Saturday, 25 August 2007

Mgr Ronald Knox

Another important anniversary; yesterday marked fifty years since the death of Monsignor Ronald Knox.

Ronald Knox (1888 - 1957) was a convert, the son of the Anglican Bishop of Manchester, and one of the great literary talents of the Church in this country. A friend of Chesterton (he preached at Chesterton's funeral in Westminster Cathedral in 1936), he was a prolific author and broadcaster. He was, too, one of the finest classical scholars of his generation, famous for completing the Times crossword each day in Latin! His works included many intellectual and devotional books, as well as a series of detective novels. However, Mgr Knox will be chiefly remember for his translation of the Bible, which remains popular.

His connections with Westminster Cathedral, if not many, are significant. Following his reception into the Catholic Church, he was confirmed here by Cardinal Bourne on 6 October 1917 - an occasion he found rather matter-of-fact when compared to the solemnity of his Anglican confirmation. However, he did later note that he found it a profoundly spiritual experience, like 'extra-breathing being added to his own', as Lady Acton recorded.

He was ordained priest at the Cathedral on 5 October 1919, 'on his own patrimony' - which meant that he was not attached to any particular diocese.
Following his battle against cancer and his last illness (he stayed at 10 Downing Street as a guest of his friend the Prime Minister while visiting doctors), he knew that his end was near. The Pope sent him a letter, assuring him of his prayers and commending his translation of the Vulgate. Mgr Knox was horrified to learn that his Requiem would be celebrated at Westminster Cathedral, believing he deserved something more modest. He underestimated the affection and respect in which he was held. Mgr Knox died on 24 August 1957 at Mells, and his body was brought to Westminster Cathedral on 28 August. The Requiem was celebrated on the following day by Bishop Craven, Auxiliary in Westminster, with the Cardinal Archbishop presiding. The homily was preached by the famous Jesuit philosopher Fr Martin D'Arcy. Part of that homily reads:

If we look back at the long list of his writings, we see that they have no other intent than to support either the natural or supernatural order of God's creation... he used his Dryden-like power of satire to ridicule the pretentious, the mystagogic and the sophistical. He had a deceptive simplicity, never pressing for novelty, but bringing our from God's treasures both old and new, so clothing it in words that it struck the mind with an unforgettable truth..

.. Though so precocious when he was young, his style is never singular, theatrical or conceited; he could be brilliantly original and amusing, but never vainglorious. And the reason is that whereas others might be doing God's work in parishes, in choir or in foreign missions, he felt that he must make perfect what it lay in his own special powers to do...

Ronald Knox was a sensitive man, responsive to joy and sorrow. He was always himslef, and his priesthood did not subtract from his qualities; it multiplied them. He created loyalties wherever he went. All of you who knew him will have tales to tell of his touching gentleness and humanity. What the Catholic church in this country owes to his personality and influence cannot be measured. Let us now in grateful memory pray at the altar that God may forgive him any trespasses and receive his soul into eternal rest.


Vicki said...

What a gracious tribute to Msgr.Knox on the 50th anniversary of his death! You might be interested to know that he has not been forgotten on this side of the Atlantic, either. Although he never set foot in America his writings continue to inspire many a soul.
For those who would like to find out more about Ronald Knox, or refresh their memories, I extend an invitation to visit our website:
Best wishes,
Vicki McCaffrey
Pres., Ronald Knox Society

Mark Langham said...

Thank you for this wonderful link, and for the work you do in keeping alive the memory of this great man!