Thursday, November 17, 2016


On Monday, November 14th I was privileged to attend the official book launch for the latest book on Ronald Knox, "Ronald Knox; A Man for All Seasons", hosted by Heythrop College and Francesca Bugliani Knox, the editor. It was a pleasure to meet several of the contributors to this large collection of commentary on Knox's life and writing, as well as previously unpublished works.

Also present were "the twins", Claudia and Nicola (nee Macaskie), who met Ronald Knox at Aldenham after being evacuated there with 50+ other girls and 15 nuns from the Convent of the Assumption in Kensington during World War II. They were as thoroughly English, and thoroughly charming, as one might expect. They reminded me of two Miss Marples, complete with twinkling eyes at almost 90 years of age! The Creed in Slow Motion and The Mass in Slow Motion were dedicated to them, and the sermons Knox preached at their respective weddings are included in Bridegroom and Bride.

Here's the excerpt from Evelyn Waugh's biography which describes them:

... "Claudia and Nicola, the twin daughters of  Mr N.L.C.Macaskie, K.C., who attained and retained a particular place in his affections.
These two pretty children arrived in the autumn of 1943 when Ronald's popularity and fame were well established in the school but when he was suffering from a dismal sense of discouragement in his more public life. They first attracted his attention when Nicola, for a 'dare', burst into his sanctum and asked whether he liked pink blancmange. Shortly afterwards there was a more solemn encounter. Claudia was quite suddenly struck alarmingly ill, and Ronald was called to anoint her. It was the first and only time he gave the last sacraments; he had often spoken of them in his sermons but always with the implied assumption that they were something brought in extreme old age. The summons to the apparently dying child was an incident of poignant emotion. The twins invited him to stay in the holidays, and soon their house in Kensington Square became his regular lodging in London. He said they should put up a plaque: 'Ronald Knox practically lived here.' Later they were among the very few of his friends to whom he wrote letters in his old, free, affectionate manner. In May 1947 he wrote to Nicola: 'You and Claudia are the only people I want to write to except on business.' In the drab and sour period of victory their friendship was a substantial solace. With his habitual reticence, he seldom spoke of them. At the dinner given to him in London on his sixtieth birthday the appearance of Claudia, dressed for a ball and prematurely called away by a young man in a white tie, created a stir of curiosity among his elderly friends."

Sunday, May 24, 2015


Happy Feast of Pentecost! Here is one of Knox's best:

The Holy Spirit 

If a man should set out to go through the Bible, pausing and making a meditation wherever he found material, his attention would be caught without fail, I think, by the second verse of it. “Earth was still an empty waste, and darkness hung over the deep; but already, over its waters, stirred the breath of God.” Creation still in the melting-pot, so that we have nothing for our composition of place except a formless sea of undifferentiated matter; dark, not by some effect of shadow, but with that primal darkness that reigned before light was made. And over this inert mass, like the mist that steals up from a pool at evening, God’s breath his Spirit, was at work. Already it was his plan to educe from this chaos the cosmos he had resolved to make, passing up through its gradual stages till it culminated in the creation of Man.

Deep in your nature and mine lies just such a chaos of undifferentiated matter, of undeveloped possibilities. Psychology calls it the unconscious. It is a great lumber-room, stocked from our past history. Habits and propensities are there, for good and evil; memories, some easily recaptured, some tucked away in the background; unreasoning fears and antipathies; illogical associations, which link this past experience with that; primitive impulses, which shun the light, and seek to disguise themselves by a smoke-screen of reasoning; inherited aptitudes, sometimes quite unexpected. Out of this welter of conditions and tendencies the life of action is built up, yours and mine. And still, as at the dawn of creation, the Holy Spirit moves over those troubled waters, waiting to educe from them, with the cooperation of our wills, the entire life of the Christian.

Continue reading

Monday, March 30, 2015


Here's some good news: Catholic Answers has published a beautiful new volume of 6 forgotten Knox sermons and essays. The book will be off the press in April but is available for pre-order.

Included in this volume:
1. The Essentials of Spiritual Unity
2. Proving God
3. The Rich Young Man
4. Nazi and Nazarene
5. The Beginning and End of Man
6. On English Translation (Romanes Lecture)

This is a handsome hardback with high-quality paper, old-style wide margins, clean typography, an ex libris plate, and a sewn-in satin ribbon. Plus a forward by Karl Keating.

It sounds like a "must have" for Knox fans!

Thursday, March 26, 2015


The Facebook Page of the Ronald Knox Society has brought quite a few people to our door. At least some of them must be wondering what the Society is all about, so here goes:


I first ran across the writings of Ronald Knox as a very young, and extremely ignorant, convert to Roman Catholicism. Always an avid reader, I was hungry for the truth in written, intellectually stimulating and satisfying form. Providentially, I didn't have to wade through muddy waters alone but had a tremendous guide in my father-in-law, Neil McCaffrey Jr., who took me by the hand and led me directly to the very best English-language, Catholic writing. One of many books he gave me was a small, paperback volume of Catholic Digest, in which I found an abbreviated version of Knox’s ‘Trials of a Translator’. What struck me immediately was that here was a formidable intellect at work. I felt an immediate attraction. The fact that I, uninstructed as I was, could not only read, but understand what he had to say, only proves the marvelous talent which Knox exhibited throughout his life: that of being able to address any level of reader, any type of audience. He seemed extremely approachable.

I was hooked. For readers, there are few things more exciting in this life than finding an author one has never read and, further, that he has written prolifically. It’s like opening the door to Aladdin’s Cave. Over the years I read all the books I could find by Knox. Most of them came from my father-in-law’s enormous, personal library. And garage sales. In the early 80s almost none of Knox’s books were in print. Roman Catholic Books published ‘A Retreat For Lay People’, which is one of Knox’s best. Then Ignatius Press came to the rescue and began, slowly, to publish Knox’s sermons and apologetics. A generation later, there are now quite a few of Knox’s works in print. Enough to be going on with.

Somewhere in that time period, with the advent of the internet and Google, I founded the Ronald Knox Society, purely by chance, and without forethought. One night I was googling Knox in search of something-or-other and noticed that there was really very little information about him online. The only information which kept resurfacing with alarming regularity was an article by Fr. Leonard Feeney, S.J., taking Knox to task for his “liberal” views of extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. Without commenting further on Fr. Feeney I will say that, at the very least, it was extremely one-sided. So I looked up domain names and found that, unsurprisingly, was available. I made a little do-it-yourself website and started adding content. My purpose was, quite simply, to insure that when someone did a Google search for Ronald Knox he would get solid information about the man and his work.

Nothing much has changed since then. The greatest benefit that I have personally received from the Society has been the friendship of Fr. Milton Walsh, expert on the writings of Ronald Knox and terrific tour-guide to San Francisco. His advice has been to let the Society grow organically and not hustle about trying to make it other than what it currently is: a very small, and rather odd assortment of people who greatly admire, and are indebted to, the writings of Msgr. Ronald Knox.

So if our members are waiting for newsletters and conventions, membership drives and cruises, they are destined to be disappointed. People often ask whether I have begun a cause for Knox’s canonization. No, nor do I have any intention of doing so. Aside from the fact that I have neither the energy nor the patience for such an undertaking, I rather think that modesty would prevent Knox from wanting himself put forward in that way. His life’s work was to clear the grime from our intellects that we might see the object of his own gaze: Our Lord Jesus Christ, the “window in the wall”. That is more than enough to be going on with.

Vicki McCaffrey
President, Ronald Knox Society

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.

Monday, January 12, 2015


"For a guide and source of ideas, I would cite the man whom I consider the greatest Catholic preacher of the twentieth century:  Ronald Knox." - Fr. George Rutler

Read the whole article.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Wit, Laughter and the Popish Creed
by Milton Walsh


Friday, June 27, 2014

Feast of the Sacred Heart

by Ronald Knox

Come to me, all you that labour and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you and learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart, and you shall find rest to your souls. – Matthew 11. 28-9

Come – it is not enough to stand still; the movement will not be all on God’s side. Christ stretches out his arms, as if the gesture of crucifixion had become habitual even to the glorified body; it is your part to respond to the invitation, to come to him, though your steps be weak and tottering, like the first steps of a child. The Sacred Heart of the Crucified would draw all men to him, yet draws them, not by any chain of necessity, but with cords of love; it must be a free choice of your will by which you step forward from the ranks that waver and hang back, to consecrate yourself to him. True, in this devotion we consecrate ourselves as a family, but it is the individual surrender he prizes, not the mere herd-instinct that bids us, to avoid singularity, associate ourselves in a public act of homage: the word is addressed to each soul individually – Come unto me.

Come unto me – other voices, maybe, in later years will endeavour to distract us, the false religious systems of yesterday, the world with its easy standards, ambition with its insistent call for action, or money, the hardest master of them all: their prizes will seem more ready to our hand, their voices closer in our ear, but none will woo so gently or so patiently as the Sacred Heart, the Heart that loves so much and is loved so little in return, no one else dares to ask or claims to offer as he does. Unto me – not as if your devotion to the Sacred Heart could rival or replace your devotion to Almighty God: for that Heart is the life-centre of the Sacred Humanity, wherein, not by some overshadowing influence, as in Mary and the saints, but by a real and personal union, the fullness of revealed Godhead dwells. Unto me – not to some abstract idea, some expressive image, some memory of a dead past, but a Human Heart, real, concrete, living as your own, living now amid the splendours of the glorified Humanity in heaven.

All you that labour – it is a fashion, a pose you affect among your friends, to despise anything that comes to you openly under the name of work: but labour is rightly measured not by the distastefulness of the occupation or by the value of the results achieved, but by what it costs you, the strain that tells on you, the disturbance and distraction it sets up in your thoughts. At this moment, ask yourself if there is not some day-dream or some project humming in your brain, distracting your attention or ready to do so the instant your vigilance is relaxed. That day-dream, that project, however trivial and however distant, though it be only some scheme for your enjoyment, innocent or misapplied, some affection, some grievance, some grudge, is the labour with which you labour under the sun, the prisoner of your own brooding thoughts. You know that at times when these worries and distractions interfere with your sleep, or when you feel dull and jaded after long hours of them. You that labour, leave here on one side for a moment the petty cares which tyrannize over you: be still, and see that I am God.

Come to me, all you that are burdened – labour distracts the mind; it is sin that weighs upon the shoulders and clogs the feet. That burden, too, we must lay down for a little, if we are to lift up our eyes to the tabernacle. Last time we kept the first Friday, there was some resolution, an occasion of sin to be avoided, a bad habit to be checked, an improvement to be made in our rule of prayer. Nothing very much has come of it, and conscience feels uneasy at this reminder. Put it aside just for the moment; we must turn our faces towards the future and consecrate ourselves anew.

And I will refresh you – this is to be a breathing-space from the dusty business of life, the daily, common round of earthly occupations in which we seldom catch a glimpse of the supernatural. We are to draw ourselves up, breathe deep in the fresh air of grace, stretch the cramped muscles of the soul and rejoice to find them still responsive to the will. We shall forget for a while the work that lies at our feet as our cheek catches the cooling influence of grace that comes from Him.

Take my yoke upon you – not the yoke of a conqueror, imposed on his unwilling vassal, but the yoke which eases your burden by distributing the weight so that all but all of it rests on him. It is not servitude he offers, but partnership. Oh, if we could believe what we see so often in lives which have greatly devoted themselves to him, that, in proportion as we resign ourselves to his love, care and sorrow and all the burden of mortality lies lightly on us, till we have to ask for suffering lest we should lose the sense of the privilege that partnership bestows! We will make an offering here of all the work and all the suffering God will have us undergo, in union with the merits of the Sacred Heart, Fountain of all Consolation.

And learn of me – not the lessons we learn in class, not Christian doctrine or apologetics, nothing that tires the brain and wrinkles the forehead, not the dreary formulas that seem only intended to catch us out by being so difficult to remember. In this lesson it is not mind that speaks to mind, but heart to heart, no elaborate considerations are necessary, no theological subtleties. You have only to stand still and contemplate the Sacred Heart, bruised for our sins and made obedient unto death; only to remember one simple formula – how easy to remember, how difficult to mean: “Heart of Jesus, full of love for us, make our hearts like thy Sacred Heart”.

Because I am meek and humble of heart Рmeekness that will not be driven to resentment even by ill-usage, humility that will not be puffed up even where there is cause for self-congratulation. Meekness that in our case Рnot in his Рsees its own sinfulness and acknowledges that the discomforts and reverses of life are only its lawful due; not assuming that the word which wounded you was aimed with intent, that you were right when you quarreled, unfairly hampered where you failed to come off; not for ever engaged in drawing up that long list of grievances against your fellow-men which leaves behind it no satisfaction, but only a character soured and blas̩, a nature suspicious and difficult to please. Humility that in our case Рnot in his Рrealizes its own insignificance; humility that will not let you stand on your dignity, or lose your peace of mind when you are criticized and held up to ridicule; humility that, above all, approaches God with infinite reverence, and does not seek either to search out his hidden counsels or to presume on the graces he bestows.

And you shall find rest to your souls; rest in this life, when the wayward passions of your heart have been calmed and regulated by learning to beat in time with his; rest in the world to come, when you shall contemplate openly the Heart from which those graces used to flow, and, as you have been faithful yoke-fellows and docile scholars of your Lord below, be made partakers of his eternal glory in heaven.

Monday, April 28, 2014


If there is anything pleasant in life, it is doing what we aren’t meant to do. If there is anything pleasant about criticism, it is finding out what we aren’t meant to find out. It is the method by which we treat as significant what the author did not mean to be significant, by which we single out as essential what the author regarded as incidental.
So wrote Monsignor Ronald Knox in his essay on the fecundity of the literature of Sherlock Holmes. Those who read the profound words of other fecund literary sources could not hope to read words more profound than these. Msgr. Knox goes on to say, “to the scholarly mind anything is worthy of study,” and by this principle, the pastorals of Beatrix Potter may be considered as parables.

CONTINUE READING a charming analysis of The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse by Sean Fitzpatrick at Crisis Magazine.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


The First Lessons of Matins on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday are taken from the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremias. They are among the saddest and most beautiful readings of the Liturgical Year.

Here is Knox's translation of Chapter 1:

When Israel was brought into captivity, and Jerusalem left deserted, the prophet Jeremias sat down and wept, with this mournful lamentation following. And as he spoke, ever he sighed and moaned in the bitterness of his heart.

1. 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.
2. Be sure she weeps; there in the darkness her cheeks are wet with tears; of all that courted her, none left to console her, all those lovers grown weary of her, and turned to enemies.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Fled is her beauty, the Sion that was once so fair; her chieftains have yielded their ground before the pursuer, strength-less as rams that can find no pasture.
7. Grievous the memories she holds, of the hour when all her ancient glories passed from her, when her people fell defenceless before the invader, unresisting before an enemy that derided them.
8. Heinously Jerusalem sinned; what wonder if she became an outlaw? How they fell to despising her when they saw her shame, that once flattered her! Deeply she sighed, and turned away her head.
9. Ill might skirts of her robe the defilement conceal; alas, so reckless of her doom, alas, fallen so low, with none to comfort her! Mark it well, Lord; see how humbled I, how exultant my adversary!
10. Jealous hands were laid on all she treasured; so it was that she must see Gentiles profane her sanctuary, Gentiles, by thy ordinance from the assembly debarred.
11. Kindred was none but went sighing for lack of bread, offered its precious heirlooms for food to revive men's hearts. Mark it well, Lord, and see my pride abased!
12. Look well, you that pass by, and say if there was ever grief like this grief of mine; never a grape on the vineyard left to glean, when the Lord's threat of vengeance is fulfilled.
13. Must fire from heaven waste my whole being, ere I can learn my lesson? Must he catch me in a net, to drag me back from my course? Desolate he leaves me, to pine away all the day long with grief.
14. No respite it gives me, the yoke of guilt I bear, by his hand fastened down upon my neck; see, I faint under it! The Lord has given me up a prisoner to duress there is no escaping.
15. Of all I had, the Lord has taken away the noblest; lost to me, all the flower of my chivalry, under his strict audit; Sion, poor maid, here was a wine-press well trodden down!
16. Pray you, should I not weep? Fountains these eyes are, that needs must flow; comforter there is none at hand, that should revive my spirits. Lost to me, all those sons of mine, outmatched by their enemy.
17. Quest for consolation is vain, let her plead where she will; neighbors of Jacob, so the Lord decrees, are Jacob's enemies, and all around they shrink from her, as from a thing unclean.
18. Right the Lord has in his quarrel; I have set his commands at defiance. O world, take warning; see what pangs I suffer, all my folk gone into exile, both man and maid.
19. So false the friends that were once my suitors! And now the city lacks priests and elders both, that went begging their bread, to revive the heart in them.
20. Take note, Lord, of my anguish, how my bosom burns, and my heart melts within me, in bitter ruth. And all the while, swords threatens without, and death not less cruel within.
21. Uncomforted my sorrow, but not unheard; my enemies hear it, and rejoice that my miseries are of thy contriving. Ah, but when thy promise comes true, they shall feel my pangs!
22. Vintager who didst leave my boughs so bare, for my much offending, mark well their cruelty, and strip these to in their turn; here be sighs a many, and a sad heart to claim it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


The church of Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane, will be familiar to Knox fans as the West End church in which, for 30 years (1926-1956), he preached on the Feast of Corpus Christi. 26 of the sermons he preached there are available in the collection Pastoral and Occasional Sermons and are counted among his gems.

"How many a priest, reading The Window in the Wall, has been filled with a kind of holy envy at the mastery of his exposition of eucharistic doctrine and at the fertility of mind which, year after year, in the same church and to much the same congregation, could find something not merely new but absolutely penetrating and enriching to say on this subject! Most priests have two or three sermons on the Blessed Sacrament; here we have close on two score of them, redolent of the preacher's own devotion, and challenging us to a fuller realization of the wealth at our disposal." - Thomas Corbishley, S.J., Ronald Knox, the Priest, 1965 Sheed & Ward

The current Pastor, Father Alan Robinson, has undertaken an extensive renovation program and is, of course, in need of funds. If you're looking for a last-minute, Lenten almsgiving opportunity, or if you can help out over the course of time, you can find more information on the parish website. It would be fitting to help this good cause in honor of, and in thanksgiving for, the many benefits we've received from Msgr. Knox.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


A sermon preached by Ronald Knox on Palm Sunday, 1934

Amen I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. – John  12:24

Today, 1,900 years ago, it looked as if the fortunes of the great Galilean Prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, were at their height. It was the time of the feast; a great multitude of people from Galilee had come up to celebrate it, and these, plainly, were proud of their fellow countryman. At home, where his family was known to many of them, they might criticize him and laugh at his pretensions; but here in Judea it was a different thing; they were not going to have their own Prophet laughed at by the Jews of Judea. That is human nature. And then, just a day or two before Palm Sunday, an extraordinary rumor went round Jerusalem itself. A man of Bethany, a well-known figure there, had died and been buried; and when he had already been four days in the tomb, Jesus of Nazareth had called to him and he had come out alive. Bethany was only about two miles from Jerusalem; it was as if you heard that somebody had been raised from the dead, say, at Harborne. Naturally,crowds of people came out from Jerusalem to look at the man who had been buried and come to life again; to question his sisters, and have their own assurance about the facts. And these, convinced by what they saw and heard, were hardly less enthusiastic on behalf of the Prophet than the Galileans themselves.

Read the rest in PDF.
From Pastoral and Occasional Sermons available from Ignatius Press