Last Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury
Author(s): Désiré Mercier
Dated: 25 Oct. 1925
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Désiré Mercier. "Last Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury" (25 Oct. 1925).

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  • Viscount Halifax, Notes on the Conversations at Malines, 1921-1925: Points of Agreement (London and Oxford: Mowbray & Co, Ltd., 1928)

MALINES, Oct. 25, 1925


As soon as I received your letter of August 1st, I made a point of acknowledging it at once, but I found myself compelled to ask for some delay in order to examine its contents. This delay has been prolonged far beyond my expectations. Being accustomed, as you are, to the difficulties of a large administration, I trust you will excuse me and forgive this apparent carelessness.

When I first read it, your letter caused me a certain uneasiness. I was not sure that I had grasped its inner meaning. The document was inspired by an unaltered goodwill, all appreciations on the past were encouraging, but reflections on the present situation and on future developments seemed to betray a shaken confidence.

This was not surprising since, in such a long, protracted effort as our own, if the goal remains the same, the means to reach it vary according to circumstances and raise new problems at every step.

As our exchange of views are pursued within our meetings, the line of demarcation between the articles on which agreement existed or has been achieved, and the articles about which certain divergencies still exist becomes more and more distinct, the difficulties in the way of final success loom larger on the horizon and the reasons for hoping seem less convincing.

When, on the other hand, we listen to the voice of our followers outside our meetings, we notice a restlessness which it is not within our power to appease, and it may be that we, I mean Your Grace and myself, feel some anxiety and weariness which are not always easy to dispel.

Among our Roman Catholics, this restlessness assumes two different aspects.

Some of them, full of enthusiasm and sympathy for our cause, complain of our apparent dilatoriness and of a silence which seems to them unduly prolonged. They are inclined to imagine that the problem of reunion being stated, like a theorem of geometry, its affirmative or negative solution ought to be reached immediately. If the worst came to the worst, they say a majority vote would put an end to all hesitations. They would like to see the Malines Conversations proceed more quickly and thus satisfy, without further delay, the curiosity of public opinion. Reunion would be such a beautiful and edifying spectacle that one could not provide too early for the religious-minded the comfort which they would derive from it.

Others, on the contrary, haunted by the policy of ‘all or nothing,’ consider only the final result, exaggerate purposely the difficulties which must be conquered before reaching it, and undervalue the supreme part played by grace in the evolution of spiritual life.

Relying only upon themselves and upon the knowledge of their own weakness, they would readily abandon an attempt in which, it is true, they have never placed any confidence, which, at the bottom of their hearts, they perhaps never favoured and for the success of which they perhaps never prayed.

Your Grace must, no doubt, meet with the same restlessness on the part of inveterate optimists and obstinate pessimists among your own flock; they wish to obtain from us a sudden solution, and, if they could, they would urge us to end the matter promptly.

Do you not think it would be weakness on our part if we gave way to these solicitations? We have responsibilities which our followers do not share and do not always understand Our situation imposes upon us the duty to consider the general situation from a higher standpoint, according to deeper supernatural standards. The direction of consciences entrusted to us allows us to act with authority.

Your Grace’s letter mentions certain declarations which ought to be made, certain statements in which the points agreed upon by the two sides should be definitely outlined and in which the points still under discussion should be recalled.

I eagerly accept this proposal and am ready to place it on the agenda of our next meeting, which might take place, according to the wish expressed by Lord Halifax, during the first fortnight of January, 1926.

I understand that two statements ought to be prepared, the first on the conclusions already reached, the second on disputable points which have been partially considered, or on new subjects which, according to the wish of one or both sides, ought still to be placed on the agenda.

This comparative survey would show, I believe, that not only have our meetings brought hearts together, which is already a very appreciable result, but that they have also, on important points, harmonized our thoughts and achieved progress in agreement.

The first statement on common conclusions might be developed in more explicit form or be published in a reduced form. It would be a happy means of maintaining the religious interest of our respective flocks.

According to my humble opinion, however, it would be inopportune to publish the statement on disputable points.

Negative conclusions, whatever they may be, would provoke polemics in the press, re-awake secular animosities and accentuate divisions, thus harming the cause to which we have resolved to devote ourselves.

Faithful to our original purpose, we must bring to light progressively whatever favours reunion, and set aside or defer whatever stands in the way. Our original intention was not to examine, within a set time, a few questions of theology, exegesis, or history, with the hope of adding a chapter of apologetics or controversies to the scientific or religious works of our predecessors. On the contrary, we met face to face like men of goodwill and sincere believers, alarmed by the confusion of opinions and the divisions of thought prevailing in modern society, and saddened by the progress of religious indifference and of the materialistic conception of life which follows it. We had in mind the supreme wish for reunion, for unity expressed by our divine Saviour: Ut unum sint: Oh! If they could only be but one! We set to work without knowing either when or how this union hoped for by Christ could be realized, but convinced that it could be realized since Christ willed it, and that we had, therefore, each one of us, to bring our contribution to its realization. Reunion is not our work, and we may be unable to achieve it, but it is within our power, and consequently within our duty, to prepare it, and pave the way for it.

Was it not for this high purpose that the Lambeth Conference was called together in a spirit of trust in the wisdom and goodness of divine providence?

Is this not the unique object pursued for more than fifty years by our dear and revered colleague, who devotes with such admirable zeal his time, his strength, and his heart to the cause of reunion?

I seem to hear the revered Dean of Wells addressing us in such moving words, at the close of our first meeting: ‘For four centuries, Anglicans and Roman Catholics were only aware of their antagonisms and divisions; they have met for the first time in order better to understand each other, to remove the misunderstandings which estrange them, to draw nearer to the goal so wished for by every one; reunion.’

When the revered Dean uttered these moving words, he did not merely address our small, exclusive group but the mass of believers which we knew were behind us and whose perseverent faith in Christ and in the Church is the object of our constant care and anxiety.

As far as I am concerned, it is in this light of apostleship that I have looked upon my contribution to these conversations from the first day when the revered Lord Halifax and the Abbe Portal expressed the wish that I should join them. When, in January, 1924, I explained to my clergy and to my diocese the part which I had played in our Conversations, I dwelt on the same point. I reminded them of the words of Leo XIII: ‘The great events of history cannot be gauged by human calculations.’ Foreseeing and fearing their impatience, I recalled to them the teaching of S. Paul on the unique source of the fruitfulness of apostleship: ‘So then, neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.’ ‘Neque qui plantat est aliquid neque qui rigat sed qui incrementum dat, Deus‘ (1 Cor. iii. 7). And I added these words which I beg leave to repeat here: ‘You are getting impatient, success is slow to come, your trouble appears wasted. Be on your guard; nature and her eagerness mislead you; an effort of charity is never lost.’

Reapers of souls, we must sow in the sweat of our brow, mostly in tears, before the hour of reaping strikes. When this blessed hour does strike, another very likely will have filled our place: ‘Alius est qui seminat, alius est qui metit’ (S. John iv. 37).

It is in this spirit of Christian patience and supernatural confidence that we shall meet again in January next, content to labour and to sow, leaving to the Holy Spirit and to the working of His grace the choice of the day and the hour for reaping the crop which our humble works and our prayers endeavour to prepare.

For this also and above all we must declare: We associated ourselves as students, it is true, but our association is chiefly spiritual and joins in common prayer. The knowledge of our mere existence and of our periodical meetings is, for the general public, a constant exhortation to religious thought and collective prayer for reunion.

I am,
Your Grace,
Your obedient servant,

(Signed) D. J. CARD. MERCIER,
Arch. of Malines.

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