I'M GOING TO TALK to you about two great saints: St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, the two most influential people, in their day, among the ranks of the English martyrs ... I'm not going to tell you a lot about those two saints. I expect you know a good deal about them already; one of you is descended from one of them. I just want you to seize on one splendid quality about them; their utter independence of mind. You see, the really curious thing about the English martyrs is that there were so few of them. Here you have a completely Catholic country which in a matter of twenty years or so goes Protestant, and nobody seems to mind very much. Why weren't all the other people martyrs too? And the answer to that question is the same as the answer to the question, Why did the Germans ever let the Nazis get into power? - you can give it in four words: MOST MEN ARE SHEEP. You can get them to accept anything, by bluffing them, by bullying them, by applying soft soap when it's needed. But there are a few of the important people in any generation to whom you can't do that. They are not stupid enough to be hoodwinked by propaganda. They are too honest to be bribed with preferment. And they have just that touch of hardness about their minds which won't consent to sacrifice principle for the sake of general peace and calm. You can do nothing with such people, except martyr them. Such were St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More.
Don't run away with a wrong impression of them; they weren't disagreeable sort of people in the literal sense; that is, in the sense that they were fond of disagreeing with their fellow-men. They weren't cranks with a passion for writing letters to The Times every day, not a bit of it. You couldn't have had a more human, companionable friend than St. Thomas More, a jollier host, a more open-minded critic of the world around him. Nor must you suppose that these men, either of them, were backwoods Conservatives, Colonel Blimps, with the fixed idea that what had been good enough for their grandfathers must be good enough for them. On the contrary, they were in the very van of the progressive movement. In the great revival of learning that was taking place just then, St. John Fisher took an enormous part, and kept on building colleges at the university. It's true that he always built them at Cambridge, which strikes some of us as bad taste; but probably Cambridge needed them more.
Anyhow, this is quite certain - that if these two men took a different line from most of their contemporaries, it wasn't because they were tiresome, cross-grained people, and it wasn't because they were people who disliked everything that was modern, and went about saying, "What I mean to say is, what?" They were men loved by their fellows, and typical of their age. That is why they were martyred. If they had been less representative people, they would have been left alone. (Pt. 2 will continue "The No-Men".)
- Ronald A. Knox