A Catholic Classic Revisited


By Ronald Knox
Ignatius Press: San Francisco 2000
(221 pages; Sewn Soft Cover, $14.95)


This is a welcome reprint of Ronald Knox's classic work of Apologetics which, as Karl Keating noted in his Foreword to the present edition, is that great English writer's "best known work". A convert from Anglicanism (his father was the Anglican bishop of Manchester) Ronald Knox (1888-1957) was to become one of the most influential Catholic writers of the first half of the 20th century. He was to enrich the patrimony of Catholic literature with his beautiful translation of the entire Bible (the "Knox Bible"), volumes of elegant sermons, such popular works as "The Creed in Slow Motion", "The Gospel in Slow Motion", "The Mass in Slow Motion" and his erudite study of the phenomenon of religious enthusiasm fittingly entitled "Enthusiasm". As Karl Keating observed with regards to the latter:

"Knox looked at movements both outside and inside the Church - from Methodism to Quietism, from Quakerism to Jansenism - and his analysis is especially useful today, when enthusiastic movements within Christianity are more widespread than ever."

Knox's own story of conversion is told in yet another classic, his "The Spiritual Aeneid" which deserves to be better known and republished. His 1914 pamphlet "Reunion All Round: Being a Plea for the Inclusion Within the Church of England of all Mahometans, Jews, Buddhists, Brahmins, Papists and Atheists Submitted to the Consideration of the British Public" remains an unsurpassed satire on the folly of religious indifferentism disguised as ecumenism. What the medievalist David Knowles wrote of Knox's brilliant satire may be said to apply to all of Knox's literary efforts:

"His clear mind and mastery of words made him a matchless antagonist of cant and humbug, and these are ubiquitous in our day as they were in his."

Ronald Knox was a literary genius whose grasp of the English language was wedded to a synthetic grasp of the Catholic Faith whose truths he was able to express with lucidity combined with a real compassion for the mindset of readers who had little knowledge of the Catholic Church and even less sympathy. Like John Henry Newman, he possessed a profound understanding and empathy for the psychology of the English people in all their religious and secular variations.

In "The Belief of Catholics", "Ronnie" (as this brilliant scholar was known to his students and friends) proved to be amazingly prescient concerning the further decline and doctrinal dissolution being evidenced in the Church of England and other Protestant denominations. Two processes were proceeding side by side: the decline of Church membership and growing disbelief in the fundamental dogmas of Christianity. He openly challenged the leading clergy of the Church of England which was suffering the "invading germ of modernism":

"You do not believe what your grandfathers believed, and have no reason to hope that your grandchildren will believe what you do."

Noting he lived at a time when "the Bible was never so little believed as it is today" by Englishmen, Knox rejoiced that:

"It so happens that there is one religious body in the country which does not alter its message to suit the shifting fashions of human thought, which gives no sign of yielding to modern outcries under the severest pressure from public opinion."

It is easy to imagine Knox's comments on the present state of the Anglican Communion which has clearly surrendered to the doctrinal and moral relativism which now prevails internally among its adherents.

Amidst the religious confusion of the period he observed that it was "penetrating minds and justly balanced temperaments" that felt attracted to the Catholic Church. That Church alone could substantiate the claim to divine authority in faith and morals. In tightly argued and perceptive chapters he led his readers to ponder the reasonableness of belief in God, the occurrence of Revelation, the divinity of Christ, and Christ's founding an infallible Church. It was this same Catholic Church, which, in fact, uniquely fulfilled man's "instinct for beauty, the instinct for mystery, the instinct for naturalness, the instinct for history, the instinct for world-wide citizenship, the instinct for moral guidance, the instinct for intellectual definiteness". Each link in the chain of Catholic apologetic is treated with thoughtful attention, all-too-familiar Protestant objections refuted, and care to emphasize that the act of faith involves rational conviction, not a subjective experiential consciousness.

"The Belief of Catholics" is replete with the wisdom of a brilliant Catholic apologist who was acknowledged by his contemporaries "as the biggest fish landed since Newman". With a rapier-like wit, Msgr. Knox did not hesitate to demolish the inanities of the higher biblical critics of his time and to demonstrate the historical continuity of hierarchical-sacramental Catholicism with the "primitive Church". To those who seek the True Church in our day, his words remain ever memorable. It is "the differentia of the One Church", he noted:

"to be in full Communion with the Bishop of Rome. If you are looking for "a" Church, you will find churches aplenty. If you are looking for "The" Church, you will find only one; for only one contains, as the Church in all ages has contained, a Successor of Peter. What need to distinguish whether the primacy due to him be one of honour or jurisdiction. You have denied him both the one primacy and the other, when you have made shipwreck concerning the faith."

About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
He can be reached at:  jlikoudis@cuf.org, or visit  Mr. James Likoudis' Homepage