Such a proposition provokes a smile, but in the case of this man it provokes a feeling of grief. I cannot bring myself to believe that he has yet found rest for his soul, or that he can so easily strangle the free existence of his mind. His present position fills me with pity, his future with apprehension.
He is one of the modestest of men, almost shrinking in his diffidence and nervous self-distrust, an under-graduate who is mildly excited about an ingenious line of reasoning, a wit who loves to play tricks with the subtlety of a curiously agile brain, a casuist who sees quickly the chinks in the armour of an adversary. But with all his boyishness, and charm, and humility, and engaging cleverness, there is a light in his eyes too feverish for peace of mind. I cannot prevent myself from thinking that his secession, which was something of a comedy to his friends, may prove something of a tragedy to him.
He seems to me one of the most pathetic examples I ever encountered of the ruin wrought by Fear. I think that the one motive of his life has been a constant terror of finding himself in the wrong. The door, which for Dr. Inge has no key, because it has no lock, is to Ronald Knox a door of terror which opens only to a single key—and a door which as surely shuts out from eternal life the soul that is wrong as the soul that is wicked. He must have certainty. He dare not contemplate the prospect of awaking one day to find his religious life “a ghastly mistake.”
At the cross roads there was for him no Good Shepherd, only the dark shadow of an offended God. He ran for safety, for certainty. Has he found them?
It may be that the last of his doubts will leave him, that the iron discipline of the Roman Church and the auto-suggestion of his own earnest passion for inward peace, may deliver him from all fear, all uneasiness, and that one day, forsaking the challenging sermon and the too violent assertion of the Catholic faith, he may find himself sitting down in great peace of mind and with a golden mellowness of spirit to write an Apologia pro Vita Sua more genial and less shallow than A Spiritual AEneid.
Such a book from his pen would lack, I think, the fine sweetness of Newman’s great work, but it might excel all other books of religious autobiography in charming wit and endearing good humour. The Church of Rome has caught in him neither a Newman nor a Manning. It has caught either a Sydney Smith or a Tartar.
He has too much humour to be a bigot, and too much humanity to be satisfied with a cell. For the moment he seems to embrace Original Sin, to fling his arms round the idea of an offended God, and to shout at the top of his voice that there is no violence to his reason and to his common sense which he cannot contemplate and most gladly accomplish, in the name of Tradition; but the pulses cool, the white heat of enthusiasm evaporates, fears take wing as we grow older, and whispers from the outer world of advancing and conquering men find their way into the oldest blockhouse ever built against the movements of thought.