Project Canterbury

Recollections of Malines
by Walter Frere, C.R.

[London: The Centenary Press, 1935 119pp]


AFTER the third set of Conversations a wider publicity was given to the events that had taken place. Shortly after the return of the party the Archbishop of Canterbury determined to issue a circular letter to the Archbishops and Metropolitans of the Anglican communion in the form of a Report upon the response that had been received to the Letter on Reunion of the Lambeth Conference sent out in 1920. He took this opportunity at Christmas, 1923, of speaking not only of what had been going on along well-known lines and upon well-worn ground, but also of giving an account of what had been happening at Malines. This was desirable for the information of our people at home, and also it enlisted the interest of those in the Anglican communion generally. The Archbishop put the whole proceedings in their proper light, and explained his own share in the matter.

Practically the whole of the second part of the Letter was given up to the question of Malines. (See Addendum V.) The move was a wise one; it was found desirable that there should be an authentic statement of what had been going on, and what it involved and what it did not involve. The immediate effect of the Letter, as might be supposed, was to cause a somewhat violent reaction in two opposite camps; the English Roman Catholics were greatly upset to know what had been going on, and there was a considerable agitation caused in Protestant circles in England, both inside and outside the Church, accompanied by something like protest and dismay. Two points may however be noted as an indication that the latter form of reaction was not nearly so violent as might have been expected. First, it was natural enough that the nonconformist delegates who were meeting in conference with the Anglicans from time to time at Lambeth should have raised the question and asked for explanations. It is noteworthy that the explanations given were acceptable, and that even in some quarters a measure of approbation was given. Secondly, the matter came up in the Convocations, not by way of any resolution, but by way of a statement made by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his speech delivered in the Upper House on February 6, 1924. No formal cognizance thereupon was taken of the information given. In both Convocations the statement made was accepted by nearly all with confidence in what had been done. In one Convocation a single Bishop stood out in protest, and in the other there was no difference of opinion of such a character as to indicate disapproval of what had been done.

Meanwhile similar action had been taken by the Cardinal in Belgium. There too criticism had been busy, the Cardinal's action had been hotly attacked, and strong blasts of disapproval had come across the Channel from England. To these the Cardinal replied in a letter to his clergy of January 18, 1924, which was devoted to an explanation and a justification of the Conversations at Malines. (See Addendum VI.)

We are thus provided with a valuable summary of the situation as it was seen by the two chief parties concerned; it is interesting to observe the difference of outlook. Our Archbishop was proceeding, slowly but steadily and with a certain amount of increased faith, in forwarding the Conferences. The Cardinal, on the other hand, was eager from the first, but was finding it rather difficult to be faced with the delays, and never really understanding the Anglican position, as his letter shows. The largeness of his heart embraced us all, but his head did not seem to take in our position. He had clearly established a logical argument for the Papacy, and a position that satisfied him: a great deal of the discussions on the subject must have seemed to him very irrelevant; historical considerations, even the history of doctrine, did not seem to appeal to him, and naturally therefore ideas of theological development were in the same case. Naughty children we were, obstinate and stupid as well, but we must be treated with the utmost patience and generosity. So the heart triumphed over the head, and the ensuing story will show how far the Cardinal was prepared to venture and to go, for our sakes, however stupid and recalcitrant we might be.

After this balancing up on each side it was hoped that we should be able to look forward to the next Conference, and May was the time appointed; but delays occurred, and though they were for the most part merely due to such obstacles as the pressure of engagements, the difficulty of finding a time that was convenient to everybody, and, in the case of the Dean of Wells, the need of recovery from an accident, it was regrettable that a continued series of postponements went on. The interval was not without its interviews between individual members, both on this side of the Channel, and also across the Channel. Lord Halifax paid a personal visit to the Cardinal, and Bishop Gore met some of the members of the group in Paris; these gatherings were quite unofficial. In fact the main business that was going on in the latter half of the year was the preparation of memoranda for the next Conference. It was hoped that then the Roman Catholics would take the lead and bring forward their points for our criticism; and it was specially desired that Mgr. Van Roey, the present Cardinal, would contribute a paper on the dogmatic claims of the Papacy. All this took place as planned, and the results of it were seen in the ensuing Conference. On our side of the water there was a gathering at Bishop Gore's house in Margaret Street, which helped much in the preparation of our contributions to the coming discussion; and served to clear up a good many points on our side. It was a nice change to be at Malines in the spring instead of the winter. We were kept too hard at work to profit very much by anything else but the work itself, but the journey and the sojourn itself were the more pleasant because of the better season of the year. And in the Cardinal's house too there was the added warmth of pure friendship. I remember several details of the conversation round his table of a very friendly character, with plenty of chaff and fun between the meetings. The Frenchmen generally led the way in this, Portal with a rich but very quiet humour, Batiffol very sparkling and brilliant. I remember going out with Bishop Gore for a short walk before our morning meeting ; as we got outside we found a Rogation-tide procession on its way through the parish, so we joined in and followed for some time until it was time to get back to our gathering.

At dejeuner subsequently Batiffol said to the Cardinal, Eminence, do you know that there were two Anglican Bishops following in the Rogationtide procession this morning?"

The Cardinal in his grave way said, "Then indeed we are coming nearer to unity."

"Yes," said Batiffol, "but does your Eminence know that they didn't follow the procession the whole way?"

"Ah?" said the Cardinal.

"No, they left just before the prayer for the Pope." This scandalous misstatement was drowned in roars of laughter; in fact we had left in the middle of the invocations of Virgin Martyrs.

But the serious business of the Conferences grew and deepened in the middle of the increasing friendliness and perhaps partly because of it. The topics that had been carefully prepared beforehand, thesis and antithesis, are shown pretty completely in Lord Halifax's book on Malines. But something must be added about the course of the discussion, and about one unexpected and surprising contribution to it.

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