Recollections of Malines
by Walter Frere, C.R.
[London: The Centenary Press, 1935 119pp]
THE FOURTH CONVERSATION
AT this fourth Conference the opening was made by the other side. Mgr. Van Roey read his paper on the Papacy viewed from the theological point of view. This was an excellently framed statement, scholastic and lucid, of the position as held officially in the most exacting form. It was not for us to make replies to this, only to ask questions designed to elucidate points where they were doubtful. Some similar questions were asked by some of the Roman Catholic representatives; and in consequence the writer reconsidered some of the statements that he had made, and produced a revised form of certain passages to meet the criticisms. Dr. Kidd's reply followed very closely upon the lines of the argument of Mgr. Van Roey. The discussion which took place was friendly as well as frank. The printed collection of the Malines documents gives the papers in full (Annexes 10 and n), and a description of the morning session. In the afternoon session Pere Hemmer read his paper on the Relations of the Pope and the Bishops (see Annex No. 12). This long paper proved to be an able and comprehensive summary of an historical kind. The general praise and gratitude with which the Memorandum was greeted did not prevent a good deal of criticism from being offered. In the evening of the same day the Anglican representatives discussed among themselves the position that had been reached, with a view to producing some sort of memorandum to serve as a sort of review of what had taken place so far.
At the third session came the surprise of the gathering. The Cardinal himself opened the meeting.
A question which was put to him, at a venture, seemed to lead directly to the topic 'on which he wished to speak. The question was in essence, "Could not your outlook be enlarged sufficiently to take us in?" The Cardinal said that he was profoundly moved by this consideration. He had long since come to the conclusion that the Roman Church could not hope to absorb the Anglicans into its own Latin and Western church organization. At the same time it could not give up its own ways and tenets. Therefore some middle term seemed to be needed, if possible, which would bring an end to the separation of Anglicanism from Rome, whilst at the same time not absorbing it. He had therefore put the question to a Canonist, "Is it possible that the English Church could be re-united without being absorbed in the Roman Church?" and he had elicited from him a paper, which he submitted to us for our consideration. At the same time he said that on his side he would report upon this move to Rome, acting on his own private responsibility. He then read the Memorandum of the Canonist (which is Annex No. 13 in the Malines volume).
The document consists of an introduction, an historical consideration, a description of the existing Uniat plans, and finally an application of considerations of this sort to the case of England, before leading up to practical conclusions.
All this took our breath away, especially as it seemed to lead up to a proposal for a Canterbury patriarchate.
Without then having the document before us, it was not easy, or even suitable, to deal with matters of so great importance without previous consideration. A short discussion therefore followed which is fairly fully described in the printed Minutes of the meeting.
Thereupon there followed naturally and suitably the paper of Bishop Gore, which put briefly and very temperately the question, "How far there could be room found for differences of opinion on minor points, provided that there was agreement on the major and vital points?" This paper has not been printed hitherto; it should appear with the others between Annex 13 and Annex 14; but it is not included in the volume. It displayed great qualities, as might be made out from the reply made by Mgr. Batiffol, which is printed as Annex 14; and still more from the paper itself which is now printed, as Addendum VII, herewith. The discussion waxed hot at times without ceasing to be quite friendly, and in fact it carried us beyond the time for adjournment. So after a couple of hours interval we returned to the fourth session, when Mgr. Batiffol continued his paper. The warm discussion was not taken up again. Bishop Gore as protagonist (and others as well) felt that he had said at last, with an explicitness which would have been previously impossible, what he felt bound to say. Indeed this friendly duel had brought out in the form of question and answer a part of the most crucial topic which, from the first, it had been most necessary to elucidate. The rest of the Anglicans had drawn up a schedule of positive statements with regard to the Relation of the Pope to the Bishops (Annex No. 15), which had been hammered out with some difficulty after considering a number of different propositions brought up among our representatives.
After the Canonist's statement had been digested, the next business planned was to attempt to draw up some corresponding schedule about the Pope and the Bishops on the negative side, indicating the criticisms and apprehensions which would have to be taken into account. But, after discussion, it was thought wisest to leave out all this negative side of the question, and to state merely what we could say on the positive side, thus leaving over for the present any attempt to formulate the differences or disagreements that had emerged in the course of the discussion, unless we were pressed to do so. Obviously it was more advisable, as the Cardinal urged, to emphasize at this stage our points of agreement, than to magnify those differences, which now had been clearly stated, but had not been finally argued out in the course of the Conversations.
In the evening the Minutes were submitted, carefully scrutinized and finally adopted. So ended the fifth session of the Fourth Conference.