I am delighted at the republication of Mgr Ronald Knoxs translation of the Bible. It was my fathers favourite translation and I can remember the trouble he went to in order to replace a lost edition of the New Testament. Mgr Knox was a distinguished priest of the Diocese of Westminster and such a gifted preacher and giver of retreats. His memorable phrases are still quoted. He brought that same skill, together with considerable scholarship, to the immense task of Biblical translation. Many will welcome this new publication of his achievement.
- Archbishop Vincent Nichols
Mgr. Knoxs version continues to merit attention, and I welcome the publication of this new edition, as his remarkable work is likely to continue to be of interest for many years to come. I sincerely hope that many will read and profit from this new edition.
- Cardinal Cormac Murphy OConnor
Ronald Knox’s translation of the Bible remains an exceptional achievement both of scholarship and of literary dedication. Again and again it successfully avoids conventional options and gives the scriptural text a fresh flavour, often with a brilliantly idiosyncratic turn of phrase. It most certainly deserves republication, study and use.
- Archbishop Rowan Williams
The English Bible tradition, which this translation by Mgr Ronald Knox so aptly embodies, is an important part of western culture. It continues to shape the English language and literary tradition, not just in Britain but in the United States, Australia and elsewhere. This handsome edition of The Knox Bible is a worthy book for private study and devotion, sure to bring about a deeper reverence and love of Sacred Scripture, and so draw readers into a deeper relationship with our Blessed Lord, the Word who was made flesh, and came to dwell among us (Jn 1: 14). As the fulfillment of Blessed John Henry Newmans hope for a worthy English translation of the Bible, this translation holds a special place in the hearts of those of us, who - like Newman and Knox and countless others - have found their way to the fullness of communion, united to the Apostolic See. May it help bring others to know the Lord who is truth and life (Jn 14: 6).
Msgr. Knox had a profound love for Sacred Scripture, a passion was to make the Bible accessible to as many people as possible … In the Knox translation, clarity is paramount.
Praiseworthy achievement … a monument of many years of patient study and toil.
There has been a remarkable revival of interest in Ronald Knox in recent years, and the republication of his magnum opus is a significant event.
- Fr. Ian Ker, a leading authority on John Henry Newman and direct relative of Msgr. Ronald Knox
… the outstanding feature of Msgr. Knoxs biblical translation is the way he maintained the Hebrew alphabetic acrostic (succeeding verses starting with succeeding letters of the Hebrew alphabet) of parts of the Old Testament over into an English alphabetic acrostic (succeeding verses starting with succeeding letters of the English alphabet).
In an alphabetic acrostic the initial letters of lines (or verses or sections) follow the sequence of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the lines/verses/sections are of roughly equal length. The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters and many of these acrostics have 22 verses or a multiple thereof, the acrostic sometimes being used to determine verses. The most complete alphabetic acrostics in the original language of the Hebrew Bible are Psalms 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, 145; Proverbs 31:10-31 (the Praise of a Good Wife); and each of the first four chapters of the Book of Lamentations.
Psalm 119 is, of course, the supreme example of an acrostic in that it has 176 verses consisting of 22 strophes (one for each letter) each of 8 verses. All 8 verses of the first strophe start with Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The second 8 verses all start with Beth, the second letter, and so on. Even if one cannot read Hebrew (I cant), it is worthwhile looking at a Hebrew Bible (I have one in the hope of eventually learning) to see this unique example. Many English translations indicate this alphabetic feature by labeling the 8 verse strophes with the letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
It is hypothesized that alphabetic acrostics may have functioned to show a completeness or totality, we would say from A to Z. Thus in Lamentations the utter desolation, in Ps 111 the completeness of praise, and in Ps 119 that the Torah, i.e. the instruction, of the LORD is totally good.
Needless to say, the alphabetic structure of the original is not usually able to be carried over into English translations. But there is an existing English translation of the entire Bible which tries to do justice to the form of the Hebrew alphabetic acrostic. This is the Knox translation, an older (late 1940s-50s) Roman Catholic translation done by Monsignor Ronald Knox, a convert from Anglicanism. I have used it in the past in Bible Study groups to illustrate an acrostic.
Though Ronald Knox (1888-1957) won renown as a Catholic priest, university chaplain, retreat master, and author of spiritual books, it is at least arguable that he made his living from his bestselling detective stories. In fact, it was Msgr. Knox who wrote the widely accepted rules — the “Ten Commandments” — that guided the so-called Golden Age of Detective Fiction. He was a keen reader of Arthur Conan Doyle, and he even established a satirical genre of mock-scholarship of the Sherlock Holmes stories.
He made a respectable living that way, but he knew that “Man cannot live by bread only; there is life for him in all the words which proceed from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). And so Msgr. Knox gave his life to deeper mysteries than any earthly detective could solve.
Ronald Arbuthnott Knox was born into a distinguished family of Anglican clergy. His father rose to be bishop of Manchester. Ronald received an excellent education — Eton and Oxford — excelling in classics. Early on he discerned a call to ministry, and in 1912 he took Anglican orders. In 1917 he converted to Roman Catholicism and the following year was ordained a Catholic priest.
His ministry ranged widely, from school chaplaincies to radio broadcasts. He was one of the first to see the evangelistic potential in the emerging media. He used radio for preaching, teaching, and drama.
Msgr. Knox had a profound love for Sacred Scripture, a passion was to make the Bible accessible to as many people as possible. Radio helped. But he also wrote voluminously. And he preached. His homilies, anthologized in several collections, are profoundly biblical. One book, The Gospel in Slow Motion, gathers his New Testament sermons given to schoolgirls. With Father Ronald Cox, he wrote scriptural commentaries, such as It Is Paul Who Writes, Waiting for Christ, and The Gospel Story.
The problem with being a polymath and a prodigy, as Knox most surely was, is that you’re often tagged as the best man for an abundance of important tasks. Thus, Knox found himself recruited to revise the Westminster Hymnal. He early made a name for himself as a translator, with no less than Virgil’s Aeneid. But nothing could have prepared him, exactly, for his magnum opus, the work that, like no other, employed his talents as translator, scholar, and prose stylist.
In 1936 the bishops of England and Wales asked him to translate the Latin Vulgate of the Holy Bible into modern English. It would be a nine-year task, arduous — and somewhat thankless. He wrote a book on the ordeal, On Englishing the Bible, which manages to be both illuminating and very funny. In the Knox translation, clarity is paramount. He wanted Christians not just to revere the Word from a distance, but to ponder it, to understand it, to have it as their own, whether they happened to be poets or chimney sweeps or members of Parliament. With little regard for sentimental attachment, he started afresh, leaving behind the beloved and familiar renderings, hoping to recast the oracles in a “timeless English.”
Msgr. Knox’s publisher, Frank Sheed, wrote about the dire circumstances that cried out for a radical biblical remedy:
The Biblical attack on Catholic dogmas did not (after the shock of the attack) destroy Catholic attachment to the dogmas; but it sensibly weakened Catholic attachment to the Bible. A man can never feel quite the same about even the nicest book if he has just been beaten round the head with it…
This Scriptural insufficiency of Catholics is the last heritage of the Reformation still to be liquidated. Liquidated it must be. How necessary Scripture is to the life of Catholics, St. Jerome indicated long ago with his phrase “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
The bishops appreciated Msgr. Knox’s work and eventually paid it the greatest compliment, approving the Knox translation for proclamation in the liturgy. He won the admiration of some discerning literary readers, too. He was praised especially for his rendering of St. Paul’s letters, suddenly luminous where they had, for many readers, been opaque.
The brickbats, though, were far more common. Critics complained that the Knox Bible was prosaic and pedestrian. Knox himself observed that his critics were legion, were ubiquitous, and were Everyman: “If you translate, say the Summa of St. Thomas, you expect to be cross-examined by people who understand philosophy and by people who understand Latin; but by no one else. If you translate the Bible, you are liable to be cross-examined by anybody; because everybody thinks he knows already what the Bible means.”
God rest him, Msgr. Knox was a true man of the Church, and he went where he was sent. His obedience was true and constant, though it was never blind. (It was he, after all, who famously said, “On the barque of Peter, those with queasy stomachs should keep clear of the engine room.”)
He endured because he had a strong stomach, so to speak; and it was strong because he had, all his life, fed upon imperishable food: “the characteristic food of faith is mystery,” he wrote — not “the formulas which enshrine the mysteries …. But the mysteries themselves …. because faith is the first duty of the Christian, and mystery is the food of faith.”
Though bloodied by critics, he was unbowed. Having translated the Bible, he went on to produce new translations of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis and The Autobiography of a Saint by St. Therese of Lisieux. He spent his remaining years as busily as he’d spent his youth, producing two or three books per year till his death in 1957.
How much we have to learn from this great spinner of mysteries, both human and divine. In his lifetime he achieved celebrity, which is often a pit and a snare to souls. Ronald Knox, however, knew it for what it was worth. When I think of his life, a life much-celebrated, I’m reminded of his own description of John the Baptist: “Everyone is crowded round St. John, everyone wanting to know who he is, and he will let them see nothing but the finger that points to a greater than himself, let them hear nothing but the voice of the fore-runner who preaches a gospel not his own.”
He has given us that Gospel — not his own — in words we can, nonetheless, recognize as our own.
- Scott Hahn, Ph.D.