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Reviewed by Carl E. Olson
Editor, IgnatiusInsight.com

Several years ago, as an Evangelical Protestant investigating the claims of the Catholic Church, I had the good fortune of coming across a tattered copy of The Belief of Catholics in a used book store. It didn’t take long, once I began reading, to recognize that the author of this classic work had much in common with another Catholic apologist, G.K. Chesterton. Both were former Anglicans who had crossed the Tiber in rather dramatic fashion, and both were writers of immense talent. In fact, Knox, who was fourteen years Chesterton’s junior, was an admirer of the famed journalist, calling him "my earliest master and model."

Knox was a priest and a superb spiritual director who wrote several books about the spiritual life for both religious and laity. As I recently reread The Belief of Catholics, I was even more deeply impressed by Knox’s insight into human nature and the various blindnesses that afflict mankind. It is this penetration into the human soul, combined with a dry (and occasionally cutting) wit and a vibrant style that makes Knox such a compelling read. These qualities are in abundance within this book, his best-known work of apologetics, first published in 1927 and now attractively republished by Ignatius Press.

Recognizing that the Catholic apologist can easily fall into the trap of being a defensive reactionary, Knox states that his book "is an attempt to write constructive apologetic, to assert a claim . . ." One way Knox accomplishes this is by starting with what the observant Catholic notices about modern man and society, not with what people say about the Catholic faith. In the opening chapter, "The Modern Distaste for Religion," a number of problems unique to modernity are observed, including the influence of modern media, the dumbing down of education, the mindless use of cliches, and the rise of materialism. "A rush age," Knox observes, "cannot be a reflective age."

In many ways this book, nearly eighty years old and written in England, could just as easily have been written about modern-day America and the problems faced by Catholics in our country: apathy, relativism, feel-goodism, the shunning of dogma, and sexual amorality. For example, writing about the latter, Knox observes that "A steady, ceaseless flow of literary propaganda has shaken the faith of our generation in the indissolubility of marriage, hitherto conceived as a principle of natural morality."

Having started with a critique of the modern situation, Knox notes the intriguing fact that many people are both repulsed by what they falsely believe Catholicism teaches, while being attracted to many elements of the Catholic faith. Many intelligent people admire (often secretly) something about Catholicism, but find issues sufficient to keep them outside the doors. Whether they know it or not, people, "especially the young people of our time, want authority." And so one of the tasks of the apologist is to demonstrate that the authority of the Catholic Church in faith and morals is not arbitrary or dictatorial, but based in truth and love, established by God for the good of man.

The book logically progresses to belief in God, rooted first in natural observation and philosophical consideration, and then fully realized in Catholic teaching, based on divine revelation. Two chapters are then devoted to the person of Jesus Christ ("Our Lord’s Claim Stated" and "Our Lord’s Claim Justified"), before moving on to the question of "Where Protestantism Goes Wrong." Here Knox demonstrates that how one views the Church will either make or break the basis of their view of Christ, the Bible, and authority since "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?" Later he points out the faulty logic by which Protestants discarded the belief in transubstantiation but maintained the inspiration of the Bible, even though both are squarely based on the authority of the Church. "Did they," he wryly inquires, "suppose that Biblical inspiration was a self-evident fact, like the axioms of Euclid?"

The final chapters are devoted to the positive vision of the Catholic faith, showing how Catholic doctrine meets reality and addresses every aspect of human existence. Man is made for God, and the place to meet God and have communion with him is within the divine institution founded by Jesus Christ. "In a word," Knox writes, "we do not think of our Church as the best religious body to belong to; we believe that those who do not belong to it, provided that they believe in our Lord and desire to do his will, may just as well belong to no religious body at all." Imagine my good fortune in reading this classic work of apologetics once again.

(This review originally appeared in This Rock magazine, published by Catholic Answers.)

Other books by Ronald Knox published by Ignatius Press:

- Captive 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.

- The 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.

- Pastoral 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".


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