really implied. He agreed, however, that they need form no obstacle to further discussion, in the sense in which they were now taken or imposed. Passing on then to the Papacy and the relations between the Pope and the Council, the question was asked in what way a doctrine could become a matter of faith in the view of the Roman Catholics. To this question Mgr. Von Roey gave in reply the definition quoted in the Minutes; and the Anglican criticisms there recorded then followed. The Cardinal then explained that the Pope is not apart from the Episcopate or the Church; and does not act as an individual, but on behalf of all. What is called a new doctrine is not really new, but implanted already in the Christian tradition, and emerging, in a sense, in the same sort of way as in the human mind an idea is conceived and then only later on finds expression. Our own conference will illustrate that; for we began with half-expressed opinions and ideas in our several minds, which only in the course of discussion became growing convictions and ultimately present our corporate mind.
In conclusion it was felt that no agreement could be said to have been reached upon this point, but that the explanation given by Mgr. Van Roey would be very valuable for future discussion.
In the afternoon's meeting the Cardinal read the rest of the Memorandum, and it was then discussed section by section. The section of the Memorandum concerning the Holy Eucharist, basing itself upon the Catechism and Anglican formularies, was accepted as a statement of Catholic fact, but the Anglicans were unable to accept the formulated scholastic doctrine of Transubstantiation as a satisfactory explanation of the Real Presence. In this connexion Article XXVIII was explained and discussed. Mgr. Van Roey was anxious to argue that Transubstantiation was the only reasonable explanation; it was thought best therefore to drop this side of the matter and the use of the term, and to keep to the fact that it was meant to guard. As to the practices quoted in that Article, it was said of them that the Anglicans did not condemn the practices themselves, but only insisted that they were not necessary. The discussion of the Sacrifice of the Eucharist which followed is fully recorded in the published Minutes of the day. On the question of the chalice the Cardinal explained that it was withheld for practical reasons, and the withdrawal had no dogmatic significance. He thought it would not make a difficulty; there were signs in the Roman Church of a desire for the restoration of communion in both kinds, which was not treated as impossible in itself; indeed the Uniat discipline on the point had to be taken into account as expressing the wider view.
On the question of imposing any doctrines as "Articles of Faith" it was agreed that in principle it is right: and also that there was agreement between us on most of the doctrines recognized as such; but not on all. The Anglicans desired that those that could not be treated as universally agreed upon should be left optional.
The Dean raised the question of jurisdiction by saying that any National Church ought to have a measure of Home Rule; and, while bound by loyalty to the whole Church, should not be tied in lesser matters. Thus the Bishops should be free to govern their dioceses and not be subjected to a series of orders from outside. The Cardinal replied that Bishops exercised their authority jure divino in their own dioceses; that is to say, their jurisdiction is not derived only through the Pope; and that in fact in the Roman system they have much more liberty of individual action than the Anglicans seem to recognize, quoting instances to illustrate this statement. His own practice was to ascertain the views of Rome for prudence sake; but he would have felt bound to resist the Germans even if the Pope had disapproved. The session closed with a discussion of the other points indicated in the Minutes.
At the conclusion it was agreed that Minutes should be drawn up, utilizing very largely the notes that I had attempted to make of the progress of the discussion, as it went on, though these were necessarily disconnected and incomplete, owing to the necessity of taking my part in the discussion. The duty was laid upon Portal and me of drawing up the Minutes in French and English; and we spent a long evening at this task, being very anxious to set out the matter while it was all fresh in our memories.
The next day was devoted to the Lambeth Appeal (Annex No. I). The Cardinal read this sometimes in Latin, sometimes in French, and sometimes in English. Chapter VI was important. Explanation was made by Mgr. Van Roey with regard to the relation of the Bible to the definition of "doctrine." The word "ultimate" in the Appeal was much criticized and proved unacceptable to the Roman Catholics; they equally misliked the word "supreme." The Anglicans explained that in their view the demand for an explicit biblical authority applied only to those matters which are "of faith"; this view, it seems, was not unacceptable to some Roman Catholic authorities, though it was not accepted by all; but many were anxious to maintain that in fact there was such immediate biblical authority for whatever they demanded as "of faith." The discussion on Chapter VII is very fully recorded in the Minutes and they at this point are particularly authoritative; because after they had been drawn up and submitted for verification, they were a good deal amplified and amended in the subsequent session; in particular the Cardinal made himself responsible for the exact form of the words attributed to him.
In the afternoon session a great deal of time was given to the revision of the Minutes submitted, and to an explanation of the concrete proposal about Anglican Orders made in Chapter VIII of the Lambeth Appeal. The Cardinal was naturally very reticent about this, but expressed the opinion that Ordination sub conditione might be required and might be found satisfactory, but some sort of supplement also might be a conceivable plan of regularization.
The morning of Thursday was given to framing and polishing of Minutes which were again considered in the afternoon session, amended and approved.
So ended the first conference. It covered an enormous piece of ground and we ended with great hopes and much reassurance as to the value of continuing the work of the Conversations at some subsequent time and convenient place. On Friday, December 9, 1921, we returned to England, the Dean to Lambeth where he reported to the Archbishop: and all seemed well.