restricted access Notes on the Way [I]
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154 ] Notes on the Way [I] Time and Tide, 16 (5 Jan 1935) 6-[7]1 Today (December 29th) is the Feast of St. Thomas of Canterbury, better known to most people as Thomas Becket; and I seize the opportunity to mention that fact, because it is hardly likely that anybody else will.2 I have discovered his Mass in a curious volume called The English Missal (curious because it includes Joseph of Calasanz and the Blessing of Eggs, but has nothing to say about Charles, King and Martyr). The Introit is Gaudeamus, “Rejoice we all in the Lord”; but I suspect that St. Thomas himself might have preferred to be remembered with the Introit for Boxing Day: Sederunt principes, “Princes, moreover, did sit and did witness falsely against me.”3 St. Thomas, although he came to a sticky end, had to deal with a situation very much simpler than that of today. The Church concerns itself with matters about which he never bothered, and is interfered with in ways probably exceeding his worst fears. Nobody agrees where its domain begins or ends: it is reproved both for meddling and for remaining aloof. But the church offers today the last asylum for one type of mind which the Middle Ages would hardly have expected to find among the faithful: that of the sceptic.4 * Obviously, I mean by the sceptic, the man who suspects the origins of his own beliefs, as well as those of others; who is most suspicious of those which are most passionately held; who is still more relentless towards his own beliefs than towards those of others; who suspects other people’s motives because he has learned the deceitfulness of his own. According to this outline of the sceptic, Voltaire was a very imperfect sceptic: for, although he questioned the Christian Faith, which in itself, and at that time, was perhaps a worthy thing to do, he did not sufficiently question his own motives for questioning the Christian Faith. According to this outline also, Anatole France was a mere journalist of scepticism, exploiting, with excellent sales results, a taste for scepticism, without having ever submitted himself to its merciless rigours. And Mr. Aldous Huxley, who passes for a sceptic amongst the general public, and whose intelligence and learning I greatly admire, is interested in spiritualism and ghosts. The real sceptic knows that even if one return from the dead, that will not settle the doubts of those who are not convinced by Moses and the prophets.5 [ 155 Notes on the Way [I] Nevertheless, I respect Mr. Huxley for not having taken the ticket which has almost become necessary for men of letters. There is a red ticket and a blue ticket. You may be a Communist or you may be a Credit Reformer. I admit gladly that to be either of these is better than to be nothing: the merit depends on the amount of thinking you have done. There is no objection to your employing your abilities, in poetry or imaginative prose, in the service of a cause, though you do it at your risk, for one danger is that the cause may not be big enough, or profound and permanent enough, not to become somewhat ridiculous under such treatment; and another danger is that you will not succeed in transmuting it into a personal and peculiar passion. The making of great poetry requires a just and delicate sense of values; distorted or incomplete values may easily turn the sublime into the ridiculous. It is better to suspend decision than to surrender oneself to a belief merely for the sake of believing something. There is a kind of scepticism which is merely caused by the refusal to think things out; and there is a kind of belief springing from the same cause: both are illustrations of the sin of mental sloth. And I question whether any of the social causes agitated in our time is complete enough to provide much food for poetry: the spiritual values are sometimes explicitly denied, and are implicit in a muddled state. One instance of theological muddleheadedness and the refusal to think things out was provided not very long ago on the occasion of the admission of Russia into the League of Nations.6 The question raised was whether it was or was not compatible with the Christian principles of the League of Nations to admit Russia; the unexamined assumption was the Christian foundation of the League of Nations...


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