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.