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'A Brother Knocking at the Door:' The Malines Conversations, 1921-1925.

Barlow has written a thorough study which sets the Malines Conversations in their broad historical context. The role played by Lord Halifax and Abbe Portal is kept in sharp focus throughout. An early chapter is devoted to `The Immediate Forerunner to Malines -- the issue of Anglican Orders'. For his account of what took place at the Conversations, Barlow follows closely the comptes rendus published by Lord Halifax, together with Armitage Robinson's unpublished journal. His analysis of the complex ecclesiastical politics that surrounded the meetings, which is quite as much his subject as the theological issues discussed, is based on a rereading of the archival material, but adds little to earlier interpretations. Barlow emphasizes the striking openness of the bishops of the Anglican Communion, who, in the Lambeth Appeal Of 1920, offered to accept a commissioning from other churches if, when substantial differences had been settled, this would enable practical steps towards unity to be taken. In five chapters, he then considers the five Conversations, together with the mixed reactions that followed when it became public knowledge that they were taking place. Finally, he provides his assessment of the Conversations as a whole, relating them to the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission today. In his appendices, he publishes a letter of Cardinal Merry del Val, written in 1930, which illuminates the conduct of the Roman investigation of Anglican Orders (no evidence was taken from Anglicans) and Merry del Val's consistently negative attitude. He also provides his own translation of Lambert Beauduin's classic paper, `The Anglican Church United Not Absorbed'. Barlow's list of Unpublished Sources will be useful for future research in this area. Unfortunately, the relevant papers in the Vatican Archive from the Pontificate of Pius XI were still not available to him. Without such access, a good deal about Roman attitudes towards the Malines initiative must remain obscure.

Barlow contrasts the method employed at the second Conversation, where practical issues surrounding reunion were discussed, and contemporary ecumenical method, which seeks to build a theological consensus before coming to practical issues of reunion. His assessment of the Conversations is largely in terms of the roles played by significant individuals. The friendship of Halifax and Portal is seen as crucial. Both knew Halifax would at the outset only have the support of a minority in the Church of England, and after the negative outcome of their efforts over Anglican Orders, they also knew how determined was the opposition in Rome, but they hoped that the Lambeth Appeal had created a new climate and that any accord would win increasing support in both Churches. Mercier is pervasively admired, though Barlow admits he had no deep understanding of the Church of England. Barlow writes with considerable sympathy for Cardinal Bourne, who was kept at arm's length from the Conversations. Like others before him, Barlow firmly rejects the argument of Bourne's biographer, Oldmeadow, that Bourne was kept totally in the dark. He is at pains to show that the choice of Malines and the exclusion of English Roman Catholics was not a calculated snub but the explicable if unfortunate result of church political pressures at the time. Archbishop Davidson comes out well, for observing an intelligent caution about the whole proceeding, though he was not unsupportive. The role of Cardinals Merry del Val and Gasquet in Rome is seen as wholly negative. In summing up the importance of the Malines Conversations, Barlow writes: `This tiny move was a real opening of the doors in terms of future ecumenical relations.'

Barlow's strength lies in his sympathetic account of individual actors, especially Halifax and Portal. At the same time, he does not lose sight of the complex theological issues, which were set out with striking clarity in the meetings at Malines, the papers from which are still useful. This attention to theological issues such as universal primacy, jurisdiction, and the exercise of authority, which still remain at the centre of the Roman Catholic-Anglican dialogue today, distinguishes Barlow's book from John Dick's detailed historical study, The Malines Conversations Revisited (Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium 85, Louvain: 1989), which discusses historical context in great detail but omits all discussion of the theological issues raised at the Conversations.

There are weaknesses in Barlow's work which may trouble or mislead the reader. A number of historical slips should be corrected: Loisy's dismissal from his teaching post at the Institut Catholique was not `consequent' upon the affirmation, in the encyclical Providentissimus Deus, of what Barlow calls `the traditional belief of the Bible's historical inerrancy', but rather in anticipation of the encyclical; it is an anachronism to speak of Leo XIII as anti-Modernist, as it is only with the encyclical Pascendi of 1907 that `Modernism' became a generalized term of theological abuse; it is misleading to speak of the Synod (rather than the Convocation) as `the main organisational structure' in the Church of England since 1867, and to speak of the General Synod as existing in the nineteenth century. Such slips occur particularly in Barlow's handling of Anglicanism. It is a pity that Gore's excellent short paper `On Unity with Diversity', which was published by Frere but is hard to obtain today, was not included in the appendices.

This book will be widely read, but it must be used with care, in conjunction with the work of Aubert, Dick and others. For a comprehensive bibliography, it must be supplemented by A. Denaux and J. Dick eds., From Malines to ARCIC, The Malines Conversations Commemorated (Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium 130, Louvain: 1997), which also contains an English translation of `The Church of England United Not Absorbed' that does not leave the lengthy Latin quotations untranslated. Barlow's book is a sympathetic study of a bold, unofficial initiative, at the time much misunderstood. Fifty years later, in a wholly different ecumenical climate, it was succeeded by an official initiative which has borne considerable fruit. Barlow sees a causal link. If there is, it is slender, but the remark of Portal to Halifax in 1911 remains apposite: `What might you have done if you had received encouragement'.
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Author:Sagovsky, Nicholas
Publication:The Journal of Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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