Ronald Knox


Biography of Ronald Knox

Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (17 February 1888 – 24 August 1957) was an English priest and theologian. He was also a writer and a regular broadcaster for BBC Radio.

Knox had attended Eton College and won several scholarships at Balliol College, Oxford. He was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1912 and was appointed chaplain of Trinity College, Oxford, but he left in 1917 to become a Roman Catholic. In 1918 he was ordained as a Catholic priest. Knox wrote many books of essays and novels. Directed by his religious superiors, he re-translated the Latin Vulgate Bible into English, using Hebrew and Greek sources, beginning in 1936.

Ronald Knox was born in Kibworth, Leicestershire, England into an Anglican family. His father was Edmund Arbuthnott Knox, who became the Bishop of Manchester. The young Knox was educated at Eton College, where he took the first scholarship in 1900 and Balliol College, Oxford, where again he won the first classics scholarship in 1905. Knox, a brilliant classicist, won the Craven, the Hertford and the Ireland scholarships in classics, as well as the Gaisford Prize for Greek Verse Composition in 1908 and the Chancellor's Prize for Latin Verse Composition in 1910. In 1910, he became a fellow of Trinity College, Oxford. As he was not to begin tutorials until 1911, he took the job of classics tutor to Harold MacMillan in the sabbatical, although he was later fired by Nellie MacMillan for being a high-church Anglican. He was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1912 and was appointed chaplain of Trinity College, but he left in 1917 when he became a Roman Catholic. He explained his spiritual journey in two privately printed books, Apologia (1917) and A Spiritual Aeneid (1918). In 1918 he was ordained a Catholic priest and in 1919 joined the staff of St Edmund's College, Ware, Hertfordshire, remaining there until 1926.

Knox wrote and broadcast on Christianity and other subjects. While a Catholic chaplain at the University of Oxford (1926-1939) and as domestic prelate to Pope Pius XI (1936), he wrote classic detective stories. In 1929 he codified the rules for detective stories into a "decalogue" of ten commandments (see Golden Age of Detective Fiction). He was one of the founding members of the Detection Club and wrote several works of detective fiction, including five novels and a short story featuring Miles Bredon, who is employed as a private investigator by the Indescribable Insurance Company.

Knox singlehandedly translated the St. Jerome Latin Vulgate Bible into English. His works on religious themes include: Some Loose Stones (1913), Reunion All Round (1914), A Spiritual Aeneid (1918), The Belief of Catholics (1927), Caliban in Grub Street (1930), Heaven and Charing Cross (1935), Let Dons Delight (1939) and Captive Flames (1940). In response to Knox's conversion to Catholicism, his father cut him out of his will.

An essay in Knox's Essays in Satire (1928), "Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes", was the first of the genre of mock-serious critical writings on Sherlock Holmes and mock-historical studies in which the existence of Holmes, Watson, et al. is assumed. Another of these essays, The Authorship of "In Memoriam", purports to prove that Tennyson's poem was actually written by Queen Victoria. Another satirical essay, "Reunion All Round", mocked the fabled Anglican tolerance in the form of an appeal to the Anglican Church to absorb everyone from Muslims to atheists, and even Catholics after murdering Irish children and banning Irish marriage and reproduction. Knox was led to the Catholic Church by the English writer G. K. Chesterton, before Chesterton himself became Catholic. When Chesterton was received into the Roman Catholic Church, he in turn was influenced by Knox who delivered the homily for Chesterton's requiem mass in Westminster Cathedral.

In 1953 Knox visited the Oxfords in Zanzibar and the Actons in Rhodesia. It was on this trip that he began his translation of The Imitation of Christ and, upon his return to Mells, his translation of Thérèse of Lisieux's Autobiography of a Saint. He also began a work of apologetics intended to reach a wider audience than the student one of his The Belief of Catholics (1927). But all his activities were curtailed by his sudden and serious illness early in 1957. At the invitation of his old friend, Harold Macmillan, he stayed at 10 Downing Street while in London to consult a specialist. The doctor confirmed the diagnosis of incurable cancer.

He died on 24 August 1957 and his body was brought to Westminster Cathedral. Bishop Craven celebrated the requiem mass, at which Father Martin D'Arcy, a Jesuit, preached the panegyric. Knox was buried in the churchyard of St Andrew's Church, Mells.

The first biography of Knox, entitled The Life of Ronald Knox, was the work of his friend and literary executor, Evelyn Waugh, and appeared two years after his death. Waugh, a devout Catholic and fervent admirer of Knox's works, had obtained his friend's permission for the task. In 1977 Knox's niece, Penelope Fitzgerald published a composite biography, The Knox Brothers, which devoted equal weight to him and his three brothers (E. V. Knox, the editor of the humorous magazine Punch, Dillwyn Knox, a mathematician, and Wilfred Knox, an Anglican monk and New Testament scholar). In 2009 appeared The Wine of Certitude: A Literary Biography of Ronald Knox by David Rooney, which followed two recent studies, Ronald Knox as Apologist: Wit, Laughter and the Popish Creed (2007) and Second Friends: C. S. Lewis and Ronald Knox in Conversation (2008), both by Milton Walsh. A more recent biography setting Knox in the cultural context of his times is Terry Tastard, Ronald Knox and English Catholicism (2009).

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