The scholar who lives only for his subject is but the fragment of a man; he lives in a shadow-world, mistaking means for ends.

Ronald Knox


Nine Years Hard

Monsignor Ronald Knox, 1957, Oxford


Msgr. Knox had translating in his blood. His maternal grandfather, Thomas Valpy French, was a missionary to India and eventually became the Anglican Bishop of Lahore. In her biography of the Knox brothers Penelope Fitzgerald notes that Dr.French studied Hebrew and Pushtu and that "It was his ambition to revise the Urdu and Hindustani Prayer Books, and to translate the Scriptures into Pushtu".


Knox received the classical education par excellence. The precocious Ronald was already delighting his family with Latin plays at the age of eight. He was the youngest of four brothers, all of whom were accomplished classicists and all of whom delighted in linguistic and arithmetical difficulties. At Eton, and then Balliol College, Oxford, he won the highest academic honors those institutions had to offer. The classical languages formed not only his mind – which might have led to pedantry - but his heart, as seen in the depth of his understanding of history. His sympathy was with Latin poetry, and Virgil's Aeneid above all.


HOLY BIBLE (1944-50) Msgr.Knox’s translation of the Holy Bible from the Vulgate was a monumental task fraught with difficulties. He described it as 'nine years hard'. For those used to the cadences of the King James (Authorised) Version it will come as a disappointment. It was Msgr.Knox’s goal to help the average person’s understanding, not necessarily his enjoyment, of Sacred Scripture. Robert Speaight’s assessment is a fairly accurate one, “Where the Bible appears to be plain sailing, I doubt very much whether readers will gain anything but incidental accuracies from Knox’s version … but it is generally conceded that Knox was at his best in translating St.Paul, because in the case of St.Paul the intellect is more important than the ear. It matters immensely that we should know what St.Paul was talking about …his version of the Epistles is brilliant.” - Robert Speaight, Ronald Knox, the Writer, 1965 Sheed & Ward

NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY (1953-6) 3 volumes. These volumes contain Knox's explanations for various choices in wording, alternate interpretations of phrases, and the sometimes hidden meaning of entire passages. They are of tremendous use and interest to the scholar.

ON ENGLISHING THE BIBLE (1949) contains eight essays - responses to his critics - about some of the many difficulties Msgr. Knox encountered in his translation of the Bible.

Read an excerpt in PDF

AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A SAINT (1958) Although Knox was first and foremost a classicist, Robert Speaight informs us that Ronald Knox “learnt French at an early age and shed his tears over the wanton irregularity of bouillir.”  Later, he read extensively in French, used Bremond as his authority for much of the historical records for Enthusiasm and toward the very end of his life translated L’Histoire d’Une Ame  Autobiography of a Saint; Therese of Lisieux. This last is a triumph of Knox’s translating abilities. Knox was the first to translate into English the fascimile edition of the original manuscripts penned by St Therese, which did not become available until 1952. Those who are wedded to strictly literal translations will be disappointed, but those who seek an opportunity to better understand this great French saint will be delighted “with the extraordinary tact in which [Knox] finds the English equivalent for her unadorned and unselfconscious style.” - Robert Speaight, Ronald Knox, the Writer,1965, Sheed & Ward


THE IMITATION OF CHRIST (1959)  "If I die without finishing my translation of The Imitation of Christ, please tell my executors from me that you are to finish it.", Ronald Knox wrote to the accomplished classical scholar, Michael Oakley, in 1955. "My idea has turn it into a human document." Little did Oakley imagine that he would ever be called upon to do so, but at the time of his death Msgr. Knox had only finished Bk.II, chap.4. Oakley therefore took the task in hand and in 1959 their translation was published. Their combined talents gave the English-speaking Catholic world a refreshing and masterful translation.

"Monsignor Knox had for many years before his death made a practice of reading a daily chapter of The Imitation of Christ, and it was no matter for surprise that the hand which had given us a masterly new version of the Bible in English should stray towards that time-proved compendium of the spiritual life with which the years had made him increasingly familiar." - Michael Oakley

"There are no frills about the Imitation ... Book II leads us up to that amazingly uncomfortable last chapter, in which the reader feels as if he were being turned over and over on a spit, to make sure that he is being singed with suffering at every point. If a man tells you that he is fond of the Imitation, view him with sudden suspicion; he is either a dabbler or a Saint. No manual is more pitiless in its exposition of the Christian ideal, less careful to administer consolation on the way ... The whole work was meant to be, surely, what it is - a sustained irritant which will preserve us, if it is read faithfully, from sinking back into relaxation: from self-conceit, self-pity, self-love ... Heaven help us if we find easy reading in The Imitation of Christ." - Ronald Knox 

THE WESTMINSTER HYMNAL In 1936 Ronald Knox was appointed to a committee to revise the Westiminster Hymnal. He took the task thoroughly in hand, eventually contributing 47 out the 106 translations from Latin and four original hymns. Bishop Mathew noted in his preface that 'no student of this book can fail to realize the great debt that it owes to Monsignor Knox'. The revised hymnal clearly bears his marks.
Finita jam sunt proelia
Battle is o'er, hell's armies flee;
Raise we the cry of victory
With abounding joy resounding, alleluia.
Christ, who endured the shameful tree,
O'er death triumphant welcome we,
Our adoring praise outpouring, alleluia.
On the third morn from death rose he,
Clothed with what light in heaven shall be,
Our unswerving faith deserving, alleluia.
Hell's gloomy gates yield up their key,
Paradise door thrown wide we see;
Never-tiring be our choiring, alleluia.
Lord, by the stripes men laid on thee,
Grant us to live from death set free,
This our greeting still repeating, alleluia.
Simphonia Sirenum, 1695, translated by R.A.Knox
Westminster Hymnal, 1939