Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Timothy McCormick has posted a terrific interview with Father Milton Walsh on his Catholic Bibles blog. Do read it all, but here's a sample:

... as you have pointed out in your book Ronald Knox As Apologist, that towards the end of his life he saw a need for a new kind of apologetics.  His death in 1957 left that an open question.  So, what do you think he was aiming at in this new apologetics and how might that be applicable to the Catholic Church in 2015?

I’ll try to give a brief answer to a question which generated an entire dissertation!  Knox did “classical apologetics” very well, and his Belief of Catholics is still a good resource for those who want a popular intellectual defense for belief in the existence of God and the unique role of Christ in human history.  This apologetic approach was the heir to the Enlightenment, and tended to put great emphasis on rational argumentation.  Reason was seen to be the common ground between believer and unbeliever; Knox and the other writers I mentioned earlier often approached apologetics from this vantage point.

But we are more than “thinking machines”, and Knox recognized that many intellectual questions are rooted in more existential realities.  This comes across in his conferences to Catholic students at Oxford, in In Soft Garmentsand in The Hidden Stream.  By the 1950s, Knox realized that mere logical defenses were not sufficient for many people.  He was deeply affected by the invention and use of the Atomic Bomb, and his God and the Atom(regrettably, not in print) testifies to an important change in his priorities.  He wanted to write “a new apologetics”, but did not get very far with it.  His final illness from cancer took him very quickly.

If I had to summarize the direction he seemed to be heading in his new approach, it would be this: the classical Catholic apologetics relied perhaps too much on pure logic, and most people are not purely logical.  The dilemma was, then, what can be the common ground for a conversation between believer and unbeliever?  His answer was ordinary human experience, which takes in the intellect but so much more: desire, beauty, heroic ideals, etc.  In fact, Knox incorporated much of this “argumentation” in his sermons, which addressed not only the mind but the whole person.