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Malines Conservations


A series of five unofficial talks between Roman Catholics and Anglicans at Malines (Mechelen), Belgium. The first took place Dec. 68, 1921, and the last Oct.1112, 1926. The chief Anglican representatives were Charles Lindley Wood, second Viscount halifax; Dr. Armitage Robinson; Rev. Dr. B. J. Kidd; Rev. W. H. Frere; and Rev. Dr. Charles gore. The Catholics were represented by Cardinal mercier, Cardinal Joseph van Roey, the abbés Fernand Portal and Hippolyte Hemmer, and Msgr. Pierre batiffol. The moving spirits were Halifax and Portal, who were encouraged by a declaration of the sixth Lambeth Conference that the Anglican bishops were prepared, in return for the recognition of their ministry, to accept "from the authorities of other churches a form of commission or recognition." Halifax approached Mercier, who agreed to a series of talks. The proceedings were clouded by the hesitancy of Dr. Randall davidson, Abp. of Canterbury, and the hostile attitude of the English Catholic hierarchy. Initially Pius XI was not opposed to the Malines meetings, although he made it clear that they were confidential and that the Catholic representatives had no other function than to discuss the differences dividing the two churches.

In the first discussion it was clear that both churches had much in common. The most difficult point to reconcile concerned ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Both groups readily admitted that bishops held office by divine right (jure divino ), but the Anglicans feared Roman centralization. The most notable advance during the conversations was made by Mercier who in the fourth session presented a memoir entitled "The English Church United Not Absorbed," which suggested that the archbishop of Canterbury be established as patriarch with broad powers, that Latin Canon Law not be imposed in England, that the English Church have its own liturgy, and that all the historic sees of the English Church be maintained and the recent Catholic ones suppressed. Between the fourth and fifth conversations the irenical atmosphere darkened; Cardinal bourne expressed displeasure because English Catholics had been so little consulted. More significant were the deaths of both Mercier and Portal in 1926. Cardinal van Roey, whose ecumenical interests were far less intense than Mercier's, presided over the anticlimactic fifth conversation. All those present agreed that conditions were distinctly unfavorable for further talks. Rome's attitude had cooled partly as a result of the negative attitude of Cardinals Bourne and gasquet. The encyclical mortalium animos (1928) did not explictly mention the Malines Conversations; but it placed restrictions on Catholic participation in such matters. With the progress of the ecumenical movement, particularly since the pontificate of john xxiii, Rome has relaxed such restrictions.

Bibliography: j. de bivort de la saudÉe, Anglicans et catholiques, 2 v. (Paris 1949). c. l. wood, second viscount halifax, ed., The Conversations at Malines (London 1930). w. h. frere, Recollections of Malines (London 1935). h. m. hemmer, Fernand Portal (18551926) Apostle of Unity, tr. a. t. macmillan (New York 1961).

[s. j. miller]

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