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The Problem of Monsignor Knox

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The Problem of Monsignor Knox

Post  otremer6 on Thu Jan 19, 2012 12:00 am

Edited Under Fr. Leonard Feeney M.I.C.M. — Saint Benedict Center

July, 1958


A Painful Post-Mortem

The Times of London is not normally given to eulogies of Catholic priests. But when
Monsignor Ronald Arbuthnot Knox died last August, at the age of 69, The Times paid its respects in 1,500 words of deeply-touched obituary ("one of the individually great in his generation ... wittiest Churchman in England since Sydney Smith ... "). The American Time of Henry Luce is likewise no friend of Catholic convictions. But when Monsignor Knox died. Time offered a glowing, misty-eyed tribute ("Britain's outstanding Roman Catholic scholar, most versatile writer, and gentlest man ... ")

With such extravagances the Masonic world saluted the memory of a man who, through a long and busy life, had served it well.

It might be argued that Ronald Knox did not always know what grave damage he was
doing to the Church when he sat down to his typewriter; but there is no disputing the
reality of that damage — or its lasting effect. For despite his recent passing, Monsignor Knox as an influence is still very much alive. Wherever English is spoken and the Catholic Faith held, from London to Los Angeles, there the cold touch of his prose is still being felt.

With all the gusto of a British imperialist, Monsignor Knox has sallied into every field of
Catholic utterance, declaring his supremacy in the name of the Queen's English. He has discoursed on apologetics to Oxford students {In Soft Garments); he has analyzed the Holy Sacrifice for schoolgirls {The Mass in Slow Motion); he has developed a theology from his newspaper readings {God and the Atom); he has translated and commented on the Holy Bible. And the effect of all this has been everywhere the same. When the tide of Knoxious eloquence has receded. Catholics who have left themselves exposed to it find their footing in the Faith less sure than it had been. They are amused — perhaps — but troubled. They are beset with doubts and indecisions. They are, ultimately, left in that confused state that the Masonic enemies of the Church rejoice to see: when they are ready to surrender the uniqueness and certitude of Catholic doctrine in favor of some anti-Christian inter-faith creed.


When the Apostles preached to the crowds of Jerusalem on the first Pentecost, they spoke with such fervor and excitement that some of their listeners accused them of being "full of new wine." That first Apostolic utterance, on the birthday of the Church, set a precedent. The news of the Gospel has been spread ever since by men with tongues of fire.

Ronald Knox finds this tradition of ardor most distasteful. He himself has never been able to get worked up about the Faith, and he wishes that others wouldn't. A few years before his death, Oxford University Press published a history of the heresies that was written by Monsignor Knox to support his let's-be-gentlemen ideas. This volume, the fruit of a lifetime's study and composition, is titled Enthusiasm — after the villain of the piece.

It is the Monsignor' s novel contention that heresies are fostered not by those least
anxious to lead Catholic lives, but by those most anxious. "You have a clique, an elite, of Christian men and (more importantly) women, who are trying to live a less worldly life than their neighbors ... " That, he says, is how the trouble begins. In discussing the heretics, however, Monsignor Knox is characteristically careful to express no enthusiasm for orthodoxy. He was, as he puts it, "more concerned to find out why they thought as they did than to prove it was wrong ... there is so much right on both sides."

There is, in Ronald Knox's unenthusiastic writing, a tireless determination to be off-
handedly clever — as though he were perpetually trying out for the role of chaplain in a Noel Coward play. Actually, such mannerism is necessary to Monsignor Knox. He hopes it will cover a multitude of deficiencies in his training (less than two years in the seminary) and the conspicuous flaws in his faith. For illustration, we propose the
following excerpts from one Knox volume. Off the Record.

Here is his attitude toward the Holy See: "The (papal) pronouncements are the expression of that (inner) life, and an inadequate expression of it — perhaps particularly so when they are compiled by Italians, with their vice for the superlative ..." And he adds: "Don't let piety cheat us out of the reflection that Roman documents are always meant to be interpreted in the most liberal sense."

Here is his studied burlesque of Indulgences: "I can't see why Almighty God shouldn't
indulgence all sorts of pious practices which aren't indulgenced by the Church; shouldn't give you or me the equivalent of a seven years indulgence when we get up to make room for an old lady in a bus."

This is his adroit depreciation of the Church's belief in the resurrection of the body: "I do not see why God should not give me a Resurrection Body which is continuous with the body in which I write now, without having to search round for bits and pieces of the multitudinous matter which has, in my time, gone to the making of me."

Here is his account of Judas' betrayal: "O felix culpa, the Church says of it; it was a
blessed crime — the paradox reflects the mystery." (Which anyone familiar with the
Missal knows is ponderous ignorance. The Church says felix culpa, happy fault, of the

Fall of Adam, which necessitated Our Lord's coming. She never says it of the sin of
Judas, which effected Our Lord's death on the cross.) And here is his summary statement on Our Lady: " ... most of the literature about her and the popular devotions connected with her leave me cold."

In 1912, at the age of twenty-four, Ronald Knox became a full-fledged Protestant
minister, and chaplain to the Church of England students at Oxford. Five years later, he entered the Catholic Church; two years after that, he was ordained a priest. In 1926, he was back at Oxford, this time as the Catholic chaplain. During the next thirteen years. Father Knox produced a bulk of jaunty literature, both sacred and profane; established a reputation for proficiency in polemics and shorter verse forms; and received the title of Right Reverend Monsignor.

Monsignor Knox's departure from Oxford, in 1939, was the successful culmination of a
well-laid plot — not on Oxford's part, but on the Monsignor' s. For years, the dream had possessed him of making a new translation of the Bible into English. Such a text might well have a revolutionary effect, coming from Oxford's limerick and detective story writing chaplain, and thus the project could not be rushed into.

To prepare the ground, there appeared, in 1936, The Holy Bible, Abridged and Re-
Arranged, by Ronald A. Knox, which, while using the traditional English of the Douai-
Rheims version, set a sizable precedent for innovation. Monsignor Knox carved up the Bible to fit a pattern that, he explained, made the Holy Scriptures, "more brief, more connected, and more intelligible." The Monsignor' s proposal that God had run a bit low on continuity and intelligibility when He inspired the Bible found surprisingly little opposition. The Knoxian "feeler" served its master well. It was really only a matter of months before the Catholic hierarchy of England and Wales had been apprised of Monsignor Knox's further biblical ambitions, had approached him on the subject, and had, to no one's astonishment, received his modest assent to put the whole Bible, Saint Jerome's Vulgate, into whatever sort of English he might care to choose.

Lord Acton's estate, Aldenham Park, in Shropshire, was offered as a suitably cloistered and comfortable site for Monsignor Knox's undertaking. There, with typewriter in hand, pipe in jaw, and Oxford very much in mind, he turned out an average of twenty-four translated verses a day. The New Testament was completed first and appeared in print in 1944; the Old Testament, two volumes, followed in 1949 and 1950. Subsequent editions have put all the Knox translation into a conventional single volume: Genesis to Apocalypse, the whole gamut of Divine revelation, Knoxized, in one flip-through-able book.

And just in case you miss the spirit of the work (if Job still seems to you more patient
than bored. Saint Peter more loveable than laughable), Monsignor Knox has provided
ample notes in the margins of the text and three additional volumes of depreciatory

In a previous issue, The Point has decried Monsignor Knox's malicious and willful attack on the Blessed Virgin Mary, in his translation of the sacred text from Isaias, Ecce Virgo concipiet et pariet filium: which can only mean, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and shall bear a son." In a complete sell-out to a centuries-old Talmudic tradition, Monsignor Knox refused to use Saint Jerome's Latin or even the Greek texts for this verse. He went to the post-Crucifixion Babylonian rabbis for their version, and came up with, "Maid shall be brought to bed of a son." This rendering, which takes all portent out of the prophesied event — meant to be a wondrous sign from God — completely discredits the inviolate virginity of Our Lord's Mother and the virginal manner of His birth.

There is further abuse waiting for Our Blessed Lady in Monsignor Knox's marginal note
on chapter two, verse four of Saint John's Gospel. In that place, where the marriage feast at Cana is told, the Monsignor has Our Lord rebuke His Mother (after she informs Him that their host has run out of wine) with the haughty rejoinder, "Woman, leave me alone, do not interfere with me." There is no grammatical justification for this. But there is a well-known heretical precedent. Tyndale did it in his Reformation Bible, and Cranmer copied it in his. They thus established the pattern which all of Protestant England, and Monsignor Knox, it appears, afterwards followed.

Writing on chapter twenty-two of Saint Luke's Gospel, Monsignor Knox says, "Luke
omits the story of Mary anointing our Lord's feet, presumably because he was not
certain that he had not already told it." An indefinite number of such quotes, from
Monsignor Knox's Bible commentaries, might be strung out to display every shade of
Knoxian cynicism, smartness, snobbery, derision and doubt. But that would leave no
room to introduce the Monsignor' s particularly burning malice toward the Gospel of
Saint John.

It is the Church's clear teaching, codified in the Councils of Florence, Trent, and Vatican, that God is the true author of all that Saint John, or any of the Bible's human writers, has recorded. Pope Leo XIII summarizes this teaching by saying that the books of the Bible, "with all their parts, have been written under the dictation of the Holy Ghost." This in no way deters Monsignor Knox from the following description of Saint John at work on his inspired Gospel: "He will recall, as if conjuring them up with difficulty, details about names and places and relationships which have nothing much to do with the story. He will give us little footnotes, as if to make sure we are following; often unnecessary, often delayed instead of being put in their proper place. He will remember fragments of a conversation, passing on from this utterance to that by mere association of memory, instead of giving us a reasoned precis of the whole. He will alternately assume that we know the story already, and narrate it in meticulous detail ... Probably no author but John could have begun his story in this topsy-turvy fashion ... But, as we have seen, this is the way in which John's memory works."

As the above comments are phrased, one might get the impression that Monsignor Knox thinks that Saint John (despite all the doting senility he ascribes to the Saint) actually wrote the Holy Gospel according to Saint John. Not so. "Saint John," writes Knox, "never really sat down and wrote a Gospel; what we've got is the result of a series of Press Conferences, at which his disciples were plying him with questions all the time."

The series of reminiscences that were thus "elicited from him piecemeal" were later
shuffled together, the Monsignor says, and made into the Fourth Gospel. And so it
happens that Monsignor Knox, when he encounters something disagreeable to Monsignor Knox in the Gospel of Saint John, readily and without scruple blames those unknown disciples: "It looks as if their notes got muddled."

A few weeks before his death, Monsignor Knox completed work on a new English
translation of the autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower of Jesus. The book has just been published in this country and has been hailed as witness to the "abiding influence" of the late Monsignor.

Nothing, however, could be better calculated to show him up and finish him off than his current literary association with the Little Flower. For if ever there were antipodal
personalities, they are Therese of the Child Jesus and Ronald Knox of Oxford. In clothing her thoughts with his words — adjusting her style to his standards, dressing up her images, enlarging her vocabulary — he has done his best to transform her into a stuffy, British, slightly less masculine, more pious version of himself. Typical example: Saint Therese writes, "I laugh now at some things I did" {Je ris maintenant de certaines choses.) Monsignor Knox elaborates this into, "It makes me laugh now to think what heavy weather I made over nothing at all."

But in the end it is Therese, her brightness and clarity, who prevails, and Monsignor
Knox who gets snowed under — as in his miserable attempt to portray her as an inferior theologian for having called Our Lady the "Divine Mother" of Our Lord. After correcting the text to read, "his own Mother," Monsignor Knox adds the footnote: "The Saint by a slip of the pen has written 'his Divine Mother.' It is evident that she never revised these last few paragraphs."

Among the scores of Saints who gave Our Lady that most fitting title, Divine Mother,
and who showed no inclination to revise their paragraphs, were the following Doctors of the Universal Church: Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Bernard, Saint Ephrem, Saint Peter Damian, and Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori.

The Point 's battle against the influence of Ronald Knox is a long-standing one. But we have lately determined to entrust its outcome to Saint Therese. During her last illness, this gentle French Carmelite exclaimed: "How happy I would have been to fight at the time of the Crusades, or later on to fight against the heretics." Taking her at her word, and knowing her present influence at the court of Heaven, we confidently leave the problem of Monsignor Knox in her hands.


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Re: The Problem of Monsignor Knox

Post  DeSelby on Fri Jan 20, 2012 9:05 pm

That is one of the best articles from Fr. Feeney's The Point. I love it.

Here's a related one...

August 1953

When the Protestants broke away from the Church in the sixteenth century, one of the chief reasons they gave for doing so was that they thought the Bible, all by itself, should be enough to teach a man what he ought to believe and how he ought to act; and that there should be no need of any Church to interpret the Bible or to supplement its teachings.

It was apparent from the beginning, however, that the Protestants were not going to get along any better with the Bible divorced from the Church than they had gotten along with the Bible and the Church together. Thus, they found that when they tried to preserve the Bible’s literal sense, they were always getting bitten by the snakes they were supposed to be able to pick up; and when they tried to pass off the whole Scripture as figurative and symbolic, they were always running up against texts, the clarity of whose dogma would confound them. Still, for all the hardship it caused them, the Protestants never quite gave up the Bible; and whenever they felt called upon to make a profession of their faith, they always did so by pounding the book vigorously or waving it aloft.

But, last September, Protestantism reached the turning point. The event was marked by the official publication of a new Scripture translation, called the Revised Standard Version. In this book, which is meant to supersede all previous English Bibles, the Protestants finally, and convincingly, have let it be known how far from Christianity they have come in their 400 years. They have at last dropped all pretense of getting their faith from the Bible just as God wrote it, and, by way of offering a “new translation,” they have re-written the Bible so as to make it fit their preconceived Protestant notions. No longer will Protestants have to skip pages in their Bible-reading in order to miss religiously embarrassing passages; all such passages have been altered so that they are no longer embarrassing.

The Revised Standard Version is a perfect Protestant document, having no certitude, no integrity, no authority. It contains nothing to offend the skeptic sensibilities of Protestants or to shake them in their disbelief. It turns Our Lord in the Gospels from the Son of God preaching the Kingdom of Heaven into a mawkish, ineffectual do-gooder, patterned according to the familiar Protestant type. And Our Lady, long the Protestants’ foremost resentment, it turns from the Virgin, foretold by Isaias, who would conceive and bear a son, into just “a young woman.”

Yet, anxious as the Protestants might be to twist the Bible to their heretical ends, they would never dare do so were there not some Catholic sanction for the act. The Church is the donor and protector of the Bible, and every Bible-tamperer fears her wrath. The reason that the Protestants have dared to publish such a flagrant distortion as the Revised Standard Version is that the stage was already set for them, the precedent established by a Catholic priest. That priest is the Right Reverend Ronald Arbuthnott Knox, author of The Knox Bible.

When Ronald Knox gave up his Anglican ministry to become a Catholic (in 1919, having waited two years to make sure the pull he seemed to feel toward the Church wasn’t just a case of “war-nerves”), he brought with him two gifts. These gifts were: a deep devotion to, and sympathy for, the pagan classics; and a kind of fluency and unctuousness in the use of the English language that passed for an elegant prose style. Knox presented these two talents to the Church as his dowry, and received from the Church in exchange for them the gift of Holy Orders, validly administered.

These same two talents have been Knox’s chief assets, his stock-in-trade ever since. By advertising his love of the pagans and familiarity with their languages, he got himself appointed Chaplain at his alma mater, Oxford; and by squirting his oily prose at impressionable Catholics, he has kept them blinded to his almost total lack of Faith.

But it was not till 1939 that Monsignor Knox found an exercise that would enable him to display his talents to the fullest. In that year he retired to the manor house of a friend and began to translate the entire Bible into English from the Latin Vulgate. This virtuoso performance was meant to replace the traditional, and faithful, Douai-Rheims version, which had been used by English-speaking Catholics since the time of the Reformation.

Despite the terrible presumption of the title, there is ample justification for calling this book The Knox Bible, as his publisher and practically everyone does. For it is much more Knox’s work than God’s. It is dominated by Knox’s vocabulary, his sentence structure, his phrases. If he thinks something is not sufficiently clear the way the original, inspired writer put it — if it does not mean what Knox thinks it ought to mean — then he redoes the passage, adding words, leaving words out, and substituting phrases of his own (the Oxford equivalent) for the phrases used by the inspired writers. The cumulative effect of this is devastating. Thus, the fiery and overflowing Saint Paul, after being subjected to the School of Knox, sounds likes a secretary in the British Foreign Office. Example: at the end of his life, Saint Paul, having fought the good fight, writing to his disciple Timothy, boasts of his great achievement: “ … I have kept the Faith.” Knox decided this should have been less enthusiastically rendered: “ … I have redeemed my pledge.”

Knox treats the authors of Holy Scripture not as inspired writers but as hacks like himself, who are trying to find the best way of saying what it is they have to say, and who do not always succeed as well as he himself might have. You get the impression that the Evangelists were just interim instruments the Holy Spirit, used while He was waiting for Knox to come along. As a specimen of his attitude toward the Bible and the men who wrote it, here is one of his patronizing paragraphs, commenting on the Gospels. Referring to the place in the last chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John, where Our Lord asks Saint Peter: “Do you love (diligis) me? … Do you love (diligis) me? … Do you love (amas) me?” Knox says: “The probability is that Our Lord used the same word for love, and Saint Peter answered Him in the same word, three times over, but John (or his Greek amanuensis) introduced a second word in the Greek, from a natural (though mistaken) desire to avoid monotony. ”

It is almost impossible for a Catholic to read the whole of The Knox Bible, unsuspectingly, and keep his Faith. He would be almost better off reading the Revised Standard Version. The perversions of that book are so monstrous and overt that every Catholic would immediately recognize them, and be on his guard; but The Knox Bible gets him unawares. It does its damage not so much by clear, specific distortions as by its faithless British slant. There is an unholy attitude that pervades the book, a kind of atmosphere that hangs over it, like a London fog, and that, quietly but thoroughly, obscures God’s Word and stifles the Catholic Faith.


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