One need not stop to ask if this version is strictly true. The fact seems to emerge that the Bishop of Durham, one of the ablest intellects in the Church of England, and hitherto one of the strongest pillars of modernism, is beginning to speak theologically with rather less decision.
Let us at least express the pious hope that the Dean of Durham, Dr. Welldon, has had nothing to do with it. A greater man than Dr. Henson, a greater scholar and a profounder thinker, has spoken to me of this new movement in the Bishop’s mind with a deep impersonal regret. Modernism will go on; but what will happen to Dr. Henson? “A man may change his mind once,” he said; “but to change it twice—”
The words of Guicciardini came into my mind, “The most fatal of all neutralities is that which results not from choice, but from irresolution.”
There is much to be learned, I think, from a study of Dr. Henson’s personality. He stands for the moment at a parting of the ways, and it will be interesting to see which road he intends to take; but the major interest lies in his abiding psychology, and no change in theological opinions will affect that psychology at all. Attach to him the label of “modernist” or the label of “traditionalist,” and it will still be the same little eager man thrusting his way forward on either road with downward head and peering eyes, arguing with anyone who gets in his way, and loving his argument far more than his way.
When he was at Oxford, and was often in controversial conflict with Dr. A.C. Headlam, now Regius Professor of Divinity, Dr. Hensley Henson earned the nickname of Coxley Cocksure. Never was any man more certain he was right; never was any man more inclined to ridicule the bare idea that his opponent could be anything but wrong; and never was any man more thoroughly happy in making use of a singularly trenchant intellect to stab and thrust its triumphant way through the logic of his adversary.
It is said that Dr. Henson has had to fight his way into notice, and that he has never lost the defect of those qualities which enabled him so victoriously to reach the mitred top of the ecclesiastical tree. He has climbed. He has loved climbing. Perhaps he has so got into this bracing habit that he may even “climb down,” if only in order once more to ascend—a new rendering of reculer pour mieux sauter. I do not think he has much altered since he first set out to conquer fortune by the force of his intellect, an intellect of whose great qualities he has always been perhaps a little dangerously self-conscious.