The Malines Conversations

The Malines Conversations, held in Mechelen (Malines) Belgium from 1921 to 1927, were a series of five church unity conversations exploring possibilities of corporate reunion between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. The initial impetus for the conversations came from the high-church Anglican, Charles Lindley Wood, the Second Viscount of Halifax, and the French Roman Catholic priest, Fernand Portal. The Lambeth Appeal of 1920 opened the doors for Roman Catholics on the continent to enter into serious discussions with the Church of England. Cardinal Désiré Joseph Mercier, Archbishop of Mechelen (then known as Malines), agreed to host the private church unity discussions desired by Lord Halifax and Abbé Portal. The conversations were held in the Belgian primatial see of Malines with  tacit support from Pope Benedict XV at the Vatican and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York Randall Davidson and Cosmo Gordon Lang. The first four sessions proved substantial, with a consensus that the Anglican Church should be “reunited” with the Roman Church. Dom Lambert Beauduin’s 1925 paper L’église anglicane unie, mais non absorbée was particularly important in shaping this position. It was unfortunate but perhaps unavoidable that English Roman Catholics were not part of the Conversations. Cardinal Francis Bourne, Archbishop of Westminster, was greatly annoyed and frustrated about the Malines Conversations. What Bourne strongly objected to was that no English Roman Catholics were involved in the discussions and that Belgian and French Catholics claimed they had a better understanding of Anglicanism than English Catholics. The energy of the Malines Conversations greatly diminished after Cardinal Mercier’s death in January 1926. His successor as Archbishop of Mechelen, and later cardinal, Jozef-Ernest van Roey, although having been a participant in the Conversations, was less than enthusiastic about church unity. He, along with Cardinal Bourne strongly encouraged the then pope, Pope Pius XI, to withdraw encouragement and support for church unity actions between Anglicans and Roman Catholics, resonating strongly with Pope Leo XIII’s bull Apostolicae curae (1896), which had denied validity to Anglican orders. Nevertheless, the Malines Conversations certainly paved the way for future ecumenical discussions between Roman Catholics and Anglicans.

John Alonzo Dick, PhD, STD. Historical theologian. Leuven

A brief bibliography

Bernard Barlow, ‘A Brother Knocking at the Door’ The Malines Conversations 1921-1925. Norwich: The Canterbury Press, 1996.

Denaux, A. and Dick, J. Eds, From Malines to ARCIC. The Malines Conversations Commemorated. Leuven: Peeters Publishers, 1997.

John A. Dick, The Malines Conversations Revisited. Leuven: University Press, 1989.

Walter Howard Frere, Recollections of Malines. London: The Centenary Press. 1935.

Lord Halifax, The Conversations at Malines 1921-1925, Original Documents. London: Philip Allan & Co Ltd, 1930.

R. J. Lahey, “The Origins and Approval of the Malines Conversations,” Church History Vol. 43, No. 3 (Sep., 1974), pp. 366-384 (19 pages).

P. Theeuws, Collectanea Mechliniensia: 1926-1966: The Commemoration of the Malines Conversations De Herdenking Van De Gesprekken Te Mechelen Commemoraison Des Conversations De Malines. Imprimatur, 1966.

Mark Vickers, Reunion Revisited: 1930s Ecumenism Exposed. Leominster: Gracewing Publishing, 2017.

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