Reunion Revisited

1930s Ecumenism Exposed

Mark Vickers

Responding to a growing interest in Christian unity in the first part of the 20th century, Pope Pius XI condemned in his encyclical Mortalium animos of 1928 a perceived  tendency of indifferentism and doctrinal relativism in the discussions of the denominations, leading to a ‘Pan-Christian’ movement.

At the very time in which the Pope’s encyclical was promulgated, a group of Anglican clergymen were engaged in a dialogue with senior Catholic theologians quite different in its principles and methods from the ecumenism of their contemporaries, even those engaged in the better known Malines conversations.  These were the so-called ‘Anglo-Papalists’, clerics of the Established Church, who professed their adherence to the entire teaching of the Catholic Church on faith and morals.  They were the foes of Modernism in all its forms, and shared Pope Pius’s zeal in opposing any compromise of ‘truth divinely revealed’.  One of  the most significant achievements in this book is to show that the Anglo-Papalist critique of official Anglicanism was directed as much to its aberrations in morals as to its deficiencies in dogma. It is the story of their quest for reunion and its final failure that Fr Mark Vickers tells in this ground-breaking book.  

The received opinion is that the only friendly contact between Anglicans and Roman Catholics from the Reformation until the Second Vatican Council was the Malines Conversations hosted by Cardinal Mercier in Belgium in the 1920s. However meticulous research has shown that another series of Conversations took place in England in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Those Conversations passed entirely unnoticed, but here Fr Mark Vickers presents a complete picture of the participants and the course and content of those Conversations, which took place over almost two years. They represent an alternative approach to ecumenism to that practised by the Establishment subsequently and explode entirely the myth that English Catholics were uniformly hostile to ecumenism until the 1960s.

The chief consequence of twentieth-century ecumenism would seem to be the even greater distancing of the Reformation communities from the Catholic Church.  The hopes of the Anglo-Papalists are in ruins.  Or are they?  In 2009, by the motu proprio Anglicanorum coetibus, Pope Benedict XVI established a Personal Ordinariate for Anglicans reconciled with the Catholic Church, which would seem to fulfil the aspirations of the long neglected Anglo-Papalists of the 1930s.  As Archbishop Augustine Di Noia OP has recently said, in the Ordinariate we see a work of the Holy Spirit and an answer to the Church’s prayers for Christian unity

Mark Vickers is parish priest of the Church of the Holy Ghost and St Stephen in London. He is the author of By the Thames Divided: Cardinal Bourne in Southwark and Westminster, also published by Gracewing.

ISBN 978 085244 916 5                               

320 pages                          £14.99

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