From a Speech by the ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY in the Upper House of Convocation on February 6th, 1924.
Now, my lords, in writing to our Metropolitans about all these I took occasion, as your lordships will remember, to recount also the fact of conversations having been held under the roof of Cardinal Mercier, at Malines, between some of our Anglican theologians and certain theologians of the Roman Catholic Church, the conversations taking place under the Presidency of Cardinal Mercier himself. . . .
The controversy and even clamour which has arisen about these conversations, is due, I suppose, to the rarity of such incidents. It would be difficult, I imagine, to find a former occasion when opportunity has been given for quiet interchange of opinion or restatement of facts on the part of a joint group of expert theologians, Roman Catholic and Anglican. Accordingly, as soon as I had made public the fact that these informal conversations had been held (and I wished to make it public at the first available moment) the statement was twisted or exaggerated into an announcement that secret negotiations were in progress under the Archbishop of Canterbury's leadership for the reunion of the Church of England with the Church of Rome. As regards secrecy-- an allegation upon which much has been made to turn--I took the first available opportunity, as I said, for publicly stating in the simplest way what had happened. This was on purpose to avoid the growth of misunderstandings based on ill-informed rumour which might become current. I told the story with absolute simplicity and straightforwardness. You may have seen that Cardinal Mercier in a Pastoral Letter published a few days ago, a copy of which he has kindly sent to me, has done the same, and I need hardly say that his narrative corresponds closely with my own.
So far as Convocation is concerned I should be quite satisfied to leave the matter there, for I have no reason to fear that there is the least misunderstanding on the part of any member of either House. But comments and criticism from outside have been abundant. The comments may be divided into three groups. There are, first, those (and they are very many) who, either in public speeches or in letters to myself, have expressed their complete satisfaction with what I have tried to do, and what I have abstained from doing-.I have abundant letters to that effect from Anglicans at home and overseas, and from leading Scotch Presbyterians, from leading English Nonconformists, and from public men whose denominational position I do not exactly know. That is the first group. Then the second group of criticisms (if the word is not too mild) comes from men and women expressing a fear or an indignation based apparently upon some complete misrepresentation or misunderstanding of the facts. These denounce me as having 'betrayed the Church' or 'sold the pass' or 'bowed down to idolatry' or 'headed a secret conspiracy against the truth of God.' These have been widely circulated in various publications in this country. The best answer to these controversialists is silence, for it is impossible to deal with arguments based not on facts but on imaginations.
There is, however, a third group, consisting of more or less thoughtful men and women, whose loyalty to Protestant principles makes them fearful of anything which looks to them like an approach towards friendship with the Church of Rome and who believe me to have harmed by my action or inaction the Church of England which they love. To these I should like to say something. It is against myself as a troubler of Israel that their shafts are directed sometimes in sorrow and sometimes in anger. Formal letters have been written to me, and to one at least of these, as coming from an important quarter, I wrote a careful reply, but the writer has not, to the best of my belief, fulfilled the intention he expressed to me of making the correspondence public.
Now, my lords, I find it difficult to understand how so mistaken a view of the facts has come about, for I tried in my public letter of Christmas to make as clear as I could what is really a very simple story. In case it may be helpful to any one who reads a report of what I am now saying I will
Some two years ago it came about almost fortuitously that a little gathering was arranged at which a few leading Roman Catholic Churchmen should meet a few Anglicans for conversation about the differences which separate our Churches. This was to take place under the hospitable roof of the venerable Cardinal Mercier at Malines. Though I had no responsibility with regard to this, it is doubtless the fact that had I desired to do so I might, so to speak, have stamped out the very suggestion of such a conversation taking place, however informally; or at least I might have refused to know anything whatever about it. Such action on my part--and this seems to me to be self-evident--would have belied the Appeal which the Lambeth Conference had made in the widest possible terms 'to All Christian People' for the furtherance of a wider unity of the Church of Christ on earth. It would, further, have been contrary to every principle which I have entertained in religious matters. I have always believed that personal intercourse is of the very highest value for the better understanding of matters of faith or opinion whereon people are in disagreement, however wide or even fundamental the disagreement may be. To me the quenching of smoking flax by the stamping out of an endeavour to discuss, thus privately, our differences would, I say it unhesitatingly, have seemed to be a sin against God. What followed is thus described in my published letter to the Metropolitans:
It was suggested that, with a view to a second visit the two English Archbishops might informally nominate delegates and might suggest the outline of discussion to be followed. I did not see my way to doing this' (that is why I abstained from doing it) 'but in the correspondence which ensued I expressed my readiness to have official cognizance of the arrangements, provided that a corresponding cognizance were given by the Vatican. Satisfied, after correspondence, with regard to that point, I gave what was described as friendly cognizance to a second visit of the Anglican group to Malines in March 1923.
I have quoted these words to you because some discussion has arisen respecting them. I adhere to them exactly as they stand, and I am certain that their truth will not be contravened by anyone who is aware of all the facts. Cardinal Mercier, I need hardly say, confirms them absolutely in his Pastoral Letter, to which I would venture to refer your lordships.
After the second conference had taken place a wish was expressed on both sides that the number of those taking part in the conversations should be a little extended. The point at issue, or at least one of the great and far-reaching matters which I was anxious should be adequately handled was the question of Papal authority as a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. Feeling the importance of this I said that in my view it would be well that Bishop Gore and Dr. Kidd, as two of our divines who had given closest attention to this particular subject, should be added to the group. I asked the five men who were, accordingly, going to Malines for the third group of conversations to meet me at Lambeth when, without giving any formal direction or insisting upon any particular Agenda Paper, I urged the necessity of its being made quite clear what is our well-established and coherent Anglican position as set forth by our great divines. This corresponds exactly to what we have throughout endeavoured to do in our conversations with our Free Church friends in England. I found everyone to be in complete accord with me on the matter.
The third conference, or rather group of conversations, took place, and there the matter remained, and there it stands now. [This speech was delivered prior to the fourth Conference held in May, 1925.] Let me repeat, for the reiteration of it seems to be necessary, that there have been no negotiations whatever. We are not at present within sight of anything of the kind. Cardinal Mercier emphasizes this as strongly as I do. There are whole sentences about it in his Pastoral. They were private conversations about our respective history and doctrines and nothing more. The critics of our action urge that before any such conversation can be rightly allowed to take place we ought to insist that the Church of Rome must confess the error of its doctrines and repudiate the Declaration about Anglican Orders. I think your lordships will agree with me when I say that to describe the conversations as being useless or harmful unless we secure such a preliminary surrender shows a fundamental misconception of what is meant by the sort of conversations which can be held in order to elucidate our respective positions. Where should we be, my lords, if, in all matters of controversy, conversations were to be pronounced useless or hurtful unless the conclusion or even conversion which on either side is hoped for has been already secured? Were we in this matter to reach at some future time a stage in which the word 'negotiations' would be appropriate I should certainly feel it to be essential that those who would then be going out as in some sense delegates or representatives of the Church of England should be men who represent the different points of view which have a legitimate place in the Church of England.
My lords, this repetition of the account I have already given of what has passed may seem to be--perhaps it really is--unnecessary. But I do want, if I can, to help those outside who are criticizing what I have tried to do or have abstained from doing, to realize the necessity of looking largely at the great question of the religious obligation which is ours at a supremely critical time in the history of the world. If the Church of Christ, interpreting that word in its widest sense, is to fulfil the trust given to us by our Divine Lord we have to see to it that, to the utmost extent possible, we should act together against the evil things which He bids us fight and conquer. The uniting of the forces of Christian men on earth may be a long, long way off. I think it is. But we must continually and prayerfully strive thitherward. And, while holding for dear life to what we solemnly believe to be true in regard to the presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to mankind, we must beware--is it not so?--lest we turn a deaf ear, or a blind eye, to even the slightest movement in the direction of a truer understanding of the different aspects of the Divine message which at sundry times and in divers manners God has given to the sons of men.