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.