The impetus for the conversations emerged largely out of the friendship between the high-church Anglican, Charles Lindley Wood, the Second Viscount of Halifax, and the French Roman Catholic priest, Fernand Portal. Although the ultramontanist attitudes of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Great Britain made direct talks between British Anglicans and British Roman Catholics infeasible, the Lambeth Appeal of 1920 opened doors to Roman Catholics on the continent. Désiré Joseph Cardinal Mercier, Archbishop of Malines, agreed to host the private ecumenical discussions desired by Lord Halifax and Abbé Portal. The conversations were held in the Belgian primatial see of Malines (now normally referred to as Mechelen) from 1921 to 1927 with tacit support from the Vatican and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York Randall Davidson and Cosmo Gordon Lang.
The number of participants varied but included on the Anglican side Lord Halifax, Bishops Frere and Gore and Armitage Robinson (Dean of Wells). The Catholic participants included Mercier himself, Batiffol, Hemmer, Portal and Mercier's successor van Roey, who wound up the conversations in 1927. A consensus emerged during the five conversations, of which only the first four proved substantial, that the Anglican Church should be “reunited” with—not simply “subsumed” by—the Roman Church. Dom Lambert Beauduin's 1925 paper L'église anglicane unie, mais non absorbée was particularly remarked.[who?]
Van Roey was personally less favourable to the idea of unity than his predecessor, and Cardinal Bourne, Archbishop of Westminster, successfully urged the Vatican to withdraw its encouragement, in line with Leo XIII's bull Apostolicae curae (1896), which had denied validity to Anglican orders. Although the conversations provoked controversy in both churches and failed to produce concrete results, they did pave the way toward future ecumenical discussions between Roman Catholics and Anglicans.
- Walter Howard Frere, Recollections of Malines, 1935.
- George Bell, Life of Randall Davidson, 1935.
- Bernard Barlow, ‘A Brother Knocking at the Door’ The Malines Conversations 1921-1925. Norwich: The Canterbury Press, 1996.
- Balthasar Fischer, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, Band 2, 1994, p. 110.
- John A. Dick, The Malines Conversations Revisited. Leuven: University Press, 1989.
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