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.