A Lesson Learned From Monsignor Ronald A. Knox | Carl E. Olson | IgnatiusInsight.com
Monsignor Ronald Knox (1888-1957) was the son of the Anglican Bishop of Manchester
and it appeared that he, being both spiritually perceptive and intellectually
gifted, would also have a successful life as an Anglican prelate. But while
in school in the early 1900s Knox began a long struggle between his love
for the Church of England and his growing attraction to the Catholic Church.
He was particularly drawn to ritual and ceremony, writing years later that
long before I had ever seen a ritualistic service I became a Ritualist.
For many years he harbored the hope that somehow, by Gods providential
working, the Church of England would be reunited with Rome. But in 1917,
four years after being ordained in the Church of England, Knox became a
Catholic; two years later he was ordained a priest. Upon being received
into the Catholic Church he expressed his great relief and sense of joy:
I have been overwhelmed with the feeling of liberty the
glorious liberty of the Sons of God; it [is] a freedom from
the uncertainty of mind; it was not until I became a Catholic that I became
conscious of my former homelessness, my exile from the place that was
my own. (Quoted in Fr. Charles B. Connors
Classic Catholic Converts [Ignatius Press, 2001],150).
Knox was a prose stylist of immense talent whose sharp wit and biting satire
poked holes in the smug secularism of his day. In books such as Essays
in Satire and Caliban in Grub Street he mocked the dogma-lite
Christianity, shallow agnosticism and glib atheism so popular among the
elite classes of England. A superb spiritual director, he led many retreats
and wrote a number of books about retreats and the spiritual life for both
religious and laity. He also wrote murder mysteries (as did G.K. Chesterton
and Dorothy Sayers), translated the entire Bible over a nine years period
and wrote Enthusiasm, a fascinating and sympathetic history of enthusiast
movements (such as Montanism and Quietism) in Christianity.
Like all great preachers and teachers, Knox had a gift for distilling complex
matters into understandable and compelling language, and his wry humor makes
his lucid writing that much more enjoyable. This was certainly true of his
greatest apologetic work, The
Belief of Catholics, written in 1927 (and recently republished by
Ignatius Press). In it he addressed modernism and the growing skeptism in
England about the claims of Christianity; he also took on arguments made
against the Catholic Church by various Protestants, many of which are still
commonly used by certain Fundamentalists and Evangelicals today. One of
these is the faulty claim that a Christian is not dependant, whether historically
or practically, upon the Catholic Church for correct doctrine, but that
all a believer needs is the Bible. In The Belief of Catholics, in a chapter
titled Where Protestantism Goes Wrong, Knox demonstrated that
how one views the Church will either make or break the basis of their view
of Christ, the Bible and authority:
a proper notion of the Church is a necessary stage before
we argue from the authority of Christ to any other theological doctrine
whatever. The infallibility of the Church is, for us, the true induction
from which all our theological conclusions are derived. The Protestant,
stopping short of it, has to rest content with an induction of the false
kind; and the vice of that false kind of induction is that all its conclusions
are already contained in its premises. Perhaps formal logic is out of
date; let me restate the point otherwise. We derive from our apprehension
of the living Christ the apprehension of a living Church; it is from that
living Church that we take our guidance. Protestantism claims to take
its guidance immediately from the living Christ. But what is the guidance
he gives us, and where are we to find it?
The claim of many Christians that it is the Bible which fully guides them
and provides the final say in matters of their faith is inconsistent and
cannot stand in the face of reason:
the Protestant had no conceivable right to base
any arguments on the inspiration of the Bible, for the inspiration of
the Bible was a doctrine which had been believed, before the Reformation,
on the mere authority of the Church; it rested on exactly the same basis
as the doctrine of Transubstantiation. Protestantism repudiated Transubstantiation,
and in doing so repudiated the authority of the Church; and then, without
a shred of logic, calmly went on believing in the inspiration of the Bible,
as if nothing had happened! Did they suppose that Biblical inspiration
was a self-evident fact, like the axioms of Euclid?
As Knox indicates, not only does the Bible itself not teach that it is the
final and sole authority in the Christian life, this belief ignores the
historical facts as to how we received the Bible and by whose authority
the canon of Scripture has been set. The Catholic Faith is a seamless garment
which demands all or nothing; if someone accepts the authority
of Scripture, it is logical that they, like Ronald Knox, must also accept
the authority of the Catholic Church it is both necessary and consistent.
(This article was originally published in a different
form in the November/December 1999 This Rock, a publication of
Other books by Ronald Knox published by Ignatius Press:
Flames: In his vivid style, Ronald Knox tells the stories
of a variety of these Christian stalwarts including St. Cecilia, St. George,
St. Dominic, St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas More, St. Ignatius of Loyola,
St. Philip Neri, St. Anselm, St. Joan of Arc, and many more.
Hidden Stream: The Mysteries of the Christian Faith: This
book is a collection of stimulating, informal discussions in which Msgr.
Knox re-examines some of the fundamental precepts of the Catholic faith
as well as the formidable challenges facing Catholics today.
and Occasional Sermons: This volume is a collection of Knox's
homilies on all the important themes of the spiritual and moral life,
and on his favorite saints, men and women of history who were "inflamed
with the love of Christ".
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Links:
IgnatiusInsight.com Author Page for Monsignor Ronald Knox
Review of The Belief of Catholics | Carl E. Olson
Ronald Knox, Apologist | Carl E. Olson
Converts and Saints | An Interview with Joseph Pearce
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