Project Canterbury

Recollections of Malines
by Walter Frere, C.R.

[London: The Centenary Press, 1935 119pp]


A YEAR passed; this was full of discussion as to future continuance of the Conversations thus begun: filled by correspondence with the Authorities, here in England, by mutual visits between Hickleton and Mirfield, and by correspondence with the Cardinal, in which, besides Lord Halifax, the Archbishop of Canterbury took some part. Meanwhile Lord Halifax was also busy with the publication in English of a Pastoral letter of the Cardinal’s, to which he wrote an Introduction. Soon the question arose as to the members who should take part in any future continuance, their number, and the amount of authority that they should have; it was felt on both sides that there should be more recognition of what was going on, though still not any authoritative approval.

Before the year was out, the Cardinal wrote saying that he had reason to believe that the Conversations were being followed with approval in Rome, and that their continuance would be well regarded. This led to the same question being more distinctly raised on the English side, and some little skirmishing as to the amount of authority and responsibility that either party would take. In the end, a happy solution was reached. The same people were to go to the Conferences as before; they would go with the approval of their Authorities; but they would make their own programme, would be responsible for their own statements, and would not be in any sense official representatives of either side.

As to the subject of the next Conference, it was thought by us that, having had a preliminary survey of matters of doctrine, we should next have something of a preliminary survey concerning matters of discipline and jurisdiction, conducted on the same lines. So preparation was made for a Conversation on these lines. The English representatives adopted a brief Memorandum setting out the questions which they wished to have discussed; and this was submitted to the Cardinal to form a basis for the next gathering, which was fixed for March 14-15, 1923.

This is the brief document which is printed in the Malines volume as Annex No. 3. It had been hoped that some similar summary of suggestions or questions would have come from the Roman Catholic side, but this did not eventuate; so this second set of Conferences centred also round an English draft.

In this set of Conversations there was a much further approach made to the hot points of controversy; the previous set had aimed at establishing the points where agreement between each could fairly easily be found. This one raised some of the thorniest questions, those on which any sort of agreement was much more unlikely. It would not have been possible to have carried it on with the frankness and good temper which prevailed, unless already the group that was gathered round the table had achieved a very close friendship, mutual respect and unity of heart.

The printed Minutes represent faithfully the progress of the debate. The consideration of the Anglican Memorandum occupied the first two sessions ; after that it was thought well that each side should draw up a brief Memorandum of its own on the points at issue, making it as pacific as possible, but stating clearly and frankly where differences lay. On the second day these two Memoranda were produced, criticized and amended; it was decided to forward each, after signature by the members who produced it, for submission to each of the Authorities concerned. Before separating, the documents in their final form were produced, signed and attested. Each trio signed its own Memorandum, and this was countersigned by the trio of the other party, attesting it as the actual counter-statement. It is important to emphasize what was involved in these two sets of signatures, because they have been much misunderstood. Neither party signed the other's Memorandum, as approving it, but only authenticating it as being the opposite document. These form Annex No. 4 in the Malines volume; but the names subscribed should be placed differently and in double column, those signing their own document on the right hand side, and those attesting it on the left hand side. It was not unnatural that on our return the result of these discussions should cause more questioning in the minds of those who knew about them than the previous Conversations had done. Some mistake, that arose about the signatures and their significance, made matters worse. And the breathing of the word pallium caused shudders in Lambeth and elsewhere. But those who were at the Conference itself felt that, having taken their courage in both hands, they had been guided through many difficult places and maintained their loyalty, whilst at the same time appreciating more fully than before the opposite position. A preliminary survey had been made which justified the hope that even the most difficult things could be profitably discussed; and all this was much to the good.

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