"A pipe that refuses to draw just after breakfast is guilty of desertion in the face of the enemy."  Ronald Knox


Father Ronald Knox



INTRODUCTION

Ronald Knox has been well served by several excellent biographers. Most notable is Evelyn Waugh, who was asked by Knox to perform this task as an old friend. Waugh's work (The Life of the Right Reverend Ronald Knox - 1959) remains the definitive source of biographical material but Thomas Corbishley (Ronald Knox, the Priest - 1964), Robert Speaight (Ronald Knox, the Writer - 1966) and Penelope Fitzgerald (The Knox Brothers - 1977) have also written eloquently on various aspects of Knox's life.

A SPIRITUAL AENEID (1918) is Knox's only autobiography. It was written immediately upon Knox's reception into the Catholic Church. It chronicles the intellectual developments which let to his conversion. Knox himself revised it in 1950 but was mostly content to let it stand as an historical document, only adding a foreward entitled 'After 33 Years'.

"In an Aeneid, as in an Odyssey, you may be driven from your course; but, to crown the sense of adventure, in an Aeneid you do not even know where your port lies; you must make experiments, hark back to beginnings, throw yourself upon celestial guidance. Nor is it, as in an Odyssey, the thought of familiar scenes and remembered faces that hurries you on when you are tempted to linger; it is a mere sense of mission, imperiously insistent, that inflames your discontent." (Ronald Knox)


RECOLLECTIONS OF RONALD KNOX

An excerpt from a letter written by Dom Hubert van Zeller to Evelyn Waugh.

 

            What would be of more interest to you than these stray recollections would be an account of our visit to Oxford in June for the Romanes lecture, and thence to London and to Number 10 Downing Street. Fortunately I have got it all in my diary, so I can make a précis of that. The reason why I went was that during May when I saw him at Mells he seemed very weak and I doubted whether he ought to make the journey alone. After consulting Catherine Asquith, I put it to him as an idea and was delighted to find that he was all for it. I had been afraid he would resent being nannied. The Abbot was more than ready to give permission, so June the eleventh I arrived at Mells.

 

            His colour was very bad and he was speaking with pauses between the sentences: I wondered how he would possibly make himself heard in the Sheldonian that evening after the two hours drive from Mells to Oxford. We arrived at the Vice-Chancellor’s in time for luncheon, and Ronnie revived a bit after that. The plan had been that he should stay there, at Worcester, and that I should pick him up the next morning. But Masterman asked me to stop the night instead of going to friends because he thought Ronald looked so feeble and didn’t like to have him there alone. (Not that I would have been the faintest use, but I didn’t let on to the Vice Chancellor about my inefficiency. I accordingly stayed.) We drove early to the Sheldonian for the lecture which was due at 6:00. Ronnie had taken one of his little pills but was looking ghastly and hardly saying a word. Masterman had, without telling Ronald, arranged for a doctor to be within reach of the rostrum in case of anything going wrong. The place was pretty packed, and I was in a fever of anxiety as to how it would all go off. But I need not have worried. From the opening sentences the lecture seemed to give R. strength, and more strength came to him from the people who were listening. At times one almost forgot he was ill at all: voice, gestures, mannerisms – everything as usual. He spoke, sitting down and reading it of course, for what must have been more than an hour. The applause at the end was terrific, and, particularly since many must have known that this would be Ronald’s last appearance, deeply moving.

 

            He was less tired than was to be expected, sitting up till eleven while friends from various colleges – dons, mostly from Trinity, -- talked with him while he sipped very dull-looking fruit juice. J. C. Masterman could not have been a better host, and I think Ronnie was as happy as I have ever seen him. But it must have been a strain because when I called him in the morning he looked desperately ill. He said he had slept well, having taken another little pill, and had not been in the least disturbed by the shunting of trains which had kept me awake almost the whole night through. “Trains to me, you must remember, are music” he said.


APOSTOLIC PROTONOTARY

"In 1951 [Knox] was appointed Protonotary Apostolic ad instar, a grade in the papal service defined by the Catholic Encyclopedia as enjoying 'the same external insignia as the real protonotaries'. [Knox] used to say that it entitled him to wear a mitre once a year, but he never availed himself of this privilege. The polysyllables of his new title quickened his old appetite for parody, and in reply to some verses of congratulation from Cyril Alington he wrote the imitation of Gilbert's 'Modern Major General..." - Evelyn Waugh, The Life of the Right Reverend Ronald Knox, 1959

I'm the sort of man they make an Apostolic Protonotary- I've written reams and reams of prose, and quite a lot of poetry; To walk on garden-rollers is among my minor glories, And I used to be prevailed upon to write detective stories; I can also punt canoes (or, as they say in Greenland) kayaks, And had quite a flair at one time for composing elegiacs; I can look up trains in Bradshaw, on occasions locomotory, As undoubtedly becomes an Apostolic Protonotary.

In short, when I've unravelled all the complicated mystery, About what the Holy Office does, the Rota, the Consistory; When I've studied more theology, and don't get quite so drowsy on, Attending learned lectures which discuss the Homoousion; When I've somehow put behind me (with my poor command of French) a list, Of authors whose philosophy is known as Existentialist, When my learning on a multitude of themes is less bucolic - There's ne'er a Protonotary will be so Apostolic.

from In Three Tongues, 1959, Chapman & Hall


The inscription on Knox's headstone reads:

 

RONALD
ARBUTHNOT
KNOX
PRIEST SCHOLAR
PREACHER & WRITER
HE SPENT THE LAST
YEARS OF HIS LIFE
IN MELLS
HERE FINISHED HIS
TRANSLATION OF 
THE BIBLE
AND HERE DIED
THE 24 TH AUGUST 1957
AGED 69 YEARS

PRAY FOR HIS SOUL

 

and on the other side:

 

YOU HAVE DIED AND YOUR LIFE IS HIDDEN WITH CHRIST IN GOD