Friday, December 14, 2012


In many ways Father George Rutler is Msgr. Ronald Knox's heir. He has not squandered his inheritance; his writing is always clear, concise and endlessly interesting. He mentions Msgr. Knox often in his writing and sermons, as he does here in a wonderful meditation for Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Michael Brendan Dougherty has lots of interesting things to say about the Knox Bible, and other versions of Scripture, over at The American Conservative. And, wonder of wonders, the comments are worth reading, too!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


It is a great joy to see the entire Knox Bible back in print.  After more than fifty years during which this treasure lay hidden in the field of second-hand bookstores, Baronius Press has made this, the only English translation of the Vulgate Bible apart from the Douay-Rheims, available once again.  The edition itself is of the highest quality, as befits the word of God, and Knox’s Bible is accompanied by a collection of essays in which he describes his approach to translation, and some of the difficulties he faced – both from the text itself, and from his intended public. 

            Today we are awash in translations of the Bible, good, bad, and indifferent, but to appreciate the boldness of Ronald Knox’s endeavor, we must recall that until the mid-twentieth century there were, for all intents and purposes, two principal English versions: the Protestant Authorized Version and the Catholic Douay-Rheims.  While it may seem tame today, Knox’s translation was a pioneering effort.  Even apart from its intrinsic worth, this translation deserves to see the light of day again because it represents a milestone in Catholic biblical scholarship.

            But what of its intrinsic worth? I would underscore three characteristics of this Bible which should make it a welcome addition both to your bookshelf and to your prie-dieu

1.      It is a translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible.  Within a few years of the completion of the Knox Bible, Rome gave permission for translations to be made from the original languages of Scripture. While encouraging this, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council spoke of the “place of honor” enjoyed by the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) and the Vulgate (Dei Verbum, #22).  The Vulgate has nourished Christian piety for over fifteen centuries; it has enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the Church’s worship and remains a touchstone for biblical texts used in the liturgy; it bears witness to how the Church has traditionally interpreted the word of God.  There can be no doubt that modern translations from the original languages are a great blessing, but certainly there should be a place among these for a modern translation of the Vulgate.   

2.      It is a translation of the entire Bible by one man, who was a master of the English language.  We know that the Bible consists of many writings composed over hundreds of years in diverse circumstances.  But we also recognize that the Holy Spirit has inspired the entire canon of Scripture, and there is a unity to the Bible as a whole for this reason.  When the work of translation is done by a committee (as most translations are) that organic unity can be obscured; to have one translator carry out the entire project emphasizes the integral unity of Scripture.  And in Ronald Knox we have a translator who was a master of English prose.  When you read any of his writings, you encounter a very careful writer indeed, who always sought the apt word, the elegant turn of phrase that would best convey his thought.  Knox brought that lifetime’s experience to the work of translation, and the result is a version of the Bible that is marked by freshness, imagination, and a profound sense of the beauty of the English language.  His translation is modern, but never pedestrian.

3.      It is a translation shaped by faith.  This is a challenging attribute to capture in words, but the way I would express it is this: most modern translations aim at conveying as accurately as possible the meaning of the texts in their original languages.  This is noble ideal, and Knox himself consulted many biblical scholars in crafting his translation.  But the Bible is more than a collection of ancient documents: it is the inspired word of God, and Knox approached his effort as a work of devotion.  When we read Knox’s sermons, we hear a preacher who was deeply immersed in Scripture; when we read his translation of the Bible, it reflects a lifetime of prayer and preaching on the word of God.  It is this, even more than his mastery of style, which imparts to the Knox Bible an atmosphere of serene majesty, and an occasional turn of phrase that goes right to the heart.

You may already have a favorite translation of the Bible that you read for spiritual nourishment; if so, I urge you to dip occasionally into Knox’s translation to gain fresh insight into familiar texts.  You may be preparing a homily or engaging in Bible study; the Vulgate translation, in this modern translation, will enrich your scholarly endeavors.  Or, you may be looking for a translation that is both accurate and original; look no further than the Knox Bible.

                                                            Milton Walsh, author of Ronald Knox as Apologist and
Second Friends: C. S. Lewis and Ronald Knox in Conversation, both published by Ignatius Press.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Book lovers such as me relish the prospect of spending hours in musty used-book stores and browsing online. I've done quite a bit of both over the years. But there’s always been one volume which I've dreaded searching for and that’s been Msgr. Knox’s Bible. I've dreaded it because, until now, my only options were to find an extremely rare soft-leather covered edition and pay hundreds of dollars for it, or settle for the [always dirty] cloth-bound 3 volume set, or parts thereof. So I was delighted to receive my copy of this new edition of such an important book. Others will tell you about the virtues of the text and its translator; I’ll just say that this edition is physically beautiful. The cover, the pages, the type … all make for an impressive whole. It will undoubtedly become many people’s “go to” gift book. First Communions, Confirmations, Marriages, Ordinations, Christmas, Easter … as Catholics we have so many wonderful occasions for giving beautiful things to those we love! And it’s my fervent wish that every priest should have one, especially in this Year of Faith.

I’m also delighted to see that Baronius Press is including a very nice paperback copy of “On Englishing the Bible” with every order. It contains several essays by Msgr. Knox in which he explains all the trials and tribulations of undertaking such a mammoth work. It includes: 1. Thoughts on Bible Translation 2. Some New Testament Problems 3. Justice and Scandal in the Gospels 4.Challoner and the Douay Version 5. Some Reasons Why 6. Nine Years' Hard 7. Morsu Amarissimo 8. Farewell to Machabees and a Preface by Knox written in 1949. This volume is very dear to me personally because it was in reading an excerpt from one of these essays that I first discovered Msgr. Knox over 25 years ago. I was so impressed with his intelligence, his knowledge, his insight and, of course, his wit. It was love at first read!

So, go to the Baronius Press website where they have all kinds of great information on this new edition and Msgr. Knox, and then spread the word!

Vicki McCaffrey
President, The Ronald Knox Society of North America

Monday, October 15, 2012


Available for the first time in more than fifty years
Msgr. Knox's translation of the Latin Vulgate into elegant, timeless English is one of the greatest treasures of the 20th century Church. His translation is spiritual and literary, graceful and lyrical, making it one of the most beautiful vernacular versions of the Holy Bible.
"Mgr. Knox's version continues to merit attention, and I welcome the publication of this new edition, as his remarkable work is likely to continue to be of interest for many years to come. I sincerely hope that many will read and profit from this new edition."
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor
"Msgr. Knox had a profound love for Sacred Scripture, a passion was to make the Bible accessible to as many people as possible … In the Knox translation, clarity is paramount."
Dr. Scott Hahn
"A masterful translation of the Bible"
Time Magazine
Monsignor Ronald Knox was commissioned in 1939 by the Bishops of England and Wales to produce a fresh translation of the Holy Scripture and, for the next nine years, he worked alone to achieve this task. He used Pope Clement VIII's edition of the Latin Vulgate as a base for his translation, diligently comparing it to Greek, Hebrew, Syriac and Chaldean manuscripts to determine the meaning of ambiguous passages.
He aimed at a Bible that was understandable to modern audiences and yet rooted in Catholic tradition and "written in timeless English". He wanted a Bible that did not merely translate the original but made it read as if an Englishman had written it.
Knox's Bible received great acclaim when it was first published. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury of the time recommended it, and it became the preferred translation of Fulton Sheen. The Bishops were so pleased with the completed version that it was authorized for liturgical use, and the Knox translation of the Bible was used as the official version in the churches of Great Britain, Ireland and Australia for the decade leading up to Vatican II – and the first version sanctioned for liturgical use in England and Wales.

For more information or to order please visit our website at

Saturday, October 6, 2012


by Fr. George W. Rutler
   Monsignor Ronald Knox, probably the most inspired preacher and apologist of the twentieth century, wrote an essay satirizing some skeptical Biblical literary critics, in which he used their methods to “prove” that the real author of Tennyson's In Memoriam was Queen Victoria.
   Many who doubt the plausibility of the Scriptures are gullible about hoaxes. I don't just mean the rabbit with antelope horns called a “jackalope.” There was the Cardiff Giant of 1869 promoted by P.T. Barnum, and John Payne Collier's forgery of Shakespeare’s letters. Some pretended to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, and far earlier was the hoax of a lady pontiff named Pope Joan. The New York Zoo hoax of 1874 convinced many that animals had escaped. In 1912 there was the Piltdown Man. Henry Ford promoted the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” There were the aliens landing in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, and the Balloon Boy hoax in 2009. The Da Vinci Code claimed an albino monk hid corpses nearby on 34th Street. I confess that I keep a warm spot in my heart for the Loch Ness Monster, which also intrigued Pope Pius XII who discussed it with the above-mentioned Monsignor Ronald Knox. Unfortunately, Nessie's primary witness was an English vicar, and such testimony is not potent in courts of law.
   Hoaxes gain credibility when they use respected sources. In 1938, Orson Welles’ adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds convinced thousands because it was broadcast on radio. Monsignor Knox did something similar on the BBC. People today are inclined to believe hoaxes because they are mentioned witlessly in the mainstream media.
   Five years ago The New York Times spent a lot of printer’s ink on a bogus ossuary reputed to be that of a “brother” of Christ. Recently the same journal announced on its front page the discovery of a parchment claiming that there was a Mrs. Jesus. Shortly thereafter the parchment was adjudged a forgery. If a correction ever appears, it will be in fine print back in the shipping news section.
   Since journalists often invoke pretentious scholarship to question the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin and the Tilma of Guadalupe, the question begged is: “Why do these people suddenly become naive about phenomena that contradict Christian inspiration?” The answer speaks for itself. The New York Times would be delighted to find that Christ did not radically contradict the norms of His age by forsaking all else and calling others to do the same as a proclamation of the Mystical Union between Christ as Bridegroom and the Church as Bride.
   The media should take the counsel of St. Paul, who probably would be fired after his first day at work as an editor of The New York Times: “I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema” (Galatians 1:9).
Sign up to receive Father Rutler's weekly column; he always has something interesting to say!

Friday, August 24, 2012


Msgr. Ronald Knox died on August 24th, 1957, which makes today his feast day. May he, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace.

"... the moment you allow people to read history in the light of their own prejudices, you must despair of finding any agreement of opinion as to what is higher and what is lower in the scale of development. One believes that our international politics are tending towards world peace and world brotherhood; another sees a progressive and a salutary growth of the sense of separate nationality going on all around us. One holds that our psychic gifts are the latest flower of our civilization, and through them lies the gateway to all further human advancement; another will tell you that these psychic gifts are a mere survival of the beast in us, and that the ordinary horse or dog is far more sensitive to uncanny spiritualistic impressions than is the ordinary man. And as to the widespread neglect of organized religion in our day, you will find some writers who regard it as merely backwash of an intellectual movement, others who hail it as the beginning of a purer, more spiritual conception of religion; others, again, who take it as evidence that the whole Christian superstition is tottering to its downfall. It's odd, isn't it, that we all agree in proclaiming that man evolves, yet no two of us can agree how, or since when, or into what?
It's odd, and it's worse than odd, it's tragic. For the world is full of young men who go about wanting to evolve as they ought to evolve (though why they shouldn't let the world evolve without them, if they think it gets better ever day, is sometimes a puzzle to me) and to them it is a life-and-death question, "Where is all this progress of the human species leading to?"  And when, wearied of debate, and baffled by a thousand unanswered questions, they cease to worry about the remote future, and determine to let civilization go its own way and save itself or damn itself as it pleases, what is left to them?
There is left to them one movement still which remains untried, a movement so purposeful that it is easily mistaken for a conspiracy, yet so sure of itself that it needs no program and no platform, begs no support from the presumed approval of a shadowy posterity. Such is the Catholic Church, which has no theories as to whether mankind is moving, and if so in what direction; nor, if it were assured that there were any such tendency, would swerve aside for one moment from its appointed path. For the message which the Church of God preserves is a message not to the human race in the aggregate, but to each solitary, individual soul. Its hero, God's hero, the character in the world's drama which holds the Angels breathless with expectation, is not mankind but Man: this man or that man, you and I, with our hopes and ambitions, our difficulties and strivings, our falls and recoveries.
"Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is all man"; the human race exists to make heaven populous, and that end has to be achieved by us singly, in the dreadful loneliness of our dual destiny. Whether Christendom is marching forward to fresh world conquests, or whether the Son of Man, when he comes, is to find but little faith on the earth, the end of Man will be achieved - is daily being achieved, according to the plan of his creation. The end of Man is realized whenever the gates of heaven open once more, and one more pardoned soul struggles to the feet of its Creator."

Excerpted from The Beginning and End of Man, a series of sermons delivered by Ronald Knox at Our Lady of Victories, Kensington, in October, 1920

Thursday, August 9, 2012


"Against my better judgment, and at the urging of numerous people with mixed motives, I took a vacation in July."

Fr. George Rutler, the literary descendant of Ronald Knox and G.K.Chesterton, writes with both wit and clarity. And he's been on vacation! Read his highly entertaining account of his trials and tribulations.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Many thanks to all of you who have been using the Amazon Search Box on this blog and the Amazon links (images and text links) on the Society website. Any time you go to Amazon via one of our links they give us a percentage of what you buy: socks, books, foodstuffs, anything!

It's just one extra "click" and it helps keep us going!

Monday, July 16, 2012


From the archives of the Catholic Herald, July 17, 1953, here's a terrific article: some great English Catholic history, and a sermon from Msgr. Knox.


Papal Delegate reopens famous Lulworth Chapel
The memory of the Catholic squires who kept the embers of the Faith alive in England through the twilight years of the 18th century was honoured on Saturday and Sunday at Lulworth Castle in Dorset, the ancestral home of the Weld family.
Lulworth Chapel was the first Catholic church to be built for public worship. It was here that Bishop Walmesley, Vicar Apostolate, consecrated the first member of the Hierarchy of the United States, Archbishop Carroll of Baltimore, on August 15, 1790.
The chapel has been redecorated and restored as far as possible to the original state when it was built by Thomas Weld in 1786, and Archbishop Godfrey, Apostolic Delegate, reopened it by consecrating its altar and singing Pontifical Mass.

Request to King
Bishop Grimshaw of Plymouth and Bishop Parker of Northampton assisted at the ceremony, and Mgr. Ronald Knox preached.
To build the chapel Thomas Weld sought the personal permission of King George III who, when at Weymouth, often visited him at Lulworth Castle.
The restoration, based on two sketches by the original Georgian architect, has been carried out under the guidance of a former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Mr. H.S. Goodhart  Rendel.
It is now flooded with light from the large Georgian windows which have been inserted, and the interior is a glory of white, green and gold decoration, with a blue dome.
Col. Joseph Weld, the present squire, has been responsible for the whole enterprise, and tribute was paid during the week-end celebrations to his generosity and to the fidelity to the Church in the long and unbroken tradition of his family. The Bishop of Plymouth described him as “a model Catholic layman.”
The altar was re-consecrated because it had been moved in the restoration, to its original position.

New signature
In a recess in the altar is a document written in 1786 by Bishop Walmesley certifying the authenticity of the relics enclosed there.
On the reverse side the document bears an endorsement written by Bishop Collingridge, who re-consecrated the altar when it was moved in 1809, and Bishop Grimshaw has now added his signature to record the latest ceremony.
A treasured link with the penal days – a chair reputed to have belonged to Fr. Hugh Green, one of the martyrs of Chideock in Dorset – was brought from Chideock to be used by Archbishop Godfrey. At the Elevation at the Pontifical Mass on Saturday and again on Sunday when Bishop Grimshaw was the celebrant, seven trumpeters of the Royal Tank Regiment sounded a fanfare from the gallery.
Dom Charles Pontifex, Prior of the Ealing Benedictines, to whom Col. Weld has lately given the pre-Reformation Bindon Abbey ruins a few miles from Lulworth, was present, and the Society of Jesus, with which the Weld family has had close ties since Thomas Weld gave them Stonyhurst, was represented by Fr. Fitzgibbon and Fr. N. Dennis, of Bournemouth.
The Cistercians were represented by Fr. Eugene, chaplain to the nuns of Stapehill Priory in Dorset.

Gesture of faith
Pontifical Mass was celebrated by Bishop Grimshaw on Sunday in the presence of the Apostolic Delegate and a large gathering of relatives and friends of the Weld family, including Lord and Lady Clifford, Lord and Lady Iddesleigh and Mr. Alfred Noyes, the poet.
Mgr. Ronald Knox said in his sermon on Sunday: “Today, like our brethren all over England, we Catholics of the West are celebrating the martyrdom of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More – a Cardinal and a great English layman.
“Here, with a more intimate sense of nearness to the events, we are also celebrating a gesture of faith made 250 years later.
“It was in the year 1786 that a great English layman, Thomas Weld of Lulworth, laid the foundations of the church in which we stand – and perhaps on that occasion one of the altar boys would be his eldest son, a boy of nine years old, who was destined to achieve the purple.
“From Thomas More to Thomas Weld – what a fascinating interval of Catholic history is bounded by those landmarks.
“Fifty years of struggle, during which it was not apparent whether the old order would not reassert itself against the new; then 100 years of intermittent, unrelenting persecution, during which the Faith was kept alive by heroic resistance; then – more sad than either – 100 years of slow decline, during which the Catholic body, no longer persecuted but still disabled, discouraged and shouldered out, dwindled almost to nothing, only kept alive where a handful of Catholic squires – Welds, Petres, Blounts and the rest of them – still practice in secret the medieval rites of long ago.”

Then converts came
“At Cleobury Mortimer in Shropshire you can still make your way into a Catholic place of worship that dates, they say, from 1730; but it nestles at the back of the squire’s house so that you mistake it for a dairy or a laundry.
“Thomas Weld built out in the open; the last despairing gesture, you might conceive, at a doomed and still un-emancipated religion.
“Gossip tells us that his friend King George III counseled him to make it look like a mausoleum, a mausoleum perhaps of the old Faith which had been on its death bed since the days of Thomas More.
“But it was not to be. Scarcely more than half a century had elapsed when the Oxford converts began and the Church emerged from her twilight …
“Today, when the piety of a later generation has done its best to make Lulworth what it was – not by laborious word-for-word imitation of the past but by recovering and re-embodying its spirit – today let us be glad to remember those old 18th century Catholics and to pronounce their epitaph.
“Theirs was the task, neither easy nor glorious, of preserving what was left of English Catholicism in a time when persecution was dead but freedom still tarried and the love of many had grown cold …”

Like cricketers
“May we dare think of those very English forbears of ours in terms of a peculiarly English sport and say that they were like cricketers with no hope of victory and playing out the innings for a draw?
“When evening comes there shall be light, but only the faint glimmers of it were showing when Thomas Weld made his act of faith in the future.
“On his soul and the souls of all his kinsfolk that have gone before us may Our Lord have mercy and raise up still in his family worthy descendants of a great name.”         

Thursday, July 12, 2012


One of our readers ran across this casual reference to Ronald Knox:
"The village was one of those half-urbanised Georgian settlements on the edge of Bath where English Catholics of a certain standing have elected to gather in their exile. The cottage lay at the country end of it, a tiny sandstone mansion with a steep narrow garden descending to a stretch of river, and they sat in the cluttered kitchen on wheelback chairs, surrounded by washing-up, and vaguely votive bric-a-brac: a cracked ceramic plaque of the Virgin Mary from Lourdes; a disintegrating rush cross jammed behind the cooker; a child’s paper mobile of angels rotating in the draught; a photograph of Ronald Knox. While they talked, filthy grandchildren wandered in and stared at them before tall mothers swept them off. It was a household in permanent and benevolent disorder, pervaded by the gentle thrill of religious persecution. A white morning sun was poking through the Bath mist. There was a sound of slow water dripping in the gutters."
John Le Carre, A Perfect Spy, Penguin Books, 1986

It strikes me that there's more than a touch of Graham Greene about this passage.

Friday, June 22, 2012



                                                When Herod, for an impious bride,
                                                      His eager lust would fain fulfil,
                                                John in that hour a martyr died,
                                                     Unschooled to serve a tyrant’s will.

                                                Nor less resolved, when Norman rage
                                                     The rights of holy Church gainsaid,
                                                That wanton fury to assuage
                                                     Thomas his glorious blood must shed.

                                                So, when a tyrant fiercer yet
                                                     His wedlock and his faith forswore,
                                                A second John his sentence met,
                                                     A second Thomas witness bore.

                                                Time-serving priests their aid might lend,
                                                     Smooth courtiers tremble at his sway;
                                                Two loyal hearts no force could bend
                                                     Their God, their conscience to betray.

                                                O love that burned when love grew cold,
                                                     O faith that shone when faith was dim,
                                                The Cross your Master bore of old
                                                     You bore to Calvary with him.

                                                Twin beacon-lights, serenely set
                                                     At God’s right hand for all the earth,
                                                Look down on England, nor forget
                                                     The thankless home that gave you birth;

                                                To freedom and to wisdom friends,
                                                     Look on a world unwisely free;
                                                To bear the cross our Master sends
                                                     How slow, how frail, how faint are we!

                                                To God, who crowns his saints above,
                                                     Be praise henceforth as heretofore,
                                                Who throned in perfect truth and love
                                                     Liveth and reigneth evermore.

                                                                                                R. A. KNOX
Westminster Hymnal (1939)

Monday, June 18, 2012


From James Chappel: "I've just completed a PhD in History at Columbia and will be taking a job as assistant professor at the University of Chicago in the Fall. My dissertation was on European Catholic intellectuals, and part of my preparatory work was preparing this bibliography of Knox, which I'm happy to share with the world. Most of the work was done decades ago by a woman named Patricia Cowan, but her work only exists in a few copies; primarily what I've done is transcribe, organize, and update her work."

This new bibliography will be of great interest to Knox scholars. May I speak as a representative of the world and thank Mr. Chappel for his hard work and suggest that from now on we refer to this document as 'The Chappel Bibliography'?
Here it is in PDF.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


The Knox Brothers is a charming biography of Ronald Knox and his three remarkable brothers, written by his niece, Penelope Fitzgerald. It's a fascinating, humorous and insightful look at their characters, family life and the age into which they were born and lived.

Fitzgerald was also a rather remarkable author; she wrote short stories, novels, articles and essays, all after the age of 58. Julian Barnes wrote this short biography of Fitzgerald, whom he considered to be the "best English novelist of her time."

For those unfamiliar with her works here are some suggestions for summer reading:

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Here's a full-length meditation from Ronald Knox, excerpted from The Layman and His Conscience, for the great feast of Pentecost:

The Holy Spirit

If a man should set out to go through the Bible, pausing and making a meditation wherever he found material, his attention would be caught without fail, I think, by the second verse of it. “Earth was still an empty waste, and darkness hung over the deep; but already, over its waters, stirred the breath of God.” Creation still in the melting-pot, so that we have nothing for our composition of place except a formless sea of undifferentiated matter; dark, not by some effect of shadow, but with that primal darkness that reigned before light was made. And over this inert mass, like the mist that steals up from a pool at evening, God’s breath his Spirit, was at work. Already it was his plan to educe from this chaos the cosmos he had resolved to make, passing up through its gradual stages till it culminated in the creation of Man.

Deep in your nature and mine lies just such a chaos of undifferentiated matter, of undeveloped possibilities. Psychology calls it the unconscious. It is a great lumber-room, stocked from our past history. Habits and propensities are there, for good and evil; memories, some easily recaptured, some tucked away in the background; unreasoning fears and antipathies; illogical associations, which link this past experience with that; primitive impulses, which shun the light, and seek to disguise themselves by a smoke-screen of reasoning; inherited aptitudes, sometimes quite unexpected. Out of this welter of conditions and tendencies the life of action is built up, yours and mine. And still, as at the dawn of creation, the Holy Spirit moves over those troubled waters, waiting to educe from them, with the cooperation of our wills, the entire life of the Christian.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


"... if you meet a man who boasts that he does not think [detective stories] interesting, you will nearly always find that he indulges in some lower form of compensation - probably he is a cross-word addict."  Ronald Knox

If you're looking for some new mysteries to spice up your life here's an interesting selection of recommendations from famous authors: The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, Josephine Tey, Piers Paul Read ...

Monday, May 7, 2012


This charming biography was written in 1957, shortly before Msgr. Knox's death.

By Wilfrid Sheed

WHEN a pair of English Catholics decide to get married, one of the first questions to be settled is inevitably "Can we get Monsignor Knox to preach the sermon?" Only after that is it possible to discuss bridesmaids, flowers and how to keep Uncle George sober during the reception.

It is a curious fact that one of the world's deepest scholars should double as a last-minute marriage counselor for so many young Catholics. Monsignor Knox is best-known for his colossal, almost unique achievement of translating the whole Bible by himself-a task which might have broken the spirit of a whole university -and yet he still succeeds in being the happiest man at many a wedding feast, as well as the wisest.

Monsignor Knox probably holds the record for sanity among scholars. Just as he was the right man to translate the Bible (with his uncanny combination of erudition, concentration and style), so is he the right man at a wedding, or a funeral, or any great human occasion. He has the great pastoral gifts of compassion, sincerity and genuine spirituality; and he has also the social gifts of wit, good nature and taste, which make his presence a pleasure as well as a comfort.

In spite of his pre-eminence in both these fields (a collection of his wedding sermons will be coming out in the spring which will illustrate his excellence in that form), nobody would dream of calling Monsignor Knox a Bible-specialist, or a wedding-specialist. He is so completely equipped as a scholar and as a thinker, that his choice of activity can be dictated not by his capacities, but by the needs of the Church.

AT the moment, he is probably England's most popular Catholic preacher. He has assumed this position unobtrusively, without any of the usual devices of the spellbinder. Unlike many popular preachers, he doesn't wave his personality about, or try to ingratiate himself with his hearers. He would never dream of attempting to reduce a mob to hysteria in the name of Truth. And unlike many popular preachers, he would have no objection to being silenced, for there are many things he would rather do than preach and it is almost his misfortune that he does it so superlatively well that he has to go on with it.

Throughout the year he interrupts his intense work of Scripture commentary to travel to different parts of the country, wherever he is asked to go. His preaching method is restrained, but his voice is strong and vibrant, and at no point do you find your attention wandering. Every sermon is carefully constructed, so that it remains to be read afterward as a highly satisfying work of art. But more important, each sermon is packed with challenging ideas, absolutely new, so that one becomes suddenly aware of the presence and pressure of a really creative mind. It would be an assignment worthy of a Ph.D. thesis to try to find a single stale idea in Knox's sermons-or even a repetition.

AT least three times a year, Monsignor Knox descends on Oxford University for a sermon, and there he really seems to roll up his sleeves and enjoy himself. The University Catholic Church is invariably packed for him, and many people squash into the auditorium upstairs to hear him over the loud-speaker. Some of the best seats are taken by non-Catholic professors and dons, who are in search of intellectual entertainment: they are never disappointed. His university sermons, some of them collected in a book called In Soft Garments are a model of lightness and urbanity.

Oxford serves as a kind of holiday for Monsignor Knox. It was his spiritual home before Rome took its place, and he is still more at ease there than anywhere else. If he had remained an Anglican, he could have had a blissful life at Oxford; before he became a Catholic he was already a legend there, and he was well on his way to becoming a monument as well. But he had a special quality differentiating him from the other great wits and scholars which caused him to swerve off the foreordained track; and it is this quality, rather than his vast catalogue of attainments, that makes his story unique and important.

Read the rest in PDF

Monday, April 30, 2012


The following is a letter written to Ronald Knox, upon his conversion, by a servant of Trinity College. It is reprinted verbatim. How marvelous to think that this devout and humble servant was privileged to meet both Cardinal Newman and Ronald Knox. 

Dear Sir,

On seeing this morning you had been received into the Catholic Church my heart responded Deo Gratias that another son of dear old Trinity had followed the example of our revered Cardinal Newman. I would to God grace was given to Trinity to appreciate the honour. In the early days of my conversion I was honoured with an interview with his Eminence. Tears rolled down his venerable cheeks as taking my hand he said, Oxford turned me away for becoming a Catholic thank God now Trinity retains a Catholic servant.

It ever mystifies me, educated men with great talent so long remain blind to the truth. We have heard the calling voice seen the beckoning hand they do not hear or see. To God be the glory.

The morning of your ordination I offered my Communion for a blessing on your future career. It is answered as I most wished.

May the Sacred and Divine Heart of Jesus be your stay your power to lift up the Cross that ever follows the step you have taken. We converts know full will the cruel severance from much we loved, the coolness of Relatives and friends and sometimes the loneliness is hard to bear but we know more, It is the masters test of sincerity and is followed by a Peace the world knows not of.

May your future be filled with joy and devoted service on the path of life ever feeling with the great Apostle “By the grace of God I am what I am.”

I hope you will pardon my writing to you but the welfare of Trinity men is ever dear to me, but nothing more so than the union of faith.

                                                                                    Yours respectfully,

                                                                                    Edward Cox

                                                                                    44 years servant of Trinity

Monday, April 23, 2012


From David Mills, Executive Editor of First Things:

Benedict thinks through and with the Church, and that’s the problem. But fair is fair, and just because Benedict starts with the Church doesn’t make him any more fanatical than the atheist who starts with atheism and the atheist intellectual tradition. A Christian or an atheist can be a fanatic, or not, because fanaticism is a quality of the way people hold their beliefs, not of the beliefs themselves.
Indeed, given what Christianity teaches about charity, human sinfulness, and God’s grace, being a Christian may make Benedict or any other Christian far less likely to be fanatical than the atheist. As the Catholic priest Ronald Knox once admitted, he didn’t know why he saw the truth of Christianity and many perfectly nice people he knew didn’t see it at all. He certainly wasn’t better than they were. He could only thank God that he saw it, as unworthy as he was, and pray for those who didn’t. The atheist has no such restraints.

April 2012 Edition of First Things

Monday, April 16, 2012


In a recent blog post, Catholic philosopher Edward Feser discusses the interaction of faith and reason. According to traditional theology, the better the natural soil, the easier it is for the supernatural to take root. Along these lines, Feser offers the paradox that the old pagan is closer to the faith than the modern agnostic. He refers to the "idea of what Aquinas called the praeambula fidei – the preambles of faith, by which philosophy opens the door for revelation." But for a few Christians this creates a problem. "Like the Pharisee who scorns the sincere piety and virtue of the Samaritan, some Christians scorn natural theology and natural law as impious or at least questionable. They... despise human nature, and with it any non-Christian understanding of God and morality, as altogether corrupt and without value...."
In a series of sermons collected in The Hidden Stream: Mysteries of the Christian Faith
Msgr. Knox addresses this same topic. He speaks not only of the intellectual or philosophical "preambles" to the faith, but even non-Christian spiritual practices which prepared individuals for the new religion. The English priest offers the view that "Divine Providence encouraged the human mind to develop these myths, these fantasies, these mumbo-jumbo ceremonies, precisely so that the human mind might be ready for the true revelation when the true revelation came." He refers, for example, to the receiving of ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday as reminiscent of ancient pagan purification ceremonies.
There is no sort of doubt that the Church has, and deliberately, retained in her method of worship some of the externals to which the pagan world, which she conquered, had grown accustomed. She incorporated paganism, if I may put it in that way; she didn't abolish it, she swallowed it up.... Of course that made, and makes, the Puritans terribly angry; they think the Christian religion ought to be something absolutely different from all the other religions in the world; to have no leaven of natural religion in it. And all that goes back in the long run to the question whether you think of grace as the old Protestants did, as something which supersedes nature altogether, or think of it as we Catholics do, as something which perfects nature.
While the traditional anti-papist (a somewhat fading breed) always reviled such parallels, the "post-Christian" skeptic (which remains with us) has gone to the other extreme so as to over-emphasize features common to our religion and other creeds. They say that our practices are "just pagan ideas, mostly stolen from the mystery religions." They also point to Babylonian tales about the first parents, the Epic of Gilgamesh and a great flood, the Greek myth of Pandora, or the outward trappings of Mithraism which were similar to Christian worship. Such comparisons would, on the face of it, tend to devalue the unique claims of Christianity. Knox is no syncretist, of course, and he acknowledges this temptation as well:
I suppose there has been no subtler attack upon the Christian faith devised by its enemies in these last hundred years than the attack made in the name of "comparative religion". If you pick up a book on "Atonement", and plough your way through ideas of atonement among primitive tribes, pagan ideas of atonement, Jewish ideas of atonement, Christian ideas of atonement, you will find that by the end of it that atonement, for the author's mind, has ceased to have any meaning. And he has been successful, in so far as he has managed to infect your mind with the woolliness which is the leading characteristic of his own. Comparative religion is an admirable recipe for making people comparatively religious. And the same kind of pitfall awaits us, when we have reached that point in apologetics which we are supposed to have reached now.
The point is not that we explain religion by explaining it away. Rather, God has made people (all people) essentially alike. There are recurring themes, not only spiritually, but psychologically, artistically and morally. Independent of comparative religious studies, scholars have shown how many mythic themes and even ancient bardic plot devices repeat themselves from one culture to the next. What a Catholic apologist or missionary attempts to do is meet people on some common ground, like the Jesuits who went out to the North American Indians and explained that the God of the Bible was like their "Great Holy Father" who lived in the heavens. So what makes Christianity something "more" than other religions?
When you compare Christianity with Confucianism, you are comparing two systems of personal morality. When you compare Christianity with Mahomedanism, you are comparing two forms of fighting enthusiasm. When you compare Christianity with Buddhism, you are comparing two streams of mystical tendency. And, unconsciously, you have recognized that Christianity is something greater than the other three; because each of those others corresponds to one particular need, one particular mood, of man, whereas Christianity corresponds to all three.
Matthew Anger has written for Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Latin Mass Magazine, and New Oxford Review. His commentary on books and authors can be found at The Vociferous Reader.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


In 1955 the Sacred Congregation of Rites issued a decree changing the liturgy of Holy Week. Shortly before that, in 1951, Sheed and Ward published a new edition of the Rites of Holy Week, translated by Ronald Knox. For those interested in the development of liturgy this small volume, entitled 'Holy Week Book', is well-worth acquiring. It begins with a masterful introduction by Adrian Fortescue (reprinted from the 1916 edition):
Perhaps the first thing to note about Holy Week is that it is part of the same feast as Easter Week following. We must think of all that fortnight, from Palm Sunday to Low Sunday, as one event. The whole fortnight makes up the Easter feast, the paschalia solemnia in which we remember, each year, our redemption by the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. It is true that the character of these two weeks seems as different as anything could be. Holy Week is the time of mourning, the saddest week of the year, the Easter octave the most joyful. Yet they belong together; we should think of them as the two halves of one whole. The change from the mourning of Holy Week to the joy of Easter, taking place in the middle of the function of Holy Saturday, is of the essence of this Pascal solemnity. It was so at the first Easter.
While it is perhaps no longer practical to use this manual during the liturgies of Holy Week it remains a worthy devotional. Two examples, illustrating the exultation of the enemy, followed by the triumphant exultation at Christ's victory.
A: Alone she dwells, the city erewhile so populous; a widow now, once a queen among the nations; tributary now, that once had provinces at her command. B: Be sure she weeps; there in the darkness her cheeks are wet with tears; of all that courted her, all those lovers grown weary of her, and turned into enemies. G: Cruel the suffering and the bondage of Juda's exile; that she must needs dwell among the heathen! Nor respite can she find; close at her heels the pursuit, and peril on either hand. D: Desolate the streets of Sion; no flocking, now, to the assembly; the gateways lie deserted. Sighs priest, and the maidens go in mourning, so bitter the grief that hangs over all. H: Exultant, now, her invaders; with her enemies nothing goes amiss. For her many sins, the Lord has brought doom on her, and all her children have gone into exile, driven before the oppressor. - Lam. 1 1-14
Joy for all heaven's angel citizens, joy in the secret council-chambers of God! In praise of this royal Conqueror, let the trumpet sound deliverance. Bathed in that bright sunshine, let earth too rejoice; splendours of the eternal King all about her, nothing of her orb but feels the shadows gone. Joy, too, for the Church, that has yonder flashing rays for her jewels; with the loud acclaim of worshipers let these courts ring again! Brethren well-beloved, by the strange glow of this holy light drawn together, pray you, in my company cry to Almighty God for mercy. His choice, not worth of mine, it was that enrolled me for his minister; may the outpouring of his own light enable me, the high mystery of yonder candle while I set forth. - Blessing of the Pascal Candle 


From our friend Dom Hugh Somerville-Knapman, OSB:

It seems that Monsignor Knox foreknew the overly-human interpretations of Christ that abounded in the 1970s and 1980s, that painted Christ almost exclusively as the people’s liberator martyred by the oppressive establishment, or our misunderstood brother victimized by the jealous, or the visionary ahead of his time and so rejected by those of that time. In this they see the tragedy and meaning of Christ’s death.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


The Shameless Popery blog has a good post on ecumenism, with several Knox quotes from 'Reunion All Round' and 'Absolute and Abitofhell'.

Monday, March 26, 2012


The new Sherlock Holmes movies, starring Robert Downey Jr., and the recent and returning PBS Sherlock Holmes shows, have attracted wide attention. Few people, however, seem aware of the connections between Holmes and Ronald Knox, or the significance of the year 2012 in this regard.

In particular, they are not aware that Holmes helped solve a serious problem Knox faced shortly after his graduation from Oxford in 1910, or that Knox played a major role in bringing Holmes back from the non-living. Because of this, they may be unaware of what Knox referred to as “my one permanent achievement.”

The story begins in 1910 when Knox was a Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, and preparing for ordination to the Anglican priesthood. In his Spiritual Aenied (the story of his conversion to Catholicism), Knox relates that, as a Fellow, he faced the task of preparing one talk for general college gatherings, and another for theological groups. Moreover, the young Knox was distressed by the fact that his teachers at Oxford had neglected one feature of religion to which he was especially attached: orthodoxy. It was in this situation that Sherlock Holmes came to Knox’s rescue. Knox wrote a talk titled Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes, which he found would fulfill both functions, and simultaneously convey his distress at one feature of his training at Oxford, the attention given to biblical “Higher Criticism.” The Higher Critics were prone to pointing out contradictions in the Bible, and to making claims such as that Isaiah had been written not by one author, but by a proto- and deutero-Isaiah. What Knox did was to treat the then-published Sherlock Holmes stories as a sort of Canon composed, not by Arthur Conan Doyle, but by a proto- and deutero-Watson. Knox noted such facts as that Watson’s first name appears some times as John, other times as James. Knox thereby found that he had one talk that would suit both audiences, and simultaneously allow him to criticize the Higher Critics, whom, Knox noted, viewed his hilarious spoof as a “tract.” Moreover, when he sent the talk to Conan Doyle, Doyle delighted Knox with a warm response.

The effects of Knox’s paper have been quite extraordinary. It was first published exactly one hundred years ago, in 1912. It was republished in 1920, and then included in Knox’s Essays in Satire in 1928. Gradually, what Knox had done caught on. A host of other authors, including Dorothy Sayers, T. S. Eliot, Cambridge University’s Sir Sydney Roberts, and perhaps twenty thousand others decided that this was a fun game to play: to write about Holmes as if he were a non-fictional character, using a flood of footnotes to prove frequently absurd claims relating to him (e.g. that Watson was a woman), and to do all this in a totally somber way. Dorothy Sayers, who contributed to the literature by a major essay directed at establishing whether Holmes had attended Cambridge or Oxford, described the activity: “The game of applying the methods of the ‘Higher Criticism’ to the Sherlock Holmes canon was begun, many years ago, by Monsignor Ronald Knox, with the aim of showing that, by those methods, one could disintegrate a modern classic as speciously as a certain school of critics have endeavoured to disintegrate the Bible. Since then, the thing has become a hobby among a select set of jesters here and in America. The rule of the game is that it must be played as solemnly as a county cricket match at Lord’s: the slightest touch of extravagance or burlesque ruins the atmosphere.”

Knox’s biographer, Evelyn Waugh, contributed to the story by quoting a remark Knox made on this matter: “it is so depressing that my one permanent achievement is to have started a bad joke.” It is hard to know how seriously Knox meant this remark, but it does seem clear that Knox would be astounded by the impact his paper has had. Recently, Professor Michael Saler has published a richly documented book in which he argues that Knox’s 1912 paper was the pioneering document in the present tendency of thousands of people to treat fictional characters as non-fictional, and, in effect, to attempt to live with and to devote much of their lives to studying the Hobbits, Harry Potter, etc.

Persons wishing to read Knox’s paper, or to read this story in full detail, or to examine the evidence supporting it, may wish to take a look at a book I have recently published, marking the anniversaries of Knox’s presenting and publishing his famous Sherlock Holmes essay: Ronald Knox and Sherlock Holmes: The Origin of Sherlockian Studies

Michael J. Crowe

Michael Crowe is Cavanaugh Professor Emeritus in the Program of Liberal Studies at the University of Notre Dame. The book mentioned is Crowe’s ninth. Professor Crowe has been working hard trying to drum up interest in Ronald Knox at Notre Dame. A local newspaper ran a story on his efforts to engage students and others.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


For the Feast of St. Benedict, here's a reflection from a Benedictine, with quotes from the Holy Father and Ronald Knox.

Friday, March 16, 2012


Ronald Knox delighted in limericks, as in all forms of wit. Here's a sampling of his most famous:


The following limericks were written as a spoof of the bizarre theological notions of the Irish philosopher, Bishop Berkeley. Berkeley's teaching on the relationship between existence and perception is often, if inadequately, summed up in the formula esse est percipi, "to be is to be perceived."
There once was a man who said, 'God
Must think it exceedingly odd
   If he finds that this tree
   Continues to be
When there's no one about in the Quad.'
Dear Sir: Your astonishment's odd;
I am always about in the Quad.
   And that's why the tree
   Will continue to be
Since observed by, Yours faithfully, God.
O God, forasmuch as without Thee
We are not enabled to doubt thee,
   Help us all by Thy grace
   To convince the whole race
It knows nothing whatever about Thee.
Cf. the Collect for the 19th Sunday after Trinity


The authenticity of this limerick is vouched for by Sir William Hamilton Fyfe, who was present when it was composed. He reports: 'Scene: R.A.K.'s rooms in Trinity, c. 1911. Several other young dons in armchairs. R.A.K. on a window-seat with his legs up. Someone, looking at a magazine, calls out: "Here's a good title - the Bishop-Elect of Vermont." In the time that it took him to turn round and put his feet on the floor, R.A.K. produced this:
An Anglican curate in want
Of a second-hand portable font
   Will exchange for the same
   A photo (with frame)
Of the Bishop-Elect of Vermont.
There was a young man of Devizes,
Whose ears were of different sizes;
   The one that was small
   Was no use at all,
But the other won several prizes.
Visas erat: huic geminarum
Dispar modus auricularum;
   Minor haec nihili;
   Palma triplici
Iam fecerat altera clarum.
The above are reprinted in In Three Tongues.


Ronald Knox called attention to this limerick in his review of Langford Reed's The Complete Limerick Book; he found it in his Breviary:
Sit vitiorum meorum evacuatio
Concupiscentae et libidinis exterminatio,
   Caritatis et patientiae,
    Humilitatis et obedientiae,
Omniumque virtutum augmentatio.
If you'd like to find out more about this interesting piece of minutiae concerning Knox and St.Thomas read this article by A.N.Wilkins.

"Father Knox, are not limericks unfit
For a priest to compose?" "Not a bit!"
   He'd reply to his foes,
   "What makes you suppose
That the Lord is deficient in wit?"

Reprinted by permission of The Pentatette: the newsletter of the Limerick Special Interest Group.

Monday, March 5, 2012


Amazon offers a well-rounded selection of Ronald Knox's books for Kindle users:
  • The Essentials of Spiritual Unity: written between 1914-1917; Knox describes the thought process which led him to the Catholic Church.
  • In Soft Garments: (1942) is one of Knox's best-loved and most enduring works of apologetics. It's a collection of sermons given to Oxford undergraduates while he was their chaplain. Remarkably readable and relevant today.
  • Retreat For Lay People:(1955) a collection of 24 retreat meditations. A wonderful introduction to the style, wit, profound knowledge and compassionate heart of Msgr. Knox.
  • The Creed in Slow Motion:(1949) is a collection of sermons given to the nuns and schoolgirls at Aldenham after their evacuation during WW2.
  • Second Friends:(2008) by Fr. Milton Walsh. Father Walsh has used his understanding and knowledge of Msgr. Knox and C.S. Lewis to imagine a conversation between them.

Monday, February 27, 2012


by Peter Milward S.J.
  When I am asked for the names of appropriate successors to Cardinal Newman in the twentieth century, I answer, first, G.K. Chesterton as author, secondly, Fr. Martin D’Arcy as theologian, and thirdly, Ronnie Knox (as he was known known to his friends) as preacher. Then, if I have to make my choice among them, I plump for the third.
   Sadly, I arrived too late at Campion Hall (in 1950) for either Fr. Knox as chaplain or Fr, D’Arcy as Master.  The golden days for Catholics at Oxford had been in the late 1930s, before the outbreak of World War II, when Fr. D’Arcy had reigned supreme as Master of Campion Hall, and Fr. Knox had been similarly supreme at the Newman chaplaincy next door.  All the same, during my four years at the Hall, Fr. Knox would come once a term to give one of his popular conferences at the chaplaincy for the Sunday Mass.  Like Newman, he read from what he had prepared, but his delivery was such that one hardly realized he was reading, and what he had written was presented in a colloquial style.  He always looked into the eyes of his congregation.  What he wrote was subsequently published under the title of The Hidden Stream with reference to the way the Isis (as the Thames is called at Oxford) broke into several streams, one of them passing just under the road past the chaplaincy.
   Of course, when he was giving these conferences, I was merely one among the many faces in his congregation, and I had no opportunity of meeting him or speaking with him or even shaking his hand.  On one occasion, however, he was invited by the Master to take lunch with us at Campion Hall, and I happened to be up a step-ladder in the library as he was being led through the library to the dining-room beyond.  On passing by the step-ladder, the Master stopped and kindly introduced our visitor to me, in such a way that all I could say was, “How d’you do?”  I forget what he said, if anything.  But that was the one personal “brush” between him and myself, which I ever prize among my memories of “the Great” with whom I have brushed.
   Subsequently, when I went to Japan on graduation and began teaching catechism to some of my students at Sophia University, I used The Hidden Stream as my textbook, with such alterations as I deemed suited to my Japanese surroundings.  I went on to publish my Japanese adaptations in a little book entitled An Introduction to Christianity in both my original English and the Japanese translation.  Yet more subsequently, I have had the honor of visiting his former dwelling at Mells in Somerset, where he had stayed at the house of Lady Asquith – at the invitation of another Lady Asquith.  While there, I was able to meet the aged earl, who had laid the foundation stone of Campion Hall in 1934, to say Mass at the little chapel where Knox had said Mass and to pay my respects at his nearby grave.
Peter Milward is an English Jesuit who has been teaching English literature at Sophia University in Japan since 1954. He is now "emeritus", which means either "superannuated" or "useless" or 
"put out to graze". His hobby is writing books. (the author)

Father Milward has written dozens of books on English literature, most especially on Shakespeare, including Shakespeare the Papist, with G.M.Hopkins taking a distant second, A Lifetime with Hopkins

Read an article on Father Milward's pioneering work in the study of Shakespeare's Catholicism.