Simon Ellis on the Malines Conversations between Roman Catholics
and Anglicans in the 1920s and their significance for the Ordinariate

Despite all the upheavals all of us have experienced over the past few months I am sure that many of us have given thanks for all sorts of blessings, especially for the forging of new friendships. There has also been the unwarranted acts of kindness, like the gift to me (an Ordinariate priest) of a 4’ statue of our Lady (see image) by an Anglican priest in London moving to France. His intention was that a statue with such historical significance (it was a gift from a Catholic priest, Fr Gillom, to Lord Halifax at the Malines Conversations of the 1920s) should find its home in the Catholic Church.

I have been spending time in devotion at this statue, pondering not only the joy of the incarnation, but whether the Malines Conversations between Roman Catholics and Anglicans ninety years ago – with the tacit approval of both Church authorities – have anything to tell us now.

‘United not absorbed’

One can glean much from Malines participants such as Dom Lambert Beaduin who wrote The Church of England United Not Absorbed (1925). We see here how much which was articulated then about the importance of Anglican Patrimony is expressed in the Apostolic Constitution by Pope Benedict XVI. The most important principle for Anglicanism for Dom Lambert is that its ecumenical vocation is to be ‘united not absorbed’. There is a unity and distinctiveness which was there from the beginning: Dom Lambert puts it candidly when he comments that Augustine (and his successors up to and including Archbishop Cranmer) received the pallium from Pope Gregory which signified the unity and authority which they received from Christ. Pope Gregory’s words to Augustine when imposing the pallium were ‘your fraternity shall have subject to yourself by the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, nor only the bishops ordained by you, nor only those ordained by the Bishop of York, but all the bishops of Britain’ (from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History). Any Archbishop of Canterbury who had received the pallium from an anti-pope was not received in England as Patriarch.

One homogeneous whole

The Malines Conversations start to develop from this principle the important reality that the Anglican Church is a Catholic and historic reality constituting one homogeneous whole. She cannot be absorbed and fused without losing the proper character of all her history. On the other hand, this Church was strongly united from the beginning to the See of Peter. So, they conclude: ‘an Anglican Church absorbed by Rome and an Anglican Church separated from Rome are two conceptions that are equally inadmissible. The true formula must be sought somewhere between’ (emphasis added).

I believe many are beginning to recognize that, notwithstanding the different ecclesial issues facing both the Anglican and Catholic Church today, that Pope Benedict has essentially found ‘the true formula’ in the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. He has seen how the establishment of an ecclesial future for English and Celtic Anglicans, north and south, with the See of Peter, is possible, not as Malines envisaged centred in Canterbury, but located within the English and Welsh Catholic Church, with some kind of parallel jurisdiction and practice. There is to be no Cardinal at Canterbury in our lifetime but instead an Ordinary, like Augustine, who is directly responsible to the Holy Father who will have a ministry and authority not so very different from Augustine.

I suggest that it is this ecclesiological reality of being united without being absorbed which lies at the heart of the Ordinariate. This should occupy our minds more than important, but secondary, issues like liturgy and the funding and housing of the clergy. In any case, those particular issues are as serious for those remaining within the Church of England as they are for those entering the Ordinariate.

Hopes and prayers

Many will see that Malines is a bedrock of ecumenical progress on which the Ordinariates can be established. ‘United not absorbed’ was the slogan in 1925 and should be our maxim today! As we are already beginning to witness the distinctiveness of the Ordinariate expressed in the Catholic church, we see how the hopes and prayers of our Anglican forefathers are essentially being realized.

Of course so many questions and struggles remain for all of us. But there is only going to be one Anglicanorum Coetibus, and not some other formula for future groups of Anglicans. General Synod may offer some crumbs of comfort but has already definitively, in July 2008, turned her back on serious ecumenical progress simply by ruling that traditionalist Anglicans are no longer loyal Anglicans (when Lambeth Resolution III.2 was not affirmed) – a significant turning point but nothing like as important as Pope Benedict’s offer in Anglicanorum Coetibus.

At the same time as Malines, as the Anglo-Catholic Congress met at the Albert Hall the Chairman told the packed audience: ‘take heart then, the Eastern Patriarch smiles on you; the bishop of the diocese loves you; the Holy Father waits.’ ND