Project Canterbury

 The Conversations at Malines

 Les Conversations de Malines


London/Londres: Humphrey Milford, 1927.

Appendix III

[In 1925, Cardinal Mercier was in correspondence with the Archbishop of Canterbury as to the publication of some record of the .informal conversations which had taken place. The following letter from the Cardinal seems to us sufficiently important to justify its publication here.]


MALINES, October 25th, 1925.


As soon as I received your letter of August 1st, I made a point of acknowledging it at once, but I found myself compelled to ask for some delay in order carefully to consider its contents. This delay has been prolonged far beyond my expectation. Being accustomed as you are to the difficulties of a great administration, you will I trust excuse me and forgive this apparent neglect.

When I first read Your Grace's letter it caused me some uneasiness. I was not sure that I had entirely grasped its inner meaning. The document was inspired by unaltered goodwill, the estimates of the past were encouraging, but the reflections on the present situation and on future developments seemed to betray some diminution of confidence.

This was not surprising since, in so long and protracted an effort as ours, while the goal remains the same, the means to reach it will vary according to circumstances and raise new problems at every step.

In the course of our meetings, as the line of demarcation between the subjects on which agreement already exists or has been reached and the subjects in regard to which differences still exist becomes more distinct, the difficulties in the way of final success loom larger on the horizon and the reasons for hoping seem less convincing.

On the other hand, when we listen to the voices on both sides of those outside our meetings, we notice a restlessness which it is not within our power to appease, and it may be that we, I mean Your Grace and myself, feel some anxiety and weariness which it is not always easy to dispel.

Among our Roman Catholics, this restlessness assumes two aspects.

Some of them, full of enthusiasm and sympathy for our cause, complain of our apparent dilatoriness and of a silence which seems to them unduly prolonged. They are inclined to imagine that the problem of reunion being stated, like a theorem of geometry, its affirmative or negative solution ought to be reached immediately. If the worst came to the worst, they say, the vote of the majority would put an end to all hesitations. They would like to see the Malines conversations proceed more rapidly and thus satisfy, without further delay, the curiosity of public opinion. The return of England to unity would be such a beautiful and edifying spectacle that the sooner it is effected the better for the sake of all the comfort that the religious minded would derive from it.

Others, on the contrary, influenced by the policy of 'all or nothing,' consider only the final or total result, exaggerate arbitrarily the difficulties which must be overcome before that result is reached, and undervalue the supreme part played by grace in the evolution of spiritual life.

Relying only upon themselves and upon the knowledge of their own weakness, they would readily abandon at once an attempt in which, to tell the truth, they have never placed any confidence, and which, perhaps, at the bottom of their hearts they have never favoured, and for the success of which they have perhaps never prayed.

Your Grace must, no doubt, meet with the same restlessness on the part of inveterate optimists and obstinate pessimists among your own flock; they wish to obtain from us an immediate solution, and, if they could, they would urge us to end the matter promptly.

Does not Your Grace think it would be weakness on our part if we gave way to these solicitations? We have responsibilities which our followers do not share and do not always understand. Our situation imposes upon us the duty to consider the general situation from a higher standpoint, according to standards more deeply supernatural. The direction of conscience entrusted to us allows us to act with authority.

Your Grace's letter mentions certain announcements which should be made, certain 'statements' in which the points agreed upon by the two sides should be definitely outlined and in which the points still under discussion should be recalled.

I eagerly accept this proposal and am ready to place it on the agenda of our next meeting, which might take place, as Lord Halifax desires, in the first fortnight of January.

'Statements' might be prepared, the first on the conclusions already reached, the second on disputable points which have been partially considered or on new subjects which, according to the wish of one or both sides, still remain to be placed on the agenda.

This comparative survey would show, I believe, that not only have our meetings brought hearts together, which is really a very appreciable result, but that they have also on important points harmonized our thoughts and achieved 'progress in agreement '.

The first 'statement' on common conclusions might either be developed in a more explicit form or be published in a concise form. It would be a happy means of maintaining the religious interest of our respective flocks.

In my humble opinion, however, it would be inopportune to publish any statement of disputable points.

Negative conclusions, whatever they may be, would necessarily provoke polemics in the press, reawaken ancient animosities and accentuate divisions, thus harming the cause to which we have resolved to devote ourselves.

In loyalty to our original purpose, we must bring to light progressively whatever favours reunion, and set aside or defer whatever stands in the way. Our original intention was not to examine, within a set time, a few questions of theology, exegesis, or history, with the hope of adding a chapter of apologetics or controversies to the scientific or religious works of our predecessors. On the contrary we met face to face, as men of goodwill and sincere believers, alarmed by the confusion of opinions and the divisions of thought prevailing in modern society, and saddened by the progress of religious indifference and of the materialistic conception of life which follows it. We had in mind the supreme wish for reunion, for unity expressed by our Divine Saviour: Ut unum sint, 'That they may be one.' We set to work without knowing either when or how this union hoped for by Christ could be realized, but convinced that it could be realized since Christ desired it, and that we had, therefore, each one of us, to bring our contribution to its realization. Reunion is not our work and we maybe unable to achieve it, but it is within our power, and consequently within our duty, to prepare it and pave the way for it.

Was it not for this high purpose that the Lambeth Conference was called together in a spirit of trust in the wisdom and goodness of Divine Providence?

Is this not the unique object pursued for more than fifty years by our dear and revered colleague who devotes, with such admirable zeal, his time, his strength, and his heart to the cause of reunion?

I seem to hear the revered Dean of Wells addressing us in such moving words, at the close of our first meeting: For four centuries, Anglicans and Roman Catholics were only aware of their antagonisms and divisions; they have met for the first time in order better to understand each other, to remove the misunderstandings which estrange them, to draw nearer to the goal so wished for by every one--reunion.

When the revered Dean uttered these moving words, he did not merely address our small and limited group but the mass of believers which we knew were behind us and whose persévèrent faith in Christ and in the Church is the object of our constant care and anxiety.

As far as I am concerned, it is in this light of apostleship that I have looked upon my contribution to these conversations from the first day when Lord Halifax and the Abbé Portal expressed the wish that I should join them. When, in January, 1924, I explained to my clergy and to my diocese the part which I had taken in our conversations, I dwelt on the same point. I reminded them of the words of Leo XIII: 'The great events of history cannot be gauged by human calculations.' Foreseeing and fearing their impatience I recalled to them the teaching of St. Paul as to the unique source of the fruitfulness of apostleship: 'So then, neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth: but God that giveth the increase'--'neque qui plantat est aliquid neque qui rigat sed qui incrementum dat, Deus' (i Cor. iii. 7). And I added these words which I beg leave to repeat here: 'You arc getting impatient, success is slow to come, your trouble appears wasted. Be on your guard, nature and her eagerness mislead you; an effort of charity is never lost.'

Reapers of souls, we must sow in the sweat of our brow, mostly in tears, before the hour of reaping strikes. When this blessed hour does strike, others very likely will have filled our place: 'Alius est qui seminat, alius est qui metit' (St. John, iv. 37).

It is in this spirit of Christian patience and supernatural confidence that we shall meet again in January next, content to labour and to sow, leaving to the Holy Spirit and to the working of His grace the choice of the day and the hour for reaping the crop which our humble works and our prayers endeavour to prepare.

For this also and above all we must declare: We associate ourselves as students, it is true, but our association is chiefly spiritual and joins in common prayer. The knowledge of our mere existence and of our periodical meetings is, for the general public, a constant exhortation to religious thought and collective prayer for reunion.

I am, My dear Lord,
Your Grace's obedient servant,


Arch. de Malines.

Project Canterbury