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.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


From the Ignatius Insight Scoop blog:
The modern world lives on its intellectual capital, exploits the prevalent doctrine of the moment in the interest of its heresies; floodlights the universe with a gleam of partial illumination, or darkens the skies with doubt; the Church, who is wiser and older, stores new things and old alike in her treasure-house, and brings them out in their due relation to enrich, permanently, the experience of mankind. - Ronald Knox
From "St Albert the Great" in Pastoral and Occasional Sermons (Ignatius, 2002), an endlessly rewarding collection that contains dozens of brilliant sermons by one of the most erudite writers of the 20th century. 

Monday, February 20, 2012


In addition to perusing Msgr. Knox at random, I also have a couple of haphazard anecdotes. Recently I was reading his book The Hidden Streamwhen my nine-year-old daughter asked, “Is it a true story?” I had to disappoint her by explaining that it wasn’t some sort of adventure tale (though it’d make a great title for a fantasy) but a collection of sermons. The other item is that I used to know a man who persistently confused the Catholic priest with John Knox. He would refer to Ronald Knox as the sixteenth century founder of Scottish Presbyterianism. It is hard to imagine a more unlikely comparison, though I think Msgr. Knox would have smiled. He had a sense of humor. Take for example this commentary on the Christian doctrine of bodily resurrection:
I never could get up much enthusiasm about those speculations which some theologians indulge in over the exact details of a heavenly existence; telling us that we shall look the same as we do here, and at the same time be perfectly beautiful—which will be hard work for some of us….
Knox offers insights as well as wit. Though a soft-spoken man, he is impatient with illogical or selectively convenient viewpoints. Along those lines, I came across this comment:
I wonder those people who tell us it is wrong in all circumstances to go to war, because the Sermon on the Mount says we ought to love our enemies, do not equally object to the organization of a national food supply, because the Sermon on the Mount forbids us to be anxious about the future (Pastoral Sermons).
In this same homily, Knox poses a question: if it is wrong to oppose one’s enemies, can one also agitate against those who aren’t pacifistic? It does seem contradictory. As for being like the lilies of the field or the birds who neither reap nor sow, Jesus’ point was to warn us against being obsessed with material things. He is not urging us to be improvident. Ironically, a planned economy forces us to be even more obsessed with our material destinies. After all, there is little room for the Gospel’s message of simplicity under a welfare state bureaucracy.

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.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


You are the light of the world; a city cannot be hidden if it is built on a mountain-top. A lamp is not lighted to be put away under a bushel measure; it is put on the lampstand, to give light to all the people of the house; and your light must shine so brightly before men that they can see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. - Matthew 5: 14-16 (Knox translation)

So spoke Monsignor Ronald Knox (1888-1957) . . .

“When suave politeness, tempering bigot zeal, corrected ‘I believe’ to ‘one does feel.’” So spoke Monsignor Ronald Knox (1888-1957) even before he converted to Catholicism from Anglicanism. His satire was directed at those who would water down doctrine to mere opinion. That confused kind of thinking, often masked as “broadmindedness” or “liberalism,” was what Blessed John Henry Newman said he had spent his life contending against. The two of them logically led up to Pope Benedict XVI who has called such misunderstanding and abuse of truth the “dictatorship of relativism.”
     When people inquire about good spiritual reading, I eagerly recommend anything by Knox, especially his collected sermons and retreat addresses, which are easily available. He is unique in his style, which is both easily understood and deceptively profound, woven with shining wit. As a young man he was heralded as the wittiest man in England. From the depths of his Christian consciousness, he said, “Only man has dignity; only man, therefore, can be funny.” Most of his writing was pastoral: some for students at Oxford where he was Catholic chaplain, some preached in parishes or on  ceremonial occasions, and some given as talks to schoolgirls during World War II. He was a genius as a classical scholar and translated the entire New Testament. He may well have been the finest preacher of the twentieth century; he almost always has some original insight and expresses himself artlessly as a supreme artist of English letters. He was popular on radio, and incidentally wrote entertaining literary criticism and detective novels. There is an admiring biography of him by Evelyn Waugh, who lacked a natural instinct for seeing the best in people, and a book about him and his remarkable brothers, gifted in their own spheres, was written in 1977 by his niece Penelope Fitzgerald.
     While more reserved than G. K. Chesterton, they were close friends, and what Knox preached in Westminster Cathedral after the death of his hero in 1936 describes himself, too: “He had the artist’s eye which could suddenly see in some quite familiar object a new value; he had the poet’s intuition which could suddenly detect, in the tritest of phrases, a wealth of new meaning and of possibilities. The most salient quality, I think, of his writing is this gift of illuminating the ordinary, of finding in something trivial a type of the eternal.”
     One reason I mention Knox is that he represents the vast wealth of spiritual brilliance which has been neglected in the last generation. The light of those like Knox should not be hid under a bushel, but placed on a lampstand where it can give light to the whole house, and that means every parish church, which is God’s own house. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


...If you are a fan of PBS’s Downton Abbey you’ll be interested to hear that its creator, Julian Fellowes, has become Vice President of the Catholic Association of Performing Arts. CaAPA (formerly the Catholic State Guild) just celebrated its one hundredth year. It was founded in 1911 by Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson, a noted Catholic author. At a gala dinner celebrating the group’s anniversary, Lord Fellowes “said that Catholicism would be entering the storyline of…Downton Abbey at some point in the near future,” according to Independent Catholic News…

Thanks to Maureen Williamson over at The Intelligent Catholic's Guide

Monday, February 6, 2012


"... the profundity of the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, like so many grand documents, was done a disservice by the translation into English, which describes the Garden of Eden as a place of “harmonious inter-personal relationships.” In 1994, priests around the world received the superb Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, but the translation told the toiling shepherds: “Pastoral charity constitutes the internal and dynamic principle capable of uniting the multiple and diverse pastoral activities of the priest and, given the socio-cultural and religious context in which he lives, is an indispensable instrument for drawing men to a life in grace.” If the historical Jesus had spoken that way on the Galilean shore, I doubt that Peter would ever have left the sociocultural and religious context in which he lived and made it to the sociocultural and religious context of Rome."

Friday, February 3, 2012


Karl Keating is a tremendous Catholic apologist and Ronald Knox fan. One of the many things Mr. Keating has in common with Msgr. Knox is a particularly gracious generosity. 
From Karl:
"Msgr. Ronald Knox long has been one of my favorite Catholic writers--one of my favorite writers, period. I have dozens of his books, and each time I return to one I chide myself for not having come back to it sooner. 

Knox was a man of immense talents. He translated the entire Bible on his own (his is the version I use for devotional reading), he was a Classical scholar of renown, he wrote detective stories and other fiction, he was an apologist, and he was a convert to the faith.

Knox died in 1957. Succeeding generations of English-speaking Catholics largely are ignorant of him. This is a shame, for he still has much to offer. Fortunately, there is a revival of interest in Knox. One of the best places to go to learn about him and to read portions of his works is the website of the Ronald Knox Society of North America:

I urge you to visit the site, making sure to click on the link to the blog. The link is at the top of the righthand column, which features recently reprinted books by Knox plus books about him.

If you want to read Knox, I suggest you start with "The Belief of Catholics," a short book he wrote early on. Also try Milton Walsh's "Ronald Knox as Apologist," which I found both enlightening and helpful. For that matter, try any of the books listed--they're all good."