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The Origins and Approval of the Malines Conversations

  • R. J. Lahey (a1)


Despite their ultimate breakdown, the Malines Conversations (1921–1926) between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church were an event of momentous significance for the communions engaged in them. They heralded changing times, for Rome a cautious step from ultra-monantism and anti-Modernism towards the “aggiornamento” of John XXIII, and for the Church of England a partial triumph of the new-found desire for church union over older attitudes of “no-popery.” But their real importance can be set in wider perspective: the guarded measure of mutual recognition they introduced marked, in one respect at least, the end to four centuries of schism.



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1. Published materials relative to the Malines Conversations are rather limited in scope, but include some titles of importance. A brief and uninformative communiqué agreed upon in 1926 was finally published in 1928, entitled The Conversations at Malines, 1921–1925 (London, 1927 [sic]). Most of the actual minutes and papers were made public in an unauthorized volume edited by Halifax, Lord, The Conversations at Malines, 1921–1925: Original Documents (London, 1930), but this contains major errors and omissions and must be read with Frere, Walter, Recollections of Malines (London, 1935). A rather eclectic collection of some of the original correspondence was issued as Volume 2 of Anglicans el catholiques. Le problème de l'union anglo-romaine, 1833–1953 by Jacques de Bivort de la Saudée (Brussels, 1949); (Volume 1 includes some account of the meetings). Biographies of those involved contain useful information, especially Lockhart, J.G., Charles Lindley, Viscount Halifax (London, 1936), 2: 265343, and Bell, G.K.A., Randall Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury (3d ed., London, 1952), pp.12541303 (vol. 2 of earlier eds.). Roger Aubert has recently published two excellent articles dealing with aspects of the Conversations: “Les conversations de Malines: Le Cardinal Mercier et le Saint-Siège,” Bulletin de l' Academie royale de Belgique (Classe des Lettres) 53 (1967): 87159, which includes as appendices texts of the correspondence between Mercier and the Vatican; and “Cardinal Bourne, Cardinal Mercier and the Malines Conversations,” One in Christ 4 (1968): 372379. These articles are based largely on papers at Malines but only partially cover the extensive documents there and have not attempted to take into account the vast unpublished correspondence in the Halifax (Wood family) Papers, the papers at Lambeth Palace nor the small but important collection in the Archives of the Archdiocese of Westminster.

2. In the report of the Committee on Reunion. The Six Lambeth Conferences, 1867–1920 (London, 1929), P. 144.

3. Lambeth Palace (hereafter LP), Davidson papers (hereafter Davidson), box 186, Bell to Gasparri (undated copy), and Gasparri to Bell, May 21, 1921. The Appeal was sent by Bell to Gasparri for transmission to His Holiness in the Foreign Office bag; the Appeal itself did not mention discussions with Rome.

4. Archives of the Archdiocese of Malines (hereafter AAM), Conversations de Malines (hereafter CM) 1926 varia, Mercier to Archbishop Bonaventura Cerretti, January 25, 1921 (copy).

5. AAM, Visites à Rome (1920), d'Herbigny to Mercier, feast of St. Francis (October 4), 1920. Mercier had first mentioned this to d'Herbigny on September 18. Louvain was also mentioned as a possible site.

6. Ibid., handwritten notes for papal audience, December 1920. See AAM, CM, 1926 varia, Mercier to Cerretti, January 21, 1921 (copy).

7. “… Ia charité ne nous commande-t-elle pas de faciliter à ces àmes chercheuses de verité et d 'union l 'accès à la véritable Église de Notre Seigneur Jéus-Christ.… J'essayerais d'inviter à Malines, successivement, un ou deux théologiens de chacune de ces principales Églises dissidentes, anglicane et orthodoxe surtout, je les retiendrais pendant quelques jours et les mettrais en rapport avec un théologicn catholique d'une doctrine sûre et d'un cocur aimant.… Mon unique préoccupation serait de préparer les âmes loyales aux solutions que le Saint-Siège se réserverait de donner à I'heure et dans la forme de son choix.” AAM, CM, 1922 B 1, Mercier to Benedict XV, December 21, 1920 (copy).

8. The passage in question read: “… terms of union having been otherwise satisfactorily adjusted, Bishops and clergy of our Communion would willingly accept … a form of commission or recognition which would commend our ministry to their congregations. …” The Six Lambeth Conferences, p. 28.

9. AAM, CM, 1921, 2, Portal to Mercier, January 24, 1921.

10. Hemmer, H., Fernand Portal 1885–1926: Apostle of Unity, trans. and ed. Macmillan, Arthur T. (London, 1961), p. 124. (letter of Mercier to Portal of February 3, 1921); AAM, CM, 1926 varia, Mercier to Cerretti, January 25, 1921. Mercier enclosed for Cerretti a letter that Cardinal Rampolla had addressed to Portal at the time of the Anglican orders question.

11. In an audience with Pope Pius XI Mercier referred to the “Idée de réunions privées d'Anglicans approuvée par Benoît XV.” AAM, Voyages à Rome (Conclave, 1922), handwritten notes of papal audience, February 7, 1922. However, as Aubert points out (Bulletin de l'Académic royale de Beligique 53: 93, 95), there is no record of a reply in the Malines Archives, and a letter from d'Herbigny to Mercier speaks of “l'absence de réponse.” AAM, CM, 1922, B 1, March 11, 1922. Of course, neither fact is absolutely conclusive, especially since d 'Herbigny was unaware of all that was happening.

12. AAM, CM, 1921, 2, Davidson to Mercier, May 3, 1921, and LP, Davidson, 186, Mercier to Davidson, May 21, 1921.

13. LP, Davidson, 186, Portal to Halifax, September 13, 1921 (translated copy). Portal heard these rumors in an account of a conference on reunion with the Orthodox churches held at Velehrad (now Czechoslovakia).Since d 'Herbigny, who knew of Mercier's proposals, was closely associated with the conferences held there from time to time, this report almost certainly came directly or indirectly through him.

14. Ibid., Halifax to Davidson, October 8, 1922, with his attached memorandum “What Constitutes the Church?”

15. AAM, CM, 1921, 2, Davidson to Mercier, October 12, 1921. This action had the full support of Archbishop Lang, who wrote to Davidson cautioning against anything appearing to make Halifax an accredited representative; at the same time he stressed that the Lambeth Appeal must clearly be seen to include Rome. Davidson commented, “I am certain that we dare not say more or we shall find that good old Halifax, as what he thinks as his final act on earth, will have committed us to something which may cause trouble not only to us but to our children's children.” LP, Davidson, 186, Lang to Davidson, October 10, 1921, and Davidson to Lang, October 12, 1921 (copy).

16. Halifax Papers (hereafter HP), Malines (hereafter M), Halifax to Armitage Robinson, November [24?], 1921. Halifax reported this to Davidson. See LP, Davidson, 186, memorandum of interview of Davidson with Halifax, November 1, 1921.

17. For the third and subsequent conversations these men were joined by Bishop Charles Gore (1853–1932) and B. J. Kidd (1864–1948), Warden of Keble College, Oxford on the Anglican side, and by Monsignor Pierre Batiffol (1861–1929) and Hippolyte Hemmer (1864–1945), both Frenchmen, as Roman Catholic representatives.

18. See LP, Davidson, 186, memorandum of interview of Davidson with the dean of Wells, December 4, 1921.

19. Davidson noted presumably referring to the Lambcth Appeal, that some communications did not appear to receive any welcome. LP Davidson, 189, memorandum of interview of the archbishop of Canterbury with the Reverend J. H. Boudier, October 27, 1921.

20. HP, M, Frere to Halifax, December 14, 1921.

21. On this point see also note 11. Mereier's notes stress this approval. In his list of points for discussion he wrote, “Idée du St. Père Benoît XV; réunions privées avec Anglicans: Halifax, Doyen de Wells, Frere: Résurrection.” (He had originally written “sur la conversion des anglicans.” His actual notes of the audience are similar: “Idée de reunions privées d'Anglicans aprouvée par Benoit XV. Un Ire réunion a eu lieu les 8–10 de dée, 1921; j 'en expose le caractère et les resultats, afin de m'assurer que mes Supérieurs m'approuvent.” AAM, Voyages à Rome (Conclave, 1922), handwritten notes of papal audience, February 7, 1922.

22. Monsignor Ratti, as he then was, twice visited England—in 1900 and again in 1914, when he went to Oxford for the anniversary celebrations of the birth of Roger Bacon. On his contacts with England see Bolton, J. R. Glorney, Roman Century: 1870–1970 (London, 1970), p. 201.

23. “‘Je ne vois que du bien à ces réunions …‘ L' expérience m'a demontré—ma visite à Oxford oú tous ces hommes de lettres et de science priaient avant et après les repas; ma visite en Pologlue et mon contact avec les Russes …—qu 'iI ne faut pas juger les hommes d'après les idèes que nous suggèrent les livres. J'ai une foi illimitée dans la bon foi de ceux qui ne sont pas des nôtres dane notre Eglise eatholique.’” AAM, Voyages à Rome (Conclave, 1922), handwritten notes, papal audience, February 7, 1922.

24. D'Herbigny (who in 1926 was secretly consecrated a bishop and sent to Russia) seems to have acted in this earlier period as the Vatican's unofficial representative for ecumenical matters.

25. He was perhaps referring to the Lambeth Appeal, a copy of which the archbishop of Canterbury had sent to the pope, and to Boudier's visit to Rome. See notes 3, 19.

26. “Ce dernier se chargerait de le présenter à Sa Sainteté et d'assurer los conclusions.” AAM, CM, 1922, B 1, d'Herbigny to Mercier, March 11, 1922.

27. In the Conclave, Gasparri was among the leading contenders for election, but he was unable to secure more than 24 of the 36 votes needed. Apparently he then gave his support to Ratti, who was a relatively obscure candidate. It has been suggested that Gasparri thought that he could readily dominate a man who until a few months earlier had been his protégé and immediate subordinate. See Falconi, Carlo, The Popes in the Twentieth Century. From Pius X to John XXIII, trans. Muriel Grindrod (London, 1967), pp. 152154.

28. AAM, CM, 1922, B 1, d'Herbigny to Mercier, March 11, 1922. Gasparri's later reply shows that Mercier wrote to him on April 3, but no copy of this letter can be found at Malines.

29. Ibid., Walker to Mercier, June 6, 1922. Walker's articles were entitled “Anglia Quaerens Fidem,” Gregorianum 3 (1922): 219238, 334354. He had earlier written The Problem of Reunion (London, 1920).

30. The year before Bell had sent Walker a copy of the Lambeth Appeal, LP, Davidson, 186, Walker to Bell, April 19, 1921, and Bell to Walker, May 3, 1921.

31. LP, Davidson, 189, Bell to d'Herbigny, March 30, 1922 (copy).

32. AAM, CM, 1922, B 1, memorandum “Une démande venue de Cantorbéry,” April 10, 1922 (copy).

33. For example, “The decision He [Leo XIII] declared solemnly is irreformable and for all time. He declares a ‘dogmatic fact’ and his judgment implies his infallible teaching in a doctrinal controversy. … If the Pope does not know a Sacrament when he sees it, what would his teaching amount to?” Archives of the Archdiocese of Westminster (hereafter AAW), unclassified Moyes papers, Cardinal Raphael Merry del Val to Sir Stuart [Coats], January 8, 1930.

34. AAM, CM, 1922, B 1, memorandum “Une démande venue de Cantorbéry,” April 10, 1922 (copy).

35. See note 8. This passage was discussed at the first conversation. The Conversations at Malines 1921–1925: Original Documents, pp. 23–24.

36. AAM, M, 1922, B 1, (with his letter of May 31, 1922). The passage in question was again mentioned in Walker's “Outline” (see note 41), which Gasparri also enclosed.

37. LP, Davidson, 189, Walker to Bell, May 17, 1922.

38. Ibid., memorandum of interview of G.K.A. Bell with the Reverend Father Leslie Walker, S.J., April 26, 1922 and memorandum of interview of the archbishop of Canterbury with the Reverend J. H. Boudier, October 27, 1921. For different reasons, Archbishop Lang was also hesitant: “I am not very sanguine of much practical result at present, especially in view of the importance which Fr. Walker and others seem to attach to our encouragement of honest inquiry and thinking in doctrinal matters.” Ibid., Lang to Davidson, May 4, 1922. Walker said that the main theological concern could not be the devising of new formulae, but “simply whether what is implicit in the faith of Anglicans will bear the explicit formulation [of] … our Councils.” Ibid., Walker to Bell, May 17, 1922.

39. “Il pourrait être utile que un représentant des Révérends signitaires de l'Appel ou un délégué de leur illustrissime Lord Président pût être envoyé soit à Rome, soit à Malines auprès du Cardinal Mercier, pour coinmencer à conférer de ces questions avec compétence et autorité” LP, Davidson, 189, d'Herbigny to Bell, April 11, 1922. For Gasparri's approval, see AAM, CM, 1922, B 1, memorandum “Les suites d 'une démande venue de Cantorbéry” (undated copy), and LP, Davidson, 189, memorandum of interview of Bell with Walker, April 26, 1922.

40. LP, Davidson, 189, memorandum of interview of Bell with Walker, April 26, 1922. Walker's views on reunion and Bell's, however, were no doubt very different. The Jesuit wrote a few months later, “I should say quite frankly that I am not over hopeful. The Anglicans understand quite clearly that the faith-basis of reunion must be our basis, not theirs, and it is on the understanding that we are not prepared to go back on past definitions of faith that they would meet us. The question here is whether they can be persuaded to accept our faith-basis, and on other matters whether an accommodation can be reached which would meet their demands.” AAM, CM, 1922, B 1, Walker to Mercier, June 13, 1922.

41. Walker sent the “Outline” on April 28. In a personal letter to Walker, Bell said that he thought the outline might form a useful basis of discussion, and he later sent a copy to Halifax, while emphasizing that the Archbishop had no official knowledge of it. LP, Davidson, 189, Walker to Bell, April 28, 1922 (with the “Outline” attached), and Bell to Walker, May 1, 1922 (copy). Walker wrote to Merrier that the draft was “deemed satisfactory on the whole” in Rome, and Gasparri included a copy with the letter to Mercier, noting Bell's approval, though not its personal character. AAM, CM, 1922, B 1, Walker to Mercier, June 13, 1922 and Gasparri to Mercier, May 31, 1922.

42. LP, Davidson, 189, Bell to d'Herbigny, May 1, 1922 (copy).

43. Ibid., Davidson to Lang, April 24, 1922 (copy).

44. “I am anxious that it should always be remembered that the actual invitation to these conversations emanated from the Roman Catholic side.” HP, M, Davidson to Armitage Robinson, March 19, 1923 (copy).

45. LP, Davidson, 189, Bell to Walker, May 1, 1922 (copy). In a personal letter to Walker of the same date, Bell specifically authorized its transmission to d'Herbigny. Walker referred to the letter as “the reply of the Archbishop sent through his secretary.” AAM, CM 1922, B 1, d'Herbigny to Mercier, May 15, 1922.

46. LP, Davidson, 189, Bell to Walker, May 1, 1922. See memorandum of interview of Bell with Walker, April 26, 1922. In his interview with Walker, Bell had specified that a letter should come from either the pope or the Secretary of State. Walker asked whether if the pope were to write there was reason to believe that the archbishop would respond positively. Bell replied that he could not doubt that this would be the case. Ibid., memorandum of interview, April 26, 1922. In his acknowledgement Walker interpreted the letter “as meaning that a conference is not beyond the bounds of possibility if it be asked for by authorities at Rome.” Ibid., Walker to Bell, May 2, 1922.

47. Ibid., Davidson to Lang, April 24, 1922, and Lang to Davidson, April 27, 1922. Mercier may not have been informed because the archbishops felt that logically this should be done through Halifax, and yet did not quite trust him to handle the matter. Davidson told Lang, “I do not think Halifax had better be intermediary. Frere and Robinson are representatives of the best type.” See also ibid., Bell to Walker, June 9, 1922 (copy).

48. “Le Saint Père a pleinement approuvé ce que Votre Éminence a fait jusqu'ici. Tâcher d'éclairer nos frères qui sont dans 1'erreur, disait-il, et de les amener ainsi à Ia vérité et à 1'unité, c'est bien faire oeuvre d'apostolat, non seulement permise, mais très méritoire. Les apôtres ne faisaient pas autre chose. “Continuez done, Éminentissime Seigneur, votre ocuvre avec le même tact et la même prudence et que le bon Dieu bénisse votre zèle.” AAM, CM, 1922, B 1, Gasparri to Mercier, April 11, 1922.

49. Ibid., Mercier to Gasparri, April 24, 1922 (copy).

50. Ibid., d'Herbigny to Mercier, May 8, 1922.

51. Ibid., memorandum “Les suites d'une démande venue de Cantorbéry” (undated copy). He also suggested that Cardinal Bourne of Westminster be informed.

52. Ibid., d 'Herbigny to Mercier, May 15, 1922 (with draft attached).

53. “Conoscendo il grande interesse che I'Emineuza Vostra Reverendissima porta a tale questione, io ho creduto opportuno communicarle tutto cio, affinehè, ove Ella lo credesse conveniente, possa invitare a proprio nome il Primato anglicano ad inviare qualche rapresentante presso di Lei per un primo scambio d'idee. Naturalmente l'opera di Vostra Eminenza che potrebbe essere svolta anche per mezzo di altre persone, dovrebbe avere un carattere strettamente personale e confidenziale. Pervengo però Vostra Eminenza che tal scambio d'idce non deve aver nulla di comunc con l'iniziativa Anglicana tendente promuovere un'azione collettiva delle varie denominazione cristiane in favore della pace tra i popoli, dovendo il sudctto scambio limitarsi alle questioni strettamente religiose.” Ibid., Gasparni to Mercier, May 31, 1922. Roger Aubert suggests that the last sentence, which is no doubt a reference to the Life and Work movement, is a reflection of traditional Roman Catholic suspicion of ecumenical efforts. See Bulletin de l'Académie royale de Beligique 53:138n. The choice of words, however, makes it more likely that it simply reflects the caution of the Roman Secretariate of State where any political matter might be in question.

54. “En vérité, Très Saint-Père, Rome n 'a rien à y perdre, car si nos efforts échouent, I'humiliation de l'insuccès est pour l'archevéque de Malines seul.” AAM, CM, 1922, B 1, Mercier to Pius XI, November 14, 1922 (copy).

55. Ibid., d'Herbigny to Mercier, May 15, 1922.

56. Ibid., Mercier to d'Herbigny, may 19, 1922.

57. LP, Davidson, 189, Bell to Walker, June 9, 1922 (copy). See ibid., memorandum of interview of Bell with Walker, June 5, 1922.

58. AAM, CM, 1922, B 1, Walker to Mercier, June 13, 1922. He gave another reason, however, to Darwell Stone at Oxford; he said that unofficial conferences “may excite harmful suspicions among the officials of the Roman Church.” HP, M, Darwell Stone to Halifax, August 5, 1922. Bell had the impression that Walker mistrusted Halifax. LP, Davidson, 189, memorandum of interview of Bell with Walker, June 5, 1922. Walker later said that Bell had asked him to use his influence with Mercier in this matter. Ibid., Walker to Bell, February 10, 1923.

59. See LP, Davidson, 189, Walker to Bell, February 10, 1923. Walker at this time was under the mistaken impression that a second conversation had taken place in the interim and had done “no good, but rather the contrary.” Iid., Walker to Bell, January 24, 1922 [sic, actually 1923].

60. AAM, CM 1922, A 1, Halifax to Mercier, September 22, 1922.

61. “Depuis pluiseurs mois déjà, j'ai reçu, par un voie authorisée mais confidentielle, 1'assurance que nos échanges de vue étaient approuvés au Vatican et que l'on y voyait de bon oeil qu 'ils fussent poursuivis. Mais conformément à nos déclarations, reprises d'ailleurs par vous dans votre introduction, j'avais répresenté nos trois aimables visiteurs à Malines les 6–9 décembre 1921 comme des personalités privées, si haute que fût leur situation en Angeleterre et dans l'Église Anglicane. Cette fois, j'infère de votre lettre que les anglicans avec lesquels nous entrerions en conversation Ia prochaine fois seraient des ‘anglicans named by the archbishop of Canterbury in order to consider etc. …’” HP, M, Mercier to Halifax, September 29, 1922 (copy).

62. HP, M, Halifax to Lang, October 4, 1922 (copy).

63. HP, M, Armitage Robinson to Halifax, October 5, 1922. Portal also felt strongly about this: “Je suis bien d 'avis qu'il faut en venir à q.q. chose d'officiel. Je voudrais que le cardinal fût autorisé par Rome à inviter officielement les arehevêques de Cantorbéry et d'York à envoyer des délégués à Malines …” HP, M, Portal to Halifax, October 18, 1922.

64. Bell later wrote, “The Archbishop of Canterbury said privately at the time (October 31, 1922) that an authoritative request from the Vatican, or at least an authoritative endorsement of Cardinal Mercier by the Vatican, was indispensable. If Mercier died, it would be perfectly possible for the Vatican to disclaim all responsibility for Mercier 's action with the observation that he was certainly ‘a very good man, but a little weak in his old age’. If, however, the Vatican were committed, it would be a very different matter.” Bell, p. 1257. The Archbishop was also concerned lest anything done by him should be linked in public opinion to Halifax's recently published A Call to Reunion (London and Oxford, 1922). LP, Davidson, 186, Davidson to Lang, September 22, 1922. See also note 66.

65. AAM, CM, 1922, A 1, Davidson to Halifax, October 30, 1922. A second letter of the same date authorized forwarding it to the cardinal. LP, Davidson, 186, Davidson to Halifax, October 30, 1922.

66. AAM, CM, 1922, A 1, Halifax to Mercier, October 12, 1922 and November 9, 1922.

67. Halifax advocated Anglican consideration of “the necessity of a visible centre in the interests of the Church's unity, and of the fact that Our Lord provided for such a centre in the person of St. Peter and his successors.” A Call to Reunion, p. 20.

68. “… la conversation intime officieuse, qui eut lieu en décembre, 1921 … en vue do dissiper autant que possible les équivoques at les préventions qui font obstacle à l'union. … Les anglicans, notamment 1'archevêque de Canterbury désire, nous désirons nous-même, que la Conversation reprenne. Mais los anglicans attendent qu'à leur première avauce confiante vers Rome réponde une marque ic bienveillance de Rome à leur égard. Quo le Saint-Père m'autorise a leur dire que le Saint-Siège approuve et encourage nos Conversations.” AAM, CM, 1922, B 1, Mercier to Pius XI, November 14, 1922 (copy).

69. “Mais, de grâce, Très Saint-Père, pensons-y: ‘Carpe diem.’ Si nous dédaignons les aspirations piuses de nos frères ègarés, n'est-il pas à craindre qu'une union do frères ne s'élabore ailleurs CONTRE L'UNITE ROMAINE?” Ibid. The last sentence is perhaps indicative of the promising state of the church union movement in the early 1920s. It is paradoxical that in this same letter Mercier asked the Pope to proclaim as a dogma of faith the universal mediation of grace through the Blessed Virgin Mary, which step would certainly have constituted a new and major obstacle towards any efforts for better relations between the two churches.

70. HP, M, Portal to Halifax, November 23, 1922 (translated copy).

71. “La publication faite par le vicomte Halifax n'a pas été envoyée au Saint-Père, qui ne la connaît pas et désire beaucoup Ia connaître. Il autorise Votre Éminence à dire aux anglicans que le Saint-Siège approuve et encourage vos Conversations, et prie de tout son coeur le Bon Dien de les bénir.” AAM, CM, 1922, B 1, Gasparri to Mercier, November 25, 1922.

72. HP, M. Mercier to Halifax, November 28, 1922. This was also noticed by the archbishop of Canterbury. LP, Davidson, 186, Davidson to Halifax, December 7, 1922 (copy).

73. HP, M, Mercier to Halifax, November 28, 1922.

74. This was categorically denied by Bourne 's biographer, who wrote, “Cardinal Bonnie's biographer can state positively that, with the exception of a communication at the end of 1923 (when all the world had been told of the Conversations), the Archbishop of Malines had treated his brother Cardinal, the Archbishop of Westminster, ‘as if he did not exist’.” Oldmeadow, Ernest, Francis Cardinal Bourne, 2 vols. (London, 1944), 2:365. However, not only do the originals of Mercier's letter and Bourne's reply still exist, but included among the Bourne papers (to which his biographer had access) is a letter from Bourne to Oldmeadow himself when the latter was editor of The Tablet, stating unequivocally that it was “known to me in confidence all along, that the conversations were held with the knowledge, approbation and encouragement of the Holy See.” AAW, Bourne papers (hereafter BO), 3, 124, 4, February 6, 1924.

75. AAW, BO, 1, 78, Mercier to Bourne, November 30, 1922. See Aubert, One in Christ 4 (1968): 372379.

76. HP, M, Portal to Halifax, November 23, 1922 (translated copy).

77. “Cette fois, j'ai 1'assurance que ma eharité ne pourra pas fournir un prétexte à des incriminations dont Votre Eminence connaît, aussi bien et mieax que moi, la provenance.” AAM, CM, 1922, B 1, Mercier to Gasparri, November 27, 1922 (copy).

78. Portal certainly believed at this time that a group of cardinals led by Merry del Val (he also included Gasquet, Billot and De Lai) would attempt to oppose the Conversations. HP, M, Portal to Halifax, Novembcr 23 and November 29, 1922 (both translated copies). This would make sense of Mercier's remark to Gasparri (note 76). Portal said that Merry del Val not only had a strong dislike of Mercier, but had violently opposed him at the recent Conclave. HP, M, Portal to Halifax, November 29, 1922. (No source is given, although it could have been Mercier himself, since Portal had just returned from Belgium, where the two had discussed opposition to the Conversations.) If Falconi is correct, testimony given at proceedings to consider Merry del Val's beatification would indicate that both he and De Lai were actually excommunicated at the Conclave for attempting to exact a promise from Cardinal Ratti, in return for their support, that if elected he would not name Gasparri as Secretary of State. Falconi, p. 154. Portal's opinions are supported by Merry del Val's own correspondence concerning the conversations. He wrote that Gasparri was “all at sea in those questions”, and said that “his position today makes his attitude more mischievous, for he does what he likes.” AAW, unclassified Moyes papers, Merry del Val to Mgr. [James] Moyes, February 14, 1925. He later described Mercier as “in a dream and all at sea” and Gasparri as nursing “extraordinary delusions.” AAW, BO, 3, 124, 5, Merry del Val to Bourne, February 7, 1930.

79. This was in late November. Halifax reported Bourne to be most kind and sympathetic. AAM, CM, 1922, A 1, Halifax to Mercier, December 1, 1922, and HP, M, Portal to Halifax, November 29 1922 (Halifax's marginal note).

80. AAM CM, 1922, B 3, Bourne to Mercier, December 4, 1922. See also AAW, BO, 3, 124, 4, Bourno to Oldmeadow, February 6, 1922, in which Bourne asked Oldmeadow to give Mercier's pastoral on the Conversations “the most sympathetic and cordial treatment, and quote largely from it” in The Tablet. In 1927, Bourne told the archbishop of Canterbury that he had never interferred in any way with the Malines Conversations, and entirely repudiated accusations that he was hostile to them. In fact even at that stage he told the archbishop that he would be prepared himself to designate persons to enter into similar talks with Anglican representatives. LP, Davidson, 188, Bourne to Davidson, December 6, 1927, and memorandum of interview of archbishop of Canterbury with Cardinal Bourne, February 16, 1928.

81. LP, Davidson, 186, Davidson to Lang, November 18, 1922 (copy).

82. He told Halifax that it may be that the Vatican “intended to give very complete authority. But I think this is not explicit …” ibid., Davidson to Halifax, December 7, 1922 (copy).

83. See AAM, CM, 1922, A 1, Davidson to Halifax, October 30, 1922. Rome, which had previously considered a direct letter to the archbishop, did in this instance exactly as it was asked to do by Mercier. That Mercier did not ask for a direct communication was probably due to the advice he received from England. Armitage Robinson suggested that an invitation should be addressed to the archbishop by Cardinal Mercier. The archbishop himself explicitly accepted this. LP, Davidson, 186, Armitage Robinson to Davidson, October 6, 1922 and Davidson to Armitage Robinson, October 7, 1922. The dean had written on the same lines to Halifax; Halifax passed the comment on to the cardinal with his own endorsement. HP, M, Armitage Robinson to Halifax, October 5, 1922, and AAM, CM, Halifax to Mercier, October 12, 1922. At no time did the Anglicans suggest to Mercier that a letter from Rome to the archbishop was in order.

84. AAM, CM, 1922, A 1, Davidson to Halifax, Christmas Eve, 1922. The archbishop's letter drew contrasting reactions. Frere wrote, “I think Cantuar. has really been more courageous and compromised himself and all of us more satisfactorily by taking this line. … We should have got much less way if Cantuar. had merely left you to go on with the negotiations and restricted himself to third-party interest and concealed encouragement in the matter.” Portal saw things from a different angle: “…il me semble que de la part de votre archevêque c'est un récul.… Démander que le cardinal prenne l'initiative de faire une démarche pour proposer des conférences me semble un peu forcer la nôte. Sans doute votre archevêque veut pouvoir dire qu'il n'a Pu réfuser …Mais c'est être bien timide.” HP, M, Frere to Halifax, January [?], 1923, and Portal to Halifax, January 4, 1923. Possibly each one had a point.

85. “… ces conversations nouvelles, encore que ne faisant pas autorité, acquerraient néamoins plus de valeur et de crédit.” LP, Davidson, 186, Mercier to Davidson, January 10, 1923. The outline for this letter was suggested by Halifax. HP, M, Halifax to Mercier, January [?], 1923. In the letter Mercier spoke of the first conversation as contributing “… au rapprochement de l'Eglise anglicane et l'Eglise Romaine.” The dean of Wells felt that the cardinal's choice of the word “rapprochement” was a happy one, as the word “reunion” could easily convey a false impression. “What a language the French is for diplomatic refinement.” HP, M, Armitage Robinson to Halifax, January 15, 1923.

86. AAM, CM, 1923, A 2, Davidson to Mercier, January 13, 1923.

87. See HP, M, Lang to Halifax, January 22 and January 29, 1923.

88. LP, Davidson, 186, Davidson to Halifax, December 7, 1922 (copy).

89. Henson, Herbert Hensley, Retrospect of an Unimportant Life, 3 vols. (London, 19421950), 2:139, and Bell, p. 1260.

90. Bell, p. 1260.

91. AAM CM, 1923, A 2, Davidson to Mercier, February 2, 1923.

92. In his letter to Halifax of October 30, 1922 Davidson has used the words “authoritative” and “authorization” a number of times. AAM, CM, 1922, A 1. Later too he spoke not only of his “cognizance” but of “my responsibility in the matter.” Letter to the Archbishops nnd Metropolitans of the Anglican Communion, Christmas 1923; quoted in Frere, pp. 82–89. In this case, the context would appear to indicate that the archbishop used the lesser term “cognizance” specifically of the second conversation; at that stage he still had no real responsibility for either the delegates or the agenda, as he did to some extent for subsequent meetings.

93. Rome later seemed progressively determined to do just this, at least in public. When Frank Weston, Anglican Bishop of Zanzibar, wrote to the pope to ask whether he could not discuss such few differences as appeared to exist between himself and the Roman church, Gasparri replied that he certainly could do so at Malines, where “conversations have been initiated amongst authoritative persons.” AAM, CM, 1923, B 1, Gasparri to Weston, February 4, 1923 (copy; italics mine). But when Mercicr wrote in his Pastorial Letter on the Conversations (January 18, 1924; Frere, pp. 90–109), “It was enough to know that I was acting in agreement with the supreme Authority, blessed and encouraged by it.” Osservatore Romano (February 7, 1924) even managed to omit this phrase when it published the text. Gasparri had earlier written to Mercier, “Autant que possible il faudrait empécher que dans les annonces des journaux, les conférences prennent un caractère officiel de Ia part du Saint-Siège.” AAM, CM, 1923, B 1, Gasparri to Mercier, December 30, 1923. After the Pastoral, he wrote more decisively that the Conversations were “conversazoni private sotto la responsiblitià di Vostra Eminenza, ma conosciute e benedette dal Papa. Qualunque cosa si aggiunga, si va al mandato e perciò a conversazioni ufficiali, quali non sono les entretiens de Malines.” AAM, CM, 1924, B 1, Gasparri to Mercier, February 10, 1924. After Mercier's death in 1926, the disclaimers intensified. In 1928 Osservatore Romano said, “… the Holy Father, who having so far followed the affair, has never considered them otherwise than as matters between private persons possessing no kind of mandate.” Quoted in The Tablet 152 (1928): 106. Immediately after Gasparri's replacement as Secretary of State in 1930, the Osservatore published the certainly misleading statement that “these conversations never had on the part of the Holy See the least shadow of official or semiofficial character or any sort of mandate or commission.” Quoted in The Tablet 155 (1930): 309. At no time did Rome publicize its approval of the Conversations.

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Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
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